A Starlit Story Gift

A Starlit Story Gift

Ruth E. Walker

Writers discover their stories in so many ways that it isn’t possible to list them all. An overheard conversation, an article in a newspaper, a name on a gravestone, a lived experience, a visual prompt, a first line in a writing exercise…the path to the writer’s muse can appear and take hold without warning. And suddenly–KAPOW!–the pen cannot be stopped until the tale is told.

And sometimes a writer is given the gift of a story. Heather M. O’Connor, a longtime friend of ours at Writescape, received such a gift a few years ago. The result? A timeless and beautiful book that belongs on everyone’s bookshelf.

I asked Heather a few questions about her new book and where it came from. Heather is a natural storyteller but this story wasn’t hers to tell. At least, not hers alone.

Where did you discover this story?

It all started when Ontario Parks asked me to write a blog post about the Ojibwe Horse. I’ve always been a horse-lover, so they had me at “horses.” But when they said, “nobody knows about them”, I knew it would be something really special. 

And it was. The Ojibwe Horse is an endangered semi-feral breed of horses that once lived in harmony with the Ojibwe people. The last four survivors were rescued from extinction, and spirited to safety. It had all the elements of a good story, even a happily-ever-after homecoming. 

Heather at Quetico Provincial Park

I finished the blog post, but the horses wouldn’t let me go. This wasn’t just a cool story. It was an important piece of Indigenous history. So I applied for a Marion Hebb Research Grant from Access Copyright and travelled up to Quetico Provincial Park to meet the horses for myself.

That’s where I met Darcy. As they say in Casablanca, “it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Why didn’t anyone else write this story? In other words, why did Darcy Whitecrow and Heather O’Connor decide to write this book now?

Darcy Whitecrow
photo credit Ontario Parks

That’s a good question. Darcy is Ojibwe. He started an equine program at Seine River First Nation to help the youth in his community get in touch with their traditional heritage. But it’s just one ranch in one First Nation community. And I thought, there’s only so much Darcy to go around. What about all the other kids? How will they learn about this proud piece of their heritage?

And I wanted to help Darcy spread the word about the horses and the important work he’s doing. There are only about 150 left, and caring for them is very expensive. I couldn’t breed them or train them. But I could help Darcy’s words travel farther.

How difficult was it to write the book? Co-writing is not straightforward and you have a strong narrative voice of your own – did you have to decide on how best to get the story down on paper, writing as a team?

I actually went to Quetico planning to write a middle grade novel about a ranch. But I couldn’t get Darcy’s voice out of my head. He’s a born storyteller.

So I came up with the frame for the story — a grandfather teaching his granddaughter the history of the horses. But the history? That’s all Darcy — sometimes verbatim. And one line comes from an oral history we received from his friend Mike Ottertail.

The oral tradition is very strong in Darcy’s culture. Essentially, he taught me the story until I could tell it myself, very much like the grandfather in the book.

Was it a challenge to find a publisher – the right publisher – to publish this book?

It wasn’t, actually.

Second Story Press was creating these beautifully illustrated dual-language picture books. I’d read a couple — Missing Nimama and Stolen Words, both written by Melanie Florence. They were wistful intergenerational stories about culture and loss, themes that run through Runs with the Stars, too.

When I noticed that Katherine Cole, Second Story’s editor at the time, was doing blue pencil sessions at CANSCAIP’s [Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers] Packaging Your Imagination Conference, I signed up to see her. She loved the manuscript.

Where did the title come from?

Wiijibibamatoon-Anangoonan (Runs with the Stars) is the Ojibwe name given to the foal born at the end of the story. All Ojibwe Horses receive an Ojibwe name to honour their heritage.

Who is the ideal reader for this book?

Runs with the Stars is aimed at kids aged 3-8. But it could also be used to teach Indigenous history in classrooms up to Grade 6. After all, who doesn’t love a good horse story?

What hopes and dreams do you have for “Runs With the Stars”?

This is Indigenous history, so I hope it’s read in First Nation classrooms and used in traditional language programs. I’d love to see elders sharing it with kids, and kids reading it to parents who maybe lost their language in residential schools. I hope it stirs memories and starts conversations.

Anything you’d like to add?

Abbey Gardens Ojibwe Horse

If you’d like to meet two Ojibwe Horses, come to Abbey Gardens in Haliburton on Saturday, June 18. They’re holding a big family event with a book signing. Stay posted for the details.

I’m also having a horsey-themed book launch at Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge on April 30 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. I’d love to see you there!

Where can we purchase the book?

Runs with the Stars and Wiijibibamatoon-Anangoonan come out May 3. They’re both available for pre-order at your favourite independent bookseller.

Heather M. O’Connor is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author. Her first picture book Fast Friends, illustrated by Claudia Dávila, was published by Scholastic Canada in 2020. Betting Game, her debut novel with Orca Books, was published in 2015. She also writes short stories, fantasy and historical fiction. Heather lives in Peterborough, Ontario.

Blog feature image: Ontario Parks

A happy two-fer

A happy two-fer

Gwynn Scheltema

In an earlier blog this year, I mentioned that I was concentrating on two projects this year. One, was to finish my poetry manuscript and get it published, which includes submitting more poetry to hopefully have more publishing credits to add to my pitch. The other was to steer a wonderful group of like-minded artists and art lovers to present the Northumberland Festival of the Arts (NFOTA) in September 2022.

This week I have the opportunity to further both projects at once. NFOTA has TWO calls for submissions open at the moment, and I’m going to submit. Both are free to submit to. I thought I’d share the details with you so you can submit too, and also ask you to spread the word.

