SCBWI Canada East Blog

May 3, 2016
Art of Story - First Pages

I had a fantastic, educational, and inspiring time at the Art of Story Conference this weekend. I really enjoy the First Pages Sessions - when else do we get to hear the first impressions from editors/agents/art directors when they are going through submissions? 

What did you learn from the session? 

Here's my notes:

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April 26, 2016
Art of the Story Spring 2016


Well there are only a few days left until we all get together for sharing, learning,and whole lot of fun. 
The faculty line up has some of familiar names and faces. I am looking forward to hearing about their insight in a more formal setting. 
The weekend will start with a costume party. Bring out your Steampunk Selves. If you have questions about steampunk, do some research on line and find some images for costume example. Raid your closet or the closet of your teen and show us your stuff. 
Whether you are a writer of picture books, middle grade or young adult there is something for you. There will probably be more information than you can imagine. Make sure to chat with your fellow conferencers because they may hear something you've missed. 
And the illustrators have not been left out. Portfolios will be on display and for everyone to admire. Though I am not an illustrator, I know there will be something to learn. 
So SCBWIers, get your sleep this week and all your best material ready for a weekend full of encouragement, knowledge and inspiration. 
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March 23, 2016
Non Fiction.

I have made an effort to start a non fiction or historical fiction novel. And have run into challenges. 
I know that there are many SCBWIers out there who have had considerable success in this area. 
Obviously there is a considerable amount of research needed. But how do you know when your research is done?  How do insert a fictional character into a historically significant event?  How much historical facts do you need?  These are all questions that I would think all historical fiction writers must ask. 
For a non fiction/educational book, how do you keep it age appropriate?  How do know when you have too much information? How do decide what children/midgraders/young adults want to know?
My ideas all seem to revolve around historical events of which we should not be proud. Again, this begs the question what is appropriate to what age group. But I also want to teach young people they can change the world without sounding preachy. This is a challenge in all my work. 
I look forward to any help out there. Please comment. I am sure I am not the only one who needs this kind of help. 

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March 18, 2016
Writing about our Personal Heritage

Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day and the Irish everywhere and even those who may not have a drop of Celtic blood pulsing through their veins enjoyed a pint of Guinness. 
I often take inspiration for my writing from personal experience and those special moments of my childhood. One of those special moments was a meal of corn beef and boiled cabbage. I admit the cabbage was an acquired taste but I have a passion about this heritage and I have passed it on to my children. 
There are many conflicts that have gone on in Ireland, not the least of which is known as The Troubles. 
This is a tale of which I have not written. Perhaps I have found a new story to tell. 
I know of authors who have written successful historical fiction about Latvian injustices and those children sent from Europe to Canada to work on farms. What a wonderful way to teach our children about from where they come. 
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March 8, 2016
Getting the Motor Writing.

I am not a morning person. It takes a big stretch and about 6 cups of coffee before I am coherent. 
I have also learnt that I am the same when it comes to my writing. I need a stretch. Thank Dickens!!  Some writer somewhere, sometime, came up with a writing  stretch. 
I know illustrators who do warm ups. Nothing that will make it into a book or their  portfolio, but some thing to loosen up their drawing muscles and creative juices. 
As a writer I need the same thing. Jumping into hard core writing right off is like trying to comprehend the Theory of Relativity while I'm in a coma. By the way, I don't completely get much of Einstein's work when I am wide awake. 
I use a book purchased at my local book store, pictured above. There are many excercises suggested on many websites. 
Some are short, such as "Create an Ode to an Onion"; or longer ones such as "Fix the Plot of the Worse Movie You have Seen."  
I have found these helpful even when it isn't a writing day. It keeps me in the groove and makes it easier to get started on a scheduled writing day. It is useful when waiting at a doctor's office or on public  transit. I prefer to use pen and paper but the smartphone can come in very handy too. 
So do that morning stretch and drink the gallon of coffee. Then find a little story to tell. Who knows, it may be the beginning of your next best seller. 

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February 29, 2016

Can you guess what I did first on this list?  
I have made procratination an art form. When I was in school and was given a deadline, I was fine. I would create a time line so that I would stay on target. But when left to my own devices and discipline, I can waste a day with expertise and wonder how I did it. 
Suffice it to say, I have an issue with self discipline. I want that amazing ability that makes a person do something they are supposed to instead of watching funny kitten videos.   I have met people who ooze this mysterious power. If only it was contagious, I would walk into a clinic and inhale deeply the virus ridden air. But alas, this is not possible.
So, prior to actually writing this, I read three articles, watched two videos and checked my Facebook feed and Twitter to make sure I had all the information.  And I found that there were some recurring theme. 
1.  Cut it into bite size pieces. 
So. That novel is not a massive, terrifying, teeth bearing, drool dripping, snarling razorback, edit needing beast. 
It is simply a beautiful work of art that needs tweaking, one page at a time. 
2.   Start with what you like. 
So. When tweaking your work of art,  sometimes it is hard to know where to start, and this gives us another reason to not start at all. So find that favourite chapter, that dialogue that says it just right, and make it even better. 
3.  Close out the world. 
So. You know the stars are twinkling and your favourite band is on the radio. Block them out. The stars will still be shining later and we all know the radio will play your song 5 times before the end of the night. Focus on those edits and the stars will twinkle even brighter and the music will sound even sweeter. 
4.  You did good. 
So. Do you know what Da Vinci did when he finally looked at Mona and could smile back?  He sat down and enjoyed an espresso. You deserve it. You accomplished something big.  Have that decadent dessert,  take a long luxurious bath, watch Downton Abbey. Post how amazing you are on social media. Woohoo. 
We all have times when we have to work, but are not in the mood. But remember every word altering, plot changing, character mutating,  editing moment gets you that closer to your new agent or contract. 
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February 22, 2016
Talking Teen Speak.


I have recently read an article on It was a guest post by a teen writer discussing her pet peeves in YA novels.
I found it informative.
It's been a long time since I have been a teenager and though I have two teen children, I rarely understanding what they are saying when they are speaking to each other. 
As a YA writer, I seek authenticity in my stories. I want teens to both see and hear themselves in the pages.  Unfortunately, I often end up sounding like that pathetic Mom who is trying to be "Cool" and I end up alienating the reader. 
Teens have their own language that is evolving everyday. There is no way as an adult I can keep up. I cannot write a book in language I do not speak. Writing in teen speak, makes as much sense as writing in Greek when I do not speak it. 
The article covers other mistakes that YA authors make. It is a good read. 
I would like to hear your ideas. Please feel free to comment. 

"What NOT to Do When Writing YA Books"  by Jamie S. Margolin. 
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February 8, 2016
October 12, 2015
Speaking of Turkey

There are only 73 days til Christmas.

I know, I know. It's not even Halloween yet.

But the last few years I've sent out an illustrated card for family & friends reflecting my family and our interests. (It's easier than getting a good family photo.) I know I need to order my cards the first week of November to get them sent out in time.

So here's my Rough Monday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Marla Lesage
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July 29, 2015

So, I've been super silent lately, head down, working... enjoying summer. But I figured it was time to show something new! At SCBWI New York this past February, I got stranded - not once - but TWICE. As a matter of fact, it was a series of events that led to this, that and the other thing... and guess what? A story. I sat in the Lobby of the Hyatt, missing my family and watching people come and go. What a grand way to spend the time above Grand Central Station. I realized then that life (and SCBWI) is all about connections. New ones, old ones, missed ones... and so, a story is born. Here is a concept piece from it., copyright 2015 Peggy Collins.

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July 23, 2015
Interview with Hélène Boudreau


Interview of Hélène Boudreau

Congratulations on your Crystal Kite Award. 

Thank you, Stephanie!

Your presentation of your winning picture book was informative and encouraging to those looking for that  first acceptance .

You did share your inspiration for I Dare You Not to Yawn at the recent SCBWI Canada East Conference.  Could you please share it for those who could not attend?

The writing life can be an exciting one, especially when the roots of a new idea start to take hold. That thrill in your belly when you strike upon inspiration is something we all search for and it is the magic that keeps us going. When you get into the nuts and bolts of seeing a spark of an idea through to actual execution, though, it can be a frustrating and lonely time. There is so much grunt work that goes into creating any kind of art and when you are collaborating with an editor, agent, or critique partner you are open to scrutiny and criticism so it’s easy to get discouraged and feel like giving up. If you persist, though, that thrill in your belly that first inspired you to pursue an idea will come back. That’s when you’ll know all the long hours, tears, and sacrifice were worth it.

What inspired you to write your first book?

Like all of my books, my first book, Acadian Star, was inspired by a mixture of my culture, my family, and my experiences. But those are only a starting point. If authors always followed the old adage of ‘write what you know’ that would leave little room for fantasy, creativity, and richly drawn stories. I usually write what I want to know and Acadian Star was borne out of a desire to know more about my Acadian culture and to tell a story to share with my children.

What are your new titles and can you give us a hint of what they are about?

My latest picture book is I Dare You Not to Yawn, which is an ‘anti-bedtime’ tongue-in-cheek guide for kids who aren’t quite ready to go to bed just yet.  I also recently published the 4th volume of my light-hearted contemporary fantasy mermaid series called Real Mermaids Don’t Sell Sea Shells.

What books/authors have influenced your writing?

Growing up, I pored over cartoons and comics and especially loved The Far Side by Gary Larson and Garfield by Jim Davis. There is something about that art form that I find so clever. Cartooning is not just about getting the laugh, though, but more about relating to universal truths. I try to incorporate those same feelings of setup/ build up/ punchline in my writing and also hope that the underlying authenticity of my story reaches readers.

What books are you reading now?

I am on a non-fiction kick at the moment, especially autobiographies of comedians. Funny people are often very layered and deep, often with rich complicated histories, and I love reading about them. I am really looking forward to Mindy Kaling’s new book Why Not Me? and hope it’s as funny and inspiring as her first.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

When I was in elementary school I won a ‘Caption this Photo’ contest and won a pair of jeans, then I entered a writing contest in my local paper and placed in the top three. I realised I had something to say and when you’re from a family of eight children, it’s sometimes hard to be heard. Writing and humour was a way to express myself in my own quiet way.

Have you ever hated something you wrote?

All the time! In fact I’ve hated every book I’ve ever written at some point or another.

While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?

I think for any type of character an author needs to immerse themselves in that role just like an actor researching a part. When you can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste the experiences your character is facing, that makes for a fully executed three-dimensional character, which will hopefully translate into a rich sensory experience for your ultimate reader.

Do you see writing as a career?

I do consider writing as my career and feel very fortunate to do so.

Have you any other ideas for any more books?

Always! I am working on a completely new project at the moment and trying to focus on having fun without worrying about the end result. Who knows if it will ever be published but stay tuned!

Connect with Hélène:  Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

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June 26, 2015
SCBWI Canada East Fall Conference Picture Book Track by Nadia Hohn.


I would like to thank Nadia Hohn for writing up this overview of the Picture Book Track of our recent Conference.  

Stepping out of my comfort zone was something I felt ready to do at the SCBWI Art 

of Story Conference Montreal on May 29- 31, 2015.  I had just been on the tail end 

excitement of the February NYC conference, my very first SCBWI event, in which I 

had been a bit shy to participate in any critique sessions.  Instead, SCBWI NYC left 

me inspired and thirsting for opportunities to pitch, propose, and have my work 

critiqued in front of my writing peers and professionals.  At Art of Story Conference, 

I had these opportunities-- to give me a chance to hone in on some of the ideas I 

have in development.  Of the three tracks, I selected the one for Picture Book 


- Lily Malcolm, executive art director and associate publisher of Dial Books for 

Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House 

- Allyn Johnston, vice-president and publisher from Beach Lane Books

- Heather Alexander, literary agent of Pippin Properties

- Kari-Lynn Winters, author, playwright, and scholar.

Each speaker brought her perspective to almost fifty published and aspiring 

picture book authors.  

My first Picture Book session was “What makes a picture book good… and how 

do you know?” in which both picture book authors and illustrators were in 

attendance.   The presenters, Heather Alexander and Lily Malcolm, gave an 

overview about what they looked for in an author and/or illustrator.  What 

Alexander looks for in a writer is someone who has career longevity and a few 

strong stories.  Malcolm indicated that she looks for illustrators that have a  

“memorable style”, something brand new, and hits “emotional highs”.  The 

presenters also provided examples of picture books that do “get it right”. 

Afterward, Heather presented a workshop called “Picture Book Voice” to the 

authors in order to capture the five main parts of voice—diction, perspective, 

character as voice, dialogue, and interior monologue.  She provided several 

examples of books that do these things correctly.  She also had warnings for those 

of us who write in first person.   Some take home points were: No first name 

intros.  Needed: A rise and fall in plot.  Modern kids usually like modern stories.

Kari-Lynn then presented two back-to-back workshops that were complete with 

exercises and demonstrations.  The first was called “The Straight Scoop on Picture 

books” in which she provided more lists including the 7 deadly sins for picture 

book authors and 10 techniques for authors.  (By the way, I love the lists.)  Some short 

points I took home are: A story needs a spark.  Leave the lessons and teaching out 

of the story.  Hook the reader in.  Don’t be repetitive.   

In “Getting Your Act Together”, Kari-Lynn talked about ways to spice up your 

readings and presentations.  As a teacher who teaches drama among other subjects,

I especially appreciated this session.  Kari-Lynn let us in on how she secretly gets 

teachers and kids to love her presentations.  I think the one thing that I will 

definitely remember is that puppets are great.

In “Now Let’s Read Aloud!” session, Allyn Johnston presented a helpful picture 

book syllabus with a wide range of titles and styles.  Johnston described what has 

worked for many successful picture books and we had an opportunity to browse 

through her collection to see for ourselves.

A great experience for all. Looking forward to the next event.
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