Category Archives: Writing

Coop the Great- A Book That’s Not Just For Dog Lovers

I was once bit on the nose by a dachshund and needed several stitches. My nose ballooned up to about triple its size.  I was a teenager at the time and was soooooooo embarrassed because my Mom made me go to school despite the fact that thanks to a dachshund I looked like a clown. That’s important for you to know before I offer my review of Larry Verstraete’s new middle grade novel Coop the Great.  The main character is……… you guessed it……… a dachshund.  You have to understand that I am not really a dog person and in particular not a dachshund lover.  

So the fact I enjoyed Larry‘s book despite my lack of affinity for canines should be an indication of just how good a story it is.  The novel taught me some very interesting things about dogs and I was amazed at how Larry was able to consistently let us see the world from a dog’s perspective. 

Coop is an aging pet who struggles with health issues and some past problems with the families who have offered him a home. In that regard he is not unlike his owner Mike who is getting on in years and is dealing with cancer and heart issues. Mike has lost his wife, and is worried about his daughter Jess and his grandchildren Zach and Emma who are being threatened by an abusive husband and father. 

Larry’s publishing team from Great Plains Publications meet Darnold.

Coop enters Mike’s life from a dog shelter and when author Larry Verstraete launched his book at McNally Robinson this month he had a special guest, a dog named Darnold from D’arcy’s ARC,a Winnipeg shelter much like the one in the book.

Larry signs a book for one of our writing group members

Larry is a member of my writers’ group.  I respect Larry and am inspired by his success.  Coop the Great is his seventeenth published book for children. I am lucky I get to benefit from his expertise and experience with regards to my own work on a regular basis. I was honored to have my name mentioned in the book’s afterword as Larry acknowledged the input he receives from our writing group. 

In some ways Coop reminded me of The Littlest Hobo a television series about a dog that was popular when I was about ten years old- the age of Larry’s target audience for his book.  Coop proves to be every bit as daring and brave as The Littlest Hobo  but I liked him more than my childhood television hero. Coop is such a colorful, quirky and interesting character.  

On the cover of Larry’s book Coop has some ear buds wrapped around his neck.  It’s a clue to the exciting climax of the story that will leave you on the edge of your seat. Although Coop is definitely the novel’s main protagonist the story is also about Mike’s grandson Zack and the way he deals with his difficult family situation.  That was a helpful thing for me to read about in reference to the work I do with children, and I am sure other adults in similar professions will feel the same way. 

Larry’s book Coop the Great is an interesting, exciting and inspiring read even if you aren’t a dog lover. 

Other posts…………..

Writer or Palaeontologist?

A Glamorous Night For Manitoba Writing

Launching Not One Book But Three

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Filed under Books, Writing

What’s the Answer?

Before I went to a writing conference in Toronto earlier this month the members of my writers’ group here in Winnipeg helped me to come up with questions for a panel of book editors from various publishing house who were going to field questions about getting your book in print.  I submitted the questions and the moderator of the panel used almost every one as she led the discussion.  I promised my writers’ group the Anitas, that I’d provide them with the answers – so here they are. 

The panel of editors that talked about getting published.

What is hot in books for children, teens and young adults rights now? 

For teens and young adults it is gothic, horror, ghost stories, fantasy and science fiction. Nothing is too edgy to write about for the young adult audience.

What’s popular comes in waves. Editors are looking for books about diverse experiences and unique characters. Historical fiction is a little flat right now.  A book in that genre works if it hits a modern-day nerve.

For picture books editors want stories that aren’t too long, that are humorous and based in reality or personal experience. They don’t have to be about some big important issue to be meaningful.

Middle grade books need to tell diverse stories and publishers are seeking unique and diverse authors as well.  In non-fiction for kids social justice issues are big right now and its important to make sure that although your book addresses an important topic it is written in a way kids can relate to and understand. 

What chance is there of a new author getting published?  

It’s tough because publishing houses need to honor the commitments they have to authors they have already signed and promoted.

You can go the self-publishing route and then hope a big publishing house will love your book and pick it up for wider distribution. Some publishers however receive a dozen self-published books a day and may pick one a year to publish.

Some publishers only look at things they get from an agent, others tend to use their contacts in the industry to find new authors but there are some publishing houses who actually do go through every single manuscript that is submitted to them. 

Does an author need to have a social media presence in order to get published? 

Publishers will look for people who are active on sites that appeal to school markets because it means they can reach out to schools.

They do want to know about your social media contacts and your activity.  It is very important that your online presence is something children can see and read without their parents worrying about your online content.

Sometimes they do publish books by people because they already have lots of great online content that appeals to kids and they have established a group of specific, dedicated followers.

You should follow authors and illustrators, publishing houses and professional writing groups online if you are looking to get published so you can see what is trending and what is going on in the publishing  world. How do you know if a book is going to be successful, if a book is one you want to publish?

