Monday, November 22, 2010

gems from novelist Gail Anderson-Dargatz

I recently had the privilege of hearing and participating with novelist Gail Anderson-Dargatz at the Kamloops Arts Council Writers Fair. Anderson-Dargatz is the internationally acclaimed and best-selling author of The Cure for Death by Lightning, A Recipe for Bees, Turtle Valley, and A Rhinestone Button, among other titles. Some gems in her presentations glittered with special brightness for me. I hope you find them helpful and inspiring:

-Simple is sophisticated. It's not necessary to use flowery language and try to sound important.

-Making invented things seem real is like a magic trick.

-Things you write in fiction don't need to be probable, just possible.

-Feed your muse. Do research, interview people, get out and experience life.

-People are dying to tell their stories. If you open yourself to them, stories will walk up to you.

-When interviewing, it's preferable to meet people in their own environments, not someplace like a coffee shop.

-When interviewing people for the purpose of writing fiction, it's less about what actually happened than about what could have happened. Ask your interviewee "what if?" Brainstorm with your interviewee, then brainstorm by yourself.

-Don't write to get rich and famous. Write because it feeds your spirit.

-Your initial idea for a novel or short story should be big enough to provide sufficient potential for conflict.

-A genre novel, which is written according to certain rules and conventions, is generally quicker to write than a literary novel, which is more organic.

-It can take five (or more) years to write a literary novel. You need a topic and/or theme that will engage you emotionally for that long.

-There are lots of "three-chapter novelists." They write three chapters and don't know where to go from there.

-A writer may have good description, action, dialogue, etc. but be weak on structure. A knowledge of dramas/movies can help since dramas/movies are usually well structured.

-Real life is episodic. One thing happens after another, often with little evident cause and effect. Fiction shouldn't be like that. There should be a causal chain that escalates to a climax. Don't write coincidences.

-Writing a story as fiction can help you tell it even more truthfully than if you stick to the facts.

-A couple of recommended titles: Writers Gym by Eliza Clark, and The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack Bickham.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

identifying publishers suitable for your writing

Suppose you've written a book about knitting. There's no point trying to sell it to a publisher of military history. Similarly there's no point querying a poetry publisher about a science fiction novel. These are extreme examples but they illustrate the fact that, if you're trying to get a manuscript published, it's important to approach suitable publishers. Here are suggestions for identifying possibilities.


1. Look at books similar to yours in libraries, bookstores, etc. Notice who publishes what.

2. Consult directories of publishers. They include names of contact persons and the types of writing published.

3. Study publishers' web sites.

4. Look at publishers' catalogs online and/or in print. If you write to them, they may send you a catalog. You may see where your writing could fit in. For example if an educational publisher has just published anthologies [readers] for grades two and three, chances are good that anthologies for grades four and five are being prepared. Something you've written may fit in.

5. Join authors' associations. Market information is often shared formally and informally in such associations. Often they have newsletters and/or e-mail groups.

Some associations are specialized; for example, romance writers, science writers, outdoor writers, history writers.

6. If possible, attend writers' conferences, book fairs, educators' conferences. These help provide up-to-date information on what is being published and how your writing might fit in. You may meet editors there. Sales representatives can also be useful contacts. Information about writers' conferences can be found at



Wednesday, September 22, 2010

literary agents and publishers

Are you seeking a literary agent or publisher? Here are a few free websites that may help. There are many others but these are among my favorites.


1. Guide to Literary Agents. You can subscribe at:
Every day or two they e-mail you free information about agents.

2. Agent Query. You can subscribe at Wide range
of resources here.

3. Preditors and Editors. You can visit at Their aim is
to help authors evaluate publishers, publishing services, agents, etc. This
includes  alerting people to individuals and organizations that might be
problematic to deal with.

