Serendipity. Curiosity. Chutzpah.

Serendipity. Curiosity. Chutzpah.

Ruth E. Walker

For writers, serendipity, curiosity and a dash of chutzpah will uncover treasures: a great story or fascinating characters. Recognizing that moment and then acting on it can make all the difference.

A recent trip to meet colleagues for lunch gave Gwynn and me a chance for a leisurely stroll up Bay Street in Toronto. Spring was everywhere. Warm air and gentle sunshine. Pedestrians wore the slightly bemused smiles of people waking after a long and lingering winter.

And all along the sidewalk, cement planters outside of massive glass-walled corporate towers were a riot of spring blooms.

Gwynn was in photo op heaven, snapping pictures of especially vibrant flowers.

Purple pansies. Heady-scented hyacinths. Daffodils dancing in the breeze. And tulips.

Oh my, the tulips. Cupped heads reaching up, announcing the season, green spikes of leaves catching the sunlight. Red. Pink. White. Yellow.

And at one especially beautiful set of flower-rich planters, white tulips with the red streaks. “Canada 150 tulips,” I called to Gwynn. I so wanted to have those tulips in 2016 to plant for 2017 and celebrate our country’s sesquicentennial. But they sold out so quickly, I missed the chance.

I noticed a woman working on one of the planters, a large plastic garbage bin next to her and her hands busy yanking out any tulips that were drooping or beginning to widen their blooms. I couldn’t believe that they were replacing the tulips already. We had a long way to go before spring would give way to summer-stocked planters.

Gwynn and I walked over to her and, after a short conversation, learned that any spring flowers close to the end of their bloom (yes, tulips have a fairly short bloom time) would be removed. And if they drooped, they were doomed.

“What happens to the bulbs?” I asked, eyeing the garbage bin nearly full of bulbs, leaves and flower heads.

For this office tower, garden companies are contracted to fill the planters. Building staff — like this woman — maintain the planters, removing any tulips and bulbs. The bulbs? “Compost,” she said. “Garbage.”

Gwynn and I left there, continuing our walk to lunch.

And our pockets and purses? Full of bulbs.

The woman thought were nuts but happily let us pick up half-a-dozen bulbs each and squirrel them away in our purses. And I nabbed a solitary Canada 150 tulip to decorate our lunch table.

From bulbs to books

If we had just walked away, empty-handed, regrets would have followed me home. Regrets are a part of life but they should be the exception. How many times have you regretted something you should have captured in your writing?

Waking from a dream, full of a story that vanishes like wisps of clouds by the time you brush your teeth, grab a quick yogurt, pour your coffee and sit at your computer.

Listening in on a fascinating conversation at a bus stop, box office line-up or café and promising yourself to write it down as soon as you get home but life was busy as you walked through the door and by the time you sit at your computer hours later, those words are now jumbled snatches that lost their energy.

Visiting a new place — a different city, a trip to the country, a historic building — any opportunity to tickle your muse and fire up your creative juices, can be gold to a writer. And that gold can crumble like pyrite if ignored–or turn into platinum if the writer mixes serendipity with curiosity and a dash of chutzpah. (I’m still toying with a story idea about the Roman gladiator who left behind graffiti on the Colosseum.)

Essential ingredients

Serendipity: The timing of the lights at the corner of Bay and Front Streets crossed us over to the east side of Bay. It’s the shady side before noon and Gwynn prefers the sunny side. But the lights ignored her preference.

Curiosity: Gwynn and I could have simply walked past that woman, assuming the tulip bulbs were destined to be stored dry and cool and replanted in the fall. But I wanted to know why she was taking still blooming tulips from the planter.

Chutzpah: I asked if the bulbs were garbage, could we take a few? (note: for me, this is chutzpah. For others, this might have been a no-brainer. But I’m shy by nature and pushed myself to open my mouth and ask.)

Result

Gwynn and I both love gardening. Gwynn’s lakeside property is a gorgeous mix of flowers, forest and winding walkways. And I’m slowly rehabilitating a former urban backyard dumping ground into a perennial pleasure. We share plants and both our gardens will boast Canada 150 tulips next year (as long as the squirrels can be convinced to leave them alone.)

Bonus result for this writer: I have a character and story cooking in my mind. She’s a maintenance worker, spending her days in the shadows of a 75-story office tower, picking up trash from thoughtless passersby and trimming plants that almost no one notices. She pays her rent on her two-room west-end basement apartment by working weekends and midnights cleaning inside those tower offices. She’s tired all the time. But if she works hard and saves enough money, she can hire an immigration lawyer to help her bring her three children to Canada.

And then the lawyer disappears with all her money…

Serendipity.

Curiosity.

Chutzpah.

I highly recommend it.

Logic Glitches & Inspiration

Logic Glitches & Inspiration

Ruth E. Walker

Inspiration for a writer can arrive at the most inconvenient times. Nonetheless, it’s good to answer the call of the muse. Even if that call comes via another call that is less than charming.

A recent 7 a.m. long distance phone call woke me with that moment of panic. Was someone ill? Did I forget that I was supposed to be somewhere? And why in heaven’s name does the phone have to play Ride of the Valkyries? [note to self: consider changing the ring tone.]

I managed an almost-awake hello and received the bad news. My credit card had been compromised. It had been used on two large online purchases, and did I authorize them?

Just three days earlier at a party, a good friend told me about her credit card being used for $1300 US-worth of Marriott hotel stays and fine dining. Which, of course, she hadn’t been at either hotel or restaurant…or in the US for that matter. Fortunately, she didn’t have to pay for the theft, just the inconvenience of waiting for a replacement card.

