Last week I hosted a Christmas party for my writers’ group at our home. I have been meeting with a group of Winnipeg writers for children and teens twice a month for many years now. They have been a wonderful source of encouragement and advice and valuable criticism on my writing journey.
We have continued to meet throughout the pandemic primarily via Zoom but it was nice to be together in person for a social event.Everyone contributed delicious food and we enjoyed a terrific meal.
We had a gift exchange and I received this lovely creative package from my friend Larry.
The card inside the gift said it contained the four things Manitoba writers needed to survive winter.
1. Warmth- represented by the pair of reindeer socks.
2.Sustenance- represented by a bag of chocolates
3. Inspiration- represented by the book The Writer’s Life by writing expert Julia Cameron
4. Words- represented by two empty lined notebooks
I thought the gift was very appropriate because I have received all those same things from the writers in our group.
The warmth of their friendship.
Their advice and guidance that has provided sustenance on my writing journey.
Their wonderful writing and publication success which has been an ongoing source of inspiration for me.
The words of encouragement they gave me to keep on trying till I too became a published author.
Not just Manitoba writers but all writers need warmth, sustenance, inspiration and words to survive.
I told the children in one of the classrooms where I made an author visit that a memoir written by my grandfather’s little sister Alma had given me the idea to write my novel, Lost on the Prairie.
A girl named Julia put up her hand and asked me why I hadn’t put that little sister Alma into my book. I told Julia I originally did have Alma as well as the rest of my grandfather’s nine siblings in the book.
However, during the editing process, it became clear there were way too many characters to juggle in my novel and I had to get rid of some. That meant six of my grandfather’s siblings had to exit the book. It hurt me to do that. Writers refer to the process of eliminating characters from your novel as “killing my little darlings.”
Each character a writer develops becomes real to them. As they write about the character they get to know them and love them, The characters become the writer’s ‘little darlings.’ So when a writer is forced to axe characters from their manuscript they sometimes say, “I’m killing my little darlings.”
In my next novel, which will be coming out in the spring, one of the main characters had two sets of grandparents. While working on the manuscript my editor and I agreed two sets of grandparents were too confusing for readers. That meant I had to axe one set of grandparents from the manuscript. I hated to “kill my little darlings’ even though I knew why it was necessary.
Of course there is always the possibility that a writer could include one of the ‘darlings’ they’ve been forced to kill in a future manuscript or project and thus bring them to life again.
I think I’ve always known I’m a morning person but this last week has proved it in spades. I am working hard at editing a manuscript and it is all I have been doing pretty much for the last week. It is a frustrating task as I try to reshape a story I’ve been working on for years in new ways. On Thursday night I read part of it to my writer’s group and their honest feedback made me realize I needed to go back to the drawing board.
At around 9 o clock when our meeting ended I began to rewrite things but nothing I tried worked. I went to bed but couldn’t sleep thinking about my writing problem. I hauled every book of a similar nature to the one I was working on off my shelf to look for inspiration and took my computer into bed with me. I looked back at notes I’d made on books about writing fiction. I got out the manuals from writing courses I’d taken and soon they were scattered all across the bed too. No help there.
I restarted my story about eight times and finally at midnight threw in the towel and went to sleep, my computer on my chest and all the books I’d referenced lying scattered around me.
Dave, my husband, who has seen me in this kind of state before had quietly chosen to spend the night on the spare room bed.
But I woke up in the morning, sat up and somehow I knew exactly what to do. The first section of the manuscript just flew down onto the page. And I was off!
Last night I was in a similar place, where certain problems in the text just wouldn’t untangle and I was ready to chuck the whole manuscript. But this time I was smarter and went to bed and right to sleep. And this morning………… voilà I knew exactly what I could do.
After nearly seventy years on this earth, you’d think I’d have learned my lesson and realized I AM A MORNING PERSON! Why do I even try to write in the evening?
One of the unexpected but amazing bonuses of my decision to try and become a published children’s writer ten years ago is the new friends I’ve made as a result. Attending workshops, joining a writers’ group, and becoming a member of a book club for children’s authors, has given me the opportunity to meet wonderful people I now count as friends. Jodi Carmichael is one of those friends.
