Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Borders-free UK

I read on literary agent Nathan Bransford's blog last week that the death bells are ringing for Borders UK, a mega-chain of book and music stores throughout the United Kingdom akin to the Chapters/Indigo conglomerate in Canada. I've bemoaned the demise of the small bookstore in cities throughout North America - my hometown only has a Chapters, which is an embarrassment unto itself - and I can't see how any thinking person can fail to see the connection between declining numbers of bookstores and declining literacy rates. (Sure, we can still get books at Amazon, but to get to Amazon you have to load up a computer and look for it. There's nothing like a store that is right there in front of you every time you go out to shop.) But the bankruptcy of a major chain like this is something I thought I'd never live to see.

Meanwhile, my local Chapters is morphing into a children's wonderland, with almost half the store devoted to toys: plasma cars, dump trucks, puzzles, puppets, you name it. Though they claim it is an opportunity to get kids interested in going to the bookstore, I can't get rid of the nagging feeling that this blatant act of self-mutilation smacks more of desperation than innovation.

Rest In Peace, Borders UK. We'll miss you more than we'll ever know.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's Holiday Season, and I'm Full of GLEE!

I have to take a moment to rave about my new favorite show. As with every show I end up watching regularly, I was a latecomer to the Glee phenomenon, not catching on until the 7th episode. But once I had seen them pop, I just couldn't stop.

A comedy set in small-town Ohio, Glee follows the EXTREMELY talented (if offbeat and nerdish) members of the high school Glee Club through the trials and tribulations of high school life: unrequited love, bullies, the odd identity crisis, and fake pregnancies. True, I haven't watched from the beginning, so I can't comment on plot development or continuity. The writing seems consistent, and though it is not amazing, there are moments when the humour catches me by surprise.

What keeps me watching, aside from the sharp humor, is the sheer pleasure of seeing a group of talented individuals get jiggy with it on TV. Not for a generation has serial television embraced song and dance with such panache, and I can't help but be grateful to the Fox network for bringing the Glee Clubbers into my living room. This is series television's antidote to the mind-numbingly endless stream of reality television, and it leaves me wanting to boogie through my living room after every show.

I'll admit it: I'm an official Gleek.

Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Celebrating a Living Legend

I had the pleasure a couple weeks ago of learning that Bill Cosby had been chosen to receive the Mark Twain Award for Contribution to American Comedy. As I watched the taped tribute and ceremony, the realization dawned on me that when I was growing up, Bill Cosby was everywhere. I watched him on television every morning in the children's show The Electric Company, right after 3-2-1-Contact and Sesame Street. Every afternoon, my family guffawed and snickered our way through the Huxtable family's antics on The Cosby Show. In between television shows, I watched him dance and get silly as he plugged Jello. And every night, when my mother had run out of stories and lullabies, she would put on a tape or a record for my sister and I to fall asleep to. There were a few to choose from, but the most popular was our Fat Albert record. I lay awake every night not falling asleep to Bill Cosby's brilliant wisecracks and one-liners. His "Hey, hey, hey!" still rings in my ears and brings a smile to my face.

As I look back on my life as a parent, and as a performer and a storyteller, I realise that Bill Cosby's influence is there throughout everything. It is there in my timing, in my pacing, in the books I read, in the way I handle my children. Echoes of a man I watched perform so long ago, in so many incarnations, are seamlessly interwoven with all of the other influences - teachers, parents, books, films - that have changed me and shaped me throughout my life.

I still have a long way to go, but I am a better performer for having grown up with Bill Cosby in my living room. And the world is a better place for having had him in it.

Thanks, Dr. Cosby. You deserve this award.

And thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lots of flus means not much news

You've probably noticed my absence from the blogosphere in the last several days. Our house has been infected with what feels like every flu and cold imaginable, and of course, as the Mom, I was the only one left standing to wipe noses, administer medications, serve soups, and generally keep it all together.

