Sep 01

Spark Book Review: The Science of Exercise and the Brain

Changing thinking about exercise and the brain

Written by bestselling author and psychiatrist John J. Ratey with Eric Hagerman, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain is a positive book that looks at how exercise can improve neuroplasticity, learning, and executive function. It suggests exercise as a helpful addition to medication, or sometimes even a replacement for medication in the treatment of depression, addiction, and ADHD.

Exercise and the brain

I found Spark to be full of practical advice for improving education, lifting depression, alleviating addiction, improving student achievement, managing ADHD in adults and children, increasing mental performance, and reducing the likelihood of cognitive decline. If you didn’t think exercise was a panacea before reading this book, Doctor John J. Ratey will make a believer of you by the end. His book is chock full of case studies, statistics, and experimental data that both convince and encourage. Exercise may not cure everything, but it seems to optimize the brain by re-balancing the brain’s chemical and electrical signals and triggering new connections.

Why exercise and the brain?

People evolved as hunter-gatherers who were always on the move. Similarly, our brains need the chemicals released by moderate and intense exercise to function best. People typically exercise to improve their health or extend their lives but Ratey says these motivations are secondary to the more important benefits: improving the brain.This book will change the way you think about your workout. I found myself reading it on the stationary bike.

The only negative aspect of this book is that it gets very technical for the average reader, especially in ebook form. The references to clinical trials and case studies make Ratey’s style is appropriate for a cutting-edge expert in his field. As a non-expert, I could have used some brain diagrams to help me absorb the scientific names for various brain regions, growth factors, neurotransmitters and so forth. There was a lot to learn and while Ratey explains things well, it would have been nice to have a cheat sheet or visual organizers.

Who should read Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain?

I read this book with interest because of my work with children. The book leads off with a couple of fascinating studies relating how exercise can improve student achievement, contentment, and behaviour. There are sections devoted to ways in which exercise stimulates new learning and helps students with attention challenges. That said, there are sections on a wide range of maladies that affect adults from depression to Alsheimer’s Disease to addiction. This book will be useful to a broad range of readers, including those interested in practical suggestions to help stave off mental decline with age.

 

Sep 01

Can-Con Conference and World Fantasy 2016

Can-Con Conference, Ottawa, Sept 9-11, 2016

Meet me at Can-Con Conference, Ottawa, Sept. 9-11, 2016

Appearing at Can-Con Conference and World Fantasy Convention

I love meeting and speaking to readers, writers, and editors. That’s why I’m so excited about my upcoming participation at Can-Con Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature. I am equally looking forward to participating in the World Fantasy Convention at the end of October. This year’s theme is “Flights of Fantasy.”

One of the best things about reading and writing science fiction and fantasy is the chance to meet like-minded people. The creativity, thoughtfulness, and intellect of writers in these areas never ceases to impress me. When I get a chance to read my work or speak on panels at these events, it makes me feel like the luckiest little fish in a great big pond of wonder.

 

Can-Con Conference, Sept. 9-11, 2016

 

Can-Con, The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature takes place September 9 to 11, 2016 at the Novotel Hotel, Ottawa, Canada. I am very pleased that both my time slots at Can-Con this year are on Saturday afternoon since I will be arriving late Friday night. Here is the link to the tentative schedule. My appearances are below.

 

Readings at Can-Con Conference:

On Saturday I will be reading from Feeding Frenzy at the Guildhall Con Suite, 3rd floor with a couple of other fantasy authors. Here are the times:

13:00 – Metamorphosis by Jennifer Carole Lewis

13:20 – Ungloved by Rebecca Simkin, who is also on Wattpad

13:40 – Feeding Frenzy by Maaja Wentz

 

Writers’ Groups Panel Discussion:

At 4:00 p.m. I will be speaking on a panel of interest to writers. Here’s the blurb:

Want to Dominate the World, but Don’t Have a Writers’ Group? Want to make one? Come hear how these other successful minionless writers formed their own critiquing groups so you can found your own! Totally not a pyramid scheme. You may have to sign up for a time-share though…  Maaja Wentz, Su Sokol, Mike Rimar, James K Moran, Ryan McFadden.

