Propping up a saggy middle – writer-style…

Yeah, so this isn’t about support hose, girdles or Spanx. I’ve been reading up on plotting and pacing, trying to figure out how to move things along more efficiently in my writing (ie. get rid of the boring parts). If I had a choice, I’d take character development over plotting any day. Sadly, there is no such choice as both are essential elements. So, here’s the list I keep taped to my desk:images

PLOTTING ADVICE – INCREASING TENSION IN YOUR NOVEL

  • COMPLICATE THINGS; ADD APPREHENSION
  • THINK OF CHARACTERS AS ACTORS ON STAGE – IS WHAT THEY’RE DOING CAPTIVATING?
  • RAISE INTERESTING QUESTIONS, CAUSING READERS TO WANT ANSWERS
  • BUILDING TENSION IS LIKE INFLATING A BALLOON, SLOWLY BUT SURELY, UNTIL IT THREATENS TO POP
  • FORESHADOWING
  • PRUNE SCENES DOWN TO THE ESSENTIAL BITS
  • ANTICIPATION (OF GOOD AND BAD THINGS); POSTPONE THE RESOLUTION
  • INCLUDE MORE PROMISES TO SET UP THE READER’S EXPECTATIONS
  • DON’T MAKE EVERYBODY TOO NICE (yikes!)
  • THINK OF FLAWS THAT CAUSE CONFLICT/OBSTACLES TO GOAL
  • FLUCTUATING EMOTION
  • CHANGES TO THROW THE PROTAGONIST OFF BALANCE
  • WHAT IS THE PROTAGONIST’S (OR YOUR READER’S) WORST FEAR?
  • UNEXPECTED TWISTS – OPPOSITE OF WHAT’S EXPECTED
  • LET YOUR PROTAGONIST HAVE SECRETS SHE KEEPS
  • ANGER/HURT BETWEEN CHARACTERS
  • BAD STUFF THAT HAPPENS QUICKLY
  • GO THERE – LET YOUR PROTAGONIST HIT ROCK BOTTOM
  • ALWAYS GIVE THE READER A REASON TO TURN THE PAGE (ESPECIALLY AT CHAPTER ENDINGS)

I read a lot of articles, but many of these ideas came from C.S. Laskin’s site, a valuable resource for writers, found here: Picture1 http://www.livewritethrive.com/resources/ Thank you!

I hope you might find some of these ideas useful. It would be easier if we could just buy Spanx for our words – I suppose that’s one of the editor’s roles:) And if all else fails, read your work aloud to your dog, my best audience. Thanks for reading, and happy plotting!

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Read 148 Novels in 4.5 months? Yup.

FINALLY, the winners of the 2015 Governor General’s Literary Awards were announced today. Huge congratulations to Caroline Pignat, who won her second GG for her beautiful book, The Gospel Truth. 2015_text-e_PignatAlong with Rachna Gilmore and David Poulsen, I had the privilege of being on the peer assessment committee for the Children’s Literature (Text) Award this year. As part of that task, we each read the 148 novels submitted for consideration – all between mid-April and the end of August. More than one book a day, and many were 300+ pages. What an incredible (and somewhat intimidating) learning experience!

Never having done this before, I had no idea how I would go about choosing from such a fine collection of books. But as I read, certain books simply emerged; their characters, stories and words all stayed with me long after I’d finished reading. I went to our Ottawa meeting in early September naively believing it would take only a couple of hours for the three of us to discuss the short-listed books and come to a consensus re the five finalists and one winner.

I was wrong.

It was more like ten hours of intense discussion and debate that left both my brain and body exhausted, but I think we all left the room feeling like we’d done a good job. We also collaborated on this brief, yet hard-to-write, jury statement:

Caroline Pignat’s The Gospel Truth is the powerful and poignant story of 16-year-old Phoebe, a slave girl in 1858 Virginia. Written in lyrical and elegant free verse, it is an unflinching look at the brutality of slavery and Phoebe’s struggle for freedom and truth. Ultimately, this is a story of hope.

