Sunday Interview #18

Hello, dear followers and those who just popped in to see what’s going on here at ‘mywithershins’!

Karen Dudley

For my Sunday Interview today, I am thrilled to introduce to you, Karen Dudley who, as her website states, is a “writer of fine novels, preparer of fine foods and all ‘round good egg”! Believe me when I say, she is all that and more! Those who have been with me for a while might remember her name from one of ‘My Bookshelf’ posts, where I talked a bit about her bird-titled mysteries. Anyway, without further ado, please welcome Karen Dudley. (Whistle! Whistle! Whoot! Whoot!)

Hi, Karen! To start off with, if someone asks, ‘who is Karen Dudley?’ what would you tell them?

Hi Susan! Who is Karen Dudley, eh? You mean, apart from the all ‘round good egg stuff? 🙂 Well, let me see…I make great food in my kitchen and scented soap in my basement, I love a good laugh, adore the research end of writing, and I’ve been a sci-fi/fantasy/folklore/mythology buff forever. My vices are books and chocolate with almonds. I listen to opera in the concert hall and sing it in the shower. I drink tea instead of coffee, and more often than not, I am covered in cat hair.

I guess that’s why we get along so well – we have so much in common! Just substitute scrapbooking for soap-making. 🙂

I know you have been writing a long time and not just fiction. Please tell my readers what you’ve written in the past.

Great African Americans in Government (Outstanding African Americans)

 A number of years ago, I was working at Weigl Educational Publishers doing photo research when the publisher decided to develop a series of wildlife biology books for kids, ages 9-12. I’d taken a lot of wildlife biology at university, so I asked if I could write the prototype. I did, and she loved it, so I wrote five more in the series. I’m very proud of the fact that I was able to convince her to include in each book a section on the relevant animal in folklore and mythology. All part of my evil plan to bring folklore and myth to the masses!

Bwa ha ha! **ahem**

I also wrote a number of books for the same publisher on Great African Americans. Yep, that’s right, Great African Americans written by a white Canadian.

Hahaha! That is rather ironic! 🙂

What led you to begin writing fiction?

I’d been working on the wildlife biology series and it was bringing back all kinds of memories of studying the subject and of working in the field (I once spent an entire summer living in a tent and gathering data for The Breeding Bird Atlas of Alberta). At that time, there were a lot of mysteries being written in which the protagonist was an amateur sleuth, and it occurred to me, what better profession for an amateur sleuth than field biology? Field biologists are trained observers, up at strange hours of the day and night, and they travel all over the place. And so, Robyn Devara–and my career as a fiction writer–was born.

Every writer I’ve talked to so far has some kind of writing habit and place where they prefer to write. What are YOUR writing habits? 

That’s changed a bit since I became a mum. I used to be most productive first thing in the morning, which came as quite a surprise to me as I’ve never been a morning person. Now, I need to wait until I get my daughter and my husband out of the house before I can settle down to work. I know some writers work in coffee shops or other public places, but that’s never worked for me. I’m too nosy, I always end up eavesdropping on the people around me rather than working on what I’m supposed to be writing. So, I always write in my den, though if the words aren’t coming, I’ll often take a notebook down to the living room and write in longhand. I think I must be using a different part of my brain by doing this because even when I’m really blocked, I can usually get past it just by changing from computer to paper and pen.

Are you a plotter or a ‘seat-of-your-pants’-type of writer?

A bit of both. Writing is really an organic process for me. I start off with a basic plot, but I never stick to it. I tend to plot a few chapters in advance and then wait and see what happens before going any further.

Once you’ve completed a novel, what sort of editing steps do you take before sending it out into the world?

Anal retentive. Is that hyphenated??? Hyphenated or not, this is what I become once I finish a novel. I NEVER let anyone see a first draft. I fiddle and fuss and angst over it, and I only show it to my husband or my writers’ group when I’m happy with it. My editor tells me that I write very clean copy, so I guess it pays off!

You mentioned a writer’s group. Do you make use of other people, like critique partners or beta readers to give you feedback?

Beta readers and my writers’ group. Couldn’t live without ‘em! I would never send anything to a publisher without first running it by someone else. Have I mentioned that I’m anal-retentive? So much so, that I just noticed that I’ve hyphenated it here and not in the paragraph above. Aaaah! Now I’m going to have to look it up to see which is correct!

How did you manage to get your first novel published? Did you get an agent or did you just start submitting your manuscript?

Karen Dudley’s Robin Devarra mysteries

I just started submitting my manuscript. It’s very, very difficult to get an agent–especially if you’re a first time author. Heck, I’ve written five novels and fourteen kids books and I still can’t get one! After I finished writing my first mystery novel, I made a list of potential publishers and started sending out queries. Turnstone wasn’t on my list because at that time they weren’t publishing genre fiction. Then one day, I was leafing an issue of Prairie Books Now and I saw an ad for Alison Preston’s mystery novel, A Blue and Golden Year published by Turnstone Press. So I sent a query to them. It was pure serendipity—and excellent luck for me!— that Turnstone was about to launch a new genre imprint called Ravenstone. My first novel, Hoot to Kill, launched the imprint.

Sounds like the way it worked for me with Great Plains – and I love Alison Preston’s mysteries, too! 🙂

There are many writers who visit my blog. Since you have been widely published, is there any advice you would give a beginning writer?

To quote my website: Persist! Persist in following your dream of writing, even on the days when you have to drag the words out with a meat hook. Persist in trying to sell your work, if that’s the path you choose. Don’t let those rejection letters get you down. Instead, think of all the interesting things you can do with them: wallpaper your bathroom, make a collage, start your very own paper airline, or toss each letter one by one onto a burning blaze while you cackle gleefully and dance naked around the flames (check your city’s bylaws first).

