Category Archives: Diablogue

Planning a writing retreat, Restless Writers-style

Writing retreat - complete with a dockThe Restless Writers are about to head out for an inspiring, tranquil, meditative, get-your-ass-in-gear writing retreat at a nearby lake-side idyll. What last minute writing ideas and goal-setting are we engaged in tonight? Find out for yourself:

Maria: Okay, the most important question: What should I pack? Is it super-informal? Dress up for dinner? Or casualence?

Beckie: Is that a real word?

Lori: [To Beckie] Casual plus elegance, duh. [To Maria] It’s a B&B. You can walk around in footie pajamas and rollers if you want.

Maria: I need to know how many bras to pack. I’m a planner.

Lori: The important thing to remember is that this retreat is all about writing. We’re all trying to get back into the flow. I know I need my writing mojo back. This day-job thing is killing me!

Beckie: I really need to buckle down, guys. I have projects pulling at me from every direction. I need to focus and just WRITE!

Maria: Same here. Now that I’ve decided which project to focus my energies on, I’ve got to keep the momentum going. Working through the pitch process as a group was really helpful. Now the real work lies ahead…

Lori: Here’s the real question: Is there Wi-Fi?

Beckie: Yes, according to the B&B owners. We are going to love this place. I hear there’s a three-course breakfast.

Lori: Honey, if there aren’t Cheerios in my sock drawer and I get to pee alone, it’ll feel like the frickin’ Taj Mahal.

Sharon: I wish I could come too…

Maria: Yeah, we’ll miss you! Just hang with us on Twitter. We’ll all be tweeting. It’ll be like you’re there in spirit. Maybe you can do a backyard writing retreat at the same time.

Sharon: Yeah, while dodging flying soccer balls and listening to an endless chorus of “mom, watch this!” I can feel the inspiration.

Beckie: Let’s pack running shoes so we can burn some calories while we brainstorm.

Lori: *snorts into her pomegranate juice*

Maria: That’s it. I’m bringing three bras.

Lori: I just hope I can find one that my kid hasn’t used as a slingshot recently.

Beckie: I get the Jacuzzi room. Called it. No erases.

Maria: As long as my room has a working mini-fridge and our stash of sauvignon blanc, we’ll be set.

Beckie: Hmmm… I don’t think there are mini-fridges. But either way, party in Maria’s suite Friday night!

Lori: Sigh… I’ll bring the ear plugs. And the SleepEze.

Want to see if we survive the weekend? Stay tuned…

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Writing (about) Place: How to wrestle “cosmos from chaos”

In this post, we are happy to introduce a new Restless Writer, Sharon Will, a communications professional and writer in southern Ontario. Sharon gathers some of her best tidbits from her two young sons, whose musings she captures in her Question Impossible blog. Sharon joins the other Restless Writers—Lori Dyan, Beckie Jas, and me, Maria McDonald—in talking about place.

Toronto CityscapeWhen I was at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference back in 2010, I had the pleasure of hearing Tim Wynne-Jones speak about “A Sense of Place.”

Wynne-Jones is a master of the writerly sound-byte. Among his gems that day: “Setting is not separate from plot or character.” “Don’t treat a setting generically—treat it as only you can describe it.” And my favourite: “Art is an attempt to wrestle cosmos from chaos.”

The main lesson I took from that lecture was that setting is never neutral. Setting is always a function of the person viewing it.

Place is an inextricable piece of the books I love. How could you read Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence without hearing the sound of bumblebees floating drunkenly amongst the lavender bushes? Or Cory Doctorow’s Makers without smelling the carbonite and IHOP permeating post-New Economy America? Or J.G. Ballard’s The High-Rise without wanting to barricade your doors against the menacing tribes emerging from the elevators?

“I love John Sandford‘s books, which all take place in Minnesota, often in the dead of winter,” said Lori when I asked her about the expression of place in her favourite books. “Sandford does an amazing job bringing the setting into the story almost as a character. The barren, gloomy landscape is a perfect complement to the creepy twists and turns of the plot.”