 

World Fantasy Convention, 2016

Meet me at World Fantasy, Oct. 27-30,  2016

 

World Fantasy Convention, Oct. 27-30, 2016

World Fantasy Convention takes place just before Halloween. I am told I will participate in at least one panel but details are to be confirmed. I am definitely taking part in the open mic poetry reading for fun. I have a couple of poems suited to Fantasy readers. “When Johnny Mars Turns Five,” “Fallow God,” “Twilight Romance,” and of course, my poetry slam-winning spoken word piece “Flimflam.” This piece sees our lives through the history of advertising. It was inspired partly by Under the Influence, Terry O’Reilly’s wonderful advertising podcast, but also by the brash new world of content marketers selling non-fiction ebooks. It’s a world I sometimes find repellent for artistic reasons, and yet self-publishing is strangely appealing to my geeky side. Audiences at World Fantasy are laaaaarge, so getting in front of a really big room will be a good stretch for me, terrifying but exciting.

 

Would you benefit from attending a Conference like Can-Con?

Can’t make it in person? Deciding whether to attend your first convention? The bios of the panelists for both conventions make interesting reading, and contain a trove of suggestions for new books to read. Start at the home page for each event and don’t forget to read up on the panelists and the guests of honour. Click on the links below for more info about programming. As for the parties, to experience those you will have to attend. Hope to see you there!

Can-Con

World Fantasy

 

Jul 10

Writing Contest – Pitch Contest

Writing Contest a Digital Dare for Writers Who Love to Pitch Ideas

Wattpad writer writing

It’s easy to enter the contest. Click on the busy writer picture.

Inspiration Department: This is the easiest writing contest to get you started

Are you a creative fiction writer?

Do you love writing?

Do you want practice pitching ideas?

Are you looking to find new fans online?

Cliffhanger Castle is the first serial anthology of its kind on Wattpad. Imagine a world where every chapter features the style of a different author as he or she gets the protagonist into terrible scrapes and out of dire dangers. It’s a suspense roller coaster for the reader, and a creative challenge for the writer.

Prizes for fiction contest: a free book, fame, and digital cheesecake!

Watty winnerbook cover Feeding Frenzy by Maaja Wentz

Feeding Frenzy by Maaja Wentz, winner of the 2015 Watty Award. This will be your prize if you win the writing contest – pitch contest

Prize cheesecake for the writing contest

This yummy calorie free and completely gluten free cheesecake could be yours. Do it for the glory, do it for the raspberries! Enter the writing contest.

If your story is chosen, you will win a copy of Feeding Frenzy which is being published this fall, plus get your story published in Cliffhanger Castle. Do it for the glory, the experiment, the virtual cheese cake! Yes, I will send you gourmet digital cheesecake if you win. 😉

Pitch your best ideas to get our heroes out of trouble at the start, and into worse trouble by chapter’s end. I will choose the best pitch and the lucky winner of the contest will be invited to contribute the next chapter to Cliffhanger Castle.

Pro Tip: Read the previous chapters on Wattpad before pitching your chapter idea. The rest of the contest details are on Wattpad.

I will run the contest for the months of July and August, or until a winning idea is received.The winner will be announced here and on social media.

What are you waiting for? Click here to check out Cliffhanger Castle and enter the writing contest now.

Happy writing! — Maaja

Do you have writer friends?

Please spread the news of this contest on social media inside and outside Wattpad.

Skunk in action

Skunky inspiration for a quirky love story that tries to cheat death

Still there? Don’t leave without hearing about the latest, greatest summer anthology on Wattpad! My contribution is a tragic comic fantasy story inspired by a skunk. Click here to visit Sun Kissed Fantasy Anthology on Wattpad

Kidnap My Heart by Maaja Wentz

Kidnap My Heart won the pitch writing contest for the Sun Kissed Anthology. It was so much fun entering and winning I created the Cliffhanger Castle writing contest for you.

Apr 24

10 Reasons Writers Benefit From Conventions

10 Reasons Speculative Fiction Writers Benefit From Conventions

Do you read or write speculative fiction such as fantasy, horror, science fiction, magic realism or slipstream? Consider the benefits of attending a fan convention. I know what you might be thinking. The stereotype of conventions is that they are full of movie fans in Klingon costumes like something out of the Big Bang theory. While conventions like Comic Con are huge tradeshow style events with big budgets and an emphasis on visual media, I prefer the more literary conventions built around books.

 

My local Canadian favorites are Ad-Astra (Toronto) and Can-Con (Ottawa) but Conventions are even bigger in the United States. Two Cons I can personally recommend for writers are Worldcon and World Fantasy Convention. Here is a handy list of conventions to help you find one in your area.

