Friday, April 29, 2011


Here are the notes from Session 3 at WWA - nothing new here, but it never hurts to be reminded.


There are 5 main things she looks for in a submission:

- a strong hook

- a great opening chapter

- distinct voice

- memorable characters

- engaging plot

HOOK – Having a strong hook doesn’t equal commercial. A complex story can also be high concept. She wants depth and emotional resonance.

Does your book have a hook? Is there an ‘oh’ factor? It’s a very crowded market so she needs stories that stand out.

Main reasons she passes on a ms – It’s too quiet (not enough hook), it feels like a copy of a copy, the hooks feel like gimmicks.

GREAT OPENING CHAPTER – Throw her into the story. Make an emotional connection. Keep her curious. Minimize back story and setup. She used One Hundred Candles as an example of great opening chapter.

Main reasons she stops reading:

- she gets bored. If you hook her right away, she might slog through other chapters that are weaker because she knows you’re capable.

- She’s not emotionally invested in the characters

VOICE – it’s complicated, but it’s all about the right word choice and sentence structure for that particular character

Beware: Don’t confuse loading your sentences with loading on voice. Voice shouldn’t get in the way of progress.

Read your work aloud.

MEMORABLE CHARACTERS - know them. What’s their education, environment, family and friends. Make sure what you know gets on the page.

She often passes because she doesn’t feel she knows the characters.

ENGAGING PLOT – plot is the shape of the surprise. It’s what happens. Make bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.

Characters don’t need to be likeable, but she at least needs to know them. Has no problem with unlikable characters.

Plot is the easiest thing to fix.

Main reasons why a plot isn’t working: too predictable, too easy, too boring (for her), too twisty/confusing.

A strong setting is important.

Sharp dialogue moves the story quickly. Realistic.

Also wants a satisfying ending.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

More about Character:

HIDDEN SPACES: BUILDING MEMORABLE CHARACTERS by Martha Mihalick – associate editor, Greenwillow Books at Harper Collins

Martha loves making new friends in characters. We fall in love with a story because it’s about someone we love or care about. The characters make us care. We want them to be real and how they view the world. They’re a real person with real problems.

Characters’ Relationships with Other People:

The most powerful moments are when you get to see the characters interact.

What reveals a character?

- their objects and possessions (prized possessions)

- their actions/reactions to things (body language, eye contact…)

- their opinions (is the world hopeful? Their likes and dislikes)

- their relationships

*be specific in all of these*

She sees a lot of eyes … hands reaching. Use your character’s whole body.

How to Build Relationships between Characters:

- protagonist talking to other character

- protagonist talking about other character

- the actions

- narration

One of her pet peeves is the typical evil adult character. You want them to be grounded, real characters. A great villain is one you love to hate.

Don’t rush your romances.

All characters must be well-developed and well-rounded to develop reader trust.

She likes books with hard choices, strong friendships and gentle romances.

She’s seeing too many strong-willed girls in PBs lately. Find another quality that people will love.

You want a plot that the character you’ve created could fill. This person in this certain situation – no one else can follow their same path.

Present tense is hard to do. It tends to put a distance between the reader and the characters because writers go into too much detail in describing every single thing happening.

I have not returned to blogging ...

But here are the notes from the latest conference I attended. I'll try to get them all up over the next day or so. Here we go:

CHARACTER AND THE 7 DEADLY SINS by Rosanne Parry (author of Second Fiddle)

Characters usually have quirks, rather than flaws that can lead to obstacles. The choices they make need to always make things worse.

Decide which sin is most perfect for each of your characters.

1) Pride – a preoccupation with the self; rudeness, racism, competitiveness, hunt for immortality. A good example is Voldemort.

2) Envy – a desire for what belongs to others; self-loathing and self harm; often the root of sibling rivalry

3) Anger/wrath – uncontrolled feelings of hatred; violence; paranoia; distrustful. Anger is rooted in fear. She calls it the superhero sin.