Now for the fun stuff! I know you have a new book coming out, which is totally different from your previous novels. What prompted you to write it? Please feel free to brag about it all you like!

Ah, Food for the Gods! I love this book! It all started a few years back when I was sitting around thinking about the Greek myth of Tantalus (yeah, writers really do think about weird stuff like that. They also work in their pajamas. Trust me.). Tantalus was that guy who thought he was better than the gods and decided to prove it by chopping up his son, Pelops, and serving him to the gods for dinner. The gods were appalled, of course, and Tantalus was punished with everlasting thirst and hunger, and unable to assuage either need (hence our verb: to tantalize). Pelops, on the other hand, was kindly remade by the gods, though they had to give him an ivory shoulder to replace the one that Demeter accidentally ate. 

Well, I was sitting there that day and I started wondering what happens to poor old Pelops after these events and wouldn’t he make an interesting protagonist: a guy with the proverbial chip on his shoulder. I thought at first I might make him a student of Archimedes, that way I could write about some of the more interesting inventions of ancient Greece, but somehow, it just didn’t feel quite right. Then, I was flipping through one of our many reference books—a book called Life of Greece by Will Durant, when I came across a line that said in ancient Athens when people wanted a special dinner, they couldn’t go to a restaurant, because they didn’t exist yet, but one could hire the services of a professional cook who was usually a foreigner. Bingo. Or, more appropriately, Eureka! With that sentence, I had my protagonist, I had his profession, I had the city that he lives in and I had the title of my book, Food for the Gods. After all, that’s what he does and that’s what he was.

If my readers would like to find you, are there any social media sites that you would like to share?

I’ve got a website, which I don’t update nearly often enough (though I’m trying to be better at this!):

You can also find me on Facebook, which I use for professional purposes (i.e. go ahead and ‘friend’ me).

Is there anything else you would like to say before we say goodbye?

Two things, really. The first is that Food for the Gods is launching on October 3rd at McNally Robinson’s at 8 pm. It’s not invitation only, so come on out. It should be a blast!

The second thing is one last piece of writing advice—the single most important piece of advice that I can give another writer! There is only one way to get better at writing, and that is to write more. So, write on, Word Warrior!

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Karen, and good luck with your new book! 🙂

 Thank you, Susan! And cheers!

If you haven’t read any of Karen’s books, yet, I encourage you to find one and dive in. Not only does she write a great mystery, there are always points in the story where you’ll find yourself chuckling or laughing right out loud! 🙂


Thin Air wraps up

I am certain the organizers for Thin Air (the Manitoba International Writers Festival), are relieved that today is the last day and they can return to their ‘normal’ family life. They worked long hours before the festival, planning events, plugging authors into presentation slots, lining up drivers to get the out-of-town writers to and from the airport as well as their events, making sure that there are enough volunteers to direct teachers & students to their seats for the School Stage performances at MTYP (Manitoba Theatre for Young People), coordinating the used book sale to raise money for all the activities and all the little behind-the-scenes stuff. Then, during the festival, they worked even longer hours making sure there was enough coverage for each event, that drivers got the writers to the right places, etc. They did a tremendous job and deserve a big applause for making Thin Air the success that it was this year. Whoot! Whoot! Whistle! Whistle! Clap! Clap!

The Lime Green Secret

Being a volunteer, as I mentioned earlier this week, was a thrill for me because I got to meet so many authors and hear their stories – not only the ones they created but also their personal stories about how they became writers, their process, etc. I think that’s why I’ve been doing interviews these past few months, because I find it fascinating to learn how other authors approach their work. It was also fun to meet Georgia Graham, an illustrator. She has also written several books, not just illustrated them, including A Team Like No OtherWhere the Wild Horses Run and The Lime Green Secret. I’ve loved to draw since I was a kid, mostly cartoons and doodles, so I was in awe of Georgia’s talent. (I hope I didn’t blubber too much like an idiot when I was around her!)

Binky the Space Cat (A Binky Adventure)Binky to the Rescue (A Binky Adventure)Binky Under Pressure (A Binky Adventure)

There was a bit of a scheduling snaffoo Wednesday morning, when I was supposed to drive Ashley Spires, (author/illustrator of Binky the Cat graphic novel series). So was the fellow who had picked her up at the airport the previous evening. He got to her first. I didn’t mind too much because it gave me a chance to pop over to MTYP to see Shane Peacock, author of The Boy Sherlock Holmes books.

Eye of the Crow: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His 1st Case

He was very entertaining and the groups of students who came to hear him read from his books and answer questions were quite enraptured. And is it any wonder? He writes about The Boy Sherlock Holmes! Who wouldn’t love reading adventures like that. Better than the Hardy Boys, I’ll wager! He has 5 Holmes books out with the 6th, Becoming Holmes, concluding the series. In October, he and fellow writers are going to be launching a unique set of books, called Seven, The Series. His contribution is called Last Letter. Basically, the story is about the 7 grandsons of an adventurous grandfather who has a terminal illness. Of all the things on the grandfather’s ‘bucket list’, there are only 7 things he hasn’t done, yet, so he gives each grandson a letter detailing the adventure he would like them to have. Here’s the trailer. It looks pretty exciting! 🙂

Product Details

Thursday, I didn’t have to drive, but I helped out at MTYP during the School Stage performances of Susin Nielson. She is a very fascinating lady who started her writing career writing scripts for the Degrassi Junior High TV series. She even got to play a character in the series, although it was short-lived. I think that would have been such a fun project to write for and perform in! In addition to her 4 Degrassi novelizations, she has since written three unrelated YA novels, Word Nerd, Dear George Clooney Please Marry My Mom, and her most recent launch – The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Lawson. Word Nerd was even translated into Portuguese and French and sold overseas! To me, that is the sign of a successful writer! 🙂

Friday, I had a day to myself to try and catch up on the 250 blog posts in my email box, a job I failed to complete, and I decided to write the crafty post I missed on Wednesday.

