Time – and space – is running out

Don’t be late!

There are only 4 spots left in the April 12 Writes of Spring event. Register soon – very soon – to ensure a spot.  Here’s the registration form. http://www3.telus.net/345/WritesofSpringRegistration.

Or email me at loispeterson@hotmail.com to let me know your registration is in the mail.

Looking forward to seeing you there.

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I’ll read anything I want!

So can you! It is, after all Freedom to Read Week.

I was about 13 or so when I read Harold Robbins The Carpetbaggers. I knew as I read it that it was trashy, and would not meet my school’s or my father’s literary standards, but I read it anyway.

I heard it had “sex scenes”!

I duly wrapped it in brown paper, and read it propped inside my geography text book.

Which my father could see right through, metaphorically – possibly literally. “What are you reading?”


“No one reads nothing.”

“I do.”

He went back to his book, I to mine. (You may well ask why I chose to read what I thought would be a forbidden book in the same room as my dad. Because it’s what we did. Read. Everywhere and anywhere. It’s what you did in the living room and dining room and bedroom and bathroom. Even in a house with only one. And we had no TV - (other than during cricket season when he rented one…)

“So what have you got there?” Dad asked a while later.

“My geography homework.”

“How curious.”

(I rarely did my homework willingly. And deplored geography.)

 ”Get me a cup of tea, would you?”

He knew I’d jump to it. Mild-mannered, sweet-tempered and funny as he was, I’d do almost anything for him. He knew it.

When I came back with his tea, miner’s dark and sweet, he was reading my book.

“Haven’t got very far, have you?” He handed it back to me.

“I guess not. You keep interrupting me.”

He laughed. “Carry on then.”

I sat in my chair, watching him over the top of my book.

“How will you ever know what’s good or bad if you don’t read a lot of both,” he said. And went back to his book. Probably Dickens. Very likely Bleak House.

My dad died a week ago. The first thing I’ve always done when I go home to see my parents is to ask my dad what he is reading. I’d be most surprised if there’s not a Dickens still by his chair in the living room, which faces the window where he had the best view of the bird feeders.

If it’s Bleak House, I will take it with me when I leave. Any maybe find a copy of The Carpetbaggers to put next to it on my bookshelf.

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Writes of Spring – 2 bursaries available after March 18

Writes of Spring bursaries

Once we reach ‘break even point’ in registrations, I will offer two bursaries of a 50% registration reduction for the April 12 event. (If you receive a bursary, you will pay $40 of the $85 registration fee – non-transferrable)

This is intended to help writers with very limited incomes who might not otherwise be able to attend.

To be considered, after March 18 (please, not before),  you need to send me an email briefly explaining what you would hope to gain by attending the event. Please mention that you would be unable to attend without the bursary, but I do not need to know details of your financial situation.

Want to help out other writers? Let me know if you would like to contribute to the bursary fund, which might allow me to offer more than two bursaries for this event.

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Writes of Spring – it’s coming together

Details are coming together.
Workshop line-up, so far (subject to change).

Activities will include writing, discussion and generous handouts.

9 to 9:30 am:  Gather and Greet

9:30 to 11:00 am:
‘From Idea to Publication in 10 Steps’ - Presenter Lois Peterson

11:15 – 12:45:  ’Making Good Better: How to Strengthen Your Writing’ - Presenter Maggie de Vries     http://www.maggiedevries.com/

12:45 to 1:15: Potluck lunch        

1:15 to 2:30:  ’(Beach) Walk and Write’ led by Cristy Watson  http://cristywatson.blog.com/
  ‘Nonfiction Research Strategies that Work for Fiction and Poetry’ – Lois Peterson

2:45 – 4 15:  ‘The Power of Story in Everything You Write’ - Lois Peterson

4:15 – 5:  Roundtable discussion about everything and anything… Resources, book exchange, etc.

Full workshop descriptions and other info will follow in late February.

Meanwhile registration IS NOW OPEN. Print out this form http://www3.telus.net/345/WritesofSpringRegistration
and return it by March 28 to receive the Early Bird price.