The first call for a one-act play has been open since the fall, and will close on January 31, 2022, but you still have 2 weeks to write a play or to dust off a play you’ve already written and fine-tune it for the call.  

The second call is for an anthology of prose and poetry, Hill Spirits V. The first Hill Spirits Anthology was published by Blue Denim Press in 2012. This edition, the 5th in the series, will be launched at the Northumberland Festival of the Arts. The call area includes Northumberland, and all surrounding counties: Durham, Peterborough, Hastings and Prince Edward. The deadline for submissions is March 31, 2022.

Below are the details taken from the NFOTA website: www.festivalofthearts.ca

One Act Play

Guidelines

The Northumberland Festival of the Arts will present 3 staged readings of one act plays in 3 locations during the festival, scheduled for September 16th to October 2nd, 2022.

The play selection committee is looking for:

  • one act plays between 20 and 40 minutes long
  • never before produced scripts
  • casts of up to 4 interesting characters
  • strong plot
  • convincing conflict, development, and a satisfactory resolution (Is the protagonist challenged, or does the protagonist grow and/or change in some way, over the course of the play?)
  • gratuitous profanity is not advisable

DEADLINE FOR SUBMITTING SCRIPTS: January 31st 2022.

  • Queries can be sent to felicity936@gmail.com 
  • Email scripts to Jessica Outram: jessica@creativitycoaching.ca 
  • Please put NFOTA Play Submission in the subject line.

Thinking about content…

No tragedies at this time—our theme for the festival is: “Celebrating Resilience.”

Will a Northumberland audience see the play’s relevance to our lives now?

How do we keep the audience’s attention? Certainly not by giving them more information but, on the contrary, by withholding information—by withholding all information except that information in the absence of which the progress of the story would become incomprehensible.”—David Mamet in On Directing Film

Hill Spirits V Anthology

Guidelines

Theme

 In support of the Northumberland Festival of the Arts, the inspiring theme for our fifth anthology is “Celebrating Resilience”.

Consider the way a tree bends and flexes during a violent storm or a flower pushes through the pavement of a parking lot. And in the words of this Japanese proverb: “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” Synonyms for resilience include: flexibility, durability, toughness and strength.

If you are reading these words, you have overcome adversity, loss, disappointment, misfortune, heartache and much more. And if you’re a writer, the beginnings of an inspirational story or poem has already begun to tease your grey cells and fire up your neurons.

Who may submit

Residents of the following eastern Ontario counties: Northumberland, Durham, Peterborough, Hastings and Prince Edward.

When to submit

Submit between now and March 31,2022

What to submit

Submit prose and poetry, fiction and nonfiction. Rather than memoir, please use personal narrative. (A personal narrative focuses on an event while a memoir focuses on the author.) 

Material should be original, in English and preferably unpublished. Previously published is only an option if you own the copyright. No excerpts from longer pieces. Although submissions will be edited, please self-edit your submissions.

Writers may submit a maximum of two pieces; and those submissions may be a mix of prose and poetry.

  • Fiction is limited to a maximum of 3000 words per story. 
  • Non-fiction – a maximum of 2500 words.
  • Poetry up to 50 lines including stanza breaks

Preparing your submission

Be sure to edit your submission – aim for publication ready.

Formatting:

  • typed and double-spaced (EXCEPT POETRY)
  • 12 point font  Times New Roman
  • minimum 1” margins on all sides
  • insert header with name/one word from title/page number

Sending your submission

All work should be submitted as attachments by email to hillspiritsv@gmail.com with the subject heading on the email:  Anthology 2022 (Your Name)

In the body of the email, include: your full name (or pseudonym if applicable), the title(s) of the piece(s) and a press-ready bio [max 50 words]. Do not attach this information in a separate file.

Attach submission pieces as separate documents to a single email in MSWord (PC or Apple platform) saved as .RTF or .DOC or DOCX .

Submitting Cover Art

We are accepting submissions for cover art. Images of (photographs, paintings, drawings, etc.) must be at least 300dpi, apply to both front and back covers and relate to the theme – Celebrating Resilience. Email Anthology 2022 cover art to  hillspiritsv@gmail.com

Author Copies and Copyright

Copyright remains with the author.

Each contributor may buy copies of the anthology at a discounted author rate.

The launch will be held as part of the Northumberland Festival of the Arts (NFOTA) in September 2022.

Simultaneous Submissions

Are accepted, provided that you identify them as such and agree to notify us immediately if a piece has been accepted elsewhere.

Acceptance

If your work is accepted, we will contact you by April 30, 2022 at the email address you provide.  

Any questions?

Email hillspiritsv@gmail.com  and put QUERY ANTHOLOGY 22 in the subject line.

Last Word

So, there you have it. Two chances to submit your work for free. Two ways to support the arts in this region. Two ways to support your own writing journey. And two ways to help me with my projects. It’s a win-win all around.

Help Spread the Word

Please share this post or this poster by email or social media.

When an Agent Says Yes

When an Agent Says Yes

Ruth E. Walker

Some time ago (frankly, too long ago) I wrote about my manuscript being rejected by a literary agent. This wasn’t an ordinary Thanks But No Thanks form letter. It was a thoughtful explanation about why this agent was taking a pass on my Young Adult science fiction novel. She included comments from a reader, noting areas of concern.