Now that my hubby is back to work and my son is going back to school tomorrow, the end is in sight, and I can have the laptop back! So look for new posts in the coming days.

Thanks for stopping by,

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stamps, stamps, and more stamps...

I blogged earlier in the week, and last week, about the complication (for those of us who live in Canada) of needing to include a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope with manuscript submissions to agents and editors in the US.

Some choose to use International Reply Coupons, as I did because I was under the misguided impression that it was impossible to purchase USPS stamps in Canada. Others choose to purchase a pre-printed label through the internet, which you can print on your computer and stick onto your envelope - probably a good option if you're submitting a novel, but probably not necessary if you're writing picture books.

After a little more searching of the USPS website, I came across this link:

And Lo, the computer opened, and stamps rained down from the heavens. At least, that's the way it felt for me. (Grin!) If you click the tab marked "stamps", you will be faced with more selection than you could probably ever hope for. It's like finding the Holy Grail of United States postage, and - I'm only guessing here, but I bet I'm right - choosing something interesting from the array of stamps available is probably the closest you can (and should) get to jazzing up your envelope. (You know what I'm talking about, you fancy-paperclip-buyers!)

So, go for it! Get those stamps you've been hankering after! And good luck with your submissions.

Thanks for stopping by,

Useful YouTube

I'm a little addicted to YouTube. My whole family is, actually; nothing tames a restless toddler at dinnertime like videos of skateboarding bulldogs and baby orangutans waddling around in Pampers. (Think I'm joking? Try it! It works, I'm telling you.) So, I am very pleased to share with you two very useful links to two very useful YouTube videos about publishing, editing, and this whole crazy business.

There's an interesting clip from a panel discussion on researching the competition here:

And there's a short interview with Alison Janssen, editor at Bleak House Books, here: Check her slush pile!

There seems to be a lot more useful info there in other videos, so stay tuned for updates as I navigate the vast (vast!) selection at one of my favorite websites.

Happy writing, and thanks for stopping by,

Monday, October 19, 2009

IRCs: Not the Only Option After All!

A fellow writer and member of the SCBWI posted a link a few days ago to a site where you can buy USPS stamps online. So, International Reply Coupons aren't the only way, after all!

I'll probably finish out the IRCs that I have, but from then on, I plan to buy USPS stamps. It's cheaper, more convenient for me, and more convenient for the publishing houses and agents that I want to submit to.

For anyone else who wants to be able to include a SASE in mail to the US, here's the link:

Good luck with your submissions, and thanks for stopping by.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I am crestfallen. I have discovered a picture book that is very similar to one of my manuscripts.

I post my manuscripts regularly for feedback - I am a member of an online critique group, and I also post to the manuscript exchange on the SCBWI website. A while back, one of my critiquers suggested that I look up a book that my manuscript reminded him of. I had never heard of it, and couldn't find it anywhere, so I put it out of my mind, made more revisions to my manuscript, and when I thought it was as good as I could make it, I sent it out into the world. My baby: my favourite picture book manuscript so far! I truly like it and am proud of it; it makes me laugh every time I read it, even though it's mine and has been revised and nitpicked over and over and over. I almost think of it as my firstborn, even though it is as yet still circulating, because I have never before thought a manuscript to be quite as polished as this one.

So, a few weeks ago, I was shopping at and found this other book that my critiquer had mentioned, so I ordered it, and managed to find time to read it today while my toddler and I were eating lunch. The MC in this book has a problem sort-of similar to my MC's problem. And there are parts, just a couple, that are almost word-for-word the same as in my manuscript.

I hate it when this happens. Even though there are only a couple of sentences, and even though I can rewrite those parts of my manuscript if a publisher or agent feels that it is a problem, I still hate it. I hate the way it makes me feel, like I've almost done something wrong, even though I haven't because I never looked at this book until today and never heard of it until I had already written my manuscript. Will a publisher read my manuscript and discount it because this book has already been published and mine is too close? Or, even worse, will they not believe that this manuscript is truly my own work, and discount me altogether as someone undeserving of publication? I know myself to be an honest, trustworthy, upstanding individual, but in this rabbit-eat-rabbit world, it isn't my opinion of myself that counts.

