Sunday, March 29, 2015

What's wrong with punctuation marks? by Leanne Dyck

(rock art by Byron Dyck. Photo by Leanne Dyck)

There are many similarities between Cockroach by Rawi Hage and Caught by Lisa Moore. Both books are set in Canada, both were written by authors at the top of their game, both protagonists are skirting the law and both books don't contain a single quotation mark -- or a pair. None. Zip. Zero. 


When Lisa Moore was asked why. This is what she said: (link) (She talks about her reasons at the end of the interview.)

Lisa Moore believes that not using quotation marks gives the reader freedom to exercise their creativity.  

But I think quotation marks perform a useful service. They keep things contained, they make things easier for the reader. 

Quotation marks are visual cues that isolate one group of words in a text from another group. The isolated groups may be the exact words of a speaker, or writer, titles of various kinds, or words used in a special sense. 
- Handbook for Writers by Jane Flick and Celia Willward (p. 173)

Of course, just because quotation marks make things easier for readers doesn't mean that the same goes for writers. In fact, in English Grammar for Dummies, Geraldine Woods writes that the rules for properly using quotation marks 

'[I]s a list even longer than the nation's tax laws.' (p. 151)

But she adds...

'[Q]uotation rules aren't as hard to follow as the regulations set by that beloved government agency, the Internal Revenue Service.' (p. 151)

As you can see this topic is deeply personal to me.

I like punctuation marks. I'm a punctuation marks type of gal.

I'm not alone...

Nonen Titi writes:  'Quotation marks are vitally important.'

In fact, I've fallen deeply, passionately in love with the em dash. At times, driven by this passion, I've tried to squeeze one of these slim, striking, versatile, useful lines into every sentence.
'The em dash is perhaps the most versatile punctuation mark. Depending on the context, the em dash can take the place of commas, parentheses, or colons -- in each case to slightly different effect.'  - the punctuation guide

People have tried to "help" me control my passion for the em dash. In fact, Jane Flick and Celia Millward (remember them?) write...  

'Properly used, the dash adds variety and lightness to writing; improperly used or overused, it gives the impression that the writer is flighty or disorganized. Use the dash, but sparingly, and not as a substitute for clear thinking and well-constructed sentences.' (p. 167)

Flighty? Flighty? Disorganized, sure. But flighty. Okay, so, maybe they have a point. And, so, from now on I will try to control my passion. But starting sentences with 'And' or 'But' that looks really cool, now -- doesn't it?

How do you feel? Do you love punctuation marks as much as I do? What writing no-nos do you commit?

(photo by Leanne Dyck)

(photo by Leanne Dyck)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Book Review: Caught by Lisa Moore

After reading and raving about February by Lisa Moore (here's the link to my review), I leapt at an opportunity to meet her in person. (I write about that experience here.) And that's how I got this...

Book blurb:  It's June 1978, and David Slaney can be sure of only one
thing. He can't get caught; not this time. He's escaped from prison and has got to make
good on the heist that went wrong, win back the woman he loves, and make a big enough
profit to buy himself a new life. First, though, he must get himself across a vast country
full of watchful eyes, booby traps, and friends who might be foes. And then, on to Colombia,
where the real test of his mettle begins.

Here are bravado and betrayal, bad weather and worse seas, love, lust, undercover agents,
the collusion of governments, innocence and the loss thereof, and many, many bales of
marijuana. Here, too, si the seeming invincibility of youth and all the folly that it allows.

Caught is exuberant, relentlessly suspenseful, and utterly unique -- an adventure novel the way
only Lisa Moore could write it. 
As I begin to read, Simon and Garfunkel's "Look for  America" plays sweetly in the background. And I am Caught by caught. Before I knew it, I was well into the thick of the story.

The last book I reviewed, for this blog, was Cockroach by Ravi Hage. Whereas Cockroach is about someone living on the fringes of society -- abandoned. Caught is about someone living on the fringes of society -- lionized. 

And we readers too are charmed by Slaney.
I wonder why? Is it because we unaware of his crime or has it more to do with passages like this...

