Saturday, November 29, 2008

Weekly Inspiratioon

If you need a little writerly inspiration in your in-box every week, Children's Writer eNews is free from the Institute of Children's Literature.

Each week it's crammed with encouragement and advice -- like this bit about how to take writing advantage of the busy schedule and sensory overload of the holidays (no author given but probably authored by Jan Field, the writer who puts this e-bulletin together)

8. Sensory Snapshots

I'm not a big fan of writing exercises -- if you are, I respect that. For me, I'm lazy. If I'm writing, I'm probably going to try to sell it at some point. But sometimes a writing exercise can help us hone skills and get a bit of writing in during a really hectic time (like the holidays?) So here's an exercise I do a lot and one that frequently finds its way into my published work: sensory snapshots.

No time of year offers more sensory impressions than the holidays with rich foods and much more contact with people and places. So I try to take a moment and write a quick sensory map of something different every day. I might jot down connections, impressions, figures of speech, and pure clinical description about the act of eating my first Clementine of the year or my first sip of egg nog.

Equally, I might make the same kinds of sensory lists about the stores I'm in, the lines I wait in, the airport...all of these offer me a chance to capture the moment in words so that I can retrieve it later. Then, if I need to build a scene in one of these settings, I have a “record” of the kinds of sights, sounds, smells and textures my characters might encounter. I keep these “sensory records” in a notebook with tabs for different categories. Then when I write a scene set at a zoo, for example, I can pull out several “sensory records” – one made at a small zoo, one from a nature park, and one from the National Zoo in Washington. They remind me of small details I might use.

So, this year, consider a few of these sensory records so then when you need to put your teen characters in a crowded mall full of whiney kids, you can make the reader beleive it completely. Or when your character catches snowflakes on her tongue, you have the exact words to capture the taste and feel. Memory is great, but how much better is it when you can pull the actual moment from your file.

Here's what the current bulletin looks like.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday Poem - Their beach

American Life in Poetry: Column 192


Class, status, privilege; despite all our talk about equality, they're with us wherever we go. In this poem, Pat Mora, who grew up in a Spanish speaking home in El Paso, Texas, contrasts the lives of rich tourists with the less fortunate people who serve them. The titles of poems are often among the most important elements, and this one is loaded with implication.


Mouths full of laughter,
the turistas come to the tall hotel
with suitcases full of dollars.

Every morning my brother makes
the cool beach new for them.
With a wooden board he smooths
away all footprints.

I peek through the cactus fence
and watch the women rub oil
sweeter than honey into their arms and legs
while their children jump waves
or sip drinks from long straws,
coconut white, mango yellow.

Once my little sister
ran barefoot across the hot sand
for a taste.

My mother roared like the ocean,
"No. No. It's their beach.
It's their beach."

- Pat Mora

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 1991 by Pat Mora, whose most recent book of poetry is "Adobe Odes," University of Arizona Press, 2007. Poem reprinted from "Communion," Arte Publico Press, University of Houston, 1991, by permission of the writer and publisher. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Book Review: Hot Apple Cider Edited by N. J. Lindquist and Wendy Anne Nelles

Title: Hot Apple Cider - Words to Stir the Heart and Warm the Soul
Author: Edited by N. J. Lindquist and Wendy Anne Nelles
Publisher: That's Life! Communications (May 15, 2008)

True stories that deliver a shot of inspiration, non-fiction pieces that get you thinking, Robert Service-like poetry that champions the cause of the poor and hurting, and fiction that delivers truth with a pinch of drama and humor: Hot Apple Cider - Words to Stir the Heart and Warm the Soul has them all. This anthology of 44 pieces by 30 Canadian authors was conceived and compiled by N. J. Lindquist and Wendy Anne Nelles, co-founders of The Word Guild, an association of Canadian writers who are Christian.

“Today many Canadian Christians are realizing that they’d like to read literature that reflects their own culture, values and experiences,” says Lindquist in the introduction. Janette Oke in the foreword says, “I feel a bit proud in knowing that we, here in Canada, have so many skilled, inspirational writers who are able to present their work – their words – in this way.”

