Getting to Know Your Writing Group

writers groupAt the last meeting of our writers’ group we spent some time writing responses to a series of questions.  We could pick any question and write as much or as little as we liked.  Later we shared our answers. I certainly learned more about my writing friends as I listened to their responses.  If you are looking for a way to get to know the members of your writing group just a little better try sharing your answers to this list of queries. 

What is a book that made you cry?

Do you think a person needs a big ego to be a writer?  Why or why not?

Does writing energize or exhaust you? 

What are some difficulties you have run into with publishers?

What is your grammar pet peeve?

I you wrote under a pseudonym what would it be?

If you could tell your younger writing self something important what would it be?

What was the best money you ever spent to improve yourself as a writer?

What would literary success look like to you? 

Where do you write?

What is the hardest scene you have ever written? 

Does your family support or hinder your writing? 

Has has your work as a writer influenced other jobs you may have had? 

How have other jobs you have had influenced you as a writer? 

What is the first piece of writing you ever had published?

Does alcohol enhance or impair your writing creativity?

Where did your interest in writing originate? 

To read more of my blog posts go to What Next. 



MaryLou Driedger is a free lance writer with a long career as a newspaper columnist, curriculum writer and contributor to lifestyle, education and religious publications.

The Story Behind Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’

Marley was dead: to begin with.  There is no doubt whatever about that.  The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner.  Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.  Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

All in all, 1843 was not a good year for Charles Dickens, especially late 1843.  American Notes, a narrative about Dickens’ travels to Canada & the United States, sold well the previous year.  In 1843, sales slumped.  Feeling that Dickens was poking fun at them, Americans steered away from the book.

In 1843, Dickens published Martin Chuzzlewitt.  Like other books, it was released through newspapers in chapter-by-chapter installments. English readers lost interest quickly.  Americans, already irritated, only became more annoyed.

Dickens’ reputation as a best-selling author took a hit.  So did his income. He had mouths to feed – 4 children with a 5th on the way – and writing was his primary source of revenue.  By late 1843, things were looking bleak.

Charles Dickens had been poor before.  In 1824, when he was twelve, his father was imprisoned.  John Dickens had run into debt.  Unable to pay his debtors, all his household goods – furniture included – were sold and John was incarcerated at Marshalsea Debtor’s Prison. Ultimately forced to give up their home, Charles’ mother and siblings moved into prison with his father.  To sustain himself, Charles pawned his own possessions, left school, and found alternate lodging.  He worked for meager wages in a boot-blacking factory, pasting labels onto pots of blacking.

The experience affected Dickens’ entire life.  Keenly aware of the social injustices and terrible working conditions facing the poor, especially children, Dickens advocated for change.  He toured the Cornish tin mines, wrote articles, and challenged parliamentarians to do something.

In the fall of 1843, Dickens travelled from London to Manchester to speak about child labour and the plight of the poor at a fundraiser.  On October 5 , 1843, he spoke to a capacity crowd at the Manchester Athenaeum.  The sight of healthy, well-fed people in the audience contrasted sharply with the poor, overburdened subjects of his lecture.  With Christmas not far off, the contrast cut even deeper.

With two books on the wane, with the plight of the poor so evident, and with the Christmas season drawing near, Dickens plotted a new novel during his three days in Manchester.  When he returned to London, he started writing.  Within six weeks, he had a complete manuscript.

Released on the 19th of December in 1843, A Christmas Carol was an immediate success on a number of fronts. The book breathed life into Dickens’ fading career and restored his reputation.  The cast of characters echoed the deep divisions of society and highlighted the appalling conditions facing the poor. The tale of retribution rang true and reinforced the spirit of Christmas giving.

All the elements of success fit except one.  The book did little to buffer Dickens’ sagging income. The first edition was too lavish, the price was too low, and Dickens’ profit was marginal.

The rest, as they say, is history. Dickens’ story of tight-fisted, mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge’s conversion to generosity and congeniality is a Christmas classic, told and retold now for almost 175 years.

Are there lessons to be learned from Dickens’ experience for those who write?  Probably there many, but for me, one stands out.  Dickens wrote about something that deeply mattered to him.  Passion drove his story, and that is evident on every page.  Find your passion – the subject you can’t wait to explore, the message you just have to deliver – and while you may not write in the style of Dickens, chances are that you will be able to write like the dickens.