We weren’t allocated sufficient words to mention that the story is told in six different voices. The other four finalists, all of them excellent books, are Young Man With Camera (Emil Sher), 2015_text-e_SherWe Are All Made of Molecules (Susin Nielsen), 2015_text-e_NielsenAre You Seeing Me? (Darren Groth), 2015_text-e_Grothand Audrey (Cow) (Dan Bar-el). 2015_text-e_Bar-elCongratulations to one and all. There sure are a lot of amazing children’s authors writing brilliant, diverse books in Canada today. Happy reading!

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Libraries, Old and New; WOTS

One of the (increasingly) few memories I have from my pre-school life is of waiting for my fifth birthday so I could get my own library card. You had to be five, but you also had to be able to print your own name! img003The library in my hometown of Truro, Nova Scotia in 1965 was an old wooden structure, and the children’s department was at the very top of a very steep set of stairs – I remember the excitement of climbing those stairs, wondering what treasure I’d take home that day. Sadly, I couldn’t find an image of that library online, but this is my hometown (Wolfville, NS) library now, formerly the train station, back when we had trains! I’m a frequent visitor.

Wolfville Library

Last week, I finally got to see the new Halifax Central Library while I was there reading The King of Keji at The Word on the Street. It’s stunning, as you can see. halifax librarySo spacious and open inside with sweeping staircases, downloadcomfortable seating, very kid-friendly, there’s a coffee shop and you can even check out your books yourself by scanning your card and the book barcodes. Librarians are some of my favourite people (especially the fabulous women at the Wolfville Library!), and I feel like that social interaction is a huge part of the library experience for so many people; hopefully the scanning option won’t eliminate that for those who aren’t in a hurry.

And a shout-out to the MANY volunteers who organized and delivered an excellent Word on the Street experience for one and all at the Halifax Central Library last weekend. download (1)This was the first year WOTS was run entirely by volunteers, and it seemed very well thought-out and lots of people came out to show some love for local books, writers, booksellers (yay, Woozles!) and literacy. Thank you!

How’s your local library these days?

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Toronto – Photo Essay in Under 100 Words…

Fee: $200 (1933) Earlscourt Branch of TPL

Mural fee: $200 (1933) Earlscourt Branch of TPL

Shrewdness (and who I want to be when I'm 100)

Shrewdness (and who I want to be when I’m 100 – the artist (Jean Pederson) told me Doris appreciated that she’d captured her shrewdness in this portrait:)

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition

Bluffs from below

Bluffs from below

Sidewalk Flowers (JonArno Lawson)

Sidewalk Flowers (JonArno Lawson)

Rainbows in the Dark (Alice Priestly)

Rainbows in the Dark (Alice Priestley)

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Heaven?

The Chapter House - Doris wrote her autobiographies here after getting a degree from the University of Toronto at age 79.

The Chapter House – Doris wrote her autobiographies here after getting a degree from the University of Toronto at age 79.

Salvaged art (Guild Gardens - rescued from buildings being demolished for skyscrapers)

Salvaged art (Guild Gardens – rescued from buildings being demolished for skyscrapers)

Random information

Random information

Jasper

Jasper, one of the 6,000 pieces Doris created.

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Frolicking

Frolicking

Final curtain

Final curtain

Warehoused (Fitzhenry & Whiteside)

Warehoused (Fitzhenry & Whiteside)

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Time to reflect…

Fitness (transportation)

Fitness (transportation)

$2.5 million (neighbor)

$2.5 million (neighbor)

Family

Family

Real family

Real family

Free breakfast

Free breakfast

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Moments that take our breath away…

944679_10200613095823365_968750882_nI’ve only been on retreat here on the Scarborough Bluffs for five days, but already I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to tear myself away when September rolls around. I find myself occasionally chatting with Doris (McCarthy) because of this extremely life-like portrait of her that hangs beside the living room window overlooking the lake here at Fool’s Paradise.  The neighbors are pretty quiet for the most part, but there’s so much wildlife activity outside the windows of “The Chapter House,” as Doris called her writing rotunda, that I have a hard time keeping my mind on the manuscript by times.  And I keep having to rush outside to take pictures.