4. Absolute Write. You can visit or join at Provides author help of various kinds
including a forum discussing literary agents and authors' experiences with

5. List of literary agents in Canada [courtesy of The Writers Union of

6. Directory of publishers and literary agents in Canada

Friday, September 3, 2010

researching & writing factual books & articles

I've researched and written a number of factual books and articles. There are many "right" ways to do this. Here's the general plan I follow for a factual book aimed at children.

1. Say the topic is sharks. I go to the Internet and discover all I can about sharks. I don't print everything out—only things that look particularly useful and reliable. If a website doesn't have much useful content, I just make handwritten notes.

2. I go to the library and look for children's books on sharks. (Whether I'm writing for children or adults, I always go to children's books first because they give the basics in a way that's easily grasped.) Then I look at encyclopedias, then books intended for adults. I may not find an adult book devoted entirely to sharks, but may find some on inclusive topics such as fish, fishing, and marine biology. I also look at the library's vertical files (which contain magazine articles and other non-book sources).

3. I take out of the library any relevant materials that I can. In the case of materials that may not be taken out, I make notes and/or photocopy useful pages.

4. When I get home, I make a pot of tea and take stock of what I have. On any pages I've printed out or photocopied, I use a color coding system to highlight information on the various subtopics I plan to write about; for example, the appearance of sharks, where sharks live, what sharks eat, their lifecycle, different types of sharks, human interaction with sharks. I use crayons for color coding because there are more colors and they don't run dry like felt pens. Also crayons aren't smelly like felt pens.

5. For materials that I can't write in, for example, books from the library, I make notes either on the computer or by hand. Many of these notes consist simply of page numbers relating to the various subtopics. For example, I may note that pages 33-45 of the book Large Fish of the Atlantic gives useful information on human interaction with sharks. I color code these notes in the same way as I did the other information.

6. Once I finish all my color coding, I sort my papers according to color. Some have several colors on them. I put these in a pile designated multi-informational sources.

7. Then I start to write the book based on the information I've gathered. As I write I find I need further information here and there. I look for this on the Internet or at the library, or by sending e-mail queries to addresses given on websites, or by phoning relevant people, etc.

8. Once I have a draft I'm fairly happy with, I find suitable experts to read it. When I get feedback from them, I revise accordingly. Then I often run it past them again, just to make sure I have it right.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

talking to your computer

People sometimes ask me about the speech recognition software I use, so I thought I'd share some of my experiences. I use a particular, well-known brand, but haven't mentioned it by name because I don't want this blog to be construed as an advertisement. I hope the following helps if you're interested in the topic.

I bought my speech recognition software at an office supply store for about $200. Installation is straightforward. One has to train it to recognize one's voice and it takes awhile to get used to using the different commands. But the support offered is pretty good.

Speech recognition software works with most other software, and also works for filling in online forms, etc. When using it, one wears a microphone, headset type. The microphone that comes with it isn't great but better ones are available. One can search the Internet to identify possibilities, then order by mail. In my experience the chances of buying a suitable microphone in a regular office-supply store are slim.

The software isn't error-free, i.e., it doesn't always recognize what one says. It recognizes things best when they're said in whole sentences or even paragraphs, not a word or two at a time. One can correct errors with the keyboard. Alternatively, one can correct them by voice. The advantage of doing them by voice is that the software learns from these corrections, and is less likely to make the same mistake again. One can even teach the software words from other languages.

I'm not sure I would have had the patience to bring this software up to speed if I hadn't had repetitive strain injury. But now I use it even though the RSI isn't bothering me because it's faster for some things, especially answering e-mails.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

