Meet Our Members: Alison Lohans

Regina author ALISON LOHANS has published 26 books across the full spectrum of fiction for children and teens – from picture books to mature YA/new adult. Her 27th book, Caught in the Crossfire will be published by Pearson Australia.

Describe your workspace.
I have two work spaces, one active and one passive.


The passive one (with accidental self-portrait in the photo) is great for printing and when I need to see a larger screen – but that old HP is painfully slow and internet unreliable. (The chair is awesome, though.)

 
My active work space is right in the middle of everything (on my dining room table), with things I love looking at, as well as the jumble of other stuff. At the left is my daily word count tally sheet for the past couple of months, which has been invaluable in keeping me on track. I’m so fortunate to be in a couple of daily check-in situations, and my word tally sheet is always right there to refer to. On the right are the jumbled pages of a (sigh….) synopsis for one of my current works-in-progress. Need to eat? No problem, just slide this nifty Asus Zenbook up onto the jigsaw, so I can eat and refer to my manuscript, or eat and read, whatever… 

Describe a typical workday.
I always open my work-in-progress files (along with email and Facebook) first thing each morning (after letting my two dogs out). This way, no matter how the day plays itself out, my WIP is always THERE, right in my face. I often spend the first chunk of a morning replying to emails and getting caught up with all the wonderful writing communities I’m in, on Facebook. (Seriously, they all help make me accountable – and one of these FB communities is worldwide, which gives me countless opportunities to “talk writing” with people everywhere – Canada, UK, US, Germany, Australia…at any time of day!) Then I’ll take a preliminary look at my WIP and see what I can do to move it along. The early work in the day usually involves layering in stuff (in the same chapter) that didn’t get put in the previous day. That sets the stage for pushing ahead. Some days my WIP wakes me up at ridiculous hours like 5 a.m., so on those days I’ll make a coffee and see what I can do about getting those busy ideas into my manuscript. If it’s not an early wake-up-call and it’s now 11 a.m. or so and the WIP’s not flowing easily yet, I’ll do research…or read related (fiction) books to help get the juices flowing. Early afternoon is usually errand time, or light garden work (which can spill into the later afternoon as well). Later evening hours are usually the perfect writing time for me, and I have a self-enforced rule that by 10 p.m. I MUST be writing. This often goes until midnight or so. If insomnia is being cruel, it’s often productive to get up at 1:30-2 a.m. and write just a little bit. I find it really useful for getting out mental kinks that might be keeping me awake…and then it’s always MUCH easier to get to sleep (ideally, to wake up between 8-9 a.m.)

One thing that’s been absolutely essential to moving forward lately has been setting a minimum daily word count quota. A friend in one of my groups set the bar at 100 words/day (she’s in another group where writers are required to produce 100 words/day, for 100 days – and if they miss 10 days, they’re evicted from the group). So, for July I set my minimum bar at 200 words/day and August, at 300. For September it will be 400. This is extremely useful because I know I HAVE TO meet my minimum daily quota. Sometimes I barely squeak past (and have missed a couple of days), but other days it more likely comes out at 400 words, 600 words, 800 words, a thousand, 1300, etc.  

List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
1. The kitten/garden puzzle is one I bought in York, England in February of this year, and I loved it so much I can’t bear to take it apart. It definitely “brings me joy” 🙂 There’s another new jigsaw from The Cat Gallery in York, which I have yet to put together…more significant perhaps because it’s of kittens in a writer’s office (complete with typewriter, glasses, teacup, books, and a lovely rural view out the window). BUT…I love the present puzzle so much (completed in March) that I’m not ready to put it away yet. I love doing jigsaw puzzles because they evoke different, restful thinking patterns involving shapes and colours – a “wee break” from the demand of words which need to be linear (but often don’t come out that way).

2. On the bottom left-hand (black) kitty in the puzzle is a little token purchased at a writing retreat this year. On the back it says, “Just breathe” …an important reminder.

3. Not visible in the photo are the eight varied houseplants at the window-end of my dining room table (five on the table and three not). I love their green presence. They are alive, and with me in quiet, nurturing ways (unlike my dogs, Sebastian & Bailey, who are great company, but rather more excitable than my plants 🙂 …)

What do you listen to while you work?
These days I don’t put on any music while I’m working. Once I stopped listening while working, I found that I had “much more time and space” (mentally) to be “in” my work. There’s a lovely ongoing home-based audio, however. Right now my four finches are chattering away in their cage – other cheery life forms in my home – and one of my dogs is snoring 🙂 
During earlier years when I was working on YA novels in which music played a central role, I did a lot of listening. For Don’t Think Twice, I immersed myself in 1960s rock, which figures prominently (and for which I had to find ways of paraphrasing bits of lyrics so I wouldn’t be violating copyright). When I was working on Foghorn Passage, I listened to the Beethoven violin concerto….over and over and OVER again – because it’s central to that novel. 
If I were listening actively right now for one of my WIPs, it would be the Elgar cello concerto. But…since I’ve studied/played that concerto over many years, and performed two movements of it in three different recitals, I know it well enough to simply “turn it on in my head” to “listen”, or “look at the score” without needing to physically see it, when I most need it fictionally.  

