Ed Willett: Writing Young Adult Fantasy

Ed Willett

On May 30, 2016, award-winning author Edward Willett gave a talk on Writing Young Adult Fantasy at the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Office in Regina. The talk was recorded and is now available on YouTube!

What: Young adult fantasy is one of the hottest literary genres around. Edward Willett, author of The Masks of Agyrima trilogy for DAW Books and the Shards of Excalibur series for Coteau Books (among others) talks about how—and why!—he writes fantastical adventures for young people.

Who: Ed Willett is the author of dozens of fantasy, science fiction, and non-fiction books, as well as plays and newspaper articles. He is also a singer, actor, and director. For more about Ed, check out his website, http://edwardwillett.com/.


Many thanks to the Saskatchewan Writers Guild for sponsoring this talk with a Writing Group Grant.



Revisions: Working with Different Sets of Eyes/I’s

Collapse of the Veil, by Alison Lohans

Collapse of the Veil, by Alison Lohans

Crossings, by Alison Lohans

Crossings, by Alison Lohans

Post by Alison Lohans

I’ve just finished revising my second previously-published book for re-release by a different publisher. The whole process – seeing my work through yet another lens, after having spent well over ten years working the book to a polished draft, and then going through it with the editor of the original publishing house – has been an eye-opening experience. During this time I’ve also seen good friends working hard at their own revisions in fervent hopes of their creative “child” finding its home in the publishing world.

How do we know when a book is finally “ready”? During this process with Timefall (which is the new title for the combined Collapse of the Veil and Crossings), I was shocked on more than a few occasions by things that had slipped past me during those ten-plus years of work, and had also slipped by the first editor. These different sets of eyes (I’s?) all come to a manuscript with subjective lenses, and these multiple perspectives quickly demonstrate the value of critiquing in a writer’s group. We all laugh when caught red-faced: “But isn’t it obvious? I can see it all in my head!”

I’d always figured I was reasonably good with characters, and their motivations and goals, so it was quite a surprise to see in the Track Changes margin:  “Out of character”. Fortunately this mostly happened with the secondary characters. But it’s a clear reminder that ALL of our characters need to be in our story for specific reasons, each with their own agendas, and flaws, that drive the conflict arc of the character-driven novel. “Out of character!” was a useful reminder to examine what a character’s response would actually be, and how long that response would play out – and working out a more realistic response led me to subtle shifts that freshened the protagonist’s response as well.

And … responses? Oops! Character X said/did something. Why didn’t Character Y respond? Caught up in one character’s point of view, and with the scene goal in sight, umm…..maybe things got rushed ahead just a little too fast, without honouring the perspective of Character Y? Definitely worth thinking about…

The choreography within a scene, again in the Track Changes balloon: “And Tyler is where?” This round of re-revisions got me looking long and hard at the mother-instinct not only in my teen mom protagonist, but also in her mother. The baby is a pivotal character in the book, and needed to be accounted for in all the scenes where he is present. Oops…. And lo and behold, in a high drama scene where (this time around) I caught myself on two giant faux pas that the present (excellent) editor didn’t catch…whoa!

There those Big Issues were, staring me in the face. By honouring each character’s integrity in the height of the emergency, the way unfolded to show both characters in realistic action together; this, in turn, also served to reinforce a tentative reconciliation. The shifts needed to play this out were amazingly simple to work in and, better yet, had all my characters accounted for. It is so easy for characters to fade out of a scene before they’ve actually exited.

So this was another wake-up call:  Characters are in a scene for a reason. If we’ve put them there, they need to have a tangible role to play whether it’s a speaking part or an action part. If they’re a secondary character, their presence has to have some kind of impact on what the protagonist is doing. And if the secondary characters happen to be more articulate/active than a more-reserved protagonist, our protagonist still must be truly “present” in a sensory and mental way, rather than simply to listen to what the other guys are all talking about.

When is a manuscript truly ready? Such a tough question! Sometimes deadlines will get us up and hopping, maybe with a hint of panic. If we stop and second-guess ourselves too many times, searching for the right word, the most evocative image, we can take the proverbial “forever” to get done – and too much of this can kill the spark that ignited earlier drafts. Yikes…we don’t want to do that!

When considering this question nearly forty years ago I used certain criteria, and for the most part I still adhere to them:

  • If it’s as good as I can possibly make it
  • if I still get excited (re)reading it (for the umpteenth time!)
  • if I can experience my narrative through the emotional lens of my protagonist and in a sensory way
  • if I’ve read chunks of it aloud to my computer monitor and the words sound pleasing and have a good feel on my tongue

Then yes, maybe it’s okay to let it go. That is, of course, after careful scrutiny:

  • Are the characters believable, and consistent?
  • Is the plot believable, and the goal worthwhile?
  • Is there strong enough motivation, with further conflict arising from the interplay of the characters’ diverse goals and motivations?
  • Is there a satisfying resolution that resonates beyond “The End”?

Yes? Then maybe it’s okay to hit send.

But maybe a book is never truly finished. For once it’s out there in the world, it will be re-created every time a reader plunges into our story – through yet another set of eyes.

Join the Discussion:

What is your revision process like? How do you know when your manuscript is finished and ready to send to a publisher? What have you learned about your writing style from your revisions?

