I want to extend a huge thank you to the nearly 100 people who viewed the video I posted on Friday. It was my first attempt at making a promotional piece for a wholesaler to use as they try to entice librarians and teachers to buy my new novel Lost on the Prairie.
So many of you left comments on my Facebook page, sent me e-mails, sent me messages or forwarded texts with your suggestions. You thought I needed to look straight into the camera instead of down on it, that I needed to be less animated so it didn’t detract from what I was saying, and to remember that I was talking to adults not children. Some of you also made great suggestions for different content. I took that all into consideration plus many other tips you offered and today I filmed a new video.
For those of you who are interested you can watch it HERE.
I am so grateful to all of you who helped me out with this. I have the best blog readers ever!
Last night I watched the launch of two new books online hosted by McNally Robinson Booksellers who will also host my book launch. The featured books were Colleen Nelson’s The Life and Deaths of Frankie Dand Deborah Kerbel’s Like A Duck. After Colleen’s introduction during which her many awards were listed, she mentioned how uncomfortable she is with what I think she referred to as “the braggy part” of being an author.
Colleen realizes however, as all authors eventually do, particularly during the pandemic, that promoting your book and ‘bragging’ about yourself is just part and parcel of finding an audience for your novel. It has to be done if you want people to read your book.
This week I had to do one of those ‘braggy’ thingsbecause……….
Monica Miller the marketing and publicity coordinator for my publisher Heritage House asked me to make a short video promo for my novel Lost on the Prairie that is coming out at the end of May. A library wholesaler who distributes books for Heritage House is asking for filmed book introductions from authors to use at public library conferences and other events in Western Canada during May and June.
The target audience is teachers and librarians who will purchase the book for schools and public libraries. This is a market where I definitely need to capture interest if I want to sell all those thousands of copies of my books they are printing.
It is awfully hard to pick what you want to say about your book when you have less than three minutes to do it. Do I mention that I have a personal connection to the story? Should I talk about the fact that a great deal of the story takes place on the Sisseton Wahpeton First Nation in South Dakota? Should I talk about all the research I did for the book. Should I mention the study guide that is included?
So I made my video and I need to have an honest evaluation of it. I could use technical advice about my pacing, the sound quality and lighting and advice about the content. Should I focus on other aspects of the book than the ones I have? Do I come off as too old fashioned or ‘braggy’ as Colleen so aptly put it? Any wardrobe or hair suggestions for a different kind of look?
You can make comments in the place provided at the end of this post, or if you read this post on Facebook or Twitter leave the comments there, or message me on Facebook or even send me an e-mail at email@example.com. I need really honest feedback so critique away!
The only reason my book is getting published is because of all the criticism I received from my writers’ group, the contests to which I submitted parts of the book for criticism, the editors I sent it to who offered critiques, my early readers who evaluated the book and the professional editor Deborah Froese who did such a great job critiquing my initial draft.
Criticism is key to an author’s success. So critique away! I will be ever so grateful!
PS: After all the constructive criticism I received about my first video I made a new one which you can watch here.
Other postsabout my novel Lost on the Prairie can be read here.
I learned lots of interesting things while researching and writing my novel Lost on the Prairie.
In one scene in my book two train passengers are playing the game Toboggans and Stairs. My hero Peter who is from the United States has played Snakes and Ladders but has never heard of this Canadian version of the game which was popular at the turn of the century. I found images of some of the old Toboggans and Stairs gamesso I would know what it looked like.
Another scene in my novel takes place in millinery shop. At the turn of the century millinery shops not only sold hats they designed and made them as well. To find out how a shop in the early 1900s might have looked I studied two paintings done by famous artists around that time.
In one chapter of Lost on the Prairie my hero Peter helps out for a day at a mill. I needed to know how a mill works for this scene and so I watched a video featuring an old friend of mine Al Hamm. The video is made by Farmery Brewery and in it Al explains how barley from the brewery is ground into flour which the company uses for a line of products that includes pancake mix and fish batter.
“Prince clomps right up to the lake and sinks his muzzle into its blue depths sucking up the water and swallowing it in huge gusty gulps. After a bit he rears his head up and swooshes it around in his mouth streams pouring down from his tongue and teeth.”
Illustration by Victorian artist Randolph Caldecott
I learned about so many fascinating things in the process of writing my book. I am anxious to share my knowledge with classes of students who will read my book, with book clubs and with any interested readers.