This morning I drove a French author, Nadine Mackenzie, to the airport. We had a lovely chat along the way and I’m now sorry I can’t read French very well, or I would check out her books. Maybe, one day, I will be able to do just that. I managed to get a couple of hours at home to do things like wash the dishes and make lunch for my family, before heading off to the Park Theater for the Volunteer Thank-you party. We had lots of food, great conversations and many prizes were won. I figure I used up my luck winning three things at the scrapbook event last weekend, so I wasn’t too disappointed when I didn’t win anything today. 🙂

Hope you all enjoy your weekend. May your weather be as spectacular as it is here! (Sunny and 29 degrees Celsius/90 degrees Fahrenheit!) 🙂

Sketch challenges

On Wednesday’s post, I mentioned volunteering for our local writer’s festival. I also briefly touched on last weekend’s scrapbook extravaganza during which I participated in a variety of sketch challenges. For those that missed the explanation of what a sketch challenge is, here it is in more detail. For each challenge we were presented with a sketch of a scrapbook page layout or a card layout. These sketches were guidelines, or blueprints, on how the page or card should look. We got to choose what stamps, embellishments and paper to use, but you had to follow the guidelines as closely as possible. Here is the first example:

As you can see, the card would need a sentiment, 3 different strips of paper, a contrasting ribbon-type thing beneath the strips and 3 of the same type of images. This is what my card looks like:

I chose to use the coffee mug stamps from the Close To My Heart set from the ‘Wonderland’ Workshop on the Go. Since the images are fairly large, I had to start with a larger-than-normal sized card stock base – 6-1/2″ x 5-1/2″ (folded dimensions). The ribbon element I created with a holly-edge punch and green card stock, trimming it so it fit the card. The sentiment is also from the WotG stamp set. The hardest part was trying to find paper that went together (sort-of).

Since I had time before the next challenge started, I finished the inside, as well. It’s kind of hard to see the sparkly snowflake pattern at the bottom. The mittens were also part of the WotG stamp set and fit in nicely with the ‘warm my heart’ sentiment on the front. Now, I’m sure all you crafty folk could use whatever stamp you wanted to start with and find complimentary papers to complete this challenge. 🙂

The second challenge was this:

As you can see, there is a musical theme to this sketch, requiring a strip of music paper cut around the ornament on the left. It is a standard-sized landscape card (5-1/2″ x 4-1/4″). Here is my vision of it:

I started by embossing the front of the card with the Polka Dot folder for the Cuttlebug, then added the green and gold contrast paper, an inch smaller in length and width to the card. For the ornament, I used the Cuttlebug die-cutter,  ‘Stocking, Ornament, Lightbulb’. I cut a square of shiny gold card stock to fit over the ornament cutter (there are 3 designs on the cutter), then passed it through the machine. The die-cutter also perforates the squiggly bit in the middle and the top part, so I cut out a red ornament and the silver bit for the top, trimming the pieces so they separated from the whole and used glue dots to attach them to the gold ornament. I looped a bit of silver elastic through the hole in the top to ‘hang’ it on the card. If you look closely at the sketch above the music, there are a series of dots. I decided to go along with the musical theme and added note-shaped sequins. I cut the half-circle end of the musical strip with my 2″ circle punch. I used some burgundy and white-striped ribbon and attached it over the music and under the ornament with Sookwang tape. The wavy bit of shiny striped card stock I first embossed with my wavy-edge folder and Cuttlebug, then cut the edge by following the embossing. (I didn’t have my shaping scissors with me!) I know the colours are a little unusual for a Christmas-themed card, but it seems anything goes, these days! 🙂

Well, that’s about all I have time for, today. I completed 7 challenges, so I will share the others another time. In addition, I managed to create 3 more cards using some unique elements, which I will also share at a later date. By the time Christmas rolls around, you’ll have lots of card ideas!

Feel free to share YOUR ideas for Christmas cards, too. 🙂

Volunteer+Thin Air=FUN!

I apologize for not getting to my Crafty Wednesday post this week. I have not had the time to take pictures of the things I made during my Scrapbook Weekend and process them in time. I have been driving other authors around town, as well as out-of-town, for our Winnipeg International Writers Festival known as Thin Air. I have attended readings and will be helping out with the School Stage performances. It has been a blast! Let me give you the run-down of the week, so far:

Friday and Saturday was spent in a community centre in Friedensfeld, Manitoba with over 15o other scrapbook fanatics, including 3 of my sisters-in-law. We left the hall around midnight Friday and drove to my brother’s house where I spent the night, since he lives closer to the hall than I do. We got back to Friedensfeld about 8:45 Saturday morning, crafting until 10 pm. The organizer had a wonderful group of volunteers to make food for us and help her with ‘the store’. (The organizer owns the Scrapbook Cottage and brought some of her basic supplies for us in case we ran out of glue runners, paper, etc.) She also had several ‘Specials’ over the course of the 2 days where we could get embellishments, paper packs, and stickers for drastically discounted prices. She held contests called Sketch Challenges, where she would have a ‘sketch’ – a type of blueprint for a scrapbook layout or card and it was up to us to decide what color and pattern of papers to use, as well as what stamp elements and embellishments to use. The Challenges were timed and if we got it finished within the time frame and followed the basic design, we’d get a ticket to go in a draw for a variety of things. I won a stamp that says ‘delight’, a sheet of 3-D stickers and a bright pink purse by Bo Bunny, a brand of scrapbook paper and embellishments. It’s big enough to hold crafting things when I go elsewhere to scrapbook.