 

Ad Astra SF one of Toronto's top Conventions for writers and readers

I will be at Ad Astra, Toronto, April 29 – May 1.

 

Can-Con, one of Canada's top conventions for readers and writers.

I will be at Can-Con, Ottawa Sept. 9-11, 2016.

What can I expect at my first convention?

Most conventions will include workshops, panel discussions about genre fiction, movies, TV shows, and related issues such as science, diversity in publishing, modes of combat or history. There may be a costume parade, fight demos or a dance, and there are usually parties, a vendor’s room, special screenings of films, book launches, author readings, autograph sessions, and other special events. With a packed schedule, the hardest part can be deciding between conflicting options. Those interested in meeting publishers and authors are well advised to skip evening panel discussions and try parties or the bar.

Top 10 Reasons Writers Should Attend a Convention

Don’t let fear of storm troopers make you miss out on a great thing. There are so many benefits to attending conventions, of which the friendliness of the volunteer community is one of the most important. Here are some others.

  1. Indulge your inner fanboy/ fangirl

Many people attend literary events to hear writers read and then line up for autographs and a chance to spend a moment with a favorite author. At a convention, in addition to these activities, the same authors will typically attend parties and book launches where you can chat with them casually.

Fandom provides unique pleasures on its own, with some fans expressing their creativity by writing and performing songs, creating art, and writing fan fiction inspired by the works of their favorite authors. Some writers even got their start this way, creating fan fiction as they learned their craft, before branching out with original characters.

  1. Speak in Public to a supportive audience

As a lightly published author, it isn’t easy to get speaking gigs, but reading to an audience and learning how to keep their attention will improve your work. The first thing to remember about conventions is that unlike large literary festivals, they are run by volunteers. When you sign up you become a member of the organization. While registering online, you will be asked if you wish to volunteer. Say yes.

Conference organizers typically follow up with an email asking how you would like to help. I suggest signing up to speak on panel discussions, readings (if you are published) or even pitching your own events. In this way I was able to organize a writing game at Toronto’s SFContario, got a chance to do a videotaped reading at Can-Con, and was invited to speak on panels as a teacher-librarian, a NaNoWriMo participant, and as a fan of all things Sherlock Holmes. I also pitched and moderated a panel about serial fiction on Wattpad. Find authors who are attending the convention to be your co-panelists to increase your chances of success.

  1. Cross-pollinate your imagination

You may think you are a literary writer or a horror writer or a fantasy writer, but chances are you read widely outside your genre. And if you don’t, start now to expand your writer’s skillset. Listening to readings by authors outside your usual area can inspire cross-genre concepts and introduce you to new favorite writers. Guests of honour and panelists at conventions come for the love of it and to meet their fans. Why not get to know some of the most approachable and enthusiastic authors in a new genre? At the very least you can learn what each genre does best and incorporate it into your own work. I recommend SF for inspiring intellectual curiosity and a sense of wonder. Suspense and horror create visceral chills in readers. Fantasy is wonderful for world building, monsters, and creative whimsy.

  1. Attend parties!

This is the most fun reason of all. What would you say to meeting a room full of passionate readers and writers? Conventions host book launch parties, publisher parties, and all flavour parties. Doctor Who themed tea parties are a hit in the afternoon but nighttime fêtes are where the action is. If you’re the shy writer type, as many of us are, don’t worry; you already share common interests with most people in the room. You might have to attend a hundred ordinary social events to meet this many avid readers and established and aspiring writers. Come bask in playful and creative conversations.

  1. See Art and Fashion in new ways

I’ll fess up. I’m bored of old school fantasy book covers. You know the ones. Unicorns, dragons, medieval castles. It’s not my thing anymore. Now I prefer the sexy SF covers with weird aliens and half-naked women – Kidding! At cons you will still find these art tropes plus new twists on fantastic themes in the form of graphic novels, acrylic paintings, digital art, crafts, jewelry, and post cards. If you are thinking of self-publishing, you might even meet your future cover artist.

Conventions often hold fashion shows in the evening where fans display the costumes they have made based on anime, film, TV, and novel characters. The shows usually include some humour and drama as well as prizes for the best. Watching the fashion show is amusing in itself but it can also get the creative juices flowing. Watch as models in self-made costumes strut across the stage to tell you their stories.

