Category Archives: Authors

Of Dollybirds and Broccoli

Dollybird, by Anne Lazurko
Dollybird, by Anne Lazurko

I recently went to a writing presentation by Anne Lazurko, author of the award-winning historical fiction novel Dollybird, at the Saskatchewan Writers Guild annual conference.

Anne’s topic was creating atmosphere in your writing by describing setting through the eyes of your character. From a character’s viewpoint, setting is never neutral, and the way the character feels about his or her surroundings needs to shape the way it is described. The description, in turn, gives the reader a sense of the inner landscape in the character’s mind and heart.

Here is the example she read from p. 99 of her own book: the prairie as seen through the eyes of 20-year-old Moira, banished to the wilderness as a result of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy:

People in Ibsen had told me the prairie was harsh and unforgiving, and I’d be lucky to last the winter. But perhaps it was instead a kindred spirit of sorts, its obvious failures pocking the surface for the world to see: the slough dried up before the ducks could hatch their eggs, the would-be trees stunted into shrubs, the fledgling grasses destined always to wait for the sun. My failures simply blended in.

It’s a lovely description that tells us a much about Moira’s state of mind as about the scenery.

After listening to Anne’s joyful and inspiring presentation, I bought Dollybird. I wasn’t disappointed–it is full of beautiful, atmospheric prose grounded in the thoughts of its two main characters, characters that lived with me for some days afterwards.

My challenge now is to put Anne’s advice into practice, and write my own descriptions from the deep viewpoint of my characters. Since I write kids’ fantasy, not adult historical fiction,  my atmospheres will be quite different from hers!

My current work-in-progress is a middle-grade adventure called The Mystery of the Giant Kohlrabi.

When it starts, Nero’s family is lost in the backroads of the prairie, trying to find Uncle Peter’s farm of giant vegetables. When a speeding semi runs them into the ditch and the car gets hung up on  stump, Nero takes time out under the shade of a nearby tree.

The tree was very strange. Its bark was pale green and perfectly smooth, and its branches had leaves like fish fins. Each branch led up to a single dark green leaf as big as a parachute. Shivers trickled down Nero’s spine. The swaying leaves were held open by stiff, white bones, and one of them had holes the same size as the one in the road sign. Above him, in the centre of the tree, sat a bulging, alien…brain.

Can you guess what Nero found?

Hint 1: you normally eat it with cheese sauce.

Hint 2: It’s in the title of this post.

Happy atmospheric writing.

When Words Collide–You Get Fireworks!

Sharon Plumb reading from Draco's Child a When Words Collide 2015
Reading from Draco’s Child at When Words Collide 2015

I’ve been back from When Words Collide 2015 for four days now, and I’m still flying high from the excitement and energy. Here are a few of my brightest highlights:

  1. A fabulous full-day workshop on “The First Five Pages”  by Faith Hunter,  author of the Jane Yellowrock vampire hunter books. Her advice to “bait and hook” by giving the reader something to latch onto (an intriguing main character, interesting setting, and immediacy in writing) and wonder about (hint of conflict to come) made me realize that my FFP were completely wrong. Now I’ve rewritten them to start where the story starts, and am in the middle of “making lasagna” by sprinkling bits of the backstory throughout the story. And finding it’s better this way.
  2. Hearing an acquisitions editor from a publisher I really like saying she wants to see my book. ♥ ♥ ♥ This was during the Fantasy genre “Live Action Slush”. In a LAS, you anonymously submit the first page of your manuscript , to be read out loud to a panel of four authors and editors. They put up their hands when they would stop reading the manuscript in a slush pile, and the reader stops when three hands are up. My page (freshly re-written after workshop #1) made it all the way to the end. And they clapped. And said it was fantastic. And…first sentence. Wow.
  3. Learning about Eco-Fiction, or fiction that seeks to create and build dialogue about protecting and valuing the world we live on. Realizing that I write this. Draco’s Child is about restoring a damaged eco-system–on another planet, and Bill Bruin is about a bear and a raven learning to delight in winter. The ones I’m working on do this too. More accurately, I write eco-fantasy. Thus my tagline: Exploring Nature in Imaginary Worlds.
  4. Another workshop, this one on the 20-second elevator pitch. Faith Hunter (see point 1) and David B. Coe helped me hone my pitch for the Middle Grade novel I will be pitching to an editor from Scholastic Canada at the CANSCAIP Prairie Horizons conference in September. Giant genetically-modified caterpillars, here I come!
  5. Going to Regina writer Marie Powell‘s launch of her historical fantasy book Hawk.
  6. A half-day plot workshop with Daniel Abraham, in which he re-told MacBeth as a story about a self-help book, computer hackers, and ballroom dancing. You can read it here.
  7. Watching Brandon Mull channel his inner 10-year-old describing  his Middle Grade fantasy books in enthusiastic detail.
  8. Learning 10 ways to hide a clue in a mystery novel, from the Calgary Crime Writers’ Association.
  9. Having 20 people show up to hear my WordPress Workshop when they could have been listening to Diana Gabaldon or any of the other 9 presenters.
  10. Spending time with a whole lot of Regina writers, a bunch from elsewhere, my cousin Carol, and an anthology of other writers (collective nouns are fun) who are now new friends.
  11. Jane Yellowrock rocks. (see point 1)

Can’t wait for next year!