“I have always loved A Sand County Almanac, a 1949 non-fiction book by American ecologist, forester, and environmentalist Aldo Leopold,” said Beckie. “He creates an incredible sense of place with his writings of the natural world that take readers on a journey from the mountains and the prairies to the deserts and the coastlines. He creates an awareness of land as a living community to be loved and respected. He helps us see, hear, feel, and experience the land as it moves and breathes; Leopold calls this ‘the dark laboratory of the soul.'”

According to Sharon, “A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving is one of the first times I remember reading about a place that I knew (Toronto) in a piece of fiction. I also love Carol Shields’ novel Unless, which brings the streets and landmarks of Toronto to life.”

In my own work-in-progress, place and time intersect inMontreal in the 1990s. Montreal is close (ish) and I try to visit as often as I can. Luckily, I have my own memories as a McGill student to dig into. Reviewing newspaper archives, reading books by local writers, listening to music of the time and looking into popular culture—all that will help me immerse myself in place, and be able to see it through my characters’ eyes.

Sharon has an idea for a future project that would be set, in part, in Kingston. “In terms of research, for me it’s all about sticking with what you know. Having lived there during university, Kingston is a place that is close to my heart—I’m always keen to get back as much as I can (three times this past year). I’m really sensory in the way I file items to memory, smells, sounds, colours, etc. so taking in a city in person is ideal.”

But sometimes that in-person visit isn’t in the cards. For Lori, “My main character flees her suburban soccer-mom existence to have a mid-life crisis in a Malibu-type setting.” To get the flavour of California, Lori spent a lot of time on YouTube and Google to capture the West Coast sense of space. “You wouldn’t believe the people who’ve videotaped themselves driving the PCH from LA toMalibu. I wish I could’ve been there in person. Next time!”

“Place figures prominently in my middle-grade novel,” said Beckie. “Place was the inspiration for the story. The setting is based in my childhood memories of growing up in the country and moving to the suburbs. My book is currently on submission with editors, and the feedback from my agent is to ‘beef up the setting.'”

So how does one “beef up setting”? For Beckie, it means reading other books that capture similar settings. For Lori, it means consuming endless issues of InStyle and People. For Sharon, it could mean exploratory writing that helps pin down her own memories of life in Kingston.

For me, it means experiencing or imaging place with the curiosity of a tourist, the understanding of a resident, and the heart of a story-teller—and always keeping in mind how my characters would interact with the world around them.

What makes place resonate with you in the books you read—and how do you draw place into your own writing?

Maria

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Author Denise Jaden chats with the Restless Writers

If you’re a writer and you want to get published, listen up. Author Denise Jaden has some advice for you!

I first met Denise at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference and I must say, this girl has got it goin’ on. She is smart, savvy, and one talented author.  LOSING FAITH, released by Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster in September, has been named a best book of 2010. I read LOSING FAITH and could not put it down. The characters jump off the page and into your heart. A great read for teens!

Thank you Denise, for being our first author interview on the blog and for talking to us about writing and the writing life.

Tell us about the moment you got to first hold your book and see your name in print. Did you do a happy-dance, or better yet, a Polynesian-happy-dance?

What I did was not nearly as dignified as Polynesian dancing! Lots of jumping up and down, and screaming. When I first received my ARC’s, I only got two of them, so I treated them like precious jewels for the longest time. Anyone who wanted to touch one had to wash their hands with soap first. This may seem a little over the top, but seriously, after so much work and waiting, it does feel a little like a baby.

What inspired the story of Losing Faith?

I lost a close friend when I was sixteen. I think there’s a lot to explore with losing someone close at a young age, and especially when your questions about what happened to them are not clear.

What exactly is a blog tour, how did you organize it, and was it worthwhile?

To be honest, I didn’t really know what a blog tour was when I began organizing mine. That may be the reason that mine’s probably not typical. From what I understand, a blog tour is a string of guest posts, interviews, or other promo surrounding a central theme (i.e. the release of a book) during a condensed period of time. I’ve seen blog tours that run from anywhere between one week and two months, but I really didn’t want it to lose momentum, so I went with two weeks. I think next time I would try to condense it all into one week, actually. As bloggers and other writers asked me for interviews or guest posts, I kept a schedule and asked each one if I could fit them into my official blog tour. They were all happy to be a part of it. Then I added extra prize packs to encourage people to follow along on the tour. I think it was worthwhile. It didn’t cost me anything except time, and it really did get word out on the internet about LOSING FAITH.

