Category Archives: Writing

Family of Spies

family of spies“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”   That quote from the Bible was the theme of a  commencement address given at a Virgina college last week by recently fired American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.  Tillerson warned that when leaders lie and people accept those lies, it won’t be long before freedom is lost.  

jodi book launch

I attended the launch of Jodi Carmichael’s book Family of Spies 

Interestingly that same Bible verse about truth and freedom appears a number of times in a new novel for middle grade readers by Winnipeg author Jodi Carmichael. Much of the story in her Family of Spies is set in 1944 just before the end of World War II.  The action happens during a period of time when Hitler is trying to conceal the truth and make the German people accept his alternate reality.  

edward crawford

 Jodi’s grandfather who inspired her book

Jodi’s inspiration for the book grew out of the fact that the records detailing her grandfather Edward Crawford’s service in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II remain sealed to this day. Why? Could he have been a spy? In her book Jodi imagines that three of Edward’s great-grandchildren have arrived in Paris on a family vacation. They have a suitcase of their great grandfather’s belongings and hatch a plan to try to figure out the mystery surrounding his military service. 

war medals family of spies

Jodi’s grandfather’s military service medals

I attended the launch of Jodi’s book at the end of April and she had some of her grandfather’s memorabilia on display, including his war medals and a photograph of him after the Newfoundland native was named a Rhodes Scholar. 

cookies jodi's launch

The cookies served at the book launch for Family of Spies featured the Eiffel Tower.

Jodi wrote Family of Spies while living in Europe so she was able to visit the important sites in Paris where the action in her novel takes place. That  ‘feet on the ground’ research is evident in her vivid descriptions of French landmarks. 

As Jodi’s heroes Ford, Ellie and Gavin explore Paris, trying to discover the truth about their great grandfather’s past, they also discover some truths about themselves and their relationships with one another. I really liked that about the book. 

jodi signing her book

Jodi signs books for her fans

Jodi is a member of the children’s writers group I meet with twice a month. I have just finished the first draft of a novel based on an event in my own grandfather’s life.  Jodi’s success with  Family of Spies gives me a tiny bit of hope that I may be able to get my novel published as well. Jodi is a successful writer and I so appreciate her willingness to share her expertise with our writing group.  You can find out more about Jodi and the other books she has published on her website. 

Other posts……..

A Glamorous Night For Manitoba Writing

The Cube

Who Do Family Stories Belong To?



Filed under Books, Childhood, Writing

A Chicken Soup Story For Mothers Day

Years ago someone critiquing my writing style told me I should try to make my pieces less “chicken soupy”.   That critic was right on the money.  My writing does have a certain “chicken soupy”  quality and to prove it I’ve just had my fourth story published in one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. 

This time my story is in a book called My Amazing Mom and I’ve written a story about my own amazing mother.  I am grateful to my Mom for so many things but my story is about the wise and gentle way she introduced my sister and me to the ‘facts of life’ by reading us the book Susie’s Babies which tells the story of a mother hamster giving birth.   My sister and I were ages nine and seven at the time and after she read us the book Mom told us she was going to have a baby too and we could ask her any questions about it we wanted to.  She also explained what would happen to us as we became young women .  It wasn’t till I was older that I realized not nearly all mothers in the 1960s were so open and honest with their daughters and how very lucky I was to have a mother who was.   

I enjoy writing Chicken Soup stories and usually have at least one I’m in the process of working on.  Not all of them make the cut from the thousands submitted for each book, but Susie’s Babies is the fourth one that has and that’s enough to keep me penning in my “chicken soupy” style. 

You can buy the books from Simon and Shuster   or Amazon   or Barnes and Noble 

My Other Chicken Soup Books…….

I’m in the Latest Chicken Soup Book

In Chicken Soup Again

Back in Chicken Soup



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Filed under Books, Family, Writing

The Cube

I admire my friend Kelly so much.  We got to know each other when we both worked at the same international school in Hong Kong and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.  


Here are Dave and me sitting across from Kelly and her husband Aaron at a Quiz Night we used to go to together in Hong Kong.

Kelly is much younger than I am but she’s equally passionate about writing and over the last decade I’ve been following her determined efforts to write and publish a book.  Kelly is the kind of person who doesn’t just talk about doing something, she takes action.  During a job transitioning period she planned for time off from her career to finish her manuscript.  Then she hired an experienced editor to help her hone her science fiction novel.  


Check out Kelly’s blog at

She started a blog where she detailed her writing journey. She joined a writers’ association to make connections and grow professionally. She sought advice from other writers by interviewing them and then writing about what she had learned on her blog.  Kelly fine- tuned the art of writing query letters and started sending them out to publishers. She went to writing conferences and met with publishers there. 

symbols in the cube

As you read Kelly’s novel The Cube you are going to be just as intrigued as Kelly’s protagonists who are trying to figure out this coded message after gathering the symbols from locations all over the United States.