So it took me a few seconds to realize what I was dealing with.

Scammers.

Thinking is good

My logical side kicked in and I ticked off the boxes of How Stupid Do They Think I Am:

Box Number One: The call was a recording. A woman’s serious tones, in an vaguely English-accented voice, advised me “Your credit card has been used recently in two large purchases online. Two-hundred-and-fifty-dollars on Amazon and a one-thousand-two-hundred-dollars on eBay.” A recorded call. Seriously?

Box Number Two: The call didn’t identify the credit card company.

Box Number Three: Nor was my name used (um…it was a recording. Duh.)

Box Number Four: The detail provided on the amounts and places of purchase was in stark contrast to the lack of identifying info (see Box Two and Three.) This is the genius method of sounding legit whilst scamming.

Box Number Five: I was to “press 1 now” if I hadn’t made those purchases. By now, the caller’s tone was downright threatening. Customer Service 101 was clearly not in her background.

Bonus Box Number Six: I took the call at the cottage. My bank and credit card contact info is not my cottage number.

Thank goodness I have a logical side. I hung up. But as a writer, now my brain is working overtime.

Inspiration is really good

Who is this woman? Did she know she was making a recording that would bilk lots of ordinary folks out of money? Is she a victim or a willing participant? Does she know credit card companies will cover these sorts of losses so she thinks she is only scamming the corporations?

Is her vaguely plummy accent real or does she have a range of accents she pulls out for various countries or regions? That accent might not do as well in other English-speaking countries. Does she have a lovely southern drawl for US calls south of the Mason-Dixon Line?

Where was she when she made that recording? In a sound studio between music recording sessions? Or a dingy backroom in some illegal call centre in southeast Asia or downtown Toronto?

And what about the rest of her life? Was this a harmless one-off that somehow ends up costing her in the future? Was she tricked into this recording, told it was an audition for computer voice in an upcoming film? And then later on, in an audition for a real film, the casting director recognizes her voice as the one that scammed him a few years ago and he vows revenge…

See? One inconvenient and potentially disruptive phone call, and my imagination is off to the races.

Before you think this is one crazy idea, take a look at Will Ferguson‘s unsettling but terrific novel 419, a deep dive into the world of the insidious Nigerian Internet scams, and the people who, worlds apart, are drawn into the trap of a better future. You remember those emails…”Sir or Madam, I am the son of an exiled Saudi prince. I need your help in getting my late father’s treasure and promise you 20% of the millions hidden in Swiss bank accounts…”

Combining thinking & inspiration is best

My 7 a.m. cottage phone call proves that my muse is alive and well, even if not conveniently timed. It confirms I possess a vital skill that I employ as a writer and an editor: Logic. And logic drives all narrative arcs. From science fiction or fantasy to police procedural mysteries, logic forms the base of all the story elements: plot, conflict(s), character motivation and behaviour, setting, and resolution.

That last one, resolution, is the place that many writers lose the thread of logic. Have you ever read a good book only to arrive at the end and be confused or disappointed by how things are wrapped up? The ending just isn’t logical. Maybe there was nothing in the preceding pages that set up that ending. Or maybe the author thought “Surprise!” was a neat way to end.

Logic works in real life. So it has to work in your writing. If it’s logical that your character would give up their life’s work as an astrophysicist to become a hermit on the mountain top, you better give us something in the story that supports that change.

If it’s snowing heavily in the beginning of the chapter, the characters better have their coats, hats and boots on as they squint into the flakes. And for heaven’s sake, don’t have the cop showing up on his motorcycle at the end of the chapter. Are there even snow tires for a motorcycle. [note: research is an important step to ensuring logical writing.]

Logic in writing. Use it. Because if you don’t, we will notice.

Last Word

Writescape workshops help writers focus on the important elements of story, including logical plots and characters with motivation and behaviour that makes sense.

June 15, 2019: Create Compelling Characters. Join Ruth E. Walker at her Haliburton cottage for a one-day focus on the people in your story.

Fall 2019: Watch for Gwynn Scheltema’s Tax Tips for Writers at the November 10 meeting of The Writers’ Community of York Region, and for Gwynn and Ruth’s Master Class at The Writers’ Community of Durham Region.

10 Peeks into a Writers’ Retreat

10 Peeks into a Writers’ Retreat

We are here at Spring Thaw, on the shores of Rice Lake at this year’s annual writers’ retreat. The sun is shining, the coffee is hot and everyone is tucked away in cottages, writing. And we don’t worry when they might need some inspiration, because we always plan our program to meet the diverse needs of our participants. From those just starting out to seasoned and published authors, writers at our retreats know two things:

1. Gwynn and Ruth are always available for support. And 2. They have their themed retreat handbook full of tips, prompts and resources.

Here are 10 snippets from 10 of our past retreat handbooks:

#1  From Up Close and Personal:

Write like a movie camera.

Start close up, focused on one detail, then draw back and reveal the larger scene. Don’t make it all description. Bring it alive with action, reaction and dialogue—and don’t forget about evoking emotion.

#2 From Myths & the Stories We Tell

Being Vulnerable

In life, if you want to become closer with someone it’s necessary to be open and vulnerable. The same can be said of the relationship with the reader.

Revisit an emotional scene you have written and find ways to be more open, honest, vulnerable. Write as if it will never be read. You don’t have to use the scene you write, but practice writing what you REALLY feel and want to say rather than what you think you SHOULD say.

Switch it up: Write a dream or daydream where a character experiences the situation they have long hoped for.

#3 From Q is for

To craft your one-sentence pitch, try one of these two methods:

Best-selling authors share their one-sentence pitches, 25 words or less, using the What If or So What method.

The elements of the “What if . . . So What?” pitch include:

  • the major conflict (plotline) of the story.
  • the protagonist.
  • the answer to the question, “So What?”

Kathleen Antrim’s one-sentence “what if” pitch for her novel Capital Offense

What if the first lady (PROTAGONIST) is plotting (CONFLICT) to overthrow the president? (SO WHAT) 

#4 From Bridging Your Words

Links to 6 Continents & 6 Lit Journals accepting international submissions

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Africa—South Africa: New Contrast
Asia—China: Cha
Australasia—New Zealand: Takahē
Europe—Spain:  The Barcelona Review
North America—Canada: The Malahat Review
South America—Argentina: The Buenos Aires Review

#5 From Secrets:

A whisper of words.

Secrets can be big or small, important or silly, even funny. Some have grave consequences if divulged. Others are just an embarrassment. Some secrets hurt, some protect, some exclude, some are a lie. Hmmm……

In your story: What is the secret? Who is keeping the secret and from whom?Who are the people involved? Why does it need to be kept? What will happen if it is uncovered? Is someone digging to figure it out? Why? How are they involved? What are the risks and rewards of discovering the secret?

#6 From Linking Ideas and Inspiration

Tap into your creativity and make connections in surprising ways.

Work as fast as you can to escape your internal editor. Without thinking or stopping, make a vertical list of  whatever word is suggested to you from the one above. Try for at least 25 words.

Use your own word or add to this list if you like…

join
club
weapon

Use the last word to spark a new piece. Or write something that uses these words in the order in which they appear, beginning with the first one you added.

Use several words in one sentence or only one every other sentence. Whatever works for you.

#7 From Voice:

Wise words

“A voice cannot carry the tongue and the lips that gave it wings. Alone must it seek the ether.  And alone and without his nest shall the eagle fly across the sun.”           ― Kahlil Gibran

“Words are the voice of the heart.”   ― Confucius

Let your muse go where it wants to…No holding back… just write…For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. ― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

#8 From Shadow and Light:

#9 From Both Sides Now:


“Every family has a story that it tells itself, that it passes on to the children and grandchildren. The story grows over the years, mutates, some parts are sharpened, others dropped, and there is often debate about what really happened. But even with these different sides of the same story, there is still agreement that this is the family story. And in the absence of other narratives, it becomes the flagpole that the family hangs its identity from.” (A.M. Homes)

A.M. Homes

# 10 From Then and Now:

When is Lying in Memoir Acceptable? 3 Key Issues

An abridged version of a post by Tracy Seeley, author of My Ruby Slippers. tracyseeley.com

Last Word:

So there you have it. If you would like to join us on our next annual Spring Thaw Retreat in 2020, mark your calendars for April 17, 2020. Come for 3 or 5 days as we’ve offered before, or try the new option: 7 days!—whatever fits your needs, your budget and your time. Registration opens on June 1, 2019.

5 Ways to Actualize Your Writing Dreams

5 Ways to Actualize Your Writing Dreams

This week we welcome Writescape alumnus, Donna Judy Curtin as she shares her writing dreams and 5 ways to actualize them. You can find other writing-related blogs by Donna at Ascribe Writers blog.

Guest blogger: Donna Judy Curtin

In Grade Two, I declared I was going to become a veterinarian and even though my personality quizzes in high school suggested I would make a better florist, my heart was set on becoming an animal doctor.

I’m nothing if not determined.

And I’m great at dreaming.

Throughout my gruelling university undergraduate courses, I kept visualizing the moment I would receive my acceptance letter to the Ontario Veterinary College. I could hear the envelope ripping, smell the glue, feel the rasp of the paper between my fingers, see the welcoming words on the page and when I was exhausted and frustrated and about ready to give it all up… I imagined a victorious jump into the air with a viscous fist pump.

This wasn’t actually how this moment occurred. I called the College to check on something and a very kind receptionist informed me, when I wasn’t expecting it, that I was listed as a member of the OVC class of 2002. I think I fell off the phone (if that’s even possible). After picking up the receiver, I remember stuttering out, “What did you say?” as the tears rolled down my cheeks.

These precious moments never happen exactly how we imagine them, but regardless, we need to keep envisioning them.

Visioning

Since I started writing seriously, I’ve been picturing small successes. At first I dreamed of completing my first novel, then it was editing that novel. When I needed a break from my first story, I started writing the sequel, which led me back to edit the first novel again and again and again. Then I began to dream of completing a trilogy and started to imagine getting all three books published as a series.

Now, my new adventure is QUERYING.

This is by far the scariest thing I have ever done. It is bold, fearless and requires stripping down to bear my heart for all to see… but I know it’s time to get out there and I’ve given myself a very specific goal for this year – to find an agent who loves my story as much as I do.

In order to stay motivated, I’m going to embrace the actualization that helped me to get into Veterinary School, because there is no better time than now to have something to motivate me through the hard work.

Getting Your Kids to Reach for the Stars

I’m going to reach for the moon and grasp onto the stars.

  • What are your writing goals?
  • Can you imagine how it will look and feel when you get there?
  • Have you shared these goals?
  • Here’s how to get started…. 5 Ways to Actualize Your Writing Dreams

ONE – WRITE IT DOWN

Even if it’s only in your private computer, write your dreams down. Make them real. Live them.

TWO – START SMALL

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Pick a fun goal. Something you can completely achieve.

One of my goals is to make the front cover of the Cargill Area News. It started out as a joke about ten years ago, but now, I want this in earnest. The Cargill Area News, locally and lovingly called the CAN, is our village newspaper. The heart and soul of the paper is the editor, Brian, this imaginative and friendly man who still publishes poetry to his now deceased love and wife. Someday, I will make the cover of the CAN as a published novelist. I can see my smiling face in black and white, holding up my book.

THREE – UPDATE YOUR DREAMS

You need to revisit your dreams often – in order to be sure they are still relevant. It won’t do to still dream about sitting on Opera’s couch for a book discussion. She’s moved on and so must you.

My other goal was to see my book on display at our local bookstore. My veterinary practice is located in a pretty small town. We don’t have an Indigo or Chapters, but we have a quality local bookseller. I had this vision of popping into the store to pick up the latest edition of The Selection Series for my daughter or the next Maze Runner for my son, and stumbling upon a desk-top display of my book with a printed sign declaring ‘OUR VERY OWN LOCAL VETERINARIAN and AUTHOR, DR. CURTIN!’

The fact is though, we all need to update our dreams occasionally and create new ones. Sadly, my local bookstore is going out of business. The owner is retiring and our town is losing this quality business.

My new dream is to someday bump into a reader purchasing my book, and then to offer to sign it.

FOUR – SHOOT FOR THE STARS

You need to dream big. Think of the best possible outcome and have some fun.

My current big dream is make a surprise visit to a book club discussing my book. It would be so much fun to be invited as an unknown guest and then part way through the night to reveal my identity by contributing to the discussion, “So, when I wrote that chapter, I actually thought it would end up going like…” and then see what happens.

FIVE – DEVISE YOUR OWN PERSONAL REWARD

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Maybe it’s something you want to do with a signing bonus. Perhaps you have a nay-sayer who teased you and you can’t wait to show off your success. Regardless, set a reward and imagine the moment when you will get it.

I’ve had this special evening planned from the moment my first beta reader completed reading my first novel, first draft. How do you reward the time and effort it takes for someone to read your work when it isn’t good? I’m planning a fabulous dinner party. Starting with my high school teacher who read through my very first draft, to the writing partner who read aloud chapters with me for over a year, and many more. When I finally get a signed contract with a publisher, I’m going to pick up everyone in a big-ass limo and we’re going to go for a fancy dinner. It will be an amazing evening of laughter and shared dreams. I better get there soon, because the longer this takes and the more people that help me, the bigger the limo gets… and soon I will need a bus!

When you complete these five steps, hold them dear to your heart and then… get back to writing. I wish you every success and hope all your dreams come true.

Donna Judy Curtin

Donna Curtin practices veterinary medicine in Bruce County, Ontario, close to her poultry and cash crop farm where she lives with her husband and two children. As a complement to her veterinary career, she aspires to become a published novelist. In Dr. Curtin’s writing, animals play important characters just as often as people.

Going Forward in Reverse

Going Forward in Reverse

Gwynn Scheltema

The age-old plotter vs. pantser debate always ends with the acknowledgement that there are as many ways to write a novel as there are novelists. So to stir the pot a bit this week, I thought I’d throw in the idea of outlining backwards.

Not a new idea

Plotting in reverse is not my idea, and it’s not new. Novelist John Irving uses this method and even takes it a step further:

“I don’t begin a novel or a screenplay until I know the ending. And I don’t mean only that I have to know what happens. I mean that I have to hear the actual sentences. I have to know what atmosphere the words convey. Is it a melancholic story? Is there something uplifting or not about it? Is it soulful? Is it mournful? Is it exuberant? What is the language that describes the end of the story? And I don’t want to begin something – I don’t want to write that first sentence – until all the important connections in the novel are known to me. As if the story has already taken place, and it’s my responsibility to put it in the right order to tell it to you.”

Now this may sound overly dramatic, but I can see how knowing that “atmosphere” would be helpful. If I know that ending as I’m writing the beginning, I can make sure all elements support that ending from the start.

Supporting the Message

Writing a novel is a lot like making an argument. Knowing the conclusion of the argument or the essence of the message you want to convey means that everything that comes before can contribute in some way to that final message.

Say for instance that I’m writing a book that involves a love affair and instead of the two lovers getting together in the end, the guy decides to go home to his wife, so his lover shoots him.

Character: I can give hints of her jealous nature, or her tendency to do rash things. I can set up the evidence that she is capable of taking a life. And as for him, maybe I need to heighten his inability to make decisions or insert scenes where we see him back out of commitments.

Setting and story world: It would be helpful if guns were normal part of her life so that grabbing a gun in that final scene isn’t contrived. And we would know she knows how to use it. Perhaps she works as a park ranger or her father and brothers are all hunters. Maybe she’s a biathlete.

Theme: The theme may now be betrayal or jealousy rather than self-acceptance or trust. I can build this into subplots or other characters either to echo the theme or contrast it.

And notice we are talking here about knowing the ending only. Not outlining the whole novel. Knowing where you’re headed simply allows you to write a tighter and more focussed story.

Smaller segments

The idea can be applied to smaller segments of your novel too. Events in a believable plot all hinge on cause and effect; on action and reaction. Equally, you can think of it in reverse: he did this because she did that, or they are in this situation because this happened yesterday.

Coming at it in reverse can be useful when you get to a point in the story and don’t know how to link to a scene that you know comes up in the future.

For example, if I knew that Clara needed to arrive back at her childhood home just as it was burning to the ground, but right now in the story she is happily away at school with no intention of going home, I can visualize the fire scene and work backwards:

Ask questions

How do you work backwards? Ask questions: What would have happened immediately before this house burning scene to cause it? And what would have happened before that scene to cause that? And so on like dominos to the point in the story where Clara is at school.

