Archive | Reading & Writing RSS feed for this section

an excerpt from my new book

2 May

How to Tend a Grave, published by Great Plains Teen Fiction, is available now. I’m so excited to share an excerpt with you here. Hope you enjoy it!

“Liam slumps down onto the sorry pile of dirt that covers his mom’s grave. It’s been days since he cried and he hoped he was done. But no such luck. And once he starts he can’t seem to stop.

Why, why, why? Why’d she go out that night? She said she’d always be there for him. She promised!

He blubbers like a baby and lets the tears and snot stream down his face.

Until he realizes he’s no longer alone. There’s someone standing nearby. Someone from Y4C, for sure. Listening to him rave. Watching him do the ugly cry.

He rubs his eyes with his fists and wipes his nose with the back of his hand. Gross, but right now, who really cares? He sniffles and gulps some deep breaths and braces himself for what’s coming.

Strangely, he’s still not afraid. Bring it on, he wants to say. Beat me up like you did that little old lady. Kick my head in. C’mon, kill me already and get it over with. Because I don’t care. My life is shit.

Nothing happens though. No fists in his face or boots to his head. So finally he glances up.

But it’s not Youth or Crime or anybody looking like a 4 standing there. It’s this girl. She’s tall and slender and pale. Her hair is all wavy and shiny over her shoulders like a waterfall. Her feet are bare. She has silver rings on her toes and her toenails are painted a dark, winy red, like blood.

She swishes the skirt of her long, lime-green dress. It’s some kind of a prom gown he guesses. “Hey,” she says, sitting down beside him on his mom’s grave. “Do you know how many dead babies are buried in this place?”

Dead babies? What’s with this chick? He lifts the edge of his T-shirt to clean his face. There’s tears and snot smeared all over him. He must look revolting. “No idea,” he says. “Never even thought about it. I’m Liam, by the way.”

“I know,” she says. “I’ve seen you at school.”

“You have?” So why hasn’t he seen her? Because he would have noticed. For sure.

“I’m Harmony.”

“Harmony. Nice name.”  Her hair is the most beautiful he’s ever seen. It’s the color of honey. He’d like to touch it. Stroke it. Stuff it in his mouth. But he restrains himself. She’d probably freak. And he’d probably lose all control and ravish her. Which would definitely be a very bad move.

“The babies have to be under two years old for me to visit them,” she says. “I bring them flowers. And other stuff too, like candles and charms.”

Is she for real? Or is he hallucinating? Did she really just say what he thinks she did? “You visit the graves of dead babies?”

She nods, like that’s the most natural thing in the world. “Some of them are over a hundred years old now. Well, they would be, if they’d lived.”

He leans back against the gravestone. This Harmony chick seems a bit crazy. The last thing he needs is to get involved with a fruitcake, even if she is incredibly hot.”

“Contemporary, realistic YA fiction at its best. The very different stories of two grieving fifteen-year-olds who meet in a cemetery interweave brilliantly in this fast-paced, engaging and unforgettable novel about life and love.”



13 Apr

In honour of national poetry month, check out the April 13 post on Sylvia Vardel’s Poetry for Children blog. It features an interview with Carol-Ann Hoyte and Heidi Bee Roemer, co-editors of the forthcoming children’s poetry collection And the Crowd Goes Wild!: A Global Gathering of Sports Poems, illustrated by Kevin Sylvester. I’m happy to say that my poem “Pianoball” was accepted for the book and is previewed at the end of the interview.

Anything’s Possible!

31 Jan

I’ve now published another ebook on Smashwords. Anything’s Possible is a collection of three short stories for adults, written under my pen name, Elizabeth Sage. An earlier version of one of these stories won an award in a fiction contest and was published as a result. Another holds the record for my most “just about published” story, meaning that it was accepted for publication three different times, but in each case the magazine disappeared or the deal fell through before the story appeared.