4) Laziness/sloth – failure to engage in productive work; cheating; procrastination; unwillingness to take risks. Good example is the Three Little Pigs.

5) Greed – seeking more than your share; cheating, callousness; competitiveness; attention-seeking. Good example is Unwind by Neal Shusterman and a lot of other dystopian.

6) Gluttony – excessive consumption of any kind *is the behavioural route of addiction. Spending; thrill-seeking. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory every kid has a gluttony problem in one way or another.

7) Lust – excessive interest in physical pleasure. Example – Twilight

A sin is:

~ a habit of thought or action which is harmful to the person who chooses it.

~ the attitude that underlies a hurtful choice

~ the engine of character growth

~ the 7 motivations for conflict in a story

~ reasonably universal across all cultures.

Nobody commits every single one. People specialize and struggle with one or two over their lifetime. The best way to get in the head of a character is to share a sin with them.

What sins don’t tempt you at all? It’s easy to scorn a person whose sin doesn’t tempt you. Understanding that can help you get to know your character.

Which sin is your character most likely to struggle with?

Now how can that sin be amplified?

List some characteristics that might enhance the power of your character’s sin. What can make it worse?

Using sin to advance the plot:

Explore the tension between the negative and positive of sin

Pride … confidence
Envy … emulation
Anger … righteous indignation
Sloth … recreation
Greed … industriousness
Gluttony …. celebration
Lust … generosity

Increases the tension or peril when pitted against each other. Perfect example is Edward vs Jacob.

*When your character is under stress, heading to the climax, their sin becomes magnified. It adds drama to the climax.

The 7 Heavenly Virtues:

Faith – openness

Hope – optimism

Love – gentleness

Prudence – choosing wisely

Justice – choosing fairly

Temperance – choosing moderately

Fortitude – choosing steadfastly

An example of a character with a sin, but then choosing a virtue is Harry Potter. He has every reason to hate but time and time again he chooses love.


What trait does my character have?

What plot complications does my character’s fundamental virtue or vice suggest?

At the pivotal moments of your story, will your characters choose to act according to their fundamental sin or their fundamental virtue? That’s what gives a story emotional power.

Does your character need someone (a sidekick) who leaves him with someone to buffer all his sins

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A year???

I can't believe it's been a year since my last blog post. Still, I'm not ready to come back, but I might be in the fall. No promises.

So here's my question: If I post an itty bitty blog today, will anyone notice?


Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Without a doubt, my performance was significantly less dorky than last year. If you haven't read what happened to me last year, you should. It's memorable to say the least.

I think I'm getting better at behaving in a conferencey way. Upon my arrival at the airport, I calmly handed the cab driver a piece of paper with the hotel and address written on it. Smooth. We were able to avoid the highway hop-to-the-trunk trick, which is always a step up.

My wonderful travelling companion, Deb, was impressed. Weren't you Deb? Right? Right?

Speaking of Deb, I think I found another pea for my little pod. We fit quite nicely together and found out that we both love to talk. A lot. And she's brilliant! While drifting to sleep one night I mumbled my difficulties with having three different endings to my current novel and she said one little sentence that cleared the whole thing up. Did I mention she's brilliant? Yup, I have now figured out how my novel ends and it's a beautiful thing.

Attention Blueboarders! You all are freakin' awesome! I had so much fun on Saturday night and Vijaya did an amazing job of selecting the restaurant. I have got to learn how to cook Butter Chicken because I'm not waiting another year before I try it again. Thank you all for your great company! It was great meeting you and getting to know you better.

So, back to my conference experience. There's not much to say. The keynote speakers were amazing and inspirational. I think the highlight of my trip was meeting Ellen Hopkins and having her sign Identical and Crank. She is an incredible woman. The agents were a top notch line up and most of their sessions were insightful and helpful. I love having a much better sense of who they are now and who I would LOVE to have as an agent. And who I wouldn't. And no. I will not name names.

My consultation went well, too. Based on my first five pages, I was told I'm a strong writer with a compelling story. (squee!) He gave great specific advice on what I can improve upon and some good general tips on pacing and revealing. I can't wait to implement them.