  1. Spend money for good causes

Many conventions run a fundraiser for local charities by means of various activities. Have fun and feel good whether it be at a tea party fundraiser, auction, or a beef cake/ cheese cake photo shoot.

Conventions also feature a dealer room where you can “support the cause” of keeping your bookshelf current and your treasure trunk loaded. Expect to find any combination of jewelry, puppets, costumes, toys, t-shirts, corsets, steam punk accessories, games, and especially books. Support your reading habit. Tell your family it’s educational.

  1. Meet the experts “dropping science”

Not all conventions have a hard science track but I have attended conventions where tenured professors and aerospace scientists discussed the feasibility of Mars exploration and affordable delivery options for satellites. After the discussion panelists take questions from the audience. What more could a budding science fiction writer want?

Other cons might feature discussions on environmental themes, life on other planets, or hands-on opportunities like star-gazing with telescopes on the hotel roof. If you are interested in science, why not meet real researchers and experts? If you don’t get all your questions answered during the discussion, you can always meet up and chat later at parties and book launches.

  1. Improve your writing skills

Conventional writers’ conferences offer broader, less genre-focussed workshops that may not help you write that high fantasy novel or awesome science fiction story collection you are working on. For future professionals, conventions offer genre specialized discussions with working writers. Name writers sometimes offer instruction unavailable elsewhere for any price. Your favorite author likely doesn’t run workshops for wannabe writers, but at a convention they may “do it for the fans.” Don’t miss out.

  1. Invent your own panel discussion

You never know which of your ideas will dazzle the organizers. Don’t be afraid to use your unique expertise in your pitch. They are often looking for new angles. For World Con Montreal, Julie Czerneda kindly invited me to use my teaching experience to create and present science fiction related curriculum resources for educators. It was the first time I presented anything at a convention.

One way to convince organizers they need you is to think of a unique panel theme and offer to moderate. The moderator of a panel prepares a short introduction to the topic, introduces the speakers (generally published authors), and ensures the discussion runs smoothly. For many writers, meeting other panelists is a convention highlight.

  1. Join the “Con Runners”

But let’s say you’ve signed up for a convention and the organizers turned down your offer to help as a panelist or reader. Volunteering to help at the information desk, with food preparation, registration, security or similar tasks is a good way to meet people. When you offer to help out the following year, you can bet the organizers will remember your name with gratitude. If you are a talented organizer, you may find volunteering with the con running team is the most fulfilling activity of all.

 

An experience worth repeating

Maaja Wentz has spoken on panels, run a writing contest, and read her fiction and poetry at conventions such as: Can-Con (Ottawa), SFContario and Ad Astra (both in Toronto), and World Con (Montreal in 2009).

Apr 11

Robert J. Sawyer — Quantum Night

Robert J. Sawyer at book launch for Quantum Night in Toronto

Robert J. Sawyer at the jam packed Toronto launch of Quantum Night with David and Maaja Wentz

Book Launch

There was such a snowstorm March first for the Toronto launch of Quantum Night, that some feared attendance would be sparse, but Canadians are hardy. Returning home afterward I saw one cyclist on the road, riding through blowing snow.

 

Despite the blanket of flurries, Lansdowne Brewery was packed, even before the advertised start time. Rob offered up his seat so my husband and I could eat sitting down at the bar. Meanwhile, Rob Sawyer stood to sign autographs. A scholar and a gentleman indeed!

Quantum Night

Quantum Night is a suspenseful read, although the plot is based in philosophy and theories of consciousness. For some reason this book hits all the right notes for me, right down to the David Chalmers quote that prefaces the story:

It may be a requirement for a theory of consciousness that it contains at least one crazy idea.

 

I found I could relate to the realistic characters, but it’s ideas that make science fiction interesting. Perhaps it’s pure coincidence that I read a stack of books on psychopathy this summer, or perhaps it’s just the zeitgeist and Rob Sawyer is reflecting what preoccupies people right now.

 

The book is topical and political. At the launch, Sawyer told us he had to make last-minute changes to the manuscript to reflect the results of the Canadian federal elections. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was considered a long shot for much of his campaign.

 

The other topic of fascination for me, so crucial to the plot of this book, is consciousness/ free will. Any book in which a character references The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, is my kind of story. The question of when and how our prehistoric ancestors started to develop conscious thought is fascinating and contentious. Sawyer’s story dives right into this controversy.

 

Sheep or Individuals?