Anything’s Possible is free. I know, I know, I’m not totally sure that’s a good idea. Why give my work away for nothing? But my hope is that readers who like it might then go on to buy my ebook, Finding Home. Kind of like when you get a free sample of a yummy new product in the grocery store and then decide to buy a whole box to take home. So in the interests of attracting readers and building a fan base, I’ve embraced the world of free ebooks. Well, one free ebook.

Here’s the link to Anything’s Possible:

Remember, you don’t need an ereader. You can download in HTML to read on your computer screen.

I listed Anything’s Possible on some free ebook sites to see what would happen, and am shocked at the response. Within a couple of weeks it’s been downloaded 1065 times. No reviews yet, but some likes on FB. (Hint, hint.)

Now here’s an update on Finding Home. To promote it, I lowered the price to $2.99 and also posted a time-limited coupon for a free copy to a couple of ebook sites. It’s now been downloaded 115 times, and I’ve actually sold 3 copies. I’ve also figured out how to make Finding Home available in Amazon’s Kindle Store and have sold 2 copies there.

The other good news is that I finally, finally got an independent review for Finding Home and the reader liked the book! Plus I have four other reviews promised by book bloggers.

So this is how it’s looking in my quest to make a million selling ebooks:

Sales on Smashwords:   9.09

Sales on Amazon:           4.18

Total Sales:                     13.27

$1,000,000 – $13.27  = only $999,986.73 left to earn!

Here’s hoping anything’s possible.

ebook sales exceed expectations!

12 Dec

I’ve finally published my first ebook on Smashwords and it’s selling better than I’d dared to hope.

Finding Home is a revised and updated edition of a romantic thriller about a surrogate mother, written under my pen name Elizabeth Sage, originally published in the U.S. in 2002 by Five Star  as part of their First Edition Women’s Fiction Series.

I might never have attempted publishing an ebook were it not for YA writer Arthur Slade. I’d like to thank him for his informative and inspiring blog posts about his ebook adventures. He made it all seem so possible. And lucrative!

There were many steps to the process, but taken separately, most were easy enough. Just, you know, time-sucking. Some people publish their work in digital format in under two hours. It took me over two months.

It was the thought of instant and insane cash that kept me going. I just knew I’d be a millionaire overnight with my ebook. I comissioned a new cover – many thanks to photographer Michael Galan and designer Sarah Schneider – and had the ms formatted according to the Smashwords Style Guide.

But by the time I was finally ready to upload the book, I was struck by that writer’s panic thing – I just knew my book wouldn’t sell. Not. One. Single. Copy.

Why had I bothered? Why had I wasted weeks of good writing time? Why had I spent money on a project that wasn’t even going to cover my costs? I was making myself poorer, not richer.

I revised my goal and decided I’d be happy to break my record for print sales. Even though family and friends had said that they loved Finding Home when it was first published, with no promo whatsoever (my fault – I didn’t know any better) and no independent reviews either, the hard cover sold a total of 82 copies. I didn’t earn out my advance and the book was immediately remaindered.

But here’s the thing. All rights reverted to me, and now I’m well on my way to financial success with the ebook. Because guess what? Once I’d uploaded it, someone bought a copy within the hour! Really. How cool is that? I’ve already netted $3.03!!!

Will keep you posted on how it goes. If I do make a million, I guess I can live with that. But for now, I’m glad that Finding Home has found a home. You can see it here:

Finding Home is only $2.99, plus you can sample the first 20% for free. You don’t need an eReader – just download HTML for online reading. Reviews – gushing, glowing, gobsmacked or godawful – are most welcome.

As of May 2012, Kindle edition is here.

And here’s the trailer, produced by the awesome Andie Rosenbaum of Airbookvideos:





the Cleavage connection

13 Sep

As co-editor of Cleavage: Breakaway Fiction for Real Girls, I’m always interested in the literary careers of the wonderful writers whose stories are featured in the book. From over a hundred submissions, Deb Loughead and I chose fifteen original stories to include. Today I’m pleased to bring you an update on the authors of three of them:

Karen Krossing, shown here reading from her story “Profanity” at the Cleavage launch at the Canadian Children’s Book Centre in 2008, has a new YA novel, TheYo-Yo Prophet, just released from Orca Books .