Jodi is a member of my writer’s group The Anitas and she recently published a new book called The U-nique Lou-Fox. Jodi has created a charming quirky character in Louisa Elizabeth Fitzhenry-O’Shaughnessyand her story is equally charming and interesting. Lou-Fox is the name Louisa hopes to use someday when she becomes a Broadway playwright.
Louisa has a couple of best friends to hang out with, understanding and caring parents and a bunch of classmates who are participating in a dramatic production she is helping to write and direct.
Things get tricky however when her teacher at school gets sick and Lou thinks she may be the cause of her illness. Lou has a huge fight with her friends over the play they are producing together and there are complications in her mother’s pregnancy. Lou is about to become a big sister to a pair of twins. Lou also has ADHD and dyslexia so handling all those developments is extra challenging for her.
As a former teacher I could identify with the teacher in the book who is trying to learn as much as she can about ADHD and dyslexia in order to support Lou, but doesn’t always get things right on her journey to a better understanding of her students.
I know when I was in the classroom it was an ongoing process to educate myself professionally about all the unique challenges various students faced, whether it was ADHD, dyslexia, fetal alcohol syndrome, severe allergies, hearing loss, sight impairment, anxiety or a host of other issues. There was lots to learn and often not a lot of time to learn it.
I think Jodi’s book is so important because there are many kids just like Louisa and they will be able to identify with Lou’s uniqueness and be inspired to recognize and appreciate their own strengths.
When I finished the book the word irrepressible came to mind for Louisa. It means full of energy and enthusiasm and that’s Louisa although she sometimes needs help channeling her irrepressible impulses.
My favourite character in the book was Louisa’s Dad who is so patient and empathetic as he helps his daughter navigate all the changes she is experiencing. How lucky Lou is to have him in her corner.
This is Jodi’s fourth book. Her first, Spaghetti is Not a Finger Food was released by Little Pickle Press in 2013. Forever Julia and Family of Spies came out with Yellow Dog Press in 2015 and 2018. I am so looking forward to the launch of The U-nique Lou Fox on September 28th. It was published by Pyjama Press.
Jodi has been so encouraging, affirming and helpful to me on my writing journey and her publishing success with a variety of imprints has been an inspiration. I feel lucky to have her for a friend and mentor. I encourage you to read her latest book but also the others she has published.
The setting was ideal. We relaxed in lawn chairs on the shore of Jessica Lake in the late afternoon and early evening. Waves lapped gently, and the sky was a stark blue canvas painted with a bevvy of interesting clouds. I could smell the pines. I was sipping crisp white wine and took my shoes off to feel the sandy soil beneath my feet.
And then my friend Roger started reading a charming and intriguing chapter from his latest manuscript.
We were at Proestry II, the second annual literary event hosted by our friends Jan and Mitch at their Whiteshell cottage.
Mitch who was celebrating the announcement that a book of his short stories will be released by At Bay Press in 2023 was an affable and accommodating master of ceremonies and introduced us to each of the folks who had come to share their work. There was such a variety.
Leslie read a humourous short story.
Marnie shared excerpts from her journal.
Wes entertained us with tunes by Leonard Cohen and Woody Guthrie
Phyllis introduced us to her poetry
I debuted the opening chapter of my latest work in progress.
Donna presented an excerpt from her first book.
Mitch interspersed his master of ceremonies comments with several readings from his own work.
Later there was time for visiting and eating.
I am already looking forward to Prosetry III next summer.
This puzzle is called Avian Friends but I ordered it because it reminded me so much of the title of Anne Lamott’s famous book about the craft of writing Bird by Bird first published in 1994. The title of the book comes from a piece in Lamott’s book that reads…….
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table, close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
Anne’s father’s advice rings true for writing projects but also for almost any task that seems overwhelming. You have to start and take one step at a time and eventually the task will get done. That was certainly how I felt when I wrote my novel and how I feel when I am preparing to learn all the material for an exhibit at the art gallery or when I have to clean my whole house. But if I go ‘bird by bird’ it gets done.