The premise contends that the majority of people aren’t conscious, but follow the lead of others like sheep, and that psychopathic leaders delight in manipulating the herd. For Sawyer there is another group he calls the quick, who are both conscious and ruled by their conscience. I bet all Science Fiction readers assume that they, of course, cannot belong to the unconscious “philosopher’s zombie” group.

 

By the way, the sheep people who make up the majority are perfectly capable of holding down jobs, marrying and having children, and going out on Friday night like everyone else. To an outside observer it is impossible to prove whether a person who goes along with the crowd is making conscious choices or not.

 

It’s perhaps the hardest part of the book to swallow, but also what makes it so much fun. What’s the point of fiction if you can’t suspend disbelief?

(I am experimenting with this affiliate links to Amazon Canada. The other links are to the publisher.)

 

Near Future Thriller

It’s a convention of the thriller genre that there will be unbelievable feats or technology or events. The fact I remain skeptical of some speculative elements of the premise didn’t make the story any less exciting. There is even a guilty geekish pleasure to be had in speculating that the in-crowd from high school to Hollywood might actually be made up of brainless zombies.

 

The intrigue centres around blind followers, psychopaths, and persons of conscience. The premise is that a device is invented which can change a person’s makeup from one type to another. You can just imagine what might happen if this device were to fall into the hands of psychopaths, and of the difficult choices that must be made when it is discovered that the transformation is along a continuum. There is no way to use this power without plunging some conscious people into a state of sheepy unconsciousness.

 

In a world where one individual could press the reset button and change the makeup of humanity, will the result be our salvation or damnation? I leave you to read this very enjoyable book and conclude for yourself.

 

Mar 31

Would you click on this book cover?

Should a writer create her own book cover?

Most artists would recommend leaving cover creation to the professionals and I will. The cover to my self-published ebook, Feeding Frenzy, will be professionally designed. It’s my most popular work yet, garnering a Watty award on Wattpad and ranking #11 in mystery/thriller. Currently, I’m working with an exceptionally talented editor to take the book to the next level. It would be foolish to put the finished book out under a bad cover. Nobody would want to read it. My hope is that the finished cover will include the best elements of the cover I had made for Wattpad, but with professional graphic design.

Feeding Frenzy wins a Watty Award.

Feeding Frenzy wins a Watty Award.

What about free books?

That said, there is the question of freebies. I would like to reward visitors to this blog with free stories. So far I only have one freebie readymade. The Fiendish Plot of Doctor Cyclone is a screenplay based on my middle grade novel of the same name. I adapted the story for media club because I love putting on a show with kids. A drama club is nothing like the dreaded classroom play in which stage-shy students must force themselves to perform.

The movie includes ‘green screen’ key effects which allowed me to place my actors on a space station and inside a mine on the moon. Although I’m proud of the project — proud enough to create a souvenir ebook and give it to the participants — I know most people don’t read screenplays. Cyclone should make fun reading for kids, parents, or educators, but it lampoons science fiction cliches — not everybody’s cup of plasma. I need a better freebie to offer readers.

Do you have an extra $1000.00 lying around?

You can spend pots of money on a good cover but I choose not to spend $1000.00 on the book cover for a thank-you gift. “Wild Caving,” appeared in a print anthology. I am reserving the ebook version as a gift for members of the Loon Lake Reading Club. I’d rather save the cover money and spend it on lavishly editing and producing my next Loon Lake novel. Right now it’s sitting in a drawer, waiting patiently for Feeding Frenzy to come out first, but in some ways I think it’s the better novel.

Have your say

With Photoshop, I made a book cover for my literary suspense story “Wild Caving.” It’s a creepy tale that was short listed for a contest and has been published in the Amprosia anthology.

Since it is not available as an ebook I thought I’d make it available for free to anybody who signs up for the Loon Lake Reading Club. Everybody likes to receive a free book, right?

What I am less sure of are my skills as a cover designer. Please take a look at the test covers below and tell me what you think. Wild Caving, unlike most of my writing, displays no sense of humour. It’s creepy and more literary, written in the voice of a uniquely nasty narrator. Judging by audience feedback at readings, I think people will like it, but they won’t ever read it if the cover stinks.

Please look at the covers below and, even better, share them on social media. I need your help! 🙂

Book Cover Feedback

If you have a moment, I’d love to hear your opinions.

  • Which cover is best?
  • Is either cover good enough to catch your attention and make you want to click?

Cover A versus cover B versus cover C…

Wild Caving Test Cover

In a Mediterranean cave, a man’s prehistoric obsession turns deadly.

 

Wild Caving Test Cover

Ley lines and primitive desires.

 

Wild Caving Cover

In the hills overlooking Cassis, spindly pines form a forest of matches.

 

Thank you for your input!

Feb 28

Today should be WCDR gratitude day!

WCDR LOGO

 

Phoenix Short Story Contest

The finalists in the WCDR Phoenix short story contest have been announced and I’m on the list! Congratulations to all finalists.

 

After School Steve Lloyd
Birds of a Feather Derek Mascarenhas
Bittergreen My Life Sarah Van Goethem
Burnout Linda Kingston
Constellations Bill Zaget
Eternity Elizabeth Girard
Full Time Steve Lloyd
How Merrill Got Her Groove Back Maaja Wentz
Mahkenuk Maureen Curry
Out of the Ashes Lynda Allison
Phoenix Elaine Jackson
Salvage Ken McBeath
Seven Ravens Jessica Moore
Summer Apples Sally Moore
The Fortunate Man Ann Rocchi
The High Way Sally Moore
The House from Turk’s Cove Alison Dyer
The Steps You Take Vera Constantineau
U-Bahn Sylvia Chiang
You Lift Me Up Margaret Alexander

Gratitude

I recently wrote a letter to the Writers’ Circle of Durham Region, thanking them for a grant they awarded to me last year to help fund the professional editing of Feeding Frenzy. As a supportive writing community and dynamic volunteer organization, I can’t thank them enough for the encouragement and the opportunities they provide for writers at all stages of their careers. Here is the letter:

I would like to express my gratitude to the WCDR for its generous grant. Recognition in the form of a grant is not just monetary assistance to achieve the goal, but a of reflection of confidence in a writer’s work. Deciding to self-publish my novel, Feeding Frenzy, was not easy. The novel started in the form of chapters posted weekly to Wattpad, a free online reading platform with over 40 million members.

When Wattpad chose to feature Feeding Frenzy, and then later when it won a Watty award, it became clear that the story was of interest to readers. That said, spending the money to properly edit it for publication in e-book and paperback forms was a different matter. When the WCDR decided to provide a grant to help pay for editing, this vote of confidence made it seem both feasible and sensible.

Thank you once again for your confidence in my work, and for your financial support to help bring it to publication. Feeding Frenzy received editorial input from award-winning Canadian writer Richard Srimger, and the manuscript is currently in the hands of award-winning editor Sandra Kasturi. I will be sure to let you know when the publication date is set.

Please feel free to forward this letter to any of your sponsors. I am indebted to the WCDR for the many opportunities it has given me to network with other writers, attend workshops, enjoy guest speakers, read in public, participate in competitions, publish newsletter articles, and attend special events like Bookapaloosa. The local writing scene would be much poorer without the WCDR and its many generous volunteers.

With gratitude,​

Maaja ​Wentz​

Feb 22

Why your chapter book makes me angry

Kids minds are precious

 

I read a lot of books as a teacher-librarian, and I’m no literary snob when it comes to children’s fiction. I’m delighted to see children reading series fiction, and the kind of stories that will be called genre fiction when they are older: adventure, fantasy, mystery, science fiction. I’m happy to see them devour cookbooks, sports books, record books, joke books, how-to books, graphic novels, comic books, books that describe pranks, YA novels about the lives of teens from the wrong side of the tracks, non-fiction, and magazines on everything from science to movie stars. Anything that inspires a love reading in kids is a good read.

When I’m not at school, I write stories and novels and think about publishing them, either traditionally or independently. To learn how, I watch online videos, and read e-books by self-publishing gurus and independently published best-selling authors. Some of these videos are also made by entrepreneurs who aren’t interested in writing, so much as in creating a mailing list of people to whom they can sell courses, coaching, and digital ‘content.’ I’m sure some of these marketers create useful products while others are complete flim-flam artists. That’s okay. Everyone knows that when you buy something, it’s ‘buyer beware.’ We’re all adults here on the internet.