Hot Apple Cider does feature writing from across the dominion (although it's light on writers from Quebec, the Maritimes, and the Territories). In it you’ll read about a Lethbridge pioneer woman who championed the rights of women and the poor, a perceptive Yukoner who kept showing up, like an angel, when a lonely soul needed her the most, a childless Ontario couple who had their prayers answered in a most unexpected way, and many other accounts about the intersection of life and faith. Stories from abroad are also well-represented and include a tale of tragedy in the Australian Outback, a birth crisis in Nepal, and a terrifying night in a drug dealer’s apartment in Boston.

Besides being a powerful book in its own right, Hot Apple Cider also has value as a sampler. Many of the pieces are extracted from full-length works. Don’t be surprised if this book has you adding titles to the list of volumes you’ll want to read in their entirety – books like Seven Angels for Seven Days by Angelina Fast-Vlaar, Where Have all the Mothers Gone? by Jean Froese, M.D., Why Does God Allow Suffering?: An MD Examines by Brad Burke M.D., and a host of others.

Hot Apple Cider’s honest and thought-provoking writing combined with its tasteful cover and apple-themed photo illustrations may find you thinking of purchasing copies as gifts. And what better gift could you give than a book brimming with heart-warming stories to sip at over the Christmas season – or any season for that matter?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Poem - Indestructible

American Life in Poetry: Column 191


Most of us love to find things, and to discover a quarter on the sidewalk can make a whole day seem brighter. In this poem, Robert Wrigley, who lives in Idaho, finds what's left of a Bible, and describes it so well that we can almost feel it in our hands.

Finding a Bible in an Abandoned Cabin

Under dust plush as a moth's wing,
the book's leather cover still darkly shown,
and everywhere else but this spot was sodden
beneath the roof's unraveling shingles.
There was that back-of-the-neck lick of chill
and then, from my index finger, the book

opened like a blasted bird. In its box
of familiar and miraculous inks,
a construction of filaments and dust,
thoroughfares of worms, and a silage
of silverfish husks: in the autumn light,
eight hundred pages of perfect wordless lace.

- Robert Wrigley

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2007 by Robert Wrigley, whose most recent book of poetry is "Earthly Meditations: New and Selected Poems," Penguin, 2006. Poem reprinted from "The Hudson Review," Vol. LIX, no. 4, Winter, 2007, by permission of Robert Wrigley. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cut-and-paste books

"Professor's Choice" is a custom publishing program from St. Mary's Press that was launched at the recent meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). It uses print on demand (POD) and licensed content in a way that allows college and university teachers teaching religion to "mix content chunks—book chapters, images, maps, glossaries—into a course book that can be shipped within 48 hours."

Read entire "Trend-Spotting at AAR"

At the same conference, Simon and Schuster's President and CEO Carolyn Reidy called for CBA to, in effect, make lemonade out of the current crop of lemons. Some of her suggestions:

"...making entire catalogues available as eBooks for electronic reading devices, to create possibilities for print-on-demand when a title becomes slow selling, to design new work flow and supply chain practice systems, and to delineate new policies to address complicated issues such as international territories, pricing, the security of our copyrights and royalty rates for those formats."

Read entire "Reidy Urges Publishers and Retailers to See Challenges as 'Opportunities.'"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Poem - Scissor Hands

American Life in Poetry: Column 188


Occupational hazards, well, you have to find yourself in the occupation to know about those. Here Minnie Bruce Pratt of Alabama gives us an inside look at a kind of work we all have benefited from but may never have thought much about.

Cutting Hair

She pays attention to the hair, not her fingers, and cuts herself
once or twice a day. Doesn't notice anymore, just if the blood
starts flowing. Says, Excuse me, to the customer and walks away
for a band-aid. Same spot on the middle finger over and over,
raised like a callus. Also the nicks where she snips between
her fingers, the torn webbing. Also spider veins on her legs now,
so ugly, though she sits in a chair for half of each cut, rolls around
from side to side. At night in the winter she sleeps in white
cotton gloves, Neosporin on the cuts, vitamin E, then heavy
lotion. All night, for weeks, her white hands lie clothed like
those of a young girl going to her first party. Sleeping alone,
she opens and closes her long scissors and the hair falls under
her hands. It's a good living, kind of like an undertaker,
the people keep coming, and the hair, shoulder length, French
twist, braids. Someone has to cut it. At the end she whisks
and talcums my neck. Only then can I bend and see my hair,
how it covers the floor, curls and clippings of brown and silver,
how it shines like a field of scythed hay beneath my feet.