For more about Charles Dickens check

This post was adapted from another at Larry Verstraete’s The Story Behind blog.

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.

Toast & Leather, not Leathery Toast

Saturday morning. The smell of toast. Suddenly it barrels into me, sending me awash with childhood memories, nothing in particular, just an overall sensation & security.

They say, that smell is our most powerful sense, conjuring up memories, & entire atmospheres with a single pertinent sniff. I cannot smell a leather jacket without remembering the day my hubby proposed to me, wearing—that’s right all you bright people—his leather jacket. And I don’t just picture the memory, but all the sounds & sights & feelings from that day encompass me. That’s how powerful our sense of smell is, linking us to all our other senses.

So how does this tie in to the writing life? Well let’s say  if it doesn’t, our writing may as well be part of the hog reports on the local farm channel. Flat. Flavourless. Footsore.

It’s easy to remember to include sight in our writing, describing people & places, sometimes to gluttonous excess, leaving us reeling & holding our gut. That’s important— after all readers want to see what we picture when we write. What about our other senses?felix-the-cat-5-senses

Taste—If a character eats Belgian chocolate, are they going to just chomp it up & there’s an end to it, or are they going to savour it to which point we also begin to drool, rereading the passage, to the detriment of the book in our lap, whose ink begins to run.

And hearing—Unless the protagonist is deaf, he must hear things. Why tell us he is hanging around outside a stadium that’s hosting a rock concert, when letting us hear through him, the bass booming through his eardrum & out the other side, drowning out his ipod, & making him yank out the earbuds.

That same fellow would feel the vibrations of the rock concert, through the soles of his boots, & by leaning against the building his head begins to throb. Thus we also feel what he does.

Should sense of smell be only a doormat for our other eloquence? If our protagonist brushes against a lilac bush in bloom, they’d have to be half dead not to smell the overpowering fragrance of thousands of tiny misty mauve buds.

And touch? If our protagonist reaches into a dark closet for a raincoat & touches instead something wet & furry, that moves, ooh, then what? I want to feel through her fingertips so I too can squirm.

Reading is for many, a house of horrors, or pleasures. The readers enter. They’ve been told there are very interesting goings on in there. You know, book jacket stuff, very hush-hush, full of suspense.

So there they are, totally in the dark, all senses on ALERT, feeling, sniffing, listening. Reaching about, squinting, anticipating something—anything. They’re in with flared, flapping nostrils, eyelids stretched wide enough to drop the eyeballs out, hands cupped behind ears, to catch those flighty waves of sound, fingers tingling & feet feeling for footing, & in some cases, tongues flicking in & out, licking the wall. (Well, maybe not.)

Sooo—as writers, let us not disappoint.

(View rest of article here:

Christina’s motto is:
“Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” (George Bernard Shaw)

Conversations with Filmmakers

The Winnipegfilm festival 1 Real to Reel Film Festival took place last week and they needed a small army of volunteers. When the plea went out for drivers to chauffeur filmmakers around town, I signed up. I thought, “Hey, I’ve got a mom limo and tons of chauffeur experience” (soccer, piano lessons, youth group, …).

To be honest, while I wanted to help, I had an ulterior motive. I was curious. I’ve done a lot of research into the publishing industry, but knew nothing about the film industry. So, I had a pile of questions. Why film? How did they get started? How difficult is the industry to break into? Just to name a few.

The Vehicle-A short film by Corbin Saleken
The Vehicle-A short film by Corbin Saleken

I would have a few filmmakers locked in my car for a half hour each way—plenty of time to ask my questions. Cue the maniacal laughter. Mwahahaha!

I learned a lot over the weekend and found that authors like me, struggling to get noticed, and these up and coming filmmakers have a lot in common.

  • Newer and cheaper technology has made it easier for anyone to get into the game, but has also made competition fierce. Filmmakers struggle to get their work in front of an audience.
  • Like writers, these filmmakers work tirelessly to polish their product and then send it off, hoping it will get plucked out of the slush pile and make it into a festival. Getting into a festival is an honour, even if they don’t win any awards.
  • I also learned more about the importance of the “N” word. That’s right. Networking. Shiver. Scary stuff, I thought. I was a keen observer, watching what these filmmakers did and how they did it. And it doesn’t seem so scary anymore.
Missed Connections- A short film by Rebecca Riley.
Missed Connections- A short film by Rebecca Riley.