It was gold – and not just because I was being provided with helpful feedback from a complete stranger. Clearly, the agent felt engaged enough with the story and my writing to have it read for a second opinion. Even more clearly, the agent felt engaged enough with me to offer these suggestions. And she left the door open to resubmit.

pixabay.com

For most of us writers, and certainly for me, self-doubt is a constant companion. Sometimes, I can supress the little monster long enough to finish a third or fourth or fifth draft. But even then, it whispers sweet nasties from the back of my brain.

So, this agent’s treatment of my novel as something worthwhile was rocket fuel. However, life got in the way and time to focus on the book kept getting put aside. In 2019, I finally pulled up my bootstraps and devoted my full attention to the book once more. By January 2020, I had a revised draft (thanks members, past and present, of Critical ms, my critique group.)

February 2020: a professional and organized plan

I sharpened and polished my query (thanks Heather O’Connor) and made my synopsis all shiny. I created a spreadsheet to keep track of my submissions and colour-coded each entry’s status (thanks to my Writescape partner and sister-from-another-mother, Gwynn Scheltema.) No colour for open submissions. Putrid peach for rejections. Bright blue for full requests. I had no idea what colour I’d use for “yes.”

I took a much more methodical approach to search agents and started in with QueryTracker, an online list of agents in Canada, the U.S. and beyond. I narrowed the list category to YA and science fiction/fantasy.

Agent Tab on Query Tracker

And then I started to submit to agents who were open to submission. First, I checked out their websites and, where possible, their MSWL (manuscript wish list). I quickly learned that not all YA Science Fiction agents would work for my novel. Mine isn’t “hard science fiction” so I avoided submitting to those agents. And mine isn’t younger-YA-friendly; agents who didn’t like violence or edgy topics came off my list.

I didn’t rely on QueryTracker for all my efforts. I paid attention to blog posts and various “10 Agents Seeking Writers” kinds of announcements (thanks Brian Henry and Writer’s Digest.) Friends and colleagues pointed me in a couple of directions, shared insights and ideas. A couple even went to bat for me, speaking directly to their own agents on my behalf (thanks Tom Taylor and the ever-supportive, Heather O’Connor.)

During 2020, there weren’t many opportunities to attend conferences and writerly events. Basically, once March happened, everything stopped (remember 2020?) But I hoped that agents might be like the rest of us, with strange time on our hands to not go anywhere or meet with anyone. I continued to query, methodically, in chunks of two to four queries at a time.

A tailored submission: snip, sew, snip again

An important note: not all agents want the same thing. For instance, my two-page synopsis had to be rewritten as: a one-page synopsis, a two-paragraph synopsis (yikes!), a 500-word synopsis…if nothing else it was a masterclass in editing. Nobody wanted the outline I’d drafted and redrafted. Darn. And what each agent wanted to see meant carving the full manuscript into custom-order submissions.

Wikipedia: Benihana

From five pages to ten pages to the first three chapters, to the first 50 pages, to 1000 words, to 2500 words – I was slicing and dicing like a personal chef at Benihana. Do I include the epigram page? What about the cover page? Did they count on the number of pages? Or word count? Or, or, or.

For the record, I left out the epigram and cover page and just started with Chapter One. And I noticed a few necessary tweaks as I reviewed some of those submissions. Tweaks that I then incorporated in the full ms. So again, editing masterclass.

Lottery: Losses, close calls and then…

pixabay.com

My first agent query was sent February 10, 2020. My first rejection arrived March 2, 2020. Between February 2020 and November 30, 2021, the majority of my queries resulted in standard, form-letter rejections.

Occasionally, there were personal notes but they were rare. Some agents still haven’t replied.

Fifty-two queries later, I met over Zoom with Ali McDonald from 5 Otter Literary Inc. for a 15-minute pitch session (thanks PYI organizers at CANSCAIP.) The first thing she said to me was: “Ruth Walker. Why haven’t you queried me before? This book is right in my wheelhouse!”

Ali McDonald
5 Otter Literary

More than three weeks later, Ali and I met again. This time, we chatted for more than an hour and a half. That evening, November 30, I had an offer of representation. On December 4, I signed a contract and can announce that Ali McDonald of 5 Otter Literary is representing my YA Science Fiction novel and I could not be happier.

Well, I suppose once she sells my book to a publisher (fingers crossed), I might have to be happier but for now, I’m over the moon. Next step: To infinity, and beyond!

The work ahead

Now I have signed with an agent, I needed to stay professional and focussed. I contacted the U.S. and Canadian agents who asked to see the full ms, along with the others who’d not yet replied. From Rachel Letofsky at CookeMcDermid Agency, I received a gracious reply: “I am delighted to hear this news. I know and respect Ali very much. She has great relationships in the industry, and a deep knowledge of the kid’s book world. You’re in good hands with her and Five Otter Literary.”

I also had to turn my mind to specifics:

  • announcements
    • see this blog post and my social media (personal and professional)
    • family & cheerleading friends
    • critique group
    • writerly contacts
    • writing organizations
  • update my Literary C.V. to include: Ruth is represented by Ali McDonald of 5 Otter Literary
  • revise bio and update headshot for 5OL website
  • clear my calendar and schedule editorial meeting(s) with Ali
  • mothball my Agent Spreadsheet

And one more thing: Allow it all to soak in. I’m realistic enough to know this is not a guarantee that my book will find a publishing home. But it’s a wonderful step into a world of possibilities. And a reminder to everyone who is struggling to find an agent to champion their work: Keep going. Take every opportunity. And know you’re not alone in the journey.

Revisting Contest One. Oh-oh. One.

Revisting Contest One. Oh-oh. One.