I went a little crazy with my note taking in the sessions and I haven't checked, but I'm hoping I'll be able to decipher them. Once I've got everything organized, I think I'll put up a few notes for you all to see, just because the info was too good not to share.

So, who's taking bets on how long it'll take me to get those notes up? Anyone?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Oh yeah!

I'm heading out again to the awesome SCBWI WWA conference today and I'm excited and nervous. I thought this would be as good a time as any to repost the story of the wonderful time I had last year so when I return this time, we can compare notes and see which trip was smoother.

Here we go on a Journey into the past (originally posted on April 29 '08):

I embarked on a journey this weekend and it's not the one you think. Yes, I did travel to Seattle Washington to attend the SCBWI Western Washington conference. True enough that I could call that a journey, I suppose. But that's not what this post is about. Not really, although, that is where my story begins.

This is my journey of dorkdom, where my weekend began with a simple, "oops," and spiraled through, "what did I just say," and ended at breakfast on Monday morning with an, "I'll regret saying that for the rest of my life."

I'm not a seasoned traveler and I've never taken a cab by myself before, so when I arrived at the Seattle Airport, I was way out of my comfort zone. But being strong was my motto for the weekend so I powered through, asked for directions to the cabs, didn't get lost, and got a cab. We tossed my bags into the trunk and we were on our way.

Imagine my surprise when the cabby wanted to know where I was going. Imagine again, my horror when I realized I'd left all the information in my laptop bag in the trunk. So there we were speeding down the highway, and me saying, "It's the Silver Cloud, Belleview. I'm sorry, I don't know the address."

The driver was kind enough to keep a pinky finger on the steering wheel while he gestured lots of buildings and asked in broken English, "Is it downtown surrounded by lots of buildings?"

"I don't know," I whined, keeping a close eye on the talented steering pinky. One pothole and we were both doomed. How was I supposed to know what was around the hotel? I'd never been there before. Wasn't he supposed to know where every building in Seattle was located so he wouldn't have these problems? Pulling over on the side of the highway was the cure, although very scary. He grabbed my bag for me and after looking at the address for 2 seconds, he laughed at me and said, "Yup, it's downtown." So there's my small oops, but it seemed to set in motion a few other oops's I'd much rather forget.

From this point on, I'm going to leave names out to keep things moderately anonymous for my own sanity. But if anyone who was there reads this, you'll know exactly who I mean.

1.) I pulled a dorky move at lunch on Saturday. A certain blueboarder who also happens to be familiar with Newbery awards sat at our table for lunch, but was on the other side - too far to really talk properly or even get her attention. We had exchanged emails in the past, so I felt I knew her and was dying to meet her, but couldn't catch her attention. Finally, toward the the end of lunch, our eyes met and I yelled out, "blueboarders" and pointed excitedly (and dorkily) to myself and Heather. Not, "Hi _____, it's so nice to meet you in person!" Not, "Hi! I'm Linda, sbk from the blueboards. We've exchanged emails in the past. Do you remember me?" No, those would have been wonderful ways to introduce myself. Nope. Instead, she got me yelling, "Blueboarders!!" I'm sure Heather would have preferred to crawl under the table, but we both smiled and waved. Certain Blueboarder waved back and asked who we were on the boards and I told her. And yes, she did come over and talk to us after lunch, but wow, the weird looks we got from all the people at the table we didn't know? Priceless.

2.) At the book signing table - A certain author who is well-known for banned books took his book from my hands and began signing, while I gushed about how much I'd enjoyed reading it. I started off sounding moderately intelligent and said things like, "I loved this book," and "I just wanted to yell at the main character and get him to tell someone he was dying!" I should have stopped there. Leave it to my mouth to start talking without permission from my brain. But no, I said, "I wanted to grab him by the neck and just shake him!" Oh yeah, and I was sure to get my hands involved in the conspiracy against my brain and stood there mimicking the neck shaking of this man's main character. Yeah. Fun times. Fun times.

