May 16, 2013
I have nothing but respect and admiration for Orca Books‘ editor Sarah Harvey. Working with Sarah on my novel The Yo-Yo Prophet in 2011 was a delight, and I was keen to work with her again. Sarah is an astute editor and, in case you don’t know, she’s also the author of at least ten books for kids and teens, so she knows both sides of the editorial process. (You can check out Sarah’s books here, including both novels and non-fiction titles as well as a picture book.)
In June 2012, Sarah emailed a number of authors about her idea for a new Orca series. Since young teens have become obsessed with the performing arts, shown in part by the popularity of such TV shows as American Idol, Glee and So You Think You Can Dance, why not publish a performing arts series of short, contemporary novels aimed at 11- to 14-year-olds?
It was an idea that caught my attention right away. With a lifelong love of theatre and two daughters at a performing arts high school, I began playing with possible premises. Now, I’m pleased that Cut the Lights will be one of three debut titles in the Limelights series this October, with many more titles coming from a slew of talented authors over the next few years.
Here’s a glimpse into Sarah’s ideas about the series and her personal fondness for the performing arts:
April 26, 2013
In the new Limelights series, Orca Book Publishers presents novels about the performing arts for ages 11 to 14. Singing, acting, directing, dancing – this series promises to enlighten and entertain teens who love performance.
There’s more to ballet than pink pointe shoes and tutus.
Cassie just wants to dance, but the atmosphere at her summer intensive at a prestigious ballet school is much more competitive – and nasty – than she’s used to. Not wanting to put a target on her own back, Cassie keeps her head down and concentrates on her dancing. But when she sees real harm being done to the other visiting summer students, she finally speaks out – and finds out just how far some girls will go to succeed.
Cut the Lights by Karen Krossing
Is the play cursed or is Briar just a lousy director?
Briar may have a vision for the one-act play she’s been chosen to direct at her performing arts high school, but nobody seems to share it. Not her cast, not her crew, not even her best friend, who wrote the play. As Briar struggles to motivate her cast and crew, she learns some important truths about the fine art of directing – and about herself.
When you step into the spotlight, you have to expect some heat.
Neil plays guitar with his family’s band, the Family McClintock, even though he can’t stand Celtic music and he isn’t as talented as the rest of the family. Or is he? When his buddy Bert convinces him to form a rock band and enter a local talent show, Neil’s playing improves. Everyone notices, including a girl who shares his musical interests. After years of standing at the back of the stage, Neil realizes that he might have what it takes to step into the spotlight.
March 25, 2013
Calling all teen writers and artists in Toronto! The Toronto Public Library’s Young Voices magazine of teen writing and art is looking for art, photographs, stories, poems, rants, reviews and other writing by teens 12 to 19 years old. Deadline is April 6, 2013. For guidelines and how to submit, click here. For last year’s magazine, click here.
March 6, 2013
As my second young-adult novel with Orca Book Publishers is set to come out in the Fall, I was lucky enough to read advanced copies of four upcoming Spring Orca titles for young adults. I’m always impressed with the quality writing and stunning covers of Orca books, and these four novels do not disappoint.
Allegra hopes that being at a performing-arts high school will change her life and make her a better dancer. But high school is still high school, complete with cliques, competition and cruelty. And home isn’t much better. Forced to take a class in music theory, Allegra takes refuge in writing music with her young teacher, who nurtures her talent. But when her feelings for him become more intense, and he seems to reciprocate, Allegra sets in motion a chain of events that could destroy everything – and everyone – she loves.
Allegra will appeal to dancers and music-lovers, as well as any teen who has felt overwhelmed by the complexity of dealing with family, friends, and romantic troubles. A layered, complex novel that does not shy away from difficult subject matter.
Lauren Yanofsky doesn’t want to be Jewish anymore. Her father is a noted Holocaust historian, and her mother doesn’t understand why Lauren hates the idea of Jewish youth camps and family vacations to Holocaust memorials. But when Lauren sees some of her friends – including Jesse, a cute boy she likes – playing Nazi war games, she is faced with a terrible choice: betray her friends or betray her heritage. Told with engaging humor, Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust isn’t simply about making tough moral choices. It’s about a girl caught up in the turmoil of bad-hair days, family friction, changing friendships, love – and, yes, the Holocaust.
Lauren Yanofsky is offbeat, sensitive, and an utterly original character. Lieberman’s novel is a refreshing take on growing up Jewish and finding oneself within the context of cultural and family history.
It’s 1963, and Jack’s family is still reeling from the sids death of his baby sister. Adrift in his own life, Jack is convinced that setting a world record will bring his father back to his senses and his mother back to life. But world events, including President Kennedy’s assassination, threaten to overshadow any record Jack tries to beat – from sausage eating to face slapping. Nothing works, and Jack is about to give up when a new friend suggests a different approach that involves listening to, not breaking, records.
In Record Breaker, Stevenson effectively portrays a child who is overwhelmed by both global and family events. Jack’s voice is convincing as he struggles to deal with his loss and anxiety in wonderfully unconventional ways.
It’s an ordinary nightmare of a family trip until Theo realizes that the beautiful girl beside the hotel pool is his childhood babysitter – and his first crush. Theo hasn’t seen Ronnie in six years, but when she invites him to join her and her toddler son, Zach, on a road trip to Hollywood, he leaps at the chance to ditch his parents. But it isn’t long before he begins to regret his impulsive decision – especially when he sees Ronnie’s terror at being pulled over by the cops. What is she hiding? And what kind of a mess has he got himself into?
In this Orca Soundings novel for reluctant teen readers, Stevenson keeps the pace moving and the characters believable. Damage is vivid, unpredictable, and satisfying.
February 26, 2013
I’m pleased to announce that my contemporary middle-grade fantasy novel, titled Bog, will be published in Spring 2014 with Fitzhenry & Whiteside! I’m thrilled to be working with the talented Christie Harkin – a publisher with enormous passion for her titles.
Writing Bog has been a lesson in tenacity. It’s a book that’s immensely meaningful to me, yet writing it was grueling. I first conceived it in 2004, so it will be ten years, and a multitude of drafts, until it will be published. As Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith famously said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”
Want to know more about Bog? Here’s a sneak peak.
What is Bog about?
Deep in the forests of Northern Ontario, a cave troll named Bog has spent his young life hunting with his father, Jeddal, learning what it means to be a troll, and avoiding humans whenever possible. Until someone called the Troll Hunter begins turning trolls to stone, and teaching other humans to do it, too. When the Troll Hunter’s followers turn Jeddal to stone, Bog learns a dark secret about his origins that his father had tried to keep hidden: Bog is half-human.
Struggling with this news, Bog sets out after the Troll Hunter to avenge his father. On his quest, he’s joined by a large forest troll named Small and a human girl named Hannie, who would rather pretend to be a troll than return to her abusive father. As they venture deeper in human territory, Bog learns of the legendary Nose Stone, a rock rumoured to bring a stone troll back to life. When the Troll Hunter seeks to destroy both the Nose Stone and Bog, his quest becomes a race of cunning, trickery, and wits.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I first conceived Bog after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and the ensuing war on terror. I wanted to write about cultural bias fostered by learned hatred from previous generations. But the novel is also a reaction to ethnic conflicts the world over – anywhere where there is hatred against another culture instead of acceptance and understanding of differences.
Why write about trolls?
I chose trolls because, in literature, they’re traditionally considered vile to humans. The point of view of a troll character sets up humans as “monsters,” asking what morals and values makes us human versus monster. For me, the novel explores what it means to be human as well as the journey from hatred to tolerance.
January 25, 2013
My upcoming novel, Cut the Lights, is the first of three books in the exciting new Limelights series. Conceived by Sarah Harvey, editor at Orca Book Publishers, the series offers compelling novels about the performing arts for ages 11 to 14. Singing, acting, directing, dancing — this series promises to dazzle and entertain teens who love performance.
