Go Bravely, Pioneer!

Go Bravely, Pioneer!

This week Writescape welcomes A.B. Funkhauser as our guest blogger. We first met her in a Writescape workshop where her unique storytelling voice immediately grabbed our attention. She recently launched her third novel at the Indie Author Day in Pickering, and this successful and self-propelled author lets us in on how she sees marketing in the indie world.


A.B. Funkhauser

Recently, I had the privilege of participating in Indie Author Day at the Pickering Central Library. Sponsored by the PineRidge Arts Council, its purpose was to bring independent and micro-published authors together under a single roof to share ideas and lamentations about this journey we call writing.

So much more than words

Writing is so much more than words on a page. We chase character, motivation, arc, pacing and a satisfying resolution, each ideally wrapped tight in a prescient, unique voice that distinguishes the work and acts as a fingerprint for the artist behind it. Finding that combination can take years accompanied by scores of rejection letters that keep fourth-place-finishes in writing contests company.

That’s the trip. Those of us stubborn and committed enough to either win a contract or go boldly into self-publishing know that the second part of the journey has begun, and it is on this that I’d like to focus.

Pioneering the next wave

Writing it all down is a great beginning. It’s the foundation for a finished product that will be advanced by a marketing plan anchored to a brand.

Most of the speakers at Indie Author Day touched on the fact that indie books have a hard time finding a home in libraries and book stores large and small. There is a very good reason for this. Curated decisions at macro and micro levels are always informed by history and convention. What worked last year will continue to work in subsequent years until new factors change the conversation.

The Canadian Big Three and US Big Five publishing houses and their star authors rule the day and there is nothing wrong with this. Success models like these did not appear overnight; they started small and they grew over time. And they will continue to do so.

But times are changing and Indie authors in the digital age are in a unique position to pioneer the next wave by reaching where they could not before. Heavy oak doors barred, locked and guarded by agents and executives fall away when the author, published or not, has access to millions of readers via Internet platforms. Promoting  in the safety and comfort of one’s home is the best place to start building the profile that grows the brand.

What is brand?

Think of “brand” in terms of an author resume—for how can authors rightly expect to be taken up without an introduction? Many times we hear about great manuscripts going nowhere because the author (the brand) has little or no Internet presence.

The same happens when authors approach libraries and book stores. “Who are you?” and “What are your credentials?” takes the place of “What is the book about?” These questions are not unreasonable.

Making connections develops “cred”

Like a politician with a constituency, independent authors need followers as a first step to developing “cred” for the words they write. As I explained more than once on Indie Author Day, we can write the best novel, screenplay, short story or poem, but no one will know if we do not get out there and let people know.

Standing in front of our book tables trying to engage a busy parent or indifferent teen on their way to the stacks can be soul depleting. But after a handful of books-oriented events, we do get the hang of connecting on a person-to-person level. Many of us tempt with bowls of candies, free key chains, magnets, bookmarks or short story samples. When a conversation goes well, a book or two may actually be sold.

But it is the connection that is key. For every 50 business cards handed out, only a precious few will be retained; even fewer will be used to access the author’s buy links or website. But that is also okay. We’re not only building a constituency of readers and “cred”, but we’re also building a bridge to that first invitation to guest on a podcast, blog or cable show.

Seven years or five books

Publishing models in the Indie world present many formulas. My publisher says “seven years or five books” before anything happens. Whatever is served up, writers should not be discouraged. Time is an opportunity not just to write, but to build brand and the followers who support and advance it.

The times they are a changin’ opines one of my favorite clichés. For those willing to embrace the change, there is much to be done. I’ve only scratched the surface in a handful of words. The rest is up to you.

Go bravely, Pioneer.



Toronto born A.B. Funkhauser is a multi-published genre-bending author who loves to market as much as she loves to hash out new material. She credits Writescape with helping her find her way. She publishes through Solstice Publishing.

Twitter https://twitter.com/iamfunkhauser

Facebook  http://www.facebook.com/heuerlostandfound


Women Killing It

Women Killing It

Gwynn Scheltema

When I read Julia Cameron’s seminal book The Artist’s Way, she introduced me to the concept of a writer’s date: a block of time set aside to nurture your creative inner artist.