Ruth E. Walker

Just last week, I received some great news. PRISM International selected my entry “Exit” for their longlist in the Grouse Grind short fiction contest. It’s been a bit of a drought for me over the past year or so. I’ve struggled with producing creative work and when I manage to actually submit anything, rejections have been the result.

No matter how polite and encouraging a rejection might be, it gets a writer down, you know? So hooray for writing contests for providing the spark that gets this writer back up again and writing.

This whole adventure reminded me of a blog post I wrote back in 2017. Looking at it now, I see that it’s still a valid and useful resource, especially as with Writescape’s recent poetry contest, we received a number of excellent poems which could not be considered as they didn’t fit the required parameters. Rule #1: follow the guidelines.

The following is a slightly updated version and, I trust, something that may inspire other writers with a spark or two of ideas.

Prepare to be judged

It’s been my pleasure (mostly) to serve as a judge on a number of writing competitions. I’ve also been both a first-tier and second-tier reader, helping to cull the entries down by eliminating entries with problems. And I’ve been a final judge for regional, national and international writing contests, choosing winners from 15 or 20 of those final top entries. Each and every time, it’s been a thrill to read creative work that made me feel “as if the top of my head were taken off” (to quote Emily Dickenson.)

I wish I could say it is true for all contest entries. But it is not.

A few years ago, a national organization of professional writers asked me to be a second-tier reader. This means I read stories that had already been reviewed and moved forward. This should mean I would be reading stories that were pretty darn good. I was looking forward to making my notes.

All the entries I read had a great story idea. But not all of them were great stories. Not even pretty darn good.

For this contest, I was only one of several second-tier readers who were also reading 14 entries. So I wasn’t reading all the entries that reached the second tier — only a fraction of them. But of my 14 entries, there were only 6 that I would have recommended as a first-tier reader.

The other 8 all had problems in terms of technique and execution. Here are just four of the many issues I encountered in the stories I scored in the bottom 8:

Don’t tell me, show me. This is a familiar refrain from creative writing instructors. But what do we mean by that? It’s more than the difference between I feel cold versus I shiver and rub my arms, although that is a good beginning. It is equally an issue if the writer shows us something — The cold crept under my flesh and into my lungs and then in the next line continues to tell us about it: It was below zero and I felt so cold.

The need to tell, especially after a show, is a sign of a writer who doesn’t trust themselves or their readers. Does this mean that every line needs to be a show versus a tell? No. But any story that relies on tell is a story that soon bores its readers.

Description is great. But if you have to hit your reader over the head with a hammer to ensure they are “getting the picture”…well, it’s soon painful. Definition of Adverbitis: excessive use of adverbs, especially when a great verb is the better choice: swiftly ran = raced/rushed/galloped — any of those three options create great visuals. The same goes with unnecessary adverbs: hurriedly, loudly, slowly…crept slowly = crept carries the whole image. I mean, can you ever creep fast? And how about plummeted swiftly? Ever seen anything plummet slowly?

And a quick note on adjectives. Use them, sure. But think before you dip your creative paintbrush three times too many: A charming, vivacious redheaded librarian is way too much for any brain to unpack and visualize. Stick to the essential descriptions of your character or the setting — leave room for your reader to fill in the rest.

Passive writing: boring, boring and more boring. Be ruthless in seeking out and eliminating passive writing wherever you can. Look for the “to be” construction: was, is, were, has/had been, will/would be…etc. You can’t avoid passive verbs but they should not dominate the page. The same goes for passive sentence construction, where the object of an action becomes the subject of a sentence: The writing group was disturbed by the brass band. (passive) The brass band disturbed the writing group. (active) And avoid long digressions and backstory. It’s a short story or excerpt, not a history lesson.

Proofread. And proofread again. Best not to write your entry six hours ahead of the deadline because chances are you will miss mistakes. Put the story in a drawer for at least a day, longer if you can. Then use a ruler to focus your eye on a line-by-line check for errors or omissions. Why does this matter? One of the top three entries I read this week was tied, in my mind, with two others for first place. But it wasn’t error-free. So while I loved it, it made it easier for me to place it lower than the other two that didn’t contain errors.

Writing contests give writers an excellent opportunity to submit their work. Unlike the slush pile, writers know someone will actually read their entry. To be a finalist or to win is a validation of your craft and I can say it’s one of the best moments for any writer. It’s a fantastic feeling that I want every writer to experience and it’s why I wrote this post. (And why I re-posted it.)

Quick Tips
Before pressing SEND:

  1. Telling us a story is not as interesting or engaging as showing us a story
  2. Lots of adverbs and plenty of adjectives are signs of a writer who doesn’t trust themselves or readers
  3. Passive writing is boring and often includes unnecessary information
  4. Spelling mistakes and typos affect how a judge reads your entry
  5. A great story idea may get you past first-tier readers but 1, 2, 3 or 4 will not get you to the final judge

Last word

As of this writing, I don’t know if my story Exit made it beyond PRISM’s longlist. But here’s the link to their website so you can check out what happened. While you’re at it, check out PRISM’s other contests — creative non-fiction and poetry, for example.

May your muse be ever-present and generous.

Summer 21 Poetry Contest

Summer 21 Poetry Contest

Summer 2021 is just around the corner and following the success of Summer 2020’s Writescape Postcard Story Contest, we’ve decided to run another contest this summer:  Summer 21 Poetry Contest.

Where I grew up, 21 was the age of majority, the day on which you were considered a fully-functioning adult. When I turned 21, I had the traditional big party bash and with appropriate speechifying and good wishes, I was presented with a large brass key – the key to the rest of my life.