3.) This one is too painful still to tell in detail, but it took place the morning after the conference in the hotel when I went to grab some breakfast. If enough people ask in the comments, I might go into more detail in another post, but for now, all I want to say is this: If a Newbery author, an agent and a big time (and I mean huge - HP huge) editor ask you to join them for breakfast, DON'T tell them no, even if you have what seems like a good reason at the time!! I promise you, the reason will feel really stupid when you get back to your agentless and editorless hotel room.

And that's all I've got to say about that. It was great meeting all the fantastic blueboarders that attended. I wish our table at dinner hadn't been so long so I could have gotten to know you guys at the other end, but it was still a great time. What a fantastic bunch of writers.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

April Reading '09

STUCK IN THE '70'S by D.L. Garfinkle (* * *) YA - While this book was tons of fun to read, I'm not sure I loved it as much as Debbie's first book, Storky: How I Lost my Nickname and Won the Girl. I think my son will love it, though, because, what 15 year old boy wouldn't want to read about waking up to a lost, naked girl in their bathtub? Hilarious and enjoyable on so many levels, Stuck in the 70's is impossible to put down.

THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH by Carrie Ryan (* * * *) YA - Whoa. Who knew the zombie apocalypse would turn out like this? Riveting, amazing and beautifully written, The Forest of Hands and Teeth was a horrifying glimpse at what life could be like if ...
My only issue came towards the ending when I questioned a few of the characters' motives.

THE DUST OF 100 DOGS by A.S King (* * * *) YA - Imagine a pirate who is cursed to live the lives of 100 dogs, only to return as human with all her memories intact. She'd probably be looking for her treasure, right? You betcha! Awesome story with great characters. I loved hearing all the ways Saffron imagined inflicting pain on those who annoyed her.

CATALYST by Laurie Halse Anderson (* * * *) YA - Another amazing book by Laurie Halse Anderson. Kate is so much like me when it comes to avoiding things, so I was really able to relate to her during her journey. A shocking tale filled with tears, anxiety and unlikely new friendships.

THE HUMMING OF NUMBERS by Joni Sensel (* * * *) YA - A very cool story about a monk in training who has a few too many forbidden thoughts. Does he fit in, or will temptation and his ability to hear peoples' numbers make him unworthy? You'll have to read it to find out. I'm super excited to meet Joni next week and have her sign my copy. :D

CRANK by Ellen Hopkins (* * * * *) YA - It's horrible to watch someone slip into drug abuse and this book gives you a front row seat. But it's riveting and hypnotic - a powerful journey in verse and down a very dark path. Couldn't put it down. I'm also excited to be bringing my copies of Crank and Identical to the conference next week so I can get them signed by Ellen. Squeeeee!!!

IDENTICAL by Ellen Hopkins (* * * * * *) YA - On my 5 star system, I had to give this book a 6 (there's a first time for everything). It left me in a puddle in the middle of the floor and took me 5 days to mop it up. I can't even talk about it without getting shivers and remembering how dark and disturbing it was (and I read it 3 months ago). This won't be for everyone - it's a scary look into incest and mental illness, but if you can handle it, I strongly recommend it. Wow!

All right folks! That's it for now!! Happy reading!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

My First Interview

I've got a few friends who have been harassing me about how I'm overdue for a new blog post, but since I'm kinda busy right now with buying my new washer and dryer (cue applause), I figured I'd refer you to a different blog.

My best bud, Heather Ayris Burnell, just interviewed me for her blog over at Frolicking Through Cyberspace. Hop on over to check it out!

Also, coming up this week: a new set of mini book reviews. April was a good reading month and I can't wait to tell you all about the fantastic books I read.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Canadian Authors Rock, eh?

I thought I'd stick with a theme for this month. Amazing Canadian authors who rock!

