Best way to prepare to be a novelist

While noodling around livejournal blogs, I happened upon:

who had written a journal entry about how much she enjoyed my first novel, The Hunger. We have been chatting back and forth and here is a question she asked, and my response:

“I was wondering about a career as a novelist. What would you say about it, highlights, disadvantages, etc. Is there any advice you would give to a possible future novelist?”

Hi Elizabeth,
The best advice I could give is to do what you’re already doing, which is reading voraciously. One should read at least 1000 novels before trying to write one. And it’s a great idea to analyze them too. What works, what doesn’t work? What techniques does the author use to hold a reader’s interest? The other thing to do is to write regularly, so having a blog like this is a superb idea.

In terms of writing as a career, it is a very difficult profession to succeed in. They say it takes 10 years as an author to be an “overnight” success. My first book came out in 1996, so I’m waiting!

When you first start, you have to have a really thick skin. I got 100 rejections on my first novel manuscript. I did end up selling a movie option to a small Hollywood production company on it though (it never got made into a movie) and that option was a stepping stone for me. I got my first agent because of the option and shortly after that I got more acceptances. So developing a thick skin and a dogged persistence are two more suggestions I’d give.

Highlights? For me, having a person who dislikes reading tell me that one of my books made a reader out of them. Another highlight is when someone tells me that they learned something about a bit of history while reading my books for pleasure.

The Teaching Librarian

An article that I wrote is in the newest edition of Teaching Librarian magazine:

I had completely forgotten that I wrote it! I think I wrote it last spring. They’ve layed it out beautifully, with a photo of me and also the covers of many of my books and also some children’s art of my stories.

This article is called Hate Mail and is about my awful experiences when my picture book Enough came out in 2000 and I received hate mail and death threats. Enough is set during the famine in 1930s Ukraine which was instigated by Stalin and his henchmen to liquidate Ukrainians. It succeeded to the tune of 10 million people. My picture book (illustrated by Michael Martchenko) is about one girl and her father and how they trick the dictator and save one village from famine. Here’s my webpage on the book:

I was gobsmacked once the book was out to realize that there are people still alive who think that Stalin was a hero and they were offended by my book, which portrayed him as a bit of a buffoon. There were also people who thought that if Stalin killed 10 million Ukrainians, then they must have “done something to deserve it.” Sigh.

Thank goodness that as each year goes by, more Stalin myths fall to the wayside and people realize he was as evil — or more evil — than Hitler. What we forget, we’re bound to repeat.

Woman of prominence? Um…

I got a phone call from one of the reporters with the local newspaper. She said that they’re doing a Christmas (fluff piece) article on Christmas memories of “prominent” local people and wondered if she could interview me for it. Of course I agreed. Hmmm, seeing as the local Coles Book Store doesn’t even stock my books, I didn’t know I was that prominent. I wonder who the other prominent people are?

Neither rain nor sleet ….

I had been waiting and waiting for a particular package to be delivered from an ebay vendor. In this package were several Christmas gifts plus a birthday gift for my dear friend and walking partner, Carol M.

Last Tuesday at around noon, just hours before my husband and I were heading to Mont Tremblant for a few days, the motion detector at our front step went off. I looked out onto the front step. No one was there, but there was a Canada Post delivery van in the driveway. I opened my front door, thinking I’d meet the delivery person as she walked up but then noticed that she had stuck a card on my mailbox that said “Sorry I missed you….”

She hadn’t rung the doorbell or knocked on the door!

I was in my stockinged feet and it had been raining but I didn’t want her to drive off with my package so I ran out the front door as she was backing out. I tapped on the window and she was quite startled. She rolled down the window and said, “Oh, I thought there was no one home.”

I said, “How would you know if you didn’t knock on the door or ring the bell?”

She didn’t have an answer for that, but she kept on backing out of my drive!!

I ran beside the truck, socks sopping in the puddles and hollered, “Could you please give me my package?”