Questions? Email (after February 18) loispeterson@hotmail.com or call 604-535-1601.



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Picture Book Idea a Day – Week Three

Much conspired to prevent me from spending much time on this this week…. including continuing problems with the website where this blog lives. So instead of a-day-by-day breakdown, I’ll share a few approaches I’ve used to coming up with ideas.

1. Keeping my eyes peeled – both at work (I’m fortunate to work in a library, and often pull shifts in the children’s department) and out in the world. Interactions between parents and children often give me ideas for stories, and watching children play with each other or independently provides lots of fodder for story ideas. Which is where I got the idea for A PACK OF PICKY EATERS about animals in the zoo who find a way to vary their diet that satisfies everyone’s particular mealtime foibles.

2. Reading the news… not just the big stories, but the ones that get bumped to the inside pages or lower down on the news station’s website. One idea started brewing after I heard about the pond that disappeared into a sink hole in Latvia (THE POND THAT SAILED AWAY)… a fantasy of a little boy fishing alone on a lake when he and his boat are pulled into the underworld. Another WITH LOVE FROM CHINA after reading the story of the socialite Ruth Harkness who imported the first Panda into North America.

3. High days and holidays. Seasonal books are always popular with kids… although it can be  a challenge to  come up with novel stories with unique twists on old themes. So one day I sat down and brainstormed everything I could think of that connected in any way with Hallowe’en. I came with 27 crumbs ( hardly big enough to be called ‘germs’). As always, the ones farthest down the list proved to be more interesting  than the first obvious ones that occurred during the brainstorming session.

4. Thinking of kids in my life. On his first visit to his grandparents’ in Palm Springs, my grandson Cooper got to sit on his grandfather’s lap to drive the golf cart around their condo development. For months afterwards when he came home, he’d try to clamber into the front seat of the car at every outing, announcing glibly, “I’ll drive!” Thinking about this led to a page of notes for a story with that title.
Also, when he was in hospital in the spring for minor surgery, his dad bought him a bunch of flowers. Now, Coop loves cars and books, which I’m sure he would also have received that day. But it’s rare that a child gets flowers – from his father… and Coop was thrilled to bits. There’s a story that might work, I thought when I heard about it.

5. Random connections. Tara Lazar’s list of 500 Things Kids Love (and 100 Things They Hate) make great story starters (http://taralazar.com/2007/11/04/199-things-that-kids-like/). One particularly uninspired day I randomly selected three items, I came up with a story about a mouse called Picollo whose goal in life is to play in a big orchestra (the promt words were Flute, Backpack and Mouse). This actually turned out to be an echo of another story on a similar topic I had made notes about a couple of years ago, THE MOUSE, THE MAESTRO AND HIS MISSUS.

6. Books on my desk. There’s not much room on my desk, but the three I keep there are THE LORE AND LANGUAGE OF SCHOOL CHILDREN by Iona and Peter Opie, THE MERRIAM WEBSTER RHYMING DICTIONARY and BREWER’S DICTIONARY OF PHRASE AND FABLE. Browsing through these kick-started several ideas that might not have occurred to me without seeing what jumped out at me from their pages.

7. Eavesdropping. This from Cooper, again. He was reciting ‘You get what you get, so don’t get upset’, to himself one day recently, which he told me is something they say at preschool. So I have a title, YOU GET WHAT YOU GET which could get interpreted a number of different ways. Sometimes all I start with is a title. Then later comes the work of mining it for all its connections and possibilities.

With two days to go, I have already reached my goal of 30 story ideas. I’m curious to find out if I get any more by the end of the month. In my final Picture Book Ideas Month
post in a few days, I’ll outline where I plan to go from here with the germs, and look back on what I came up with last year, and how far I got with some of them.

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Picture book idea a day – Week Two

A rough accounting of the ideas generated during Picture Book Ideas Month, and of my struggles to achieve an idea a day.