The idea behind this concept is that as we create, we run the risk of emptying our creative well, so we need to constantly refill that creative well by consciously experiencing new things, taking time to observe, taking time to breathe and reflect.

The Artist’s Date

There are many things you can do on your artist’s date. Because our creative brain is a sensory brain, anything that stimulates the senses or fires up the imagination will work: a walk in the park, making soup, lying on your back and watching clouds, going to a food or music festival. It doesn’t matter as long as you do it mindfully.

This coming Labour Day weekend, my artist’s date will take me to a new writing festival being held in Picton, Prince Edward County. It has the fun title of “Women Killing It.”

In the morning, I’ll be taking a workshop titled “So You want to Write a Mystery?” with author Mary Jane Maffini. In the afternoon I’ll join four writers of mystery and suspense for “Murder at the Vicarage”, an afternoon of readings, discussion and sumptuous Victorian high tea at Macaulay House.

Women Killing it

This Crime Writers Festival showcases nine Canadian women authors of crime and mystery. On Friday evening at “The Mysterious Affair,” a table-hopping event introduces each of the authors in turn: Mary Jane Maffini, Susanna Kearsley, Nazeen Sheikh, Elizabeth J. Duncan, Melodie Campbell, R.J. Harlick, Barbara Fradkin, Maureen Jennings and Robin Timmerman.

Saturday features the workshop and event at Macaulay house I mentioned earlier, and the day finishes with an evening event, “Appointment with Death (and Dessert).” Here, authors writing on the darker side will discuss murder, motives and MOs.

Why have this festival?

The festival was the brain child of mystery author Janet Kellough and Vicki Delany, also a crime writer and then Chair of the Crime Writers of Canada. They felt that Canada’s talented pool of women crime writers needed to have more exposure. I’m glad they did. What a treat! All this talent in one place, right in my backyard.

Perhaps you’ll take yourself on an artist’s date to “Women Killing It.” Find out details online or on Facebook.

You might also like to listen to two recent interviews with the organizers Janet Kellough and Vicki Delany on Word on the Hills radio program hosted by Felicity Sidnell Reid and me. These two prolific writers talk about the festival and their latest books.



Co-organizer of Women Killing It, Vicki Delany, will be our guest author at this fall’s Turning Leaves 2017 Retreat. Vicki is one of Canada’s most varied and prolific crime writers. Her newest cozy series is the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery Series. The first volume Elementary She Read was published in March 2017, and the next in the series, Body on Baker Street will hit the shelves on September 12.

Seven Tips for Finding Inspiration

Seven Tips for Finding Inspiration

Gwynn and Ruth are on vacation for the next couple of weeks. So we’re bringing back a couple of our favourite Top Drawer topics to share with new readers and to nudge long-time followers. This week is Ruth’s May 2016 post on finding inspiration. So get out there this summer and give your muse a change of scenery too.

Ruth E. Walker

I recently delivered a workshop at a writers’ conference: From Inspiration to Publication. In 2.5 hours, I was supposed to shine a light on the path almost every writer dreams about: being published. Frankly, this path can never be illuminated in such a short time. In fact, I could plug in a dozen klieg lamps and have an infinite amount of workshop time, and I’d still leave the bulk of that path in shadows.

No two writers have identical pathstunnel-237656_640

shrine-1031662_640That’s because for each writer, the path to publication is individual and endless. And it is filled with missed opportunities, wrong turns and dead ends. But for successful writers “publication” is not a single event. It is a series of acceptances, right turns and new paths that keep them inspired through all the rejections and disappointments.

Successful writers keep shining their headlights down that path because they know two things:

  1. getting published should not be a one-time goal, and
  2. they only need to shine their light forward to keep going

signs-416444_640For even the best writers, it is a frustrating journey.

It’s beyond discouraging to repeatedly receive rejections. So how to keep your muse motivated? Finding and then holding on to your inspiration can be key to keeping your light shining down the writer’s path.

So let’s get started.

