Mercifully, I’ve come out on the other side … and seem to have most of my marbles intact.
Have also been canoeing of late. Great trip with dear friends into Birchdale and the Barrio system, one of my favourite places on earth. We’ve had days and days of rain here in Nova Scotia … weeks of the wet stuff actually, so I was ecstatic when the sun came out on Day 1 of our 4-day wilderness trip last weekend. It lasted for three solid days.
Mind you, we had an interesting thunder storm with rain showers on on return paddle, Day 4, so we pulled ashore on a wee beach, quickly set up a small tarp, hauled out our thermoses of tea and proceeded to tell yarns until the storm passed.
Now planning a wilderness women’s trip into Great Barren Lake. But first, need to pay attention to a few deadlines. Reminds me of a quote by David Adams: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.”
OK. In my last post I bellyached about how I was away so much that it interfered with my having time to write any posts.
I signed off by saying, “No more excuses.”
I got pneumonia. Yep. Just like getting run over by a train. Knocked me silly and put me out of commission for a few weeks. But the good news is that I finally got rid of those nasty bugs that took over for a bit. Hello again to living, working, and just plain being able to breathe again! Mind you, I’m playing serious, very serious catch up. Big time. Once again, aiming to see daylight by month’s end.
Meanwhile, here’s a photo essay I did for Life As A Human about a memorable encounter I had in Vietnam titled “Gifts from Hanoi.”
Carmen and I also wrote some stories about Thailand for Travel + Escape. I’ve imbedded the links into the names of the stories.
Glimpses from Thailand ~
If you sensed I was embarrassed when I wrote my last post, I am now mortified knowing it’s been so bloody long since I’ve been posting on a regular basis. My excuse? Tracking down stories … two weeks in New Brunswick, three weeks in Labrador and five weeks in Vietnam/Cambodia and Thailand respectively–all since my last post.
For someone whose business is only partially related to travel writing, I seem to be on the road a lot! Truth is, I also find lots of business stories, human interest stories, interesting people to profile etc. So it’s not all about travel. It’s just that I usually spread things out a bit more and don’t live out of a suitcase for six months like I have this year.
For part of my time in Vietnam, my laptop and I were separated. How, oh how could one leave their laptop (with their entire business) behind you may ask? It’s easy. The weird thing is that I conscientiously removed my camera from by backpack in order to slip in the laptop in the back compartment; dutifully removed the cord/converter from the wall/laptop and stowed it away in the front section; replaced my camera in its rightful place; turned on my heel and left the business centre at the last hotel we we staying at in Hanoi. Only, my laptop remained on the desk. Not hard at all. Mercifully, with the intervention of a new Vietnamese friend, Hoang Tu Nam, a.k.a. “Larry, ” he was able to track it down in Hanoi and made arrangements to have it forwarded to Ho Chi Minh City where I retrieved it 12 days later.
But oooh the memories of all those trips. And the stories! Now I am in a query/writing frenzy while trying to keep a handle on assignments that are due this month and next. I’m not complaining. I just need to find a way to eek out a few more hours a day. I reckon that a 36-hour day would do nicely, especially if I only had to sleep for four or five hours.
As this blog is my playpen, and as work does come first, you can see how my posts have taken a back seat for many moons.
Sure hope I catch up before the snow flies as I yearn to have time to get Author! Author! back up and running, my photo gallery updated, and time to post some random thoughts about the writing life in general, traveling, paddling … or nothing in particular.
Meanwhile, here are three shots from Vietnam. First is from the bizarre and busy streets in the old quarter of Hanoi, the second is from Ha Long Bay, a magical place about three hours from Hanoi city, and the third is on the Mekong River in the southern part of Vietnam.
I also picked up a remedy for a cold from Larry, the same person who rescued my laptop: boil an egg, remove the yolk, put a silver coin in the cooked egg white, wrap egg and coin in cheesecloth then rub on forehead, temples and back of neck. As I developed a devilish head cold after spending 19 hours coming back home, I’ve used that remedy once a day and it seems to help (along with massive amounts of Vitamin C and some Echinacea.) He also provided a great remedy for upset stomach which he made for my sister, Carmen, while on the journey: simmer unrefined rice for 30 minutes, strain, and serve the hot rice water. Settled her tummy in a jiffy.
Onward! As far as I know, I plan to stay rooted here in Canaan for the winter. With any luck I can catch up in the next month or so.
No more excuses.
I’m embarrassed to have such a prolonged absence here. I seem to get sidetracked by life in general and work in particular. Not a bad thing! But it does seem a pity that we have to interrupt living with getting a few hours leep. Such is life.
