My Spleen Ran Away with the Spoon

Life often gets so busy I often feel my insides careening in different directions, and I’m convinced my spleen ran away with the spoon. Or my pancreas.

The more I learn about the whole “mess” that is publishing in this digital age, the more complicated and frightening it appears.

To agent or not to agent. To e-book or not to e-book. To self publish or not to.

Add to this the whole world of self-promoting. Another new aspect for authors these days. Author visits, blog tours, blog posts, twitter tweets, and book signings. Do these leave enough time to actually write?mini

Don’t forget the multifarious rules we must learn by heart. Scrapping adverbs, using strong verbs, no passive speech, commas with discretion, dialogue and narrative in correct proportions; conflict, plot, scenes and point of view must all toe the proverbial line. And through all this rule following, let us not lose our own, unique voice as a writer.

And then there’s the barbarous competition itself. If we as writers don’t, quite literally, mind our p’s & q’s, our manuscript will be passed over for the next. If we don’t follow the rules and rhymes and rigmaroles–well the publishers won’t even kiss it good-bye. We can only hope they put it to some use and recycle.

So, back to the mayhem that muddles my mind. A few months ago it drove me mad. Discouraged. And wondering who the heck & what the heck & —

—why the heck am I still writing??

I’ll never manage to deal with all of this sanely.

I took a short break. I wielded a big sword and one by one lopped off the infiltrating tentacles of doom and demise. I forgive you if you say I’m in denial–not facing this reality information overload.

I left one door open. The one just for writing, where not even the mini-me editor hovering over my shoulder could fit through. And I wrote. Just wrote. To amuse myself, to relieve myself—and I rediscovered why I write.i didin't know

There truly is a magic in words and in language. What I enjoy most when I write is how in the very act itself, ideas meld together in a way that prior brainstormings fail to create satisfactorily. Witticisms, details of foreshadowing, metaphors, poetic prose, or the spontaneous birth of a person, place or thing to fill that nagging gap. Or the forgotten little item  in the cupboard that provides a crucial turning point. These are the real  thrillers!image_01

And there I go, once more unencumbered, my inner knots untangling, and I smile as my kidney and gallbladder sail to sea on a beautiful pea-geen boat.

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)

Speaking of High Treason

Independence Hall
Independence Hall

Philadelphia 1776. The Declaration of Independence was edited, signed, sent to press, and then carried into Independence Square. For the first time, ordinary citizens— British citizens– heard these words: “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands…”            

A riot broke out. Windows smashed. Shops looted. Loyalists hid. Even those sympathetic to the cry, “no taxation without representation,” trembled. For, what would the king do to them when he realized their insolence? Many average citizens did not want to disturb the status quo. They wanted go about their days peaceably: make a living, feed their families. This move could destroy it all.

My husband and I journeyed to a town outside of Philadelphia for a friend’s wedding. We had one day to ourselves, so being a history buff, I was anxious to see the birth place of the Declaration of Independence. Setting foot inside historic Independence Hall gave me chills.

I imagined men seated at wooden tables, arguing the creation of a new nation, a pen dipped in an ink well, pressed to parchment that would form the cornerstone of a future world power. I also sensed mothers quaking for fear of their children’s future and the wives who had to face the strong possibility that their husbands would be executed for treason. That loyalists family members would disown them. That the king would take everything from them. I sensed the courage it must have taken to be labelled as traitors—terrorists of the day.

Assembly room where the Declaration was signed.
Assembly room where the Declaration was signed.

My first novel shared so many themes with those men as they sat on the cusp of either a revolution or a squelched rebellion. Over the previous months I struggled as I edited that novel and I realized that some of my frustration lay with my protagonist; I didn’t know her well enough. That day I walked through Independence hall with her. We breathed in the history that would repeat itself for her. She had to make the same decision: to quietly endure the circumstances of a dystopic world, which was her nature, or to risk her life by rising up to “throw off such government and provide new Guards for their future security.”            

I felt both her fear and her courage, what it must take to stand up against incredible odds. She knew her chances of success were slim, but the alternative, never trying for fear of losing was unacceptable, detestable. That infinitesimal glimmer of success became the anchor her hope was tied to. She didn’t write a formal declaration, she developed an internal one—her own manifesto: it’s better to die free than to live under tyranny. I returned to the novel with a renewed commitment to see it through to the end. My protagonist needs to tell her story and the world needs to hear it. What steps do you take to explore your characters, isolate their voice, and walk in their shoes?

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Melinda Friesen writes novels for young adults and middle grades and 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.

