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When I do school visits, I always ask that question since being nosy is a prerequisite for being a writer. It’s interesting that younger kids will all put up their hands; grades 4 and up not so much. It’s pretty much impossible for me to go anywhere without doing A LOT of speculating; I had lots to think about when I encountered this on my morning walk. And, yes – I did check to make sure there wasn’t someone in the brook just beyond the chair.

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I’ve always been sort of obsessed with old houses, especially the ones on the brink of collapse, like this one on the road to our cottage in rural Lunenburg County. In the 1970s, my dad salvaged a house that was built in the 1860s, and we spent summers there for several years while he worked away on it. Sadly, it was recently torn down, the gravel beneath it is apparently more valuable than the house:(  I still hope I’ll get to rescue an old house myself, one of these days …

2014-06-17 10.33.292014-06-17 10.01.45And finally, this horse, who lives in somebody’s yard; we’ve named him Mr. Nielsen which I always thought was the name of Pippi’s horse – in fact, that was her monkey’s name. Her horse was named “Horse,” which somehow doesn’t seem right. So, anybody else admit to being nosy? Pretty sure it’s a given for writers, but there sure are a lot of things to wonder about in the world.

 

Feeling grateful.

Mum

May has been a busy month for me. I was a judge in the Truro Library’s 8th annual teen writing competition, named after my late mum, Ada Mingo – pictured here in her bookstore, The Book Nook. It’s hard to believe she’s been gone for 8 years already, but it’s a lovely occasion to remember and honour her. I was so impressed by some of the writing submitted by teens this year!

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During Canadian Children’s Book Week, Anne Murray tweeted and “facebooked” about THE POWER OF HARMONY, so I sent her some Mayflowers by way of thanks:)

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Then, my copies of ROCKET MAN arrived – early! I don’t think it’s widely available yet, but I did find it on the shelves of Bookmark in Charlottetown while I was there for the Atlantic Book Awards last week.IMG_0044I got to spend the Victoria Day weekend at one of my favourite places, Port Joli, with some of my favourite people as we celebrated Shannon’s graduation from Dalhousie on May 20th. There’s nothing like family time!

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While I was in Charlottetown, I got to spend time in the sunshine with two of my best writer friends, Jackie Halsey and Jill MacLean.

All in all, it’s been a great month, although Don and I are true empty nesters, now. Birthdays are funny in that you’re always left shaking your head, wondering how you got to be so old when you still feel like an eleven-year-old (at least inside your head:) I’m feeling grateful for having people who like me and love me in my life, and for the great privilege of getting up most mornings anticipating working at something I adore! Thanks for being part of my journey …

 

I heard of the passing of Alistair MacLeod as we were driving home from Georgia last week. As a Canadian lit student, I had read his short stories in The Lost Salt Gift of Blood; most likely it was my first exposure to “Atlantic” Canadian fiction. I have to confess that I didn’t really “get” his acclaimed novel, No Great Mischief, or at least not in the way everybody else seemed to, although I’ve always meant to go back and read it again, – I must’ve missed something. But the point is, despite having published very little by way of books (two short story collections and a novel), he was a much beloved literary giant in Canada. I heard a few interviews replayed on CBC radio this week, in which he sounded humble, wise and funny. He liked to think of himself as telling his stories, rather than writing them, and he liked to write about things that not only interested him, but also worried him. I can’t imagine writing every word with a ballpoint pen; I read somewhere that the first story he ever published, “The Boat,” was also the first story he ever wrote – imagine!

I was intrigued by his description of his rustic writing cabin overlooking the ocean near Inverness (and envious), but I couldn’t find any images of it on line – except possibly this one, which doesn’t reveal much:

alistair macleod

 

Like most writers, he enjoyed his solitude – in his Acknowledgements for the novel, he thanks Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers in Scotland for giving him a place “to be at peace in decent ease.”

I was also interested in learn that, like John Irving, he wrote the final sentence long before a piece was finished, in order to give himself something to write toward. I wonder if he had any idea how often the last, simple but profound, sentence of No Great Mischief would be mentioned following his death.

“All of us are better when we’re loved.”

 

Rocket Man (2014)


Okay, not the Elton John version (although the song appears in the book:) It’s the title of my middle grade novel due out in May from Red Deer Press. The working title was “A Superhero Named Blob,” which became less suitable as we worked through the editing.

I think this is the final cover; my favourite part is the stylized rocket shooting for the moon.

Rocket Man cover

 

I’ve had some other exciting writing news lately. Later this year, I’ll be dedicating three months to working on my Lunenburg/Montbeliard novel thanks to a creation grant – thank you to … logo

Also, the Ontario Library Association (OLA) recently included The Power of Harmony on their Best Bets 2013 listas one of the ten best junior novels last year; it’s also a Hackmatack (readers’ choice award) Book for 2014/15, which I hope will involve more interaction with young readers.

So, that’s all good. Now, if Winter would only get the message that it’s been replaced by Spring – yet another snowstorm is due to attack us on Wednesday; I wish you a host of Wordsworth’s daffodils, ASAP:)

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed-and gazed-but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

 

 

Thanks, Mum and Dad

11303724655thanks-mom-and-dadMy parents have been gone for several years now. My dad died at 65; my mum at 70 – as I get older, those ages seem so very young!

