Good news!

Yesterday, Sharon Brooks, organizer extraordinaire of Kids Can Fly and also the key fundraiser for Brantford Book Camp, called with good news. We have received funding from the Ontario Arts Council for this summer’s Book Camp!!! This makes everything so much easier to plan. No scurrying around, asking for little donations here and there. We provide this camp to kids for a mere $50 for the week (fee waived altogether in special cases), but it costs something like $200 per child for us to put this camp on. Thank you, Ontario Arts Council! You have made many aspiring young writers’ dreams come true!

And then today, I got an email from my agent letting me know that the contract for I Am Aram (the sequel to Aram’s Choice) has come through. Muriel Wood will be doing the illustrations for this one too. She is such a joy to work with and I’m really pleased that she’ll be able to start on this new one as soon as she’s finished the illustrations for the first. The tentative publication date is fall 2007.


OLA Superconference

Brantford Book Camp has been running for two summers now, and in our upcoming third summer, we’re incorporating a parallel camp for aspiring writers who are no longer kids.

Our stellar Book Camp team of:

Sharon Brooks
Fleur-Ange Lamothe
Roberta Henley
and me

is doing a presentation at the upcoming Ontario Library Association Superconference on Thursday called “From Boot Camp to Book Camp.” In this presentation, we’ll give step-by-step guidelines about how communities can start Book Camps in their own communities.

In case you’re wondering what the heck a Book Camp is, check out last year’s page:

While at the OLA conference, I’ll also be signing at the Dundurn booth at 3pm on Thursday and will be womaning the Ontario Coalition for School Libraries booth at 11am.

Aram’s Choice

A few days ago, I got the page proofs for one of my upcoming books, Aram’s Choice.

This is a very special book. It’s a short novel — only 72 pages — but it will have full colour illustrations throughout. I have never written a novel quite like this before. It’s actually harder to write a novel as short as this because you don’t have the luxury of extra words.

The story itself is a simple one. It’s about Aram, an Armenian orphan, who comes to Canada in 1923. But he doesn’t simply arrive in Canada, he’s rescued. The story of the first 50 Armenian children to be rescued by Canada is a remarkable one and also a story that has been shoved under the carpet of time. This story is actually the one that compelled me to begin writing books in the first place.

The story is an emotional one. About a young boy who has already lost his mother and father and little brother because of the Armenian genocide in Turkey. But he now must choose to lose everything else that is familiar — his grandmother, the orphanage in Corfu that he considers home, and his beloved teacher — on the chance that he can gain freedom as a Canadian.

You’d think that because this story had been in my heart for so very long that seeing the page proofs would have no effect on me. After all, these are my own words.

But the page proofs include Muriel Wood’s astonishing paintings. They are so real that I had tears pouring down my face as I read my own words. She got inside of this story and made it her own. The paintings are so realistic that Aram and his friends are heart-breakingly real.

I am proud of this novel and I am honoured to have Muriel Wood as my illustrator. And now, I wait anxiously until the final book is in my grubby little hands.

Here’s the page:

magazine that publishes stories written by people under 19

Here’s a question that popped up in my inbox today:

Hi Marsha!

Thanks for visiting my school today. After your presentation, I asked you the question ‘What advice would you give to a 10 year old who wants to publish some stories in a magazine?’ You had to leave for your next session but asked me to email you with this question.

thanks, R

Hi R!

Thanks for contacting me!

There’s a Canadian magazine that publishes stories by people under the age of 19. It’s called What If? Here’s some info on it:

I have seen this magazine and it’s professionally done.

Hope this helps —

Marsha Skrypuch


Hi Elizabeth,

Your new novel opening is really good! Much more visual this time around. Within each line, you can expand scene to make it more visual. For example, your first few lines could be expanded thus:

“Katie! We need you over here!”

(It’s a good technique to open with a line of dialogue like this. The reader gets a sense of urgency and also that Katie is important. Tag this line of dialogue with some scene setting and context. For example, take a look at my additions (between the ///// marks):

“Katie! We need you over here!” /////Katie tried to swallow down her stress, then turned to see who it was who needed her so desperately this time. Solange, Katie’s personal hairstylist stood there, blow dryer in one hand and round hairbrush in the other.////

////Katie heard a voice from the other direction://// “We need her here!

////It was the set designer, Gabe, tapping his eel-skin boot tip with exasperation.////

////Solange stepped forward, brandishing her blow dryer like a weapon at Gabe. ////”We have to get her hair done before she can get any pictures taken!”//// she declared.///

“Can’t I have a break?” ////asked Katie, slumping down in the nearest chair. ////”I have been working for 7 hours straight now, its getting hard to stand up straight and look good in the pictures.”

passive vs active and past vs present

I got an email from someone who is writing his first novel and it’s shaping up to be really good. One of the things I suggested to him is that instead of writing it in present tense, he write it in “past active”. Both past active and present active engage the reader, but past active gives the writer more flexibility and it seems less overt.

“What’s that?” he asked. Here’s my answer:

Here are the first couple of paragraphs, as published, from my novel, Nobody’s Child:

They’re written in past active:

April 1909 — Adana, Turkey

They travelled on foot. That set them apart from the other migrant barley harvesters. The others travelled with donkeys or an oxcart. What also set them apart was that their group included women and children.

Mariam’s father and uncle kept pace a few steps in front of the others in their group, and right behind them walked Mariam’s mother. They each carried a cloth sack of supplies on their backs. They each brought their own large sickle.

Here they are again, written in the present:

April 1909 — Adana, Turkey

They travel on foot. That sets them apart from the other migrant barley harvesters. The others travel with donkeys or an oxcart. What also sets them apart is that their group includes women and children.