Numbers have fascinated and affected people for centuries—superstitions, numerology, feng shui, important dates, rituals and traditions. From nature to metaphysics, gambling to currency to games, the number 21 can be found in all aspects of our lives.

21 Fun facts involving the number 21

  • The total number of spots on a six-sided rolling die is 21.
  • The most commonly recognized gun salute as a military honour is 21-gun salute.
  • The English guinea, used as currency from 1663 to early 1800s, contained 21 shillings.
  • The total number of Bitcoin to be released is 21 million
  • Singer Adele released her album titled “21” in the year she turned 21.
  • “The World” is the 21st card in a Tarot deck, the final card of the Major Arcana.
  • In WW1 Japan sent a list of 21 demands to China over the control of Manchuria.
  • In the USA, the Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment, thereby ending prohibition.
  • 21 is the atomic number of the rare-earth element scandium.
  • 21 is a “triangular number” because it is the sum of the first six natural numbers (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 = 21) which when represented as dots on sequential lines forms a triangle of six dots each side.
  • In the famous Fibonacci sequence, 21 is the 8th number, lying between 13 and 34
  • Points required to win a game of badminton is 21.
  • According to physician Duncan MacDougal, who weighed patients just before and after death, the weight of the soul is 21 grams.
  • The USA Food and Drug Administration’s Code of Federal Regulations is known as CFR Title 21.
  • 21 is most often the date of the solstices and equinoxes. In 2021 the summer solstice or first day of summer is June 20.
  • The Kurdistan flag features a sun in its center with 21 golden rays radiating from it.
  • In the card game Blackjack, anything over 21 is a “bust.”
  • Many song titles include 21 such as Alanis Morissette’s “21 Things I Want in a Lover”.
  • Movies too: “21” (2008); “21 Grams” (2003) and “21 Jump Street” (2012)
  • In Israel, an exemption from military service is known as a Profile 21.
  • In numerology 21 is a number symbolizing inspiration and creative self-expression.

There are, of course, many other ways that 21 shows up in our lives: dates and times, sports shirts, temperature, and addresses ….. and this year 2021!

And what has that got to do with the contest…….?

Contest details

What: Compose a 21-line poem in any form, where the subject matter evokes some aspect of the number 21.

You can use the list above to spark your imagination, or come up with something entirely different.  Your poem does not have to actually contain the words “twenty-one”, although you are welcome to do so. The title is not considered one of the 21 lines.

Your poem must be in English and be your own original, unpublished work. By entering this contest you give us permission to publish your poem should it be one of the top three winners.

Deadline: Midnight, Wednesday, June 30, 2021 (12:00 midnight. EST)
Winner and runners up will be announced on July 21. 2021.

Prize: We’ll publish the winning poem and 2 runners-up here in Writescape’s The Top Drawer weekly blog, along with your bio and a friendly interview on what inspired your entry. Bragging rights!

Judges: Gwynn and Ruth. And we might invite one more judge to join us — someone to balance out the panel.

Who: Open to writers age 16 or up at any stage of the writing process: published, unpublished or in-between.

How to Submit: 

  • by email to info@writescape.ca with your entry attached as a Word document (.doc or .docx) in 12 pt. MS font. (e.g. calibri, Arial, TNR)
  • Email Subject Line: [Your last name] Summer 21 Poetry Contest
  • As this is poetry, DO NOT DOUBLE SPACE. If your poem uses a format that includes specific spacing within lines, please also attach a PDF, so we can see how you want your poem to sit on the page. 
On Chapbooks

On Chapbooks

Gwynn Scheltema

Covid messed with my creative mind back in April, bringing work on my mystery novel to a grinding halt. But the old adage of “when one window closes, another opens” proved to be creatively true for me. I dove back into poetry, which had been languishing somewhere in the back of the closet for some time.

Perhaps this short form was less overwhelming, or poetry was manageable in smaller chunks of time, but I suspect that it was more a case of emotions running higher than usual, and poetry being able to capture that state and be productive. Whatever the reason, the result is a file of 100 finished poems and a second file of about 60 poems in progress. Yay me!

My mission this year is to get an organized submission plan in play while I put together a full-length poetry collection ms. In my researching of current poetry markets, I was surprised at the number of presses that considered chapbooks. Hmmm… a chapbook would be quicker, but how would putting out a chapbook affect my ultimate goal of a full-length collection?

First Book Status

In poetry circles, you only get one “debut” book and there are contests and prizes that “debut” poetry collections qualify for. Fortunately, because chapbooks are considered not-quite-books by the publishing world, they don’t affect this status. Your first full -length collection is considered your debut book.

What makes a chapbook?

One Ticket Five Rides – anthology

Depending on the publisher, the general length runs from 15 to 30 pages of poems. Full manuscripts by comparison run on average between 40 to 80 pages of poems, but can be much longer. Full collections carry an ISBN and are marketed like any other trade book. Chapbooks can be trade books too, but often are part of the zine world, micro presses and self-published. As such, they seldom make it into the usual distribution channels.

Why publish a chapbook?

  • For the unpublished poet, it’s a chance to get publishing creds.
  • The process will prepare you for putting together a full collection.
  • A chapbook is a “safe” way to publish, because the work is not lost. You can publish it again in your collection.
  • You can take risks with a chapbook – give a chance to a new publisher, publish it yourself, create an artpiece.
  • A chapbook can keep you in the public eye in the time between publishing full poetry collections.
  • You need a home for perfectly good orphan poems that didn’t make it into a collection.

What goes into a chapbook?