Why is the house burning down? Who started it? How are they connected to Clara? Is there a reason they might be so angry or so depressed that they would want to force her to go home?

If the fire is not deliberate, what other things might make Clara come home in the middle of term? Is Clara or someone else ill? How did Clara arrive there………

Now with the scenes slotted in to the next point, I can write forwards again, logically and with purpose. Instead of writing forward with a blindfold, I’m just filling in the blanks.

Last word

Kurt Vonnegut said, “A step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.”

It seems that a step backward in writing, when you don’t know where you’re going, is also a step in the right direction.

A Happy Dance for Writers

A Happy Dance for Writers

To win an award is such a fantastic affirmation for writers. I know. I’ve won a few and can confirm that validation kept me energized for weeks. I’ll never forget the exhilaration of first place in a national magazine with my first-ever submission.

My kids had to darn near peel me off the ceiling.

So whenever I hear of a colleague or friend winning an award, I do “the happy dance” in my heart, post congratulations online and try to attend any celebration that honours that win.

But when I’ve had something to do with that reason for celebration, then some of those wins are a bit more special.

The Joy of Editing

As an editor, I’ve loved discovering the stories of others writers in unpublished form. It’s been a privilege to move into the creative process of another writer. Their trust is precious to me and forms the foundation of our working relationship.

And it is wonderful when I can do the happy dance for them: when they are ready to submit or to publish. When they have a launch. And when they win awards.

Just last week, I got to do the happy dance for Pauline Kiely, author of No Poverty Between the Sheets. Pauline had previously published her family memoir but asked me to work with her on a new edition.

That new edition was entered in the 2019 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Known as the IPPY Awards, they were launched in 1996 to “bring increased recognition to the deserving but often unsung titles published by independent authors and publishers.”

So I was thrilled when Pauline let me know that her book won the Silver Medal in the Canada East Best Regional Non-Fiction category! And so grateful that she let me know how much she appreciated my work.


Thank you Ruth Walker your edits made this book a winner
!

Pauline Kiely on Facebook
Terry Fallis

Few award options are available for independently published books. A notable exception is the prestigious Leacock Medal for Humour, where jurists accept entries of self-published books by Canadian authors. Author Terry Fallis sent the last 10 copies of his independently published first novel The Best Laid Plans to win the 2008 medal, well deserved accolades and so much future success.

Make it Award-worthy

There are many other self-published books in the world that deserve success like Pauline and Terry have enjoyed. But just like the world of traditional publishing, few great books win awards.

Nonetheless, books that haven’t been put together in a professional package — self or traditional — are far less likely to win readers, let alone awards. From the cover to the last page, you don’t want your book to be full of errors or amateur missteps.

If you’re fortunate, you may have excellent book designers, copy editors and proofreaders in your circle of family, friends and colleagues. But chances are you don’t. So avoid playing with chance.

Unless you are skilled as an editor, hire one to help you polish the text. Should you choose to go the traditional publishing route, agents and acquisition editors expect professional standards in all submitted material.

If you opt to publish independently, you want readers to stay firmly immersed in your story. Just think for a minute about how little it takes to kick you out of something you’re reading: a typo, a logic glitch or a complicated and confusing scene.

Finding an Editor

Editors Canada has over 400 editors listed online. Most independent publishing/printing services have a list of freelance editors you can hire. And traditional publishers employ staff and freelance editors.

No matter where you find your editor, make sure it is someone who understands your book’s purpose. It is a tender relationship — one that balances collaboration with principles. But when it is the right editor for your book, you’ll find no greater champion, dedicated to taking your book to the best possible form.

No manuscript is perfect. But the right editor can help you come close enough to smell the binding.

The Last Word

Writescape offers both coaching and editing for writers at all stages of the process. It’s been our pleasure to see writers achieve their goals for their books and their careers. Some of our authors:

Sylv Chiang, author of the CrossUps series middle grade novels with Annick Press.

Fred Kennedy, author of Huareo, Story of a Jamaican Cacique

Janet Stobie, author of To Begin Again and Elizabeth Gets Her Wings

Felicity Sidnell Reid, author of Alone, A Winter in the Woods

Recipe for Creating Characters

Recipe for Creating Characters

Ruth E. Walker

Sometimes, the people I create for my novels and stories wake me up at night. They rattle around in my head like restless spirits and refuse to quiet down until I write a scene they’ve been waiting for.

Wait a minute. A scene they’ve been waiting for?

Exactly. I guess that’s how real they’ve managed to become in my imagination. So real that my subconscious gives them room to believe themselves to be alive.

All writers discover and develop their characters by a variety of approaches, each as unique as the writer themselves. But sometimes, our imaginations can use a little help.

For one of my workshops, I developed a simple and fun exercise for finding a new character. It works for villains, heroes, secondary folks, and even walk-on characters. Use it any time you hit a wall and need a nudge to add new people to a story or scene. It can even help when you have no idea what you’re going to write: bingo! a character to build a story around…all from a recipe.

Follow the recipe

1 cup of a real person: I find a visual source most helpful (a magazine photograph, portrait in an art gallery or people-watching expedition) Perhaps for you, there’s a person in history — recent or long ago — who has fascinated you. Whoever you choose, it’s time to build a story character from an image. Note some vital statistics about this person, (age, gender, eye & hair colour, etc.)

