Review: Susanna Leonard Hill’s Story Cards

I am just back from a vacation in Quebec City, one of my favourite cities in the world. I had a fabulous, fun-filled five days there!
Although I was away from home, I still continued to do creative things. That included observing the clouds from the plane for a story I have in mind.

The basis of a future story

The basis of a future story

I also played dress up at the Museum of Civilization. The museum had this awesome exhibition where you could dress up as fairy tale characters. I had a blast there. I even dressed up as more characters than my daughter! As I have written before, it’s important to remember to play to continue to light your creative fire.

Do I rock this costume or what?

Do I rock this costume or what?

Before I left, I met my local critique partner, Bev, for a writing session. We tried out Susanna Leonard Hill’s “What’s the Story” cards, which I won from Susanna’s Holiday Contest. (Yes, I meant to do it earlier, since I won them around Christmas. Just think of this blog post as a celebration of Christmas in July.)… Anyway, to read my winning entry, click here.
To read a short description of the cards by Susanna, click here. It is at the end of the blog post. The basic idea is that you use words from different categories (i.e., problem, setting, goal) to write a story. You can either use a story card that gives you suggestions or you can draw your own.
I had tried the cards once with my daughter. We had done a preliminary informal session where we had used the cards to tell stories orally. That was a lot of fun.
This time with Bev we decided to write down our stories. We set a time limit of 5 minutes for each story and did three stories. Instead of jumping into each story immediately like I usually do, I decided to take Bev’s lead and brainstorm first before writing each story. I think that her way is a great way to do it.
For the first exercise, we each used a different “What’s the Story Card” to inform us what categories to use. You can check out my picture to see my card choices. I accidentally replaced cake with birthday, but no matter. And my character completely surprised me! I will tinker with this story to see if I can make it work.

My selection of story cards

My selection of story cards

For the second exercise, we each drew our own categories. This was the hardest of all three exercises for both of us.
The third exercise was the most fun. We both used the same “What’s the Story?” card with the same choices. Not surprisingly, we came up with completely different story lines! Bev came away from that exercise with a story that she wants to use! Hurrah!
So as you can see, the whole writing session was a success with both of us coming away with a workable story. So I’m giving the cards a two pens up!

What I like about these cards:
They are very flexible:
• You can use as many or as few cards as you wish.
• If you don’t like your choice you can draw another card, as Bev did one time.
• You can brainstorm first or not.
• You can set a time limit of a few minutes or no time limit at all.
• You could save a particular story to work on later, as Bev did.
However, my favourite part is the category choices, and I think that this is the strongest point of the cards.

Who could use the cards:
Well anybody really, but here are some suggestions that Bev and I came up with:
• People who want to work on a certain category that they are weak in (One of my weaknesses is themes, so this will be one I will concentrate on.)
• If you have writer’s block
• For warm up exercises
• As a confidence booster: see, you really are creative!
• Beginners who think they have no ideas
• On a day when none of your ideas appeals to you

Any drawbacks?
Well none, really. The only time I struggled was when I pulled a card from every category. I think though, had I brainstormed first, it would have been manageable.

How do you get your hands on these cards?
Click here to go to Susanna’s website to order them.

Thanks, Susanna, for your generosity and for creating such an excellent tool.

Summer 2016 Writing

It’s summer, and it’s hot! But my writing is not…
Well, that’s not completely true. I have made a breakthrough in my writing, which has actually lit a bit of a fire underneath me. I have recently realized that my writer’s block is sometimes due to the fact that I am frustrated. I get frustrated not knowing where I am going wrong and how to fix the problems in my manuscripts. Why continue to write when I seem to be doing the same things over and over, and it’s not getting me anywhere?
That’s why it’s important to continue to study the craft of writing. So I am currently taking an excellent self directed course called the Art of Arc. Alayne Kay Christian’s course goes really in depth into picture book writing, and it has allowed me to make that breakthrough I was talking about. The course comes complete with worksheets that allow you to analyze published picture books plus your own manuscripts.
Anyway, the reason that my writing is not as hot as I would like it to be is because summer is always a chaotic, unscheduled time. My daughter is off school. We go on vacation. And so on. I hope to continue my blogging every two weeks, but if not, understand it’s due to an often chaotic schedule. For example, I realize that I am one day late for today’s blog post. Oops! That’s actually because I have spent the last two days driving my dad around to various appointments. But I am planning on doing a session with my local writing partner, Bev, on Friday, which will lead to my next blog post. Bev and I will work on our writing using Susanna Leonard Hill’s “What’s the story” cards. Click here to read a short description of the cards that Susanna has added to the end of a blog post.