She said, “No! You’re a crazy lady, running after my van like that!”

I said, “Stop! I want my package!!”

She kept pulling out (we have a LONG drive) and I kept beside her and then got in front and blocked her once she was on the road.

She yelled out, “There’s customs due on it, just pick it up from the post office.”

I said, “I’ll PAY the customs, just PLEASE give me my package!”

Finally she relented. I think she could see that she’d waste more time trying to skedaddle than to just give it to me. She pulled back up and I got the money for her and then I asked for her name.

She said, “Ann. But there’s no point in complaining about me. They won’t do anything.”

She went on to say, “Besides, it’s raining. I don’t have to deliver a package if it’s raining.”

I stepped outside and held up my hands. “Guess what?” I said. “It’s not raining.”

Who ever heard of not delivering a package in the rain anyway?


Today I called the Canada Post Ombudsman to complain. That office told me to first lodge a complaint with Canada Post customer service. If you would like to complain about service, here’s the number:

1 800 267-1177

It’s hard to get through (lots of complaints?) so you need to keep hitting redial. When you get through, you can fast-track through by hitting:


and then


They tell me I’ll hear back in two weeks, and if I don’t, to call back. My reference number is 613144407. Argh.

Parry Sound and other things

It has been a very busy time of late. I had three school readings in Parry Sound on Wednesday. It’s a four hour drive from Brantford so drove in the night before. Shannon and Laura, the two teachers who had arranged my invitation, suggested that we meet for dinner on the Tuesday when I got into Parry Sound. I thought that sounded like a great idea, and I suggested that they contact local writers to join us, and they did.

As it turned out, a friend’s father died a few days earlier and the funeral was on the Wednesday. I couldn’t go to the funeral but I wanted to at least pay my respects at the visitation, which started at 2pm on Tuesday. I packed, got dressed up, and drove to the funeral home. It was so packed that I could hardly find a parking spot. I quickly paid my respects and then drove to a fast food place and changed into jeans in the bathroom and hopped on the highway. I got into Parry Sound just after 6pm and met with Laura, Shannon, Emily and local writers for dinner. The conversation was great! Writers have the best anecdotes!

Ukrainian internment finally acknowledged!

Hi everyone,

I am so pleased with this announcement that I am jumping for joy. The Ukrainian community in Canada gives heartfelt thanks to Inky Mark, Conservative MP from Dauphin MB. Inky is of Chinese heritage and his own ancestors suffered from the infamous Head Tax. He has been a long time champion of recognizing the injustice of Canada’s first national internment program. Here is the press release:

Date: Thu, 24 Nov 2005 10:17:03 -0500
From: “Mark, Inky – M.P.”

History-making, unanimous consent on the eve of a federal election speeds Inky Mark’s Bill C-331 to the Senate

(Ottawa) After 8 years of intense work, Inky Mark, Conservative Member of Parliament for Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette realized his wish for Canada’s Ukrainian community through the passage of his private member’s Bill C-331 last night in the House of Commons by unanimous consent.

Bill C-331 calls upon the federal government to acknowledge that thousands of Ukrainian Canadians were unjustly interned and disenfranchised in Canada during the First World War; to provide funding to commemorate the sacrifices made by these Canadians and; to develop
educational materials detailing this dark period of Canada’s history.

At the close of 3rd reading debate, Mark asked his parliamentary colleagues from all parties for their consent to pass the Bill. It received their unanimous consent and was passed by the House of Commons.

During the debate Mark said, “We know that after two decades it is time for the government to resolve this outstanding issue in the history of this country. This bleak event in Canadian history must be recognized and we, as a society, must learn from it. This is an issue of justice

“I am honoured to have tabled Bill C-331 and honoured to have had the opportunity to represent the wishes of Canada’s Ukrainian community.”

Speakers in favour of the Bill at third reading were: Sarmite Bulte, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Meili Faille of the Bloc Quebecois, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, NDP MP, Joy Smith Conservative MP from Kildonan-St. Paul, Marlene Catterall, Chair of the
Standing Committee of Canadian Heritage and Larry Bagnell, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources.

“Passing C-331 demonstrates the mature Canada that people in this country expect. It makes a loud statement that Canada has grown up, that Canada can accept its past, learn from it and ensure that it is never repeated,” Mark concluded.

Bill C-331 has now been received by the Senate. Having received unanimous consent in the House of Commons, it may be given the same consideration and passed before the impending federal election.

an endangered species

I have an issue with the “literacy” movement. We are bombarded with statistics about how students are lacking in literacy skills and how boys especially are falling behind. At the same time, school boards across the country are cutting back on teacher-librarians and school library services. And while school libraries and teacher-librarians are becoming an endangered species, the “literacy” movement is alive and well.

You may think that the literacy movement and the quest for more teacher-librarians is the same thing but you are wrong. The one eats the funds for the other. And the one sucks the life out of the other. The problem with the literacy movement is that it reduces reading and books to a skill that needs to be learned instead of a forbidden pleasure that should be savoured. In other words, the literacy movement thinks of books and reading as broccoli while the teacher-librarian movement sees it as chocolate.

I’ll take chocolate any day.

Are you interested finding out more about teacher-librarians and school libraries? Here are some sites that may be of interest:

Crit group for kids’ writers

I run a free Writing for Kids critique group within an online forum. Go here:

You will have to register a screen name, but it is free. Make sure to
write down your password. Once you get a password and sign in, it will
take you to Books and Writers Community home page. On the upper right hand
portion of the forum page, you’ll see a welcome message to you in red
and a clickable thingie to “Post a message”. Click on it, then scroll
the spinner down to “YA/Children’s Literature” and post a message to me or to
“all”. Make sure to put something like “Hi Marsha” in the subject so
I’ll see it.

See you there!



My son Neil, who is in his third year at Brock in a co-op in computer science, has written an online RPG that I am totally addicted to. Here it is:

hint: If you play, become a Mage. They’re much more powerful than Fighters. Also, if you want to buy some better armour etc, make me an offer. I’m Rachel3.

Oakville Library visit and other things

I did an author visit at the White Oaks branch of the Oakville Public Library yesterday. The wind was incredible during the drive down. White Oaks is a very nice library — all open concept and with lots of outdoor light. There were about 50 grade six students and their teachers in the audience. At the beginning of my talk I asked who hated books. At first no one put up their hands, but then after some grins and nudging, two boys put up their hands. I asked them why they hated reading and both stated that it’s because books are boring. How true. So many are! And a dream book for one reader can be as boring as all get-out for someone else.

I talked about how I hated books too when I was a kid and how one book turned it all around for me. One thing that I like to point out is that if you can’t see the action in your head as you’re reading a book, that’s a good sign that the book is not enjoyable. I let the kids vote about what selection from my three young adult novels they’d like to have read. I have nicknamed those three portions Vomit, Bullying and Abduction. They voted for Vomit. As I read the vomit scene from The Hunger, there were groans and guffaws from the audience. I kept on peeking up from my reading to see how those two book haters were responding. Both sat with rapt attention. Once I was finished, I asked them if they could see the scene in their head. Both grinned and nodded. Nothing like a graphic vomit scene to make a movie play in your brain!

The kids asked fabulous questions and after the presentation the librarians took me into a back room and much to my delight and surprise, they had prepared a beautiful luncheon! I couldn’t stay long because I was meeting with Andrew Gregorovich, a Ukrainian historian par excellence, in Toronto later the same afternoon. However, in between showing the librarians some fabulous preliminary pencil sketches that my illustrator Muriel Wood has done for Aram’s Choice, I managed to scarf down a tasty sandwich and some lovely desserts!

Oh, and I got to use my brand new chattervox for the first time. It worked like a dream. Here’s what I’m talking about: