Writing Practice with Vicki Pinkerton

Writing, like any skill or talent, can be improved with practice. The practice does not have to involve your current story/book/project. Vicki Pinkerton explained that writing practice is about getting words on the page, though it’s not about the art of the craft. Writing practice gets personal. It can be like yoga or meditation, helping you reach into your psyche to find the story you need to tell.

Many writers participate in prompt writing, whether in a group or on their own. The rules for writing practice are a little different. Writing practice is more personal. The recommended tools are a good pen – the one you love, the one with magic in it – and a light, portable notebook. Not a computer, if that’s possible, though there are circumstances where a computer is necessary. The important thing is that you write however you can.

Why writing practice? It will spark ideas and it will get the words flowing, finding what you need. A regular writing practice will build confidence. You will understand the power of writing for just ten minutes (or any minutes). You will find depth in your writing. Writing practice can do so much for a writer. Also, as Vicki was quick to remind us, if you write, you’re a writer.

Vicki reminded us to be aware of our “monkey mind,” our inner critic, the part of us that wants to edit the words even as they come. Everyone has it, but don’t listen to it. Don’t let the doubts creep in. Keep writing.

Vicki provided us with some rules, which she tweaked from author Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones. Free the writer within. You aren’t getting marked, this isn’t a test. You don’t need the best words. Lose control. Don’t think. Keep your hand moving! You can’t do it wrong.

Check out Vicki’s website for her “pop-up” writing. Fifteen minutes of prompt writing, with two or three prompts, yet another way Vicki can help you get your creative juices flowing. Find more information about Vicki and her writing on her website.

Upcoming Events:

Your Poetry Toolbox with James Dewar – January 10, 1:30 pm – 4:30 pm

Sequential Storytelling/Graphic Novels: A Writer’s Perspective with Allison Danger – January 28, 7:00pm – 9:00pm

20 Social Media Superchargers with Anne McLachlan – March 14, 1:30pm – 3:00pm

Marketing Yourself & Your Work (Fiction & Creative Non-fiction) with MJ Moores – March 25, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

Announcing Dervishes Don’t Dance by Kim McDougall

About the Book:

Sometimes you just need to hug your fire dervish. Like when he protects you from brownies. Or goes down into the scary basement with you because he’s proud to be your apprentice. Or when he saves the world.

Kyra Greene, pest controller to the extraordinary, is back with a new adventure!

A Guardian is dead. Fae are missing. And someone has let a golem loose in town. Ride along with Kyra Greene, the only pest controller qualified to deal with the strange and wonderful creatures that come out the shadows when magic flares.

Dervishes Don’t Dance by Kim McDougall, our former WCYR program coordinator, was released on October 13, 2020. It is the sequel to Dragons Don’t Eat Meat and the second book in the Valkyrie Bestiary Series.

A bit about Kim:

If Kim McDougall could have one magical superpower, it would be to talk to animals. Or maybe to shift into animal form. Definitely, fantastical critters and magic often feature in her stories. So until Kim can change into a griffin and fly away, she writes dark paranormal action and romance tales from her home in Ontario, Canada.

Kim continues to volunteer with the WCYR, while creating fantastical tales like Dervishes Don’t Dance. We thank Kim for everything she has contributed to the community and look forward to her new book and other upcoming releases.

Find Kim

Queries, Twitter Pitches, and Contests with Farah Heron

Querying is a daunting task for any writer. It was exciting to hear about a writer’s successful journey. Author Farah Heron helped the writers of the WCYR with this anxiety-inducing task. Farah covered a lot of information. She discussed the basic path to traditional publication, agents, query letters, Twitter pitches, contests, and more!

Step One: Write an excellent book.

Before writing a query letter and sending it off to dozens of agents, Farah stressed the importance of learning about the process before you’re ready to start. There are a lot of hurdles to jump over. Farah outlined the steps (hurdles) to traditional publication. You have to ask yourself if traditional publishing is the right path for you. If you have achieved step one (writing an excellent book), anyone can follow these steps. Remember, none of these steps are easy, however, if you want to be published with one of the big publishers, you need an agent. Keep in mind, agents are in your corner for more than just finding you a publisher, they advocate for you along the way. Agents negotiate your contract, help you understand royalty statements, and advocate for you during editorial disputes. Agents are also entitled to 15% of your earnings, they are hard to find, and they might not be necessary for small publishers. It’s important to do your homework when it comes to finding an agent.