Then go a bit deeper into who they are (family, education, social position/job, hobbies, favourite foods, pets, etc.) Allow your imagination to take you to counter-intuitive places: thing — and people — are never completely what they appear to be on the surface.

Finally, answer three questions:

  • what does this person want?
  • what does this person actually need?
  • what does this person fear the most?

Of course, this outline of a person is open to change once you start to write the story. But by this point, you should have a sense of a personality coming to life. All you need now is to add the rest of the ingredients.

1 cup of story idea:  Maybe your new character has inspired a story idea already but if not, here’s a quick option: choose a central theme (quest, coming of age, gods vs humans, humans vs nature, etc.) and a genre (romance, sci-fi, contemporary, literary, thriller, historical, etc.) Write down the theme and genre (or blend of genres) and add in a few lines about the possibilities to come (escape of star-crossed lovers, a search for a missing “x”; a defense of a territory; a coronation gone wrong, etc.)

2/3 cup of setting: place, era, season, time of day. Here’s where you add in some sensory elements: temperature, quality of the light, smells in the air, sounds near and distant, etc.

1/4 cup of backstory: Careful, too much backstory up front and it will overtake your story stew. Go for subtle flavours: a hint of betrayal, a whiff of loss, a sprinkle of insecurity or shame.

Flavour bouquet: Just like that cheesecloth bag of spices in your chili sauce, here’s where you can mix up an interesting blend for your new-found character. Characteristics. Idiosyncrasies. Behaviours. Qualities of goodness and evil because no person is completely honourable, good and kind. And all of it affects the kind of person you are cooking up.

The garnish: An exciting way to serve up your character is through a line of dialogue. A few intriguing words can be all you need to set in motion a scene for your character.

Make it more than parsley on the plate: “Quick man! Jump overboard or die!” “Before the three moons rise, I promise to find your starship.” “My lady, the castle road and all who travelled it are gone.”

Of course, like any recipe, it’s always open to personal preference. So go ahead and experiment. Add new ingredients. Use more spice. Go heavy with the garnish. The point to all this is to muck about in the kitchen of your creativity and see what ends up on your page. At the very least, you’ll have something on the table that you’ve never had before. Hopefully, it’s one tasty treat.

Last Word

If you want to cook up more characters or spice up ones you already have, Ruth’s offering a one-day workshop Create Compelling Characters on June 15 at her Riverside Cottage property in Haliburton. Registration is open now.

10 Ways To Take Care of Business

10 Ways To Take Care of Business


Look for Writescape’s 10 on the 10th for writing tips, advice and inspiration on the 10th of every month. Think of it as Gwynn and Ruth sitting on your shoulder and nudging you along.

Being skillful as a writer is more than having your work published. It’s also linked to the business side of writing, how you conduct yourself, and how others perceive you. Creativity and professionalism are two sides of any successful writer. In fact, the more professionally you function, the more your muse will drop by to inspire you.

1. Track your submissions. Keeps you focused and prevents you from losing track of where that suite of poems actually got sent. You can follow up intelligently. It also keeps you professional in your head space. And come tax season, you have a record of your writing work. Use a simple table with headings (i.e., title of work / date sent/ where / response / payment) or set up a formal spreadsheet.

2. Keep a calendar. You can go wild and colour-code: conferences & workshops; critique group meetings; time spent researching; coffee with a colleague writer to talk about WIP, projects, etc.; time spent pitching articles; time spent editing. It’s all about a visual reminder of how hard you’ve been working at your craft. More than one calendar? Synch them. And it’s good business to have a paper copy as backup (but note #4 & #5.)

3. Have a logical folder system.   For both your computer and email, set up a system that works like your mind does. Being consistent helps you to file things quickly and, more importantly, to retrieve them. Same goes for naming conventions for the document files themselves. If you like to use dates, great. If alphabetical is your thing, go for it. Just be consistent. Group together files that make sense with subfolders: Writing: Poetry. Non-fic. Stories. Novels. Plays. Readings: Open Mics; Libraries; Book Stores…

4. Keep all expense receipts for sorting later. Better to keep them and throw them out when you have had a chance to decide if they are useful than to wish you had kept them. The tax department disallows any expense you can’t prove you paid for. For more on taxes see Deducting Convention Expenses.

5. Purge the paper as much as you can. Digitize what you think you might need and park it in the cloud. Look, we understand. Writers and paper just seems a perfect match. But with so much available online or able to download, why not just keep active the papers you need only as you need them? And when you’re done, scan what you must and pitch the rest.

6. Defrag. First focus on the computer to rearrange your files so that they are easier to find and things work faster for you. Kind of like tidying the linen closet. Then defrag yourself (see Writers Guide to Self Care & Your Anytime Writing Retreat) because you need to be in a good space for it all to achieve creative harmony.

7. Schedule professional development. A focus on your craft is more than creating elegant prose or memorable metaphors. It also involves taking in new ideas and perspectives. From intensive master classes to an afternoon speaker at the library, it’s all grist for the mill.

8. Subscribe to publishing and other professional magazines. Quill & Quire, Publishers Weekly, Writer’s Digest, etc., will help you learn about trends, agents, markets and tidbits that can add up to your own savvy marketing plan. Paperless option: Subscribe to the online version. Budget option: Ask your local library if they can add a subscription to their magazines (if they do, remember to say thank you.)

9. Participate in social media. Choose at least one platform and then do it well — remember that calendar (#2)? Schedule social media time in it for at least 30 minutes once a week to post or tweet or comment. Keep it as simple as you like. There’s networking to be had on social media, markets to discover and learning to be absorbed. (Tip: social media can become an enticing sinkhole of limitless depth, so set a timer to climb back out if you need it.)