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
In the morning – coffee & multi-grain crackers.

In the afternoon – tea, multi-grain crackers (sometimes with cheese slices), trail mix, dried fruit, rice cake with peanut butter (& topped with raisins/nuts, banana slices), cookies that live on top of the fridge (and one day when things were going really badly, a whole bunch of cookies disappeared). If there happen to be chips in my cupboard, this is when they’ll get eaten…

Evenings/night – whole grain crackers (sometimes with cheese), trail mix, etc. 

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool pantser, and my ideas come from all over the place. I never outline (unless forced to), and absolutely dread synopses (which are demanded by some publishers – eek!!) Part of my mental process “lives in the story”, so the story can be developing pretty well at any time, no matter what I’m doing. There’ve been a few occasions when I was totally stuck, sitting there at the keyboard utterly clueless. BUT…if I forced my fingers to start typing, once in a while “my fingers led me” into important things for the story, things I’d had no idea about. (And it was extremely gratifying to find out that this also works for a NY Times bestselling author friend, who has over 100 books to her credit!)

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
I’ve lived alone 10 years now and can’t imagine sharing with anybody. The company I’ve had has always sat here at my dining room table, helping with the jigsaw-of-the-moment, chatting, and sometimes eating. If I absolutely had to share this table with someone else for work purposes, I’d be okay with my son Chris sitting opposite me – he’s quiet, and well organized.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
KEEP GOING! Don’t expect perfection the first time around – we have to give ourselves permission to write that sloppy copy. I recently saw a terrific inspirational quote to the effect of:  “A first draft is always perfect. All a first draft has to do is exist.” Write for that “inner you”, and not for anyone else.

Thanks to Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for the use of her Creative Spaces interview questions.

NEW Online Discussion: The Fate of Imaginative Children

Thanks to Rolli for offering our first new Online Discussion!

The Fate of Imaginative Children

We’d love to hear any comments you have. (Please return to this post to comment.) Let’s get this discussion going!

Rolli is a writer and cartoonist from Regina. He’s the author of numerous titles for children and adults, including Kabungo (Groundwood), winner of the Joan Betty Stuchner Award, and the illustrated story collection Dr. Franklin’s Staticy Cat. His cartoons appear regularly in The Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, and other top outlets.

Visit Rolli’s website (rollistuff.com) and follow him on Twitter @rolliwrites.

Meet Our Members: Paula Jane Remlinger

Paula Jane Remlinger is currently the President of CANSCAIP Sask. She has been involved in children’s writing for about 20 years, and has written several (unpublished) picture books, poetry, and would like to explore more young adult writing. Her first book of poetry, This Hole Called January, was published in May 2019 by Thistledown Press. “I’m so pleased to be part of the CANSCAIP community here in Saskatchewan!”

Describe your workspace.
I tend to move from place to place in my house with my laptop.  Often I’ll sit at the kitchen table so I can see outside, watch the birds and squirrels in those moments when nothing seems to be coming.  I used to have a writing desk, but I found I rarely used it, so now I’m a free-range writer.

Describe a typical workday.
At this point in my life, there’s no such thing.  I’m working half-time for the Sask. Human Rights Commission, and on those days I don’t write. I published my first book (poetry) in the spring, and since then, I’ve been having a hard time getting back to regular writing practice. I’ve always tended to be a binge writer–I write a lot when the spirit moves me, and not always on a day-to-day basis. But I’m trying to do ten minutes a day to get back into the rhythm of regular writing practice.

List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
Tough question since I’m a collector of small things that speak to me. 

  1. A stone with a labyrinth symbol on it that reminds me writing is a journey, and even when I feel lost, it’s important to keep moving forward. 
  2. A Snoopy plaque that says, “I’m a great admirer of my own work.”  It helps to remind me not to take myself too seriously. 
  3. Letter-writing materials. Sometimes if I’m stuck, I write a letter and tell one of my friends the problem I’m having with whatever I’m writing. It’s surprising how many times I’m able to sort out the problem by “talking it through” with someone on paper, and then I can go back to writing, plus I have a letter to send.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits?
Often I’ll start by writing a letter or even a postcard to a friend just to get into writing.  (Yes, I often write poetry by hand still, but it works just to get my brain in a creative space.)

