Inktober for those afraid to Draw

It’s the first day of Inktober. Illustrators know this. The rest of us might not — but we should, all of us. Because Inktober is awesome. And it’s for everyone.

Inktober began in 2009, by artist Jake Parker, as a challenge to improve drawing skills and practices. The gist is simple: you make an ink drawing every day of the month. 31 days, 31 drawings. And you can share it all online.

You don’t have to be Leonardo to participate.

Inktober is, obviously, intended for artists. But anyone who can make a mark on a page is welcome to participate. Doodlers, calligraphers, even writers.

But why not join in as an artist? Remember when you were a kid? You were an artist, right? Who wasn’t? And once an artist, always an artist. Maybe not a great artist, but so what? Still an artist.

If you’re like me, and “Overcome fear of drawing” has been on your to-do list for most of your life, Inktober is the perfect time to stop procrastinating. “Just pick up a pen and draw” — that’s the motto of this challenge. Who’s in?

Visit the Inktober website for FAQs and rules and prompts. There’s a different word-prompt every day to help you focus your creative energy. If you haven’t got every day to draw, you can try it once a week. Or even just once.

You can just be you.

Many organizations and artists’ communities celebrate Inktober. The Canada East SCBWI chapter is posting weekly round-ups of its members’ Inktober art on its blog. So if you’re a member, send in your stuff.

If you are not a member of anything and you’re scared to post your artwork online, Inktober is still for you. Do what I’m going to do: Create a sketch journal for the month. All it takes is one sheet of paper. (I use a small journal, but it’s not necessary.)

A couple of years ago, while trying to overcome my fear of drawing, I read Danny Gregory’s Art Before Breakfast. (Follow the link, then come back–it’s the best book announcement I’ve ever seen. Artists are so clever.) From this inspiring book, I learned that many tiny drawings in a row look fab even if not a single one of them is any good. And it’s true! I tried it, I liked it, and my sketch journal was born:

My 2017 sketch journal

I don’t draw, I don’t know how to draw, and I’m afraid to draw. But hey, I drew!

You can, too. Fold a blank sheet of paper in half, to make a 4-page brochure (aka a 4-week journal). Make seven little boxes on each page, with blank lines or blank space beneath them. Make Sunday’s box bigger than the others (repetition and contrast being important art concepts I know nothing about). Now you’ve got yourself a sketch journal for the month (or at least for 28 days of the month–but since you’re bound to forget a few times, call it a month).

I prefer to make the boxes by hand; I like the messiness of it. But you can create a template on your computer (and say, hand it out to your class if you’re a teacher, so everyone can participate in Inktober). Here’s what one side of that page might look like, unfolded. Feel free to print and copy it, double-sided, to make your month’s journal.

Each day, draw a picture in a box and write a caption or diary note beneath it. You can draw whatever is in front of your face — perhaps 28 portraits of your cat trying to lie on your paper, if your life is anything like mine — or draw from memory or fantasy (way harder). Don’t pressure yourself to come up with anything astonishing; just draw something of relevance to your life that day. In ink. You can do it in five minutes.

At the end of the month, you will have a record of your life, a daily practice, and a little less fear of drawing. Your sketch journal will delight you, and you might love it enough to keep it up all year.

There are drawing tutorials on the Inktober website, if you want to know what you’re doing. Or you can just dive in like you did in kindergarten.

Make Inktober the month you became an artist again. The leaves are red, the ink is black, and it will all end with candy. Gotta love October.


Writing Spaces

My tiny home office was featured in this week’s “Writing Spaces,” a regular blog post from The New Quarterly.

This is a fabulous weekly feature from TNQ that offers a peek into the working spaces of each issue’s writers, along with inspiring anecdotes and tips from the authors. Definitely a blog worth following.

My writing space is among the first of many to be featured in the coming weeks from authors whose work is in Issue #147 of The New Quarterly, released this summer.

My story, On Sulphur Mountain, is one of eight fiction pieces in the current issue.  (There are also great essays and poems.) Subscribe and get digital access to the magazine or a year’s worth of gorgeous print journals.)

Feel free to leave a reply here describing your workspace and what you love best about it. (I love the light in mine.)

Have a great weekend.


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A Smattering of Evans

Me reading TNQ issue 147

I was thrilled to receive my contributor copies of Issue 147 of The New Quarterly this week. My short story, “On Sulphur Mountain,” is one of eight stories featured in this issue. I’ve had a chance to read them all, and they’re wonderful — so well-written and engrossing. I’m proud to have my work alongside them, set amidst a bounty of poetry and some great essays.

I couldn’t help but notice that the main character in another story, “Dome” by John Van Rys, is named Evan.