how I got into writing

People sometimes ask how I got into writing and how long I've been doing it. Here's a short answer. I've been writing since I was eight years old. At school I loved any writing assignments we had, and entered whatever writing competitions I could, also speaking competitions. In university I majored in English and psychology— both relevant fields for a writer. Then I became a teacher and sort of lost the writing thing. Mostly I just wrote lesson plans. But after a couple of years teaching, I realized I'd rather be in publishing. So I moved to Toronto, which is more or less the center of publishing in Canada. While working for a magazine as a "go-for," I applied for jobs with book-publishing companies and eventually got one. What a great job. I was officially an editor but most of what I did was write. I loved it so much, I could hardly believe they would pay me to do it. After eight years with that company, writing and editing, I went freelance. I've been doing freelance editing and writing ever since. Some of my writing has been "to order." Like a company might want a series of children's books on various cities, and would contract me to write them. But some of my writing has been "on spec," i.e., I write what I want and try to get it published. I've had a measure of success along that line, e.g. a middle-grade novel, a picture book, stories and articles for adults. What I haven't tried till recent years is writing novels for adults. It's a challenge and a I love challenges.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

one-sentence funnies

Here's a bit of light summer reading. Enjoy. Maybe some of these will inspire you in your writing.

1. A day without sunshine is like night.

2. OK, so what's the speed of dark?

3. On the other hand, you have different fingers.

4. 42.7 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.

5. 99 percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name.

6. Remember, half the people you know are below average.

7. Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.

8. The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese in the trap.

9. Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.

10. If you think nobody cares, try missing a couple of payments.

11. When everything is coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.

12. Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now.

13. Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines.

14. What happens if you get scared half to death, twice?

15. Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?

Friday, July 2, 2010

fiction flaws A: cloud without gravy

In seeking to improve your fiction writing, it's helpful to watch for common fiction flaws and learn how to fix them. Here's the first in a series of blogs on this topic.

Fiction flaw 1. Mixed metaphors, e.g. HER LOVE WAS A CLOUD WITHOUT GRAVY, A SONG WITHOUT SUSPENDERS. HE WISHED HE COULD BOWL HER OFF THE COMPUTER SCREEN OF HIS LIFE. This example contains three metaphors [implied comparisons]. Her love is compared to a cloud. Her love is also compared to a song. His life is compared to a computer screen. Trouble is, the author expanded the metaphors by introducing ideas that don't fit. Clouds don't provide gravy. A song doesn't have suspenders. A person doesn't bowl things off a computer screen. All three are mixed metaphors. How could the example be rewritten using metaphors expanded in a more logical way? Ideas?

Fiction flaw 2. Missing information, e.g. SHE WANDERED ALONG THE ALLEY SEARCHING FOR HER RED CHEVROLET. SHE LOOKED IN DRIVEWAYS AND BEHIND HEDGES, AND PEERED INTO GARAGES. AS SHE BRUSHED A COBWEB OFF THE CHEVY'S DUSTY WINDSHIELD, SOMEONE CALLED HER NAME. There's a disconnect between the second and third sentences of this example. The reader needs to know that she found the car before seeing her brush off the cobweb. How could the missing information be inserted? Ideas?

Fiction flaw 3. Lack of conflict, e.g. CAT SAT ON A MAT. DOG SAID, "I WANT TO SIT BESIDE YOU." "OK," CAT SAID AND MOVED OVER. This example has some elements of a story. It has action, characters, and dialogue. However, it's just an incident, not a story, because there's no conflict. How could the author use conflict to turn it into a story? Ideas?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

appreciate comments & seeking Amy

I appreciate comments left by readers of this blog. They make me feel less like I'm throwing my words into a well. Often I thank people by e-mail, but can't thank Amy because I don't have an address. Amy, if you're there, e-mail me if you feel like it, Sounds like we'd have things to talk about.

Monday, June 7, 2010

the writer's life: Shuswap Lake and beyond

I recently attended the Shuswap Lake International Writers' Festival in Salmon Arm, BC. Interesting thoughts on the writer's life emerged from the presentations. I'll share some below:

-Almost all writing is desire. Writers are climbing a mountain in the fog. The more driven writers will find a way to get to the top.

-Words mean what they mean, not what you want them to mean [which is one reason most writers need to revise for clarity].

-A blank sheet of paper is God's way of telling you how hard it is to be God.

