Spring Fever

spring-fever1At long last…it seems as though spring is on the horizon. We can (cautiously) begin putting away our down winter coats and emerge from hibernation. It’s amazing the effect the changing season has on all of us, even animals – there’s a reason they call it spring fever! Just looking around the farm you can see that all the creatures have a spring in their step. As the ground thaws we’re all getting over-stimulated by the sights and sounds reappearing before us.

And I’m no exception! It’s like as soon as the snow started to edge away my brain was flooded with new ideas and inspirations. And that’s when it becomes difficult to stay focussed. You see, I’m in the final stages of writing my latest book: editing. After several years of research and writing, you’d think the tough part was over – but you’d be wrong! Making changes to your book is actually one of the most difficult things you do as a writer, because your book is like your baby. And you’ve been in the labour process for a looooong time, so you want nothing more than to present it to the world! But you have to hold back – and that’s just no fun.

So while a million ideas are floating through my head on the spring breeze, I just have to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on the prize. Because in the end, it’ll all be worth it to present to the world my new beautiful bouncing book!

Adventures in genreland!

penname

So Amazon is starting to get into Christian publishing, working with a well-known publisher Christianity Today. And it got me thinking again about this whole idea of pigeon-holing writers. I don’t really mean this in terms of having publishers who focus on specific genres, because I actually think that’s a good thing—better to focus on one thing and do it well! But I’m thinking more of readers and critics who expect writers to write in one genre and one genre only.

Now I can admit, that this would be important for people writing more non-fiction. After all, I wouldn’t expect someone who writes about physics to make the leap to writing cookbooks (but who’s to say they couldn’t?). But when it comes to fiction writers, it’s just downright ridiculous.

It definitely happens a lot when people write romance and some of the more risqué books. It’s like it’s a black mark on you forever if you happen to write well in those genres. But even look at J.K. Rowling. Eve n though she’d finished writing the Harry Potter series, she still had to use a pseudonym to publish her amazing crime thriller.

It seems to be a fact of the literary world that if you write a great deal in one style, you’re not going to be taken seriously in another—no matter how good the book actually is! If you’re a good writer, you’re a good writer. If you write a good book, it’s a good book. I think we should encourage writers to take up new challenges, to be adventurous!

It’s one of the reasons I like crossing genres so much in my own writing—it keeps me on my toes! And even better, it keeps my readers on their toes. It’s true that some of your readers might not like your departures, but just think of the new readers that you’ll bring on when you go outside of your comfort zone. So I say, vive la difference!

Self-publishing gets a boost!

selfublishI read something pretty interesting in the news today. It looks like a university in England has created a master’s degree in self-publishing! I was just as surprised as I’m sure you are!

And as someone who self-publishes, I was pretty excited to read this. And the article explains why. We are constantly having to defend ourselves to authors who are already established in the industry. And that’s the main point: the people who are most critical of it (Jeffrey Archer, Sue Grafton in this article) are already published, and they’re always going to be published. I wonder if they would have said the same thing back when they were starting out? I have my doubts!

Because anyone who knows how publishing works, knows that having a good story to tell is only a small part of the battle in getting your book to print. Part of it is about timing—what’s most popular in book sales and what the editor at the time is interested in. A ton of it is about who you know. And a big chunk of it nowadays is having people know who you are. More and more often editors aren’t willing to take a chance on an unknown—and that’s so sad! Just think of all the wonderful stories we might be missing out on because all the big publishers are busy concentrating on people who already have ten or twenty traditionally published books under their belts.

And really, that’s why I decided to self-publish. My first book, An Elk in the House, was published traditionally. But when it came to other manuscripts, people kept telling me I had great stories, but that they just weren’t the right fit, and that I wasn’t well-known enough. So it certainly wasn’t because I didn’t want to work hard. Because I can tell you, self-publishing is really hard work.

Now I’m not sure whether an entire post-graduate degree dedicated to just that is really the best way to spend your valuable tuition money. Or why exactly you’d want a degree in self-publishing—I would think that if you’re already going to go to university for that long, maybe you’d want to spend that time writing and improving your craft! But either way, I’m glad to see that academic institutions are understanding the value of self-publishing.

 

Happy New Year! Now how ’bout that weather?

Cabin33_EL_7dec12_alamy_b_639x426Wow, it’s hard to believe that 2013 is behind us and we’re already well into the new year. I do hope that all my followers had a wonderful holiday season filled with warmth and love shared with family and friends.

I was blessed to spend time with the people I hold dearest in my life over this special season, though certainly the weather for those of us living on the prairies proved to be a bit of a challenge when it comes to enjoying the outdoors. For those of you reading from sunnier climates, we’ve had quite the deep freeze out here in Alberta with windchills making it pretty impossible to be outside for more than 20 minutes or so at a time. Living on a farm, myself, it certainly made things challenging.

That being said, at least at Christmas time it can be quite lovely to be a bit snowbound—warming yourself around a fire, sipping hot chocolate, and watching the swirling of the snow outside your window. The only problem is that come January it turns from being picturesque to feeling a bit trapped. After the fifth day in a row where just picking up the mail means risking frostbite it doesn’t feel quaint anymore—it just feels cold!

But I refuse to be beaten down by the weather. And besides, we all know how annoying it is just to talk about the weather! So I’ve been taking the lack of opportunities to venture outside as a welcome opportunity to get myself back into full writing mode. I’ve got a new book in the works and I’m really excited about my progress.