Sunday, I went to pick up my Volunteer Packet in the afternoon, then went to hear authors and poets read their work at the outdoor amphitheater called Oodena in the evening. Despite the lateness of the season, it was not too cool, although I’m glad I brought a blanket simply to cushion my butt while I sat on the concrete seat. The writers were amazing, including Chadwick Ginther (see my last interview) all sharing their impressions of the place we call home. Oodena itself sits at The Forks in the heart of the city with its life-blood (the Red and Assiniboine Rivers) that flow a few meters away.

Nana's Getting Married

Monday, I drove two lovely ladies (Heather Hart-Sussman and Georgia Graham) out to Carman, Manitoba, about 100 km (about 64 miles) southwest of the city. The writer and her illustrator, had not met before this event, so it was very special to see how well they got along. Georgia’s illustrations blew me away with their whimsical quality and immaculate detail. Heather’s stories were all topical, dealing with subjects that she had to deal with at one time or another and wanted to share with youngsters. They gave a spectacular presentation to a group of grade three students and gave away several sketches and books. The kids were quite enthralled and I really enjoyed their company on the way there and back.

The Lesser Blessed: A Novel

On Tuesday, I drove Richard Van Camp to various schools to speak about his books and generally entertain the students with his tales of the north. Richard is originally from Dogrib, Northwest Territories and is an exceptional storyteller. His first book, The Lesser Blessed, has now been made into a movie with its release date coming up any day, now. It looks like a powerful movie. I can’t wait to see it. Here’s the trailer:

Today, I will be driving Ashley Spires, author of Binky the Cat. Tomorrow, I will be helping at the MTYP (Manitoba Theatre for Young People) at the School Stage, an event where schools can bring their students to listen to authors read from their work and interact with them. I’ll let you know how that went later this week.

Hope you liked the trailer. 🙂

Sunday Interview #17

For this Sunday’s interview, I’d like to introduce Chadwick Ginther, who has just launched his debut urban fantasy novel Thunder Road.

Welcome, Chadwick! Would you please tell my readers a little about yourself?

Certainly! I grew up in the town of Morden, Manitoba, where I quickly became enamoured with all things robotic and draconic. I worked a varied and disparate number of jobs until I stumbled upon employment as a shipper/receiver at an independent bookstore. Now eleven years on, I am the genre buyer (covering Science Fiction and Fantasy, Mystery and Crime Fiction, and Graphic Novels) for McNally Robinson Booksellers.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved stories, so it wasn’t much of a leap. When I was growing up, my great-great uncle lived with my family and he spun original yarns about Tarzan for me and so I became hooked on adventure quite early on. Role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons were my first outlet for creating my own characters and stories, a passion that continued from childhood until (checks watch) what time is it now? It was a few years after becoming a bookseller that I began to write in earnest. Meeting writers in the store, whether they were travelling on book tours, or locals in to do some shopping, helped make writing a book feel like an attainable goal. Bookselling has been an invaluable aid in terms of researching the markets, networking, and just being constantly surrounded by stories.

Thunder Road isn’t the first piece of writing that you’ve had published. Please tell us about some of your other work.

The first story I sold was a sword and sorcery tale titled “First Light” which appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of On Spec Magazine. “First Light” follows a blacksmith’s daughter caught up in murders and missing persons in a world of eternal winter. It spun out of the first full length manuscript that I finished, one that I still have hope to get back to and fix. About a month before Thunder Road released, my story “Back in Black” appeared in Tesseracts 16: Parnassus Unbound. “Back in Black” features an obsessive record collector who is searching for his “Holy Grail” find, an AC/DC bootleg that shouldn’t exist. I have another Sword and Sorcery story in the pipeline, in December 2012 “First They Came for the Pigs” will be appearing in the Innsmouth Free Press anthology, Fungi. This story is about a group of mercenaries hired to deal with mushrooms that have started devouring people. 

Besides word counts, what are some of the differences that you’ve found between writing short stories and novels?

I really feel they are two different disciplines, and not always complementary. I’ve always felt the fewer words you have to say something, the harder it is to do–one of many reasons I’m not a poet, I suppose. Short stories require an economy of prose that I feel I am still learning. As a reader, I always gravitated to novels over short stories, and so I’m playing a bit of catch up there. Speaking strictly as a fantasy writer, I also find them challenging because I can’t take the world as a given. There will always be “worldbuilding” details that need to be slipped in whether the story takes place in a made up world, or our world. It is a balancing act to include your magical elements, or realistically convey cultures and places that the reader may have no context for, while still maintaining pacing.

Thunder Road (The Thunder Road Trilogy)

Okay, let’s get down to the meat of the interview, and what I’ll bet you’ve been dying to talk about – Thunder Road. How do you feel, now that your first novel is published?

It feels great–astounding, really. When my author copies were delivered, I couldn’t stop holding the book. I’d seen the page proofs and the cover proofs, so I thought I knew what the book would look like, but I had no idea what it would feel like. Holding the book, it had a weight I wasn’t expecting. Absolutely a dream come true.

Please tell us a little about the story.

I like to joke that Thunder Road is “oilsands meets Asgard”. Oilsands, because my protagonist Ted Callan is an unemployed oilsands worker and Asgard, because of the novel’s ties to the Norse myth cycle. After the fire giant Surtur awoke in an explosion at Ted’s workplace, destroying it, Ted leaves a failed marriage and Alberta behind for a new life in Manitoba. That new life goes a little sideways when a group of fortune tellers, a trio of dwarves, and the trickster god, Loki, all take an interest in Ted’s destiny.

What was your inspiration for Thunder Road?

The Norse myths have been a huge part of my life almost as long as I’ve been a reader, thanks to finding D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths in my hometown library at an early age. In fact, I checked the book out so repeatedly, that the librarian suggested that perhaps another little boy wanted to learn about mythology, I disagreed (funny story, one of those little boys ended up at my book launch, fortunately as a grownup he was able to laugh about it). The stories of Odin and Thor and Loki always fascinated me. The Norse gods always felt very human to me. Not only could they die, most of them knew when and how it was going to happen.  