  1. Leave your comfort zone behind: a change of place, space or pace can allow inspiration to sneak up and surprise you; if you can’t change your environment (travel or try out writing in a coffee shop, for example) give freefall writing a try (timed writing with no editing, no stopping, no internal editor allowed.) You’ll be amazed with what happens when you let yourself go to follow the energy.
  2. Visit a used bookstore and browse: old book titles, names of authors, a line from a book and even the smell of old paper can trigger ideas.
  3. Find contests with deadlines: a contest theme can trigger plenty of writing or, even better, remind you that you have a story on file to fit that theme!
  4. People watch with a notepad: keep to reportage (just the facts) to record the behaviour, clothing, dialogue that passes by. Pull it out and flip to a random page when you need to nudge your muse.
  5. Visit graveyards and museums: imagine the stories behind all those dates and names (old gravestones and small local museums can be especially intriguing.)
  6. Read outside your interests: essay collections, science journals, biographies, and so on will let you tap into a rich vein of interesting topics.
  7. Get out into nature and leave technology behind. If the landscape doesn’t trigger your muse, being in the open air with only scenery to distract you just might be the space your creativity needs to surface.

Inspiration for writing can come from so many places that I could keep writing this post for weeks. But what these tips all have in common is encouragement to explore. Writers are the adventurers on the open seas of life: we travel in our imaginations and write all about it. If you keep your light pointed into the distance then you should always be ready to find your stories.

About Freefall Writingtourism-776587_640

Freefall writing was first coined as “Mitchell’s Messy Method” by W.O. Mitchell (Who Has Seen the Wind) when he taught creative writing at university. It became “freefall” over time. There are variations used by many creative writing teachers, but when Gwynn or I lead a freefall, these are our main points:

  • Be present (meditation before you start is helpful) and follow the energy
  • Write what comes up
  • Use the senses — taste, touch, smell, sound and sight
  • Be specific — not “the car” but “the fire engine red two-door convertible”
  • Keep writing even if all you can start to write is: I can’t write. This is dumb. Why am I doing this? –eventually, the tension will trigger new energy for you to follow
  • Resist the editor — don’t stop to “fix” things
  • Go Fearward — W.O. Mitchell’s best advice ever

Freefall prompt and exercise: Set your timer for 20 minutes. Close your eyes and allow yourself to be quiet and still. Count backwards slowly to zero from fifteen. When you get to zero, start your freefall writing with this opening sentence:

The door opened and I stepped inside.



Making a Scene… with Dialogue

Making a Scene… with Dialogue

In just over a month, I head to the Ontario Writers’ Conference to mingle with writers, publishers, agents and editors. I’m also delivering a workshop on dialogue, specifically on dialect and diversity in dialogue.

It took me many years to become comfortable using dialogue. My early characters spent a lot of time in their heads thinking about what was going on. In their heads, they voiced concerns, got angry, wanted to ask about stuff. The reader knew all this, [if they were still awake at this point] but the other characters in the story didn’t. Eventually, I realized my characters needed to react and interact— out loud!

But just saying everything out loud is not the whole story. Dialogue scenes are powerful. Dialogue is one of the best ways to engage the reader. Even if characters are sitting still, a dialogue scene works as an action scene and propels the story forward. And it can do so much more—even several things at once—like reveal character, advance the plot, create mood, build conflict, reveal backstory or support the theme.

“Writing good dialogue is art as well as craft,” says Stephen King. Here are 5 tips for writing good dialogue scenes:

Know why you are writing the scene

Dialogue is not filler—or shouldn’t be. If your characters are just discussing the weather or what they want for dinner, your readers’ eyes will glaze over. Kind of the same way I skip over all the pictures of people’s dinners on Facebook. Will the scene reveal or hint at some backstory, or let the reader see how the relationship is developing, or give information about the plot.people-talking

“You wouldn’t say that if you had known my mother.” (Hint at back story? Reveal character?)

“Mike said it was just over the hill, an old factory where they processed paint or something.” Relaying information BUT it must be new to the reader AND to the character being spoken to.

Make dialogue do double duty

Once you’ve decided what the main purpose of the dialogue scene is, see what else you can make it do at the same time.