'He was plagued by a premonition of being caught.  As if his capture belonged to him, responsibility he'd been born into, like a title or a crown.' (p. 23)
Watching Slaney struggling to free himself is like watching a rabbit struggle to pull his leg free of the trap. You can't but long for his release.

The theme of being caught -- unwanted pregnancy, serving jail time, etc. -- resounds throughout this book.  

'A fish in one of the buckets on the old man's boat wiggled violently. It bent itself
double and bent back the other way and threw itself up in the air and landed
on the gunwale ... It must have been dead and come back to life and it
lauded on the gunwale and was astonished and then it rolled over and fell
into the water.' (p. 171)

What can we learn from the fish?

Possibly... You can be caught. You can think all is over, but if you continue to believe. If you put forth a might effect. If you strive unceasing for your goal. You can win your freedom. 

My favourite quote...

'The best stories, he thought, we've known the end from the beginning.' (p. 272)

And to summarize this book...

It is a tale of...
two friends:  one of privilege,  one not.
two criminals:  one of privilege, one not.
two justices:  one for the privileged; one for the unprivileged.

'Slaney found...the door was closed.... He wondered if Hearn was on the other side.' (p. 316)

More about Moore and Caught...

YouTube video:  Lisa Moore talks about Caught (a short interview -- approximately 8 minutes long)

YouTube video:  Lisa Moore talks about and gives an author reading from Caught (approximately 50 minutes)

YouTube video:  Lisa Moore and Caught at the Scotiabank Gillar (approximately 3 minutes)

first slug of the year
photo by Leanne Dyck

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The musical (writing game) by Leanne Dyck

I've been playing this game for many years. When did I start, was I a teenager or younger? Did a Language Arts teacher introduce the game to me or...? I'm not sure.

By playing this game, you'll learn how to develop a plot. You'll learn how to take your characters from the first scene to the end of the play.

Chose a song from your favourite genre and band. A good source of songs is songbooks (go figure)--especially ones with old or traditional songs. Use the entire song or only a few lines. Once you've selected the songs--or parts of songs--string them together to form a story. Don't hesitate to rewrite the song--if necessary.

(selfie by Leanne Dyck)

Inspired by Celtic music, I created a four-scene musical.

Three actors:  an older woman, a younger woman, and a man
Costume:   The women wear worn clothing -- think old Irish dress--long skirts and shawls.  The man wears a suit jacket with a knit vest and high, leather boots. 
Prop:  rocking chair

Scene I

three actors on stage
The two women stand together, stage left. 
The man is at stage right.

A fiddle and tin whistle playing in the background.

The older woman pushes the younger woman to the centre stage. 

The younger woman dances as the older woman sings...

Step it up, Mary, my fine daughter
Step it up, Mary, if you can
Step it up, Mary, my fine daughter
Show your legs to the countryman
Show your legs to the countryman

The man steps forward and sings...

Her eyes, they shone like the diamonds
I thought she was queen of the land
And her hair hung over her shoulder
Tied up with a black velvet band

(photo by Leanne Dyck)

Scene II

two actors on stage:  the man and the young woman
The man kneels and takes the young woman's hand
He sings...

And it's no, neigh, never (he slaps his knee 3 times)
No, neigh, never, no more
Will I play the wild rover
No never, no more

(photo by Leanne Dyck)

Scene III

the man wears a morning coat
the young woman wears a veil

three actors on stage:  the man and the two women

the man and the younger woman stand centre stage
the older woman stands stage left and sings...

He whistled and he sang 'til the green woods rang
And he won the heart of my baby

(photo by Leanne Dyck)

Scene IV

young woman, centre stage, on rocking chair, blanket in arms (as if holding a baby) sings...

Too-ra-loor-ra-loor-ra, Too-ra-loor-ra-li
Too-ra-loor-ra, hush now, don't you cry
Too-ra-loor-ra-loor-ra, Too-ra-loor-ra-li
Too-ra-loor-ra, that's an Irish lullaby

fade to black

Sharing my author journey...

Sunday, March 8, 2015

on Writing and Illustrating Kids Books by Leanne Dyck

Thanks to my friend and author Pam Withers, I was able to attend the...

CWILL (Children's Writers & Illustrators) of British Columbia Society's panel discussion.

