Monday, December 30, 2013


Dear Bloggie friends and readers, near and far:

Another year has gone by, and as we get ready to welcome 2014, the Year of the Horse, I want to remind you that any obstacles we encounter in our writing or in our life are just opportunities to make us better.

May 2014 fill you with the strength of the horse so you can accomplish all your goals.

Keep writing and I'll see you in 2014!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Attention Canadian Writers!


21st Annual Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers
$2,500 PRIZE

The Writers' Union of Canada is pleased to announce that submissions are being accepted until March 1, 2014 for the 21st Annual Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers. The winning entry will be the best Canadian work of up to 2,500 words in the English language, fiction or non-fiction, written by an unpublished author.

$2,500 for the winning entry, and the entries of the winner and finalists will be submitted to three Canadian magazines.

Writers Mark Abley, Ranj Dhaliwal, and Erin Dunham will serve as the jury.

This competition is open to all Canadian citizens and landed immigrants who have not had a book published in any genre and who do not currently have a contract with a book publisher. Original and unpublished (English language) fiction or non-fiction is eligible.

Entries should be typed, double-spaced, in a clear twelve-point font, and the pages numbered on 8.5 x 11 paper, not stapled.
Submissions will be accepted in hardcopy only.
Include a separate cover letter with title of story, full name, address, phone number, email address, word count, and number of pages of entry.
Please type the name of entrant and the title of entry on each numbered page. This is not a blind competition.
Make cheque or money order payable to The Writers' Union of Canada. Multiple entries can be submitted together and fees can be added and paid with one cheque or money order, $29 per entry.
Entries must be postmarked by March 1, 2014 to be eligible.
Mail entries to: SPC Competition, The Writers' Union of Canada, 90 Richmond Street East, Suite 200, Toronto, ON M5C 1P1.

Results will be posted at in May 2014. Manuscripts will not be returned.

Friday, November 15, 2013

How committed to writing are you?

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With the ubiquitous social media tempting us 24/7, it is difficult for part-time writers to sit down and commit to one hour of quality writing.
NOTE: When I say part-time writers, I mean those of us who have a full-time job outside the writing industry and only write on our spare time.
I read an article that talked about the different distractions we face. These are some of the examples below.
Distractions can range from total attention-grabbing tasks to minor distractions:

  • Immersive: You completely divorce yourself from your original task to dedicate all of your attention to the distraction. Examples include incoming phone calls and face-to-face conversations.
  • Dominant: You allow the distraction to occupy your mind; the original task slowly develops back into your mind. Examples include web browsing or grabbing a cup of coffee.
  • Distraction: Your attention is drawn away from your original task; once you return to the original task, you proceed more slowly and less accurately. Examples include ongoing text conversations and hunger.
  • Background: Your attention is slightly diverted from your original task, which reduces your speed and accuracy. Examples include overhearing conversations or the television is on.
The author of the article also offered some solutions to this problem.

  • Establish Goals: Writing daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly goals can help you stay on top of your efforts. How many articles do you want to write per week? Write it down.
  • List Tasks: Write down all of the things you need to do to achieve your goals in addition to daily maintenance tasks such as checking emails, following up with clients, etc.
  • Prioritize Tasks: Determine how important each task is by measuring its value against your goals and its importance to anyone else involved.
  • Budget Time: Create a time budget by slotting time each day for your tasks, such as writing, brainstorming, checking email, business calls, making dinner, and other activities.
  • Plan Long-Term: Brainstorm topics relevant to your audience ahead of time by establishing an annual editorial calendar.
  • Execute the Plan: Your plan is only effective if you use it. Tweak your plan as needed and increase efficiency by using methods like time-boxing to squeeze more value out of your time.
A word to the wise: be honest with yourself. The author also adds that you can’t completely separate yourself from these pesky distractions but you can be proactive about them.
Not all distractions can be easily dismissed, nor are they all bad! Consider whether the distraction is worthwhile by measuring its importance based on its value to you, significance to others, and urgency.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Are You Shy?