What other marketing strategies would you tell authors to do upon publication and down the road?

I tried to say yes to almost everything that came my way. It’s hard to know what is useful, and I think some marketing ventures may be totally successful with one person and not at all with another. I kind of enjoy marketing, but if it was a real bother, I wouldn’t have done nearly as much. As far as what I recommend, I guess I’d say do what you enjoy. If you enjoy handwriting postcards and sending  them to bookstores, go for it. If you enjoy hanging out on Twitter and coming up with fun ways to get people talking about your book (because hopefully you won’t be doing all the talking-up yourself – that’s no fun to read) then do that. Bookmarks have been a great thing to have on hand, and I use them in place of business cards now.

Do you outline before you begin a new piece of work or just make it up as you go?

I’ve done both, but I’d say that I prefer outlining now, even if it’s just a loose outline. I try to write a new book (a first draft) each November, and it’s difficult to sail through and write a book so quickly without some guidelines of where you’re going.

Do you have a set writing schedule/word count goal every day or just try and cram in whenever you can?

During Nanowrimo, I try to write 2500 word per day. Other times of the year, I stick to a time schedule. I usually work for about an hour to an hour and a half a day without interruption (not even Twitter!)

How do you balance time to write vs. everything else in your life?

Very badly. Haha. But seriously, it’s not easy. I homeschool my son, which is time consuming, plus I do bookkeeping for my husband’s business and I’m a professional Polynesian dancer. It all keeps me very busy. I don’t let anything get in the way of my one hour of writing time each day, but I still haven’t really found a logical place to fit things like blogging, marketing & promotion, and returning emails. Those get done eventually, but usually under duress. LOL.

On your website, under advice for writers, you say “Writing can be lonely, but it isn’t a lone process.” Do you have a support group that you turn to for critique, advice and motivation?

Yes! And I could not be a published author without them. And you can’t have them! I’ve met my writing friends from various places—many I made on Critique Circle and one is a long-time friend who I’ve known since before either of us were writers. It took me years to nail down a solid group of people who I work well with—I enjoy their writing and can help strengthen it in ways they can understand and vice versa. We don’t work as a group—just all as individuals—and we usually swap full manuscripts via email. I don’t have anyone local that I work with, so this has all been done via online networking.

For those of us querying our pants off and getting partial/full requests, can you tell us how many full requests you received for “Losing Faith”? And how long did you query before you got “the call”?

Oh gosh, this is hard to remember! From what I can see in my past emails, I think I queried about 30 agents over the course of about four months. I had at least 8 full manuscript requests and I’d say another half-dozen partials. I started querying in July 2008, stopped querying to revise in October, and then when it went back out I got a really high request rate and had several agents interested by November. I signed with Michelle Humphrey (now at ICM) in November, 2008. I also queried two other manuscripts unsuccessfully before LOSING FAITH, so I’ve racked up my share of rejections, and know all about the pain and suffering!

If and when an agent contacts you, what 3 questions should a writer ask before hanging up the phone?

I’ll assume first of all that you know the basics: make sure you’re querying reputable agents who aren’t charging you money other than a percentage of any sales. One of the most useful things I found out during the author agent interviews was how the agents felt about the premises of other books I had written. I wanted an agent for the book I was querying, yes, but I also wanted a career agent—someone who hopefully wouldn’t turn down my next book, because that leaves an author in a very awkward and unfortunate position. I’d also ask about their communication style. How soon can you expect to hear back from them on questions? How many other clients do they have? Do they have any editors or imprints they have in mind to pitch your book to? How many will they send out to at once? Will the agent be working with you editorially on your books? What is their sales history in your genre? Okay, that’s more than three. But really, you should not be afraid of this phone call. Most of it will be the agent telling you what he/she loves about your manuscript. Let the agent carry the conversation, and if they don’t cover any of the above questions (which they probably will) you can ask them as you feel more comfortable. Agents are in the business of sales, so they’re generally pretty comfortable carrying a conversation.