When I stop to think about it, I know that these thoughts are ridiculous, nothing more than knee-jerk reactions. I know that I can rewrite whole chunks of my manuscript if someone asks it of me, let alone a couple of sentences. I know that the problem faced by my own MC, if a bit similar, is actually quite different in nature from the problem that the MC faces in this other picture book, and the resolution is entirely different. The main character is completely different, with her own unique voice and her own unique talents. My manuscript could not in any way actually be confused with this other book.

Most importantly, this one manuscript isn't the only one I have written, and it isn't the only one that I am ever going to hone through revision after revision until it shines. It may be my best - so far! - but it will not be my last, and it may yet be outshone by one or more of the stories that flow through my fingers onto the page. I know that I have more in me than this one manuscript.

Perhaps my own opinion of myself does count, after all.

Thanks for stopping by,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

IRCs: what are they, how do they work, and why has almost no-one at Canada Post ever heard of them?

I live in Canada. I’m American, but my Canadian husband has a job in Canada, and it’s a good place to live, with cities that aren’t over-crowded yet and subsidised health care and neighbours who think my solar oven is actually pretty cool. We experience all four seasons here, and my kids are growing up in a tolerant society that recognizes the importance of good health care and a good education. I like living in Canada, and I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to raise my children here.

There are times, though, especially in an industry that does as much cross-border business as publishing, when it’s a tad inconvenient. Submitting manuscripts, along with the standard Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope, is pretty tricky when you can’t buy stamps for the SASE because the postal service down there (understandably) won’t mail any envelope with Canadian stamps on it, and none of the Canada Post Counters up here carry United States Postal Service stamps. (Which I find less understandable. I mean, come on, people: according to the the US Embassy website at, the US and Canada do over $1.5 billion of cross-border trade per day. That is more than any other two countries anywhere in the world. Can our postal outlets at least see the benefit in carrying each other’s international stamps? I’m not talking about the whole collection; just the stamps necessary to send things to each other. And charts of the other country’s postal charges – a letter costs this much, a package up to this weight costs this much, a package up to that weight costs this much, etc – wouldn’t go amiss, either.) What’s a busy writer to do?

Enter International Reply Coupons. You buy them at your local Canada Post Office, affix the appropriate number to your Self-Addressed return envelope, the recipient of your manuscript takes the IRCs to their local Post Office in the US and exchanges them for the appropriate number of stamps required to return your manuscript to you, and voila. Simple, right?

Five days, five visits to four different Post Offices, and eight phone calls later, I finally managed to actually send my manuscripts. Getting my hands on some IRCs wasn’t as simple as it seemed it should be.

In the hope that I might help some of the others in my boat, I thought I’d share what I learned about this seemingly straightforward but deceptively convoluted process of submitting south of the border. So, for all you Canadian writers out there who, like me, are just beginning your adventure in this crazy world we call book publishing, here’s the skinny:

· IRCs are usually only carried by the major postal outlets – the Canada Post counter at the back of the Seven-Eleven or the local Shopper’s Drug Mart probably won’t have them, and the clerks working behind those counters probably won’t know what you are talking about if you ask for them. Your best bet is to go to Canada Post’s official website at, click on either “Personal” or “Business”, click on the tab that says “Find a Post Office”, and type in your postal code to get a list of Post Offices and Post Office Counters near you. This list won’t tell you which ones carry IRCs, but it will list the phone number of each outlet, so you can call them and ask. Always call ahead to check; the few Post Offices that carry them often don’t carry many, and it’s a real bummer to arrive, SASE in hand, only to discover that they sold out last week and won’t have any more until the Tuesday after next. And don’t let anyone tell you there is no such thing, as one bold woman tried to tell me. I replied with an exasperated, “Yes, there IS!” I must have jogged her memory, because the next thing she said was, “Oh, well, there is. There are IRCs, and they cost $3.50. We sell them here.” Truly, that is exactly what she said. I’m still laughing about that one – hey, if we can’t find the humour in these moments, then there isn’t much hope for us, is there? (A clerk at my husband’s local PO told my long-suffering hubby the same thing, but he really didn’t know what they were; clearly, his training had covered only the very basics of what he needed to know.)