You’ll be happy to know, however, that the Author! Author! series will resume in September.
Meanwhile, I’m involved in researching/writing several stories throughout Atlantic Canada.
I’ve also taken on the role of Managing Editor (Atlantic Canada) for a travel website titled Chichaku. I’m currently setting up content for Atlantic Canada and expect that we will be launching this part of the Chichaku site in August.
The two photos that you see here were taken at Birchdale, one of my favourite places on earth. Top photo is first cabin close to lodge. Second photo is from my canoe on a stillwater enroute to Second Carrying Lake. If you look closely, you may be able to see the beaver house on the upper mid-left of the shot on the right.
Just completed a 5-day wilderness paddle into “the Barrio” which is close by (above Birchdale), and will be returning for our annual Birchdale women’s get-away September 26-30. Birchdale is located about a 1-hr. drive from Yarmouth, N.S. We stay in log cabins (no electricity). Heavenly! Great paddling and fellowship. Oh yeah … we take turns cooking and the food is always beyond wonderful. In fact, I’ve heard it said that this trip isn’t about paddling at all. Rather, it’s all about eating. Contact me for information.
Woohoo! I’ll soon be doing one of my favourite things (delivering a travel writing workshop) in one of my favourite places (Fredericton NB). The workshop will be on April 28, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. at “The Station” on York Street.
Here’s a quick recap of the focus and workshop outline. Pass the word around!
Focus: travel writing for print publications (newspapers and magazines) as well as online publications and blogs. Participants will explore and be exposed to different kinds of travel writing (trade, commercial, advertorial, service, feature, books etc.) Samples will be provided. We’ll also discuss expectations of clients and editors, the importance of taking decent photos, the value of networking and all about press trips.
• who buys copy or hires travel writers? (where are the outlets/ opportunities?)
• putting your interests to work for you; specialize or diversify?
• how to analyze a market and understand editor/client needs
• how to write an appropriate query/pitch
TRAVEL BOOKS: Which way to go? Publisher, agent or self-publish? Resources?
• writing content for public and private sector (e.g., advertorial, content for brochures, interpretive panels)
• what do editors/clients expect?
• the art of taking great shots (10 tips for “wow” photos)
• how to send/present photos to editors/clients
MARKETING and NETWORKING
• professional writing organizations e.g., TMAC and PWAC. How does it “work”; what are the expectations? Benefits?
• importance of having your own website or travel blog + business cards + social media
• building a portfolio + testimonials
• travel-related websites that you should know about
• getting to know your destination; mining for story ideas, developing angles
• finding experts (and locals) to interview
• press trips vs setting up individual itineraries (pro’s and con’s of each)
• who pays? How arranged? What’s expected?
• protocols and trip etiquette
• bibliography of travel writing books
• discussion/suggestions how to improve narrative writing skills
FEE: $125 (inc. HST). For more information or to register, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wendy Kitts is a freelance writer who’s penned stories for magazines and been a regular reviewer of middle school and young adult literature for several years. As you’ll discover in this interview, she’s learned a lot about going out on a limb and saying “yes” to the Universe.
Wendy lives in Moncton, NB. She’s also the author of Sable Island: The Wandering Sandbar (Nimbus 2011). With its singing sands, wandering dunes and wild horses, Sable Island is one of the most magical places in the world. Yet very few people are ever allowed to visit the vulnerable island recently designated as a Canadian National Park Reserve. Full of photographs, science, and history, Sable Island is an exciting look at a truly untamed part of the world and brings young readers up close to this beautiful, fragile place.
Now, on with the interview!
Where did the idea of doing this book come from?
This book was 50 years in the making. Seriously. I wanted to go to Sable Island ever since I saw a news story on CBC TV when I was six (in the mid-sixties). The horses were starving at the time, and the government was doing a hay drop. I’ll never forget that grainy black and white image of emaciated horses running through the sand dunes. One paused and looked up at the camera.
Lots of people dream of going to Sable Island. How did you pull that off?
Sable Island is protected; the government currently allows 50-100 visitors per year with written permission from the Coast Guard (although that may change with the recent announcement that the island is becoming a national park reserve). In 2009, I heard about a week-long artist’s retreat to Sable led by Richard Rudnicki and Susan Tooke (book illustrators). They were looking for 8 other artists to join them and it was sort of a test project to see how “regular” people could respect the island’s fragile ecosystem.
