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The Willow Awards

willowlogoIt is an honour to have my latest middle-grade comedy, 28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6, selected as a 2016 Diamond Willow Nominee!

For those who may not know, Willows are not just gorgeous trees. They are also Saskatchewan Young Readers’ Choice Awards (SYRCA). Every year, the Willow Awards offer Saskatchewan students an opportunity to vote for their favourite book among ten nominated titles in each age category. Books nominated for a Willow are thus introduced to thousands of students in the province.

My book is in excellent company as one of these ten 2016 Diamond Willow nominees, selected for readers in grades 4-6:

audreyAudrey by Dan Bar-el

grace

 Finding Grace by Becky Citra

friendfoe

Friend or Foe by Etta Kaner

frostbite

Frostbite Hotel by Karin Adams

backyard

Lost in the Backyard by Alison Hughes

masterminds

Masterminds by Gordan Korman

rainshadow

Rain Shadow by Valerie Sherrard

pirates

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey

speechless

Speechless by Jennifer Mook-Sang

28-tricks

28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6 by Catherine Austen (me)

winniegospelYounger readers have a beautiful selection of ten titles (including Lindsay Mattick’s Finding Winnie, at left) nominated for the Shining Willow Award.

Older readers have an excellent selection of titles (including Caroline Pignat’s Gospel Truth, at right) nominated for the Snow Willow Award.

This year’s nominated titles will be read by students throughout the summer, fall and winter months, with student votes being tallied in April, 2017.

Last year’s Willow Awards have just ended and the winners are being announced today. You can check out today’s award ceremony online via the “Gala 2016 Live Event Video” on the SYRCA website. And check out all the nominated titles from 2015 on the CanLit for LittleCanadians blog.

willowtreeFor more information on SYRCA and the nominated titles from this year or earlier years, visit the Willow Awards website. If you’re a student or teacher in Saskatchewan, be sure to get involved in this children’s choice contest. I and the other authors will soon be adding suggested activities to supplement our books on the SYRCA website. (Because it’s not all about reading. It’s also about writing and drama and arts and crafts.)

A big congratulations to all of this year’s and last year’s nominated titles. And a big thanks to the teachers and students of Saskatchewan, and the volunteers at SYRCA, who keep this reading program going strong.

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SCBWI Spring Conference in Ottawa

There are still a few spaces left for Ottawa’s SCBWI Art of Story Conference scheduled for the end of the month. For two days, guest speakers will offer workshops and presentations to everyone interested in writing or illustrating children’s books, from aspiring picture book illustrators to established YA novelists. There’s something for every level of experience.

Art-of-Story-2016-Poster copy

I love this poster! (The illustration is by Julien Chung; check out more of his work at http://www.julienchung.com.)

The conference will offer presentations, workshops, one-on-one critique sessions, first-page critique panels, as well as networking and catching up opportunities. There’s even a steampunk costume party. Check out the full conference schedule on the SCBWI Canada East website.

SCBWI members get a price discount, but you don’t have to be a member to attend. You don’t even have to know that SCBWI stands for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, an international organization with 22,000 members in 70 regional chapters. All you have to know is that very talented writers, illustrators, editors, agents and art directors will  gather in Ottawa at the end of April to talk shop–and you can take part.

If you’ve never been to a writing conference, this might be a good one to try because this year’s conference faculty includes:
✓ Alex Arnold, Associate Editor, Katherine Tegen Books, Harper Collins
✓ Jennie Dunham, agent, Dunham Literary
✓ Grace Kendall, editor, Farrar Strauss Giroux
✓ Whitney Leader-Picone, art director, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Books for Young Readers
✓ Christian Trimmer, senior editor, Simon and Schuster
✓ Helaine Becker, author
✓ Tim Wynne-Jones, author
✓ Ruth Ohi, author and illustrator

So you know you’re going to learn a thing or two. Get the details on the conference faculty at the SCBWI Canada East website.

There are pre-conference feedback opportunities for both writers and illustrators to polish their work in advance of showing it off at the conference itself. It’s too late to sign up for a one-on-one manuscript critique, but it’s not too late to send in a book pitch or first page for critique at the panel session. So get on that. Check out the Conference Details for more info.

Some wonderful conference prep tips were created by the Maryland USA “Team SCBWI” in advance of their own local spring conference. The details are NOT for Ottawa’s Art of Story — don’t follow the directions to Maryland if you’ve signed up for Ottawa — but the general tips and links are useful for anyone heading to their first writing conference. Plus they made this fun meme:

conferencememe

So check out Ottawa’s Art of Story Conference details and sign up.

