Book Expo America

I just returned home from a trip to New York and Chicago. While in New York, I attended the Book Expo America. The expo was held at the Javits Center on the Hudson River, which is a huge venue! The event was crawling with publishers, agents, authors, fans and others in the book business.

The names of the big publishers hung from the ceiling to indicate where they were located in the room. There were book signings (with long line-ups for the well-known authors) and book give-aways galore. I left the event with more books than I wanted to carry.

It was exciting to be among so many people in the book industry. Writing is such a solitary endeavour. It was refreshing — and inspiring — to be around others who care about stories and books as much as I do.


Remembering Fiction

I am a big fan of the “Game of Thrones” series, and I recently read an interview with Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin in Rolling Stone magazine. He said something both interesting and disturbing. He talks about the fact that some of the things he read as a child — “parties on Gatsby’s lawn” or “the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock” are more real to him than things he actually lived.

He goes on to say: “If we are the sum of our experiences, as I believe we are, then books are a more important part of my life than my actual life. That’s what I try to do with my own fiction: Fill the stories with imaginary people who will become more real to my readers than the people in their lives.”

I completely understand an author’s motivation for creating vivid and memorable characters. Of course, an author would love to have this sort of lasting impression on readers. However, as a reader, I wonder, “Do I want my fictional escapes to be more vivid and real to me than my actual experiences and the people in my life? And if my fictional escapes are more vivid and lasting, what kind of real-life experiences and relationships am I lacking?

Of course, the influence of fiction on our lives doesn’t end with books. We are a culture immersed in numerous forms of entertainment and escape — television, movies, commercials, Youtube videos, etc. Many children spend more time in front of a screen than they do playing outside. So, what will be their childhood memories?

I’m reminded of the lyrics in a Goo Goo Dolls song: “Reruns all become our history.”

Big Steps, Little Steps

I just started jogging again after a six-month hiatus. It is hard — I’m starting from scratch all over again, with only the vague memory that I was once able to do this. As with everything, though, the more I do it, the easier it gets.

It’s like writing. I need to make some changes to my latest novel. I know if I commit to doing a little bit each day, it will get done pretty easily. However, sometimes just getting started is the biggest battle.

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” — Mark Twain

I read an interesting article on about the fastest way to make real change. One of the secrets is “to think smaller than small.” Don’t plan to jog around the block — just put your running shoes on every morning for five days straight. Don’t floss your teeth — just floss one tooth. The idea is that the one small step is not daunting, making it easier to take the next step.

I already floss my teeth, and I’ve already started jogging, so maybe I’ll try this approach with my novel. I’ll open a new Word document and just stare at the blank page….

I’ll let you know what happens.

My grandmother …


My grandmother recently passed away. She was almost 94 years old.

I feel blessed to have had her in my life all these years. She was a wonderful woman. And I’m glad my son (her great-grandson) got to meet her.

I was reminded of something a friend told me once. (She is in her seventies.) She said, “As you get older, you begin to realize that you only have the people in your life temporarily. As a young person, you don’t think about this.”

It’s true – when you’re young, you just never imagine that one day the people you love will be gone. It’s a powerful reminder to appreciate the people you love now. Spend time with them, do nice things for them, tell them how much they mean to you — and do it now, not when they’re gone.



I love nostalgic things. Music can be particularly nostalgic for me. Whenever I hear AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long, for instance, I instantly think of my high school dances. They always played that song.

Certain smells — a perfume someone wore, mud and worms after a good rain, lilacs in Spring — these things always take me back to the past.

I love writing about things that are nostalgic to me, too. My latest book is set in the 1980’s (for part of the story), and I had fun describing hairspray-encrusted bangs, acid washed jeans with just the right amount of fraying, and safety-pinning jean pant legs to give them a tapered look. Remember that? (If you’re under 25 or 30, you probably won’t have a clue what I’m talking about.)

We all have things that are nostalgic to us. For me, the 1980’s are the most nostalgic. Every time I hear a 1980’s song, I wistfully remember being a kid. Though, as a kid, I was often thinking about what it would be like to be a grown-up!


Competitors or Comrades?

I visited Maeve Binchy’s website the other day. I was looking to contact authors for an endorsement for my new book. I knew it was a shot in the dark with big-name authors like Binchy, but I thought, what the heck. I was surprised and dismayed to see this note on her Contact page:

Do remember, those of you who are writers too, that I’m in competition with you; so please don’t send me your manuscripts – send them to publishers instead.

