Speaking of the UK…

v0_masterLast week I was talking about some really great news coming out of England about how they were using field trips to help improve children’s writing skills. One of the things that I noticed, of course, in reading about the places they took the students, of course, was that they were taking them to places that were very different from where we’d take kids here. In England, there are castles and churches that are literally a thousand years old!

Of course, in Canada we have some amazing historical sites as well, but I have to admit I love the fact that in Europe, you can so easily visit all the sites I’ve read about in my favourite books, and so many of them are perfectly preserved and almost exactly as they were.

And that’s why I decided to set the novel I’m currently working on in medieval Scotland, in the time of Robert the Bruce. Even though the events of the book would have taken place hundreds and hundreds of years ago, when you research the time period there is so much information out there. There’s such a rich historical record that I don’t have to guess what structures looked like, because many of them are still there! With all the research I did, I really started to be able to imagine what it would be like to live in that world.

Do you have a particular time period or place that connects with you?

All the internet’s a stage?

wattpadThere is nothing new under the sun when it comes to the act of writing, right? I mean, despite technological advances at the end of the day we’re all setting either pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to bang out are creations. We all have to go through the same processes of researching, drafting, editing, and redrafting again and again, usually sharing our work with friends and family to see if we’re “on the right track.” Well it seems I might be wrong about that one! Check out this article I read about a woman who took advantage of new technology to help her through that whole process!

I was particularly interested in her story because she was making the leap from non-fiction to fiction, which is the same move I made after I’d written An Elk in the House. And taking that leap to creating entire worlds and characters all by yourself can be pretty scary.

She used a new writing platform called from Toronto-based Wattpad, that lets people post their writing on the site so that people (both strangers and friends) can read and comment on your work while you’re still in the process of writing it.

I can also see a lot of benefits to doing it, too. You can post your writing in a section designed just for your genre, so that means you’re getting feedback from fans of the type of book you’re writing. People who are knowledgeable about your genre can give you valuable advice. And you’re probably going to get more honest feedback than you would normally. Because our friends and family love us so much, sometimes they’re not as honest about what they think as we need them to be. And it never hurts to have a fresh pair of eyes look at what we’re doing.

I think it is an incredibly brave thing to do, and scary! I mean, you’re literally sharing a work-in-progress with people all over the world. And some big writing names use Wattpad, people like Margaret Atwood, which means writers like her could be reading your work!

What do my fellow writers out there think about this? Would you do it?

 

Chicken Soup

20120910-221887-cook-the-book-chicken-soupI doubt there’s a reader in the English language who hasn’t heard of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series of books by now (and they’ve been translated into over 40 languages now too!). There’s definitely something that authors writing these books have hit on, and I know I’ve wondered what that is myself.

When I was doing some internet surfing and came across an article from the publisher of the series giving writers some tips, and I found them very useful, so thought I’d share it with you. One of the reasons I liked her list is that it applies to both fiction and non-fiction writing.

We tend to think the two genres are totally different. And it’s true, not everyone who writes non-fiction can write fiction, and vice versa. But at the end of the day, most of the same rules apply. You need to be passionate about the topic. You need to be true to yourself. And you need to put yourself in the reader’s shoes.

I think I disagree a little bit about her take on creativity – that you should forget about creative writing techniques – because there’s a time and a place for everything, and I know I love when I read a beautifully crafted sentence. But by and large, I think Amy’s on the spot. When you write what you’d like to read, it will always find an audience and always connect with another reader out there.

Write on!

Write your story

healing_writingLast week I was talking about the ‘not so fun’ parts of writing. But that when it boils down to it, we keep at it because it’s something we feel we have to. And I came across an article from Time magazine last year that drives that home. In it, they talk about studies that show that not only can writing help people deal with psychological stresses, but with physical ones as well!

And it got me thinking about what got me started writing in the first place. My first book was An Elk in the House, literally about the elk we had in our house, Butter. I’d never even thought about writing a book before this, but there was something about Butter’s impact on our lives, and the whole experience that made me realize, I have a story to tell.

In fact, most people have a story inside them waiting to come out. Sure, not every story is meant to be broadcast to millions. In fact, as the article points out, sometimes it’s not even meant to be told to another person. But the very act of telling your story, even if it’s only for an audience of one, can be life-changing.