Another thing I liked about this puzzle was the way the birds were pretty easy to put together they were so bright and unique in their colour and design but it was the pieces that connected them that took so long to figure out.
And isn’t that true? Figuring out how to bring together diverse people at work or in a family or figuring out how to take the diverse aspects of your life and bring them together in a way that is meaningful and manageable is always a challenge.
I loved the puzzle Avian Friends. But I would have called it Bird by Bird or Coming Together.
I am working on a new novel about a girl growing up on a farm in the 1930s who is impulsive, incorrigible and adventuresome. These traits often get her into trouble and lead to her older sister at one point calling her the black sheep of the family. I spun out the metaphor in a number of ways in ensuing chapters but one day when I was reading over what I’d already written it occurred to me that maybe the term black sheep might be considered racist by some.
So I checked it out and found……. a 2021 Readers Digest article that called out the term black sheep as racist. It had a quote from clinical psychologist Dr. Dee Watts -Jones. “Everyday language reminds African Americans in matter-of-fact ways that our colour is related to extortion (blackmail), disrepute (black mark), rejection (blackball), banishment (blacklist), impurity (not the driven snow), illicitness (black market), and death. Casting aspersions on black or darkness while praising white or light isn’t universal, and regardless of the intentions of the user of these expressions, such usage colludes with racism.”
Next I read an article by two Irish university professors Sharon and Frank Houghton published in the Journal of the Medical Library Association which begins with this statement, “This commentary addresses the widespread use of racist language in discussions concerning predatory publishing. Examples include terminology such as blacklists, whitelists, and black sheep. The use of such terms does not merely reflect a racist culture, but also serves to legitimize and perpetuate it.”
I found many other articlesthat confirmed my suspicion that it would be best not to use the term black sheep in my novel. It took me a couple of days to come up with an alternate description that I could spin out metaphorically but I did.
You will have to hope my novel gets published so you can find out what I used instead of black sheep.
I have been researching the life of Eleanor Roosevelt for a new middle-grade novel I am writing set in the 1930s. Although Eleanor didn’t live in an era of computers and the internet she might be considered a forerunner of today’s bloggers. In a way, those of us who blog online daily are following in Eleanor’s pioneering footsteps.
From December of 1935 until September of 1962 Eleanor wrote a syndicated column called My Day in which she chronicled her daily life. Her articles were published six days a week and appeared in some ninety different newspapers.
Although she began in 1935 by writing about the activities of her family and the interesting people she met, later her daily entries also offered her ideas about issues like prohibition and the growing popularity of televisions. She didn’t shy away from expressing her opinions about America’s entry into World War II, the development of the atomic bomb, the Cold War, American Civil Rights, anti-Semitism and space travel.
Eleanor continued writing her column after she and her husband Franklin Roosevelt left the White House, after the former President died, and during the time Eleanor served as the United States ambassador to the United Nations. She only stopped writing her daily reflections a couple of months before her death.
I am in the process of reading all of the columns published in September and October of 1936 which is the time period pertinent to my manuscript.
Eleanor’s topics during those two months range from taking one of her children to the dentist to have their wisdom teeth extracted to her observations about the futility and carnage of the civil war raging in Spain.
One day she may eloquently defend the need to encourage young people to be critical thinkers and a few days later describe how she had to heat water in a frying pan on a family camping trip because she’d forgotten the kettle.
She may offer a serious and critical review of the latest book she is reading in an entry, and then talk about her trepidation watching her young granddaughter riding a rather large horse.
One thing I noted in the September 1936 columns was Mrs Roosevelt’s difficulties trying to make sure her typewriter came with her wherever she went so she could write her daily columns. She probably would have appreciated today’s laptop computers.
Long before daily blogs became popular Eleanor Roosevelt was writing a daily blog of sorts for the newspaper.
Eleanor kept up her ritual of a daily entry for nearly thirty years.
I’ve been writing my blog What Next for just over a decade now. I wonder if I will be able to match Mrs Roosevelt’s record.