You’ve written an excellent book, and done your research, what else do you need? You need to write a kickass query letter!

If you keep getting stock rejections or no responses, your query letter might be the problem. Do your research on how to write one. Remember, this is a business letter, so keep it professional. Farah was meticulous at taking us through the important parts of a query letter, from the blurb to formatting. 

Want to go beyond the query letter? Farah went on to explain Twitter pitch events. There are several out there, but the most well-known is #PitMad, administered via Pitch Wars. Each pitch event has its own rules. Again, do your research so the right agents will see your pitch. When it comes to contests, also do your research. With any opportunity to get your work seen, research is your first task.

Farah gave us lots of useful information that will help all of us get better at querying.

Find Farah:

Upcoming Events:

Your Poetry Toolbox with James Dewar – January 10, 2021, 1:30pm – 4:30pm

Sequential Storytelling/Graphic Novels: A Writer’s Perspective with Alison Danger – January 28, 2021, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm FREE

20 Social Media Superchargers with Anne McLachlan – March 14, 1:30pm – 3:00pm

Marketing Yourself & Your Work (Fiction & Creative Non-fiction) with MJ Moores – March 25, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

December 2020’s Page Turner

Page Turners

Page Turners

by Val Tobin

Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is for them by reading the first page of a manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I post the first page of a book and you can vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.

After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.

While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.

NOTE: Set aside your preference for or against any specific genre and just focus on the writing. Does it compel you to turn the page and find out what comes next? Base your decision to turn the page on the excerpt’s writing alone.

Today’s Excerpt

Genre: Memoir

IMMORALITY ACT, 1927

To prohibit illicit carnal intercourse between Europeans and natives and other acts in relation thereto.

Be it enacted by the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, the Senate and the House of Assembly of the Union of South Africa, as follows:

  1. Any European male who has illicit carnal intercourse with a native female, and any native male who has illicit carnal intercourse with a European female … shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years.
  2. Any native female who permits any European male to have illicit carnal intercourse with her and any European female who permits any native male to have illicit carnal intercourse with her shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding four years …

Part I

The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other. Apart hate, is what it was. You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.

At the time, South Africans outnumbered white South Africans nearly five to one, yet we were divided into different tribes with different languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Tswanna, Sotho, Venda, Ndebele, Tsonga, Pedi, and more. Long before apartheid existed these tribal factions clashed and warred with one another. Then white rule used that animosity to divide and conquer. All nonwhites were systematically classified into various groups and subgroups. Then these groups were given differing levels of rights and privileges in order to keep them at odds.

Perhaps the starkest of these divisions was between South Africa’s two dominant groups, the Zulu and the Zhosa. The Zulu man is known as the warrior. He is proud. He puts his head down and fights. When the colonial armies invaded, the Zulu charged into battle with nothing but spears and shields against men with guns. The Zulu were slaughtered by the thousands, but they never stopped fighting. The Xhosa, on the other hand, pride themselves on being the thinkers. My mother is Xhosa. Nelson Mandela was Xhosa. The Xhosa waged a long war against the white man as well, but after experiencing the futility of battle against a better-armed foe, many Xhosa chiefs took a more nimble approach. “These white people are here whether we like it or not,” they said. “Let’s see what tools they possess that can be useful to us. Instead of being resistant to English, let’s learn English. We’ll understand what the white man is saying, and we can force him to negotiate with us.”

The Zulu went to war with the white man. The Xhosa played chess….

Would you turn the page?

Read more

How a Dragon Saved my Soul: A Heartwarming NaNoWriMo Tale

by Melissa Small

Have you ever tried to write with a dragon stuck in your head, or watch a movie without him complaining about the movie? Well, welcome to my life. Let me explain.

It started few a years ago, after battling through a horrible job, I lost all my muses. Yes, all my muses –  no writing, no will to do anything, they just up and left me. It’s hard to explain that cold emptiness in your head when you’re used to muses being there, and then nothing at all.