-Literary nonfiction is nonfiction that uses the devices of a fiction writer; e.g. narrative arc, flashbacks, characterization, dialogue, figurative language.

-Writing involves both art and engineering. The right side of the brain is the artist, the left the engineer. Give both their due. Sometimes it's a good idea to free-write for half an hour or other suitable period of time, i.e., simply write whatever comes to mind—no stopping. The left brain isn't involved in free-writing, only the right. Later you use your left brain/engineer to revise and shape what you wrote.

-If you need to shorten a piece of writing, generally cut only about 10% each time you work your way through it. Otherwise you run the risk of cutting things that should remain.

-When querying an editor or agent about one's writing, use their MOST RECENT submissions guidelines. The publisher's or agency's website is often a good place to find these.

-To be a successful book writer, you need to live the lifestyle. Become part of the writing community in whatever ways you can, e.g., by joining writing groups online and/or in person, taking writing classes online and/or in person, attending writing-related events, submitting articles to periodicals. Publishers and agents like to see that you're not a "cave dweller." Once your book is published, people in the writing community are more likely to support you if you cultivated them earlier. Some ways they can help promote your book: by buying it, talking to others about it, writing reviews, interviewing you, inviting you to be a guest speaker or guest blogger.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

literary or not?

Robert Goolrick's A RELIABLE WIFE is a literary novel while Shirley Jump's MARRY-ME CHRISTMAS is not. Agatha Christie's MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is a literary novel while Tamar Myer's BATTER OFF DEAD is not. John Steinbeck's THE RED PONY is a literary novel while Nicholas Evans' THE HORSE WHISPERER is not.

Or is it? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. It may not matter much unless you're submitting a novel to agents or editors. Some consider literary novels; others don't. How can you categorize yours? A few thoughts:

1. A literary novel isn't written according to a formula or set conventions. In some cases this is the same as saying it's not a genre story. For example, one formula for a genre romance goes something like this: Strong, handsome, somewhat evil man is the central male character. Innocent, basically good woman is the central female character. The story consists of slowly bringing central male and central female characters together. In the process, the female character in some way reforms the male character and the ending suggests the two will live happily ever after.

2. Characters drive a literary story. And those characters are unique, with unique blends of characteristics. They're not stock characters. At least the main ones aren't.

3. Since the plot is driven by unique characters, it isn't predictable. On the other hand, the author of a literary novel doesn't necessarily rely on unpredictability or suspense to keep readers reading.

4. Authors of literary novels don't think they have life completely figured out. They use writing as a means of exploring life.

5. Literary novels engage intellect as well as spirit and emotions. But I don't think reading of literary stories is confined to intellectuals. I've seen uneducated people of apparently average intelligence devour literary novels, preferring them to non-literary works.

6. Literary novels don't sell as well as commercial ones though there are obvious exceptions.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

finding a good title

It can be challenging to devise a good title for a book or other piece of writing. Here are a few thoughts on the process:


1. Sometimes a title idea can spring from browsing titles of other works that have something in common with yours. For example, say your book is about mining. You can search library catalogs for books on mining and perhaps find something that triggers an idea. And/or you can search online books-selling sites such as


2. Poetry or song lyrics may provide an inspiration. For example, the title of Khaled Hosseini's novel A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS is from a poem. The title of Rudy Wiebe's novel SWEETER THAN ALL THE WORLD is from a hymn.


3. I've sometimes invented words and used them as titles; e.g. for my series of short-story books titled YESTERSTORIES (published by Prentice Hall and Globe/Modern).


4. Sometimes one can devise a unique title by using a unique name in it. I did this for my picture book NEWTON MCTOOTIN AND THE BANG BANG TREE (published by McClelland & Stewart).


5. I try to use titles that are different from what's out there. One way to check is to search on If you don't find a book, DVD, or whatever under your proposed title, you know you probably have one that's unique—for now.





Saturday, April 17, 2010

your book is published; now how to promote it?