Obviously, given the setting, my home province was a huge inspiration as well. The Icelandic community of the Interlake region was the perfect excuse to blend myth to Manitoba. We have a rural municipality named Bifrost; Bifrost was also the name of the rainbow bridge that connects Asgard to Midgard (or Earth, as we like to call it). We have lake serpent and sasquatch sightings, tons of reputedly haunted buildings; so with a little digging into provincial folklore, I saw that the monsters were already here. I just had to put them on the page.

Much of the writing I’d done until I started working on Thunder Road also had ties to myth. But if I think back there were two snippets of early writing that really started the ball rolling: the first was an idea for a short story in which the gods Thor and Sif are living in suburbia and getting a divorce. This was actually the first thing I ever wrote with an eye for being published (it wasn’t–wasn’t ever finished, in fact). The other was another short story where our own lake serpent, Manipogo, was actually Jormungandur, the Midgard Serpent of Norse mythology. That story also didn’t go anywhere, but some of “Jorry’s” dialogue and about a paragraph from the Thor and Sif story ended up unchanged in Thunder Road. Those two ideas pushed me from writing Sword and Sorcery to sticking the gods and monsters in our backyards.  

Finally, I always write to music, and started a playlist for the book, eventually picking twenty songs that seemed suited to the book I wanted to write, and arranged them as if they were my chapter titles, about the only kind of outlining I do, so music was also vital in writing Thunder Road.

Sounds fascinating! I’ve always loved stories based on myths and legends, especially contemporary ones set close to home! 🙂

When writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, a writer needs to create believable worlds in which to set their stories. What type of world-builder are you and how do you start your creations? (I know that makes you sound rather God-like, but don’t let it go to your head! lol)

I am what can best be described as a “pantser,” as in I write by the seat of my pants, discovering the book as I go, without much in the way of a formal outline. I approach my world building in much the same way. I have one huge master document where I dump any scene or idea that doesn’t fit anywhere else. When I start a new project, or if I’m looking for inspiration for a short story, I comb through that file to see if there’s anything I can use. I’ll often write short stories as a world building exercise as much as to try and sell them. Eventually a new world reaches a critical mass of these snippets and stories that allows it to feel fully formed in my head, and as I write, I fill in the blanks. It is especially important (at least for me it is) to keep notes as I go, especially since there’s no handy resource to fact check them for you, and I assure you, fantasy readers will notice those inconsistencies.

Along with your worlds, you must also breathe life into your characters. What advice do you have for new and emerging writers regarding the creation of believable characters?

Read widely, listen deeply, and experience as broadly as possible. That old adage of “write what you know” is certainly true, but I’d prefer to see it worded “know what you write.” Also what is often left out of that tidbit of advice is to never stop finding new things to know.

Once a manuscript has been written, we all know that a lot of editing must go into it before it is ready to submit to an agent or publisher. What is your initial process for editing?

My initial process for editing is hiding from it. All kidding aside, I know writers who loathe the first draft, and can’t wait to get in and fix the book, but I am completely the opposite. I love finding the book, not fixing it. I do recognize that it is a necessary step, but if I am procrastinating on the internet, chances are I’m editing, rather than drafting. As for process, I try to let a first draft breathe for at least a few weeks before diving back in. That distance helps me to identify what needs to be fixed. I do several passes looking for specific things. First is a story pass to make sure the narrative is solid. This is where chapters usually end up getting cut or rewritten. I try to read through clumsy phrasings when I find them at this point, only making a note to fix it later. Once I’m happy with the story, I do a character pass to make sure their actions and reactions are still consistent with whatever changes I’ve made. Once I’m happy with my characters, I get into fixing things on a sentence level. Usually this involves a few more rereads. Thunder Road went through about six passes before it went out on submission. I’m hoping that the process of going through a substantive edit and copy edit will help streamline my editing process a bit for future books.

Once you’re satisfied with it, do you enlist the help of critique partners, beta readers or a writer’s group to suggest improvements?

I do have a writing group. We meet monthly, sharing works in progress. I also have a group of beta readers that look at mostly finished manuscripts prior to my submitting them to editors or agents. There is some overlap in the two groups, but I also find it valuable to have some fresh eyes see the work. I’ve also found it very useful to have a reader who isn’t a writer. Writers can give great critiques (and my group does!) because they are familiar with the elements of the craft, but there is also a chance they will try to rewrite your work as they would have done it. Much like writing, critiquing is a learned skill.

How difficult did you find the submission process, writing the inquiry letter and synopsis, etc?

I don’t find the submission process difficult, it’s something that needs to be done even if it isn’t always fun. I have a spreadsheet that I use to track my story submissions, and record response times and comments, if any. I’m not terribly fond of writing either query letters or synopses, but both are necessary and different skills from writing the work itself. When people talk about all those great and famous books that publishers passed over, I wonder what role a poor query letter might have played in those first rejections.

On your blog, after your launch, you mentioned that the store played songs that you had used for chapter titles. How do you incorporate music into your novel? Do you listen to it as you write or look for songs that would be suitable for a particular scene, like a movie or TV show producer might do?

I do a little of both. I always write to music. I know some writers must have complete silence, others will write to classical or jazz but have to avoid lyrics. Usually, I just put my entire library on shuffle and go to work. It’s led to some interesting serendipity. For novels, I create a soundtrack for the book, trying to have the songs ebb and flow in a way that feels how I want the narrative to progress. Depending on how deeply invested I am in the project, the novel may have more than one soundtrack. Because I’m currently editing the manuscript for the second book in the Thunder Road series and have started drafting the third, there are soundtracks for the later volumes, as well as for all of the major characters.

Are there any social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, blog, etc) where we can find you that you’d like to share with us?