Shy is an anthology filled with personal essays and poems by authors and poets who have been labeled by the world -- teachers, parents, and peers -- as shy. Here, they proudly own up to their shyness, and their message is clear: they don't need to be cured! Why should they, when nearly half of North Americans consider themselves shy? Join Montreal contributors Jeff Miller, Eve Krakow, and Brian Campbell for readings and a semi-raucous celebration of shyness.
I am happy to share that this anthology will feature fellow writer, Eve Krakow.  
Shy Anthology Launch:

Monday, November 11 at 7:00 p.m. at Le Dépanneur Café, 206 Bernard West,
Montréal, QC H2T 2K4

Please visit their Facebook page at:
Book Jacket:

An Anthology
Editor Naomi K. Lewis, Rona Altrows

“We're not exactly scene-stealers, so you don't hear much from us shy folk—and that's usually how we like it.” —Elizabeth Zotova, “My Dear X”

The pages of this anthology are filled with personal essays and poems of thoughtful musings, raw memories, and humorous self-examinations by authors and poets who have been labelled by the world—teachers, parents, and peers—as shy. Here, they proudly own up to their shyness, and their message is clear: they don’t need to be “cured”! Why should they, when nearly half of North Americans consider themselves shy?  

Editors Naomi K. Lewis and Rona Altrows have enlisted writers from across the continent and have created a moving anthology that will appeal to all, either because we are shy or because we know someone who is.

Contributors: Rona Altrows, Debbie Bateman, Wade Bell, Alex Boyd, Janis Butler Holm, Brian Campbell, Weyman Chan, Lorna Crozier, Mike Duggan, Ben Gelinas, Elizabeth Greene, Vivian Hansen, Elizabeth Haynes, Steven Heighton, Jennifer Houle, I.B. Iskov, Eve S. Krakow, Shawna Lemay, Naomi K. Lewis, Shirley Limbert, Carol L. MacKay, Micheline Maylor, Don McKay, Stuart Ian McKay, Bruce Meyer, Jeff Miller, Dhana Musil, Lori D. Roadhouse, Kerry Ryan, Sydney Sharpe, Natalie Simpson, Sylvia Stopforth, David Van Buren, Aritha van Herk, Russell Wangersky, Cassy Welburn, Madelaine Wong, Elaine Woo, and Elizabeth Zotova.

Format:  Trade Paperback
ISBN:  978-0-88864-670-5
Price:  CND$ 24.95, USD$ 24.95, £ 20.99
Discount:  Trade
Subject:  Canadian Literature/Essays/Poetry
Publication Date:  September 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Girls of Piazza d'Amore

On September 19th I had the pleasure to attend Connie Guzzo-McParland’s book launch at the Cultural Center of Little Italy in Montreal which is better known as Casa d'Italia. Connie is a versatile and accomplished author, businesswoman, and publisher, to name a few.  Her debut novel, The Girls of Piazza d’Amore, is the love story of three girls, and the forces that lead them to leave their village for a better life across the ocean.

Born in Italy and raised in Montreal, Connie shares a richly texture story of immigration and childhood. However, at the book launch she explained that she wanted to tell much more than that and hoped the reader could read in between the lines of these simple stories and see the bigger stories within them.  She then added, “In putting down on paper some of the images of village life I carried in my head for years, I hoped to illustrate how a group of people were affected by the changes happening in villages all over south Italy in the 50s- soon after the effects of the war and just before the modernization of Italy and its economic boom of the 60s.”

Connie read two excerpts from the novel; they were humorous, light, picturesque, and colorful. Before reading, she explained that “the novel only alludes to these issues in a lighthearted, cheerful tone, since it’s recounted from the perspective of a young girl. For the general Canadian reader, I wanted to show that the men and women who would become their factory workers, their tailors, barbers, gardeners all carried interesting stories behind them.”

I posted the book cover so you can get the feel of the village. Connie told the audience that, “the cover image represents a very important landmark of the village, a communal water fountain in the outskirt of the town, where women used to fetch water every evening and also do their weekly laundry. It was also the meeting place for young people to exchange glances and love notes, and some key scenes in the book are set in this fountain.”

Although Connie is the Co-director and President of Guernica Editions, she published her book with Linda Leith Publishing.

I hope I have piqued your interest so you, too, can enjoy this beautifully written story about love and friendship in Italy.

ISBN 978-1-927535-19-6 (pbk.)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Seven Tips from Ernest Hemingway on How to Write Fiction

1: To get started, write one true sentence.

2: Always stop for the day while you still know what will happen next.

3: Never think about the story when you’re not working.

4: When it’s time to work again, always start by reading what you’ve written so far.

5: Don’t describe an emotion–make it.

6: Use a pencil.

7: Be Brief.

Article Source: Open Culture

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Have a Ton of Reviews for My Book But it's Not Selling!

I am attending two book launches in May and I will also be interviewing the authors. I thought this article I got from "The Book Marketing Expert Newsletter" was appropriate since one of the authors was looking for book reviewers.

I'm passing on this helpful information to my fellow writers and bloggie friends.

Over the years I've heard this phrase thousands of times. Authors getting great reviews, getting awards, even local media and still, book sales aren't happening. When you have external validation, it's hard to really understand where the disconnect is, isn't it? Sometimes though, it may be just a matter of taking a closer look and analyzing your marketing using a different lens. Let's take a look at some things that you may want to consider:

* Leverage: First and foremost is leverage. How are you leveraging all of these other things? If you're not, you might consider it. It's easy enough to slap an award sticker on your book, but what else have you done to promote this? Consider:

* Announce it locally: Especially if you won the award. Honorable mentions are great, but not as appealing to local media.
* Contact your local bookstores. If they've said no before perhaps adding an award to your resume might entice them. Remember people like what other people like. The same goes for bookstores.
* Add it to your website. That's a given. Same for your email signature line.
* Reviewers: If you have reviewers that are pending, meaning you're targeted them with no response, why not make a second (gentle) sweep and let them know you won this award?
* Endorsements: If you've been after high-profile endorsements for your book but they keep eluding you, you may have a better chance of it with an award in your pocket, so try pitching them again.
* Reviews: If you have a lot of reviews and aren't seeing a lot of sales, I would say take a lesson from the "leverage" piece above and see if any of it applies to your pulling in more reviews. For example, if you have endorsers who haven't responded to your requests, or bookstores that have given you the brush-off, this could be a great way to gain their attention. The same doesn't apply to reviewers, however. Most reviewers aren't swayed by books that have tons of reviews. They either select the book or they don't, so don't push this one too hard.

* Engagement: Sometimes when we get a "hit" somewhere we tend to focus all of our energy there. That's a great thing, but maybe now it's time to step back and see what else you can do that you haven't focused on. Try engaging readers. When was the last time you sent a round of thank-you notes to reviewers who reviewed your book, or posted a thank-you on their blog? If you're getting a lot of comments on your website, or on blogs or interviews you've done elsewhere, I would encourage you to connect with readers there, too. Additionally, have you considering getting onto GoodReads, Library Thing or Wattpad and building readership there? And a final note on engaging. If you're a fiction author perhaps you should consider engaging your readers with your characters. If you can get your readers to fall in love (or in hate) with your characters, you can really build a strong audience that way.
* Media gets media: Some authors also come to me saying, "I've gotten tons of local media but nothing nationally." This is also pretty typical but here's something you can do. Media loves media and the more media you get, the more you'll get - if that makes sense. When you pitch yourself to national media, include a one-sheet of all of the places you've been featured. Even if it's in your own town.

* The plight of book reviews: Do book reviews really sell books? Candidly, it's hard to know. I do know that lots of exposure sells books but it's really about the right kind of exposure and, beyond that, it's about exposure in a myriad of areas. If you've been heavily focused on getting a ton of book reviews, and your Amazon page is populated with more fond words than you know what to do with, maybe it's time to move into a new area of promotion. Content, content: There was a discussion around content during a recent event I attended at both Digital Book World and Tools of Change. Both of these programs had folks talking about the importance of free and also of putting out frequent content. Don't wait eighteen months to release a book which leaves your reader hanging for more from your characters.
* Realigning your perspective on book sales: Truth is, most of us think we should be selling more than we are. We hear the "average" in book sales and then on the flip side, we hear about folks like Hugh Howey who is selling zillions of copies of his book. Where's the reality? Well, the answer is somewhere in between. If you have all these awards and are selling a book a day, I would say that depending on your market that may not be a bad start. For example, if you're sitting in the contemporary romance market, that's a pretty cluttered category so you may not sell as many as if you were in something more niche. I've seen some authors who can't get beyond selling a book a month. Seriously.