If a book is going to sell, it needs to be promoted. Some publishers do a lot of promotion for books they publish. Others do little beyond putting the books in their catalogs. In either case it's helpful for authors to do what they can to promote their own books. You can promote in ways that suit your personality. Play to your strengths. Here are ten promotion methods that come to mind:

1. Speaking in public.

2. Doing interviews.

3. Schmoozing with people at conferences, talking up your book and selling copies if the opportunity presents itself.

4. Having a web site and or blog in which you discuss topics that relate to your book. People start reading because they are interested in those topics. Hopefully they then take the next step and buy your book.

5. Writing newspaper and magazine articles on topics that relate to your book. Hopefully the same thing happens as above.

6. Asking suitable friends and acquaintances to write reviews of your book and get them published online and or in print periodicals. 

7. Belonging to online and or face-to-face writers' groups. In such groups you're likely to make friends who would be glad to write reviews for you and talk your books up. [The idea would be that you would do the same for them.] One of the best things about belonging to online groups is that you make contact with people from different parts of our country as well as other countries. They can talk your book up where they live.

8. Having bookmarks made and distributing them in various ways.

9. Entering your book in contests for published books. If you win a contest or even get an honorable mention, it's great promotion for you.

10. Teaching an online or correspondence course about some topic that relates to your book, or teaching a course about aspects of writing. Some of your students would probably be interested in buying the book.


Monday, April 5, 2010

novel reading & writing as per Labonté, Weir, Schroeder, & Galloway

Looking for exciting new Canadian novels to read? Have questions about writing and marketing your novel? I recently attended a workshop addressing those interests. The workshop, held at the university in Kamloops, BC, featured:

- Chris Labonté, associate publisher and acquiring editor, Douglas & McIntyre of Vancouver and Toronto

- Ian Weir, whose novel DANIEL O'THUNDER is a "rollicking, comic, and ultimately haunting tale of fist-fighting, faith, and fine madness" set in 1800s England and British Columbia

- Adam Lewis Schroeder, whose novel IN THE FABLED EAST is about a young widow who in 1909 flees to French Indochina seeking a fabled spring of immortality. She disappears and in 1936 an academic goes looking for her—with surprising results.

- Steven Galloway, whose novel THE CELLIST OF SARAJEVO features "three people trying to survive in a city rife with the extreme fear of desperate times, and of the sorrowing cellist who plays undaunted in their midst." It's set during the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s.

Editor Labonté provided excellent pointers for authors seeking publication. Among them:

- Get feedback from others on your writing. Revise as appropriate, but don't forget it's your story. You call the shots. Write the novel you'd like to read.

- You can develop a writing profile for yourself by trying to get short stories and/or novel chapters published in small literary magazines such as THE MALAHAT REVIEW, THE ANTIGONISH REVIEW, and PRAIRIE FIRE.

- The Association of Canadian Publishers provides a wealth of information on its web site,

- There are several routes to getting published. You can try: querying a publisher directly, getting a referral from a published author, and finding an agent to represent you. The process can be frustrating, almost akin to trying to win the lottery. But to win you need a ticket, which is your novel, written and revised so it's the best you can possibly make it.

The three authors read from their novels, after which Mr. Labonté led a panel discussion. Some gems that emerged:

- To be a novelist, "you have to like sitting in a room by yourself living in an imaginary world."

- On writer's block: Get on with it whether the "vibe" feels right or not. People in other jobs don't have the luxury of not working when they don't feel like it. They get on with teaching math, collecting garbage, filling teeth—whatever they need to do.

- "In moments of crisis, we discover what we're made of."

Monday, March 22, 2010

what a friend we have in Grandma

Memories of my Grandma Elizabeth inspired me to write this little retrospective. What grandparent memories do you have to share?

In the days following the baby's death, Helena often wondered what she'd do without her mother. Her mom brought her tea on a tray, helped her wash her hair in a speckled basin beside the heater, and took care of four-year-old Aaron. She often sang as she worked: Welch ein freund ist unser Jesu. What a friend we have in Jesus.