I am on twitter:


Thunder Road also has its own page:

My website is:

Is there anything you’d like to add before we bid you adieu?

Tonight, September 23rd, at 7:00 pm, I’ll be reading a passage from Thunder Road at Winnipeg’s writing festival, THIN AIR, as part of the Mainstage event: Voices from Oodena. Oodena is a magical venue, and one of my very favourite spots in Manitoba. If you’re reading this, I hope to see you there!

I definitely plan on being there, Chadwick! 🙂

Thank you, Chadwick, for taking the time to chat with us. I hope your book does well. For any of you who are interested in learning more about Thunder Road, check out this review found in the Winnipeg Free Press:

I should mention, Thunder Road is NOT a YA novel. If you are thinking of picking it up for a teen reader, take the time to read a passage or two to determine if it would be appropriate for the child you have in mind. Other than that, hope you all enjoyed the interview! 🙂

Someone interviewed ME!

Hi, Everyone! I’m just popping in today to let everyone know that the lovely Misha at My First Book has posted an interview we did a while ago. (Thanks, Misha!) So if you want to learn a little more about me, and my writing process, drop in here to see the interview.

In other news, I will be pretty busy over the next few days, preparing for and participating in another scrapbooking weekend, put on by Sharon from the Scrapbook Cottage. Check out some of the fun things we will be doing by clicking here.

Not only that, next week is the Thin Air International Writer’s Festival here in Winnipeg and I will be busy hobnobbing with other writers. I’m not all that sure I will have time for a Crafty Wednesday, or reading all your wonderful blogs for awhile. If you want to learn more about the writer’s festival, click here.

Have a great week everyone! 🙂

Crafty Wednesday – pretty cards for ladies

There are so many lovely stamps and accessories that making a feminine card is easy. Here are a few examples:

The front of this card has two elements from Stampin’ Up‘s ‘Rue des Fleur’ set. Along with the pen and parasol, there is also a corset bursting with flowers, a trumpet spouting greenery and the word ‘Thanks’. To make this card yourself, here is a list of other materials you will need:

Purple card stock for the base (5-1/2″ x 8-1/2″)
Blue ink pad
Blue card stock to match your ink
White card stock
Paper cutter
Ticket corner punch

Sharp scissors
Versa Mark sticky pad
Black heat-emboss powder
Heat tool
2-1/2″ scalloped circle punch
2″ circle punch
‘Happy Birthday’ stamp
Glue runner
3-D double-sided tape
‘Victoria’ embossing folder
MS Word and printer
Lost and Found2 stamp set
Shiny paint set
Extra-fine brush


1. Emboss the front of the card, using the Cuttlebug and ‘Victoria’ folder. Fold card stock in half.
2. On the white card stock, print out sentiment using Word. Cut around it with paper cutter and use ticket corner punch on each corner.
3. Stamp pen and parasol, using blue ink pad on remaining white card stock. Carefully cut around images.
4. Stamp ‘Happy Birthday’ using Versa Mark pad, allowing enough room on the page for the circle punch to cut around it.
5. Sprinkle embossing powder onto image, shake off excess, and heat until the powder melts. Let cool. Cut out with the circle punch.
6. Punch out the blue scalloped circle and attach the ‘Happy Birthday’ circle to the centre of it using glue runner.
7. Attach the scalloped circle ‘Happy Birthday’ element to the centre of the front of the card with a glue runner.
8. Attach pen and parasol to the front of the card as shown using 3-D tape. The front is now complete.
9. For the inside of the card, cut out a piece of the blue card stock 5″ x 3″ and use the ticket corner punch on each corner.
10. Attach sentiment to the centre of the blue card stock with glue runner and attach to inside of card as shown.
11. Stamp 2 of the stained-glass elements with Versa Mark on remaining whit card stock. Sprinkle embossing powder onto image, removing excess. Heat powder until it melts and allow to cool.
12. Paint the stained glass in any colour variation you like, making sure that each half circle has the same colour combination.
13. Allow paint to dry for a few minutes, then cut around them, attaching one to each side of the card with glue runner.

I decided to do something completely different with card #2. I added velum to add another level. One thing I should have done was stamp the outline on one side, then turned it over to paint the rest on the other so the outline didn’t get painted over. Thats why I usually prefer to use the black embossing powder if I am going to paint an image because the outline is raised and more visible. I was not sure what heat would do to the velum, so I just used black ink.


Yellow card stock 5-1/2″ x 8-1/2″
White card stock
Velum 5-1/2″ x 4-1/4″
Poppies embossing folder

Pebbles Metallic Cream Chalks & applicator
Paper creaser (or pencil – not too sharp)
Black permanent ink pad
Red ink pad
Brown ink pad
Rose or poppy stamp
Butterfly stamp (I used one from Martha Stewart’s set)
Shiny paint
Extra-fine brush
2″ circle punch
2-1/2″ scalloped circle punch
2 strips of 1/2″ yellow ribbon, each 5-1/2″ long
Strip of poppy-print paper 5″ x 1-1/2″
Orange paper
MS Word and printer
1/8″ Soowkwang double sided tape
Glue runner
3-D  double-sided tape


1. Using Cuttlebug, emboss poppy pattern on a 5-1/2″ edge of the card, making sure that the raised part of the pattern will be on the right-hand side and right-side up.
2. Fold card in half so that the embossed poppies are on the right side of the card front.
3. Lightly brush green metallic chalk over raised portions of the stems and leaves of the embossed poppies, red chalk over the flowers and black over the stamens.
4. Along one 5-1/2″ edge of the velum, use the ruler to measure a 1/4″ seam the whole length of the edge.
5. Use your paper creaser (or pencil) to trace the edge so that you can easily fold the velum at the 1/4″ mark.
6. Wrap the 1/4″ edge of the velum around the right-hand edge of the card front to get a good idea where to stamp the rose/poppy image so that most of the embossed poppies are visible.
7. Stamp the flower in black ink on the front of the velum.
8. Turn velum over and paint the flower. Let dry for a few minutes.
9. On white card stock, print out the sentiment (“Hope your birthday blossoms into dreams that come true”)
10. Cut out sentiment with scalloped circle punch.
11. On remaining white card stock, stamp the Happy Birthday in red ink and cut out with circle punch.
12. Stamp butterfly in brown ink on orange paper and cut out.
13. Now that painted flower is dry, attach the Sookwang tape to the folded edge of the velum so that it will attach to the inside of the card. Attach a strip of the Sookwang tape to the inside of the opposite side of the velum. Peel off the Sookwang backing and carefully attach velum to the front of the card, wrapping the folded edge so it attaches snugly to the inside of the card. (Sorry if that sounds confusing. I should have taken pictures to illustrate the process. Basically, the velum is hooked onto the card front and attached with the double-sided tape)
14. Using the Sookwang tape, attach ribbon along both of the velum’s edges to hide the tape.
15.  With 3-D tape, attach ‘Happy Birthday’ circle to the top centre of the card front.
16. Inside, using a glue runner, attach the poppy-print paper strip to the folded edge of the card and secure the scalloped circle sentiment on the yellow part near the top of the card as shown.
17. Attach the butterfly as shown using the 3-D tape.

Phew! That was more complicated than I thought! Hope I didn’t confuse any of you! 🙂

I think that will be all for today. Enjoy your Wednesday, whether you choose to spend it crafting, writing or working on other things. 🙂

Sunday Interview #16

Hi, Everyone! I would like to introduce another Canadian writer who was on a YA panel with me at the Word On The Water writer’s festival in Thunder Bay, Ontario last fall. Craig Russell has written the YA novel Black Bottle Man, a classic story about good versus evil.

Johnson House

Welcome, Craig!  Would you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

I grew up on a farm near Barnsley, MB. with four brothers and five sisters – an environment where you need to keep your stories straight.

I’ve practised law and now administer the Land Titles system for ~5,000 sq. miles of SW Manitoba for the Province.
My wife and I are restoring ‘Johnson House’ – a 1906 Victorian house in Brandon. It’s now a Municipal Heritage Site –
So life is pretty busy.

It certainly sounds like it! Wow, restoring an old Victorian house – that would be amazing and a lot of work! 🙂

How long have you been writing? Did you always know you wanted to write?

Writing is a recent development for me. I’d been an actor and theatre director in Brandon for a number of years.  Hearing and speaking beautiful dialogue written by others opened my mind to the possibility of writing myself.  In 2006 my short dramatic work, The Unintended Consequences of Love was selected for the Carol Shields Festival of New Works, and I was hooked!

What does your writing process look like? Do you have a set time you prefer to write or do you just fit it in whenever you can?

I’m a closed-door writer. (I don’t understand how other writers can accomplish anything sitting in a coffee shop!) When writing, I aim for a solid three hours at the keyboard. I let the words (good & bad) flow. Later, I cut it to shreds, editing out the crap and keeping what’s worthwhile. Some years I’m able to set aside vacation time for a “writing week”. That’s been effective – a focused period of uninterrupted creative time.

Once you are finished a manuscript, what does editing look like for you?

It’s loud! Because of my theatre background I read the work aloud, in a dramatic fashion, listening for the ‘music’. Good work sings. Bad work reveals itself – and dies. Also – killing adverbs is a cardinal rule.

That’s fascinating! 🙂

Do you have a writers group, critique partner or beta reader that helps you with the process?

I don’t have time to read and comment on others’ work. So I’m not cut out for the writers group dynamic.

With Black Bottle Man I had a wonderful – and possibly unique – experience. With the help of eighteen local actors, we presented the story as a staged radio-play. Each of the three performances had an audience of ~150. Hearing the interplay between actors and audience was invaluable. It forces you to cut anything superfluous.

That certainly IS a unique way to edit!

Please describe the steps you took to get published. Did it take long once the manuscript was finished? Did you need an agent?

I don’t have an agent. After many edits, I sent BBM to four publishers. Anita Daher, the YA editor at Great Plains Publications was enthusiastic and her editing process was fast. It was about six months from her first call to the book launch.

Yes, she is a very quick and enthusiastic editor! 🙂

In which genres do you prefer to write?

My stories always include Fantasy or SF elements. Fantastic situations let you push characters to their limits.

They certainly do!

Do you write strictly YA or have you written in other genres?

I really don’t think about the reader’s age. As a teen I read novels written for adults and felt quite at home. Teen readers are just like adult readers. They’re smart.

Good point!

Product Details

Would you care to tell my readers a little more about Black Bottle Man?

I wrote Black Bottle Man for the smartest reader I could imagine. I think people sense the respect I have for the reader. When it works, the writer and the reader are a team, telling the story together.

The critical approval for BBM has been encouraging – an American Moonbeam Gold Medal, selection as a finalist for the Canadian Aurora Award, the ‘On the Same Page Award’ and two Manitoba Book Awards; and selection by Best Books for Children & Teens as “a title of exceptional calibre”. 
And wonderful reviews by:
CBC radio’s Nikki Tate; Australian book reviewer, Anastasia Gonis, at BuzzWord books;
Victoria, B.C. book reviewer, Meghan Radomske for CM Magazine, and more.

That’s fantastic! Congratulations! 🙂

Was Black Bottle Man the first manuscript you wrote, or had you written other things before it?

BBM is my first published novel. As mentioned earlier, I had a short dramatic piece selected for the 2006 Carol Shields Festival of New Works. I have second novel – Fragment – is out to publishers.  With luck, this winter another fantasy novel will take over my life.

What is ‘Fragment’ about?