In Cut the Lights, a director of a student-written Fringe Festival play is at odds with her cast and crew, until the breakdown of her lead actor forces them to work together. The novel captures the intense relationships that form during rehearsals and performances, and how a student director learns to empower her cast and crew both on and off the stage.
January 13, 2013
One of the hardest things about being an emerging writer is receiving the dreaded rejection letter. But why do we call them “rejection letters”? And is that really what they are?
As writers, we obviously have a good grasp of language – in particular, how to choose a certain word or words to serve a specific function in our writing. So I’d like to challenge the term “rejection letter” and even re-name it to be more accurate. I came up with three replacements:
The Not-the-Right-Fit Letter
Too many beginning writers send out a manuscript to publishers or agents without fully researching their current needs, preferences, and even submission guidelines. One of the most common reasons for a refusal to publish or represent is that the manuscript is not a match to their needs. So do yourself a favour, and read the books championed by each publisher or agent you submit to. You will have greater success if you correctly target your manuscript.
The Perfect-Your-Craft Letter
Sometimes, a close reading of a manuscript shows that the writer has more to learn before his or her work is ready for publication. This doesn’t mean that you’re a failure; simply that you’re still learning the craft. Read the writing of authors you admire to discover new techniques, take a course with an experienced and supportive author, and/or start a writing group to exchange feedback on your works-in-progress. Learning more about the craft will get you closer to your goals.
The Manuscript-Sent-Out-Too-Soon Letter
A manuscript that is almost ready is not ready enough. How will a publisher or agent know what you’re capable of writing if you’re not presenting your very best work? Get feedback on your work-in-progress before you send it out, and rewrite until the prose is beyond polished. It will take many drafts to produce a polished manuscript, but it will give you a much better chance of getting the result you want.
Okay, so my new terms may not be as catchy as “rejection letter,” but they are more accurate and they’re not as discouraging. They imply that writers who receive one of these letters don’t need to give up, wallow in despair, or throw out a manuscript. But they may need to further research their market, perfect their craft, and/or revise, revise, revise.
The only way forward to publication is to take the next step, continuing to write and re-write with increasing knowledge of the craft and a clear vision of the marketplace.
December 14, 2012
CBC Canada Writes and CANSCAIP – The Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers – have joined forces to celebrate two weeks of “Seusstivus” with Canadian children’s authors. Go to the CBC Canada Writes website for:
- writing tips from children’s authors Robert Heidbreder, Helaine Becker, Lena Coakley, Marty Chan, Kyo Maclear, Jack Wang, Jonathan Goldstein, Carol-Ann Hoyte, Lisa Dalrymple, Richard Thake, Sara O’Leary and Frieda Wishinsky.
- new Seussian words coined by children’s authors.
- a Seusstivus Twitter Challenge on Tuesday, December 18. You can check out the winning entry here.
There’s also a Q&A with me in my role as CANSCAIP President included here. Happy Seusstivus!
December 1, 2012
I’ve always been a little jealous of writers who participate in NaNoWritMo – National Novel Writing Month. Writing a novel in a month! A collective word count of 3,288,976,325 for 2012 alone! But my writing process follows a different path, and NaNoWri Mo hasn’t “fit” with it yet.
Then I heard about the inaugural PiBoIdMo – Picture Book Idea Month. Created by author Tara Lazar, PiBoIdMo is a 30-day challenge for picture book writers. Tara’s idea is “to create 30 picture book ideas in 30 days. You don’t have to write a manuscript (but you can if the mood strikes). You don’t need potential best-seller ideas.”
I’m not a picture book writer, but I liked the idea of creating story concepts, and decided to write a novel concept a day for the month of November. The experience has been enlightening.
