SCBWI Canada East Blog

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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June 10, 2015
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I had the great opportunity to attend the recent SCBWI Canada East Conference in Montreal.  As always my mind left overflowing with information and inspiration. The faculty of the Conference was among the best I have heard.  Thank you to you all for sharing your time and your knowledge.  

Linda Urban, an award winning author and former Marketing Director of a large independent bookstore, discussed the importance of the point of in which a novel is written.  Depending on whether an author uses first person, third person, or in the rare case of second person it will determine how the reader connects with the story and the plot.  Obviously depending on the nature of your story, (romance, humour, tragedy) and the age of your audience will determine your point of view.  Thanks Linda for sharing your views.

Cheryl Klein, executive editor at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic,  presented how to pace your novel from plot to punctuation.  The pacing is affected by the time line; does it happen within an hour, a day, or more.  The dissemination of information will be slower or faster depending on this time line.  If the plot consists of high risks it will increase of the pace and the stakes.  This will also augment the connection between the reader and the characters of your novel.  You can access Cheryl's complete presentation if you are on the SCBWI listserve. To join please contact Michelle Jodoin. Thanks Cheryl for keeping us up to speed.

Bruce Coville, the author of 103 books, gave a very entertaining and informative session. All characters need a good plot.  A combination of action and adventure; and feelings and, language is the best combination in a plot and will interest a wide range readers.  Fiction is held to a higher standard of believability than reality.  Plot twists may include HA, belly laugh; WEH, tears, sorrow, joy or relief, or connection; and YIKES, gasp or surprise.  There should be an equal balance of plot and character. The readers must care about the characters, and also what happens to them.  Thanks Bruce for keeping us balanced. 

I really learned a lot from all the novel track speakers.  Thank You for time.  
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June 2, 2015
Interview with Karen Krossing.  Winner of Krystal Kite Award..


Thanks for your time Karen.  I am sure your insight will help our writers.

SCBWI Interview: Karen Krossing

What inspired you to write your first book?
I quit my job as an editor to attempt to write my first novel. The desire to write had been building for some time, and I suppose it got too big to contain. That first novel was titled “The Dance Without End,” and it wasn’t particularly meaningful to me personally. In hindsight, I think I wrote it to learn how to write. It’s never been published, and should remain that way, since it has too many problems to fix. But it did teach me a ton about the writing process.

What are your new titles and can you give us a hint of what they are about?
My latest book is a teen novel titled Punch Like a Girl (Orca, 2015). It’s about a teen girl with a hero complex. She tries to rescue others, whether they want it or not, in order to avoid facing her own fears of assault.

Before that, I published a middle-grade novel titled Bog (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2014). In it, a cave troll with a grudge against humans embarks on a quest into human territory after his father is turned into stone.

What books are you reading now?
I’m currently reading for research and for pleasure. My to-read pile includes Seventeen magazines from the 1960s (for my work-in-progress) as well as The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen and The Farmerettes by Gisela Sherman.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Apparently, I was fond of writing as a child, but I don’t remember it. When I was eleven, my mother’s author-friend signed a copy of his novel for me, encouraging my writing. I do remember that I was always making up stories in my head, particularly at night in bed. I invented a whole cast of witches, giants and goblins who lived in various dark corners of our house, tormenting me deliciously. When I was in high school, I remember consciously deciding to become a writer one day, even if it was when I retired. That urge to write has stuck with me ever since.

Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I find this question hard because it’s impossible to chose one favourite. I could give you a list of two hundred favourites though! But seriously, I adore the simple childlike voice of A.A. Milne, the brilliance of E.B. White, the honesty of Judy Blume and the simultaneously serious and humorous prose of Teresa Toten. Then there are my other one-hundred-and-ninety-six favourites, including William Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Franz Kafka, Margaret Atwood, Sylvia Plath... I could go on and on.

Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Yes. I manage to both hate and adore various works-in-progress at the same time. It’s something about not being able to have clear insight into one’s own writing. One day, I may think the writing is fabulous; the next day, I’m moaning about how horrible it is.

I think writers may need to both love and hate our work. We need to be able to see the good in it when committing to it for months or years, and the flaws in it when analyzing to revise it.