She hired a designer to help her create the intriguing symbols which are at the heart of her novel’s plot. After a period of determined effort to find a publisher for her book she decided to publish it herself with the assistance of Windy City Publishers and set about planning her book launch and a publicity campaign to bring attention to her book. After all that hard work her dream has been realized and her book is now in the hands of readers.  

the cube by kelly weissOf course as soon as I heard the news I ordered Kelly’s book and I’ve just finished reading it. I’m a sucker for a good romance and The Cube certainly offers that so I was hooked right off the bat.  Because I am not a gamer at all,  I admit the intricacies of The Cube which is a virtual reality game, initially confused me, but when I reached the section where the book’s hero Will enters The Cube and tries his hand at the various tests of intellectual skill and physical endurance I was completely caught up in his quest and read furiously to see if he would be successful.

Dave and I have visited Kelly’s family in Chicago and so the fact that the book is set in that city made it even more interesting to me, and will appeal to others who either live in Chicago or who have traveled there and been charmed by its history, geography and culture. Although Kelly’s book is an entertaining mystery it also makes you consider ethical questions around the success of large social media entities who know so much about our personal lives, and as the last American election showed, have so much power.   Will they use their power to make the world a better place? Is it safe for them to have so much influence?  Kelly’s two main characters have different opinions about that and it really gets the reader thinking. One thing I appreciated about Kelly’s book is that it gives readers hope for the future while many other novels present such a dark, dystopian picture of what is to come.  

Kelly is a role model for me as I write new manuscripts, hone others and attempt to get them published. Her determination and dedication to the writing craft is inspirational. You can order her book The Cube from Amazon or Barnes and Noble

Other posts………

Visiting Chicago

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Filed under Books, Writing

Learning From Judy Blume

I’ve signed up for an online course about writing for a middle grade audience taught by award winning and popular children’s author Judy Blume. She’s written books like Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing and Freckle Juice. I have just done the first few lessons of her course but I think it will provide impetus and guidance for my own writing.  I’ve made a cartoon to show what I’ve learned from Judy so far.  I’m looking forward to future lessons from Judy. 

Other posts…………

Empty Adjectives

So Much Hard Work

So Excited

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A Letter to Isabella

I just finished writing a letter to a young woman named Isabella. She lives in Oregon. She is my sister’s niece and her grade six class is doing a special project.  At the beginning of the year Isabella started a journal. On its first pages she wrote a letter in which she introduced herself and the city she calls home.  Then she sent the journal to someone who lived in another city or country.  That person wrote a letter to Isabella about where they lived and then sent it on to someone in another place. Eventually the journal reached my sister in Winnipeg and she sent the journal to me in Portugal. Since Isabella’s project started at the beginning of the school year, her journal has had time to travel all over Canada and to places as far away as Uganda. It was interesting for me to read all the letters her journal already contained. 

I wrote a letter to Isabella about the food here in Portugal, the beautiful cobblestone sidewalks, the storks who build such gigantic nests and some of the art I’ve seen by Portuguese artists.  I also had to take pictures of Isabella’s journal in various places here in Portugal and send them to her.  Here are the photos I sent. 

Isabella’s journal by the fence around an orchard of oranges.

Isabella’s journal beside a flower design in the cobblestones in Faro

Isabella’s journal at Cape St. Vincent lighthouse at the southwestern tip of Portugal.

For those of you who have been following my posts about trying to do eight things a day to become a better writer……….. writing a personal letter is the fifth thing.  Letter writing is becoming something of a lost art in our electronic age where we tweet and text in short little spurts.  I decided I was going to write actual letters to people and not just about business matters related to my part time jobs and community involvements, but actual personal letters. So writing a letter to Isabella fit nicely into my plan to work on my writing skills during my time in Portugal. 

How did composing letters help hone my writing skills?

 It reminded me to consider my audience. A letter is addressed to a specific audience and so you choose the things you are going to write about and choose how to talk about them with that audience in mind.  I knew for example that Isabella was in grade six so I tried to think of things to write about in her letter that a twelve year old might be interested in.  You have to consider your audience’s interest, mood and age when you attempt any piece of writing. You also have to figure out an engaging way to start a letter and a satisfying way to wrap things up at the end.  That’s important in any good piece of writing.

I ended Isabella’s letter by telling her I had traveled to nearly forty different countries of the world and what I had learned from my experiences was that most people in the world are good and kind and share many similarities with one another. 

Other posts………..

A Lament for Letters

Mailboxes of Distinction


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Filed under Portugal, Writing

The Artist’s Way- Thing Four

My writers’ group in Winnipeg meets tonight.  While I have been in Portugal they have started working their way through a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I didn’t want to miss out so I bought the book and have been following along and sending my writers’ group updates on my progress.  The book invites you to explore your creativity in a whole variety of interesting ways. Here are five I have already tried. 

  • Morning Papers- You journal in a free-flowing kind of way each morning optimally three pages full of writing.  You write anything you want- kind of stream of consciousness without thought to organization or audience.  I’m on my second little journal already and I’m loving this kind of writing.  I write about such different things than I do in my blog writing, or newspaper column writing or fiction writing.

    Having an artist’s date on a patio here in Praia da Luz

  • Artist’s Date- You do something special for yourself that gives you time and space and opportunity to explore your creativity. Some of the members of my writers group have taken ballet lessons, had facials, and visited art galleries.  One kind of date I often give myself is to go to a sunny patio here in Portugal, order a class of wine or a fancy coffee and maybe one of those luscious egg tarts the Portuguese are famous for and spend time on my own reading or sketching or just thinking.

    Me off to school in kindergarten

  • Write a Letter to Your Childhood Self-  I realized in doing this that many of the things I was fearful and concerned about as a child have not materialized and although not all my childhood dreams have come true other good things have happened to me I couldn’t have anticipated. 

    My Mom framed the first newspaper article I had published at age 10. I still have it.

  • Write About People Who Have Championed You as A Creative Person-  I wrote about my mother who framed my first newspaper article at age 10 and who maintained these huge scrapbooks where she pasted copies of every newspaper and magazine article I had published. I wrote about my brother who prodded and encouraged me to publish my first piece of fiction and my friend Perry who gave me such affirmation about the picture book I am trying to publish. 

    I discovered these donation boxes on one of my short walks here in Praia Da Luz. Donated items are sold to raise funds for disabled children.

  • Take a Twenty Minute Walk- I am doing lots of hiking here in Portugal with other people but I’ve been trying to go on short walks on my own too, often just through the streets of the town where we are living. I’ve made a couple interesting discoveries that way. One is  this colorful donation box which collects goods that are sold in a local second hand store. The funds are used to help Portuguese children with disabilities. 

Exploring the book The Artist’s Way is the fourth step on what my friend Rudy calls ‘my eight fold path’ to becoming a better writer during my holiday here in Portugal. 

Other posts………

Thing 1

Thing 2

Thing 3

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Filed under Portugal, Writing

Thing 3- Reading- On the Eight Fold Path

My friend Rudy calls it ‘the eight fold path’ .  I have a list of eight things I try to do everyday here in Portugal to develop as a writer.  I already wrote about Thing 1  and Thing 2 on my path. This post is about Thing 3.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all other: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King

That’s my justification for Thing 3…….. not that I need one.  I LOVE to read and don’t just do so because I know as Stephen King says it will make me a better writer. I have read quite a few books already during our time in Portugal but have now started what has become something of a ritual for me on our winter holidays…………trying to get through all the Canada Reads nominees.  

I just finished my first book Boat People by Sharon Bala.  I have to say I loved this book so much I am almost ready to declare it the winner before reading any of the others.  It is a fictional story but based on events in 2009 and 2010 when ship loads of Sri Lankin Tamils fleeing civil war in their country arrived in Vancouver.  Were they legitimate refugees or were some of them members of the terrorist Tamil Tigers?  Hundreds of the Sri Lankin refugees were detained until hearings could determine whether or not they would be of danger to Canadian citizens. 

The story of Boat People is told through the eyes of three characters.  Mahindan is a man with a six year old son who is a refugee suspected of Tamil Tiger ties.  Mahindan’s  young lawyer Priya is a second generation Sri Lankan- Canadian. Grace is the government appointed adjucator who hears and will decide Mahindan’s case.  Grace is Japanese Canadian and her parents and grandparents were put in a detention camp during World War II.  

Sharon Bala’s riveting story makes us realize just how complicated and subjective and messy the process of admitting refugees to Canada can be. Do circumstances beyond their control often force potential immigrants to cooperate with terrorist demands in their home countries? Are there enough experienced lawyers to defend refugees claiming citizenship?  Are adjucators politically motivated because of who appointed them? These are just a few of the questions the book poses. 

 Even though my husband and I, and other members of our family, have been very involved in bringing refugees to Canada and supporting them, I still learned a great many new things about the Canadian immigration process from this book. At the same time I was also totally engaged with the story. 
From a writers’ perspective Sharon Bala’s book taught me………….
1) The importance of detailed historical research 
2) The benefits of telling a story from more than one character’s perspective
3) The rewards  of writing about something related to your own background- Sharon Bala is a Sri-Lankian Canadian writer from Newfoundland
4) The value of keeping your readers in suspense
 Other posts………..

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