Nov. 8 – Headed into Week Two to the strains of our building’s terrorist landscapers… using their polluting two-stroke leaf blowers. Which made me think of leaves. And waves. So made a few cursory notes of a story idea that could be called LEAF SURFING . Who knows where that might lead. I had to leave it at that as I had other more pressing things on my To Do list.

Nov. 9 – Took the bus to work today rather than driving so I could have some writing time. Watched a crow attack a garbage at the bus stop. GARBAGE CROW.

Nov. 10 – IF I COULD FLY. Long ago, a wheelchair-bound friend, an adult, told me he no longer dreamed of walking… but he often had dreams about flying. What if…

Nov. 11 – GRANDPA’S BOOTS. A germ of an idea on Remembrance Day… a small boy stomps around the house in the boots he finds in the back of the closet. His parents tell him to put them back, but one day his grandfather takes them from him, and starts to clean them. The MC helps, and in doing so helps in a small way to reenergize his grandfather who came back from serving overseas with PTSD. Attending the RD parade, the boy watches for his grandfather’s shiny boots to pass by.

Nov. 12 - MY HORSE CAN TALK. A child tries to persuade his little sister that his horse can talk.

Nov. 13 - A busy day at work, getting together with an out-of-town friend and a late arrival home after being out of the house for 16 hours… and you think I had time to come up with any ideas? Okay. maybe one. I was at work -you’d think I’d be inundated with ideas at the library, but not always – and was doing some weeding of some of the rattier picture books. So perhaps I could come up with something called TOO MANY BOOKS, although I have no idea what.

Nov. 14 - Spent four days in a writing retreat with members of the Federation of BC Writers. Four workshops and a number of Blue Pencil manuscript consults put all thoughts of my own work from my head. Other than one germ, a throwaway line from a writer talking about growing up in rural Saskatchewan… MOUSE COUNTING.

Nov 17 - a solitary evening after the retreat was over, I was browsing through some pics of my grandson Cooper, and came upon one taken in hospital when he was in for hernia surgery, smilingly showing off the flowers his dad brought him. There has to be something I can do with that!

Nov. 18 – Short of ideas, energy and inspiration, I pulled Brewer’s Phrase and Fable from the shelf… Turning to one page at random I find the word Herring… to another page ‘Pins and Needles.. and a third Skiffle. I fill a page with scribbles and random notes until a very silly idea emerges.

Now, on the evening of November 19th I am about to spend the evening at my desk with only my PiIdBoMo notebook in front of me, some CBC baroque music playing, the computer screen dark, and a pencil. Oh, and of course a cup of tea at my elbow. We’ll see what comes of it.

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Picture book idea a day – Week One

A rough accounting of the ideas generated during Picture Book Ideas Month, and of my struggles to achieve an idea a day.

Nov 1: Struggling with a stomach bug, and a 30,000-word manuscript that needs its final copy editing before I hit send on the requested novel.

ONE ICED BUN: Cecil the coal man treats three children to a share of an iced bun
Every Thursday at four there’s a knock on the door,

“I need a child”, Cecil cries…
Sharing my childhood recollection with a colleague of family friend Cecil, made me realize that with some tweaking, this might make a great picture book story.

Nov. 2:  At 61, I still am wary of the bogeyman in the closet… don’t like the bedroom closet door left open or the light inside left on… Really. You’d have thought I would have grown out of it. Thinking about this as I dropped off last night, I had the germ for a story call Leave it Open, about a child who wants the door left open so <   > can come visit her each night. I’ll have fun filling the gaps when I have time to do some brainstorming this idea.

Nov 3:  I hit send on the MS. that I promised to an editor by beginning of the work day on Monday, put a batch of bread up to rise, sat down at my desk, rearranged my paperclips, then opened a book called The Lore and Language of School Children. Inscribed inside is ‘To Bill (that’s my Dad) August 9, 1964. ‘To remind you that after all this time… Jo (That’s my mum)’.