See you there.

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Friday Fable: The Old Writer and Oblivion

skullYou may have heard the old story about The Old Man and Death:

An old man was out gathering a bundle of sticks for his fire. He cut a dozen thick pieces in the forest and began to carry them home. He had a long way to go, and he was tired before he was halfway there. Throwing his bundle on the ground, he called out to Death, “Release me from this life of toil! I’m sick of working so hard just to warm myself! I’ve seen it all and I have nothing to add. I’m ready to die. I’m too old to keep doing this when it’s so hard just to scrape by let alone enjoy myself.”

The words were barely out of his mouth when Death arrived in his path and said, “So nice to hear you’re giving up, old codger. I’m ready to take you any time.”

The old man stared at Death — cold, dark, ghastly, reeking of the void. The old man imagined letting himself be led to eternal nothingness — no more fires, no more birdsong, no more Netflix, no more complaining about how his kids never called. When Death reached out its hand, the old man had just enough wits intact to stammer, “Um, what I meant was, could you give me a hand picking up sticks? I’m planning to make a fire tonight.”

And the moral is: No one wants to leave before the end of the movie.

That is a good old tale. But if Aesop were a modern slave to the written word, he might have called his fable, The Old Writer and Oblivion:

An old writer was gathering a collection of stories for publication. He revised one of his dozen new pieces and began agonizing over its not-quite-right ending. He had a long way to go to get it right, and he was tired before he was halfway through the kazilionth revision. Throwing his laptop on the ground, he called to Oblivion, “Release me from this life of toil! I’m sick of working so hard just for one lousy story in a litmag! I’ve read it all and I have nothing to add. I’m ready to stop writing. I’m too old to keep doing this when it’s so hard just to get the setting right, let alone the point of view.”

The words were barely out of his mouth when Oblivion arrived in his office and said, “So nice to hear you’re giving up, old codger. I’m ready to silence you any time.”

The old writer stared at Oblivion — shadowy, vacant, reeking of buried secrets and silent screams. The writer imagined letting himself be led to eternal quiescence — no more flashes of fully-formed characters, no more plots to unfold, no more digging for the right words to evoke an exact mood, no more letters from readers saying how his fiction felt so real. When Oblivion reached out its hand, the old writer had just enough wits intact to stammer, “Um, what I meant was, could you pose for a character portrait? I’m planning to add a graphic element to my story tonight.”

And the moral is: Old writers have lots of new stories to create.

old hands

I’d been searching for an appropriate fable to commemmorate my 50th birthday, and this was the best I could find.

(No, I’m not old. I’m middle-aged. I run with the modern demarcations of:

  • Youth age 0 to 35;
  • Middle age 36 to, oh, 70;
  • Old age 71 and up.

I’ve got decades before I’m old!)

I searched for a fable that might be called, say, The Old Woman and her Muses:

Once there was a woman who’d done lots of creative work in her youth and early middle age. Then when she turned 50 things really took off. Her mind sharpened, her discipline hardened, her drive went into overdrive, and she came up with mind-blowing interdisciplinary works of art that set the world on fire.

And the moral is: Older is better.

But nope, I couldn’t find that fable among Aesop’s leavings. (Because older isn’t better. It’s worse. But still good.)

If I’d found such a fable, I’d have written this post on awesome older writers. But no need — there are numerous posts out there on writers who succeeded in later years. (Laura Ingalls Wilder features strong in these: having published her first novel at 65, she went on to write 12 books in the Little House on the Prairie series.) So if you aspire to be a writer and you’ve yet to be published, there are precedents for making your way quite well in later years.

You might find that most of those “Writers and artists who thrived after 40 or 50” posts just recycle the same few authors who came late to authorship. But don’t fret over that. Such lists are nothing more than statistics based on the age of someone’s first book. Once you leave out the stats and look at the arts themselves, many more inspiring stories appear:

  • Emily Carr's 1929 Indian Church (painted when she was 57)

    Emily Carr’s 1929 Indian Church (painted when she was 57)

    Emily Carr‘s best work was in her later years — if she’d stopped painting at 50, we’d never know what she was capable of.

  • By age 50, Anne Carson was receiving the MacArthur Fellowship for creative genius — but she’s no less a genius now at 65.
  • Anne Tyler is 74, people, and still writing Booker Prize-listed novels.
  • David Ferry will turn 92 tomorrow! (He’s one of my all-time favourite poets.) He won the National Book Award for Bewilderment in 2012, when he was 88.

Age did not slow any of those creative souls down. It doesn’t slow most writers down. (Not their writing, I mean. Everything else gets a little creaky.)

So celebrate every new decade, as I plan to do. Turn your back on Oblivion and let your voice be heard, no matter your age. (Unless you’re under 10, in which case, please keep it down. Old writers are trying to concentrate here.)

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Ottawa’s Awesome Authors Contest

‘Tis the season for the Ottawa Public Library’s Awesome Author Contest! Local writers aged 9-17 have a couple of months to shine up their best poems and stories for the 2016 competition.

awesomeauthorscontest

If your work is already shiny, you can enter it right now. If you want some professional help in polishing your words — or digging up words to polish — sign up for one of these Awesome Authors Youth Writing Workshops hosted by the library:

The Awesome Authors Writing Contest runs from December 1st 2015 through February 15th 2016. You can submit your entry in person at your local library branch or enter online from the comfort of home — but, either way, please pay attention to the contest rules. You must have an Ottawa Public Library card to enter — so dig around to find yours or get a new card.

The four authors leading the writing workshops just happen to be the judges of the competition. We’ll be reading every entry in our age and genre category and choosing the winning pieces in February next year. (So if you enter in December, don’t ask me if I read your story before February, because the answer’s no.) I’ll be reading the English short stories submitted by writers aged 9-12 — a very popular category judging by previous years’ submissions. I’ll have a lot of fun reading come February.

Each category will have a first, second and third place winner and up to three honourable mentions. An award ceremony to honour the winning writers will be held in March. And it’ll be a blast. So if you are a young writer in the Ottawa area, sign up for a workshop or pick up your pen right now and start writing something awesome.

typewriter

 

 

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Make a WISH

(These are random people on the free photos at Pixabay. They might not be WISHing.)

(These are random people on the free photos at Pixabay. They might not be WISHing.)

For the second week in a row, I met some friends on Friday morning for an hour of silent writing in a local tea house. I call it a Write in Silence Hour, aka a WISH.

Okay, yeah, people have been doing this for centuries by other names. You might head to a cafe for a weekly “writing session” on your own, or you might meet friends for a “write and ignore” session, but your enjoyment of such outings has not been optimal because you’ve lacked an acronym. You need to make a WISH.

No talking! If you can train a monkey to enforce WISH rules, more people will come to your sessions.

No talking! If you can train a monkey to enforce WISH rules, more people will come to your sessions.

Set a weekly time and place, put the word out, and invite the world to make a WISH with you. Whether you take out your laptops to immerse yourself in works-in-progress or take out your journals to write poems on the spot, you’ll write for a solid hour in quietly encouraging company. (You won’t believe how fast it zips by.)

Don’t share your work at the end–it’s not a writing group meeting. It’s a WISH. You’ll need another acronym if you want to share your work.

If you have no friends to meet for coffee, that’s okay because when you’re WISHing, you can invite people you don’t even know or like because you don’t have to talk to them. It’s a writing in silence hour. Take ten minutes to catch up, sure, but then announce, “Okay, let’s begin.” At that point, everyone has to shut up. For an hour. While writing. No exceptions. (Just nod and smile at the waiter.) When the hour is up, wish each other well and go home.

Today's "Wellness Balance" blend at Serenithe. Perfect.

Today’s “Wellness Balance” blend at Serenithe: rosehip, anise, raspberry, nettle, licorice, cardamom, rooibos, clove, calendula and sunflower petals. (148 other blends still to try.)

There is something delicious about silence, especially in a group and in public. (It’s not really special at home alone, is it?) The location is important, though, so choose carefully. I’m blessed with a local tea shop (Serenithe) that has 150 kinds of tea on the menu so I can try a new blend every week with a delicious scone, which is, I admit, a big motivator for me and what I’m most looking forward to in my next WISH. (They serve their scones with English cream and a single perfect raspberry.)

I could establish an online WISH community, with registered time slots, writing suggestions, motivational blurbs and a bulletin board to share experiences, but it wouldn’t come with scones so no.

The acronym is just so catchy, I want it to catch on. Perhaps I should register WISH with the trademark folk?

wish

But then I’d be like these guys:

Uh, no. Once you legally register the phrase, "Something Can Be Done,"   then, no, it's gone too far, nothing can be done.

Uh, no. Once you legally register the phrase, “Something Can Be Done,” then, no, it’s gone too far, nothing can be done.

So no.

But I encourage you to make a WISH with other writers. (Call it a WISH. It feels good.)

