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.

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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)

Outlining, it pays off

I’m outlining a new novel idea.

I wrote my first novel with no outline at all. Copious notes for research filled my notebook and Word files. But I wrote… as a pantser… and I don’t do pantser well. It took me three years to complete the rough draft, including several bouts of writer’s block when I didn’t know how to transition from one scene to another. I took a workshop with David Annandale and he said to me some magic words… “Then don’t transition. Skip it and write what comes next. You’ll transition on your re-write.” (or something close to those words) Well, thank you David. Within a couple of months I finally finished my first draft. Setting it aside for a few weeks, I did a second draft. A year later I was still not happy with it. Finally, last fall, I wrote an outline for each chapter and a timeline. I realized I had whole sections of the story out of place. The flow wasn’t right. Things didn’t happen in order. I had to do a major overhaul of re-writing and move entire scenes. After outlining, I knew where these scenes had to move to. And where to make my story stronger. However, it now requires so much work, I feel overwhelmed and anytime I think of pulling it out, I just… well, don’t. However it is one of my goals.

I wrote my second novel using this book:

Ready, Set, NOVEL! by by Lindsey Grant, Tavia Stewart-Streit and Chris Baty

(Available at and

I began with an idea in March (2012), purchased this book in about May, spent majority of our driving time on our camping trip to Niagara Falls with this book on my lap (in July) and wrote and wrote and wrote. I followed many of the directions, however, I found that I changed up several of the activity suggestions to create scenes that would more likely show up in my book later. I used it as a guide. When I finished the book, I had outlines or snippets of several scenes written and most importantly a detailed timeline for not only my main character but my secondary characters as well. My timeline included the main plot line plus the subplots and when they come in to the story. Instead of writing the novel in chronological order from beginning to end, I wrote it in scenes. My timeline had them all outlined (and with David’s words of ‘transition later’) I felt free to write whatever scene struck me at that time. I started the first draft the first week of August and completed 30,000 words by mid-September. I then re-wrote it three or four times by November. Since then, I’ve had five writer friends from my critique groups read the entire manuscript and I’ve taken in all of their suggested changes and I’ve re-written it a further six to eight times (including changing the ending). My goal by March of this year, is to be submitting it to publishers. One year… much improved over book one.

I am sold on outlining and timelines. As I start my new novel I am experimenting with yWriter software. (Downloadable for FREE here: yWriter5) It’s going a little slow, as user-friendly as the program is, there’s still a learning curve. And I’m figuring out how it’s going to work for me. But I intend to completely outline this novel before writing a single word into a draft. I like the feeling of knowing where my story is going. With this new story I am thinking of the outline as the first draft. So much easier to move story sections around when it’s all in point form.

I’ll keep you posted about my experience with yWriter. Do you outline? Not outline? What’s your writing process?

¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•* Suzanne Costigan writes middle grade and YA novels. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada with James, her children, three dogs and four cats.

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.

Raisins in Disguise

Please bear with me here–there is a point to my dithering–

I remember when I discovered that squashed red ants smelled like raisins. I don’t recall the where-to-fore, I just promptly plonked my young backside on the sun-warmed sidewalk, my bare big toe doing the deed and my nose sniffing with satisfied flared nostrils. True story.aahoar_frost_crab_apples500

I loved playing at my grandparents house. I was nosey, plain and simple. My explorations took me one day behind their big clunker of a TV with its 50 million wires, mesmerized by how they snaked in and out, over and under. Oh, but what was this, a loose cord, not plugged in anywhere? And here, an outlet with nothing plugged into it?

Well this intrepid little Sherlockette put two and two together, plugging one into the other. Voila! Zap! Youch! One fleeting, enlightening moment later, I emerged nursing a powdered black thumb and a science lesson, free of charge. Fact.

aaaf-d_71b47f9ce3a85afac7d3b5b9Summer is my season. Always has been. Born at its peak. Great memories. I had this plastic rectangular tub, see, and after a sweet, summer rain, I noticed how many, many earthworms arose to bless the puddles. And me–I soon had my tub 2 inches deep with the squirming things and even had the good grace unusual in one of such tender age, to add some sopping soil to their exquisite habitat. I had no leashes, but trustingly allowed 2 or 3 of them out at a time on the ground for a walk, intrigued by their legless manoeuvres, making sure they each got their turns. Amazing.

And somehow, after all these years, (the number of which is being withheld from any of you nosey people,) I have retained this fascination of the seemingly simple things in life.

-The way the hoarfrost glitters in all its crystalline glory.

-How a fern frond unfurls as it matures, from a tightly sprung coil to fingers reaching out of the shade to grasp the slip of light coming through the trees.

-How a spider knows just the right moves of his dance, even the first time out.

-The way mercury spilled on a table breaks up, then pools together, over and over when you nudge it.

-How several minerals can be huddled up in the same piece of rock.

-The northern lights, an enthralling display of colours like painting in motion, constantly being renewed.

-The shapes and hues in a candle flame.aaamercury_drops

This wonder in the things around us, this curiosity, never losing the ability to see as a child sees, is a wondrous tool, for all children’s writers. Two words–“What If”– are a writer’s creed. If we no longer care about the little things we would cease to write. We are constantly asking questions, and it’s where the answers take us that results in stories. And the more we ask, seek, look, the better the story. Our passion will flow through the pen and transfer to the reader. And then we’ll both be on the ground squishing red ants, marching earthworms, all worries and cares forgotten.