Mariam’s father and uncle keep pace a few steps in front of the others in their group, and right behind them walk Mariam’s mother. They each carry a cloth sack of supplies on their backs. They each bring their own large sickle.

At all costs, you want to avoid the past passive:

April 1909 — Adana, Turkey

They had travelled on foot. That had set them apart from the other migrant barley harvesters. The others had travelled with donkeys or an oxcart. What had also set them apart was that their group had included women and children.

Mariam’s father and uncle had kept pace a few steps in front of the others in their group, and Mariam’s mother had walked right behind them. They had each carried a cloth sack of supplies on their backs. They each had brought their own large sickle.

Present passive is also deadly:

April 1909 — Adana, Turkey

They were travelling on foot. That was setting them apart from the other migrant barley harvesters. The others were travelling with donkeys or an oxcart. What was also setting them apart was that their group included women and children.

Mariam’s father and uncle were keeping pace a few steps in front of the others in their group, and right behind them was walking Mariam’s mother. They were each carrying a cloth sack of supplies on their backs. They were each bringing their own large sickle.

showing vs telling

On another blog, Elizabeth posted to me the first paragraph of her story. Here it is:

There is only so much a person can do before it feels like their head is going to explode. That’s how Katie feels. Now, Katie is 17, she’s 6’0” and she’s about 120 lbs. As you may have already imagined, she’s a model, a big time modeling agency has just signed her, and she’s back and forth from Abbotsford to Vancouver, with the occasional trip to Toronto, preparing for her big arrival in Milan.

And here is my suggestion on how she might want to revise:

Hi Elizabeth,
What you’ve got here is the beginning of an overview or outline rather than a story or novel. You are _telling_ about Katie, rather than showing her, like in a movie.

Put her in a scene. And then _show_ her. For example, you could show her in the first class waiting area of an airport or in the first class section of an airplane. Have her be offered stuff to eat or drink but then have her only accept something like a Perrier with lime. Or if she has food set in front of her, have her eat a single pea or something. And then you can describe what her hand looks like as it delicately picks up the crystal glass of Perrier. Does she have long slim fingers with french-manicured inch-long nails that have never washed a dirty dish in years? Does she blot her lipstick before taking a sip? Does she look at other people who are seated around her and judge them by how they look? By giving these details, you allow the reader to get _inside_ of Katie’s feelings and personality while at the same time you build a visual image. It’s a much slower way of writing but it really helps it come alive.

Let me know if this helps.

all the best
Marsha Skrypuch

Aram’s Choice and Kobzar’s Children: covers are up on amazon now!

While noodling around on, I noticed that the covers for both Aram’s Choice and Kobzar’s Children are now up. Check them out:

These are only the mock-ups so the errors are still there. For example, Forchuk is spelled incorrectly on Aram’s Choice, and the fact that I’m the editor of Kobzar’s Children isn’t noted, but still, this is so kewl that the images are up!

doing readings

I have been exceptionally lazy over this holiday season. When I’m not wrapping gifts, cleaning, cooking, ironing or unwrapping gifts and eating, I have been reading trashy books. Glorious!

I really must get back to writing Daughter of War and looking over the massive pruning I did for Spirit Lake Diary.

In the meantime, a fellow writer asked me the following question via email:

“Help! I have been asked to do some Canada Council readings and I need some advice.”

Here’s my answer:

A Canada Council reading is no different than any other. It just gets paid differently. Gear your reading to your audience. Ask the group who requested you what they’d like you to do.

The deadliest thing is assuming that a reading means standing up there and reading from your book. I have witnessed many of these disasters. I feel so sorry for the audience and equally sorry for the author.

When I first began doing readings in 1999, I wanted to avoid this major error so I asked Barbara Haworth Attard if I could sit in on one of her readings to see how a pro does it.

Barb is naturally shy like me but you’d never know it by her engaging performances. She has a wonderful way of interacting with her audience and keeping the presentation personal, polished, informative and oh so interesting.

Since 1999, I’ve done lots of readings. Last year I did 80 and it looks like I’ll be doing something like 150 by the time this current school year is over. Here are some quick tips:

– Limit the actual “reading” portion to a page or two at a time.

– Talk about the story behind the story — ie — how you came to write this story and what it means to you and what sort of research you did and how writing it changed who you are.

– Ask the audience questions and make eye contact as much as you can. This will ensure that you’re not boring them. You can modify your presentation if you see people nodding off.

– I always ask someone in charge to stand at the back of the room and hold up ten fingers when I’m ten minutes away from being finished and five fingers when I’ve got five minutes left. I find that I lose track of the time when I’m speaking and this really helps me focus.

And here is something I feel very strongly about but perhaps others don’t agree:

The most boring thing a person can do is get up there and talk about their “accomplishments”. Yadda yadda. Gag me with a spoon. Who _isn’t_ “award-winning and bestselling” for pete’s sake? Instead, talk about your challenges, your failures and how perseverence makes a difference. Writing a book is like opening up a vein and pouring blood on the page. It isn’t easy to write a book and it sure isn’t easy to get one published. That journey is one that interests many people.

editing fatigue

My hands are killing me. I have been working pretty much non-stop for days on end on cutting out 7,000 words from my Dear Canada diary novel.

What made it especially challenging is that I was doing the changes in “track changes” mode, meaning I couldn’t check the ever evolving word count as I worked because all of the deletes and additions showed up in hot pink and baby blue with cross-hatches going through. So I got the whole first pass finished at about 7pm tonight and saved the file, then went through and removed all of the editing notes and accepted the changes. Turns out I was able to remove 8,000 words. This is good! I’m going to let it cool off for a day or so and then take a look at it again to see if I’m happy with the changes.


I’m itching to get back to writing Daughter of War. Perhaps in a few days ….