      I then pick three random lines from three random children’s chants and songs in the book and come up with ideas generated by:

  • ‘We came down to earth in a big balloon’
  • ‘Along came a policeman and took his name’
  • ‘Cabbages with clogs on’

Nov. 4. That’s Mine!this one came out of nowhere… actually, I got the idea when I was in the bathroom, where many come from. A child helps set up the family’s garage sale. But as soon as the shoppers arrive s/he tries to reclaim everything they try to buy. Have a few ideas of how this might end, which I will play with when I have a moment.

Nov. 5.  Not much time to commit to the pursuit of story ideas today, I did grab a nursery rhyme book to take with me on my coffee break at the library, and at random selected three lines from various rhymes and spent my 15′  doing a bit of freewriting around each. Nothing very startling emerged, but the three lines are now circling my brain and may morph into something, either combined or individually within the next day or so. But I did make notes for The Boy in the Box, about a child who spends his day in a cardboard box.

Nov. 6.  This was starting to feel more like a chore than a challenge… Could be because I’m busy/tired/dealing with a whole bunch of personal and practical issues at the moment. So of course, as soon as I let myself off the hook, an idea showed up. Possibly because I was trying to figure out how and when/to find my daily cup of java. Morning Monster - tired of being woken every day by his caffeine-deprived Morning Monster mother, Martin looks for ways to tame the beast in his bedroom.

Nov. 7  At work helping a parent find books for a sensitive, over-cautious child. On my break I jotted down the first lines of what might turn out to be called Uh-Oh.  “I don’t need to learn to swim, I’ll just hold my nose and jump right in. Uh-oh…  That book’s not so high up on that shelf. I’m going to climb up and get it myself. Uh-oh.”

I’m finding that my index cards are great for capturing the initial idea, but that a notebook where I can scribble in hand, do little diagrams, arrows, idea bubbles, do a little wordplay works better for developing the ideas and exploring the language of the story.

In the course of the week I have also discovered and/or rediscovered a few very useful websites and blogs about rhyming picture books, thanks to lots of great postings over at the PiBoIdMo Facebook page.

  • Writing Rhyme and Meter
  • The Meter Maids (Their post “The Curse of the Opening Verse’ and critiques of a number of opening stanzas is especially useful)
  • Icing the Cake – a blog posting by Dori Chaconas
  • Rhyming Dictionary. If you don’t have your own hardcopy one, try this one on the Poetry4kids website.

And one tip… that I picked up years ago from somewhere – who knows where – and has stuck with me. When you’re writing for young readers… (4/5 years old and up) write for readability. For younger children who are enjoying picture books with an older reader, write for comprehension. And they don’t even have to be able to comprehend the actual word, as long as its meaning is clear in context.

On to week two. Which should be given a boost by a rare two consecutive days off work, one of which I plan to spend chained to my desk.

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This Day We Write!

That’s the slogan of the Surrey International Writer’s Conference that wound up today.

I had a great weekend, attended some very useful workshops, heard some great keynote speakers, and hob-nobbed a lot with new friends and old.

It will take me a while to internalize a lot of what I picked up in the past few days, but these were the points that hit me hardest, were the most useful and resonant, in no particular order of importance.

  • Inserting backstory into your story… a little at the beginning, more later, then none at the end. (Author Pam Binder).
  • “Take the most care of your bad/guy villain.”
    Ivan Coyote’s advice means that you need to treat your bad guy with as much objective compassion as you would any character in order to reveal them as fully-rounded people.
    This one really hit home with me, for some reason.
  • Lots of really great stuff from agent Adrienne Kerr, one of the most effective presenters I saw this year. Esp. useful were her suggestions of ways of creating a good 25-word max. pitch/elevator speech for your project.
    1. What if… / So what? – stating the main conflict, identify the MC, and suggesting why the reader should care (an emotional stake) in the outcome. 2. Hollywood style – ‘^familiar move/book title^ meets ^familiar movie/book title. 3. Using Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat process of creating 1-2 somewhat ironic sentences creating a compelling mental picture, genre or audience. 4. Modelling a pitch on blurbs from the backs of published books.
  • Lots of focus on the importance of openings in workshops, etc. I attended…. A workshop on the first three pages by Pam Binder ran at the same time as the perennial favourite Idol event in which brace souls offered their first page to be read and ‘judged’ by a panel of editors and agents. Really offered great insights into how much the opening of a piece of work determines just how much/how far an editor or agent is willing to go on the submission. Another workshop discussion led to the conclusion that you don’t need to linger on perfecting your opening until the work is done. THEN you can go back and ensure it has all the important element of establishing central conflict or action, main characters, setting and what is at stake for the MC and the reader.
  • Use coincidence to get your characters into a mess, not out of it. So says YA author Janet Gurtler. I will have to think about this one, but it did stand out …
  • Janet also suggested downloading the free app FREE NATURAL READER which allows you to enter text that is then read back to you. This helps you identify how well you’ve achieved a distinctive voice for your narrator or POV character.  Esp. good for hearing how authentic your dialogue sounds.
  • Maggie DeVries, author of the upcoming novel Rabbit Ears, gave an information packed workshop on working with life experiences for fiction and memoir and offered a useful list of questions the writer needs to ask themselves in preparing and gathering material.
  • Highlight of the conference for me was a workshop by Suzanna Kearsley on The Suspension of Belief – loads of very useful advice about how to introduce and manage paranormal and magical elements into fiction, and where to find sources of sources of research about paranormal activity and beliefs. What stuck with me was her suggestion to create MCs who are ‘normal’, whose skepticism then reflects the reader’s as the story develops. I have a mess of notes form that workshop to pore over in the next few days.

My recent system of using index cards for most of my story and craft notes worked well during the conference. I use colour cards for craft notes which I can then include in my chronological file of daily writing notes and retrieve as I need them later.

I always come away with a list of presenters’ own books, those they recommend in their presentations and craft titles I want to track down. My list this time includes:

  • It’s a Funny Kind of Story by Ned Vizzini – an example of good ‘boy voice’. Recommended by YA author Janet Gurtler
  • Weaveworld by Clive Barker – recommended by agent Adrienne Kerr, senior editor at Penguin Canada.
  •  Refuge – An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams. Recommended by Mark Zuehlke as an example of a very fine memoir.
  • Joe Cinque’s Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law by Helen Garner, recommended by Simon Clews.
  • The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman & Becca Pugilisi. Recommended by Janet Gurtler.  I have used this in the past, and plan to buy a copy of my own. I will also track down copies of the soon-to-be released Negative Trait Thesaurus and the Positive Trait Thesaurus by the same authors.

This barely touches the surface of all that I gleaned over the past few days. Once again, the SiWC delivered something for everyone, whatever their writing goals.

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Some days Showing Up is all I can manage

Despite my best intentions, all my plans for writing and blogging this fall have had to make way for various personal, health, business and work issues. 

Some days I’d just rather stay in bed.

But on the days I have made it to my desk, I’ve been lucky if I’ve been able to do much more than Show Up and (pretend to) Work.

But yesterday was a good day. A net change of 16 words to a picture book manuscript actually felt like a productive outcome.

And this weekend I’m heading to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference when I’m hoping the energy and enthusiasm of the other participants and presenters will give me the boot up the backside I need.

If not, I still plan to at least show up at my desk again after my library shift on Monday. Because I never know what might happen. But I do know that if I’m not there, nothing will.

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31 picture books in 31 days

Thanks to the example of Kathy Ellen Davis, in October I am reading a picture book a day as I prepare to participate in November’s Picture Book Idea Month.

Oct. 1 : APPLE PIE by Anne Wellington (Pub. Prentice Hall 1978)
Repetition, cumulation, the alliterative refrain, “However will we pick it to put it in a pie?”, and a mouse who saves the day all add up to a very tellable tale. Although this book is long out of print, I’m sure it would still go down well with contemporary preschoolers. And could even be converted into a very effective flannel story. It has familiar elements from The Great Big Enormous Turnip that would encourage children to join in, along with a good dose of suspense and drama as Mr. Bingle tries to get the last apple from the apple tree.

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