This went on for months, and I didn’t realize it was as bad as it was, until I stopped eating and didn’t sleep at all. I became really sick, and had to start by eating basic foods. Slowly, I moved onto more complex foods – like the turkey dinner I missed that year. As for sleeping, meditation is a blessing.

Then, I finally found the strength to quit my job and I took time off from work. At this point, I spent most days alone at home, bored, watching TV with the dog, and doing nothing. All the nothing helped get my body back up and running again, but something was still missing from my life.

With my body back in action, I was able to sleep through the night, and I started dreaming again. At first, the dreams came in small sparks, then soon full stories in colour filtered through. A story emerged from these dreams. That’s when I heard his voice for the first time. Red’s voice. I decided to keep a notebook by the bed to write down ideas from my dreams. We worked together: he healed me, and I helped him tell his story.  Without him, I’m not sure where I’d be now … he helped heal my soul, mind, and body.

You may ask, what does this have to do with writing? Well, Red is this loud voice that I hear when I write. He was not supposed to be one of the main characters at first. Tia (Tabatha) was to be the narrator, but Red didn’t like to share the spot light (still doesn’t). So, when I started to write the story down, he took on a larger role.

Beginning with story ideas, characters, creatures, and languages, I built worlds full of dragons, magic, and adventure. After that, well, the dragon took over. It was very hard to quiet him when it was another character’s turn to talk. So, a few times I would catch myself writing something that character would never say – but Red would. I’d grumble and yell at the dragon. I’m sure the dog and cats thought it was them a few times. So I had to give them treats. Poor dears.

As for what kept me motivated and finally helped heal my broken spirit, it was most definitely that loud-mouthed dragon. He never shuts up and always has to have the last word. He put his huge wings around me and through his muse, he helped make me whole again.

Last NaNoWriMo, I put Red to task. We finished his first book on November 29, 2019, with over 52,000 words; but sadly, due to my slow internet, it didn’t get posted. I didn’t know until December 1st. Shock hit first, and then I was heart broken again. I thought I’d failed. Worse, I thought I had failed Red. He had done so much for me, and all the hard work we’d put into bringing his tale to life ended with a registration error.

But the NaNoWriMo people were fantastic; they didn’t leave me—us—behind. I was still able to register my book Dragon’s Among Us: Hatcher’s Moon and claim that prized certificate which now hangs on my wall in honour of that sarcastic, jerk of a red dragon, whose magic made me whole again. 

This year, 2020, has been hell for many people. I lost my job in March because of the virus and that was another blessing in disguise. I have had the time to write and edit. I have written over eight short stories and published them all. One story is up for a competition, and I find out in December from Polar Expression if it wins or not. And for NaNoWriMo, this year, I’m starting the second book in Red’s series, aiming for at least five books in total. I just love this dragon to pieces, and without him I would not be writing stories.

Always hug your dragon.

Announcing A Craptacular Understatement: D.E.M.ON Tales 3, by MJ Moores and Nanci Pattenden

About the Book:

Doctored intentions A well-meaning doctor summons a beautiful mythological bird to aid the sick. Unfortunately, it has attracted the attention of the local doves, with unexpected side effects when the peaceful birds turn foul. With a sudden rise in ancient illnesses inflicted by dive-bombing avians, only Hex, D.E.M.ON.’s monster guru, stands a chance of finding a cure. But when a key member of the agency gets infected, the search for a cure becomes a race to cheat death. This is the third installment of D.E.M.ON. Tales, where Men in Black meets Supernatural, in a tongue-in-cheek blend of action and humour. A Craptacular Understatement is available on November 13th.

A bit about MJ and Nanci:

Nanci Pattenden and MJ Moores have been writing critique partners for almost 10 years. They began writing very different genres, Nanci in historical mystery, and MJ in sci-fi / fantasy. But over the years, they rubbed off on each other. But in a good way. Nanci now dabbles in urban fantasy, and MJ has fallen for the Victorian era, writing young adult steampunk.

MJ and Nanci, our former WCYR Board Chair and Secretary respectively, remain very active volunteers for the Writers’ Community of York Region, and when permitted out in public at some future date, will continue to enjoy attending book events to ply their wares.