CTV featured a story in February about an eight year old boy from Boese Idaho who wrote and illustrated a book and then snuck it onto the shelves in his local library. The librarian found it, catalogued it and now there is a waiting list of over a hundred people who want to read the book. The young author is thrilled his book has such a large audience.
The story reminded me of a project we had at Elmdale School in Steinbach during the 1970s when I was a teacher there. We set up a publishing house right in our school to provide children with professional looking books they had written themselves.
We had ten volunteer parents who typed the children’s stories, with a few lines of text on each page. Then the children illustrated their pages. The volunteers sewed the pages together and made hard covers for them with cardboard and wallpaper and fabric. In one year they helped children in the school publish some 500 books. Each book had a dedication page and an about the author page as well.
The year ended with a full day Young Author’s Conference where children had a chance to read their stories to different groups of students and adults and to listen to authors, journalists and musicians share writing secrets and tips for success.
From 2005 to 2011 when I taught high school English classes I published a school newspaper. My teenage students were excited that their writing would be shared with the whole student body.
Having their work published in some form and then shared with an audience is a real reward for kids no matter their age.It can affirm them as writers and inspire them to continue with their creative work.
Did you know it’s FreeLance Writer’s Week? Begun in 2013 it’s a week to recognize the work that freelance writers do. I have been a freelance writer since 1985 when I first began my regular newspaper column in the Carillon.
One of the things I love about being a freelance writer is the opportunitiesit has provided for me to meet interesting people and learn about interesting things.
One kind of freelance work I have really enjoyed is writing travel articles. Working on them makes me take a much closer look at the places we travel, ask more questions and do more research about our destinations. Close to fifty of my freelance pieces about our travels in Asia are on the Things Asian website.
Over some thirty-five years, I have learned so much about so many different subjects writing and researching my newspaper columns for the regional newspaper The Carillon.
Working as a freelance writer for the magazine The Mennonite Mirror gave me an opportunity to interview Olympic athletes, politicians, business owners, entertainers, media personalities and pastors.
A freelance assignment to write a book review for the Manitoba Historical Society Journal introduced me to Mary Ritter Hamilton a Manitoba artist who went to Europe after World War I to paint haunting landscapes of former battlefields. I always enjoy book review assignments because they come with a free book.
A freelance job writing the text for a brochure our church was publishing about why we do an Indigenous land acknowledgementduring our services gave me a chance to learn more about the treaties that were signed with Indigenous people in Manitoba.
Doing freelance writing for the Rejoice devotional magazine has led me to study Biblical passages in-depth and research their context and possible application to my life.
When I lived in Hong Kong part of my teaching assignment at the international school where I worked was to write a history of the school. It gave me a chance to interview fascinating people across the globe who had attended the school or had worked there.
I did some freelancing for Rhubarb magazine, writing both fiction and non-fiction pieces and this pushed me to explore some new ideas and foster new kinds of writing skills.
Some twenty freelance writing assignments developing educational curriculum for Mennonite publishing houses has given me the opportunity to research the lives of heroes from Biblical as well as modern-day times.
My three years as a freelance columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press faith page gave me a chance to interview a middle east peacekeeper, a race track chaplain, an NBA basketball player, a political party leader, authors, well-known artists and many other fascinating folks.
I have done many other kinds of freelance writing assignments. I wrote a history of the Steinbach Public Library. I wrote the text and lyrics for a musical. I’ve written many different pieces for educational magazines and contributed to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. I’ve written pieces for retirement magazines, the history of the Bethesda Hospital Women’s auxiliary, and of course the presentations and sermons and talks for retreats, church services and workshops where I have been a speaker. Right now I am writing the lectures for a course I will be teaching online in just a few weeksand just finished publishing my first solo issue of NOTES the newsletter for the Friends of the Winnipeg Public Library.
Freelancing writing has its drawbacks and difficulties, especially for those who rely on it for their sole source of income but for me, it has been a welcome addition to my other career endeavours that has enriched my life beyond measure. I am glad there is a special week to celebrate the joy of freelance writing.