If you think of a full collection as a bracelet of pea-sized red glass beads, a chapbook is not a ring-sized circle of miniature red beads; a chapbook is one magnificent red glass bead in all its glory, an orb of refracting light admired for its own beauty, whether or not it becomes part of a bracelet another time.

One poet friend embarked on a full-length collection project about a relationship in a particular Ontario locale. Although each poem stands alone, when read in order they tell the story of a summer and the growth and demise of the relationship. However, for a chapbook, she has extracted 15 poems that don’t focus on the relationship and don’t tell the relationship story, but which shed a spotlight on the geographic locale instead.

Another friend entered a chapbook suite in a contest and placed. Subsequently, he included the chapbook suite as one long poem in his full-length collection.

Yet another friend put together a chapbook of poems to raise money to help with her mother’s medical expenses. She wrote in her forward “I thought this chapbook was about my mom. It wasn’t until I put nearly everything together that I realized … it‘s about my experience of mourning the loss of my mother.”

A work of art

Given their small size and tight focus, chapbooks also lend themselves to becoming works of physical art. The chapbook I mentioned earlier about mourning the loss of a mother contained family photos, original artwork by the poet and was handstitched with red thread.

Container Books produce amazingly unique chapbooks that represent the contents: chapbooks as a View-Master reel and viewer toy, as a series of cross-stitch pillow kits, as tincture bottles with the text on the bottle labels. Other publishers offer special papers and bindings as varied and beautiful as the poems themselves.

Small but mighty

I’ve gained a new respect for chapbooks. I always thought of them as a trailer for the main event, but they are an event unto themselves. I think I’ll give it a try.

Rearranging The Bookshelf

Rearranging The Bookshelf

Ruth E. Walker

A recent exchange of ideas on Facebook in a writers’ group page caught my interest. In short, a post from a writer was asking other writers if they felt “pressured” into including “LGBTQ” and “mixed race” characters into their stories.

The writer went on to suggest that the immensely popular (and rather sexy) Bridgerton series on Netflix was an example of political correctness because, despite being set in 1815 England, it included persons of colour among the aristocracy and upper classes. Oh my.

For me, it was a bit of head-scratcher. Casting on Bridgerton is, among other things, meant to challenge viewers to rethink history and imagine what might have been. It was a delightful binge watch and, frankly, it didn’t take too long for me to absorb the fiction of the tale and just sit back and enjoy the story.

No pressure here

I don’t feel pressured to include characters of colour or of indigenous heritage or those who are LGTBQIA2S+ any more than I feel pressured to write in a particular genre or narrative tense. I write the stories I’m meant to write with the characters who show up.

And isn’t that the role of fiction? To entertain, yes. But also to hold up the mirror and see us as we are? And what better way to remind us what we have lost over the years of separation and “difference” versus inclusion and shared visions? Bridgerton was refreshing.

I do know that books by marginalized authors are sorely underrepresented on mainstream bookshelves. So it makes sense to me that, as an understanding of an underserved market dawns on agents, publishers and booksellers, the demand for those books will increase. Rightly so.

But they are not books being written for any underrepresented groups. They are for everyone. Remember that those books will show us who we are. Those writers will hold up the mirror for us to see ourselves — ALL of us who make up our country. High-quality books will arrive on the bookshelves, some will be made into films or inspire television programs or win prestigious literary prizes. But more importantly, they will be read by a diverse, engaged audience.

It’s Black History Month in Canada

Black History Month in Canada was proclaimed nationally in December 1995, when the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month. There’s more than a proclamation needed to create understanding. But it was part of a journey we’re all still on and there’s lots to learn.

For example, this week I learned that the church that Harriet Tubman attended in St. Catharines, Ontario, while tirelessly rescuing others through the Underground Railroad, still stands. The Salem Chapel counted Harriet “Moses” Tubman as a congregant from 1851 to 1862, at which point she returned to the United States.

According to the the church’s website: the majority of her clandestine Underground Railroad rescue missions started and ended in this British Canadian town. In 1868, when asked where and why she guided the freedom seekers, Harriet Tubman said, “I would’t trust Uncle Sam with my people no longer; I brought them all clear off to Canada.”

Want to learn more about Harriet Tubman? Cornell University features a selection of several biographies. She may soon appear on the US $20 bill, but this courageous woman left a lasting influence on Canada and our history. And I, for one, didn’t even know that much. Clearly, I need to expand my reading choices.

Back to writing

So what does diversity in publication mean for non-marginalized writers? You must still craft the stories you are inspired to write. But it’s time for the majority of us to make room for those who have had fewer opportunities to have their words heard.

And if you want to expand your reading library, check out 49th Shelf online, a curated resource of Canadian books with a wide range of categories to choose from. From diversity and inclusion in Young Adult to African-American fiction, 49th Shelf is open for readers to discover a treasure trove of homegrown writers.

Does Size Matter

Does Size Matter

Gwynn Scheltema

A couple of weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on writing short fiction and in the comments, someone asked, “How short is short fiction?”

That’s a loaded question because, like poetic forms, short fiction comes in a host of forms and lengths and changes with the times.

This sample list of interesting short fiction forms and their word counts comes from a seminar I gave a few years ago at the Ontario Writers’ Conference:

Six word stories

Should provide a moment of conflict, action, and resolution that gives the sense of a complete story transpiring in a moment’s reading.

@twitterfiction

Fiction in 140 characters or less.

Expresso Stories – 25 words or less

A literary form for today’s frothed-up, on-the-hoof, want-it-all-now consumer lifestyle: complete stories that take no longer to read than an espresso takes to slurp.