Find A Craptacular Understatement here:

Find Nanci at:

Find MJ at:

November 2020’s Page Turner

Page Turners

Page Turners

by Val Tobin

Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is for them by reading the first page of a manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I post the first page of a book and you can vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.

After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.

While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.

NOTE: Set aside your preference for or against any specific genre and just focus on the writing. Does it compel you to turn the page and find out what comes next? Base your decision to turn the page on the excerpt’s writing alone.

Today’s Excerpt

Genre: Historical Fiction

1

“Run along, make your calls, and enjoy His Lordship’s hooley,” said Mrs. Maureen Kincaid, “Kinky” to her friends, as she knelt in the hall and sponged Ribena black-currant cordial from a small boy’s tweed overcoat. “I’ll expect you all back by five, sir, not a minute later. I’d not want the Christmas dinner to be spoiled.”

Her employer, Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, said over his shoulder, “We’ll be on time, I promise, Kinky.” He strode off accompanied by his guest, Caitlin “Kitty” O’Hallorhan, and his young assistant, Doctor Barry Laverty.

Kinky shut the front door after them. She imagined that over the excited voices of the children she could hear footsteps crunching through the freshly fallen snow as Doctor O’Reilly led his little party to his big old Rover for the drive to Ballybucklebo House and the marquis’ 1964 Christmas Day open house.

It was warmer in the hall with the door shut. Just as well with a dozen chilled little carollers inside drinking hot black-current juice. She straightened up, inspected her handiwork, and smiled. “There you are, Dermot Fogarty. Good as new, so.”

“Thank youse, Mrs. Kincaid.” The eight-year-old bobbed his head. “If I’d got my new coat dirty, my daddy would’ve killed me, so he would.”

She tousled his hair. Not for the first time she thought how harsh to her ears the County Down accent sounded, especially when …

Would you turn the page?

Read more

Announcing a New Book by Marilyn Carr – Nowhere like This Place: Tales from a Nuclear Childhood

The WCYR is excited to announce the release of Marilyn Carr’s new book Nowhere like This Place: Tales from a Nuclear Childhood. Marilyn has been a WCYR member for several years, and is our current blog editor.

About the Book

Marilyn Carr’s family arrived in Deep River, Ontario in 1960 because her dad got a job at a mysterious place called “the plant.” The quirky, isolated, residence for the employees of Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories was impeccably designed by a guy with the unfortunate name of John Bland. It’s a test-tube baby of a town that sprang, fully formed, from the bush north of Algonquin Park, on the shore of the Ottawa river. Everything had already been decided, including the colours of the houses, inside and out. What could possibly go wrong?

Nowhere like This Place is a coming-of-age memoir set against the backdrop of the weirdness of an enclave with more PhDs per capita than anywhere else on earth. It’s steeped in thinly veiled sexism and the searing angst of an artsy child trapped in a terrarium full of white-bread nuclear scientists and their nuclear families. Everything happens, and nothing happens, and it all works out in the end. Maybe.

A bit about Marilyn

Marilyn Carr is a class of 2020 MFA graduate from the University of King’s College, Halifax, Nova Scotia, which is her fourth degree, but who’s counting? (She is.) She blogs about the absurdness of everyday life at life at www.marilyncarr.com, and is currently working on the next installment of her memoirs, How I Invented the Internet.

You can find her book now at online booksellers everywhere, and in select stores. Check it out at:

Subject Lines Save Bottom Lines: Building a Better Newsletter to Grow Your Author Business with Holly Mortimer

by Allison Hannah

Holly Mortimer ‘Zoomed’ in from Stratford on October 18th to present a workshop called Subject Lines Save Bottom Lines: Building a Better Newsletter to Grow Your Author Business. I attended in order to moderate the session, excited to spend the afternoon with writerly friends, though almost certain the content was not applicable to me. I planned to cheer the authors on and was hopeful they would benefit from Holly’s tips to increase their book sales.