Watch the cool trailer here!


Since her story “About My Curves” appeared in Cleavage, Robin Stevenson has published several books for children and teens and been short-listed for many awards. I really enjoyed reading A Thousand Shades of Blue (nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award) and Liars and Fools. Robin toured Ontario for TD Canada Children’s Book Week 2011 and has two new books out this fall, Ben the Inventor for young readers and Escape Velocity for teens. 


Mar’ce Merrell’s  delicious contribution to Cleavage, “The Cake Princess” was reprinted in an educational anthology, and she has now developed her story into a YA novel. She’s represented by Stimola Literary Studio, and The Cake Princess will be published in Spring 2012. 





Congratulations everyone! I’m so looking forward to reading your new books.




Found in translation!

7 Sep

Just received my author’s copies of the Norwegian version of my YA novel, Seraphina’s Circle. The title translates as Seraphina’s Special Place, and Morgan’s name has  become Miranda.

Along with Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish rights, German rights for both Seraphina’s Circle and Getting a Life are now sold to Stabenfeldt for their teen girl bookclub GIRL:IT.

Listen to Seraphina in Norwegian on YouTube:


Edit This

rocks totally ignore social media

2 Aug

Rocks don’t care about social media. No, really. They’re very old school that way. They refuse to promote their work, post their photos or share their news. They don’t fear being left behind and feeling out of it. They aren’t even worried about being called old fossils.   

Rocks don’t do digital. Instead they focus on carrying the history of the universe and holding the world up. Nothing to blog about.

If only writers could be so Zen. But we’re encouraged to embrace social media, to friend and follow and comment, even when we’re introverts who’d really rather hide under one of those rocks.    

I resisted social networking sites as long as possible. Besides being shy of the Internet, I worried about wasting my writing time. I had no idea what the real downside would be: Facebook and Twitter often make me feel incompetent, overwhelmed and intimidated. 

I’m never sure I’m doing things right. And then there are so many terrific writers out there, with cool websites, entertaining blogs, awesome books and big-name agents. All that competition can reduce me to high-school style fretting: Who has the most friends? The most followers? The best photos? The funniest posts? The wittiest tweets? The most comments? The most Likes? And so on.

Still, since what I really do like about social networking is connecting with other writers, I decided to try the new Google+ right away.  

But just like in high school , not everybody was invited. Because I write YA fiction, I figured the high-school-is-hell feeling might prove useful anyway. So I begged an invitation from a cool person.

From what I’ve heard, I’ll probably love Google+ once I actually join. But I’m still stuck on creating my profile. Apparently Google+ considers all the photos I’ve tried to use invalid. Or maybe too big, even after I’ve resized them. Yes, I could sign up without a photo, but that would be like wearing the wrong thing to a high-school party.

While I was searching for something that Google+ might accept, I got distracted looking at my other photos. And that’s when I realized I don’t need social media to remind me I’m nobody.  

Rocks are what really humble me. They always make me feel unimportant in the great scheme of things. But in a good way. It’s so comforting to know that they were around long before Facebook and Twitter and Google+, and will still be around when social networking is over.  

Rocks are content to simply exist.

I totally support their choice to stay offline while they turn to sand. I respect their right to disregard social media forever. And I thank them for giving me perspective on my literary career. For making me realize and accept my own insignificance.

Hey, maybe I’ll tweet that!


free ideas at Sugar Beach

5 Jul

I’m often asked where I get my ideas, as if they’re something I go out and buy, or maybe order online. I used to be tempted to reply, “Up at the mall, 40% off today.” Or, “Down at the farmer’s market, if you want organic.” But now I’d say, “Sugar Beach, for free!”