Evan in John Van Rys’s “Dome”

That’s the name of the main character’s son in my story.

Evan in my “Sulphur Mountain”

Two Evans in just eight stories. What are the chances?

I looked that up, but I still don’t know. It’s actually not easy to find out the chances of two characters sharing a first name. (At least not with a minimum of effort and foggy math skills.) Google is full of questions and answers about the probability of two people sharing a name AND a birthday, but not just a first name. I guess it’s so common, there’s no need to google it.

Really, 8 stories, with an average of 3 or 4 named characters each, add up to a typical class size. And there’s always two of some name in any class. (I recall two Warrens in my grade 5 class, two Kevins in grade 8. And Catherines? An abundance of us back then.)

When I published my first book in 2009 with Orca Book Publishers, their fall catalogue featured just two new full-length middle-grade novels — mine, Walking Backward, and Kate Jaimet’s Dunces Anonymous— and in both novels, the main character’s name was Josh. What are the chances? I thought.

Pretty good, actually: Joshua was #6 in the top 100 list of (North American) baby names in 2009. (It has since dropped to #54.)

Lots of Evans in the USA. (Not many without last names.)

There are over 72,000 Evans in the USA today. I don’t know how many in Canada because, again, my search methods are a tad modest. But Evan was #40 in popularity for Canadian boy baby names in 2016, so there must be quite a few. (Liam was #1. I have never written a story with a character named Liam.) Fortieth is just right for fiction: not unfamiliar, but not everywhere you go. So it’s no wonder there are two Evans in TNQ‘s latest class of fictional characters.

If there were a third story in Issue 147 about an Evan, that might be a freaky coincidence. But no. I read about Ediths and Adams and Archies (actually just one of each), and Murthy and Mahmoud and Juan Carlos, but no more Evans. (Although there is a “Chef Dawson” in Gavin Tomson’s essay, “Washing Dishes,” with a first name “blocked from memory,” who might be an Evan. But he doesn’t seem like an Evan.)

So just the two Evans. And both sweet characters. Completely likeable. It’s hard to think of a bitter Evan. (Now, Liam could go either way.)

You should subscribe to The New Quarterly and read the stories of these two Evans. And all the other stories, essays, and poems in the latest issue.

TNQ Issue 147 back cover contributor list

Anyway, I clearly ran out of things to say before I started here. I’m just getting my toes wet with blogging again, and I should sign off for now. With pride, for seeing my story in such a gorgeous magazine alongside such moving work.

TNQ Issue 147 cover, featuring Brian Douglas’s photography.

And that’s all for this Friday. 🙂


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Immersed in Student Writing

A stage full of awesome authors at the Ottawa Public Library’s Awesome Authors Award Ceremony this week.

This Tuesday, I had the pleasure of calling the names of twelve young writers whose short fiction won places in the Ottawa Public Library’s Awesome Authors Contest. What a pleasure to be one of this year’s judges and to read excerpts from the fantastic mix of winning stories: humour, drama, sci-fi, horror, and sad, sad contemporary realism. What talented young writers.

I’ve been immersed in student writing this season. One of my favourite school visits was at my local junior high, Symmes-D’Arcy, where I spent four days with Secondary I (grade 7) English classes working on short stories. With funding from Quebec’s Culture in the Schools Program, I visited three English classes for two days in February, giving workshops on character, setting, and plot development. I left the students to work on their stories under the guidance of their fabulous teacher, Alex Peach, before I took all the draft stories home to read over March Break. I returned to the classes for another two days in March, to talk about critiquing and revision, and to meet with each student for one-on-one feedback.

One of the heartwarming thank-you letters I received from Symmes Jr High School students whose classes I visited this winter.

What a treat! I’m used to visiting schools to give one-day presentations or writing workshops, so it was a special opportunity to spend several classes with the same groups of students, to watch them begin with blank pages and basic ideas and work up to polished pieces of writing. An intense and inspiring experience for me.

And what fabulous stories I got to read! I’m always amazed at the sheer variety of creative writing a small group of students can develop in a short time. Mystery, memoir, romance, realism, stories that moved my heart and stories that made me laugh. All those kids creating worlds that didn’t exist before they wrote them. It’s magical.

What a treat to speak to Bishop’s  History of Children’s Literature class.

Another standout for me this month was a visit to Bishops University to speak to students in Professor Heather Davis’s History of Children’s Literature course. (My first children’s novel, Walking Backwardpublished in 2009 with Orca Book Publishers, was on the course reading list.) I’ve spoken to elementary, secondary, and CEGEP classes who’d studied my books before, but this was my first university-level visit. It was awesome!