Helena's mom's hair was a wavy river, brown at the waist, graying as it approached her face. Every morning Helena and Lenny watched her brush it by the heater. "Don't roll it up, Grandma," Lenny pleaded as the practiced hands gathered the river and braided it into a bun at the back of her head. "Let it hang down."

"Too much to do," said Magda, inserting the imprisoning pins and rhinestone studded combs.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

random useful websites for writers

Invitations to submit to anthologies, notices about contests and writers' conferences, etc.

Free downloadable English dictionary and thesaurus [I have it on both my computers and wouldn't want to be without it]

Jobs of yesteryear

Friday, March 5, 2010

giving credit for sources used in your writing

If you're writing a book for publication and you quote directly from another book or other source, you should either cite your source right there or use a footnote number. If you use a footnote number, place a corresponding list of sources at the end of each chapter or at the end of your book. If you quote more than a sentence or so, you need permission from the copyright holder of the source from which you quoted. Getting this permission is often not a big deal. Just request it, telling how you want to use the quotation, and they may give it to you for nothing—or they may charge a fee. If you think the fee is too high, you can try to negotiate or just not use that particular quotation.

On the other hand, if you refer to several sources and use what you learn to write your own stuff in your own words, you don't need the footnote numbers. However, it can be a good idea to list your sources in a bibliography, often placed at the end of the book. Listing sources gives credit where credit is due, i.e. acknowledging that you found them informative. It can also lend greater credibility to what you write, i.e. suggesting that your work is based on reliable sources. The standard format for bibliographical entries is illustrated in the following invented examples:

Grainger, Thea. Massachusetts history inside out. Boston: Seabreeze Press, 1999.

Millet, Petunia. "Stone circles of the western plains." In Regina Times, May 2010.

Nesbitt, Edgar, editor. Saskatoon berries: Presbyterian pioneering stories. Calgary: Zimmer Publications, 2010.

Sommerfeld, Sonia. Salt sage. Coyote, Montana: Windham Press, 2003.

Note that in the last case, the place in Montana is small and not well known. Therefore one adds the name of the state or province as the case may be. The Chicago Manual of Style is a standard reference regarding such matters. It provides other examples covering other kinds of cases.

Monday, March 1, 2010

history of aprons

My husband's Aunt Ev Jeck is a source of lots of fascinating information including retrospectives. She just sent me this "history of aprons." I've shortened and adapted it slightly.

The principal use of Grandma's apron was to protect the dress underneath. Because she only had a few, it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and they used less material. But along with that, it served as a potholder for  removing hot pans from the oven. It was wonderful for drying children's tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.

From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven. When company came, aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids. And when the weather was cold, Grandma wrapped her apron around her arms.

Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove. Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron. From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.

In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees. When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.

When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out onto the porch, waved her apron, and the men folks knew it was time to come in from the fields to dinner.

It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that 'old-time apron' that served so many purposes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

am, are, is, was, and were: bad words or not?

Recently a writing friend was told to eliminate from her writing as many state of being verbs as she could, i.e. "am, are, is, was, and were." I believe the state of being verbs problem isn't as serious as some writing advisers make it out to be. It's kind of a hobby horse, often ridden by [sorry] those whose grasp of grammar is shaky. For example, they don't completely understand passive tense. They think a statement like "he was drying the dishes when the ceiling fell" contains a passive verb, i.e. "was drying." It doesn't. "Was drying" is a present progressive verb and there's nothing wrong with using it. In fact, not using present progressive verbs can lead to confusion. For example, if you say "he dried the dishes when the ceiling fell," we don't know what you mean. Like he'd finished drying before the ceiling fell or what? Passive is something else. You're using passive when the object of the action is the subject of your sentence, e.g. "the dishes were dried by him" instead of "he dried the dishes" (active). A burning question: Where is this dish-drying guy when we need him?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

faith and fiction

I'm interested in how religious faith, especially Christianity, is expressed in fiction (or not expressed even if the author subscribes to a certain faith). As I investigated the topic a bit, I came across the following websites. The first two deal with science fiction/fantasy. The third is more general. Hopefully I'll blog more on this topic in the future. If you have insights and information to add, please leave a comment. Thanks.