What’s the one thing you would tell yourself about writing/getting published if you could go back in time?

It’s very exciting and I’m enormously thankful for where I’m at, but self-doubt does not disappear with a publishing contract. In fact, it probably increases, as people will feel free to tell you exactly what they think of you and your writing once you’ve gone “public”.

Do you have a favourite writing snack?

Sugar snap peas – the crunchiness helps me think!

For more about Denise and other fun stuff, please visit her website. And while you’re there, watch the book trailer for LOSING FAITH.

BJas

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Ask an Author. Answer a Dream.

It’s Friday and I need your help.

I am going to try something new on the blog, and not just because @restlessmaria’s new favourite word is “diablogue.” But because we, Restless Writers, made a lovely new friend at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference and she has oodles of intelligence to share with writers. And well, I/we want to know everything when it comes to getting published—in this lifetime.

I am talking about YA author Denise Jaden (LOSING FAITH) and she will be visiting our blog next week to answer YOUR QUESTIONS. I am prepping my must-answer-list for Denise and would love to include your questions in the interview.

But first, a quick introduction to Denise Jaden by way of 6 random factoids:

  • She is a professional Polynesian dancer
  • She once was a mushroom farmer
  • She is one tough cookie and can kick your ass
  • She just passed the 43k mark on her NaNo novel
  • She brought the biggest bottle of wine to our Hotel Tweet-up
  • Her debut novel, Losing Faith has been named a Best Book of 2010!

So, if you are living in the world of query mayhem and manuscript submission (like me), and you have burning questions on how to get published—post your question in “comments” and check back to the blog next week for a response.

 Stay tuned!

 Bjas

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Fries with a side of fries

Or, What happens when we try to follow the rules

Ever wanted to listen in on a Restless Writers’ meeting? Here’s a peek at our minutes from last Tuesday’s session. Because we’re all orderly & $#!T

fries with a side of friesRestless Writers, Nov. 16/10 (Birthday Edition)
Minutes

1) Call to order
• L and B pronounced the Tin Cup parking lot to be inaccessible and the entrances ill-designed.
     • Action: L to submit letter requesting management to make a frickin’ driveway on Upper Middle.
• L and B seconded M’s decision to choose fries with a side of fries for dinner. L harassed the waitress into recommending the steak sandwich. B made an initially healthy-dinner choice not so much by adding crispy chicken.
• B drew attention to the fact that she had 900 followers on Twitter, and four full manuscripts in the hands of agents. L and M were suitably impressed.
     • Tangent: B explained her smart writer-focused Twitter strategy; L agreed that unfollowing people who unfollow you is imperative; M agreed to start “tweeting dangerously.”

2) Banff writing retreat
• Potential dates in February and April were vetoed due to pre-existing vacation plans.
• Motion put forward by L to plan to hold the retreat pre- or post-Stampede in July 2011. Decision pending approval by the Wordbitches.
     • Tangent: L told us that Calgary was the STD capital of Canada. B and L are followed by Jann Arden, and both noted this with a “squee.” L hates Rush, so L and M are officially in a fight. To resolve the tension, all agreed that Blue Rodeo’s “Try” is awesome.

3) RW blog posts
• B is posting later this week
     • Action: B to approach Denise Jaden, author of LOSING FAITH and fellow SiWC attendee, about an interview for a post
• M thought posting the minutes from one of the meetings would be hilarious, and could be categorized as a diablogue. L and B rolled their eyes, but agreed.
     • Tangent: B led a discussion about what the group should do for New Year’s Eve. B wants to put on a fancy dress and go dancing. M wants to wear her Nine West platforms. L has a baby-sitter and has found her razor. Motion by B to hear Freedom Train at Geraldo’s in LaSalle Park. Decision pending band’s schedule and ability to find a date (affectionately nicknamed “Juan Carlos”) for M.