While I completely understand that many authors may not have the time or interest to help other writers, I was surprised to see her note about being in competition with other writers. Am I the only one who thinks this is the wrong approach?

I have always viewed fellow writers as comrades – not competitors. When I meet a successful author, I don’t think, “You took my spot!” Or, when I meet children who love writing, I don’t think, “Hey kid, you might take my job one day!” 🙂

Writing is a lonely enough occupation – why view all those doing the same thing as competitors? Sure, there are a limited number of spots for authors in the renowned publishing houses, but there is room in this world for all writers.




For the Love of Writing

I was honoured to present at the Calgary Young Writers Conference this weekend. More than 1,500 elementary and junior high students from around the city congregated at the conference to meet authors and illustrators, and to learn new skills in writing/illustrating. In my workshops, the students participated in writing exercises. Afterwards, a number of them read their short stories out loud. I was blown away by their imagination and writing talent. One thing was apparent: these kids loved to write.

Writing simply for the love of it. Or, for that matter, doing anything just for the love of it. Do you remember those days?

I met a fellow presenter at the conference – a professor in his sixties who had been writing stories for years. He had received one Governor General’s nod during that time, and after that, he said he didn’t feel the need to publish anything else. He said the need to get published and the self-promotion took something away from the writing itself.

I had to agree. Promoting your writing, vying for recognition and trying to please others – it strips some of the purity out of the writing process. As writers, it’s likely that many of us started writing as children. And, I would venture a guess, most of us did it simply because we enjoyed it, because we felt compelled to create stories or poems or plays, and because we lost ourselves in it.

One of the keynote speakers at the conference was a young published author in Grade 6. At the very end of his speech, he told us not to write because we want to get published – to write because it’s what we love.

That’s when the magic happens.


Books Where Nothing Really Happens

I’m reading a book right now by Carla Neggers. It’s called Secrets of the Lost Summer. I’m almost half-way through the novel, and, well, nothing has really happened. And yet, I’m hooked! This is a book that falls squarely in the “romance” genre, and yet the two main characters have shared only one quick kiss so far. 

I find the same thing with Nicholas Sparks books – the stories build ever so slowly… and yet I’m a huge Nicholas Sparks fan.

I think as long as the characters are believable and interesting, the writing is easy to read, and there is a continual building toward something significant, we as readers can be quite patient.


Real Life in Fiction

I’m scheduled to speak at a young writer’s conference next weekend, and my topic is Real Life in Fiction – writing about what you know. The more I looked into the subject and the more I thought about it, I realized, as writers, we are all inspired by our real lives and experiences.

Even fantasy and science fiction writers are inspired, to some extent, by their real-life experiences and the people they know. Hermione in Harry Potter is based loosely on JK Rowling as a kid. Ron Weasley is inspired by JK Rowling’s best friend.

Stephenie Meyer admits that her faith (as a Mormon) has influenced her Twilight stories and characters. She says that her characters “tend to think more about where they came from, and where they are going, than might be typical.”

As I started to dissect my latest book – I realized all the ways my real-life experiences had inadvertently seeped into my novel. The main character has a very different personality from me, but our experiences are similar. Meanwhile, the secondary character is strongly reminiscent of my mother.

I suspect you could find remnants of the author’s life and experiences in every work of fiction. We are inspired by our own experiences, by the things that interest us, and by the events, situations and people around us.

The Paranormal in Pop Culture

You don’t have to look far to witness society’s fascination with the paranormal. From Harry Potter and the Twilight series to the many ghost-hunting reality programs on TV to shows like Supernatural, our love of the paranormal is practically ubiquitous.

One third of Americans say they believe in the existence of ghosts, according to a 2007 poll by the Associated Press and Ipsos. According to a 2005 Gallup survey, 41 per cent believe in extrasensory perception, 26 per cent believe in clairvoyance and 31 per cent believe in telepathy or psychic communication.

A few years ago I produced a documentary for television about people who work in the ghost business (ghost hunters, ghost tour operators, psychics/mediums). But my interest in the paranormal started long before that. As a kid, I remember my grandmother on my mother’s side shuffling Tarot cards and reading my palm, giving me messages “from the other side.”

I grew up with the paranormal. The paranormal was even kind of normal for me. So, it’s probably no surprise that, as an author, elements of the paranormal seem to seep into everything I write. The new novel that I’m finishing up has psychics, Tarot cards, palm reading, a haunted house and a ghost.

People have always been curious about the unexplained. It’s mysterious and it takes you away from the mundane every day.

The paranormal is this whole other realm where anything is possible.