- Minnie Bruce Pratt

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2003 by Minnie Bruce Pratt. Reprinted from "The Dirt She Ate: Selected and New Poems," University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003, by permission of the publisher. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Writer's Digest Bookclub - bye bye

If you were a member of the Writer's Digest Book Club, you will know that it is no more. The last orders had to be placed by October 31.

However, the WD people have left former members with a parting gift - a one-year subscription to for free!

I activated my membership about a week ago and discovered a little treasure chest of goodies.

- Current market news.
- An encyclopedia of writer terms.
- An agent Q&A guide.
- A manuscript tracking tool.
- Mega articles of "Expert Advice" in eight categories including Beginners, Greeting Cards and Scriptwriting.
- A market search box. Simply put in the name of the publication, click on "Go" and voila, a page of information appears with publication facts including URL, payment details, link to guidelines page etc. - all the things you'd find in a paper market guide.

You might want to check out Even a paid membership isn't too too pricey.

Of course you can still buy Writers Digest books online through the F+W Publications Bookstore (but it's not the old Writer's Digest Bookclub *sigh*).

Friday, November 07, 2008

Book review: Waiting for Daybreak by Kathryn Cushman

Title: Waiting for Daybreak
Author: Kathryn Cushman
Publisher: Bethany House, October 2008, paperback, 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
ISBN-10: 0764203819
ISBN-13: 978-0764203817

It's Christmas Eve, but Paige Woodward doesn't anticipate a merry one. She's just been fired from her pharmacy job at a big HMO and her Mom's cancer tests have come back positive again. In fact, the seemingly idyllic holiday evening that begins Kathryn Cushman's second novel, Waiting for Daybreak, is only the beginning of a long night for the Nashville pharmacist.

When Paige's subsequent low-wage job at the free clinic peters out, a job offer from Lee Richardson - complete with decent wages, a signing bonus and a location close to where she lives - seems like an answer to her family's prayers for Mom's treatment money. But is it really a godsend? Her new boss, Lee's granddaughter Clarissa, makes life difficult from day one. Paige bends over backward - too far? - to get along. However, when Clarissa continues to cut corners and bend Pharmacy Board rules, Paige confronts her - hang the fallout. She's learned a thing or two about consequences and wrecked careers (talk about the consequences after that!). Will the waking nightmare that began Christmas Eve and continues through a spring of suspicion, setups, lies and pending lawsuits ever end?

The pharmacy setting, where one mistake can prove deadly, is perfect for the suspenseful plot involving the dueling pharmacists. Each has her own reason for wanting to succeed, and her own way of making sure it will happen. Wily Clarissa with her confidence, determination, sense of entitlement and family resources is a formidable foe. Throughout the book Paige faces a Job-like barrage of problems. All this, along with a little romance, keeps the reader off-balance and transfixed.

Cushman's characters are layered, complex and interesting. Main characters Paige, Clarissa and Dawn, the pharmacy tech, all come to life with weaknesses and redeeming qualities. I have one quibble in this department, though. When the mostly sinister Clarissa makes a complete turnaround in one afternoon, I felt a little 'used', considering how much energy I had spent disliking her through most of the book.

Though the action does at times have the feel of an afternoon soap (maybe because of the female rivalry), its serious themes elevate it into something much more. Paige is outspoken about her Christian faith, which is constantly being tested. Cushman handles the faith angle without apology, albeit with a light touch through elderly Ora Vaerge, who regularly challenges Paige to squeeze relevant application from Bible verses that pop into her head. The importance of honesty and communication are themes that come through as well. And though not overt, the book does make subtle observations about the pharmaceutical industry and malpractice suits within the medical system.

All in all, Waiting for Daybreak is another sticky Cushman book - one that once you start, you won't want to put down until you're done.

Friday poem - Remembering

American Life in Poetry: Column 189


In celebration of Veteran's Day, here is a telling poem by Gary Dop, a Minnesota poet. The veterans of World War II, now old, are dying by the thousands. Here's one still with us, standing at Normandy, remembering.

Mural from Vernon, B.C.