In the meantime, I am getting excited for this year’s Kidlit Summer School. If you haven’t already signed up, you still can until July 15. Click here for the information.
I wish you heat in your writing this summer. But keep cool in your life and in this weather.

Book Review: “Our Canadian Girl”

One of my favourite times of the day is reading to my daughter, age 9, before she goes to bed.
Recently we have become captivated by the “Our Canadian Girl” chapter book series. This is a series of books geared towards children ages 8-12. Every series of four books stars a girl set in different places and times in Canadian history. Though the girls may be bound by the conventions of their time, they are free spirits who don’t like following the rules, making them easier for today’s youth to relate to them.
I love these series for introducing ways of living and ideas that are unfamiliar to children in a way that they can understand them.
These are the series that we have been reading so far:

1. The Angelique series

The series starts in 1865. In book 1, “Buffalo Hunt”, Angelique is a 10-year-old Metis girl living in the Red River Valley, who is participating for the first time in a buffalo hunt. Angelique is allowed to do the job of looking for the beaded gloves that mark her father’s buffalo kills, traditionally a boy’s job.

My daughter loved this book, and asked if we could recreate the buffalo hunt this summer. So we have started to make the bags that carry the buffalo meat in them, although using scraps of material instead of the buffalo hide.

Book 2, “The Long Way Home”, in which Angelique saves their family’s buffalo runner, Michif, the skilled horse used in buffalo hunts, was also very popular with my daughter.

2. The Ellen series
The first book is set in the “dirty thirties” of the depression, and the series continues into the time of WWII.

In “Hobo Jungle”, book 1, set in Vancouver, Ellen and her family have been forced to move in with her grandpa, and Ellen is wishing for a whole lot of things that are no longer available to her: ice cream cones, a new dress, even her own bedroom. But when she meets Will, one of the out of work men who rides the rails in order to find odd jobs, she begins to see the world in a different light.

My daughter could not understand why Ellen would be afraid of using a wringer washer. I don’t think that she has ever seen a wringer washer being used, so I introduced her to the machine.

The most thoughtful and thought provoking discussion came when we were reading book 2, “The Wishing Time”. World War II has started, and one of their new classmates, Marjorie, has had to flee Shanghai, China due to the Japanese invading. Things come to a head during Hallowe’en when Ellen’s best friend Amy, a Japanese Canadian, wears her kimono, and bad memories return for Marjorie.

3. The Millie series

My daughter proclaimed this the least favourite of the series we have read so far, but I still like it, because it is set originally in Toronto and then the Kawarthas, areas more familiar to me. It allowed me to introduce, for example, something I think all Canadians should experience, the haunting cry of the loon. Check out the following video.

Though these books aren’t new–some books are already over ten years old–they will hopefully continue to captivate generations to come.

My daughter has learned so many things about Canadian and world history, geography, and social conventions through the “Our Canadian Girl” books. I have too!

We voted–yes it was very democratic–to next read the Rachel series, set in Nova Scotia in 1793 about a girl who has escaped slavery in South Carolina. Then we want to read the Penelope series, which is set in Halifax in 1917 during the Halifax explosion. Eventually we hope to read them all.
And I hope that you will check them out and enjoy them as much as we have. Let me know in the comments below if you plan to or if you already have, and what you thought.

Writing Update and Writer’s Block

Today I am meeting my local critique partner, Beverley Baird, to go over my two potential contest submissions for the CANSCAIP Writing for Children Competition 2016. Are you entering? The deadline is July 31. I may submit three to the contest: the two I am going to go over with Bev, and one I am working on with my SCBWI Canada East mentor, Lizann Flatt.
How’s it going with you? Are you writing? If not, then watch the video below that has some good suggestions how to overcome writer’s block.

Morning Pages

So recently I have been listening to some of the lectures from the Hay House World Summit 2016. The summit provides free lectures from experts around the world. I have listened to lectures about everything from sound therapy with Dr. Jeffrey Thompson to weight loss with Dr. Libby Weaver to epigenetics with Bruce Lipton.
There were plenty of lectures related to writing too. One thing I want to explore more in depth is Gail Larsen’s unique approach to public speaking. Like most writers, I feel uncomfortable with making presentations, and Larsen’s tip about using real stories to connect with your audience is intriguing.
Another presentation related to writing that I thoroughly enjoyed is Julia Cameron’s. Julia Cameron’s most famous book is “The Artist’s Way”. Many of you I am sure have read it, and I did too, when I first declared that I wanted to be a writer. Back then I used to do morning pages, but I have not done them in a few years.
After listening to Cameron’s lecture though, I decided that I needed to get back to doing them. I have been struggling with focus lately, and guess what? Writing the morning pages has helped me start to regain that focus!
So what are morning pages? They are three pages of longhand writing that you do first thing in your morning. They can be about anything. I use them to write about things that are bothering me, so that the bothersome thoughts don’t keep whirling around in my head, taking away my energy from other things. But I also use them to write down what I wish to do and goals I wish to achieve.
Watch the following video to see how Julia Cameron does morning pages.