Reviews, awards, and nods from important people in your industry are fantastic, but like a tree falling in the forest if you don't tell folks about it, no one will know. Yes, you do often have to hit readers over the head with things if for no other reason than people are busy. Got an award? Shout it from the rooftops. Got tons of great reviews? Let's see if that can be a stepping stone to something else.
In the end, everything is a pathway to something else. If you get a bunch of awards for your book and figure your work stops there, that's a big mistake. Follow the path to something else, which will take you to something else, and so on. At some point at the end of that road you may very well find a pot of gold, and, you'll likely be selling more books.

Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Short Stories: Call for Submissions

Rainbow Caterpillar Bookshop calls for submissions for

2013 Mother Language Kid Lit Award

Competition open to short stories for young children, aims to support the preservation in Canada of mother languages

 Toronto, Ontario, March 27, 2013 – Submissions are currently being accepted for the second annual Rainbow Caterpillar Mother Language Kid Lit Award. The Award aims to reward writing excellence and support authors who want to write in their mother languages other than English.

“By encouraging authors to write in their mother language, we want to help create a vibrant literary production for children in foreign languages, but with a uniquely Canadian perspective,” says Happie Testa, co-owner of Rainbow Caterpillar Bookstore.

 The competition is open to Canadian residents, submissions are due on April 30th and the guidelines are available online at The winning story will receive the Rainbow Caterpillar Kid Lit Award in the amount of $750. Other deserving submissions will be recognized with an Honourable Mention.

“We hope this award also encourages parents to pass their mother language on to their children raised in Canada,” says Hanoosh Abbasi, co-owner of Rainbow Caterpillar. “We feel that it is important for parents to have access to good books from their countries of origin. We also think parents want to put their ancestral culture in the context of our shared Canadian culture where many often have more than one background and speak more than one language hanoon a daily basis.”

The Award will be presented at the Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA) 35th Annual Awards Gala to be held in Toronto on Multiculturalism Day June 21, 2013. CEMA is an organization dedicated to the promotion of ethnic media in creating an understanding of Canada and the retention of cultural links with countries of origin.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Less is More (at least when writing flash fiction)

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I am working on a flash fiction piece that’s turning out to be a challenge. It was going nowhere, so I asked one of my mentors, Steven Manners, to provide some insight on this conundrum. Based on my story, this is what he told me: 

“Because of the compression, the approach needed is more like poetry.
The key, I think, is to think in terms of multiple layers of meaning. The idea is to present a simple enough scenario, then scratch away through language to open up levels of interpretation for the reader. This is the postmodern influence: not to tell a person a story, a beginning middle/end, but to force readers to include themselves by "completing" the story.”

Although I applied Steven's valuable advice, I still needed the technical part of it. English author, David Gaffney posted some tips in The Guardian.

1. Start in the middle.
You don't have time in this very short form to set scenes and build character.

2. Don't use too many characters.
You won't have time to describe your characters when you're writing ultra-short. Even a name may not be useful in a micro-story unless it conveys a lot of additional story information or saves you words elsewhere.

3. Make sure the ending isn't at the end.
In micro-fiction there's a danger that much of the engagement with the story takes place when the reader has stopped reading. To avoid this, place the denouement in the middle of the story, allowing us time, as the rest of the text spins out, to consider the situation along with the narrator, and ruminate on the decisions his characters have taken. If you're not careful, micro-stories can lean towards punchline-based or "pull back to reveal" endings which have a one-note, gag-a-minute feel – the drum roll and cymbal crash. Avoid this by giving us almost all the information we need in the first few lines, using the next few paragraphs to take us on a journey below the surface.

4. Sweat your title.
Make it work for a living.

5. Make your last line ring like a bell.
The last line is not the ending – we had that in the middle, remember – but it should leave the reader with something which will continue to sound after the story has finished. It should not complete the story but rather take us into a new place; a place where we can continue to think about the ideas in the story and wonder what it all meant. A story that gives itself up in the last line is no story at all, and after reading a piece of good micro-fiction we should be struggling to understand it, and, in this way, will grow to love it as a beautiful enigma. And this is also another of the dangers of micro-fiction; micro-stories can be too rich and offer too much emotion in a powerful one-off injection, overwhelming the reader, flooding the mind. A few micro-shorts now and again will amaze and delight – one after another and you feel like you've been run over by a lorry full of fridges.

6. Write long, then go short.
Create a lump of stone from which you chip out your story sculpture. Stories can live much more cheaply than you realise, with little deterioration in lifestyle. But do beware: writing micro-fiction is for some like holidaying in a caravan – the grill may well fold out to become an extra bed, but you wouldn't sleep in a fold-out grill for the rest of your life.

