When I was a young girl I took piano lessons. I really liked the piano until I was assigned “The Blue Danube.” By that time, I was sight-reading popular music and improvising some of my own touches, and the Blue Danube seemed so boring.

I wasn’t engaged in either its rhythm or its tune. I practiced it the first week and figured I had it nailed (as they say today). However, at the next lesson I made a minor mistake and was told to do it another week without even a chance to correct it. I never practiced it again, and weeks went by as I was stuck with the same piece.

During those weeks I realised the teacher had 2 new students. They were brothers. One had the half-hour before my lesson, and the other the half-hour following mine. The teacher started my lesson late by 5 minutes, as I sat in the hall and watched the clock. At first I was happy to be dismissed 5 minutes early, still stuck on the Blue Danube. Then it dawned on me I was having a 20 minute lesson and Mom was paying full price. I told her.

As a result, Mom asked our church organist to take me on as a student, explaining my fading interest in piano lessons. She suggested I might enjoy the organ, then she warned me I would have to start at the very beginning with scales! Playing scales with my feet? I was enraptured. Playing scales had never been so exciting. Two manuals (keyboards) for my hands and one for my feet. Using stops to change tones? I had oboes and violins and trumpets – oh bliss! A whole orchestra was mine in that pipe organ.

That was a life lesson well learned. It’s deadly boring to repeat the same activity over and over, but it’s bliss when a repeat is reinvented. In writing this is so true. I get a lift of pleasure creating a story in the first place, but then the boost from rewriting takes the pleasure even higher.

As I follow my four steps:

  1. Write
  2. Rewrite
  3. Edit
  4. Polish

I never find a stale moment in the whole process. No Blue Danubes!

At this time I am rewriting stories I wrote in the 1990’s. I am able to expand and change them with no word count restrictions and I am in bliss once again. Luckily there are 40 of them to do, so I’m happy.

p.s. I was a church organist for several years, but life took its turns and I relinquished that pleasure. I still play piano for pleasure.

The following is my attempt at a nonet, a new poetic form I encountered in Writer’s Digest. A nonet begins with nine syllables on the first line, and concludes with one syllable for the ninth line. Kind of a poetic version of Soduko!

My computer died mid-November.
I ask you, with no computer
how would a writer survive?
To depict his stories
of action and angst,
get his email,
or send it.
He’s choked.
Mum.

I ask you, have you experienced a line-up at a cashier where the computer system has crashed? Staff faces appear stricken yet vacant. They have absolutely no idea what to do, while frustrated customers stand patiently, or drop their merchandise and leave. It’s especially angst-ridden when the “manager” assures customers, “only a few more minutes.”

I recently stood through 2.5 hours of this frustration with said promises because I had already spent 2 hours selecting the merchandise. It would have been quicker if they had a pen and paper back-up system, but no-one seems to know how to write anymore.

I ask you, can you survive without a computer? I have been without my computer for more than a year! Meanwhile I have written:
  • one K-3 storybook
  • two grade 4-6 storybooks
  • one teen novel
  • one adult nonfiction book about coping with stress (about which I know a good deal from experience!)
I am currently working on two K-3 stories, and another grade 4-6 story. All are written with a ballpoint pen on paper. It can be done!

Join celebrated North Shore children’s author Marian Keen at
Tres Bon Beauty Salon
13-728 West 14th Street
North Vancouver
Saturday November 5th, 7:00-9:00 pm.

Marian will be signing copies of Lexi and Hippocrates find trouble at the Olympics and previewing her next book Abigail Skunk’s Lessons for her Kits. Get your holiday shopping off to a literary start! https://megsbooks.wordpress.com/

This book signing event is part of the Diamond Dolls women’s networking event. $20 admission includes refreshments and light meal.

Serendipity always lends a hand and for Abigail Skunk there was certainly serendipity.

First there was a newspaper item saying the skunk population in our neighbourhood was exploding. Next there was an article about how schools were fostering good manners in children. Next, my granddaughter’s car was sprayed by a black and white (skunk). Then my aunt told me about a skunk who entered the house, walked all around on a little tour touching nothing, eating nothing, inflicting no damage. And then, curiosity satisfied, left as politely as it entered.

But then in September 2010, the school requested that if possible could the parents donate a children’s book to their school library on the occasion of their child’s birthday during the school year. A copy of their curriculum indicated that manners were to be covered.

Two plus two equals “click”! went my brain and I suggested that we produce our own book. By October, skunks were researched and by November the story was written. There followed editing, polishing, test runs, storyboards and Christmas.

Finally, publishing the book.

But, we did it! And I actually read it to the class!

Imagine that!

Meg

When I was a child I devoured the series of animal stories by Thornton W. Burgess. Some I received as gifts. Others I bought with saved coins and I borrowed some from the library. I have one left.

Someday I would write stories about animals too. I noted that Mr. Burgess did not write about exotic animals such as elephants and giraffes but about animals that he observed around his local area. One charming attribute of his stories is that though he focused on one animal’s story, the other animals have small parts in it which brings about a charming cohesiveness.

Now I have my series underway. So far, I have written about a squirrel, a bear (3 stories), a crow, a rabbit, and a skunk. I am hoping to include an owl, a raccoon, a coyote, a deer, a seagull, and perhaps a hummingbird. So I am about halfway.

Each animal is partly inspired by newspaper articles, and anecdotes but I also research the animals in order to achieve an authentic ‘tail’!

One of these stories I have published – Abigail Skunk’s Lessons for her Kits.

Imagine that!