While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?
Yes, all the time. I particularly identify with being a large hairy troll, much to the amusement of my family. When I started writing Bog from the point of view of a cave troll, it fit with who I am. Maybe it’s because I’ve always identified with characters like Chewbacca more than characters like Princess Leia.

Do you see writing as a career?
I’m business-like in my approach to writing, but I also try not to take it too seriously. I’m uber-conscientious about my commitments to deadlines, both self-imposed and publisher ones. I see my daily writing as my most important work. I nurture my network and connections in the industry. Yet at the same time, I can’t focus on what the trajectory of a book or my overall career may be without getting too hung up on it. I try to keep my focus on the process of writing: how to get through writing the first draft of the next book, how to learn new aspects of my craft and how to write the best book I can, over and over again. So, yes, I see writing as a career, but I stay grounded in daily writing.

Have you any other ideas for any more books?
I’m writing a teen novel that tackles a difficult topic – abortion. In between the rhetoric from both sides of the emotional abortion debate are teen girls who are facing challenging decisions about abortion. I’m writing about the weight of society’s judgments on an apprehensive teen girl with an overwhelming decision to make. I’m also researching a teen novel about celebrity culture and body image.

Where do you find inspirations and ideas for your plots and characters?
Some ideas arrive simply by observing the world. Others need a little nudge. I’ve had germs of story ideas come from listening to talk radio, from watching my kids cope with challenges and from my memories as a teen. To make something of a fledgling idea, I like to write a daily novel concept. It’s just a one-sentence premise, or a piece of a premise. I sometimes do this in November to time it with NaNoWritMo, just to feel included in that creative energy. After a month of churning out new premises, I usually have a workable idea to play with.

As for characters, I may model a character’s outfit from someone I see on the subway. Internal dilemmas may rise from experiences I’ve had, or those of people I know. Doesn’t every character we write contain pieces of ourselves? When I need to actively seek out more depth about a character, I write about them. Sometimes I make a web of characters within my story so I can see how they define one another. Sometimes I answer questions about the character, such as: What is the most dangerous thing this character has every done? What is the persona that this character presents to the world?

While my initial inspiration comes from observation, I find that it develops through play.
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April 28, 2015
Tips for a successful critique


As the illustrators attending the upcoming Canada East conference work their preliminary sketches for the conference assignment, Peggy Collins posted some helpful tips for giving a good critique. I'm publishing them here because there's some really good advice:
1. Take your time and really look through all work submitted by illustrator. Sometimes it helps to look, then walk away and come back to it to give a good critique.

2. Be familiar with the text that goes with the illustration. This seems obvious, but sometimes the illustrator has a picked up on something teensy in the text that you may not have noticed. Being familiar with the text makes it easier to give an effective critique.

3. Avoid telling the illustrator what you would have done. This is their work, be mindful of that. In a critique we should be careful not to influence an idea, rather the focus should be on make sure the communication is clear.

4. We've all heard of the hamburger (or veggie burger method)... Well, that's because it works. You should always focus on what is working and why before exploring what might not be as effective. Follow that up with something else that is getting some positive attention.

5. If you are unclear about the intent of the illustration, asking for clarification in a respectful manner is ok. We are all working towards the same goal... Making our work the best it can be.

6. Keep it simple, kind and respectful.  Avoid too much feedback - keep it concise.

7. Read your critique to yourself, as if you were receiving it. If you would find it helpful then it is probably a good critique. If not, think about what might help you!

8. Critique is a give and take. If you submit work you must give thoughtful critiques to the other artists. Some people are really EXCELLENT at giving feedback, for some, it's a struggle. We are all in this together, and it's really helpful to hear everyone's feedback (because usually SOMETHING applies to us as well).

Questions to ask yourself about the work:

Do I understand what is happening in the illustration? What could be done to help clarify this if not?

Is there a clear direction in the piece? What do I see first, second... Third? Does this complement the text and add a deeper layer to the story while keeping the integrity of the text intact?

Are the characters consistent? Is there enough difference between the characters?

What is the strongest element of this piece?

What is it about the character that appeals to you? Can you define why?
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April 27, 2015
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On Thursday, April 23 2015, the inaugural SCBWI Toronto Get Together was held at the Duke Pub at Somerset. There was a great turn out of about 20 members including illustrators and writers at various points in their careers. Everyone brought a plethora of questions and in response an abundance of answers. 
Annette and Anne Marie did a great job of organizing. We were all given the chance to introduce ourselves and give out business cards and post cards as a sample of our work. (Note to self:  Bring more business cards). 
As we ate, there was informal chatting coming from all around our tables.  It was a chance to catch up with friends met at conferences and to meet and encourage those new to the adventure that is writing and illustrating. 
Towards the end of the evening, we gathered to listen to each other share about realistic goal setting and adapting our writing/illustrating schedules to the rest of our life schedules. Some may be able to put in a 5 hour session of work. Others may have to break it up because of "day jobs", children or other commitments. Whenever and however one works is less important than the quality of the work and the satisfaction of chasing ones dream. 
Annette and Anne Marie canvassed the group for preferences of topics, meeting places, and times for our next meeting. It was an opportunity to have a say and benefit the most members for the next one.
A special thanks to the ladies for arranging all the logistics and accommodating a bunch of crazy artists. I can't wait until the next one. 
Check out the SCBWI Canada East website for the date, time and location. 
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April 13, 2015
Should Writers become Illustrators


I am first and foremost a writer. I have never studied any kind of visual arts, except for a Ladies' Painting Night which includes more discussions about OUTLANDER than anything else. I have heard of writers becoming successful illustrators.  I don't think I am one of these, but one never knows what the future may hold. 
However, I have realized that sketching faces that, to me, represent the characters of my work in progress, help me picture them in their world.  
It helps me get to know them.  I can imagine what his/her facial expressions would be when s/he is angry, sad or happy.  I can draw, if you can call it that, their frustration with their situation; their determination to solve their problem; and their joy or disappointment with the outcome of their efforts.  
I can start with stick figures or smilie faces, maybe even an emoji or two. I then add a hair style and what the character would wear.  I can create a backstory by thinking about when s/he got his/her skin tone, or hair colour.  How tall is s/he? Are they athletic or a couch potato?  All of this can be discovered by "doodling."
Again, I highly doubt my illustrations will make it to the public, but they have become an important part of my writing process. Try it and who knows, you may find a new talent..

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March 16, 2015
Rough Monday

Here's my latest sketch-in-progress. I'm getting ready for the Art of Story Conference in May and hoping to round out my portfolio.

My current portfolio is over at

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March 10, 2015
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Hey SCBWIers and Guests

I had the pleasure this weekend of participating in the Spring Break into Science Book Party hosted by LE Carmichael, Ishta Mercurio, Joan Marie Galat and Helaine Becker.  It was fun and informative.  

After a quick visit to the virtual bar and coffee shop (some of us were driving home), the lively discussion started quickly.   The ladies were both informative and entertaining.  

LE Carmichael started the festivities with a CSI experience.  Her books Fuzzy Forensics: DNA Fingerprinting gets Wild, and Forensic Science: In the Pursuit of Justice were featured.  We also had the opportunity to share our own favourite crime fighters, including Sherlock, Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds, and the dynamic on the series Elementary.   Great job cluing us in Lindsey. 

Helaine Becker electrified us with the wonder of the fusion between animals and robots in her book Zoobots.  We had examples of various animal machine hybrids including a bar tending teddy bear.  That was my favourite.  The discussion helped me dispel that cyborg fear learned from too many sci-fi movies.  Thank you the data Helaine. 

Ishta Mercurio brought us to the creepy world of haemovores in her new book with Kari-Lynn Winters: Bite into Bloodsuckers.  Things got a little gruesome but to my knowledge no one lost their lunch.  We poked at the risks of the West Nile virus from mosquitoes.  We were reminded of the beneficial use of maggots and leeches in medicine as stimulators of  blood flow and removers of dead tissue.  Way to exsanguinate the info Ishta.

Not to leave out the trees, Joan Marie Galat taught us about our woody friends in her book: Branching Out: How Trees are a Part of Our Lives. Trees have tall tales to tell and they have been keeping us alive, helping us communicate and making the world a beautiful place.  What a historical landmark they are.  Thanks for the growth Joan.

The next time an event comes around I really think you should join in or host one yourself.  It is not only an opportunity to learn about the books on the market, but also meet and greet more authors that are walking the same road you are.  It is a source of information and inspiration.

I had a great time and highly recommend participation and hosting as a means of marketing your new publications.  

Please check out the link below for all the discussion and links to the website of the hosting authors.
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