10. Constantly update your writing profile. Call it your full bio, literary CV (curriculum vitae), writing credits, or whatever you like. Just know that over time, it’s easy to forget the odd poem published, open mic you read at, or the workshop you attended or presented. And like a work resume, when you need it you usually need it fast.

Deducting Convention Expenses

Deducting Convention Expenses

Gwynn Scheltema

It’s that time of year we all look forward to….taxes!

As a tax preparer at an accounting office, I have noticed that over the last couple of years, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has been paying attention to convention expenses claimed, so I thought it might be useful to all you writers out there to spend a little time discussing writing conferences from a tax perspective.

That said, a caveat: The information and tips offered here are general information only. Your tax situation could be influenced by other factors not dealt with here, so if you are at all in doubt, contact your accountant or check out CRA’s website for more information.

Convention expenses

Let’s pretend that you attended a convention in Toronto, one in the Caribbean and one in USA in 2018. Can you deduct them on your tax return?

Like most tax questions, the answer is “maybe”.

What does CRA say?

“You can deduct the cost of attending up to two conventions a year. The conventions have to meet the following conditions:

  • relate to your business or your professional activity
  • be held by a business or professional organization within the geographical area where the organization normally conducts its business”

Business or professional activity

Let’s unpack point #1: it must relate to your “business” or your “professional activity”.

Professional activity refers to income earned from a profession that is regulated by a governing body (sets rules of compliance, etc.). Typically profession refers to accountants, lawyers, doctors and the like.

For writers, the operative word here is “business”.  Being in business as a writer means you have gone beyond being a “hobbyist”.

Generally, a business is any undertaking that results in profits or has a reasonable expectation of profits within a reasonable time. CRA, however, does recognize that the nature of art and literature is such that “in the case of artists and writers it is recognized that a longer period of time may be required in establishing that such reasonable expectation does exist.”

To determine if you are running a writing small business or if you are a hobbyist, CRA considers 12 factors that speak to reasonableness of profit expectation. Factors include the amount of time devoted to writing, representation by an agent or publisher, the extent to which your work is presented to the public, promotion of your work and the kind of income derived (royalties, grants, etc.). You can check out the full list at the link at the end of this post.

Geographical area

Unpacking point #2: “within the geographical area where the organization normally conducts its business”

Gwynn presenting at a Government Correspondence Conference

As nice as it might be, travelling to a far-flung exotic location for a conference may render the expense of it non-deductible. It all depends on whether a location is within the territorial scope of the sponsoring organization. For instance, The Ontario Writers’ Conference would be expected to hold its convention in Ontario. The Writers’ Union of Canada could hold it anywhere in Canada. Romance Writers of America although head quartered in USA, might hold a conference anywhere in the world that it has RWA branches.

Fortunately, under the Canada-United States Tax Convention, expenses incurred by a Canadian resident or citizen attending conventions held in the USA are treated as if the conventions were held in Canada.

CRA definitely will not accept expenses for conventions held on cruise ships, even if the ship travels between Canadian and US ports or two US. ports. Why? Because the sea is considered international territory.

What can you write off?

Presuming you (and the convention) qualify under the two points mentioned above, you can deduct:

  • Convention fees
  • Travel expenses
  • Lodging expenses
  • Meals to a limit of $50/day

If the convention fees include the cost of food, beverages, or entertainment, but do not show it separately, you are required to deduct $50 for each day from the convention fee and claim it separately as meals and entertainment (where other limits will apply).

Example

Convention costs are $500 for 2 days, meals included.

Subtracting $50/day for meals makes the adjusted convention fee $500 ‑ ($50 x 2) = $400.

Additionally, claim the $100 meals and it will be subject to the usual 50% limitation, and end up as a $50 deduction.

Note: Incidental items such as coffee and doughnuts available at convention meetings or receptions do not count as meals.

Up to two conventions

Image result for ontario writers conference
Ruth presents in Moose Factory

So what about your three writers’ conference I mentioned earlier? Okay, so right off the bat, you are limited to two. Assuming all three qualify as allowable conventions, use the ones most advantageous to you. Those might be the most expensive, or if one of them is not closely related to your writing activities, you may be safer to go with the two cheaper ones that are.

Useful links:

Other Top Drawer tax blogs

Power to make a difference

Power to make a difference

This week Writescape welcomes guest blogger Lori Twining. She blogs with other writing friends at AscribeWriters.com and adds laughter and inspiration whenever she joins us on Writescape retreats. Her blog today is all about having the power to improve the life of other writers.

Guest Post: Lori Twining

Sometimes, I feel like I have the power to make a difference. Does this ever happen to you? Are you harbouring tiny pockets of power that could be used for something good?

What if YOU could be the reason someone smiled today?

What if YOU could make a small difference in someone else’s life?

What if I finished a novel, published it and it was because of YOU that it hit the New York Times Bestseller List?

Well, don’t get excited, because I didn’t finish writing that New York Times Bestseller… YET! But many other people have. I have read soooo many books by authors that are filled with amazing stories. Stories that deserve recognition. Authors that deserve to be hugged and told that you loved reading their books. Being an author is a tough business. For some, doubt is creeping around every single corner of every single day, so they could use a little reason to smile.

We are lovers. Book Lovers too!

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When my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary, we went out for a nice surf & turf supper followed by a few hours of hanging out in the bookstore. We trailed our fingers across every spine in the fiction section, smelling the new pages of some of our favourite authors, discovering new authors and being excited about which books we should buy this trip. We met up in different aisles and pretended we didn’t know each other, and then struck up a conversation about random books we had stacked in our arms. We were basically a romcom (Romantic Comedy) happening in real time. Yes, as a couple, we are two book nerds falling in love all over again, not only with each other, but with authors and their words.