I responded immediately but it cost a small fortune – $5500 – with most of the money going towards the chartered flight. I managed to get the $1000 deposit but had no idea where I would get the rest. Most of my family, especially my mother, said the money could be better spent on food or rent. As a single freelance writer, I didn’t disagree, but there was something about fulfilling a life-long dream that I couldn’t ignore. Just before the cut-off date to pay for the trip I received an unexpected tax refund. Still gives me chills. I was expecting only $600 that year but received $3500! To me that was a sign from the Universe to go.
My family started their campaign about better uses for the money but a writer friend [Wes] told me the trip would be an investment in my soul. That still makes me tear up because not only was it an investment in my soul, it gave me my first children’s book—another lifelong dream.
But I didn’t go to Sable Island with the idea of writing a book. The book came to me the night before I left the island. I sat up in bed with the idea that I would write about Sable in an ABC format, especially as I had the perfect words for X and Z – letters traditionally a challenge to fit such endeavours. X was for “xerophyte” the type of plant that holds the island together and Z was for “Zoe” the naturalist who has lived on Sable Island for almost 30 years. I quickly scribbled notes for the rest of the letters and went to sleep.
How did you go about finding a publisher?
I knew from my children’s book review days, that Nimbus publishes books on regional subjects, especially books about Nova Scotia. I also knew they did beautifully illustrated ABC books for older children on Nova Scotia locations so I thought they would be a great match for this; luckily they thought so too.
Tell us a bit about what was involved from signing the contract to getting the book published.
Although Nimbus was immediately interested, they asked me to consider a format change and if I could write in a similar style to another book on their list, The Children of Africville. So I checked that book out of the library, studied it, did a formal non-fiction proposal with sample chapters and suggested images and sent it back. It was accepted right away.
Of course, writing it took much longer than anticipated once it became a non-fiction chapter book for 7-9 year olds. But everyone at Nimbus was great to work with. Not much changed as far as the text (although if I had known I was going to be a writer, I would have paid better attention in English class!)
Nimbus used a lot of my own photographs but I had to get images to fill in gaps for subjects I didn’t have pictures of, as well as obtain historical photographs. I was very pleased with how the book turned out and extremely excited when I saw they had chosen one of my photographs for the cover shot.
Advice for folks who have a book roaming around in their heads?
To quote Nike,” Just do it.” It’s roaming around there for a reason – it needs, it wants, to be expressed. Get it out of your head and on paper and let it have a life of its own. As my friend Wes said, say “yes!” Just say yes and see where it takes you.
Questions or comments? Fire away!
Finally, Author! Author! is back on track and I’m pleased to introduce Barbara Florio Graham, the managing editor of a dynamite book titled Prose to Go: Tales from a Private List. The book contains 34 first-person stories from 18 contributors in 14 locations across Canada, from the NWT to PEI. The contributors are all professional writers; many have won awards. The interesting thing is that they all belong to an email list of writers that Barbara created five years ago. (There are 23 in the group; 18 submitted stories and the rest acted as cheerleaders.) It’s also interesting that none of the contributors paid anything to get the book published.
Before we jump into the interview, here’s a thumbnail sketch of Barbara’s professional life: she’s worked both as a writer and a broadcaster, taught English, handled public relations for various clients, served as a contributing editor to several publications and taught workshops in writing and media relations in both the public and private sector. An awards-winning author of three books, Barbara also has extensive experience as a mentor and publishing consultant.
You said that none of you paid anything to get this book published. How so?
I meant that literally. We invested only our time and effort. Bridgeross is a mid-size publisher with more than a dozen titles published to date. The owner is Marvin Ross, a colleague and good friend, which is why I approached him. I told the group I wasn’t willing to consider an anthology until we had a publisher lined up.
Marvin offered us his standard contract, which I modified slightly (one of the services I offer to authors is contract review, so I know what is needed to protect authors). We’re receiving the standard royalty of 10% of retail sales (not net, as some publishing contracts state!). We worked out a formula for dividing the royalties among the editors, designers and contributors.
We asked for up to three submissions of first-person stories between 500 and 1000 words. We rejected a few, asked for significant editing of a few others, and didn’t slot the pieces into the five categories until close to the end (Misadventures, Rear-View Mirror, What In The World, Love And Loss, Exit Laughing). That was actually the most difficult part of the editing process!
We were amazed at how few challenges we faced. The three editors (Irene Davis, Fred Desjardins and I) worked together beautifully, and became really close in the course of communicating with each other almost every day for four months. Some days there were many messages flying back and forth! Humor helped.
Since the list is mine, I set some of the parameters, including that there would be no communication behind anyone’s back. Everything was transparent, with all three editors copied on everything. And if we disagreed (which only happened a couple of times) we were strict about majority rules. That was why I insisted there be three editors.