So what about you? Do you do morning pages?

I am looking forward to next year’s Hay House World Summit. I hope you join me.

Brian Henry’s Guelph Mini Children’s Writing Conference

This year instead of attending the Canada East SCBWI conference like I did last year, I decided to attend one closer to home. I went to one facilitated by Brian Henry in Guelph. I have always wanted to take a course with Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox fame.
I thought with it being close to home, surely there could be no difficulty with delays like at my last two conferences. Well, I managed to get there on time, but, unfortunately, Brian Henry was 1&3/4 hours late due to a bad traffic accident on the 401.
Brian did make it up to us, staying later and giving out critiques. I stayed afterwards and got a fabulous critique.
Besides Brian who talked about the different type of children’s books, what kids are interested in, and how to get rejected, there were three guest speakers:

1. Jennifer Mook-Sang talked about the process of getting her first middle grade novel “Speechless” published. “Speechless” was one of the finalists of a CANSCAIP Writing for Children Competition, a competition she highly recommends as all 10 finalists have their work submitted to three Canadian publishers. Speechless has been shortlisted for a 2016 diamond willow award (grades 4-6).

2. Kira Vermond is a nonfiction writer who hails from Guelph. I actually have had the pleasure of eating lunch with her at a CANSCAIP conference. This time I bought three of her books, including her latest, “Half-truths and Brazen Lies: An Honest Look at Lying”, which of all her books she is the proudest of. Kira talked about the top 6 things you should know when writing nonfiction for kids. She also mentioned that if you think about your writing as a gift to others, your writing anxiety will melt away. Cool philosophy!
My 9-year-old daughter’s favourite book of hers is “The Secret Life of Money: A kids’ guide to cash”.

3. Yasemin Usar is currently a senior editor at Kids Can Press. She has 18 years of experience in the industry. At Kids Can Press, they will accept picture book manuscripts of up to 1000 words. You should look at their catalogue to see if this is the publisher for you. Yasemin answered many questions including the much debated one about illustration notes. Her opinion was that illustration notes are acceptable as long as the notes were not every step of the way, and as long as they helped to understand the author’s vision.

I hope that there will be another local mini conference like this soon.
I will also attend a course in July in Kitchener on revising. For more information on Brian Henry’s courses, go to his website called Quick Brown Fox.

Three Favorite Blog Posts from RhyPiBoMo 2016

That is, so far…RhyPiBoMo is not quite done.
I have always admired people who can write rhyming picture books. Two years ago I joined a rhyming critique group during RhyPiBoMo, but my rhyming manuscript was largely a dud.
Still it was fun to try. And I am growing more and more interested in rhyming picture books. Who knows? Maybe that’s what I was really meant to do. I just have to push back that mental block that says it’s too hard.

Here’s what my favorite blog posts are so far:

Verla Kay’s “Cryptic Rhyme” Blog Post
This is a fascinating post about how she turned bad rhyme in great rhyme.

Margarita Engle’s Post “Occasional Rhymes” Post
I’m going to be studying her texts more closely, as she is a non traditional rhymer.

Susan B. Katz’s “Rhyme Will Stand the Test of Time” Post
It’s written entirely in rhyme. Wow!

Bonus: Here’s a video Eric Ode made about rhythm and rhyme in picture books.

What’s your favorite rhyming book? Leave me a comment below.

I am revising

Last year in 12 x 12, I wrote 25 picture book manuscripts. Wow! I am very proud of myself. You can watch the winners’ video and celebrate my success as well as the success of all the other winners in 2015’s 12 x 12 challenge.

This year in 12 x 12 I have written a total of ZERO picture book manuscripts. Yes, that’s right: not even one…Now why is that? I know that I had decided this year to focus on craft, after being rejected by all the 12 x 12 agents last year. But still, I wasn’t even revising any of my manuscripts. That is until now. I have suddenly become a revision machine. I’m going to share with you what kickstarted the process.