I’ve had occasion to think about my dad a lot lately, thanks to a scan and a scope I recently had, and will continue to have every five years – because Dad died of colon cancer. Colonography and sigmoidoscopy aren’t exactly a walk in the park, but while I was lying there today, I thought of Dad and how he would willingly have undergone such procedures on an annual, monthly, or even weekly basis – if it had meant he could have lived past 65. He had a lot of energy and there were so many things he didn’t get to do. He’s the cute little one behind the drums in this picture from the 60s.

Old picture of Dad with Bob Mingo and the band

My mum had breast cancer when she was 49; it recurred relentlessly when she was 69. So, now that part of me is also prone to frequent examination. Mum owned a book store, The Book Nook, for 25 years, until she died. The Truro library still sponsors a teen writing competition in her name – The Ada Mingo Teen Writing Competition. Sadly, I don’t have any scanned pictures of Mum, yet.

And so, this is a little thank you note, but not for the usual reasons we’re grateful to our parents. I’m sure I still think of them every single day, and hope somehow, from afar, they still know how we’re doing.

These days, thanks to Google, it’s so easy to find a perfect quote to express whatever you happen to be thinking about, most times. Despite its time-wasting capabilities, I love Google!

I’ve read that American literary agents representing children’s writers receive up to 500 submissions – EVERY WEEK of the year. With that kind of competition, it doesn’t matter how great a writer you are, you simply must come up with an original story, or at least a highly original approach to an old story. I found lots of examples of uniqueness in the picture book section at the library yesterday – books that made me wish I could come up with such an idea. I’ve noticed that a lot of the best picture books these days are being produced by authors who are also illustrators; a few of the Caldecott Honor Books this year were also created by author/illustrators. If only I was artistic (she says for the thousandth time):)

Here are a few books I found that caused me to marvel at the author’s ability to create a very cool story around a seemingly simple idea/inspiration:

How to Heal a Broken Wing (Bob Graham)

A story about a boy, the only person in the crowd, who notices an injured pigeon and nurses it back to health – a perfect pairing of illustrations and (very brief) text.

How to Heal a Broken Wing

Where is Fred? (Edward Hardy, Ali Pye)

A clever caterpillar evades capture by a very persistent crow, with a satisfyingly perfect conclusion.

Fred

And Ol’ Mama Squirrel, wherein Mama protects her babies. “Mark my words,” she’d say. “There’s no shortage of creatures that would love to snack on a baby squirrel … but it won’t happen on MY watch!” In this book, the author/illustrator (David Ezra Stein) manages to create a fully-developed funny story – plot, characterization, setting and satisfying conclusion, with spare text supplemented by very expressive illustrations.

Squirrel

I LOVE picture books, and I’m constantly in awe of the brilliant, and original, ideas people come up with. There’s nothing like a trip to the library to get the creative juices stirring.

It’s always interesting to see which books are chosen as Newbery and Caldecott medalists/honor books each year – I was so happy to see that Flora & Ulysses, by my writing idol Kate DiCamillo, won the Newbery – her third Newbery recognition (Because of Winn Dixie (2001 Honor book); The Tale of Despereaux (2004 Medal)! She has such a marvellous imagination – I’ve read F&U twice already – it opens with a squirrel developing superpowers after being sucked into a vacuum cleaner (her inspiration came from her aging mother fretting about what she’d do with her vacuum upon her passing, at the same time as she had a sickly squirrel in her backyard). If you haven’t read it yet, please do – I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud!

Happy reading and writing (and illustrating).

I’ve been struggling with the opening pages of the story I’m working on lately – writing, rewriting, chopping, slashing, rearranging punctuation and words. Frustrating! So I decided to check out some first lines of middle grade novels I keep close at hand:

When May died, Ob came back to the trailer, got out of his good suit and into his regular clothes, then went and sat in the Chevy for the rest of the night.” 

May

Jacob held his pointer finger just above his thumb, forming a small rectangular box in the air. He closed one eye, held the box up to his open eye, and trapped puny little Majok in the frame.” – A HARE IN THE ELEPHANT’S TRUNK  (moi)

Uncle Ted said Jimmy bumped his head falling off the swing. He said Jimmy just seemed to let go of the chains when he reached the highest arc, and he fell, thunk, to the ground and lay still.” Hartry

 

The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby. I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I knew only from stories.” Vanderpool

 

They’re all very different openings, but what they have in common is that they invite the reader in to the story, and they raise questions – who is this person, and what’s going to happen to them? First lines must be full of the ever-elusive “voice”, set the tone, convince the reader it’s worth his/her time to read further.

I wrestle with beginning lines a lot more than closing lines. Not sure what that says about me or my writing process. In particular, I’m never fully convinced I’ve started the story in exactly the “right place”. There are rules about creating first lines with a lot of oomph, but there are also many examples of amazing books that completely break those rules, and all fiction-writing rules, in fact (example – “It was a dark and stormy night.” – A WRINKLE IN TIME, L’Engle).

Here’s a great blog post about first lines, specifically in relation to middle grade novels: http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/2010/07/first-lines-or-love-at-first-sight/

I’m usually inspired to get back to work when January 1st rolls around – how about you? Any fabulous first lines you’ve stumbled upon (or written) lately? Hope 2014 will be a banner year for you and yours – full of peace, health and love.

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