Doris McCarthy, artist and creator of this awe-inspiring space.

Doris McCarthy, artist, writer and creator of this awe-inspiring space.

The view from up here on top of the Bluffs

The view from up here on top of the Bluffs

Fool's Paradise - a perfect reflection.

Fool’s Paradise – a perfect reflection.

Coywolf - if I see him going after the deer and her fawn, I may have to dash outside and do some serious hazing...

Coywolf – if I see him going after the deer and her fawn, or even the chubby groundhog, I may have to dash outside and do some serious hazing…

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I am managing to get several writing hours in every day, although so far the story is growing, rather than being pared down… Thank you, Doris, for sharing your home with me (and providing a haven for all these creatures).

 

 

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“Gardening” at Fool’s Paradise

You can’t plant a beautiful garden or write a novel that sings without putting in long hours. (Holly Robinson, The Huffington Post)

So next week I’m heading to Fool’s Paradise on the Scarborough Bluffs (near Toronto) for a month-long gardening (aka weeding/revising) expedition. The property is the former home of Canadian artist Doris McCarthy who, upon her death in 2010 at the age of 100,images (4)generously bequeathed her home to the Ontario Heritage Trust to be used for artistic residencies. (thanks also to the Canada Council for the Arts who awarded me a travel grant for this venture.) This is the first year of the DMAIR program, and I’m pretty excited to be one of the first artists in residence at Fool’s Paradise. It looks like a beautiful, inspiring place, as you can see here:

 

 

mccarthyDoris reminds me very much of my Nana Mingo (with Gramps in the header image), who was also born in 1910 and a great gardener herself. Here’s Doris at Fool’s Paradise a few years ago; I suppose it looks more like a snow shovel than a gardening one, but the grounds are lovely, and, from what I’ve read, she was a fascinating woman – independent, determined and feisty. She built a lot of her home herself. I can’t wait to be in her space, possibly soaking up some of her spirit, perhaps enjoying a virtual cup of tea:) Having read three autobiographies, I would love to have met Doris in person.

I’m eager to immerse myself in the great gift of having mental (and physical) peace and quiet for an entire four weeks, alone with a novel I’ve been thinking about and writing for close to three years. I’m connecting two girls at a distance of 260 years, without using any time travel, magic, etc., so it’s been an interesting process, putting together the pieces of the puzzle while incorporating as much of my research as possible.

I’ll be going to Fool’s Paradise with a complete manuscript in hand, and my objective will be to do some weeding – ripping out the invasive bits threatening to choke off the good bits, while hopefully preserving some of the more beautiful wildflowers disguised as weeds. Like weeding, the work of revising is never quite finished, but my plan is to return home in September feeling like I’ve done the best I can with the manuscript – and, with any luck, I’ll have trimmed away a few of the 70,000 words – if there are any I can bear to part with, that is…

So how’s your weeding going? Your revising? Have you ever gone on retreat with just your words and characters for company?

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The King of Keji – Launched!

P1000620I have to say launches are super anxiety-producing for me. Asking people to come out and celebrate me isn’t my favorite thing to do, but it’s part of this writing gig, I guess. Here are a few pics – huge thanks to EVERYBODY (especially people who don’t have a particular interest in kids’ books:) who came out to show their support – big shout-out to my friend and neighbor, Karen Duncan (about to retire from teaching) for helping the enthusiastic kids have fun making their crowns – I owe you! P1000665

 

 

And thanks to everybody at Nimbus Publishing (publicist Emily MacKinnon pictured here with Patsy and me) for the book, The Box of Delights Bookshop (yeah Indies!) for hosting, and to illustrator Patsy MacKinnon for the beautiful paintings!

To the parents, grandparents, friends, aunts and uncles, etc. who encourage and nurture a love of books in the young people in their lives – you’re the best!P1000651
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