Tapping into Eureka

S is for Scientists In one of the entries for my book, S is for Scientists: A Discovery Alphabet (illustated by David Geister), I told the story about Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes and his legendary bath. In 256 B.C., after several frustrating and unsuccessful days of pondering a problem, Archimedes visited the public baths. As Archimedes lowered his body into the water, a solution to the problem seemingly appeared out of nowhere. As the story goes, Archimedes ran down the street naked yelling “Eureka!” (I’ve found it!), leaving us all with a memorable visual of the moment.

You’ve probably had an experience similar to Archimedes’ – hopefully not the running naked down the street part, but maybe a Eureka moment of your own when you are in the shower or running on a treadmill or walking in the woods and suddenly you see with extreme clarity the solution to a sticky problem – an elusive twist in the plot of your novel perhaps, or a way to organize complex information that moments before seemed obscure. At those Eureka moments, the brain seems to be operating on its own without conscious direction.

As writers we all face difficulties. Words fail, passages disappoint, ideas flounder on the page, and no matter how hard we try – writing and rewriting – we seem stuck in the mire, spinning our wheels in frustration. The phenomenon is so common that we have a name for it – writer’s block.

At these times, I find it helps to remember Archimedes and how he eventually became unstuck. Step aside. Leave the writing be. Engage in a mind-freeing activity (physically demanding ones work best for me). Trust the brain to figure it out, and then let it loose to unravel the thorny knot.

Why, I can almost hear you calling Eureka already.Y - text

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.

Leaving Them Cliffhanged

“I loved the way you cliffhanged me so often in your book.”

I spent a part of my teaching career at an international school in Hong Kong. One year I read aloud Red Scarf Girl to a class of grade five students.

red scarf girl by ji li jiang published by scholasticIt is the childhood memoir of Ji Li Jiang and describes how she and her family survived China’s Cultural Revolution.  After we had finished the book I gave my students an assignment to write a letter to the author telling her what they thought of Red Scarf Girl.

I’ll never forget what William wrote in his letter. He thanked Ms. Jiang for sharing her difficult personal story and described a favorite scene where her brother deals with bullies. He ended by saying “I loved the way you cliffhanged me so often in your book.  I just wanted my teacher to keep on reading. How could she stop when the story was so exciting?” I had explained what a cliffhanger was to the class but until I read William’s letter had never  heard the word used as a verb.

Cliffhangers are certainly a good way to build suspense into writing and as the age of the children who are our target audience increases so can the suspense. Cliffhangers can warn of impeding disaster, reveal a secret, provide a surprising twist in events or have a character display a dangerous emotion. They can present a dilemma or pose a troubling question. It is probably not a good idea to resolve the cliffhanger as soon as the next chapter starts but rather thread the solution through the subsequent pages so the reader will continue to be engaged. 

remarkable journey prince jen by lloyd alexanderDuring my teaching career the book I read aloud to my students that did the very best job of leaving young readers ‘cliffhanged’ was Lloyd Alexander’s The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen. Virtually ever chapter ended with the author talking directly to the reader and asking intriguing questions about what would happen next. 

Cliffhangers should never be forced or added primarily as a marketing feature. However a cliffhanger can enhance the quality of a story and make it more effective. 

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Writing For Children- Not As Easy As I Thought!

MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free lance journalist for thirty years. 

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 'Ah ha' Moment

I’ve seen The Hobbit three times in theatres (so far). I’ve read Tolkien’s fantasy adventure a few times over the years and after seeing the movie I am now reading it again, to my nine year old foster son.

The Hobbit movie poster

The first time I watched the movie I was too busy thinking ‘they added that bit’ or ‘they added a Lord of the Rings tie in’, etc. I finished the movie and knew I just had to see it again, now that I knew what to expect. The second and third viewing I sat back and got lost in the adventerous grandeur.

I learned something crucial about my own adventure story; my first novel, written for 9-13 year old boys. The first few critiques of its raw beginnings have been favourable, ‘very saleable idea’ an editor told me – which is great news! However, I know it’s nowhere near ready to be submitted, it requires substantial editing. While watching the movie I was smucked up the side of the head with the blaring error in my book. Every time our little hobbit friend, Bilbo, turns around the next mountain pass, tries to save a pony, or answers another riddle, he suffers another near death experience. My fantasy story is full of exciting experiences, a new land filled with creatures, even a new humanoid existence… but only one near death experience. My characters get stretched and show growth, but they don’t get worked to their absolute limit.

 So, thanks to a wonderful movie (based on a fabulous book), I know where I need to transform my story from just a meager ‘exciting’ to ‘edge-of-your-seat page-turner’. But first, I need a bowl of popcorn.

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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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