Except we’re not. Recently, I watched a free webinar on writing books for children and publishing them independently. I was horrified by how cynically the author of the course recommended that we create titles based on the kind of keywords parents and children would be looking for inside the top-selling categories for children’s fiction on Amazon.com. Next, we were supposed to combine these keywords with the latest trends such as Minecraft, or recent hit toys or Hollywood movies to create a sure winner. Once a bestselling concept was created by combining a fad, some popular keywords, and concepts from pre-existing best-selling books, the work of actually writing the book was so unimportant that this guru suggested hiring an unknown to do it on a cheap work-for-hire site such as Fiverr. With this sales method, quantity and discoverability are everything. Good writing is beside the point. How offensive to assume children don’t know quality when they read it!

I looked up some of the books created this way on Amazon to see if they were any good. The first couple I looked at were, predictably, terrible. I used to take a George Brown children’s writing class with well-known children’s editor Peter Carver. Not one of the students in that class ever turned in anything as flawed as the first page of this self-published book. It’s the difference between caring about writing as an art, and trying to rip off as many suckers as possible for money.

I am in favour of self-publishing, and I have no problem with the existence of books that are imperfect, tacky, or not to my taste. Adults are welcome to write and sell any kind of erotica the law allows, without it becoming my concern. It’s when crass marketers try to make a buck by methods which will put boring books into the hands of children that I get upset. Very young children work hard to learn to read, some of them very hard. When they reach the early stage of independent reading and can finally choose their own material, they deserve to read something hilarious, or intriguing, or imaginative, or exciting, or thoughtful, or better yet, all these things at once. They should never be exposed to something which is wilfully awful and boring, created just to have great SEO.

What’s to be done? Censorship is out of the question. Amazon.com does not and should not decide which books get published through its Kindle self-publishing platform. I suppose I could badmouth every disciple of this cynical hack meister, except some of his acolytes might write good books despite their commercial intentions. It can’t be any other way. In the hands of someone with talent and the intention of entertaining children, someone could follow his shallow advice and produce a compelling book that motivates children to read. So if censorship is out, but letting awful books fall into the hands of children is still a tragedy, what is the remedy?

I just spent this Saturday at TDSB Google Camp, a daylong conference for educators wanting to use Google applications in education. Something George Couros said in a workshop about digital footprint resonated with me. He said not to worry about students who might post a bad comment on digital platforms. The essential is to bury the bad in an overwhelming quantity of good.

Putting my anger at the creators of bad chapter books together with Couros’s advice then, I spent much of Sunday writing my very first kid’s chapter book. It involves magic, comedy, adventure, and a plucky heroine who doesn’t let a bully or a mad scientist’s cursed elixir ruin her life. A tentative title might be: Darling Jackie and Missy Hyde.

May it be the first of many, since I really enjoyed writing something that wasn’t too ‘adult’ to read to my students for a change. Ideally, I’ll get feedback from children and my writers’ group to make the story better. I’ll polish it and work at it until the story is something I would be proud to have young children read. And if I publish it or get it published someday, may it serve partly to bury those terrible, cynically concocted e-books that made me so mad.

Feb 13

1, 2, 4, 6: A System for Writing Success

Writers: Experiment with 1, 2, 4, 6, and Increase Productivity

This article is inspired by Scott Meyer’s blog post about writing success for screenwriters. In it he advocates “1, 2, 7, 14,” as a structure for becoming a more productive writer. Under his plan you would read one screenplay per week, watch two movies per week, write seven pages per week, and work fourteen hours per week preparing story ideas for new projects. The payoff is that in a year’s time you would have read fifty-two screenplays, viewed 104 movies, and written two feature-length screenplays.

Mad Scientist

Writers: experiment on yourselves for maximum productivity and creativity.

How do you measure writing success. Publication may be difficult but there are many ways to measure progress in writing craft. Here’s my twist on Meyer’s productivity experiment for fiction writers: 1, 2, 4, 6. Make it a routine to:

 

1: Read one novel or collection of short stories per week

If you are spending less time reading than fooling around on social media and watching TV, writing might not be your calling. Reading a book per week should be the easiest item on the list.

 

2: Read an average of two book reviews or writing craft articles per week

Scan book reviews to inspire future reading and keep up with the zeitgeist, and study craft articles to explore new techniques and forms you haven’t tried. Personally, I find reading writing craft books addictive. The challenge is to prevent writing advice from becoming a distraction in itself. Publishing trade magazines and websites provide marketing information and inspiration in article-sized bites.

 

4: Write four pages per day (1200 words)

Many authors average from 1500 to 5000 words per day, although figures vary wildly. That means it should be easy to write an average of 1200 words a day, even taking off two days a week. If this goal is too high to meet regularly, set your goal at two pages. An easier goal that can be made consistently helps build a steady writing habit. Binge writing has its rewards but can’t compete with a steady, regular writing habit for productivity.