University classrooms are way more technologically advanced than back in my day. It was cool just to be there. The students were wonderful — it’s inspiring to be around so many bright young minds. It was an honour to share my writing experiences with them and to hear their thoughts about my book, children’s books, and the creative process. I expect to read some of their books some day soon.

I have a few secondary school visits coming up next month, where I’ll get to meet even more students, and hopefully read some of their writing. It’s one of the greatest parts of being an author — visiting classes and being around young readers. It always makes me want to write more books.

And that’s what I’m off to do now. Happy Friday.

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The Art of Story: SCBWI Canada East Conference

SCBWI Canada East banner, artwork by Farida Zaman

I always look forward to my regional SCBWI conference. This year it’s especially exciting because I’ll be giving a workshop myself. My topic: revision.

I used to dread revisions. I loved drafting; I loved polishing; but I loathed the grunt work in between the two.

I spent the past year revising a middle-grade animal adventure novel, transforming it from something cute and fun into something with heart and soul. This novel taught me to love revision. It’s not all grunt work. It’s discovery and revelation. And it’s what I’m most looking forward to in my next work.

I can’t wait to pass on my newfound love and all I’ve learned about revision to the SCBWI Canada East conference-goers.

Art of Story illustration by Alice Carter

If you can’t face the topic of revision–or if you yearn for revision and so much more–you’ll want to check out the full lineup of workshops and presentations at the Art of Story conference. There are workshops hosted by editors, agents, authors, and illustrators, with topics ranging from craft to marketing. There’s a first-page critique session open to everyone, plus one-on-one manuscript critiques for those who register early. There’s even a party to kick it all off.

Check out the full conference schedule and the speaker lineup on the SCBWI Canada East website.

If you are a Canadian children’s writer, established or aspiring, come join us in Ottawa from April 27-29, to hone your craft, have some fun, and feel the love of the Canadian kidlit community.

Hope to see you at the Art of Story.

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Awesome Young Authors in Ottawa

Yes, it’s on! The Ottawa Public Library is holding its annual Awesome Authors Contest for youth aged 9-17. If you’re a young person in Ottawa with something to say, get to work on saying it well.

(BTW, the 9-year-olds don’t have to compete with the high-schoolers. The contest is divided into three age categories: 9-11; 12-14; and 15-17. For each age division, there are fiction, poetry, and graphic storytelling categories in both French and English.)

The contest opened on December 1st, so there are bound to be young people already halfway through their second revision. But don’t worry. There’s lots of time to catch up. The contest is open till February 19, 2018.

There will be prizes for first, second, and third place (and up to 3 honorary mentions) in each genre in each age division. Every one of the winning pieces will be published in this year’s Pot-pourri anthology. (See my recent blog post for information on last year’s Pot-pourri.)

There are many rules to follow (no 8,000-word stories, please!), and specific requirements to enter. Be sure to check out the details on the OPL’s Awesome Authors webpage.

If you need a little help getting started or finishing up, come out to one of the Awesome Author writing workshops being held this month and next, led by the contest judges (including me):

Writing workshops for ages 9-12:

Writing Workshops for ages 13-17:

Hope to see you there!


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Good Reading

Me proudly reading this year’s Pot-Pourri anthology

I just received my copies of the latest Pot-Pourri — that’s the annual volume of youth writing published by the Friends of the Ottawa Public Library Association (FOPLA). This lovely book contains all the winning poems and stories from last year’s Awesome Authors Contest, a youth writing competition held every winter by the Ottawa Public Library.

There’s a lot of good reading in this one slim volume. Some of the pieces are so moving and marvellous — funny, sad, fascinating — they rise above any age expectations you might have. I’ve read all the English pieces several times, and I’m still amazed at how talented their young authors are.

I had the good fortune of editing the English half of this year’s collection. I was one of several judges of the contest last winter, and as I was reading the entries all those months ago, knowing there would be some excellent pieces in the final book, I thought, “I hope I get to edit these.” And I did. And now I have the book in hand, and I’m so proud to have been part of it.

Some recent Pot-Pourri covers, all designed by student artists

You can buy a copy of the 2017 Pot-pourri directly from the FOPLA website for $15 Cdn. (You can buy all the previous years’ anthologies, too, for a mere five bucks apiece.)

You can learn more about the Awesome Authors Contest and last year’s winners here on the FOPLA website or here on the spring OPL news release.

If you’re a young writer in the Ottawa area and you’d like to see your work in this anthology one day, it’s time to sharpen your pencils. The 2018 Awesome Authors Contest will be starting this month — I’ll keep you posted on workshops and deadlines once the contest officially opens. You’ll have lots of time to get your very best poems and stories ready. They might end up in a beautiful new edition of Pot-Pourri next fall.

In the meantime, enjoy reading this year’s collection.

That’s all from me for this Friday. Have a great weekend.

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