If it makes me laugh out loud!  

If after I read the book an elevator pitch for it  just pops into my head.  

It’s a gut feeling but it’s always a gamble.  You never know. Sometimes you publish books you think will be big successes and they’re not and other times you publish books you are worried won’t sell and they are a huge success. 

Does an author need to have an agent? 

You can survive in Canada without an agent.

About a quarter of the authors we publish don’t have an agent.  

An agent can make your relationship with a publisher easier in some ways and more difficult in others. 

Other posts………

Relentless Persistence

Writers All Around

A Top Ten List from a Top Ten Speakers


Filed under Writing

Relentless Persistence!

jean mills

You can read more about Jean Mills on her website.

She started submitting novels to publishers in 1983 and had her first novel published by a mainstream publisher six months ago. Jean Mills the author of a novel for young adults called  Skating Over Thin Ice talked to us about her journey to become a published novelist at the recent Packaging Your Imagination Conference in Toronto.  She was part of a panel of newly published authors who told us how they broke into the very competitive world of books for children and teen audiences.

D006081_REDD_ThinIce_COVERAlthough Jean had self-published three of her young adult novels on her own and had two others published by an education company, Skating Over Thin Ice was the first to be accepted by a mainstream  publisher.  Publishers often told her, “Your work deserves to be published,” but they didn’t want to publish it. Jean never gave up.  She kept on doing all kinds of writing, building up her writing credentials and making contacts in the writing world to help her get her foot in the door. Jean said she almost quit many times but supportive friends kept her going. She told us to keep our dreams of being published always in our sights, to never stop writing, to attend professional events and workshops and to treat ourselves as professional writers even if we are unpublished. You can read the full story of Jean’s thirty-five year writing journey here. 

newly published authors at canscaip

Newly published authors talk about how they broke into the industry

S.K. Ali whose first novel Saints and Misfits was published by Simon and Shuster in 2017 decided in 2006 that she wanted to write a novel. For the next ten years she worked on her book about an American Muslim teenage girl coping with all kinds of real world issues. She even started a blog where she wrote posts in the voice of her main character so she could get to know her better. 

A school teacher with a family of her own S.K. went faithfully to a coffee shop every Wednesday after work to write.  She admitted sometimes she was so tired she fell asleep at the coffee shop but she always showed up. She treated writing her novel as a job that required her committment.

You can learn more about S.K. Ali on her website.

She had critique partners who helped her shape her novel Saints and Misfits and had young teens both Muslim and non-Muslim read her manuscript and give her feedback. She determined which large American companies she wanted to have publish her book and devoted more than a year to finding just the right agent to represent her doing research on each one, creating spreadsheets and figuring out the best way to approach each one.  She worked on her query letter for another year, making sure it had all the right elements, getting help from websites that specialize in query letters. She relentlessly researched the publishing world for teen novels looking at publishing trends and figuring out exactly when the right time might be for a manuscript like hers. 

Both these women persisted. They worked incredibly hard. The fact they both had books published isn’t because of a miracle.  It is because of their dedication, their belief in themselves and their relentless pursuit of their dreams. 

Do I have that kind of persistence?  I’m not sure. 

Other posts. ………

Why Do You Keep Doing This?

So Much Hard Work

Writers All Around

A Top Ten List From A Top Notch Speaker



Filed under Writing

Writers All Around

At the Packaging Your Imagination conference I attended in Toronto for children’s book writers and illustrators I met so many interesting people, all eager to talk about their writing projects.  It was just great! Inspired by the drawing of one of presenters Ruth Ohi and emboldened by several books I’ve read recently about how everyone can be an artist, I decided to do some quick sketches of ten of the writers I chatted with to give you an idea of the variety of folks I met.   

 A television weather reporter who has an idea for a non-fiction book explaining weather to children.  A young mother working on a book inspired by her kids about a loaf of pumpernickel bread and a pickle.  An accountant who has finished a book about friendship he wrote for his two sons. A woman who loves the north and has written a book about grizzly bears.  Her husband is a nature photographer who took the pictures for the book.  A former garment industry executive who has finished a book about a raccoon that lived on the streets of Toronto. An auntie who has attended the conference several times before and writes poems for her nieces and nephews. The mother of an employee at a major publishing house who has written a historical fiction novel that involves time travel. A woman who wishes she were Italian but isn’t and has published two books for children- one about hoarding and another about food intolerance. The owner of a Newfoundland dog who has published a book about how autistic children deal with sensory overload. 

The mother of two film producers who has written a middle grade novel about a girl who has to move to France where she doesn’t speak the language and doesn’t know anyone. 

And that’s just a sample of the intriguing writers  I met. Although the speakers at the conference were great – chatting with the interesting people who are also working on children’s books was just as fascinating. 

Other posts……..