1. ReFoReMo
I started to use mentor texts to improve my “how-to” manuscript. Inspired by the suggestions and list in this post by Tammi Sauer, I was able to look at my manuscript with fresh eyes. Already I am seeing positive changes in the manuscript that I was stuck on.

2. Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s webinar in 12 x12
This is one of the best webinars that I have ever seen. I have always struggled with writing character driven picture books. I tend to write story driven manuscripts. But the way Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen laid out how to write a character driven picture book suddenly made sense to me. She based her examples on Star Wars, although she was quick to point out that in a picture book, there is not supposed to be a mentor. Instead we as the authors are the mentor. Cool, huh? I can’t wait to take her next character building picture book course. In the meantime, I am applying what she taught to the manuscripts I have already have written. And some of them are already looking spiffier.

2. Laura Purdie Salas’ picture book fixes course
Currently reasonably priced at 10 US, Laura Purdie Salas goes through five common picture book mistakes that keep you from being published. Module one takes you through discovering the difference between a picture book manuscript and a short story manuscript. A short story manuscript is something that would be printed in a magazine. I’ve always wanted a more concrete way of judging this, and Laura Purdie Salas gives a good foundation. Right now I am busy comparing magazine articles to picture books, one of the exercises. This way I can discover if some of my manuscripts are really better suited for magazines. After all, if a publisher is going to be spending thousands of dollars to publish your picture book, they are going to be very picky, and so you want to make sure that your manuscript is in top shape before you submit it.
So if you are stuck on your manuscripts, don’t give up hope. Just keep researching and learning and something will come up that will make you see things in a whole new way.

Writing Update, March and April 2016

So what have you been working on lately?

This is a wrap up of the writing projects I have just finished, as well as the writing projects that I am working on:


1. ReFoReMo
ReFoReMo is wrapping up this week. I am a winner! I analyzed and logged 87 picture books with some more to still come. I concentrated mainly on books with sparse text, and I think I have found some tricks of the trade. I am going to try them out anyway and see what people say.
Click here for a good post by Laura Purdie Salas on minimal word counts.
By the way, there is a new site for ReFoReMo. You can go to the site by clicking here and register for the newsletter.

2. Chapter Book Challenge
This is also the last week for the Chapter Book Challenge. This year I wrote two emergent reader manuscripts. One I love and one I hate. I am thinking about changing the format of the one I hate to a similar format that I used for the one I love. Can’t hurt to play around with it!
My favourite post was a very comprehensive one by C. Hope Clark about character building. To read it, click here.

3. Word by Word Book Club
We have finished reading “Save the Cat” in this Facebook group and will be starting to read “Second Sight” by Cheryl B. Klein starting the first week of April.

4. Debut Picture Book Group
The current picture book that we are studying in this Facebook Group is “One Plastic Bag” by Miranda Paul, which is excellent. I definitely hope we have an author chat with the author!
We will study “Snappsy the Alligator” by Julie Falatko in April.

5. RhyPiBoMo
RhyPiBoMo starts at the end of the week. Registration is until April 8, so you still have time.
If you want some basic tips about writing verse for children, editor Audrey Owen has a free course, which I am currently taking. Click here for more details.

By the way, if you haven’t read the stories of the winners of the 50 precious words contest, go on over and do so. You’re in for a real treat. Click here to read my entry, but I admit that my quality is not near as high. Ah, something to shoot for next year!

So what writing projects are you up to?

50 Precious Words Contest 2016

I always love the short story contests that Susanna Leonard Hill runs. So I was excited when Vivian Kirkfield announced that she was running a 50 words or less contest. You can see the rules if you click here.
I admit that this was quite the challenge. Events of the past week drained me emotionally. So I decided that I would try to modify one of my 100 words stories. But it was way too hard, and I don’t think the story actually was understandable with only 50 words.
So yesterday when my daughter was on a playdate with a friend who had recently moved, I listened to their conversation, hoping for some inspiration. Bingo! I decided to base my story on one of their conversations about how they would keep in touch. Certainly the actual conversation was much longer and what they decided in the end was different, but the contest story is only supposed to be 50 words or less…I am thinking that their full length conversation could be turned into a picture book manuscript.
I hope you enjoy it. Be sure to go to Vivian’s website to read the other stories too.

Friends Forever

Friends Forever

Friends with Imagination
50 words

Cam was moving.
“I know,” Annie said. “Let’s share an imaginary friend.”
“Annie, we’ll hardly play with each other anymore.”
“But Cam…we can have a book where we write about our imaginary friend’s adventures.”
“You get the book first. When we see each other again, I’ll get it.”

Let me know what you think in the comments.