I wondered where ideas came from too, when I first started trying to write. Where could I find inspiration? What should I write about? I envied people who had lived adventurously or had astounding family stories. They didn’t need to go shopping for ideas. They’d already bargained for them in exotic bazaars or had them hand-delivered by an eccentric aunt.

But what did I have to work with?

My life seemed … um, you know, not all that exciting. I often felt I was trying to turn straw into gold, like the miller’s daughter in the Grimm’s fairytale. How I wished for a Rumpelstiltskin to appear and help me spin my boring life into a book. And if he’d shown up, I might well have promised my first-born.

Alas, no such magic exists. But I did learn that golden ideas are anywhere and everywhere. I also learned that the secret to finding them is to look beyond your own life and think like a writer.

How? By adding a big handful of “what if?” to your straw. Here’s the way it works for me:

I spend half the year in Toronto, and have the great good fortune to live only a few blocks from Lake Ontario. On summer weekends when it’s too hot to do much of anything, I walk down to the waterfront with a book for the afternoon. In the past I’ve always ended up at Harbourfront or Toronto Island.

But this year Sugar Beach is my favourite spot to sit and read.

At the foot of Jarvis Street, tucked between the new Corus Entertainment building and the historic Redpath Sugar Refinery, Sugar Beach has sparkly sand, comfortable lounge chairs, and umbrellas the colour of strawberry ice cream.

Talk about spinning straw into gold. Sugar Beach used to be an ugly parking lot. Then somebody said, “What if we unpave it?” And now it’s a paradise.

But Sugar Beach isn’t just a cool place to read. It’s also an ideas paradise.

It’s hard for me to concentrate on reading a book when everyone and everything at Sugar Beach is possible material for a story. I find myself observing from behind my sunglasses, and eavesdropping on conversations.

There are so many great ideas fluttering around for free that I could never use them all. But if I wanted to choose one to take home to develop, I’d start by asking myself:

What if that hip young woman on the boardwalk wanders too close to the edge, trips in her platform sandals and falls into the water?

What if that hot guy who just came out of Corus tries to rescue her? What if he drowns in the attempt?

What if someone who worked at Redpath Sugar fifty years ago suddenly appears on the beach? What if she’s related to the dead guy?

What if those grandparents on bikes are meeting here to plot a crime?

What if those little kids building castles find a diamond ring in the sand? What if they find a bloody knife that’s surely a murder weapon?

What if? What if? What if?

Sugar Beach. Free ideas. Sweet!







Heart of YA Darkness

21 Jun

As soon as I read that now infamous Wall Street Journal article “Darkness too Visible”, which slammed Cheryl Rainfield’s Scars along with much of today’s YA fiction, I rushed to get her book. I’m sure many others did too. 

In my day there were no YA books to give an innocent high-school girl insight into things that parents and teachers didn’t want to talk about. I was stuck with what were then considered scandalous adult books, so dangerous to a person’s morals that the London Public Library didn’t keep them on the open shelves. Instead such books were hidden in a back room and adorned with “restricted” labels, lest they fall into the wrong hands.

You had to be over eighteen to read Fanny Hill, Candy, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Lolita or In Praise of Older Women. You had to fill out a special request form. The librarian had to approve your request, and then you had to endure public shame as she checked out your risqué choice.

But lucky me. As a teen I worked at the library after school and on Saturdays, so had easy access to those evil books. I never told anyone at the time, but I’m ready to admit now that I “borrowed” those books when no one was looking. That’s right. I didn’t ask for permission, since it would have been denied. Instead I sneaked the books home, hidden under my coat.

So as not to incriminate myself, I didn’t even stamp the books’ pocket cards with a due date. Oh, the guilt! I can assure you that to a dedicated library page such as I was, that felt almost as wicked as wanting to read those books.

And read them I did. 