A self-published women’s romance author, a mom and a ‘believer in the happily ever after,’ Holly is the owner of the consulting firm, The Socialvert, and runs a successful membership base for romance writers, The Socialvert Society. She has had a high level of success with email marketing and a good return on investment. She coaches authors and others to set up email marketing systems that work for them — literally work for them — so they can be working on their next bestseller, while pre-scheduled newsletters are delivered with content prepared a month in advance. 

It took only a few minutes for Holly to get us excited about the world of email marketing. When her readers and fans open the email newsletters, they are led to her social media pages and website. Once there, she engages them in conversations about what she is writing and what she is doing when she is not writing. They can sample her books, buy her books, and buy her book series. There is no need for a hard sell, because these are her people.

Holly put our worries to rest. What if someone unsubscribes? (You have lost one subscriber who wasn’t a good fit anyway.)  What if we don’t have anything interesting to say? (If you breathe, you do.)  What if our messages are treated as spam? (Your loyal followers will look forward to hearing what you are up to.)

The goal is to build a “healthy” email marketing list, focusing on quality over quantity. It starts with the first click. What email subject line will stop their thumb scrolling and have them open your messages? Start with paying attention to which messages you tend to open. Are they those with emojis? Capital letters? Promises of free stuff?  Try some of these techniques out with your mailing list. The MailerLite algorithm that tracks the clicks will show what’s working.

Even if you aren’t yet an author, you can reap the benefits from this form of promotion. I am excited to start the process of building a community to cheer me on from the side lines, as I talk about my publishing goals when I am supposed to be writing. Maybe some will be able to relate.

Holly is an engaging presenter and the time with her passed too quickly.  I registered to receive her emails. Even her personalized opt-in process was fun! Pardon me, but I need to excuse myself to take some pet photos for my first newsletter.

You can find Holly here:

Website

Instagram

Facebook

Upcoming Events

Querying, Twitter Pitches, and Contests with Farrah Heron – November 8, 1:00pm – 4:00pm

Writing Practise: How to Improve Your Writing and Your Creativity by Practicing Writing with Vicki Pinkerton – November 26, 7:00pm – 9:00pm

Your Poetry Toolbox with James Dewar – January 10, 2021, 1:30pm – 4:30pm

Page-Turning Tension with Molly O’Keefe

September had us ready to learn about page-turning tension and Molly O’Keefe was there to teach us during our annual Open House. But before we got started, the WCYR Board announced some changes. MJ Moores, Nanci Pattenden, and Kim McDougall will be leaving the board. Gary Mcgugan and Mit Gopaul have taken over from MJ as co-chairs of the board. Loni Cameron has taken over from Nanci as secretary. Allison Hannah and Agnes Jankiewicz have taken over as co-program coordinators from Kim. The new board members were welcomed, and founding WCYR member, Sue Reynolds said a few gracious words about MJ, Nanci, and Kim. Once the smiles, thankyous, and welcomes were over, it was time for tension!

Molly O’Keefe started by reminding us that tension belongs in all novels (and memoirs). It keeps the pages turning. Tension builds the reader up, leading them, and eventually giving them satisfaction. Tension should be applied to all aspects of your novel. All characters and plot points should have tension: what makes this person, this scenario, worse? Molly explained that “tension” is one of those “writer words,” but we all need to learn how to apply it. She described tension as “the distance between the reader asking a question and the writer answering it.” Regardless of genre, it’s all about the questions. Is this person the killer? Are they going to kiss? Writers need to twist and pull the rug out from under the reader. Molly reminded us that everyone bickering isn’t tension (conflict) if no one is asking a question.

Molly led us through an exercise to create a list of questions for the books we are currently writing. After the exercise, questions were asked about the questions. Are unanswered questions okay in a series? Yes, if the reader understands that another book is coming. Remember that you can’t please everyone. The reasons for the answers to the readers’ questions should be clear to them, even though we know the world is messy.

Surprise the reader!

The writer should control the questions the reader is asking. Molly stressed that the number one killer of tension is answering questions too soon. Don’t lose steam! If a question is answered, make sure there’s another one to take its place. Remember that a look between two characters is sometimes all we need to create tension. A look of anger? Anguish? Passion? Disgust? One line can make a reader race through a book to see if they are right or wrong.