Fragment is a high-energy action/adventure.

The synopsis starts like this…
·         Collapsing glaciers thrust a massive Antarctic ice sheet into the open ocean.
·         The commander of an American atomic submarine rescues the survivors of a smashed polar research station. 
·         A Presidential advisor swims the murky waters of Washington politics with the confidence of a Florida alligator. He’ll spin the disaster to suit his aims.
·         A newsman heads into the storm-ridden Drake Passage, intent on learning the truth.
·         A cutthroat corporation sends a cruise ship after an iceberg the size of France, hoping to garner millions in publicity. 
·         A scientist uncovers a secret that threatens the future of American military power and the fate of an entire species.
·         And one brave Blue Whale still has hope.

Intriguing! 🙂

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve enjoyed chatting with readers at literary festivals, SF&F conventions, high school & university classes, and library & book groups. I hope to be invited to many more.

I’m sure you will get plenty of opportunities in the future. 🙂

If people would like to learn more about you and your writing, are there places they can find you?

McNally Robinson Booksellers has been a great support –…Black-Bottle-Man,-by-Craig-Russell

There are reader reviews at:
Amazon Book –
Goodreads –
Chapters –
I have a Facebook Page –
Great Plains Publishing has a reader/teacher’s guide at:

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Craig, and I hope we get to be on another panel together sometime! 🙂

For those who would like to know a bit more about what Black Bottle Man is about, here is the blurb from Amazon:

Forced to move every twelve days, what would happen to your life? 1927. Rembrandt is the only child in the tiny community of Three Farms. Soon his two aunts grow desperate for babies of their own. A man wearing a black top-coat and a ‘glad-ta-meet-ya’ smile arrives with a magic bottle and a deadly deal is made. Determined to undo the wager, Rembrandt, Pa, and Uncle Thompson embark on the journey of their lives, for if they stay in one place for more than twelve days terrible things happen. But where and when will they find a champion capable of defeating the Black Bottle Man? Time ticks. Lives change. Every twelve days…

If you get the chance, I encourage you to read it! 🙂

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award

I am very excited! I just got another award! Jennifer M. Eaton just nominated me for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award. Isn’t it pretty? 🙂

Thanks so much, Jennifer! From what I understand, I am supposed to tell you 7 things about myself. Now, what haven’t I told you before? Actually half of the things Jennifer said could apply to me, too! Let’s see…

1. I hate wearing shoes and socks, but it’s a necessity during our winters. (You try going barefoot when it’s 30 degrees below zero!)

2. My cat technically isn’t my cat, he’s my daughter’s but she couldn’t take him with her when she moved out. I don’t really mind, though. Right now, he’s keeping my bare feet warm!

3. Both my kids are better at Math than me, taking more after their father in that respect.

4. I can’t go grocery shopping without picking up some dark chocolate for those mid-afternoon cravings.

5. I am a puzzle-lover. I’ve made 3-D puzzles like the Notre Dame Cathedral, London Bridge and Manhatten Island, as well as a 2-foot high R2D2 that came with a noise box so it actually sounds like the Star Wars character and a 3-1/2 foot grandfather clock that actually tells the time.

6. Around this time of year, I often have nightmares about not being ready for Christmas (Only 3 months + 10 days away!) In those dreams, it’s Christmas morning and I have lots of gifts for one child and hardly any for the other, or I haven’t bought my turkey yet and all the family is coming for dinner, or I have cards made for some of my family and not the others and they get mad at me. (Next week, I have a 2-day marathon scrapbook weekend when I hope to get a lot of my Christmas cards made.)

7. I feel guilty that I haven’t interviewed any of my writer’s group members, yet (but I plan to rectify that next month, so stay tuned!)

Now for the nominations. Last time I got an award, I went through and made up a list of bloggers I follow and marked down to whom I nominated which awards so I can spread the love around. As it turns out, I was a little generous hitting the ‘follow me’ buttons and have 63 on my list, which can be a little overwhelming to follow all of them, sometimes. Anyway, these ladies I haven’t nominated yet (or at least, not for a long while) and they deserve some recognition, so please drop by and let them know their blogs are as great as I think they are! 🙂

1. Amy M. Newman

2. byroisinhealy

3. The Literary Tiger

4. Course of Mirrors

5. Thinkingg Out Loud

6. commutinggirl

7. roughwighting

Enjoy your weekends, everyone! 🙂

Where I am from…

Reading Roger’s ‘bad poetry’ post over at Writing Is Hard Work, reminded me of something I wrote last year after sitting in on a grade 3 class. The teacher had read them a poem entitled, “Where I am from…” and assigned them to each write their own poem describing them as a person, their interests, things that happened in their past, etc, but not telling the reader directly, using similes and metaphors to build their descriptions. Each line had to begin, “I am from _________” and they had to fill in the blank. After assisting some of the students struggling with the concepts, I was inspired. I came home and wrote my own poem, which I’d like to share with you:

My grandmother who had a cuckoo clock and served me sweet tea when I was young

Where I Am From

I am from Denmark and the British Isles
I am from steaming sweet tea and chirping cuckoo clock
I am from suburbia with woods to explore and tree houses to build
I am from long walks and bike rides to Assiniboine Park
I am from two teasing brothers grown to fine men and fathers
I am from best friend forever, close like a sister though she lives far away
I am from ‘kick the can’, playing until the street lights come on
I am from Barbie and friends, with Mom-made clothes and cardboard playhouse on the front steps
I am from adventure, leaving home at nineteen to study in Grand Forks
I am from a love of children, especially those with special needs
I am from exploring new paths, new careers, merging with the old
I am from words; words that sing, words that excite, words that soothe and inspire
I am from peace

Does this give you any hints about who I am? See if you can come up with your own “Where I Am From” poem. When you’re done, send me a link. I’d love to read it. 🙂