Hint Fiction – 25 words or less

A hinting story, should do in twenty-five words what it could do in twenty-five hundred, that is, it “should be complete by standing by itself as its own little world.”

Trifextra – exactly 33 words

Stories written from prompts, and having something to with the number three.

Trifecta – no fewer than 33 and no more than 333 words.

A competition in which writers are given a one-word prompt, use the third given definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary to write a story between 33 and 333 words.

Minisaga, mini saga or mini-saga – exactly 50 words [AKA ultra-shorts or microstory.]

Started by The Daily Telegraph and used in business as an educational tool to stimulate creativity. They are often funny or surprising and are described as “bite-sized lessons for life and business.”

Dribble Fiction – exactly 50 words

An offshoot of Drabble with the word count reduced to 50 words.

55 Fiction – 55 words

From the New Times short story contest. 55 Fiction has: a setting; one or more characters; conflict and resolution.

Postcard Fiction – usually 50 words or less but up to 250

Literary exploration, usually inspired by photographs and able to fit on a standard size postcard.

Micro fiction – under 100 words

A complete fictional story in a limited number of words in any genre.

Drabble Fiction – exactly 100 words

Originated in UK science fiction fandom in the 1980s. Drabble calls for brevity, testing the author’s ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in a confined space.

Feghoot or Shaggy dog story – usually 100 to 250 words

Usually sci-fi, centers around or concludes with a pun, has a title character in a dangerous situation, any place in the galaxy, any past or future time. Can involve the travelling device with no name, represented as the “)(“.

Haibun – usually 100 to 1000 words.

English haibun is of one or more paragraphs of prose coupled with one or more haiku. It may record a scene, or a special moment, in a highly descriptive and objective manner or may occupy a wholly fictional or dream-like space. Accompanying haiku has a direct or subtle relationship with the prose.

Short Story 1000 to 15000 words.

Word count varies with publication form: collections, anthologies, magazines, or journals; print or on-line; genre or not. Print costs for journals, magazines and anthologies usually keep the count between 2000 – 4000.Genre stories for anthology collections can go to 7500 words. Single author collections often have one longer story up to 15000 words coupled with shorter stories.

Novellette – 7500 to 17500

Novella – 17500 to 40,000, sometimes 50000

Bottom Line:

  • Write your story the length it needs to be without thinking about word limits. Decide afterwards if you want to edit it to fit a certain count.
  • If you hope to sell your story, figure out what magazines or anthologies would be the best fit for the content/genre/style of your story, then look up their submission guidelines.
  • For contests, don’t ever exceed the stated limit.
Characters Can Stick Like Glue

Characters Can Stick Like Glue

Ruth E. Walker

Recently, I filled out a Query Manager form as part of my search for an agent for my YA sci-fi manuscript. Query Manager is an online form that writers complete with samples, query letter, synopsis – whatever the agent’s submission guidelines state.

Most agents’ Query Manager forms are similar, with generic questions designed to get information on the book, the writer, etc. This particular agent had some interesting additional questions, such as: Are you a Marvel or DC fan? That was a no-brainer: Marvel all the way. Except, I added, I still had room in my heart for Superman and Batman. (Call me old-fashioned but classic DC had a steadiness that served as a nice counterpoint to Marvel’s edge.)

Back to the agent. For me, that question was an intriguing insight to the agent’s personality. A response time of 8 to 10 weeks means it will be a while before I can ask her why she uses that particular question. But I’d like to thank her for another couple of questions on her online form. It’s a question that reminded me of the power a character or storyline can have, even if it’s been abandoned for some time.

What inspired you to write this book?

Character, I answered. (It’s always been my entry to almost all of my writing.) But then I went on to explain how my protagonist Garnet was a character rattling around in my brain while I worked on literary manuscripts. Some years before, I imagined this young feisty female in a warrior role she’s born for despite the odds. She’s a battlewipe – a job loosely combined with field medic, battlefield scavenger and skilled assassin. Don’t ask me how. She just was—and still is. I wrote a single paragraph to get her out of my system and filed it.

Despite the intervening manuscripts, Garnet wouldn’t leave me alone. And finally, I had a chance to dust off her one-paragraph character study and see if she could sustain a longer work. I signed up for the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour writing marathon to fundraise for literacy in the Muskoka Region.

Garnet could – and did – sustain the longer work: 27,000 words approximately. By the time I’d worked and reworked her over the years, she now fills 98,000 words and is clearly part of a duology. (and yes, I’ve started the sequel.)

Why are you the author to write this book?

My fingers quivered at this one. My published poetry, stories and novels are in the literary stream. I have no stories in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction or Strange Horizons. And I’ve published nothing in the Young Adult genre up to now. Was I kidding myself?

I hope not.

I’d loved science fiction as a young reader, and continued to selectively read sci-fi over the years. Ray Bradbury’s R is for Rocket (which I stole from the school library–and still have) and The Martian Chronicles kick-started my interest. And then Star Trek and James T. Kirk, et al, captured my idealistic heart. The stories told in science fiction are stories about the human condition, even those termed “hard science” novels. From Asimov’s Foundation series to Andy Weir’s The Martian, science is the brain but characters form the heart.

And I had a character who happened to exist on a planet with two suns. This feral teen had hopes and dreams that she kept whispering in my ear until I had the chance to breathe more life into her. That early draft I wrote at the marathon won the YA category, high praise from the editor judge and, later on, a Works-in-Progress grant from the Ontario Arts Council.

When characters insist

Notice I used the relative pronoun “who” in the paragraph above instead of “that” which is what you are supposed to use for non-human things. My character is quite real to me and I won’t be able to let her go until she has a home inside a book.