How did you dole out the tasks?
Irene is the best editor and grammarian I know, so I asked her to be primary editor, with the last word on grammar, punctuation, etc. Fred was our Acquisitions Editor, coaxing list members to submit stories, and he was also our second proofreader, as that’s something I know I’m not good at.
All three of us read every submission, sent comments back and forth, and sent several pieces back and forth several times.
I handled the format and design of the book, liaison with Marvin (although I copied Irene and Fred on everything), came up with the cover design concept and asked Steve Pitt if he could provide a photo. He also added to my concept. Then Julie Watson’s son, John, a brilliant photographer who does her book covers, executed the actual cover. I designed and wrote the copy for the back cover.
The 18 contributors were all thoroughly professional, with no one objecting to having a piece rejected or to editing suggestions. I think this is because we all know each other very well and have become close friends. All list-members had a say in the title and sub-title. Many ideas were submitted, I eliminated some by checking to see if they were already in use, and then we voted on the finalists.
What’s the response been from authors and readers?
Contributors and other list members love the book, and feedback has been extremely positive from everyone. We’ve had great reviews, including many five-star reviews on Amazon, libraries have purchased copies and there have been launches, book-signings and readings in most of the contributors’ locations.
The book is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Chapters/Indigo, and on Kindle and other e-book formats, as well as at independent bookstores in the U.S. and Canada.
What an amazing project. I’m sure that Barbara (and the rest of the authors) will be happy to field questions and respond to comments. Below, I’ve posted the blurb that appears on the back cover which includes the authors’ names and gives a sense of what to expect. You can see that it promises to be a delicious read!
Tales from a Private List
DRIVE through the Northwest Territories with Helena Katz as she brings a herd of alpacas to their new home in her back yard.
JOIN Trudy Kelly Forsythe at the Rolling Stones’ Big Bang Tour, and Barbara Florio Graham in her encounter with actor Peter Falk (aka Columbo).
WATCH award-winning humorist Steve Pitt deal with cherry-stealing kids, and award-winning cookbook author Julie Watson wrestle with a lobster on TV.
CLIMB inside a Santa suit with broadcaster/humorist Gordon Gibb, and see a Christmas tree from Helen Lammers-Helps’ vantage point.
EXPERIENCE birth from an infant’s point of view, in a mesmerizing piece by Elle Andra-Warner.
SHARE household hilarity with Lanny Boutin and Joanne Carnegie, while Debbie Gamble deals with body issues and Lorri Benedik with unwanted compliments.
CRY with Barbara Bunce Desmeules Massobrio as she describes My Life Now, and with Hilda Young as she comes to terms with her son’s suicide.
DISCOVER Canadian trivia book author Mark Kearney’s secret to winning prizes at fall fairs, while Irene Davis deals with a vanished voice and Fred Desjardins with growing older.
Saturday October 1, in Halifax, NS
Saturday November 5, in Saint John, NB
These are full day workshops. The one in Halifax will focus on freelance opportunities for various venues (corporate world, business writing, writing for magazines and trade journals etc.) The Saint John workshop will focus on travel writing. For complete workshop outlines, fees, locations etc., please send me a note via the comment box here or email me at email@example.com
As photography is vitally important to a freelancer, part of each workshop will focus on selling photos to editors and clients. It’s all about composition (and relatively easy to learn with practice, even with a point-and-shoot camera). The shot included here was taken at the National Car Show in Moncton, NB and was a full page photo featured in Saltscapes Food & Travel as part of story titled “Rev up your engines” in this year’s edition.
OK. Gotta ‘fess up. I’ve been negligent. Funny how life gets in the way sometimes. But I’m getting back on track. Before the new moon makes an appearance on August 29th, you can expect to see a new/improved version of this site. By that time I will also be back in full swing with the Author! Author! series and a new travelogue featuring a three-week trek from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia up through New Brunswick and Quebec, across the Trans-Labrador Highway then over to the northwest part of Newfoundland, down the coast and back home. Over 6000 km. Whew. Can’t wait to tell you all about it. The photo is my other half (Barrie MacGregor) with a guard at the Petit Sault Blockhouse in Edmundston, New Brunswick. In case you’re wondering who’s who, Barrie is the guy with the white beard.
Johanna Bertin is a licensed medical social worker in Fredericton, NB who would love to spend more time writing but isn’t ready to give up her love affair with her day job. She’s working on a way to incorporate the love of one into the other, but in the meantime has written five books. Her latest is Don Messer: The Man behind the Music (Goose Lane Editions) where she shares anecdotes, rare photographs, and the recollections of family, co workers and fans revealing the inner complexities of the man who warmed the hearts of millions of viewers of Don Messer’s Jubilee.