 

6: Edit six pages per day (1800 words)

Many writers are perfectionists with drawer novels, abandoned short stories, and ideas for articles and editorial pieces they never get around to revising. By giving yourself an editing quota, you will be forced to look at your best abandoned pieces and decide what to revise and send out.

 

That sounded very authoritative, didn’t it? But my writing buddies will recognize this as advice directed squarely at myself. I have a filing cabinet stuffed with abandoned stories, and there are at least five drawer novels with my name on them. Are any of them salvageable? Perhaps. My skills have improved over the years. If I can force myself to look at abandoned pieces, instead of always chasing the next new idea, maybe some of those discarded premises will prove worth developing …

 

The Payoff: Writing Success

Writing success is reading, writing and studying the works of others.

Imagine how many books, articles and short stories you could write in a year. Publication isn’t guaranteed but I measure writing success by output and improvement

If you follow this system, at the end of the year you will have:

  • read fifty-two novels
  • read a combination of 104 book reviews and writing craft articles
  • written 1460 pages (438 000 words) of rough draft – a number which could represent 3-7 novels, 88-400 short stories, or 10 novellas, or some combination thereof
  • you will have edited those pages and made them ready for submission to editors

 

Will anybody run this creative experiment? I hope so. When I am writing well, the routine is to get up at 5:00 a.m., shower and dress, then write while I eat breakfast until 7:30 when I leave for work. Maintaining that pace, I have written a novel in a month more than once. Naturally, not everything written so quickly is going to be good, unless you put the time into thoroughly developing the ideas, plot, themes, characters and setting first.

A large part of Scott Meyer’s proposition is weekly idea development. For me, when an idea takes hold, I don’t need to schedule thinking about it. Researching, developing characters and setting, and then planning story beats are things I prefer to do in big blocks of time. All other writing comes to a stop as I mull over ideas, think about plot points, and anticipate creating dramatic scenes. I can’t imagine making the conceptualization stage into something methodical that could be divided into bite-sized chunks, but Myers asserts working on multiple projects simultaneously is necessary for working screenwriters.

If you are a screenwriter, or you are interested in reading the original article, find Scott Meyer’s brilliant advice here, on the Go into the Story blog.

Happy reading and here’s to your writing success….

 

Loon Lake Reading Club

Loon Lake Reading Club

Exclusive Report for Loon Lake Readers

The latest edition of the Loon Lake Reading Club newsletter is out. Access is for members only. This time content includes personal perspectives on travelling in Peru, photos, a recipe for Valentine’s Day, Feeding Frenzy novel updates and more. Don’t miss out. Sign up below….

 

Dec 09

Feeding Frenzy Wins a Watty Award

Feeding Frenzy Wins a Watty Award

I can hardly believe my supernatural thriller won an HQ Love Award in The Wattys. This award is given to the handful of stories most read and recommended by the Wattpad staff. Wattpad holds the largest online writing competition in the world with a community of 40 million. Feeding Frenzy was selected from among 75,000 entries. It appears on the Wattys list and just got a ‘Wattys’ badge added to the cover.

Feeding Frenzy wins a Watty Award.

Feeding Frenzy wins a Watty Award.

“Each year with The Wattys, we celebrate our community and recognize the stories that have captured the hearts of millions of people around the world,” said Allen Lau, Wattpad CEO and co-founder. “We launched The Wattys in 2010 as a small writing contest. Today, it has grown into the world’s largest online writing contest, and it brings the entire Wattpad community together in celebration.”

Founded in 2006, Wattpad is a free app that lets people discover and share serialized stories. More than 40 million people use Wattpad in over 50 languages. The company is based in Toronto.

Feeding Frenzy to be Published in Paperback and Ebook

It may have won a Watty but I consider the free Wattpad version of my novel to be a draft. Sunday I sent off a newly revised version of Feeding Frenzy for professional editing in advance of its upcoming publication in ebook and paperback forms. I am delighted to announce that multiple award-winning editor, Sandra Kasturi, has agreed to take on the project. Sandra writes brilliant poetry, appreciates quirky fiction, and has a wicked sense of humour. The manuscript couldn’t be in better hands.

Helen Marshall and Sandra Kasturi celebrate with their World Fantasy Awards.

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