What do you listen to while you work?
I’m not someone who can work with a lot of distractions, so I prefer silence. If I listen to music, which is rarely, it would be classical or in a language I don’t understand. Words distract me.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
Earl Grey.  Hot.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I’m often struck by an image or an idea, and then I need to let it lead me in the right direction. I find myself asking questions on paper … why would that happen?  what does that person want? — so I make notes of the ideas I have, as well as letting the writing itself develop organically.  I have an idea of where I’m going, but not always how to get there.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
My husband Trent would actually be a good choice because he’s very respectful of my writing time and he’s also willing to answer my questions or read things over and provide an opinion when asked. (He’ll also tell me the writing is fabulous and to keep going if I just need encouragement.)  Chai, the cat, is also welcome.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
Poet Karen Solie once told me, “Mobilize your oddity,” which I took to mean, I should allow myself to be quirky.  Write about the things I’m interested in, not just things I think I should be interested in. Let my unique point of view shine through. That’s really what finding your voice is all about – being authentic in your work. Writing about what matters to you.  I’ve realized that humour finds its way into almost all my work, and I need to be open to that and not stifle it.

Thanks to Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for the use of her Creative Spaces interview questions.

Online Discussions Revisited: Research – How Much is Enough?

From 2013 to 2017, CANSCAIP Sask members took turns posting a monthly article on a topic that would be of interest to others in the group. We are posting links to one of these articles every other week and hopefully, starting the practice up again. This article, by Marie Powell, was posted on January 15th, 2014.

https://skcanscaip.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/research-how-much-is-enough/

What I Read When I Was Young: Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams was born and raised in BC and now lives in Swift Current with her wee family. She loves to create; writing, painting, knitting, sewing, crochet, scrapbooking, pottery, stained glass… you name it and she has something in her house that she made herself, even if it didn’t turn out very good. An advocate for mental health awareness, her first book, Mama’s Cloud was named one of the best indie books of 2018 by Kirkus Reviews. Her favorite quote is “in a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

What was your favourite picture book? What was special about it?

Hucklebones (by Mickey Klar Marks and illustrated by Irma Wilde). It’s a sweet story about a horse who is invited to a dance but doesn’t know the steps and has trouble learning. The illustrations are gorgeous and I just loved it.

What was the first chapter book you read? 

Probably Different Dragons by Jean Little.

What was your favourite chapter book? What was special about it?  

The Sky Is Falling by Kit Pearson.

 I loved the time period and it hooked me on historical fiction. 

Did you ever reread your favourite chapter book once you became an adult? Did it stand the test of time?

Absolutely! And definitely. They are still magical. 

Did you read comic books? Which was your favourite?

Not many. I did like Catwoman though. She was so strong and independent. I think I also liked the blurred line between good and bad. 

Did you prefer fiction or non-fiction?

I’ve always preferred fiction.

Did you like series? Which ones?

I was a big fan of the Babysitters Club.

Did you have a local library? What do you remember about it? 

I remember going to the library in the summer every day after swimming lessons. The low shelves for kids books, the cushions and little tables and the smell of well loved books are stuck in my memory.

Online Discussions Revisited: Library Connections

From 2013 to 2017, CANSCAIP Sask members took turns posting a monthly article on a topic that would be of interest to others in the group. We are posting links to one of these articles every other week for the next few months and then, hopefully, starting the practice up again. This article, by Glenda Goertzen, was posted on March 15th, 2014.

Author’s note: Five years later, my personal example of library silliness hasn’t changed.

https://skcanscaip.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/library-connections/

Meet Our Members: Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams was born and raised in BC and now lives in Swift Current with her wee family. She loves to create; writing, painting, knitting, sewing, crochet, scrapbooking, pottery, stained glass… you name it and she has something in her house that she made herself, even if it didn’t turn out very good. An advocate for mental health awareness, her first book, Mama’s Cloud was named one of the best indie books of 2018 by Kirkus Reviews. Her favorite quote is “in a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

Describe your workspace.

I just did a renovation to give myself more space, but up until now it was a tiny upcycled desk in a corner of the spare room. 

Describe a typical workday.

I don’t have a typical work day, ha! Every day is different. If I have a book coming out, my day is focused largely on social media and planning. Mostly I will spend my time playing with whatever manuscript or idea is stuck in my brain. 

List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

My plants, especially my shamrock because it took a long time to find a place where it was happy and it turns out my office is that space.
My laptop because it was an investment I made in my writing and it reminds me of my commitment.
When I have a new title coming out, I will get a single illustration from that book printed on a small canvas. They hang over my desk and remind me of what I’ve accomplished.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits?

Not really. I do love a good cuppa when I’m working though.

What do you listen to while you work?

Nothing. I can’t listen to music without trying to memorize the lyrics so it’s too distracting.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Tea. All of the tea. 

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I make general notes on an idea or line that has stuck with me and then try to flesh it out from there, usually by drawing big webs of ideas all over pages and whiteboards.


If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

An illustrator, like Anna Daviscourt or Jessika von Innerebner. I love their work and I’d love to watch them create. I probably wouldn’t get anything done though…

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

It’s common advice, but write every day. 

Thanks to Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for the use of her Creative Spaces interview questions.