Find Molly O’Keefe:

www.molly-okeefe.com

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Upcoming Events:

Subject Lines Save Bottom Lines with Holly Mortimer – October 18, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Querying, Twitter Pitches, and Contests with Farrah Heron – November 8, 1:00pm – 4:00pm

Writing Practice: How to Improve Your Writing and Your Creativity by Practicing Writing with Vicki Pinkerton – November 26, 7:00pm – 9:00pm

October 2020’s Page Turner

Page Turners

Page Turners

by Val Tobin

Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is for them by reading the first page of a manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I post the first page of a book and you can vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.

After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.

While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.

NOTE: Set aside your preference for or against any specific genre and just focus on the writing. Does it compel you to turn the page and find out what comes next? Base your decision to turn the page on the excerpt’s writing alone.

Today’s Excerpt

Genre: Literary Fiction

One

They were supposed to stay at the beach a week, but neither of them had the heart for it and they decided to come back early. Macon drove. Sarah sat next to him, leaning against the side window. Chips of cloudy sky showed through her tangled brown curls.

Macon wore a formal summer suit, his traveling suit—much more logical for traveling than jeans, he always said. Jeans had those stiff, hard seams and those rivets. Sarah wore a strapless terry beach dress. They might have been returning from two entirely different trips. Sarah had a tan but Macon didn’t. He was a tall, pale, gray-eyed man, with straight fair hair cut close to his head, and his skin was that thin kind that easily burns. He’d kept away from the sun during the middle part of every day.

Just past the start of the divided highway, the sky grew almost black and several enormous drops spattered the windshield. Sarah sat up straight. “Let’s hope it doesn’t rain,” she said.

“I don’t mind a little rain,” Macon said.

Sarah sat back again, but she kept her eyes on the road.…

Would you turn the page? Vote now.

Would you turn the page?

Read more

Am I Doing this Right? – The shape of storytelling today

MJ Moores

Last night, for the first time in a long time, I seriously asked myself, in relation to my writing, “Am I doing this right?”  

And I was legitimately concerned.

Now, I’m not talking about the mechanics of SPaG (spelling, punctuation, and grammar), nor am I talking about word smithing (strengthening vocabulary, reducing filter words, and the like). I’m not even concerned about the structure of story (plot, tropes, setting, character…).

What stopped me was VOICE.

My voice, my character’s voice, the voice of truth.

I shared the most recent version of the first chapter of my Victorian steampunk superhero series with my trusted critique group, and a line about a race other than mine disturbed a respected member.

To the innocent question, “How’s your wife?” My white, English inspector (high-ranking British police officer) replied, “She’s well. Keeping busy with charity and church work. Trying to save some African children or other this week.”

I did not include it as a racial slur. It was an off-hand comment to show how he didn’t really get into his wife’s business as long as it kept her happy.

I asked my group member what it was about the line that didn’t sit well with her, and she intoned that it, “Felt wrong. Was too abrasive considering the cultural revolution currently underway.”

Now, my immediate reaction was to justify why my character (and therefore I) chose to say this:

It’s Victorian England. In the 1800s in Britain, it was highly common for well-to-do white women to fundraise for various charities, including sending money and clothes to the less-fortunate children in third-world countries.

This is what they did.

I was not stating an opinion through my character, and I was not making social commentary regarding today’s cultural revolution.

I simply relayed a fact of history.

When I mentioned this, the woman stated, “I understand, but as writers we need to be sensitive to the current climate and respectful of change. If you were writing a strict historical novel, I don’t think it would have affected me the same way. But you’re writing fantasy, and as an author you have the ability to mold your world as you see fit – a line like this could easily give the wrong impression.”

I was taken aback. She didn’t intend to hurt my feelings or belittle my point of view. She simply stated her concerns for me to consider as a good critique group member should.

What hurt most about that statement wasn’t that I needed to be more conscientious about today’s cultural revolution, but that what I was writing wasn’t historical because it was steampunk. My brain immediately jumped to all the research I had been doing to make this series historically accurate and plausible as an alternate timeline where the only difference in the world was that in the year 1830 steam took precedence over electrical energy.