Here’s what I learned:
- I became more aware of the world around me, and I searched for story concepts wherever I went, whatever I did. I’m always collecting snippets, for example, an outfit of someone I see on the subway might appear on one of my characters in my work-in-progress. But this awareness of the world became heightened as I felt the pressure to write a concept a day, resulting in a fresh inflow of ideas.
- I became more practised in the art of defining a story concept in one-sentence – with a setup, confrontation and resolution. My novel concepts each day were not always complete. Sometimes, I would have only a setup or only a character with no discernible action for her to take. But over the days, some of those concepts became more complete and polished.
- I found myself revisiting themes over the month, exploring a similar story concept from different angles and approaches, even using different genres (contemporary realistic and fantastical) for the same concept. As a result, I felt I explored more thoroughly what would be the best story concept for a particular theme that I wanted to write about. I think this will make my future novels stronger, since I’ll have a more considered story concept from the start.
- I remembered how to “play” with my story concepts, having fun with absurd story concepts as well as sensible ones.
My conclusion? I will do it again next November. Because envisioning a story concept is an important skill to practise. Because playing with story concepts is fun and enlightening. Because I emerged with two solid story concepts that I plan to write one day.
I look forward to NoCoWriMo – Novel Concept Writing Month – next year! Maybe you’ll join me?
November 5, 2012
I’ve just returned from four days at the the World Fantasy Conference 2012 with my head full of stories, ideas and full-blown debates.
Like how to make real silver bullets (learn how on the site of author Patricia Briggs), just in case you come across a werewolf.
How the windigo – a mythical cannibalistic spirit – is seen as a metaphor for the capitalist consumption of Native resources on today’s reserves.
And how the popular plot line of “romancing the monster” in fantasy literature – for example, in the Twilight series – can represent our desire to believe that people are capable of change.
It may be stating the obvious, but writing fantasy literature is not really about the wonderful imaginary worlds and their creatures that we enjoy reading about. Because authors are of this world, inevitably when we write, we’re commenting on the reality in which we live every day.
One panelist at the conference commented that, “Writing fantasy brings me closer to reality.” So an examination of the monsters we write about can show us the monstrous side of humanity. The dark horror of a gothic novel comments on the mood of despair, decay and disease we may find ourselves in.
I like to write both gritty realistic fiction as well as speculative fiction. But no matter which one I’m writing, it’s always a reflection of the world that I see around me.
November 5, 2012
Authors are tagging each other with a questionnaire about what they’re working on now. I was tagged by Karen Bass, who was tagged by Marsha Skrypuch. To read Karen’s answers, go here. To read Marsha’s answers, go here.
What is your working title of your book?
Cut the Lights
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The director of a student-written Fringe Festival play is at odds with her cast, until the attempted suicide of the lead actor forces them to work together.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Sarah Harvey, editor at Orca Book Publishers and a YA author of nine books so far, contacted me about her brilliant idea for a new series of YA novels about the performing arts. Since singing, dancing and acting are currently popular among teens, she proposed a series — titled Limelights — aimed at 11- to 14-year-olds. I discussed a few ideas with Sarah, and we narrowed it down to two. I then picked the idea that I felt I could best write.
What genre does your book fall under?
Contemporary YA fiction
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Since I’m terrible at remembering actors’ names, I’m not fit to answer this question. I would hope they would be quirky, brilliant, up-and-coming actors who would have the chance to showcase their incredible talents.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It will be published by Orca Book Publishers in Fall 2013 as one of three debut books in the Limelights series. The series will also debut with novels by Tom Ryan, who published his first novel in 2012, and Robin Stevenson, author of over 15 books for kids and teens.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
This book took four months from conception to completion of a readable draft that I was willing to show my editor. This timeline is unusually fast for me — I typically ponder more and my books are usually longer. This novel is about 20,000 words since it’s intended to be tight, short and action-packed. But no matter the length of the novel, the plotting, characterization and so on still takes the same amount of time. Basically, there are no shortcuts in writing.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Although the popularity of TV shows as American Idol, Glee, So You Think You Can Dance and The Voice show that teens are into singing, dancing and so on, there are few books about the performing arts, and none written with younger teen readers in mind. One example is Bunheads, a great novel by Sophie Flack, which my teen daughter devoured.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
This book captures my love for theatre. I became hooked at an early age after seeing performances at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada, and I later took drama courses in high school and university. For me, theatre provides the opportunity to examine our world through a finely tuned lens.