Waiting to be loved

I had a few sad moments while I was walking through the 80% off aisles. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a great bargain but my mind went to the $2 stickers on the front cover and I wondered just how much is the author actually making? The book isn’t even that old. It’s only been in circulation for 12 months? 6 months? Geesh! Then I let my eyes wander around the huge store gazing at all the books waiting for someone to take them home, and yes, like in the movie Bridesmaids, I wanted to have the van full of puppies speeding down the highway after the party. Only, my van would be filled to the brim with all the unwanted books. I would take them home with me—possibly share with my husband—and I would read every single book, trying to make an author happy that their book wasn’t locked inside a bookstore with no one to love it.

Does that sound crazy?

Yeah, I’m sure it does.

But it makes me happy to buy another author’s book, read it and then tell them how much I loved it. This comes full circle back to having the power to make someone smile. When you tell an author how much you loved reading their book, sometimes they surprise you. This past week, I was surprised not once, but TWICE!

Reaching out

Lori Twining ~ #slaughtersquad

During my lunch hour a week or two ago, I listened to a Facebook Live interview between two amazing women authors, Lisa Unger and Karin Slaughter. They were talking about mysteries, suspense and thriller novels (all of which are my favourite). They mentioned that if you commented during the Live interview you might win something. Honestly, I didn’t care if I won anything, I was just hoping to hear some secrets they might share about their process of writing a bestselling thriller novel. I was there to hear about how they research, how they attempt their first draft, how long it really takes to write a bestseller, if they have help editing it into a masterpiece or are they doing everything on their own. These interviews always hold many interesting answers for me. So, I was happy that I listened. I took some notes. I went back to work.

After a week of camping in the woods with my adorable husband, unplugged from the world, I returned home to find my social media had exploded with hundreds of text messages, emails, Facebook messages, etc… and several were from Lisa Unger asking me for my snail-mail address. I had won something and she wanted to send it to me. What? I wanted a copy of her new book, Under My Skin, so my fingers were crossed that it would show up in my mailbox.

Love finds it way home

Lisa Unger & Lisa Scottoline Books
Lisa Unger & Lisa Scottoline Books

Fast forward another week… I received PRIORITY MAIL! $24.95 US worth of bookmail. Unfortunately, it was NOT Lisa Unger’s Under My Skin, but it was a short story called The Twenty written by her, and a hardcover copy of Lisa Scottoline’s newest release, Feared. I thought it was weird, it wasn’t even a copy of one of the two women in the interview, but hey, I love Lisa Scottoline and I didn’t have this one. I was excited and happy because who wouldn’t be? Right?

Plus, I already have all of Karin’s books (just finished reading Pieces of Her and it was FANTASTIC). Inside the Feared cover, it was signed with a note, “I love Lisa Unger, too! xoxo! Love Lisa Scottoline.” Oh, these girls know how to warm my heart. A signed Lisa Scottoline book! Sweet.

A couple of days later, I found another Priority Mail package in my mailbox. This time it was from an agent in New York City. Why was I getting mail from a literary agent? It should be the other way around, right? I should be sending out my unpublished manuscript to agents. Ha! That’s a story for another day… However, my package was from Victoria Sanders & Associates in Stone Ridge, New York. That is Karin Slaughter’s agent. Ohmygod! Karin Slaughter is my ab-so-freaking-lute-ly favourite female thriller writer. Seriously, she is the one I want to be when I grow up and figure out how to write a real thriller novel. I. Want. To. Be. Her. … with Lisa Unger and Lisa Scottoline close behind her.

Back to reality, I pulled out a Karin Slaughter t-shirt. Yep! I’m in love all over again. Then, I started surfing the internet for other #SlaughterSquad or #UngerSquad t-shirts… no luck. My mind started racing about telling these girls they could make money with selling their merchandise to crazy fans, such as myself. Now, I want a “The Good Daughter” t-shirt that will make my mother frown! Maybe, I should make one myself? Or send Karin Slaughter a crazy fan email requesting such an item. I’ll save that for another day, as well. Ha!

Bottom line, I made Lisa Unger and Karin Slaughter smile because I listened to their Facebook Live interview, because who wants to have a Live event that no one comes to? In return they made me smile by rewarding me for listening by sharing secret info, PLUS I was extra-smiling when I received gifts! I feel the power of making a difference here… I’m so busy telling everyone I know on social media and in person about how awesome these two authors are, which is a bonus for them. Plus, I will be extremely happy about walking around with my Karin Slaughter t-shirt on for years to come, thanks to Lisa Unger for picking my name out of a list of random people. It is hard to tell which of us are smiling bigger today.

Having the power

Imagine having that much power… here’s the thing, I think YOU do.

Support an author today. Listen to their podcast. Buy their book. Read it. Tell everyone about it. Word of mouth is a wonderful tool that is one of the easiest ways to make someone smile.

If you are a writer, a day will come when you’ll be begging for someone to make you smile. What if YOU could be the reason?

MAKE KARMA HAPPEN!

Lori Twining

Lori Twining writes both fiction and nonfiction, with her stories winning awards in literary competition and appearing in several anthologies. She’s an active member of many writing groups: International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters In Crime International, Toronto Sisters In Crime, Romance Writers of America, Toronto Romance Writers and Ascribe Writers. She’s a lover of books, sports and bird watching, and a hater of slithering reptiles and beady-eyed rodents.