Meg

Children have stresses too. Summer is usually stress-free, but then, as August passes the mid-way point, there are the “first day of school jitters.”

Children usually reflect parental attitudes. Anxiety or enthusiasm is equally infectious. A new situation is best met with preparation so devote some of the last days of summer vacation to the requirements for school:

Shopping for school supplies and clothing

  • Kids always like new things. For school supplies give them color choices, one special item, and something new to wear that they love. This builds a child’s self-esteem and gives confidence to face the new situation.
  • Regarding clothes, go with your child’s taste – whether it be bright colors, or denim, or funky – within the limits of your budget.
  • At the arts and crafts store there are inexpensive t-shirts that allow sew-ons or glue-ons or tie-dye so your child can create his or her style.
  • If offered some hand-me-downs, going through them with your child can be an adventure. There may be some items your child has always admired or some great basics – like plain shirts and jeans, freeing up your budget for more special items.

For more back to school tips – keep reading! http://www.stresstonics.com/back-to-school.html

Imagine their problems in trying to help those who won’t help themselves.

A magazine article for writers spelled out hundreds of formatting requirements for submissions to agents or publishers. I read the advice with painstaking patience, but when I had finished reading, I had to think. It seemed so arrogant and demanding of them to require such detailed adherence to their formats and to make the threat that not conforming earns your manuscript the circular file. I had to smother my resentment. Any writer is naturally creative, so it’s akin to wearing handcuffs.

I thought again. Fortunately, my creative nature allows me to walk in their shoes — that little exercise made clear the benefit I could receive.

I picture the agent or editor sitting in the office sipping on a morning coffee when the secretary enters with one thousand submissions for the day. (I can exaggerate. I’m a writer. I’m sure they do.)  

  1. The first submission has a cover letter running five pages giving the author’s history including her experience with a nasty divorce.
  2. The second manuscript is printed single spaced with light blue ink on colored paper. Pretty and unreadable.
  3. The third is printed in columns.
  4. The fourth has the required three chapters but each is stapled firmly and one is covered with coffee stains.

PLUNK!  THUD!  BANG!  THUMP! Into the wastebasket they go until she sees one respectively addressed to her, presented in her required format, clean and easy to read. She sips her coffee and settles to work.

I want my “audience” to pay me that kind of attention, so I’ll follow all the rules I can, but—-If I miss one rule, please know I tried to abide, so please take my side and don’t crush my pride.

At least read it.

Write a children’s story if you have the imagination, but submit it only if you have courage and tenacity.

The children’s book market is so competitive today that if you investigate the situation you can’t help but be intimidated. A book for children is short compared to an adult novel. The plot is simpler. The descriptions are conveyed by pictures. So how hard can it be to write a children’s story? It’s not hard; it’s dead easy especially if you have a fertile imagination. Writing stories is not the problem. It’s getting them published that pulverizes your soul.

Just read “It’s a Bunny-Eat-Bunny World”, by Olga Litowinsky, to understand the problem. Her book would reduce the thousands of would-be children’s authors to a mere trickle if they all had the courage to read the whole book. I read it when it first appeared and then dropped it into my slush pile fast. However I kept writing because I just couldn’t quit.

Now I’ve read it again. I recommend it to any writer who wants to know the true picture of the publishing business. Now it’s made me determined. Now I have people urging me to get my work published. Now I must try again. Yes, I’ll make mistakes. So what? I only need one publisher. Wish me luck—-NOW.

Historical characters are easier to relate to if they are introduced in a story form.

A teacher commented that my story of Lexi (the cat narrator) and Hippocrates was an enjoyable introduction of history for her class. I’m sure those grade 4 students will remember Hippocrates as the father of medicine when they eventually study the Ancient Greeks.

I have now written the Dr. Joseph Lister story with the same idea of introducing an historical hero of the medical world. As the man who defeated gangrene, his story will inspire children to pay attention and use information and incidentally, to wash their hands without grumbling.

From the moment I embraced the skill of talking I became a teacher. My first pupils were ideal. Because they were dolls, they didn’t fidget or squirm, chew gum, throw spitballs or talk back. Occasionally one fell off a chair but I didn’t send them to the nurse I just replaced them on the chair and kept teaching.

In grade school, Grade Three, I became a tutor teaching boys to learn to read. In high school I tutored again teaching grammar.

Eventually I became a real teacher with my degree in education, but then family came along, so I taught my own.

And finally I found writing to be a perfect vehicle for teaching children one of the hardest subjects (and one I hated in school) – History!

Thus the Alexander Catts’ I and II came into being. They and their ‘meowmoirs’ help me show children “what it was like when” and the most famous people were just human beings who dealt with life like we do.

Alex (Alexander Catt I) met Ramses, Leonardo da Vinci, Columbus, Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sam Steele, Queen Victoria, Eisenhower and Emily Carr, to name a few.

So far Lexi (Alexander Catt II) has met Ramses, Hippocrates and now Sir J. Lister. The goal is to make some of the highlights of the history of medicine not only understandable but interesting and hopefully entertaining.

The challenge is to make the gruesome palatable because the subject matter is often gross and we don’t want children to cry, or worse, throw up or develop fears about going to the doctor.

Even the study of health in Grade Four did that to me as a child and I write at the Grade Four level so I understand.

Looking back at the nineteenth century the chances of surviving childbirth, a broken leg, or simple operations were slim. Lister changed that by keeping his head and persevering against popular opinion by providing proof. He was a cool hero.

And my job is to depict all that – Fun!