Friday, August 29, 2008

My 3-Day Novel Dad

As many writers know, tonight at midnight marks the beginning of the 2008 3-Day Novel Contest. Writers across Canada, and many other far-flung places, are sharpening their pencils (metaphorical or literal) to take part in the literary marathon of writing a novel in 3 (very short or very long, depending on your constitution and caffeine supply) days. 

I *wish* I could say I was taking part, but sadly, I am neither a novelist nor a marathoner. However, I am extremely pleased to announce that my Dad is taking up the challenge! This will be his third time entering the contest, and I continue to be insanely proud of his writing talent (I hope I got a few of those genes) and his iron constitution, perfect for a marathon of this type. 

My Dad worked much of his life as a writer-broadcaster, with impossibly tight deadlines lurking around every corner. He managed to write extraordinarily well, on almost any topic, in times far shorter than most writers dream possible. If anyone can win this contest, my Dad can!

And what is my contribution to the weekend? In my kitchen, at this very moment, I've got a pot of homemade pea soup simmering on the back burner, three quiches baking in the oven, and all the ingredients for a batch of blueberry muffins waiting to be mixed up. I might not be a marathon writer, but I can cook. 

Tomorrow, I'll be schlepping the food over to my parents' place so that my Dad can spend all of his time writing, and not worry about what to eat. As I chop and stir, I think of my Dad, and all of you who are leaping into the contest.

Best wishes to the 3-Dayers! No matter the outcome, you'll all be winners — for at the end of the weekend, you'll have a novel, and what could be more winning than that? 

May the muse be with you, Dad. 

Monday, August 25, 2008

Farewell to Summer...

As the last days of summer slip away — like grains of sand in an hourglass — I feel like a kid about to go back to school. Time to exchange the sandals for stiff shoes, pack away the beach towels, and get out the long pants.

My summer's been far too short. It was unusually busy this year, with trips to New York, Whitehorse, Lethbridge, Naramata, Los Angeles and Long Beach. I can't believe how many times I packed and unpacked my suitcase in the last few months. Not that I'm complaining! It's been great fun to see the world, after staying home and working hard on a 6-book series over the last two years. The series is almost done, and it's time to think about new projects. But, before I do that, I'll post some final glimpses of Summer 2008.

The photo of me in red is taken with my new friend, Ana Maria Rodriguez, a children's nonfiction author I met at the conference in Los Angeles. We were having fun at the "Red" gala barbecue on the hotel lawn. (See earlier posts about L.A. for more details on the party.)

The other photos are from Long Beach, where I spent the last 5 days. What a glorious place! 

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dog Days of Summer...

As the summer winds down, I find myself with one last holiday approaching. Five days at Long Beach on the West Coast of Vancouver Island is exactly what the doctor ordered! 

Accompanying us, is our faithful dog, Blaze. He was delighted to read the newspaper headlines this week, announcing that "Dogs Need Holidays Too!" So, I've packed his food, towels and a couple of balls. He's excited about chasing them into the pounding surf. 

I'm excited to see the vast expanse of ocean and hear the massive waves crash into shore. When I look across the sea, and into the far reaches of the horizon, I always imagine I can see Japan. Long Beach is one of my favourite places in the world! 

The photo is of Blaze on an earlier hiking holiday with my son, in the mountains and forests of northern BC. The lucky canine even got to ride in a helicopter. Ahh... to be a dog! 

I'll post again when I get back. So long for now!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

New Books!

When I got home from walking my dog this morning, there was a big brown courier box on my doorstep. It was full of new books! What a thrill!

Above are the first 4 titles in the new Who Lives Here? series. This series takes a playful look at how animals' bodies and habits are suited to the place where they live. The books, charmingly illustrated by the talented Pat Stephens, are designed for children 4-6 years of age.

The other 2 covers are for the new Looking At... series — adapted versions of my wildlife books for beginning readers.

An enormous thank you to my editors, Sheila Barry, Lisa Tedesco, Stacey Roderick and Samantha Swenson for their wise counsel and hard work of the past couple of years. Thanks also to Karen Boersma, publisher at Kids Can Press, for making the books possible.

