My friend, Jane Warren, whom I met at grad school (which she completed and I didn’t!), invited me to be part of a virtual game of blog tag. Fellow writers link from writer to writer, answering a few questions as we go. Since at the moment I am thinking about writing a lot more than doing it (kind of like I was thinking about writing my thesis instead of actually doing it), I thought this exercise was apropos. So, thanks for the invite, Jane. Make sure you take a moment to visit Jane’s site. She’s a very witty, intelligent writer and I look forward to reading her forthcoming work.
Below I have tagged three writing friends: Kristin Butcher, Shelley Leedahl, and Sheryl McFarlane. Please take the time to visit their websites and/or blogs. (They'll be posting and linking to other great writers after May 12.)
What am I working on?
I’m working on filling the well. My last major project was Long Beach Wild, which came out in 2012. Planet Ark, for young readers, came out in 2013, but I think it was Long Beach Wild that drained me. I had been thinking about this book for a long time and worked on it for at least five years. A good deal of primary research went into it and then there were the issues of having to pretty much cut it in half when it got to my publisher (sob) and having it just slink in under the wire before my publisher went in to creditor protection. (All resolved now and the book is out there in the world.) Those last two books were good projects I’m proud of, but other than having a few ideas stewing, I’m not working on any of my own projects at the moment. I am helping a friend write down her memories of living on a small island near Tofino, which is very enjoyable, and it's nice just to be the scribe and not the “creative genius” for a while. I also have a small publishing company, and we are slowly (very) releasing books, so that is keeping me close to books, even if I’m not actively immersed in writing one at the moment.
One note though. Even though I’m not working on an essay or book at the moment, I am writing. I’m writing more letters, which has been very enjoyable. And, for the moment, art – specifically collage and “correspondence art” (a fascinating movement I’m trying to learn all I can about) -- is helping provide a creative outlet.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This should be a shorter answer. The work I am most passionate about is rooted in place. My favourite essay, Stone Heart, was written when I was sailing in Haida Gwaii; Long Beach Wild comes from a fascination with local history and after spending years walking that long stretch of sand. I suppose my voice, which I try to stay true to, makes my work slightly different, but I don’t think you could pick it out of a lineup! I’m a fairly “straight up” writer and I think that’s why I’ve had a fair bit of success writing about science for children. You have to be able to explain things in a way that makes sense, while, hopefully, still holding the reader’s interest.
Why do I write what I do?
There are a few ways to approach this question. I write non-fiction because I love doing research. I feel as if I could research forever – visiting archives, doing interviews, travelling, etc. – but at some point you actually have to start writing!
Ideas get in my head that I can’t quite shake. The one and only novel I’ve ever worked on – a novel for children – started from an idea I had over 23 years ago. I can still remember the exact spot I was sitting when the idea came to me. I think about this story often and occasionally jot down ideas. Perhaps one day I will actually finish it. I live in eternal hope.
More and more though, I write about the history of the west coast of Vancouver Island. Interviewing local people, visiting First Nations communities, spending time on the ocean and in the forest, are endlessly fascinating to me and this has been some of the most personally rewarding work I’ve done. I’ve met entirely new groups of people that I might not otherwise have met because I was interested in hearing their stories. For the most part, people just love to be asked.
How does my writing process work?
I am a morning person. When I was writing full time (and had young children), I could often get up at 5 or 5:30 and get right to my desk. Sometimes it felt like I started to work even before I woke up, because I often had an idea in my head that I just needed to get down. (More often than not it wasn’t actually a very good idea, but it felt urgent at the time!) I would do most of my writing during the morning and would try to save the early afternoon for research, answering emails, tending to the business of writing. By mid- to late-afternoon, I’d be done and ready to hit the beach or the garden. Now that I am working full time (at a "real" job), I write when I can - in the evening, on weekends, or jot down ideas in a notebook when I'm on the beach.
I’ve known Kristin for several years now. We’ve met at retreats and through various writerly events as we’re both part of the network of children’s writers on Vancouver Island and in British Columbia. Kristin is a whirlwind of energy and output. She is endlessly prolific and when she’s not writing, she’s creating art.
Kristin’s bio: Award-winning author, Kristin Butcher, is addicted to pencil and paper. She might be reading, writing, drawing, or painting, but it’s a sure bet paper is involved in some way. A teacher for 17 years, but a writer her whole life, Kristin published her first mid-grade novel (The Runaways/Kids Can Press) in 1997. She now has 21 titles for children and teens, with two more waiting in the wings. Look for Alibi (Orca Currents) in the fall and In Search of Sam (Dundurn YA) next spring. Learn more at: www.kristinbutcher.com
I first met Shelley about 14 or so years ago when we both attended the Labrador Creative Arts Festival. I suspect we are both still dining out on the stories that came from that experience! We’ve stayed in touch over the years and I am so delighted that she has just moved to Vancouver Island. This is very welcome news. Shelley is one of the most dedicated and hard-working writers that I know and I’m proud to have a section of my bookshelf dedicated to her poetry and fiction.
Shelley’s bio: Shelley A. Leedahl is a multi-genre literary writer, editor, and instructor. Aside from her numerous publications--including her most recent books, Listen, Honey (stories, DC Books), Wretched Beast (poetry, BuschekBooks), and the forthcoming I Wasn't Always Like This (essays, Signature Editions) -- Leedahl also works part- time as a radio advertising copywriter. She was born and raised in Saskatchewan, and recently moved from Edmonton to Ladysmith, BC. Learn more at www.writersunion.ca/member/shelleya-leedahl.
Back in 1988, when I first started to get into the publishing biz, there weren’t really that many of us around. But Sheryl McFarlane was and still is. Sheryl’s book Waiting for the Whales, is one of my all-time favourite children’s book. My editor gave it to me when my first daughter was born and I will never give this gem away (except, perhaps, to my own children’s children). Sheryl is a prolific writer of books for children and young adults and she is just plain passionate about books for young people. I so appreciate her work reviewing books and advocating for writers, writing, and literacy, which she keeps up on her blog, sherylbooks.wordpress.com.
Sheryl’s bio: Sheryl McFarlane is the author of more than a dozen award-winning books and Ebooks for kids and teens, including Waiting for the Whales, Jessie's Island, and Eagle Dreams. Island Santa, her latest picture book, is based on a west coast tradition of delivering gifts by boat at Christmas time to those living in isolated coastal communities. Sheryl lives in Victoria, Canada. Learn more at www.sherylmcfarlane.ca and www.sherylbooks.wordpress.com