Ending the Drought


Prairie people know about drought. They’ve either experienced it or heard about it. “It’s so dry the trees are whistlin’ for the dogs.”  Writers also know about drought. Some people call it “writer’s block”, but to me a block is a temporary obstacle – something you need to find a way around or over and then you can continue on your way. A drought is a prolonged lack of inspiration, or desire to write, or both.

I’m in a drought. No new ideas have formed in my skies and no showers of words have fallen onto paper or screen for over a year. My drought began when my husband died, but drought can happen for a lot of reasons. I’ve tinkered with things I’ve written in the past, but I haven’t written anything new. And it’s time.

So, I’m looking for suggestions. How do you end a drought? If you’ve gone through it yourself, what did you do to get back to writing? If you haven’t gone through it, what do you think might work if you did?

I’m hoping this brainstorm will bring much needed rain. Thanks in advance!

Dianne Young is (was?) a picture book writer and poet and a soon-to-be retired educational assistant who lives in Martensville, SK.


Beverley Brenna: Writing about Diverse Characters

Beverley Brenna

Beverley Brenna

Join award-winning author Beverley Brenna as she discusses Writing the World for Today’s Kids: Diversity Essentials .

Where: SWG Office in Regina, SK (1150-8 Ave, Regina, SK, Canada)  OR at your very own computer or other internet device (see below for details).

When: 2-3 pm, Monday April 25, 2016

What: Ten tips from SK author Bev Brenna about writing for today’s kids. Bev’s award winning fiction portrays characters with exceptionalities and her perspectives call for titles that reflect contemporary kids with diverse abilities.

Who: The author of over ten books for young people, Bev is also a professor specializing in children’s literature and reading at the University of Saskatchewan. For more about Bev’s work, check out her website at: http://www.beverleybrenna.com .

Watch on YouTube


Many thanks to the Saskatchewan Writers Guild for sponsoring this talk with a Writing Group Grant.



Potential Workshop Presenters: Who and What?

Paula Jane Remlinger talking about "Rhyme Crimes: What Makes Good Children's Poetry"

Paula Jane Remlinger talking about “Rhyme Crimes: What Makes Good Children’s Poetry”

The good news is…

that CANSCAIP Sask Horizons qualified to receive a writing groups grant from the Saskatchewan Writers Guild this year. We plan to use it to bring in two speakers to do workshops for us at the SWG office in Regina, on topics of interest to our Sask CANSCAIP members.

You don’t live in Regina? No worries–they will also be broadcast live right to your computer, AND recorded and put on YouTube afterwards so you can watch them any time you like.

We did one workshop like this last spring, with Paula Jane Remlinger talking about writing good children’s poetry. If you haven’t seen it, why not watch it now? (It takes about 45 minutes.) The point is, we know the technology works.

The question is…

who should we invite to do workshops, and what should they talk about? (Okay, that’s two questions.)

We can afford to bring in one speaker from out of Regina and one from inside Regina. Who they are will depend on what you are interested in hearing.

We had some suggestions at the General Meeting after the Prairie Horizons 2015 conference. I won’t put speakers’ names here, just topics:

  • Giving presentations to groups of different ages
  • How to create and pitch an illustrators’ portfolio for a publisher
  • The first five pages
  • Publishing your e-book
  • Using social media for marketing your book
  • How to do virtual readings

We need to have both presentations by the end of June. The first step is to figure out what we want to hear, and who should talk about them. So what do you think?

Rebooting the Online Discussion Group

Rutabaga raisin cookies

Rutabaga raisin cookies

I thought that picture would get your attention! But sorry, this isn’t a recipe page. It’s a New Year’s new beginnings page.

Yup, it’s time to pick up those good and productive activities that got left by the wayside sometime in the busyness of the last year (or so). In particular, the SK CANSCAIP online discussion blog posts. At the General Meeting after the Prairie Horizons 2015 conference there was general consensus that they were useful and should be re-started.

Just to refresh everyone’s memory, this is how it works.

  • Every month, someone volunteers to host the discussion. The host chooses a topic and writes a blog post on this website, then monitors the comments for a week or so and keeps the discussion going.
  • Any topic of interest to children’s writers, illustrators or performers is fine. Writing about your publishing experience is fine too, or a report about a conference or workshop that was helpful to you, or a question you have that others might be able to help with.
  • When your month comes, I will give you instructions to log in and post your topic. I will help if you need help.
  • Posts should go up around the 15th of the month.
  • That’s it!

Last time, we had discussions about research, libraries, publishing e-books, and more.

If you are willing to host a discussion, comment on this post or at the FB group link or email me at canscaip@gmail.com. I will make a list on the Moderators page so everyone knows which months are still free.

I will host the January topic, which will go up probably tomorrow. Talk to you there!


Conference Evaluation Form

Well, folks, Prairie Horizons 2015 is over–at least the part where we’re all together at St. Michael’s Retreat in Lumsden. The renewed creative energy and inspiration from the wonderful presentations will carry on, and so will the friendships. And Prairie Horizons will continue in September 2017.

We (Sharon and the organizing committee) hope you had a wonderful a time just like we did. But we would like to know what you really thought. If you didn’t fill out an evaluation form at the conference, please fill it out now. Download the Evaluation Form 2015 and email it to prairiehorizons@gmail.com. If you have any extra thoughts, please email those as well.

Thank you, and see you in 2017!