What about you? Have you written flash fiction? Did you find it easy to write?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Question of the week

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I usually give writing tips and advice. Today, however, I’d like your opinion on a polemical issue. I read “somewhere” that in today’s writing world, we as writers must be true to ourselves. The article said writers should fight conformity and avoid following the rules (the word used was confinement); a bit extreme if you ask me.
Furthermore, the article mentioned that “Writing is a zero-sum game; someone else’s gain is your loss.” I was somewhat perplexed when I read that we should not listen to the wisdom of other writers, whether found in a classroom, a writer’s group, a craft book, a writer’s magazine, or another blog.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree/disagree? I’d love to hear from you.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


2013 has brought some changes to my life. Change can be good if seen from a different perspective. That’s why I’ve decided that if I cannot change the cards that I’m dealt, then I should at least change my attitude. Only I have the power to do so.

Last night I was talking about life, death, and changes with a dear friend of mine. I pondered over his words and this is why I chose this Neruda poem. Our conversation is beautifully explained in this poem.

You start dying slowly By Pablo Neruda

You start dying slowly
if you do not travel,
if you do not read,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life,
If you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly
When you kill your self-esteem;
When you do not let others help you.

You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking everyday on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine,
If you do not wear different colours
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly
If you avoid to feel passion
And their turbulent emotions;
Those which make your eyes glisten
And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice…

Have you gone through some changes lately? Do you identify with Neruda's words?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Procrastinate no more

I bet this word is very familiar not just to writers but everyone in general. I imagine we’ve all been there at one point or another, especially when life gets in the way.

I read a column by Judy Christie, author and consultant, who writes inspirational fiction and nonfiction.
She says that she noticed bestselling authors had something in common. Despite differences in genre, style, voice, settings, or characters, they developed a writing habit.

A writing habit, that’s the secret! (It’s not really a secret, most writers know this). I hate to admit it, but I am a procrastinator. Hello. My name is Claudia and I’m a procrastinator.
Ms. Christie's experience, however, helped me rid of that sense of guilt I had. I am entitled to procrastinate as long as I don’t make it a habit.

This is what she had to say:
After years of procrastination and fear, that lesson helped me write my first novel and five since.

When I flounder as a writer, it’s because I’m inconsistent with my daily writing discipline. When I produce my best stories, I rely on that basic lesson from the masters – words on the page.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that on my most rewarding and productive writing days, I use a kitchen timer, set for an hour at a time. I track how many hours I actually write — as opposed to time spent Tweeting, Facebooking or wandering around my friends’ blogs.

You’d think at age fifty-five I wouldn’t need such a trick, but, after all, it took me fifty years to write a novel.

Are you a procrastinator? Have you overcome this habit?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ten Quick Steps to Fix your Story

Over the weekend I got inspired to start a story I had concocted in my head a long time ago. It finally came to fruition.

Then last night, a fellow writer and dear friend of mine called me to share some news regarding a project. She also informed me that after a long hiatus she was ready to tackle her writing. And since I had started writing again, we agreed on giving each other feedback. Sometimes a little push is all you need to get motivated again.Based on our current editing process, I realized we need to apply what we learned in our writing workshops.

In general, the active voice is stronger because it is more direct and cuts down on the number of needed words.

Use simpler words—whether verbs, nouns or adjectives— replace a less familiar word with a more readily understandable one to avoid misunderstandings.


Sometimes nouns make sentences longer and weaker. For instance, “The passing of time was…” Why not say, “Time passed…”  


One way to make your writing clearer is to limit the use of long sentences.

At times, qualifiers will serve their purpose but overdoing it can weaken your writing. Excessive qualifiers add bulk without adding substance.


Parallelism is an important element of style because it builds clarity and power.
A story can become tiresome when a writer needlessly repeats a word or an idea.

Avoid such unnecessary phrases as "I believe," "I feel" and "in my opinion."

The masculine generic refers to the sole use of the pronoun “he” or “him” when referring to situations involving both genders. Opt for gender-neutral language, instead.


Vague language weakens your writing because it forces the reader to guess at what you mean instead of allowing the reader to concentrate fully on your ideas and style.
Do you usually apply these rules when writing? Do you sometimes need a reminder?