Science fiction/fantasy authors of various faiths—Christianity in its various forms, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.

Religious science fiction links and major books—

Authors who are converts to a different religion—

Monday, January 25, 2010

resources for teen and other writers

Launched today by Harper Teen: An interactive site especially for teenagers. Offers feedback on their writing, encouragement, etc. Easily found by searching on the name of the site: inkpop.


Writing tools at the following site. They include an emotion thesaurus/ a setting thesaurus/ a color, texture, and shape thesaurus


Resources on the arts, including "writing and poetry" at:


Resources for writers, especially those writing about Scotland, at:




Tuesday, January 19, 2010

five-minute chocolate cake

My husband's Aunt Ev Jeck sent me this recipe a few months ago. It seems to have been forwarded many times on the Internet. It works. Note from me: If you don't want chocolate cake, try omitting the cocoa, increasing the flour by 2 tablespoons, and adding your alternate chosen flavoring.


4 tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa

1 egg

3 tablespoons milk

3 tablespoons oil

3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)

dash of vanilla extract

1 mug or jar that holds 2 cups of liquid (slope-sided works well)


Add dry ingredients to mug and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again.


Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts (high). The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed. Allow to cool a little, and tip onto a plate.




Wednesday, January 13, 2010

querying an agent re: a novel

I'm no expert on query letters, but I can share some clues based on my research and experience.

1. The letter should be only a page long, about 250 words, even if you send it by e-mail.

2. The first paragraph should if possible indicate why you chose to approach this particular agent. This paragraph should also indicate what you're selling. A sentence like the following might be used: Since you represented THE MYSTERIOUS STRUDEL by Carol Ovenmitt, you may be interested in my 90,000 word literary novel CANDIED YAMS. [Use round numbers to indicate length of your novel, not some cumbersome number like 87,381. Capitalize book titles.] If you don't know of a suitable book the agent has represented, sometimes you can discover names of authors the agent admires. In that case you could use a sentence such as: Since you enjoy novels by Stanley Bloodletting, you may be interested in, etc.

3. The second paragraph should tell about the book. Try for a paragraph of no more than five sentences. Some experts recommend following a pattern something like this:

a. Tell what your main character wants.

b. Tell how the character tries to achieve the goal.

c. Present obstacles in the way of your main character reaching the goal.

d. End on a note of suspense, perhaps indicating a crucial choice the character must make.

e. Somewhere within this paragraph, if you can manage it, indicate something about the theme/s of your book. Themes typically relate to topics such as: overcoming fear, the power of love, the longing for home, the longing to leave home, following one's dream, taking responsibility for one's choices,.

4. The third paragraph should tell about you, especially as your education, experiences, and achievements relate to your writing of this book.

5. End by thanking the agent for his/her consideration. If you're querying by regular mail, include a self-addressed stamped envelope [SASE] and indicate you are doing this. Also include anything the agent requires in the submission guidelines; for example, a synopsis of the novel, the first chapter. [You can usually find a particular agent's submission guidelines on the Internet.]

Monday, January 11, 2010

Agnes moves to Moose Jaw

When I was growing up, Moose Jaw seemed like a big exciting city to me. It was a place where an adventuresome aunt or uncle might escape the limitations of our little community. Those memories inspired me to write the following short-short story. I'm not sure if I'm on Agnes's side, or if I sympathize more with her parents. What about you?


Agnes had a long face like her father’s. It contrasted oddly with her short-waisted figure but at twenty-one, she wasn't an unattractive woman. In fact, some people found her striking with her flaming hair and regal bearing. She was one of those women who know how to seem handsomer than they are.