Check out Johanna’s site, “Meanderings,” here at www.johannabertin.com
What inspired you to write a biography about Don Messer?
I was intrigued by this man who grew up the youngest child of eleven on a marginal farm in Tweedside, NB and made it to the top of radio and television stardom in Canada—having the top rated show several years in a row and a viewing audience of 2.5 million in the 1960’s. There were many talented fiddlers in the Maritimes at that time (the early 1900’s) and I wanted to understand what it was about Don Messer that made him stand out above the rest. He obviously had talent, but there had to be a great deal more to his story. His biography was in essence the search for the man behind the music—the search to understand the musician whom other writers had declared unfathomable. The 100th anniversary of his birth gave me a time goal to work towards, as well as a good marketing opportunity for the book.
A writer friend told me that Goose Lane did not publish popular literature, but they published literary works that they hoped would become popular. I felt that the Don Messer story was worthy and that I had the skills to ferret out the personal story behind the man so many loved.
I wrote an outline of the book, and submitted it together with a draft chapter that demonstrated not only the depth of my research into the subject, but also the very personal approach that I was going to take in telling the story. I also submitted an extensive list of the people whom I intended to interview for the book and demonstrated that I had the co-operation of Don’s family.
Goose Lane was highly professional. The day I submitted my manuscript I was given a time line starting that day and continuing week by week to the day of publication. Neither they nor I missed a single deadline.
For others wanting to pitch a non fiction book, be prepared to explain why you think your topic is worthy of 80,000 words. Is your approach original? What unique skills do you have that will make this book a success? Can you demonstrate that you will provide reliable research?
What kind of things can help “sell” your book idea?
I had an innovative approach and material that no one else had had access to and I was passionate about the need for Don’s story to be told. I really believe that Don Messer is as important to Canadian music as Helen Creighton is to Canadian folklore and I was determined to show that.
I have excellent interviewing skills because of my profession and I am easy to work with – always meeting deadlines and open to feedback, both positive and critical. I am also very comfortable with media interviews, so they knew I would be able to promote the book.
It’s important to be polite. You may have a great book idea but you need to court the publisher if you want them to invest time and money in your project. Do the research; be good to work with, appreciate your editors; don’t harass; and always meet deadlines. Deliver what you promise.
Timing is important. The anniversary certainly helped draw attention to the book. I might have had a different response if I had proposed the book at a different time, so be conscious of external influences that will affect a publisher’s interest in the book.Tell us about pulling this book together. What was the toughest thing you had to do?
I spent months doing research at the archives, both paper and audio/visual, and I didn’t stop doing research and fact checking until the book had gone to print. All told, I spoke with more than 100 people and transcribed about forty of those interviews. Every reference was double and triple checked for accuracy. I spent a month getting proper consents for the photographs I used.
I was very fortunate in that I had access to video archives and written transcripts of interviews Don had done. Because of this I was able to quote Don, something that really made a difference in my understanding of Don and something that made the sections of the book in which we see the world through Don’s eyes, believable.
The hardest thing was divulging highly private information: that went against all my professional ethics as a social worker. There were tragic and painful situations in Don’s life, and to ignore them would have been untrue to the man. He was an intensely private individual and he would not have been happy with some of the story I disclosed but I was judicious with my use of personal information and I did have the blessing of the family to tell the story as I found it.
Advice for writers who want to write biographies?
The complexity of the material I collected re-enforced for me time and time again the importance of recording every interview. No matter your memory, you cannot possibly hope to remember quotes word for word, and that is essential for an accurate rendition, especially when you are writing about a time past.
Never dismiss a source. They may not have good information, but they may point you in the direction of an invaluable source.
Work on your photo permissions from day one. It took me up to a month to locate some copyright holders.
Don’t underestimate the work involved. Be cognisant of the huge responsibility you have taken on in being presumptuous enough to write a book about someone else. Include nothing that you can not substantiate, do not make assumptions, and don’t pretend to think that you understand motives unless you have a great deal of material to back up your suppositions.
Enjoy the adventure. I loved researching and writing that book.
What great insights Johanna. Let’s open the floor to questions and comments.
Welcome! This is where I occasionally pluck and post recent Stories or put notices of upcoming Workshops, such as memoir or travel writing. Author! Author! is a by-weekly series of interviews with authors about the writing life, and getting published. Anything else lands in Odds & Sods. Enjoy your visit and come back often. Better yet, subscribe!