I researched the class system, the monarchy, the inventions, and the cultures in a part of nineteenth century Britain. So why was my writing suddenly shoved into the gas-light fantasy column when I very consciously sat it in historical science fiction?

On the drive home from our social-distanced critique meeting, I asked myself if I was doing this writing thing wrong. Was I devoting time to historical accuracy in my series for nothing? Was all steampunk viewed as fantasy and not alternate history? Had I just wasted two years of my life writing a series of stories that did not contain magic or make-believed elements, only to have it soundly thrust into the fantasy category simply because it deviated from natural history in the 1800s?

I had an hour-long drive and I thought carefully about our conversation and the implications of that one line.

As a human being, I believe we do a disservice to all people by ignoring the past and trying to sweep the unpleasant reality of what happened into some in-between space in time, so that we don’t upset or offend others. War happened. Slavery happened. Genocide happened. If we cannot speak of the truth of our history, then what hope do we have of moving forward for a better tomorrow and avoiding the mistakes of the past?

I drove down the highway looking at this from every angle possible, and carefully considered a webinar I attended about critical literary lenses given by LaQuette, a highly respected author of colour. Her seminar focused on writing outside your personal, generational, or cultural experience, and how that could be a treacherous road to travel for today’s author. She spoke about the reality of “best intentions” and how easy it can be to create problematic or harmful content when you’re unaware of what you don’t know. With regard to different viewpoints other than your personal lived history, she actually encouraged including diverse characters so long as writers did not attempt to write someone else’s story (#ownstories).

I started dissecting my character’s comment while keeping her wise words in mind.

Am I British?

            Yes, but I am only half British and I do not live in Britain nor was I alive in the Victorian era.

Is my character white?

            Yes, but he’s male and a police officer and his character is saddled with some of the highest privileges known in any century.

Is he condoning a negative cultural truth or stereotype?

No. He is simply stating a fact. His wife is helping less fortunate African children.

Is his tone condescending to Africans? Is he implying they require assistance from wealthy white people?

            No. His tone is implying that his wife is chasing yet another “cause” based on what society is dictating is the latest tragedy. He is not taking a stance either way on whether she is doing help or harm.

Could this innocent historical reference be misconstrued?

            Yes. As was already pointed out to me.

Can I improve this line so that it is not potentially problematic or harmful?

            Yes.

And that realization is what finally helped me realize that I wasn’t doing this writing thing “wrong”; that I could still be historically accurate and not gloss-over or hide a known truth. What it told me is that we are all still learning, and that my approach to the sentence could be more representative of the character, who is not racist, per se, but who is realistic about the world he lives in.

It also showed me I should look into some sensitivity readings of the line, and the character, to make sure I’m doing due diligence and not simply making assumptions that could inadvertently hurt or hinder a person or a cultural revolution.

One line.

One reference.

More than one truth.

And this is why I read my work to a critique group I trust and respect. This member’s honesty forced me to analyze why I was making certain choices in my writing and how those choices might affect readers.

I am not “doing this wrong” by any means. If I had shut her down and continued to believe what I assumed was “right”, then I would be doing it wrong. By keeping an open mind and digging deeper into both her and my own reaction, I was able to suss out a course of action to help improve my craft. And for that, I am grateful.

Kia Dennis Tells Us What She Did with Her WCYR Grant

As a recent transplant to Ontario, I was thrilled to find WCYR and attend my first meeting in February 2020 (you know, way back when people left their homes and congregated in groups. Those were the days!) I met several interesting writers, learned a ton about how to make money self-publishing, and discovered WCYR writing grants.

As a crime writer, there are several conferences each year I yearn to attend, although budget constraints usually limit me to one, if that. This year I had planned to attend ThrillerFest with the publishing grant from WCYR, however, I was fortunate enough to win a free pass to the conference. Instead, due to the grant, I was finally able to attend the Writer’s Police Academy virtual conference. It’s usually held in Wisconsin over a long weekend, and a significant expense.

At the conference, I learned a great deal about police and forensics work, as well as the many other professionals that law enforcement calls upon in a police investigation. I also connected with several new authors, one of which I’d already virtually met at ThrillerFest a month earlier. Although WPA is usually very hands on, the instructors did a great job providing visuals and some live demonstrations, including showing the conference goers how to lift fingerprints from a variety of surfaces. The virtual conference format made it possible for me to attend this year, but only increased my desire to attend the conference in person once things get back to normal.