The World is Full of Interesting People

A Fascinating Conversation in a Tiny Wine Shop in Lisbon

Our Guides in Asia

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Filed under Toronto, Writing

A Top Ten List From A Top Notch Speaker

You can make a difference with your book!  I attended the Packaging Your Imagination conference for children’s writers and illustrators in Toronto on the weekend.  One of our inspirational keynote speakers was Ruth Ohi the illustrator of some 60 children’s books and the author of two dozen more.  She wanted us to know books can truly make a difference to children.  They can put kids in a happy comfortable place and make them understand that their ideas matter. Books can help children feel respected and good about themselves. 

Ruth shows us some of the stages in creating a page in one of her  books

Ruth also gave us plenty of great advice about writing and illustrating books for children.  I think however that her ideas could apply to anyone who is tackling a creative project. Here’s a top ten list I compiled from her talk. 

  1. Take chances
  2. You must care deeply about what you are doing
  3. When you are stalled in the creative process do something physical like going for a walk or cleaning your house. You get your best ideas when you aren’t thinking too hard. Sometimes it also helps to change up your venue. Ruth likes to leave home and go and write and draw in libraries. 
  4. You don’t have to be perfect and amazing all the time. 
  5. Get used to rejection. Even a successful author like Ruth gets tons of rejections. 
  6. Don’t throw anything out.  Little sketches, little bits of writing, notes you’ve made may prove valuable later on. 
  7. It helps to have a partner who is supportive.  Ruth’s husband is her rock, her touchstone and her inspiration. 
  8. You often have to do a pile of awful stuff before you get to the good stuff. 
  9. Don’t get overwhelmed by social media – find time to create. 
  10. Make sure you are having fun. That’s what it’s all about. 

Ruth was so full of energy and excitement and enthusiasm about being a writer and illustrator and the whole creative process that entails. She was the perfect person to kick off the conference. 

Other posts……… 

Helping Children Become Writers

Learning From Judy Blume

Why Do Pigs Bark and Other Questions



Filed under Childhood, Writing

From the Archives

One of the neat things about keeping a blog is the ability it gives you to look back in time and see what you were doing in past years.  Here’s what I was writing about on each September 26 during the seven years I’ve been keeping this blog. 

selkirk settlers

Selkirk Settlers by Gerald Laing

September 26, 2011-I wrote about a statue of the Selkirk Settlers at the end of my street. 

charlene diehl thin air

Thin Air’s mastermind Charlene Diehl introducing authors at The Forks on Sunday night

September 26, 2012- I was  maintaining a second blog called Destination Winnipeg and there I wrote about attending the Thin Air writing festival. 

dave and dannySeptember 26, 2013- A friend we had taught with in Hong Kong and later visited in Cambodia was in Winnipeg and paid us an unexpected visit. 

chicken soup reboot your life

I have a story in this book

September 26, 2014  -I was announcing my second appearance in a Chicken Soup Book, this time in an anthology called Reboot Your Life where I wrote about our 2003 move to Hong Kong.  construction on rorie street 2015

September 26, 2015- This post certainly remains timely because it is about all the construction going on in our neighbourhood, repairing streets and infrastructure.  That is still happening. 

manitoba-by-joe-fafard-1975September 26, 2016–  I wrote about a statue called Manitoba and why artist Joe Fafard had chosen a Metis man to represent our province. rainbow in my mouth

September 26, 2017-Last year at this time we were in Iceland and I did a post about how my husband made me pose for a photo with a rainbow in my mouth. 

I wonder what I will be writing about next year on September 26th?

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Filed under Writing

Writing is the Way I Think And Remember

Dora Dueck ended a recent post on her delightful blog Chronicles of Aging with the statement “writing is the way I think and the way I remember.”  I could resonate with that completely!  Writing about an event, a book, a movie or a trip helps me to process it and to remember it.  During a recent clean up of his home my father found two small daily diaries that belonged to my maternal grandmother. Grandma’s journals made me suspect that the need to write about life experiences is something I may have inherited.  

Writing in a house we rented in Iceland

Someone I know who is trying to help a partner struggling with memory loss is encouraging them to keep a journal.  There is evidence that journaling not only improves memory but also helps your emotional and mental health.

I often consider whether it may be time to stop writing this blog, to end a nearly 35 year assignment as a newspaper columnist or to take a hiatus from other long standing writing gigs. But I think even if I did give up those public forms of recording and reflecting I would need to journal privately in order to keep on living in a meaningful way.  I know many people who have other ways of thinking through things and remembering them- whether it is through photos they take, sketches they do, discussions they have, songs they compose, collections of memorabilia they treasure, time spent in meditation, scrap booking or prayer.  But for me writing is the way I think and remember. 

Other posts……

A Honeymoon Adventure

Writing Dividends

Mailboxes of Distinction


Filed under Writing