Start this week, keep at it, enjoy it, and your writing wishes might come true.

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Monday Markets: Upcoming Writing Contests and Calls for Submission

Looking for somewhere to submit your work? Fishing for a topic for your next story? Here are a few suggestions and opportunities coming up in September and October 2015.

For Teachers and Students:

Sea turtle (photo from Pixabay--thanks.)

The Ocean Trash Write-Away Short Fiction Contest:

Writers under 25 are invited to envision solutions to the problem of ocean trash for this short story contest hosted by Sapiens Plurum, the Center for Science & Imagination, the Ocean Conservancy and Talk Like a Pirate Day. Twenty-five winning stories of 1500-3000 words will be chosen for cash prizes and online publication. Deadline: September 26th. Details online at the Sapiens Plurum website.  (The site is well worth a lingering visit–even after the contest ends–especially for teachers who want to bring this issue into the classroom.)

atlas-shrugged-book-coverAyn Rand Essay Contest:

Ayn Rand fans are still going strong! Students worldwide in grade 12 through university are invited to submit English-language essays on one of Rand’s novels (Anthem, the Fountainhead, or—everybody’s favourite—Atlas Shrugged). Deadline October 23rd. Over 500 prizes totaling tens of thousands of dollars. Details online at the Ayn Rand.org website.

—————————————————

For Adult Writers of Children’s Fiction:

leeandlowNew Visions Award: If you are an American writer of colour seeking to publish your first book for children or young adults, submit your manuscript to Lee and Low’s “New Visions Award.” The prize is $1,000 plus their standard publishing contract — and who wouldn’t want that with such a respected publishing house? Deadline October 31st. Details online at the Lee and Low website.

————————————————

gargoyleFor Adult Writers of Speculative Short Fiction:

Those Who Make Us: Canadian writers who like to play with convention are invited to submit speculative short stories for possible inclusion in the upcoming Exile Editions anthology, Those Who Make Us, an collection of creature, myth and monster stories. Payment of $0.05/word for First Publication Rights and non-exclusive Anthology Rights. Stories of 2,000-7,000 words. Deadline November 2, 2015. Guidelines online at the anthology’s blog.

On that note, I’m going to go reread my favourite Wendigo story for inspiration. (That’s Algernon Blackwood’s “The Wendigo.”)

Enjoy your week.

(Thanks to Pixabay for the free photos.)

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Wednesday Word: Crepuscular

nocturneI can’t stop saying “crepuscular,” ever since I read this beautiful little book, Nocturne, by Traer Scott.

In this book of stunning animal portraits and accompanying factual blurbs, the author features a few critters that are neither diurnal (active in the daytime) nor nocturnal (active in the nighttime) but crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn).

What a word! Crepuscular. For me, it conjures images of muscular beasts from the Cretaceous period. My husband says it sounds like an oozing boil – but that just makes it more fun for me to say at breakfast.

OMG, what a crepuscular movie. Sheesh.

OMG, what a crepuscular movie. Sheesh.

Crepuscular comes from the Latin word for twilight. The word is best saved for reference to things that are active during twilight, like rabbits and housecats. But you can also use it to describe anything twilight-related, such as the mist that rises from the lake at dawn.

“I’m heading to the dock to enjoy the crepuscular mist,” I tell my husband.

“Ew,” he says, heading indoors.

Best of all, crepuscular creatures can be divided into those which are matutinal (most active in the morning) and those which are vespertine (most active in the evening).

Vespertine. Even yummier than crepuscular. Say it out loud. Vespertine. Delicious.

These precise words can likewise be used to describe creatures or other dawn- and dusk-related things, as in: “Elderly yogis tend to be matutinal, while teenagers seek enlightenment through vespertine pursuits.”

Try to make room in your next conversation for “vespertine” or “crepuscular.” It’s sure to liven things up.

If a wordless Wednesday is more your style, check out Traer Scott’s portfolios online. They’re awe-inspiring.

The Gray Tree Frog (nocturnal). One of the many stunning portraits by photographer Traer Scott in Nocturne.

The Gray Tree Frog (nocturnal). One of the many stunning portraits by photographer Traer Scott in Nocturne.

 

Another gorgeous collection by photographer Traer Scott.

Another collection by photographer Traer Scott.

From tree frogs to shelter dogs, Scott captures the soul of every subject (without stealing it – she’s very respectful). Nocturne is just one of her beautiful collections.

Happy Wednesday. And Happy Canada Day! Enjoy the vespertine fireworks but watch out for crepuscular mosquitoes.

Have a great week.

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