4) Planning for the next 6-month horizon
• B asked if we should “like, bring stuff?” to the next meeting. Hilarity and self-pity ensued.
• B stated for the record that we suck. L and M glumly agreed.
     • Actions:
          • B to bring most recent iteration of her non-fiction proposal and a query letter, and invest in a smartphone.
          • L will continue to make excuses for not querying agents, but will then actually start querying early next week. L will also share her hippie school parenting article.
          • M will edit her sleep essay and submit pages before next meeting, as long as indexing doesn’t get in the way.

Next meeting scheduled for Dec 16.
Meeting adjourned at 7:05 p.m.
Hugs.

Maria

Amendment, Nov. 18/10: It’s Banff that’s the STD capital of Canada (thanks Lori!). Apologies to all pure-as-the-driven-snow Calgarians.

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“Passion, honesty + fun”: Restless Writers chat with the Wordbitches

On AirWriting groups have their own chemistry. The Restless Writers thrive on spontaneity, adaptability and flexibility (not to mention butter tarts). We’re not sticklers for submission deadlines or critiquing guidelines. When @restlessbjas and I found out that our Twitter friends in a writing group from Calgary have actual rules for their meetings, we got curious.

The women in this group, who totally own their “wordbitches” hashtag, are a kick-ass group of writers working in a variety of genres. At the Surrey International Writers Conference (SiWC), they told us a little about their writing group, but I wanted to hear more about how they operate. So, we organized a little Twitter chat last Sunday so the Restless Writers and the Calgary crew could continue the conversation.

We kicked off the chat promptly at 10:00pm EST. A bit late for me, but perfect for those who have to put kiddies to bed first. Using the #wordbitches hashtag, we jumped right in.

First up—what makes this group tick? According to @trish_loye, it’s the diversity of genres and backgrounds in the group that makes them gel. @Ironic_Mom also pointed out that, while they don’t take themselves seriously, they take their craft seriously.

It turns out that SiWC and the Writers’ Guild of Alberta played a part in how this group came together about four years ago. While the number of members has gone up and down over time, they’re sticking to what they consider capacity at seven members. And the chemistry is working. @Ironic_Mom said “Only those who can stand passion, honesty + fun stay.”

They have a sophisticated system for managing the five or so critiques that happen at each meeting: @Ironic_Mom says “ding” when time’s up. (The Restless Writers might have to adopt this tactic. We’re a bit chatty.)

Another of their tricks is to do the readings and critique in the order the submissions are received; so the earlier you submit, the better the chance you will get feedback in that week’s meeting.

Each writing group has its challenges starting out. We swapped stories about the colourful characters who didn’t quite fit with the group at the start. (What was the exact phrase, @RestlessLori? “Newbie wing-nut”?) That first meeting can be terrifying, as @elenaaitken said, and I’m impressed this core group of gals stuck it out.

We had a few Twitter friends join in the chat, including @comedyoferrers, @DancesWithChaos and @offbalancepaige. This gave us the chance to observe that women in writing groups = enthusiasm for wine and Brie.

We were blown away by how much this group gets accomplished. They work, they blog, they commit to 500 words a day, they manage kids and DHs (short for “Dear Husband”—we learned some new terms during this chat). How do they do all this? The answer: their work and the group is a priority. Everyone has their ways of squeezing in mini-writing sessions during the day. While carrying pen and paper around at all times, learning to say “no” to the boob tube and bribing your children are all effective tactics, it also sounds like having a supportive family makes a huge difference.

We got a lot accomplished during the chat:

1) @Ironic_Mom purchased the wordbitches.com domain name.
2) We decided that we absolutely must organize a joint writing conference/Brie-orgy in Banff in 2011.
3) @RestlessLori coined the word “booey” (see her blog post for definition).
4) @elenaaitken finalized that day’s word count at 1904.
5) I decided that “diablogue” is an awesome word and I must have it at all costs. (We’re writers. We get to make up words all the time.)
6) @trish_loye snagged the remaining peanut butter cups from her kids’ Halloween stash.
7) @restlessbjas became an unofficial spokesperson for www.grocerygateway.com.

The hour-long chat passed too quickly for me. There’s still so much we can gain by sharing our best writing practices with each other. Here’s to next time!

If I missed any very important points, ladies, please share them here. Later, #wordbitches!

Maria

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