The moment that probably impacted me the most was at the awards ceremony. The director of a runner-up winning documentary came to the front to receive his award and spoke about the years he spent making the film and how he dreamed of seeing it on the big screen in front of an audience. I understood that desire. I thought of how satisfying it must be to have the opportunity to share your blood, sweat, and tears with others and I imagined what it would be like for me—to have even a hundred people enjoying my years of toil. It would make it all worth it.

We all—writers, filmmakers, musicians—can feel lost in an endless slush pile, as numerous as the sand on the seashore. But, we take small steps. We persevere, taking much more rejection than acceptance, hoping one day we can share our art with an audience—to have others touched, entertained, or thrilled by our work.

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Melinda Friesen writes novels for young adults and middle grades, as well as short stories. She is a full-time mother of four and part-time student at the University of Winnipeg.

Melinda Friesen authored Enslavement, a young adult dystopian novel, released by Rebelight Publishing. When she’s not writing, Melinda works as marketing director and acquisitions editor at Rebelight Publishing Inc.

Writing for Fickle Boy-Readers

When it comes to reading, boys tend to be less than enthusiastic.  Ask any frustrated teacher, librarian or parent who is trying to find enticing material for the young male reader.  If that doesn’t convince you, check the statistics. According to the International Reading Association, 39.9% of boys surveyed called reading ‘boring’; 11.1% said the stories they were asked to read were boring; 7.7% said they just couldn’t get into it.  Compared to girls, boys spend less time reading, prefer activities like watching television or movies, and score a grade and a half lower on reading tests. For many boys, reading is ‘something that girls do’.

The reasons for the dismal record are varied and complex, mired in genetics, social stereotypes and environmental influences at home and at school.  For writers of material for young people, though, the news is a silver lining of sorts. The market is rich in opportunities for those who know how and what to write for the fickle boy-reader. Witness the success of series books like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid, proof that despite their lacklustre reading interests, boys can, and will become hooked if the material and approach are right.untitled

For writers up to the challenge, here are a few things that turn on – and turn off – boy readers, and perhaps editors who are looking for marketable boy material, too.

Guys lead…

According to Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope? (Robert Lipsyte, New York Times, August 19, 2011) while girls will read books about boys, boys – especially teenagers – rarely read books with predominately female characters – at least not willingly or openly.  Whatever the genre, a strong male cast with one or more central male protagonists encourages boys to read further.

Go big, go bold…

Call it stereoboy adventurertypical, but it’s often true: boys tend to be adventurous, competitive, and risk-takers when it comes to physical pursuits. In Why Johnny Won’t Read (School Library Journal, 08/01/2004), Michael Sullivan says: “Developmentally, boys view the world as a place filled with rules and tools, and their job is to understand how it works in order to get things done.”  All of this plays out in the topics that interest boys – sports, dinosaurs and daredevils, mystery and adventure, magical and supernatural encounters.  Boys dwell in worlds where heroes and superheroes live, where justice prevails over bullies, and where oversized deeds conquer seemingly impossible odds.

 Action first, then emotion….

Just watch a group of boys at play. Roughhousing and competition are mainstays.  Feelings and emotions, meanwhile, often take a backseat. While girls find satisfaction in internal reflection, dialogue and passages that strike an emotional chord, for many boy readers this is a turn-off According to, “boys aren’t practiced and often don’t feel comfortable exploring the emotions and feelings found in fiction”.  To grab boys’, action and plot – physical stuff – should be front and center.  Emotions and feelings – the things we often associate with character development – can follow but as a consequence.

Fast and sure starts …

No tortured and slow beginnings for boy readers who don’t have the reading skills or patience for this. The first few paragraphs must capture their attention, and embroiling boy readers in action from the start is one way to win them over.

Add sensory jolts…

brainBoy brains function differently than girl brains, and that impacts the way that boys process information.  Michael Gurian, author of Boys and Girls Learn Differently: A Guide for Teachers and Parents (Jossey-Bass, 2002) writes that boys’ brains engage in less cross-hemisphere activity than girls’ and to fully engage boys while they read, they need additional sensory input – a boost of sound, color, motion, or other physical stimulation.  Authors wise to this, reach boy readers by delivering extra doses of sensory detail.

Larry Verstraete is a Winnipeg educator and author of non-fiction books for young people.

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.
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