So she’s a who.

And that’s what I mean about a character who sticks like glue. I’ve got a few more rattling around in my brain but Garnet is one insistent voice. She even shows up when I’m focusing on other things. And that’s a good thing because one other question this agent asks in her Query Manager form: If your book was a movie, who would play your main character? That one was easy: Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) or Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things.) Fierce and vulnerable.

I may only get a “no” from this query. But that’s okay because it let me dive even deeper into the who of my character and firm up my confidence on being the one to tell this story. The heck with all the rest. As my friend Sue Reynolds says: follow the energy. So I did. Do you?

Formatting With Calibre

Formatting With Calibre

 

Guest Blogger, Marie Gage

Creating Your Own Ebook

Last week, guest blogger Marie Gage, walked us through the process of creating an ebook for sale on the Amazon platform. Today, she shares how to create ebooks that you can freely share on your own. And she explains why, after publishing through Amazon, she chose this additional step.

No strings attached

I recently started working with Prolific Works, a company that brings authors together to distribute free copies or previews of their books in group offers. To participate, I needed to produce an ebook file of the first three chapters of my novel, plus appropriate front and back matter. I couldn’t simply modify the file created through Amazon.

After searching with the wizardry of Google, I found my answer: Calibre makes it incredibly easy. Downloaded for free, Calibre is an open-source program. (They do appreciate it when you choose to support them through a voluntary donation.) Unlike Amazon’s program, Calibre does not offer the .drm (digital rights management protection) but does everything else with minimal effort. If you decide you need .drm, you can purchase it from any one of a number of vendors. But be prepared for the monthly fees.

NOTE: Calibre works best for files that do not have “fixed” elements. A fixed element is one that should not be moved around when readers change the size of text or the orientation of their ebook reader or app. All of my children’s books have fixed elements in the layout. So, I had to first turn each page into a JPG image before using Calibre. As a result, readers can’t adjust the text size on any of these ebooks.

Calibre screen shot: Opening screen

The process is easier for a book that is predominantly text. Follow along on the screen shots of the Calibre software.

After downloading the Calibre program:

  • press the Add Book button, find the Word file for your book and load it
  • press the Edit Metadata button and fill in the fields with appropriate information about the book
  • change the cover picture by uploading the cover file for your ebook

NOTE: Once you press the Edit Metadata button, add your key words in the box titled Tags (more about the importance of key words in last week’s post.) Separate each key word with a comma. Next. select Convert Books from the Calibre header.

Your screen will now look like this:

In the top right corner select the ebook format from the many listed formats to choose from. The most popular is .epub but you might want .mobi or .pdf.

  • EPUB is compatible with most ebook readers and analogue apps
  • MOBI is the format used exclusively by Amazon and is compatible with Kindle readers and apps
  • PDF is compatible with any PDF reader and is easily clicked and uploaded on most computers NOTE: without the ability to change text size and spacing on ereaders, PDF may not be ideal for a long book

Suffice it to say that readers will have their preferred reading device and you might consider offering your ebook in more than one format.

Trouble shooting tips

Take note of the options on the left-hand side of the screen if you experience problems with your first conversion attempt. You may find your text is not converting the way you want it to. The most likely additional choice to make would be to press the EPUB output button and choose either EPUB2 or EPUB3.  EPUB2 is still Calibre’s default so you must make a conscious choice if you want the upgraded format. EPUB3 is essentially an update to the sophistication of EPUB2. EPUB3 allows for easier navigation and some fancier elements such as embedded video.

Older ereaders don’t support the EPUB3 format. However, EPUB3 has been around since May 2010 and most readers will have upgraded their devices by now. For my novel, I didn’t require the EPUB3 so I used the default setting.

When you have made your output selection, press OK near the bottom right of the screen and you will see a circle begin to move around. Don’t worry, you can’t miss it as a big arrow comes up and bounces to show you where it is. When it stops, you can select a second format and press OK again and repeat until you have all the formats you want.

Press the click to open button and review your ebook file(s).

NOTE: You will need a program on your computer that is compatible with the file output chosen. For EPUB this is Adobe digital editions. For MOBI, this is the Kindle App on whatever device you use.

Picture this

One final, yet critical, cautionary note: Diagrams or pictures in your Word document must be downsized outside of the Word document. You can’t simply click and drag to change the size of an image; it won’t translate well into an ebook. Instead, use Photoshop or another photo editor program to change the actual size of the file to the appropriate dimensions for an ebook. All images must be no more than 800 pixels (px) tall by 550 px wide, which is the actual size of an ebook reader screen.  

I cannot tell you how many professionally created ebooks I have read, and I do mean from mainstream publishers, with images that cannot be seen on my ebook screen.

I used to believe the issue was the ebook format and there was nothing I could do about it. For my novel, I had two maps I wanted to include. Once more using the magic of Google, I found and followed the advice to resize images outside the Word file before converting the file to an ebook.

I couldn’t believe how clearly the maps showed.

If you wish to see how clear an image can be on an ebook reader, I invite you to read my novel.

Marie Gage lives and writes in beautiful Haliburton County, Ontario. Creative writing became a part of her life a during genealogical research that unearthed some tantalizing tidbits in her family history. She joined a memoir writing group, expecting to finish that one project and be on to the next interest.  Instead, she began to see everything as a story. In the past five years, she’s self-published numerous photo books, four children’s picture books and her debut novel, A Ring of Promises. Capturing her paternal grandparents’ transition as they immigrated to Canada from England and Scotland, her novel weaves the facts of their intriguing lives into a compelling story.