            Though Agnes resembled her father, Doft, relations between them cooled in the autumn of 1945, when she announced her intention to marry Wren Wolford now that he was back from the war.

"Wren will never be a farmer,” Doft protested. “He’s only interested in hunting and fishing."

            “Wren’s not a Mennonite,” Agnes's mother pointed out. “I wonder if he’s even a Christian. Dad saw him come out of the beer parlor Saturday night.”

            After several stormy scenes, Agnes gave in. She wouldn't marry Wren. But a few days later, she packed her clothes and took the train to Moose Jaw. In the city she found the three things she wanted—a light-housekeeping room, a job, and a new boyfriend. The room was in the attic of a school friend’s cousin. The job was in the shoe department of the Army and Navy store. The boyfriend was a freight handler at the train station. In the years that followed, Agnes seldom came home, though her parents regularly brought borscht and jars of meatballs to her at the Army and Navy store.


postscript on computers and eyes

What I said in my previous post about adjusting refresh rate apparently applies only to CRT monitors [the big bulky ones], not to LCD monitors [the slim ones]. The technology of LCD monitors is different, though one can still adjust other things on them.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

reasons for rejection and kid lit contest

Some reasons why agents and editors reject manuscripts:

Children's literature contest here. Looks like they want the beginnings of novels and don't charge a fee:


Thursday, January 7, 2010

writers' confessions tonight

Friend and fellow author Ted Joslin drew the following to my attention: A group of writers gather to reveal, explore, and confess in the fourth television season of WRITERS’ CONFESSIONS. Featured this evening are authors Giles Blunt, Nino Ricci and Isabel Allende. Other authors to be included this season are Elizabeth Hay, Will Ferguson, Mia Kirshner, and Robert J. Sawyer. Thursday, January 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT. For more info:


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

publishing news & views

Tips on promoting your book signing:


National Post tips on getting 'Letter to the Editor' published. Much of this advice applies anywhere.


What's the difference between romance and women's fiction? Thoughts from an agent here:


Canadian non-fiction contest sponsored by Event magazine:


Canadian 3-day novel contest:


At Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, agent Stacey Glick has been named vice president. Rachel Oakley has joined the agency as Jane Dystel's assistant.


Monday, January 4, 2010

computer hard on your eyes?

Before you try changing the way your monitor displays things, it's a good idea to click "start, control panel, display." You should see a thing called "theme." This refers to the colors and sizes of things you see. It's a good idea to save the "theme" you currently have in case you want to go back to it later. You can save it like a normal file. Later when you click on it, the screen should return to looking the way it did before. Here are some of the changes you can make. [They may not work quite the same on your computer.] 1. Click "start, control panel, display, screen resolution." Then set the screen resolution to the lowest you can. Also set the color quality to about 16 bits. 2. Click "start, control panel, display, advanced." Set the DPI setting tolarge. While you're at the advanced screen, you'll see a button called "monitor." Click on this and set the screen refresh rate as high as it will go. This is important because it reduces flicker, one of the biggest causes of eye strain. 3. There are other things you can do via the "appearance" section of "display." Like change the sizes of icons, the fonts for message boxes, and similar, and the colors in which things are displayed. I think it's better to change the DPI before fooling around with this. It does take experimenting to get it the way you want it. Again what you can do is save various "themes" until you discover the one you prefer.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

reading, writing, & e-books

Interesting article here: "How E-books will Change Reading and Writing" by Lynn Neary:

gluten-free rice pancakes

Happy new year! Like a lot of people, I've become interested in gluten-free cooking. Here's a recipe I developed for gluten-free rice pancakes.

1 cup rice flour [brown or white rice]
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
¼ cup cooking oil
¾ cup buttermilk

Stir first 3 [dry] ingredients together. In separate container, stir second 3 [liquid] ingredients together till well mixed. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and mix just until blended. Bake on an oiled or greased frying pan or griddle. Happy eating!