In the next couple of weeks I’m going to share some details about it with you, so stay tuned! In the meantime, if you happen to be one of those unlucky people trapped in a polar vortex or what we in the prairies like to call, “winter,” stay warm! Stoke the fire, put on the kettle, and curl up with a good book!

Don’t let your holiday stories be lost!

images (1)The snow is a-flyin’ out here in Manning, and across the prairies of Canada. If you love to write, even just for yourself, there’s something about the season that just makes all want to stay indoors. There’s nothing like cozying up next to a warm fire with a fresh new notebook and a cup of tea as I watch the snow fill up your window pane.

And even better is the fact that the coming Christmas season brings with it so many sources of inspiration. The holidays, of course, bring families and friends together unlike any other time of the year. Often, brand new generations will be introduced to activities, stories, and even recipes for the first time. And as new families are created (be they blood, or otherwise), a great way to ensure that everyone’s traditions are kept alive is to write them down. You can collect them in a journal for yourself, or publish them in a book to share them with everyone in the family.

Plus November and December usually finds us and about more, attending events, gatherings, and just getting ready for the season—setting us up for all sorts of interactions and situations. They often say that true life is stranger than fiction, and I’m sure you’ll find that many of your family’s stories fit that bill!  Don’t believe me? Have a read of some of these holiday stories from Reader’s Digest a few years back. I bet if you think about it, there are more than a few hilarious festive skeletons in your family’s closet as well!

I can personally attest to the therapeutic nature of writing. If you find yourself getting caught up in preparations for the season and need to unwind, try it out! And if it goes well, make it an annual tradition of your own to record and collect the stories of the season—you’ll end up with a wonderful gift to both yourself, and your family!

The poets will remember…

imagesIt’s nearly one hundred years since the end of the First World War, Armistice Day 2013. One of the things that I cherish most on Remembrance Day here in Canada, is the reading of In Flanders Fields. It was written by a Canadian doctor, John McCrae, and has become of the most famous war poems. What I wasn’t aware of, however, was the fact that the poem actually ended up being used in Canadian recruitment efforts .

The less kind words from Wikipedia, are that it was used in recruitment propaganda at the time. I found this particularly interesting given an article I just came across detailing journalism from the war, one hundred years on. Thanks to the movies, we typically have a very romanticized view of the brave war correspondence, sticking it out in the trenches, risking life and limb to bring the truth to those back home. But it appears that that wasn’t exactly what was going on during the war. You can read the article yourself and see whether you agree with the assessment, but what I thought was most interesting about it was this quote:

 “Now, as the centenary of the start of the war draws near, it is the war’s poets, and not its reporters, whose writing is remembered.”

What an amazing thing that is. It wasn’t the journalists who were best able to evoke an emotional reaction in people about the horrors of war—it was wordsmiths of another kind entirely. It’s an incredible reminder of the power of words and how great beauty can come from great sorrow. So in that vein, as we all stop to remember those who gave their lives in service of peace, I would like us also to take a moment to thank the War Poets who allowed us their insights as well, at no less risk to their lives.

Exposure by Wilfred Owen
   IOur brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knife us…
Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent…
Low drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient…
Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,
But nothing happens.Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire.
Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.
Northward incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,
Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.
What are we doing here?

The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow…
We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.
Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army
Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of gray,
But nothing happens.

Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.
Less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow,
With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause and renew,
We watch them wandering up and down the wind’s nonchalance,
But nothing happens.

II

Pale flakes with lingering stealth come feeling for our faces –
We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed,
Deep into grassier ditches. So we drowse, sun-dozed,
Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.
Is it that we are dying?

Slowly our ghosts drag home: glimpsing the sunk fires glozed
With crusted dark-red jewels; crickets jingle there;
For hours the innocent mice rejoice: the house is theirs;
Shutters and doors all closed: on us the doors are closed –
We turn back to our dying.

Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn;
Now ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.
For God’s invincible spring our love is made afraid;
Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born,
For love of God seems dying.

To-night, His frost will fasten on this mud and us,
Shrivelling many hands and puckering foreheads crisp.
The burying-party, picks and shovels in their shaking grasp,
Pause over half-known faces. All their eyes are ice,
But nothing happens.

Wilfred Owen

Terror lurking with each curve of the pen

vintage-halloween-decor-ideaIt’s a big month for those who crave the creepiness of ghosties, ghoulies, and long-legged beasties! Without a doubt, fans of fear look forward to October more than any other time of the year. I’m sure most of you can guess from my last book that I do enjoy a little walk on the darker side of life.

Last year, around this time, I shared some tips for helping kids to get into the Halloween spirit by writing their own ghostly scary stories. Since I always love encouraging children to grow creatively, I thought I’d do the same again this time around!

First on the list is a short video from the History Channel on the origins of the holiday. It’s accompanied by some very different writing prompts, for a little older age group and it encourages them to write more in the non-fiction vein. Check it out here. 

The second site I found is for just about anyone who wants to indulge in some frightful fun, and it’s just great! Figment’s Fright ‘N Write has a great interactive site that provides you with three creepy images to incorporate into a story. And even better is the fact that you can send in your entries to their competition. You have until October 31st to enter and trust me, they’ve got some fabulous images to stir your dark imaginings.

Happy writing everyone, and I’d love to see what you create!