This book also deals with a hard reality — the attempted suicide of a friend or loved one — which I’ve faced more than once in my life. This novel is my attempt to understand how such an event affects a tight community, like the actors and director of a play. Why does a young person with great potential attempt suicide? How does a community cope with it? How can the show go on when something so dire, so painful, occurs?
We all face trying times during our lives. Performing arts, such as the theatre, can be a great comfort and a great source of insight into how to move forward.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
For readers interested in the theatre, this novel gives insight into how to direct a play. What does a director do? How do you envision a stage production, manage the personalities of the actors and stage manager, and work with lighting and sound? Somehow, a production always falls apart weeks before opening night only to magically come together at the last minute.
October 10, 2012
Exciting news! Young Voices 2012 – the Toronto Public Library‘s annual magazine of teen writing and art is now available at your local Toronto library branch. As an editor of this magazine for six years, I’m particularly proud of the diverse talents of Toronto’s teens showcased within these pages.
Selecting contributors for the Young Voices magazine is great fun and hard work. I love digging into the pile of writing I receive, exploring the insights that these teens have put to paper. And I love hashing out who the finalists will be with the members of the Editorial Youth Advisory Group. Most of all, I love congratulating the contributors to the magazine at the Young Voices launch party – held this year at the North York Central Library on Thursday, October 11 at 7:00 p.m.
Thanks to my group of enthusiastic editors for an evening of friendly arguments, loud disagreements and finally mutual understanding as we came to terms over which pieces to select for the magazine. Thanks to the staff at the Toronto Public Library who give Toronto teens this fantastic opportunity.
I hope that acceptance in Young Voices makes the contributors stand a little taller and feel more confident about their unique voices and the insights they have to offer.
Don’t forget – it’s never too early to think about next year’s magazine! Check out the submission guidelines and deadline here.
September 27, 2012
On a sunny summer’s day, I enjoyed coffee and conversation with author Lena Coakley as she interviewed me for a profile in the quarterly publication of CANSCAIP – the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers. A full version of the article is available to CANSCAIP members, including a discussion of my works, writing process, where I get my ideas and more. Thanks to Lena and CANSCAIP for the article!
Favourite quote from the article:
“Sarah Harvey at Orca Book Publishers calls [Karen] ‘professional, responsive, flexible, insightful, humble and funny. In short, an editor’s favourite kind of writer!’”
Thanks, Sarah! I’m thrilled to be working with author and editor Sarah Harvey again, writing one of the first two books in Orca’s new Limelights series, featuring novels for teens about the performing arts. In my novel, Cut the Lights, the director of a student-written play is at odds with her cast, until the attempted suicide of the lead actor forces them to work together. Cut the Lights will be published in Fall 2013.
September 18, 2012
The 15-year-old protagonist of my latest novel, The Yo-Yo Prophet, would be over the moon about this demonstration of yo-yoing in zero gravity. Yes, folks, it’s yo-yos in space!
In his Science off the Sphere series, astronaut and chemist Don Pettit demonstrates how yo-yos behave aboard the International Space Station.
Yo-yoing involves the science of planes and gyroscopic stability, but taking it into space eliminates the effect of gravity, allowing for a whole new style of yo-yoing and even the invention of new tricks! How cool is that?
Don Pettit says, “I haven’t been spending as much time as I should working on my yo-yo training…. It just shows how I’ve got misplaced priorities.”
September 12, 2012
I keep a list of writing contests and places to submit on my website, which I update periodically. With the start of school, it’s a great time for young authors to explore where they can submit their writing – and artwork – this year.