All the posts about Lost on the Prairie can be read here.
Come take a trip in my airship come sail away to the stars We’ll travel to Venus we’ll sail off to Mars
That’s part of the chorus of a love song about the pilot of an airship who woos a young woman by taking her on a cruise through the Milky Way and proposing to her there. The song debuted in 1904 and has been recorded hundreds of times by artists as varied as Johnny Cash, Natalie Merchant and Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton.
Come Take A Trip In My Airship plays a role in my upcoming novel Lost on the Prairie.My hero Peter hears the song being whistled by a young lad named Samson who is showing him the way to the West Hotel in Minneapolis.
As we walk down the street side by side Samson begins to whistle. “I don’t know that song,” I say.
“It’s called Come Take a Trip in My Airship.”
“My family likes music but I’ve never heard that one,” I tell him.
“It’s pretty new. Miss Ginger one of the entertainers in the dining room at the West Hotel has been singing it lately. I often have to take passengers to and from the hotel and sometimes when I’m waiting in the lobby for folks I can hear Miss Ginger singing. She’s got a voice can make your worries fly away.”
“Why would she be singing about an airship? What’s that?”
“You haven’t heard of them?”
“Can’t say that I have. I saw some hot air balloons when I was at the amusement park in Omaha. Is that the same thing?”
“I guess in a way but these are real airships that carry lots of passengers. They’ve been experimenting with them over in Europe, France mostly. This one fella earned a whole pile of money for flying his airship around the Eiffel Tower.”
The song was written by a Welsh musician named George Honey Boy Evans and the lyrics were penned by an American musician Ren Shields. They wrote other songs together including the very popular In the Good Old Summer Time.
This last week I have been going over the manuscript for Lost on the Prairie in its entirety almost every day as we polish all the details before it is sent to the printer. One thing that I’ve noticed during these marathon reading sessions is that music actually plays a pretty important role in my story. In the future, I will have to blog about other songs that are featured in the book.
My cousin Carol Schroeder has completed another illustration for a scene from my novel. My hero Peter has gone on an adventure on horseback with his good friend Joe when Joe becomes trapped in quicksand. It’s fall and the monarch butterflies are migrating. Joe and Peter see them everywhere.
There in front of us blanketing every tree branch in sight, hovering over rocks, perched on flowers and clinging to grass stalks are thousands and thousands of orange and black butterflies.
“What are they doing here?” I ask softly.
“Stopping for night. On their way to Mexico for winter.”
“Land sakes! That’s a longer trip than the one my family is making from Kansas to Canada.”
“Let’s get up a little closer.”
Joe takes two steps forward and stops. He turns around. His eyes are wide and wild.
“I can’t move! My feet are stuck! I’m sinking. Help me Peter.”
Later Peter goes for help to get Joe out of the quicksand and when he comes back with Joe’s father and other relatives this scene greets their eyes.
Joe is no longer in the quicksand. He is lying just as still as can be. Prince stands at Joe’s head nuzzling his hair. Bunches of butterflies are perched on Joe’s muddy pant legs, on his toes, on his bare arms and along the rope still wrapped around his chest and still attached to Prince’s saddle horn.As Mr. Little Thunder bends his head to lay his ear on Joe’s chest, the butterflies rise slow and gentle as morning fog and flutter off.
To see another illustration Carol did for my novel check out this post.
I was lucky to grow up in a home where my parents read to me a lot.
I could read already when I was in kindergarten. I devoured books. I read whole series like The Bobbsey Twins, The Box Car Children, Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, Little House on the Prairie and Elsie Dinsmore.
I still have my original copy of Anne of Green Gables, a gift from my Aunt Viola.
I was always reading. My Mom took me to the Good Will store in Winnipeg to buy used books and my Dad ordered books from Readers Digest that came every month- they were condensed versions of novels, usually, four in a book and I read them all. I think my love of reading is what led to my love of writing.
My writing was nourished by teachers who celebrated my writing talents.
In grade five my teacher Mr. Helmut Klassen submitted a story I had written about a big snowstorm to the local paper The Carillon News and they printed it. I was thrilled. My mother cut out the article and framed it. I still have it.
In 1966 when I was in grade seven my teacher Mr. Melvin Toews published a magazine about Canada’s upcoming centennial and each student had a story or a poem in it. My contribution was on the first page in the magazine and it was a short essay about Canada. I was really proud of thatand I still have a copy of the magazine.
In high school, my English teacher Miss Gunn was brand new to the profession and she assigned so many writing assignments. Although some of my classmates weren’t very happy about having to do all that writing I was in my glory andMiss Gunn was very affirming about my writing. Her encouragement led to me becoming the editor of the school newspaper at my high school.
I became a teacher and enjoyed writing song lyrics and poems and stories for my students.
I helped to set up a kind of publishing house in my school so my students could publish stories they had written.
Then in 1985, just after my second son was born, someone wrote an article in our local paper The Carillon News that said parents, particularly mothers, who enrolled their children in daycare didn’t really love their kids. I was UPSET! I knew daycare was an important service to communities and families and so I wrote a letter to the editor Mr Peter Dyck explaining that. He not only printed my letter he asked if I’d like to become a weekly columnist for the newspaper. That wasthirty-six years ago and I am still writing a regular column called Viewpoint for that newspaper. For three years I also worked as a newspaper columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Being a newspaper columnist led to lots of other writing jobs and since then I have had hundreds of articles published in magazines, newspapers, anthologies, journals and on blogs and travel websites. I have written many curriculums, some institutional histories and even the script and lyrics for a musical.
I moved to Hong Kong for six years to be a teacher there and joined an organization called Hong Kong Women in Publishing. Their regular workshops and discussions and a chance to be published in their annual anthology was a big boost to my confidence as a writer.
I also wrote about our travels on travel websites and for newspapers and magazines. I began a blog to let people know about our life in Hong Kong and when I got back to Canada I changed the name of the blog but kept it going. I still write something on my blog What Next? everyday.
When I came back to Canada from Hong Kong I decided it was time to try a different kind of writing so I started taking courses, and going to workshops and joining professional groups that could help me learn to be a children’s writer. I discovered that many people believe getting a book published as a children’s writer is harder than getting a book of any other kind of writing published. I wrote all kinds of stories for children’s magazines, wrote several picture books, started a couple of novelsand finally finished Lost on the Prairiebut none of those things got published.
I worked on the novel for several years changing it, adding to it, doing more research, and getting lots of advice. I submitted it to publishers who rejected it and then I tried Heritage House and they loved it and sent me a contract to have it published.
I am currently finishing the first draft of another novel and am trying to find a publisher for a picture book I have completed.
Writing is something I like to do, but over my lifetime it has become something I need to do. Writing helps me learn about the past, make sense of the present and dream about the future.
My husband Dave gave me a Christmas present I wasn’t expecting. It certainly is big, almost too big in my estimation. But I want to be gracious because my husband had good intentions.
Before Christmas Dave contacted our friends Dave and Lois Penner who own and operate Print Studio One in Steinbach and asked them to make a large canvas version of the cover of my upcoming novel Lost on the Prairie.
The resulting wall art piece is large that’s for certain. Dave thought we should hang it in our living room but I wasn’t very comfortable with that. Instead we’ve placed it on the wall of our second bedroom which I am in the process of turning into a study for myself.
Hopefully I will be able to visit book clubs and schools and churches via zoom to talk about my book andit will be nice to have my cover hanging on the wall as a background for these conversations.
My husband’s Christmas gifts have often been quite unorthodox. One year he branded a herd of cows he’d bought with my initials as my gift.
This gift was thoughtful and supportive and affirming of my writing talents but…………..it is pretty BIG!
My cousin Carol is an artist. She is well known at Manitoba craft sales for her beautiful painted boxes, bookmarks, cards, and light switch plates. I asked her if she would like to try drawing some illustrations depicting scenes from my upcoming novel Lost on the Prairie. She agreed.
This is her first illustration. It shows my hero Peter in the boxcar of the train taking him to his new home in Saskatchewan. Carol has drawn Prince and Gypsy the two horses traveling with Peter. I love the way she’s included one of the gophers Peter befriends.
The character of Peter in my book was inspired by my own grandfather Peter Schmidt. He is also Carol’s grandfather. Our grandfather died when Carol and I were seven.
Carol’s illustrations won’t be in the book but I will use them in the educational resources I provide to go along with Lost on the Prairie. I am sure they will inspire young readers to try making their own illustrations for the novel.
It was created by a talented graphic designer named Jacqui Thomas who has worked for my publisher Heritage House since 2006. I had a delightful chat over the phone with Jacqui yesterday to find out how she developed the idea for the cover. She said she had started out by reading my book and then doing a number of sketches. The final cover is based on one of the first sketches she did.
Jacqui decided to include the grain and grain elevator since they are recognizable prairie symbols. Many scenes in the novel take place on trains so she chose to feature a train track running prominently through the center of the cover.
She wanted Peter, the main character, to appear small since he will have felt very small when he was alone and lost on the vast prairie.
Jacqui gave the cover a wood-cut sort of feel as a way to allude to the fact that the story takes place over a hundred years ago. Jacqui played around with different color palettes for the cover, but she and the other members of the production team at Heritage House felt the green hues conveyed just the right mood and tone for the book. When choosing the font Jacqui said she was looking for something with a human element to it, as well as a slightly modern feel, to appeal to the target audience.
Jacqui told me the storyline of Lost on the Prairie pulled her right in and she really enjoyed reading the book so that made her task of designing the cover easier. She thinks the novel will appeal to kids because it is not only an adventure story but also a survival story and explores a very real fear that many children have of getting lost. I was thrilled when she said she plans to buy copies for several young people she knows.
I thanked Jacqui for designing such a beautiful cover for my book. She was so glad I liked it. Some authors can be quite critical of the covers a book designer creates. Jacqui understands that an author’s precious manuscript is almost like a child to them and they aren’t always open to the vision others might have for representing their book. Jacqui’s work can be challenging when the author and the publisher don’t agree on what the cover should look like. Happily, that was not the case with my cover.
I asked Jacqui to point out some other books on the Heritage House website whose covers she had designed and there were quite a few. Two I found particularly clever and engaging were her covers for a book about the history of the Canadian Pacific Railroad by David Laurence Jones called Railway Nation and another for a humorous Survival Guide to British Columbia written by Ian Ferguson. I’ve provided links so you check out both of those creative covers.
After we had chatted about book covers I asked Jacqui to tell me a little bit about herself.
Jacqui has a degree in sociology and initially had careers in the hotel industry and as a support worker for people with special needs. At age thirty she decided to pursue what she loved most and pivoted to a career in the arts as a graphic designer.
Jacqui lives in Vancouver and a year and a half ago started a sketch club. She and her artistic friends go to different places in Vancouver and sketch the cityscape. During the pandemic, they have been sharing their work with one another via a private blog. Jacqui also paints watercolors.
Jacqui has a husband, a teenage son and a dog named Frieda Kahlo. Frieda is a rescue dog from the streets of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. Jacqui is also a cyclist. She told me that sometimes when she is stuck and can’t think of an idea for a design assignment she goes for a long bike ride and that provides her with the creative energy she needs for artistic inspiration.
I also found out that tea is her beverage of choice because she was enjoying a cup during our conversation. I asked her so many questions I was worried her tea would get cold while she was answering them.
Jacqui told me she will also be doing the layout and design work for my book.
How lucky I am to have Jacqui as part of the Heritage House team that is working behind the scenes to bring my novel Lost on the Prairie to bookshelves everywhere this coming spring.
A couple of years ago for our annual Christmas party,the members of my writers’ group decided we should all bring something to contribute to our potluck that was related to a book or story we had written. I used a passage from my novel Lost on the Prairie which is coming out in spring with Heritage House publishers to inspire my food contribution.
I chose a scene from early on in the book where my hero Peter is leaving on a long train trip from Kansas to Saskatchewan. He is riding in a train car with the family horses. As his parents say good-bye to him at the train station, his Mom gives him some food she has prepared.
Mama hands me an old sugar sack that smells of spicy pickles, smoked sausage, buttered bread and her dried cinnamon apples. Then she hugs me and her arms squish the air out of my lungs clear to my ribs. Two hot tears slip across her cheeks and slide down my neck. I can tell Mama wants to say something. She gnaws her lips and opens them so wide I can see all of her teeth right to the back of her mouth, but only short gasps come up from her throat. Papa shakes my hand strong and steady and then he puts his arm around Mama’s shoulders and leads her away.
I prepared the four items in Peter’s lunch and brought them to our party. In the teachers guide for my novel I might suggest bringing some of these foods into the classroom for a tasting party after finishing the first chapter of Lost on the Prairie.