 “You wouldn’t say that if you had known my mother. She was a right ball breaker. Besides, she had a stash of these things up at the old farmhouse in Williamstown.” (hint at back story PLUS info for the plot?) 

“I’ll never step foot in that woman’s house.” (Opinion of another character? Showing anger and resistance? Plot problem?…all three?)

Anchor the scene

It’s okay to dive into the scene right in the conversation, but if you start a chapter with dialogue make sure it’s not “floating”. Readers need to know who is talking and where they are, and what point this is in the story. If you don’t, the reader will find it hard to absorb the dialogue nuances or subtext because they will be too busy trying to get oriented. I’m not suggesting a long piece of exposition here. Set it up in the chapter before, use a name in the spoken dialogue, or add a beat of setting.talking

Floating:  “I can pick you up around seven. At the diner okay?”

Anchored: When Leah reached the motel, she rescued her cell from the clothes on the backseat. “Amber, I can pick you up around seven. At the diner okay?”

Show emotions

Always be aware of the emotions being felt by the characters speaking and convey that in word choice and body language, not exclamation points or adverbs tacked onto the end.

Adverbs and punctuation: “I will NOT GO!!!” said Lily defiantly.

Beats and word choice: Lily crossed her arms and stared from under smoldering eyebrows. “A team of horses couldn’t drag me to that place.”

Never use dialogue as an “info dump”

My critique circle calls this an as-you-know-Bob moment. Characters should only talk about the things that are important to them at that point in the story, that fit with their emotions at the time, and that they would ordinarily say in real life to another person.

As-you-know-Bob moment: “We’ll go to Mike’s place, near your Mom’s house, and give rubbish-143465_960_720him the book you’re holding.” (The listening character knows where Mike’s place is and knows who is holding the book. No emotional content here.)

Real words: “Ok, Ok. We’ll go to Mike’s place, already. Give him your bloody book.”

Spending time on dialogue is well worth the effort. It dramatizes your story helping readers feel like they are actually listening in.

Do you have any dialogue tips to share? Post in  the comments below.

If you want to explore dialogue further, here are some other blogs you might find interesting. .and useful.

Keep it Simple: Keys to Realistic Dialogue Part 1

Keep it Simple: keys to Realistic Dialogue Part 2

On Writing – Dialogue – Robert J Sawyer

9 Easily Preventable Mistakes Writers make with Dialogue

A Newbie’s Guide to Book Conferences

A Newbie’s Guide to Book Conferences

Heather M. O’Connor. My publisher Orca Books recently invited me to sign copies of Betting Game at the Ontario Library Association (OLA) Super Conference.

“Me? Sign books at the OLA? Sure!” It’s the largest library conference and trade show in Canada.

A day or two before the big day, I felt like a preteen going to her first boy-girl party. What should I wear and bring? What are the signings like? What do I say?

I’ve gathered some super tips for preparing for and attending the OLA Super Conference. You can also use this advice to get the most out of other major book events, trade shows and conferences.

Be prepared

Check out the event website. You never know what you’ll find. (The OLA provided a cool photo frame for my pics.) Identify and use the conference hashtag, and add the conference app to your phone.

Read the program, even if you’re not attending the panels. Who is signing? Who is speaking? Maybe you’ll “bump into” that editor you want to meet.

Shout out on social media that you’re going, and ask who else is attending. If you’re signing books, announce the time and your publisher’s booth. Share news about other signings and events. If the conference has a Facebook group or event, join it.

What to wear

The default attire is business casual.

However, some authors add a little cosplay flair to their signings. Lena Coakley donned a prim Brontë-style bonnet to sign Worlds of Ink and Shadow at the OLA. Kari-Lynn Winters signed Bad Pirate in ARRR-some pirate gear at Reading for the Love of It, a big Toronto teachers’ conference.

Skip the high heels and opt for comfortable shoes. You’ll be on your feet for hours.

What to bring

A phone for taking and posting pics, following the program and connecting with friends. A watch. Business cards. A strong bag for carrying all the book loot.

Two reliable pens or Sharpie markers for signing, if you’re picky about your writing implements. (What writer isn’t?) Book swag, like bookmarks or buttons. My time slot was at the end of the day, so I offered a free draw to entice people to stick around.