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!

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!

Drumroll please…

What a great blog tour that was last week! I so enjoyed stopping by all those great sites and getting to share Evil on the Peace River with a whole new audience. I want to thank each and everyone of the reviewers for taking the time to not only read my book, but share their thoughts with their readership.

And of course, I’m ecstatic at the warm reception it received (especially Sam the dog, a Lassie-in-the-making if there ever was one!).  In my books (no pun intended), the best way to wrap up such a rewarding experience is to pay it forward, and reward a new reader. So in that light, I’m happy to announce the winner of the blog tour giveaway.

The four pack of books goes to…….drumroll please….Shelley from Brookhaven! I’m so glad that my works will be finding their way all the way down to Mississippi. Thanks Shelley, for participating, and I hope you love your books. And my heartfelt thanks to everyone else who was involved with the tour!images

Write your way to a better brain!

Last week I talked about writers who had kept up their craft well past what youngsters would consider to be their ‘prime’ (of course, in a few years those youngsters will most certainly redefine what they consider to be a ‘prime’ age!). Well, it seems that in fact, there’s more to this ‘aging and writing’ thing than I thought!

A recent study has revealed that as we age, word—both our writing and reading of them—can play an important role in keeping our brains healthy. Using MRIs, scientists have discovered that the more literary engagement we have, the lower the likelihood that we’ll develop cognitive problems (like Alzheimer’s or dementia) later in life. This includes activities as simple as letter-writing (don’t forget those Christmas letters), reading a newspaper, or even doing the daily crossword.

But aside from the cognitive well-being these activities promote, I’d argue there are benefits to our emotional well-being as well. Reading and writing helps us to engage with others and with our imaginations, and what can be more beneficial than that! Even in this digital age, the written word forms the foundation for all our interactions with the world.

So if you’ve had an idea for the next great novel brewing in your mind for years, what are you waiting for? Get writing—your brain’s health may depend on it!

Writing and writing ‘til ya can’t write no more!

I came across an inspiring article today for all those writers out there who came to their craft later in life, as I did.

As the article points out, writing can be a tough slog. It’s emotionally draining, and it’s physically draining when you don’t have the luxury of being able to live off your writing (the reality for most writers). So it’s always great seeing all the amazing writers who are still churning out wonderful books well into their 80s and 90s! Gone are the days where writers would “fade out by the time they were 70.”

I only started writing in 2000, inspired by a beautiful baby elk, named Butter. I credit that lovely creature with awakening in me a passion that had been dormant for most of my life. Once I started writing, I found I couldn’t stop! And I think that’s what it really all boils down to. If you’re willing to commit your time and energy to what can be an incredibly thankless task, day in and day out, then odds are you’re not going to want to stop—even as the years roll on! And I think this other author summed it up perfectly:

“You can’t stop writing,” says Salter, who notes that Roth is reportedly in active correspondence with his biographer, Blake Bailey. “Even if you say you’re not writing books anymore, you’re making notes, perhaps writing in your journal. I dare say, even when you feel, ‘Christ, I can’t do it anymore,’ you’re still observing life and taking things in. You’re thinking, ‘I’d love to write that story. I wonder how I’d do it?'”

Like I’ve said before, writers write. And a few more grey hairs can’t change that!

What’s in your toolbox?

Every writer has their toolbox—the assortment of items they use on a regular basis to help turn their ideas into that compilation of words cobbled together to make a story.

The toolbox’s contents will vary greatly, of course, from writer to writer. And they might not even be physical tools, it might be an activity or process a writer undertakes to inspire or relax them.

One of my most important tools is my trusty dictionary—it never leaves my side. I like to be able to remove any doubt that I’ve chosen the best word for any given situation. Now, I know a lot of authors opt for a thesaurus, but I’ve always been a bit reluctant to include it amongst my arsenal. Of course, once in a while it’s useful, but if you start to rely on it too heavily, you might be headed in the wrong direction, literarily-speaking.

The danger, for me, is that sometimes end up choosing a word simply because it sounds more impressive, and not because it actually is, ‘le mot juste’! And it as turns out, it’s a fairly popular concern amongst writers. Here’s an excellent explanation of the dangers that lurk behind a thesaurus’ cover! 

What’s in your writer’s toolbox?