· When you finally find a Post Office that sells IRCs, buy them in bulk. I got ten. They cost $3.50 (Canadian) each, so buying more than you need in the moment isn’t a huge investment, and can save a lot of time.

· The cost of return postage on a reply postcard (all prices to follow are in US currency) = $.75 = one IRC (Yes, it feels like a rip-off, but at least they’re getting your manuscript! Focus on the good part of this!)

· The cost of return postage on a letter (normal envelope) = $.75 = one IRC

· For a large envelope (the manila ones that are large enough to hold unfolded sheets of letter-sized paper), you can use one IRC up to about 8 oz, or 227 grams. For anything over that, consult the USPS’ chart for shipping to Canada at Scroll down until you get to the chart marked “First-Class Mail International”, and you’ll find it there. You’ll need to work out the correct number of IRCs to include depending on the current exchange rate, as well, so make sure to take that into consideration.

· The USPS measures in ounces; if you go to your local Post Office counter to weigh your package, the scale will give you the weight in grams. Isn’t that handy? To convert from grams to ounces:

multiply the number of kilograms by 2.2 (this gives you a fraction of a lb),

then multiply that by 16 (because there are 16 oz in a lb).

For example: 50g = 0.05kg,

x 2.2 = .11 lbs,

x 16 oz = 1.76oz.

Ridiculous, I know; one day our leaders will figure it out and one of them will synchronize with the other, but until then, all we can do is get better at math and hope for the best. (1.5 billion dollars a day!)

And finally:

· Staples aren’t just a no-no for editors; according to one particularly cheery lady behind the Canada Post counter at my local pharmacy, the new sorting machines at some Canada Post offices don’t like them, either. They could jam the machine, and result in your envelope and manuscript landing on the floor in shreds before being shuffled unceremoniously into the bin. Paperclips, unfortunately, are as likely to suffer the same fate. Now, when I heard this, (five days, four visits to as many Post Offices, and six phone calls into my quest for the ever-elusive IRC), my patience for postal employees in general was stretched pretty thin. It was at about this time that I decided that despite having a minor allergy to eggs and dairy, I was going to need a donut before I got home. Or a big, warm, sticky cinnamon bun. But, I digress. I was polite to this woman, this bearer of good tidings, as I explained that if my manuscript arrived sans paperclip, (Or so I have been told – anyone out there know anything different? If so, then please, leave a comment about it and set me straight on this.), it was equally likely to end up scattered on the floor, and subsequently in the bin. I used the paperclip; next time, if I begin to suspect that my manuscripts never arrived in safe hands, I may not. You readers are free to think about the options and do what you feel is best.

There you have it, folks. It may be messy, it may get ugly, it may require you to make countless phone calls to unsuspecting Canada Post employees and use math skills that you’ve forgotten you ever had, but it’s what we’ve got. And, in the end, it’s not so bad once you get the hang of it. Good luck with your submissions, and keep writing.

Thanks for stopping by,


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hi! Welcome to my blog, where I'll be posting my thoughts on writing, acting, and related subjects. I can't promise that any of it will be useful to you, but I certainly hope that at least some of it will be. I'm a newcomer to the practice of blogging, so please don't expect that this will be updated and brimming with new tidbits every day. You can expect that it will be updated at least a couple of times a week, and you can expect that, like my life, it will always be interesting.

Welcome, come back again, and always, always feel free to leave comments.