Kia Dennis has been a member of WCYR since January 2020. Her first book, Pursuit of the Truth, will be published by Harlequin Intrigue in February 2021. Learn more about Kia at www.kdrichardsbooks.com or on Twitter at @kiadwrites.

Interested in Applying for a WCYR Grant?

The grant application period runs from January 1 to April 30. Find out more about how to apply here.

Slaying the Synopsis with MJ Moores

Creating a synopsis is about getting your entire manuscript down to one page. MJ Moores provided us with her expertise. A synopsis must be thorough, as agents want to see the whole story, including the ending. Beyond just telling the story, agents want to see what makes the story special or original. They don’t expect to see an entirely original piece, as there are expected tropes for every genre, but each book should have something special.

MJ not only guided attendees through the slaying of the synopsis, she also showed us why agents want a synopsis before investing their time in reading an unpublished novel. Agents want to ensure that there are no obvious plot holes. What are the main characters’ motivations? They want to get a sense of the primary conflict or subject of the story. Importantly, agents also want to assess the author’s ability to write and be confident that the author can follow guidelines.

There are three common methods for creating a synopsis, which MJ detailed. The first is the snowflake method, where you start small and build gradually. The second is the four-act character driven model, where are you start big then revise. The third is the three-act structure, where your break your story into building blocks. After detailing these three methods, MJ gave us the opportunity to create our own synopses. Once each participant had created the first line via the snowflake method, we were then encouraged to share and help our fellow writers in perfecting that line.

MJ also provided us with some very important tips. When creating your synopsis, avoid getting into subplots. Stick with the main plot/main character. You should also look at the impact character’s role. The impact character could be the mentor or best friend; it is the character that pressures the main character to change. There should be a light sprinkle of thematic consideration in the synopsis. Include your genre plot points. Don’t hold back! Reveal the ending, even if it is an unhappy one. Agents are not looking for a cliffhanger.

The synopsis is about balance. Show that you can craft a concise sentence. Use strong verbs, and make your genre clear. Don’t forget to follow the guidelines. MJ gave the group a lot of helpful information, we were lucky to have her.

Find MJ Moores at:
MJMoores.com
Facebook

Upcoming Events:

Subject Lines Save Bottom Lines with Holly Mortimer – October 18, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Querying, Twitter Pitches, and Contests with Farrah Heron – November 8, 1:00pm – 4:00pm

Writing Practise: How to Improve Your Writing and Your Creativity by Practicing Writing with Vicki Pinkerton – November 26, 7:00pm – 9:00pm

September 2020’s Page Turner

Page Turners

Page Turners

by Val Tobin

Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is for them by reading the first page of a manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I post the first page of a book and you can vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.

After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.

While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.

NOTE: Set aside your preference for or against any specific genre and just focus on the writing. Does it compel you to turn the page and find out what comes next? Base your decision to turn the page on the excerpt’s writing alone.

Today’s Excerpt

Genre: Police Procedural

Ballard

1

The patrol officers had left the front door open. They thought they were doing her a favor, airing the place out. But that was a violation of crime scene protocol regarding evidence containment. Bugs could go in and out. Touch DNA could be disturbed by a breeze through the house. Odors were particulate. Airing out a crime scene meant losing part of that crime scene.

But the patrol officers didn’t know all that. The report that Ballard had gotten from the watch lieutenant was that the body was two to three days old in a closed house with the air-conditioning off. In his words, the place was as ripe as a bag of skunks.

There were two black-and-whites parked along the curb in front of Ballard. Three blue suits were standing between them, waiting for her. Ballard didn’t really expect them to have stayed inside with the body.

Up above, an airship circled at three hundred feet, holding its beam on the street. It looked like a leash of light tethering the circling craft, keeping it from flying away.

Ballard killed the engine but sat in her city ride for a moment. She had parked in front of the gap between two houses and could look out at the lights of the city spreading in a vast carpet …

Would you turn the page? Vote now.

Would you turn the page?

Read more