On Swearing

In Normandy, at Point Du Hoc,
where some Rangers died,
Dad pointed to an old man
20 feet closer to the edge than us,
asking if I could see
the medal the man held
like a rosary.
As we approached the cliff
the man's swearing, each bulleted
syllable, sifted back
toward us in the ocean wind.
I turned away,
but my shoulder was held still
by my father's hand,
and I looked up at him
as he looked at the man.

- Gay Dop

Mural at the Cenotaph, Vernon, B.C.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2007 by Gary Dop. Reprinted from "Whistling Shade," Summer, 2007, by permission of Gary Dop. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


I also blogged here today.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Book-making explained

If you've always wondered how picture books are made, and how to fit your text onto the limited number of pages (and what is the number of pages available for text and pictures in a picture book anyway?), wonder no more. Editorial Anonymous takes the mystique out of the picture book process -- in her always informative (and snarky) way.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

book marketing - out of the box, onto the web

Lately book marketing has jumped out of its box. Though the touring author making appearances to read and sign at the local bookstore might still happen, there is definitely a trend toward virtual marketing. Here are some strategies that I've come across (even participated in) in the past few years.

1. The blog tour:
A publishing house or author lines up bloggers who are willing to do one or both of:
- review a newly published book on their blog.
- interview the author on their blog.
Each blogger is assigned a date to post. The interviews are usually done by email -- or podcast if that's the medium of preference.

For example, I participated in Sharon Hinck's blog tour for The Secret Life of Becky Miller (Bethany House) in 2006. Here's the author's side of it. And here's my interview.

The blog tour puts the book on display in front of various audiences and helps connects readers with authors.

2. Social networking:
If you're a writer and a member of Facebook, you've probably been asked to be part of a book promotion network. My latest experience is with author Jeanne Damoff. Her book Parting the Waters, the story of her son Jacob's life-changing accident, has just been released. The "Parting the Waters Group" includes information about the book, a photo album, lots of opportunity to comment and has 273 members. As one of those I got the word as soon as it hit the street (and also knew that I could pre-order before that).

3. Virtual film festival:
David Athey, author of Danny Gospel (Bethany House), is sponsoring a contest for videographers. The challenge is to make a three- to five-minute video of a scene from his book (not from the final two chapters though), submit it to YouTube, and email the link to him. There will be a big screen viewing of submissions in real time and a cash prize to the winning video. (Now there's a way to get people to read your book -- and closely too!) Danny Gospel also has a Facebook page.

And how is David Athey getting the word out? One way is by asking former reviewers -- moi, for example -- to post a notice.

4. Sizzling web page:
Your book should have its own web page. The page for Ted Dekker's newest release Sinner ( is an example of how multi-pronged such a page can be. It includes:
  • video clips of the author explaining what the Sinner is about and talking about the process writing it.
  • a club to join.
  • free youth leader resources.
  • link to YouTube channel with five short videos that explore issues discussed in the book.
  • a form to email the site's URL to a friend.
  • an essay discussing issues in the book.
  • a podcast about the book.

What's common to all these ideas? They all aim to:
- Get people involved with the book and its ideas.
- Get people involved with the author.
- Get people to spread the word.

For more about what's happening in the realm of writers, books, readers and the media, especially in Canada, visit the Future Tense blog.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Poetry gift ideas for Christmas

Are you a poet or lover of poetry? My latest Poet's Classroom column, "Give Poetry for Christmas" is full of ideas on how to give away your poems and the poems of others.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


For all my poet friends who are thinking of assembling some chapbooks of their work, there's a fine post on the Poetic Asides blog called "What makes a great chapbook?" It's actually a collection of responses to the question that Robert Brewer, the Poetic Asides' blogmeister, received from poets on the PA Facebook page.

And speaking of chapbooks, I have two for sale. You may not consider them 'great' - but they're mine and I feel like them a bit like I feel about my kids -- it's hard to be objective.

Calendar (2004). Regularly sells for $8.00 Cdn.
(The first print run sold out; the reprinted edition has a slightly different cover)

Family Reunion (2007). Regularly sells for $17.00 Cdn.

But for you a good deal!

For a limited time you can have both for $20 (both U.S. or Canadian funds -- and that includes postage).

Email me to order.

Offer expires December 31, 2008.