WAITING TO SCORE by J.E. MacLeod (YA) * * * * - Sure, the guys will enjoy this book for the hockey and the testosterone-induced teen angst. But I think most girls will enjoy it just as much because, let's be honest. Who can resist a gorgeous, book-reading hockey player? I was hooked on Zack Chase from the first pages and found myself reading well into the night to see if he'd be able to crawl out from under his father's shadow. Engrossing and fast-paced. Loved it!

CRACKED UP TO BE by Courtney Summers (YA) * * * * - Parker is definitely one of those memorable characters who stick with you long after you've finished the book. I think we've all done things we regret as teens and Parker's secret haunts her to the core. She makes me wish I could go back and relive (change) certain moments too. A truly engrossing book that is impossible to put down.

CHESTER and CHESTER'S BACK by Melanie Watt (Picture book) * * * * * - I don't normally review picture books, but I have no choice here. Chester's power is too strong. The books? They're pure genius! About a cat who takes over the author's books and rewrites them the way he thinks they should be. I only wish I'd thought of it first. Hilarious and fun, my daughter will be reading these books for years.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

I'm so Freakin' Awesome!

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I suck at things. Like most people, I try to avoid the activities that will embarrass me, but when you have kids, it gets kinda tricky to come up with excuses for why you shouldn't do something.

That's why I skate. And that's the only reason.

As a kid, I never learned to stop on skates and I broke my wrist because of it when I was around eleven. In my defence, well ... ice is slippery. Sticking metal blades to your feet and then trying to glide on that slippery, hard stuff seems about as practical as jumping out of an air plane. I have a skater girl though who lives to skate and a couple weeks ago, I decided to have some mother daughter time so she could have some free time on the ice instead of always being in lessons.

I started off pretty well. I hadn't skated since last year, so I was a bit wobbly, but within 5 minutes or so, I started to loosen up.

And then I fell. Knees. Elbows. Stomach. Ouch.

With my pride a little crushed, I staggered back up onto my death blades and continued on, hoping no one had noticed my plunge. I promised myself I'd never do that again. I mean really. I don't normally ever fall. I was arrogant enough to think that was my one fall as an adult and I'd never do it again.

Fifteen minutes later - I did it again.

And this time I couldn't get up. I need to break from the story for a moment to thank all the adults on the ice that day who didn't take the time to help me up. Or help me to the bench. Or ask me if I need help. Or notice that my 7 year old girl was the only one helping me hobble-glide across the ice. Thanks. You're all so ... wonderful.

Long story short, I mucked up the cartilage in my knee and I've been couch-ridden for two weeks now. I've barely spent any time on my computer because even though it's a laptop, it's annoying to balance it on only one knee. So I apologize that I've been ignoring everyone's blogs and neglecting my own, but I promise to get back into things within the next week or so.

One thing's for sure -- I don't think I'm ever skating again.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Random Reading

CANTERWOOD CREST: TAKE THE REINS by Jessical Burkhart (MG) * * * * Book 1 of a new series - If you know any girls who love horses, this is a fantastic book for them to curl up with for a weekend. Rich in horsey detail and high on teen girl rivalry, TAKE THE REINS was a perfect book to keep me reading into all hours of the night. I'd love to hang on to this book, but I know the perfect 13 year old girl who can't wait to get her hands on it. If you love this book, watch out for Book #2, CHASING BLUE, due to be released on March 24, 2009.

PEEPS by Scott Westerfeld (YA) * * * * - A refreshing new spin on vampires (at least as far as my experience takes me). Cal is a carrier of a parasite and has infected all his girlfriends and turned them into Peeps, or vampires. Now it's his job to track them down before they can spread the disease further. Um, cool stuff. Well written. And I'll never, ever see my cats the same way again.

BLUE BLOODS by Melissa De La Cruz (YA) * * - Another vampire book, but this time it didn't work for me. I wasn't interested in the history or the name brands the characters wore and honestly, the fact that these vampires were the elite of New York just made me like them less. Parts of the plot felt contrived and convenient and by the end, I was angry to see that there wasn't any type of ending to give me closure. Read book two to find out what happens? I don't think so.