After that I quickly became, to quote that WSJ article, “one who seeks out depravity”. I began to write heartwrenching poetry full of angst, moons and roses. I shortened all my skirts and sometimes went braless. A couple years later I took up with an older man and dropped out of university.

Eventually, I fell even farther from the nice southwestern Ontario United Church girl I’d once been. I became the kind of woman who reads edgy YA books and attempts to write them!

My forthcoming YA novel, How to Tend a Grave, Great Plains Teen Fiction, Spring 2012, is full of unpleasant stuff that might upset some people: prostitution, vandalism, teen pregnancy, miscarriage, death.

So you can totally see why I was excited to read Scars, a book so lurid that The Wall Street Journal had warned the world about it.

Well, what a surprise! Scars is not at all the dark, damaging horror I’d expected. Brave would be a better word. Uplifting would be another. Yes, it’s true that the book deals with difficult subjects, but in a positive, life-affirming way. Plus there’s hardly even any profanity!

All good YA books offer at least a sliver of hope, but Scars beams it out. And at the heart of Cheryl Rainfield’s dark story you’ll find love and light.

Sorry, WSJ, but anyone seeking depravity will have to look elsewhere.

As for my own moral decline brought about by “restricted”  books, just so you know, I reformed, destroyed all my terrible teenage poetry and went back to school. I wear underwear most days now. And I returned those books to the library.

Okay, yes, I returned them in secret. But would a girl who’d been irredeemably corrupted by her inappropriate reading material have bothered at all?


playlist for the writing life

14 Jun

Do you listen to music when you’re writing?

I know a lot of writers make playlists. Playlists for helping them create atmosphere, evoke a time period, bring characters to life. And playlists for you to enjoy while reading their books.

But I find listening to music while I’m writing is just too distracting. Songs are stories, after all. Why would I want someone else’s stories in my head when I’m trying to write my own? What a way to lose focus.

Plus, I love to sing and can’t stop myself from singing along and then I get all emotional and start to obsess about whatever the lyrics remind me of. Good songs evoke strong feelings, and even the happy ones make me cry over something, someplace or someone. And it’s so hard to see the page or computer screen while I’m weeping.

As for instrumental background music, that’s even worse. It makes me feel like I’m at brunch in a fancy hotel, which makes me hungry. Or like I’m stuck in an elevator, which makes me claustrophobic. Or worst of all, like I’m on hold with Bell or Canada Post to complain about their shoddy service. Not good creative places for me!

Thing is, every writer’s creative place is different. Some work best in public spaces, like libraries or cafés, while listening to their favourite music.

I prefer silence and solitude.

So, no playlists to write to here.

But because I can’t imagine my world without music, I have made a playlist for surviving and enhancing the writer’s life. Singing along is highly recommended.

Paperback Writer” – The Beatles

A good vocal warmup. Instead of “paperback”, feel free to sing “children’s”, “fantasy”, “romance”, “mystery” or whatever kind of writer you want to be.

Satisfaction” – The Rolling Stones

Exactly the right attitude when your brilliant ms has been rejected by every agent and editor in the universe. Warning: screaming this song can cause serious damage to your vocal chords.

Let the Mystery Be” – Iris Dement

Help with the big questions writers ponder. Proof that the best ending is always on a high note. Sing word for word. 

Three Little Birds” – Bob Marley

When your computer crashes, you lose all your work and you’re on deadline, what else can you do but chirp along?

Money, Money, Money” – ABBA

Sing “two-book deal” for “wealthy man” and do the happy writing queen dance!

Foux du Fafa– Flight of the Conchords

As a writer, you sometimes have to pretend to know more than you actually do. So fake it till you make it, but sing it in French.

You Raise Me Up” – Josh Groban

Dedicate this to your talented and inspiring but underpaid editor. Sing with awe and gratitude. Don’t forget to bow.

The Gambler” – Kenny Rogers

Sing “writer” for “gambler” and “book” for “hand”. Best sung with writer friends, this one says it all.

 Happy writing life!