Coffee for your publishing team—they can’t always get a break.

Meet the people

Conferences are the perfect place to network, do market research, and connect with writers and book-lovers. Strike up a conversation with your neighbour. Browse for books. Share a lunch table.

Librarians and teachers:

  • find out what their kids like to read and what they ask for
  • mention you do classroom visits, book clubs and programs
  • tell them about funding for author visits (more about that in a future post)
  • swap book recommendations


  • study the books they showcase at the booth–what are they selling?
  • find out which books they’re excited about and why
  • identify trends and ask market-related questions (when they’re not busy)
  • pick up catalogues and take advantage of a live peek at their books


  • hang out with other writers and expand your tribe
  • observe experienced writers in action and ask their advice
  • promote other authors and their events–what goes around comes around
  • check out the event before you’re published so you come prepared
Schmooze dos and don’ts

DO take lots of pictures. Selfies. Signings. Capture the excitement, then share your pics on social media and your blog.

DON’T accept book giveaways or enter the free draws at conferences for librarians or teachers, no matter how tempting they look. You’ll take those resources away from classrooms and libraries.

Book signing tips

Check in with your publisher when you arrive, and return to the booth 10-15 minutes before your signing. It gives you time to stow your bag, straighten your clothes and thoughts, and think about what you want to write. Ask someone to take pictures.

Librarians and teachers are book people. They’re your fans. When they ask you to sign their book “For the students of XXX School,” you feel like a million bucks. I add a personal line, like “Always count on your team” or “Keep kicking!”

Make small talk. Find connections—a student who likes soccer books, a familiar school. If they seem interested, share interesting facts and valuable resources for your book, like extras on your website or an online teachers’ guide. Or mention you do school and library visits.

You feel like a rock star while you’re signing, but it’s over before you know it. Enjoy!

What are your tips for getting the most out of a big book event like the OLA Super Conference? Share them below.

Watch Your Language AND From Inspiration to Publication

Watch Your Language AND From Inspiration to Publication

Gwynn Scheltema and Ruth E. Walker are at the Ontario Writers’ Conference.

Gwynn is offering an advanced class: Watch Your Language. Dialect, foreign languages, accents and other linguistic touches provide diversity and authenticity to dialogue. Gwynn will help participants avoid character stereotypes so that what is being said is not overshadowed by how it’s being said. Gwynn’s popular workshops at the OWC are consistently highly rated and fully booked.

Ruth’s beginner workshop From Inspiration to Publication invites new writers to play with words through hands-on exercises and fun activities. Participants will risk a little and try on different forms of creative writing. Useful handouts offer tips on submitting material to the right market. Ruth will also serve as a Blue Pencil Mentor, offering helpful feedback in one-on-one discussions with writers about their manuscripts.

Gwynn and Ruth have been at the OWC since it launched, facilitating workshops, mentoring writers and enjoying the many speakers and learning opportunities that a comprehensive conference like this has to offer.

To register, visit the Ontario Writers’ Conference.

On-demand Workshops

On-demand Workshops

Gather your group. Pick your topic and your date. And we’ll bring Writescape to you.

From beginning writer to seasoned professional, we’ll customize sessions to suit your programming themes and audience needs. Choose from Writescape’s Workshop Catalogue 2016 to help you and your colleagues hone writing craft and develop new skills and techniques.

“I came away with an understanding that will stick with me … great handouts and examples.”

From two-hour evening sessions to week-long programming, you tell us what you need and when you need it. Writescape will supply professional workshop leaders, hands-on exercises and practical handouts, and a creative, supportive atmosphere for an excellent learning experience.writing-828911_960_720

“…a safe place to be vulnerable with my writing and to risk trying something new.”

Writescape facilitators have delivered workshops and presentations across the Greater Toronto Area, as well as Ottawa Region, Durham Region, and Northumberland, Kawartha, Haliburton, Muskoka, Simcoe and Niagara regions, Southwestern Ontario and into the U.S.

startup-594090_1920 (1)Step 1: talk to your group or colleagues about what you need

Step 2: choose your program from our Workshop Catalogue 2016

Step 3: contact:
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