Well, the surviving ants might be worrying.

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)

Caustic Cadences

Cadence: 1.the rhythmic flow of a sequence of sounds or words
Ever notice, how when listening to someone you’ve known for decades tell yet another one of their stories, you hear their words and yet nothing of what they say.

You hear the cadence of their voice lulling you into a stupor and you know ahead of time where their tone will change, rise, fall; you know where they’ll pause to perform some personal habit–sipping coffee, tucking hair behind ears, blowing a bulbous nose.yawn1

You know as you ‘listen’ which lines they will repeat for effect. And you just watch, eyes glazed, smiling or nodding in all the right places, because those cadences are branded on your brain in a niche reserved for such experiences?

(Maybe you marvel how you ever wondered that your kids can’t focus in class. Or yourself. Think back–teacher’s have these cadences too, some rich, some tedious.)

Not everyone has a dynamic cadence to their voice and speech, captivating their audiences. Some cadences tire you while others make your eyes leap out of their sockets and have you groping the floor for them, to put them back in vowing to hold on tighter.

That’s our task as writers. Our cadences need to pop, bang and sizzle. Other times they need to stealthily sneak up on a reader and envelope them in essence of comfort. Our cadences need to take corners with no warning, twirl the ends of big kaleidoscopes, toss our readers up in roller coasters that end in pools full of rose scented clouds, or of jello dotted with scorpions. Keep–them–guessing. Their heads twisting, their antennae probing, their emotions and sensations pulsing.

As with anything, there is such a thing as overdoing it–my simple advice–do not go there. Things still have to be believable.

We need to test our voice–our cadence–on a heart rate monitor and make sure that line is hopping like an Easter bunny on–well, take your pick of stimulants however illegal and feed it to him in a carrot.




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)


I like routine (sorta) and deadlines (love ‘em!) and goal setting (requires routine and creates deadlines!)

My  goals for 2013:

1)      Write three manuscripts (ms)
2)      Edit my ms that’s been waiting for a re-write for over a year now
3)      Be actively sending out my finished ms for publishing
4)      By August, be sending out my ms from goal #2
5)      By November, be sending out one ms from goal #1
6)      Read 40 books
7)      Be full-fledged raw-vegan by May
8)      Take the dogs to the dog park everyday as soon as the snow melts (I’m a winter hermit)
9)      Have the taxes ready by mid-February (what’s the date today?)
10)   Meditate for seven minutes every morning
11)   Practice yoga twenty minutes after meditating
12)   Attend both CANSCAIP children’s writer’s conferences in September (SK) and November (Toronto)
13)   Keep my desk clean – everyday
14)   Oh, yeah… and quit smoking…

I have a busy year planned. So, how am I doing with all this now that it’s February?
1)      Currently outlining ms #1
2)      Yeah… about that old ms…. Hmmm….
3)      My finished ms is going through final edits with some great writer friends of mine
4)      Well… I do have till August
5)      Should be on track
6)      Currently reading book #8
7)      I bought a dehydrator!
8)      There’s still snow, got a little time yet for this one
9)      I have two days… can still be done
10)   Haven’t quite worked this in yet
11)   ….nor this one…. But I sure think about them a lot
12)   Shouldn’t be a problem
13)   So far so good
14)   I bought a Groupon for a hypnosis session… now, if only I could find a phone so I could call to make the appointment

Goal setting helps me to get things done. I look at this list and feel overwhelmed. Then I realize I don’t need to do everything at once. I mean, I only write one story at a time right, the other two will be later in the year. I read in a book once, sorry can’t remember which one, to break down each task into miniscule tasks. Then only focus on one miniscule at a time. Sounds reasonable, difficult to put into practice though.

Since almost everything requires time, I prefer schedules. (I’m a list person, can you tell?) I have made fabulous use of my Blackberry and Outlook calendars. I write down everything so I don’t have to remember anything – it’s a great concept. When my calendar alarm goes off I check to see what’s happening or where I’m supposed to be fifteen minutes from now.

I’ve also had to learn to be flexi-scheduled. I can slot in that I’m going to write from 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. However, I have four kids, three dogs and four cats, and James. Being a full-time foster parent, I have regular school meetings, social worker meetings, and run kids to weekly appointments. I belong to two writing groups, the planning committee for the afore mentioned SK conference and I have some friends who I like to see occasionally. Not to mention the oh so very important time for family. Sometimes I don’t get to write from 9-12, ok, MOST days I don’t get to write from 9-12, life happens. So, I have started to make my daily schedule each morning, however,  it’s not quite working for me, so I may start planning my day the night before, so I wake up knowing what’s going on. I’m a planner (you could probably tell that), maybe if I stopped planning all together and just became a pantser I’d get more done. It takes a lot of time to plan… Now, that’s crazy talk, me – a pantser – LOL.

So, are you a goal maker? Do you like schedules? Or do you prefer the freedom of running by the seat of your pants?

¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•* Suzanne Costigan writes middle grade and YA novels. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada with James, her children, three dogs and four cats.

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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