For more information on these titles, please check my website.

Time to celebrate!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Networking and Making Friends

As part of the SCBWI conference in LA, all of the attendees had opportunities to meet in small groups, some of which were organized in an ad hoc fashion, others which were structured as part of the conference program. I took part in two groups: a group for nonfiction writers and another group for International Attendees. I was truly surprised (due to the fact that Canada is a close neighbour of the USA) to find out I was considered an international attendee. 

Regardless, it was a lot of fun to meet writers from Ireland, Australia, Netherlands, Singapore and many other parts of the world. I spent a good portion of that night chatting about favourite books for teens with YA author, Jane Mitchell, from Ireland. Other conference attendees met with their regional groups: e.g. writers and illustrators from Western Washington gathered together, as did creators from Alabama and other southern states, and so on.

The nonfiction group was also interesting. There were about 25 writers who turned up for a lunch meeting on the topic and to do a little sharing and brainstorming. Some of these folks published mainly for magazines or educational publishers; others were aspiring writers and a few more wrote nonfiction books for the trade market. One woman was the author of 115 books! Wow! That's something to strive for. Everyone was keen to see greater representation of nonfiction publishers and editors at the next SCBWI conference, and there may even be a conference coming up in the near future that will be devoted strictly to nonfiction. 

While in LA, I noticed that many of our Canadian nonfiction books for kids have a larger visual and design component than the US books. I'm not sure why there is this difference. Maybe it's in part because Valerie Wyatt, award-winning, senior nonfiction editor at Kids Can Press, came from a magazine background (Owl Magazine), and when she moved into books for kids, she brought her understanding and appreciation of lovely visuals.

Before I left for LA, I "met" a science writer, Ana Maria Rodriguez, online and we had the good fortune of finding each other at the conference and sharing a lot of our impressions about publishing (especially nonfiction) today. She also put me in touch with a list- serve for nonfiction children's authors, called NFforKids. So, it's true what they say about networking. It's a very worthwhile way to make new friends and find out what's happening in publishing in other parts of the world. Note to self: Do more networking. :)

That's all for today. Have a great weekend!

Friday, August 8, 2008

SCBWI Editor Panel

One of the sessions I really enjoyed at the LA conference was a lunch-time event for published authors and illustrators called "Up Close with the Editors." Groups of published attendees sat a lunch table with one of the featured editors and, while we nibbled on our sandwiches, we could ask any questions of the editor we wished. The editor at my table was Diane Hess of Scholastic US, who had helped build Scholastic Press, the company's first hardcover imprint. I was curious about whether or not they published nonfiction, and if so, what type. She replied that they did some, but it was definitely not her first love.

The second half of the luncheon was a panel featuring all of the editors, who were asked the question: What did they know as editors that we as creators should know? The most common reply was some variation of, "It's not we and you; it's us." or "Editors are always fighting for you and in your corner." Clearly, they felt very aligned with their writers and illustrators, which was great to hear. Many also mentioned how hard they work when they write their editorial comments and how this is the creative part of the publishing process for them. Quite a few said they wished they received more thanks from their authors on this work. (Thank you, Sheila!) They also said that if an author sent them a box of homemade cookies or other gift, it would be talked about and fondly remembered for a very long time. Apparently, pats on the back from authors and illustrators are greatly appreciated. 

Today, editors are caught in the publishing squeeze as much as authors, and in some ways, it may be even more difficult. I heard one editor describe how when her publishing company had been bought by a bigger one, she was told by the new publisher that she was the "heart and soul of the company." Ten weeks later, they fired her! Today, she is bravely starting up her own new imprint and I wish her the best of luck.

That's all for now. Check back over the weekend for more on the conference. 

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Impressions of SCBWI Conference

As promised, I'm posting some thoughts about last weekend's conference in LA, hosted by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Overall, I thought it was a fantastic event! Mind boggling, in fact, to have the opportunity to hear such a wide range of speakers, including editors, agents, publishers, author and illustrators. It was the most comprehensive writers' conference I've ever been to.

One of the best features of the conference is the chance to hear the most up-to-date information in North America publishing. Every speaker says something different and you come away with a sense of what's working in publishing today and what's not. It's been tough in Canadian publishing the last year or two, and it's easy to blame yourself, but I now understand that it's been tough for a lot of people in a lot of publishing houses across the continent. Many of the editors I heard talked about how the company they'd spent years working for had been bought by a bigger house. They related stories of how they'd been fired and their scramble to find a new place to work. They hadn't lost heart (entirely) but they definitely had been on the front lines. Some were starting their own publishing houses.

Arthur Levine, VP of Scholastic USA, talked about the (perceived) death of the picture book. He said that there's a general sense that picture books can't succeed in the marketplace and that publishers no longer accept many PB manuscripts. On the contrary, he says (and proved it with charts and graphs), in the last decade, the audience for picture books has grown and publishers are publishing as many picture books. The difficulty, he suggests, lies in the fact that there are far fewer independent booksellers left. These are the folks who hand-sold picture books. Today, there's only one PB buyer for Barnes and Noble and if that person doesn't see or like your picture book, it doesn't sell. Arthur suggests the fall of independent booksellers is the key reason for the picture book struggle of today.

Stephen Malk, an agent with Writer's House, gave a presentation called Career Management 101: Strategies for Long-Term Success. (This was part of a PRO-Track component of the conference, with seminars exclusively designed for published writers and illustrators.)  Stephen talked about how we should be planning and focussing our careers and developing a strategy for a long life in publishing. He gave many excellent tips on how to do this.

Alice Pope, editor of Children's Writers and Illustrators Market, spoke about the importance of having a web presence and gave us a long handout of important blogs and websites. Her own blog: lists up-to-date info about publishers and editors and where people are currently working. She suggests that we should all be blogging, as well as having a Facebook or My Space page, in addition to a website. 

There were many more interesting speakers and I will post more about them over the next few days.

Several people have asked me about the cost of getting to the conference and if I feel the content of it justified the expense. My answer is: It is expensive. The tuition was about $450 for 4 jam-packed days of speakers. Then there's the airfare and the hotel costs. (There are a few scholarships available that potential attendees can apply for; you can share a hotel room at a discounted conference rate; and if you have airline points or use the Alaska airlines companion fare, you can reduce the cost of your flight.) But — I think if you can swing it, you should try to go at least once in your career. It gives you an insight and overview to children's publishing that you can't get anywhere else. I will definitely go again if I can manage it.

Alternatively, there are many other regional SCBWI conferences hosted around North America. If you go to the events section of their website at:, you can see when and where they are held. I've been to the 2 day conference in New York, and a similar one in Seattle. Both were excellent. They are less expensive because they're of shorter duration, and the Seattle conference (held each April) is only a few hours drive from my home, so travel costs are reduced. I recommend them all. If you'd like more specific info on any of these, please email me at: and I will answer you directly.

That's all for today. Check back in a few days and I'll post more about the conference. So long for now! 

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

City of Angels

I've just returned home from my whirlwind trip to Los Angeles. It's a bustling, vibrant place with a rich Latino influence. It reminded me of Mexico in some ways. I was surprised by the sprawling size of the city and also (sadly) at the thick haze that hung over the city. I had heard of the infamous smog, but hadn't imagined a place where the sky doesn't look blue.

The conference I attended was full of interesting people and publishing tidbits, some of which I hope to share over the next few days. For now, here's a photo from my hotel balcony. Note: the pool! Diving into this lovely blue water at the end of each day was a great reward for sitting through many hours of fascinating (but long) lectures. 

Also, note the red tablecloths and tables on the lawn. This was in preparation for an enormously fun LA style dinner for the 900 or so conference attendees. The party included make-your-own fajitas, complimentary strawberry margaritas (with paper umbrellas!) and a pair of energetic DJs who led the crowd in a lot of crazy, fun dancing. We were all asked to wear red and, shortly after this photo was taken, the lawn was a crimson blur. I won't be giving away any secrets, but it was fun to see which editors really know how to let loose!

More serious stuff to come in the next few days.