Dear Canada edit and Kobzar’s Children

My Dear Canada diary novel, tentatively called Anna Soloniuk’s Spirit Lake Diary, is scheduled for release in 2007 by Scholastic Canada.

Being my usual energizer bunny self, I completed the manuscript a year ahead of time — last fall. In May and June of this year, I did a substantive edit at my editor Sandy’s request, adding approximately 10,000 more words. I just got back the next round of edits, and I am removing approximately 7,000 words.

Now in case you think adding those 10,000 words in the first place was a waste of time, you’d be wrong. I had written to the required word count initially, but my editor’s fabulous suggestions helped enrich and deepen the story line. My challenge is to remove 7,000 words without removing story. I am to use a delicate scalpel.

I love editing above all else. Writing in the first place is hard hard hard. But editing is polishing what’s already there. To be good at it, one must be willing to killing one’s darlings. I’m glad the manuscript has had a chance to cool down. I can do this. I know I can.

Meanwhile …

Ann’s copyedit of Kobzar’s Children for Fitzhenry & Whiteside is nearly finished. She has done 11 out of the 12 stories. There are still poems, but they don’t require the same sort of copy editing by any stretch of the imagination. This anthology has been a rewarding experience. I am the “editor” which means I selected the stories, organized them into a theme, did the initial substantive edits, and acted as the intermediary between the individual contributors and my editor. I have also selected photographs that compliment the stories. These photos don’t necessarily illustrate the stories, but rather, show a different facet of the same theme brought up in the story. Ditto for the poems. What amazes me is how everything falls into place so beautifully.

This collection is a century of untold Ukrainian stories, starting with a homesteading story set in 1905, and ending with one set during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine last Christmas. Each story and poem in the collection illuminates a facet of the Ukrainian immigrant experience and each stands alone. But what is interesting is that all together, they weave a colourful patchwork whole. Some stories are laugh out loud funny, like Sonja Dunn’s “Changing Graves”. Others are sad, yet filled with a sense of dignity and hope, like Stefan Petelycky’s personal memoir about his time in Auschwitz, called “Many Circles of Hell.”

The reason I wanted to do this anthology is because I have been getting lonely, being one of the few people in North America who write YA and children’s lit about the Ukrainian immigrant experience. This anthology is my exercise in mentoring some promising new writers while showcasing some seasoned but lesser-known ones. Little did I know when I plunged in that being the editor of a collection like this would be more time-consuming than writing TWO novels! Ah well, it is worth it!

writing “real” from research

Hi Elizabeth,

2. making something sound personal and believeable when the writer hasn’t actually been there/done that.

There are different ways of doing research. It can be done by reading books, articles etc, or it can be done by interviewing people who have done what you’re wanting to write about. If you’re writing historical fiction, you can’t interview people because they’re dead, but you can do the next best thing, which is to find “oral histories” — ie — interviews with people in similar circumstances that have been preserved in archives and libraries.

For my novel, The Hunger, I needed to find out what it was like to be an anorexic. I had no personal experience with this so what I first did was find a social worker who worked with people with eating disorders. I also visited an eating disorder wing at a hospital and interviewed a psychiatrist who treated the problem. The most useful thing I did, though, was to find a person who had suffered from an eating disorder and was willing to talk to me. The woman who agreed to help me was Heather (she’s thanked in the acknowledgements). I asked her VERY specific questions, like what she’d eat for breakfast and how she’d avoid eating more; about how she hid her weight loss and what SHE saw when she looked in the mirror. Do you remember that vomit scene? Heather — after much prompting by me — told me each detail, right down to getting her hair out of the way and cleaning the stray vomit off the space heater. It was those specific details that allowed me to write the scene even though I had never done this myself.

You can also do the things you want to write about. For example, in The Hunger, Paula goes to the grocery store and spends 40 bucks on junk food. As research, I went to a grocery store with a calculator and chose forty bucks’ worth of junk food. What she puts in her shopping cart is what I put in mine. The stares I got for my choices is the same as what she got.

Is there a specific thing you are wanting to research? Let me know and I’ll suggest how you might do it.

how to make a story does not peter out

Hi Elizabeth,

One of the best ways to make sure a story doesn’t peter out is to show your story in action rather than to tell what your story is about. For example, in my novel Hope’s War

I begin with a very simple scene, about a grade 10 student on her first day in a school for the arts. I could have written something like this:

In grade nine, Kat almost got expelled from St. Paul’s high school, but then the principal had her tested and it turned out she was gifted. When she went to her new school the first day, she was nervous. Her friends from St. Paul’s seemed mad at her and the kids at the new school didn’t know her. There was only one student who would even talk to her.

The above gets the message across, but it’s telling about the story rather than showing the story.

questions from tall_princess about novel writing

tall_princess asked:

I have only really tried to write one novel, and I got about 90 pages of it done, and then I didn’t have anything else to say. I alternated points of view, and had it written as though there were several people thinking out loud, with one main one.

I like to write stories based on things I have been through, so I know a little bit about it. I personally don’t like to read something that someone has written, and been through it myself, knowing what it’s all about, and knowing that the information is wrong. I know that you can do research, but no matter how much research you do, I can’t seem to get the personalized veiwpoint. How can I get past that?

how to come up with ideas for a novel

Here’s another super question from tall_princess:

“How do you come up with your ideas for writing a novel? I have no problem coming up with an idea for a novel, it’s just the craft of drawing it out into an interesting piece that I have an issue with. They always seem to end up as a short story writing piece. I finish what I have to say in 90 pages or less! How can I fix that?”

Hi Elizabeth,
For me, writing a novel is similar to reading one. I want to know what happens next. Also, I tend not to write novels on topics that I can find novels on. Ie, I’ll just pick up the novel and read it, but if I can’t find a novel on the topic, I write it.

Writing 90 pages is very impressive! That’s more of a novella than a short story.

Are you writing your stories in first person? If you are, that might be why they peter out after about 90 pages. If you can alternate points of view, it gives you more story to work with. In Nobody’s Child, I alternated between a male and female POV with two main narrators but a couple of minor ones too. I find that writing in third person past active gives the most flexibility in terms of being able to set vivid scenes but also being able to jump inside a variety of heads.

What sorts of stories do you like to write?

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!