CWILL is an organization for published writers and illustrators. (CANSCAIP is an organization for unpublished and published writers and illustrators. As well as others interested in children's literature.)

(I took some picture of this event, but they didn't turn out -and so...)
(doodling by Leanne Dyck)

Moderator:  Ellen Schwartz

Panelists:  Silvana Goldemberg, Sheri Radford, Claire Eamer, Sara Leach, Kallie George, Mark David Smith

To introduce us to the panel, moderator Ellen Schwartz asked the authors to talk about their author journey.

Some authors spoke of being led to writing by a desire to entertain their family -- younger siblings, extended family.

Two of the panelists have mothers who are authors. I always thought that this would be a leg up in starting a career. But these panelists said, after watching their mothers work, that it was a deterrent. 

Many of the presenting authors had won awards for their writing.

Audience question:  should you send potential publishers both the illustrations and the writing?

Answer:  lead with your strength. If you are an artist send illustrations. If you are a writer send writing.

Often times, publishers will link established illustrators with new writers, or visa versa. This helps with the marketing of the new book.

A lively, engaging discussion ensued and I scrambled to take notes.

It's very wise to do a lot of research on the genre. Attendees were encouraged to visit Kidsbooks. (A large children's bookstores in mainland British Columbia.)

If your manuscript breaks the rules (or is a pop-up book), send it to an international book publisher.

Graphic novels are hot right now. Kids Can press made a name for themselves in Canada by publishing them.

Show tenacity. One author told us that her road to publishing took eight years to travel.

Send your submission and then wait 2 to 6 months. If you haven't heard from the publisher follow-up.

The protagonist is generally two years older than your target reader.

The best way to sell a book is by word of mouth.

Good resources...

Writers Market

Children's Writers and Illustrators Market

Jump Start Your Book Sales

The Canadian Children's Book Centre


Illustrators receive half of the royalties from the sale of picture books. 

If illustrators want to be traditionally published, they were encouraged to seek out publishers, first. Instead of soliciting authors. 

Whether an illustrator is seeking to be self-published or traditionally published, they were encouraged to build an artist web site that features their portfolio. These portfolios should endeavour to show their range of styles (no more than four) and give a sense of themselves as an illustrator. Direction can be obtain by visiting other illustrators' web sites. 

Self-published author...

Self-publishing your children's book was discussed. 
Where will you sell your children's book? 
If you find it easy to answer this question then you have a better chance of being a successful indie author.

Above all, focus on crafting a quality book. 

Non-fiction author...

Authors of non-fiction picture books need to send a detailed proposal to the publisher. The cover letter should explain why their book is important. 

Sometimes a publisher will seek out an author to write the book. In this case, the publisher will have conducted some of the research.

Thank you, Pam, for inviting me to this inspiring, informative and fun event.


Author and panelist, Mark David Smith wrote a brief review of this event and published it on his blog. Here's the link.  

(photo by Leanne Dyck)

Sharing my author journey...

Sunday, March 1, 2015

My Twitter Strategy by Leanne Dyck

This post was inspired by Annie Neugebauer's article The Great Twitter Debate:  Should You Follow Back?

(rock art by Byron Dyck)

When I joined Twitter, I followed everyone who followed me. I thought I was obligated to. If Twitter suggested that I follow someone, I did. If someone followed me, I followed them. Automatically. Without question.

Until a fellow author helped me to see the error of my ways. She explained that Twitter's suggestions are based on who I follow. If I’m following every Tom, Dick, and Harriett, there won't be any rhyme or reason for the Twitter suggestions. If, however, I’m more selective in who I follow, Twitter will be more selective with their suggestions. For example, I'm interested in building my author career. So I'm interested in following authors, publishers, and literary agents who are interested in the genres I write.

By using strategy, I've uncovered new venues to send my writing and I've found inspiring authors to follow.

(planted by Leanne Dyck)


Engagement is a better metric of success on social media than sheer number of followers. How much of your contest is being shared and read?

Twitter strategies need to focus on building your brand, which requires you to look at each aspect of your interactions on Twitter as a brand-building activity.

Here are Kevan Lee's 14 Twitter tips 

Next Monday:  What I learnt form a panel discussion on writing for children.

Sharing my author journey...