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.”

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.




Hunger Games too Violent

I’ll admit – I read the entire Hunger Games series in a matter of a few weeks, and I thoroughly enjoyed the books from a pure entertainment standpoint. They’re well-written and fast-paced with great characters.

At the end of the last book in the series, however, I was left with a sickening feeling – someone deliberately put this out into the world for kids? The violence, gore and horrifying scenarios in the book disturbed me – and I’m a full-grown adult. I can’t imagine what they do for teens, pre-teens and – heaven forbid – even younger children. A violent, gory video game in book form (and now in movie form) – that’s what the Hunger Games series is.

As an author myself, I feel some responsibility (well, actually, I feel a lot of responsibility) for what I “birth” and put out into the world. Do other authors not feel the same way? Especially when they’re targeting young people?

If you’re not convinced of the gratuitous horror and violence and deeply disturbing scenes in this series, just read the last book and note what happens to the main character’s sister and other children. Yikes. I’m still bothered by what I read.


How to Write a Novel

People have asked me, “Where do you get the ideas for a novel?”

I don’t know where the ideas come from, but they usually start with a bolt of inspiration. An idea will pop into my head, and I’m suddenly compelled to write – even if it happens to be 3:00 in the morning.

I know things are going well when I’m in “the zone.” This is the place where I lose track of time. I could sit down to write, with the intention of writing for half an hour, but the words just flow, and the next time I glance at the clock, several hours may have passed.

Being in the zone can happen to anyone who is doing what he or she loves – like my father who has a hobby refinishing antiques and renovating houses. He’ll work for hours on end, forgetting to eat. You know he’s working on one of his projects when he gets very thin.

The other question I often get is, “How do you find the discipline to finish a novel?”

Some people like starting things. I like finishing things. Maybe it’s as simple as that.

I’m not one of those disciplined writers who sits down every day at the same time for one hour, or whatever the specified timeframe, to work on my novel. Some authors recommend this approach, but it has never worked for me. I write when the inspiration strikes.

It helps that I love creative writing. I have been writing fiction since I could hold a pencil. By age nine, inspired by Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, I had written a whole series of mystery novels about a young female detective named Mary Birks.

As a kid, I’d spend my summers typing up my Mary Birks stories on my old manual typewriter. (You remember those typewriters where your fingers got stuck between the keys?) Then my mother bought an electric typewriter. Typing on that electric typewriter was a dream – my favourite feature the back-space white-out button.

While other kids were playing sports, attending camp, or doing whatever kids do during summer vacation, I was writing stories. No one told me to do it, and I never felt compelled to finish my books. In fact, there were a few stories that I never completed. The end result – finishing the novel – was never forefront in my mind.

I loved the process. I still do.

Maybe there is no greater secret to finishing a novel than that.

Shameless Self-Promotion

I attended an event this weekend all about marketing. One of the presenters, media and gossip expert Shawne Duperon talked about the importance of self-promotion. Scratch that. She talked about the importance of shameless self-promotion.

How many of us are truly comfortable shamelessly promoting ourselves?

When I worked at a charity in the marketing department, I had a boss who was superb at asking for free advertising space and other charitable donations. She was absolutely unabashed — completely shameless in her requests – and it didn’t bother her a bit because it was all for the charity. However, when it came to asking for things for herself, she had a lot more difficulty.

We have no problem promoting the latest movie or novel to friends, family or anyone who’ll listen. We don’t mind cheering on our friends’ ventures and achievements. We can even sing our company’s praises when we have to. But when it comes to shameless self-promotion, many of us are shamefully shy.

And yet, as entrepreneurs, artists or anyone who wants to move ahead at a company, we need to be our own best advocate.

Why is promoting ourselves so hard?

Duperon said that Canadians have a harder time than Americans at shamelessly self-promoting. Perhaps it’s our culturally ingrained need to be polite. We were taught that modesty is a virtue. As children and teenagers, we learned to fit in, rather than stand apart. We were taught to serve and help others, putting ourselves last. And, well, nobody likes a braggart.

But there’s a difference between bragging and promoting something you feel passionate about. It comes across differently, and it feels different to the person doing the promoting. When you truly believe you’re adding value to someone else’s life, promoting yourself becomes a whole lot easier.

This was a big lesson for me. Becoming comfortable with self-promotion was one of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome as a new author.

So, in the spirit of shameless self-promotion, I’ll tell you about my new children’s book. 🙂

Elffolk and the Crystal Caves of Atlantis is a fantasy–adventure novel for young readers (ages 7 to 10). A fast-paced read, it tells the story of two young elves, Enna and Nissa, in the mysterious crystal caves of legendary Atlantis.

Check out my website to learn more: The book launches the week of August 23.

Now… that wasn’t so hard!

Shawne Duperon’s website: