Vast Imaginations

A Community of Children's Writers. Learning. Growing. Creating.

Imagine It! Prompts 76


Today’s prompts: write for 5, 10, 20 minutes or more without your editor-self to guide you. This is a do or die mission. Free-write any old unstructured nonsense that pops into your brains. Serious, silly, soulish who cares. Go for it!

This year the shelves got tired of having elves on them. Now the shelves are rampaging after the elves.

and a picture prompt


Three Lessons I Learned from Working with an Editor

“Edit until your fingersOne of the things I looked forward to in having one of my manuscripts accepted for publication, was the opportunity to work with an editor. I thirsted to go to the next level in my writing. I wanted to learn more and grow as a writer. When Enslavement was accepted for publication, I was thrilled at the prospect of one of my manuscripts getting published, but also really looking forward to the editing process.

My first round of edits came back with seven pages of notes and oodles of comments on the manuscript. Some of it seemed overwhelming, but I took them one at a time. The second round was even more daunting. There were hundreds of comments on the document. Again, I took a deep breath and fixed what needed fixing.

By the time the process was complete, I’d learned a few things about myself, my process, and my writing.

  1. Just write it. If I feel like I should write a scene, I should write it and keep it. I’d always heard of writers having to cut scene after superfluous scene, so I assumed I would need to do the same. So, I did. I cut. And I second guessed myself about the validity of writing certain scenes–were they really that important? Apparently they were. Almost all the issues I had plot wise were a result of me cutting some scenes or never writing others. I cut too much. I was too minimalist in my approach.
  2. Balance. Always balance. Every writing rule you will learn requires balance. I went too deeply into my characters emotional state, which distracted from the story as a whole. We need to know the characters emotional state, but that has to be balanced with all the other elements of the story.  I ended up cutting a lot of heart pounding and teary eyes.
  3. Sequencing. I had my chain of events out of order. It was subtle. For example, mentioning someone stopped cold before mentioning that a dead body lay on the floor. The character would see the body, then stop cold. Sometimes I felt like an idiot for not seeing some of these things during the 20 some edits I put the manuscript through, but it’s difficult to see your own writing clearly.

So as I go into the editing process on Enslavement‘s sequel, I hope I’ve already corrected many of these issues. But, I’m sure there will be other problems this time. Learning to write is a lifelong process. There will always be more to learn. And that’s one of the things I love about being a writer.


Melinda Friesen writes short stories and novels for teens. Her first book, Enslavement, the first book in the One Bright Future series, was recently released from Rebelight Publishing Inc. Find it on Learn more at

Is Children’s Non-Fiction in Decline?

imagesN3URCGZYNot long ago I had a back-and-forth email conversation with an editor at a major children’s publishing house.  We’d worked together on a number of non-fiction books and I valued her opinion and her gentle, but firm approach – even when it meant, as it did in this case, that she was rejecting my proposal.

“Children’s non-fiction is tough sell right now,” she wrote. She cited a few reasons.  The high cost of production.  Stiff competition from big leaguers like National Geographic.  Print-on-demand and ebooks taking a slice of the publishing pie. The rise of the Internet where every child with a computer, tablet or cell phone has access to information in an instant.

My editor-friend added that of dozens in-the-works projects on her desk, only a few were non-fiction.  Those were of two types.  Books about sports, especially hockey (no surprise there), and books about military history (cross-hairs are locked on WWI and WWII anniversary dates). “Our marketers,” she added. “are reluctant to invest in other subjects.”

Is this an accurate assessment of non-fiction’s current status?  In a letter to The Guardian in 2012, a group of twenty-six British children’s authors argued that almost overnight, the market for children’s non-fiction had ‘vanished’. “We got to the end of our collective tethers,” Jenny Vaughan, one of the twenty-six said. “We thought that something had to be done – that we’ve got to start making a noise about this before children’s non-fiction is obsolete.”

Many reasons cited in the letter echo the ones my editor-friend mentioned, but the group also blamed shifting library and school markets.  Rather than simply being repositories of books and information, libraries were redefining their purpose in the face of new technology, shifting their focus away from being guardians of information to becoming conduits in the information-gathering process.  With a greater chunk of the budget going to purchasing computers, tablets, smart boards and software, fewer dollars remained to purchase books.

images1S5AN90TOn a recent book tour, I noticed this trend in many of the schools I visited.  Instead of libraries, many schools had ‘learning commons’ – open spaces peppered with computers and surrounded by only a few shelves of books.  Instead of teacher-librarians, ‘technology assistants’ manned the places. The focus was no longer on pulling dusty books off the shelf, but on manning students with the means of finding current information for themselves.

So is children’s non-fiction really in decline?  If we’re talking traditional book publishing, perhaps. With so much available online, with access so easy, and with the focus changing to do-it-yourself research of daily fresh sources, traditional book publishers face stiff competition.

That’s not to say that the market has dried up completely, but it does mean that non-fiction writers have to be clever.  There will always be a need for current, clear and concise information and writers who can deliver it in a palatable and interesting way to children.  But we have turned a corner and there is no going back. To survive, writers must adapt and seek new venues beyond traditional print forms, or at the very least produce material that surpasses whatever young readers can find so easily for themselves with a click of a mouse and a leap on to the Internet.  Creative slants, fresh takes, inventive forms, vibrant writing, new topics that challenge, entertain, and raise questions beyond the obvious – books with these ingredients, I believe, still have a place on bookshelves.


Other posts you might enjoy:

Hot Topics Made Palatable for Kids

Batting 1000 With Kid’s Non-Fiction

Nothing But the Truth

Larry Verstraete ( is the author of 14 books for youngsters, the most recent being Missing in Paradise, his first middle grade novel.  Currently in a lull period, he is searching for the next great idea.

Imagine It! Prompts 75


Today’s prompts: write for 5, 10, 20 minutes or more without your editor-self to guide you. This is a do or die mission. Free-write any old unstructured nonsense that pops into your brains. Serious, silly, soulish who cares. Go for it!

You enter a house, and everything in it starts with a B. Describe.

and a picture prompt


Why So Many Dysfunctional Parents?

Originally posted on What Next?:

Most middle grade novels portray parents as dysfunctional. The last dozen or so I’ve read all have parents struggling with major problems. The heroes in these stories must deal with their own issues while shouldering at least some of the burden for their parents’ life challenges.

flushI just finished Flush by Carl Hiaasen. The Dad in the novel isn’t a bad person, but he struggles with anger management issues and gets himself thrown in prison. His wife is considering a divorce. The two young protagonists Noah and Abbey must find a way to exonerate their Dad and keep their parents together.

word nerdIn The Word Nerd by Susan Neilsen the hero Ambrose is being bullied at school and has a life threatening allergy.  As if this wasn’t enough for him to deal with, he also lives with a mother who takes being over protective to extremes.  She’s still mourning her husband who’s been…

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In-depth Writing Exercise

  1. Characteristics: Please circle up to ten of these:
unstable conscientious rebellious upright
shaken criminal uptight treasonous
hypocritical self-appointed self-centered adventurous
dedicated driven energetic exuberant
intrepid rugged flitty bored
disinterested crippled languid lethargic
charming frank elegant generous
  1. Fill in these:

This person has ___________skin, ___________eyes and _____________hair.
They have a ___________ ________shaped face and _________________eyes.
They are __’ __” and have a _________________ build.
Their clothes are ______________ fashioned and they prefer them to be ___________ coloured.
They often wear __________________________________________________.
A notable feature is_________________________________.(impediment, habit, etc.)

  1. Circle a number:

6 9 12 15 17 21

  1. Create an old world Pub or Shop names: You need a noun and an adjective or two. Ex:

The Bofors Gun And Giblets
The Bull And Politician
The Horse’s Replacement
The Dog’s Breakfast
The King’s Legs

Extra slots here for practice:
  1. Here are the names of some exotic food dishes. Choose one or two and explain what they are:
    a. Kopi luwak
    Casu marzu
  2. Choose one adjective and one location to combine:
Wild Paris
Cloistered (or pastoral) Ghost town
Quarantined Moor
Crime-ridden Quarry
Nefarious Mountain
Ancient Fair grounds
Bustling An Alley
Infested Rainforest
Communal Harbour
Cheerless An oasis
Chilling The Colosseum
  1. Circle weather from below or list your own. One is enough.
Ball lightning Ice storm tornado Cats & dogs
Sand storm Debris Cloud Humidity Blustery
El Nino Flash flood Flotsam and Jetsam earthquake
Greenhouse effect Cumulo nimbus Tsunami Heat wave
  1. Circle 5 nouns:
button circle chin committee
company distribution edge insect
ink flight ground hole
kettle horses morning pancake
mountain sidewalk pencil song
spiders push quicksand scent
writer veil window spy
stove summer stretch crime
  1. Circle 1 item: This will be your McGuffin. — n.) an object or event in a book or a film that serves as the impetus for the plot.
  1. Just a few themes to think about before we write: Circle one:
Bondage/Enslavement Crossroads & Choices Danger
Death Deception Doomsday
Evil Family Freedom
Friendship Health Hope
Turmoil Isolation Knowledge
Loss Love Mystery
Perseverance Pride Purity
Sacrifice Duty Conformity
Greed Betrayal Rebirth

Righty-ho. Now we write:

  1. Take the characteristics from #1 and #2. The circled number at #3 is their age. Choose a gender and name the person.
  1. #4 shows where they are, #5 shows what they are eating.
  1. Write down the location with adjective from #6 and the circled weather from #7
  1. Tag on your 5 nouns from #8, add your MacGuffin from #9 and theme from #10:
  1. You may begin! And you must use as much of the set up as possible.

VastI footer…writes for under 18’s & is currently torturing her first complete manuscript with revision. She encourages all writers thus:

To know is nothing at all. To imagine is everything” -Anatole France

The Reverse Book Signing

IMG_2488As a first time book launcher I scoured blogs for tips and ideas for my launch. The night before my launch, I still hadn’t decided what RIMG1338message I wanted to leave my readers when I signed their books. In the midst of searching for a clever and apropos blurb, I found another idea I loved. One blogger suggested having a guest book for her guests to sign. Great idea, but it was the night before the launch and the last thing I needed was to brave the cold searching for a guest book when I should be preparing.

Instead, I decided to go with a reverse book signing. After my reading, I asked my guests to sign my book, which I left on a table near where IRIMG1339 was signing. The next day, at my second launch, I asked the audience to do the same thing. Now I have this keepsake to remember everyone who came out to support me on these special days.


Melinda Friesen’s novel, Enslavement, a YA sci-fi/dystopian read and the first book in the One Bright Future series, is available on

Notes from the Launch Pad

Launch noticeIt’s 10 a.m., the morning of Rebelight’s ‘super launch’ at McNally Robinson Booksellers, an event billed as “three books, three authors, one big launch”.  At 2 p.m., I’ll be launching my first novel, Missing in Paradise, alongside fellow authors Suzanne Costigan (Empty Cup) and Melinda Friesen (Enslavement).
This is not my first ride on the launch rodeo. I’ve had a few over the years. You’d think this would a breeze by now, but there’s always something to worry about.  First and foremost, will anyone show up? Worst case scenario, I’ll be launching to a bunch of empty chairs, a fear shared by other authors I suspect. Will I choke on my words, forget what I plan to say, omit a thank-you to someone important?  Will anyone buy a book?
In my experience, no matter how many times I do this, it’s a little nerve wracking. To quell my anxiety, I do something soothing – writing this.imagesHSAGOII6
Preparation is the key to success so a checklist is in order.  Let’s see.  Did I spread the word?
  • Sent out invites two weeks ago.
  • Set up posters in the community.
  • Snagged an interview with a local newspaper.
  • Posted the event on Facebook and other social media.imagesLJUVDBJ0
Okay, the word’s out. Now, what about the launch itself?  It’s just hours away. I’m expected to speak then sign books. Hmm.  Am I ready?
  • Wrote rough notes of what I’d like to say.
  • Selected a passage to read – something inviting, something short that gives the audience a taste of my writing and the story line.
  • Practiced the whole routine – the more comfortable I am with the material, the smoother my presentation. (Mental note: practice once more)
  • Timed it. I don’t want to be longwinded. Attentions might drift. If I was going solo, I’d plan for a 25 minutes session, but I’m sharing this event with others so my part is closer to 10 minutes.
  • Prepared inscriptions. With people lining up for signatures, it’s easy to blank out. It helps to have a few chosen words ready for those who don’t want something specific. I scratch out three options on an index card: My favourite: So glad to see you at the launch. Thanks for coming.
  • Packed a scratch pad, two pens (black ink), a bottle of water, and a few business cards to take along. The scratch pad is important. When signing books it’s easy to mess up spellings, especially when people are talking to you at the same time. I write the name down on the scratch pad first then spell it back before making it a permanent feature in the newly purchased book.
  • Baked and packed sweets. For this launch, the three authors are providing baked goods. Fortunately, my wife is a superb baker so I’ve cashed in a favour or two, and 4 dozen cookies are ready at the door (Okay, maybe one or two less than 4 dozen – I’ve got a sweet tooth!)
imagesOOKFKXIRSo far, it’s looking good.  Better hustle. An hour to go before I leave the house, and this is where last minute preparations really count.
  • Cut back on coffee, tea or other beverages. No chance to run to the washroom at the launch. No need for extra jitters either.
  • Camera charged and ready. Someone selected to take pictures.
  • Don preselected attire. It might seem like a small item, but having an outfit selected beforehand goes a long way to settling nerves. No pants are too tight, colours don’t match, oops there’s a stain on this shirt scenarios to mess up an already tight schedule.
Whew!  All done.  Ready to go.  Deep breath to relax. Wish me luck.
The launch went without a hitch.  A terrific crowd of enthusiastic supporters.  Wonderful introductions by Rebelight’s Editorial Director, Deborah Froese.   Great presentations by the authors.  A real celebration for all of us.
Thank you McNally Robinson Booksellers.  You’re the best.  Thank you Rebelight Publishing Inc. What a success!  Congratulations to Suzanne and Melinda, amazing authors.  Thank you Deborah for making it extra special.  Kudos to the bakers, and thank you everyone for passing on encouraging words or joining us on what turned out to be a chilly, but heartwarming day.

Happy launchers. Left to right at the table, Suzanne Costigan, Melinda Friesen and Larry Verstraete


 Other posts you might enjoy:
Reviews: How to Filter Through the Good, Bad, and Sometimes Ugly
Fear of Starting vs Fear of Finishing
Stepping into Nothing-Hoping for Something
Larry Verstraete ( is the author of 14 books for youngsters, the most recent being Missing in Paradise, his first middle grade novel.  Currently in a lull period, he is searching for the next great idea.

Imagine It! Prompts 74


Today’s prompts: write for 5, 10, 20 minutes or more without your editor-self to guide you. This is a do or die mission. Free-write any old unstructured nonsense that pops into your brains. Serious, silly, soulish who cares. Go for it!

Only you know where great Aunt Felicity’s jewelry is hidden.

and a picture prompt


Launching Not One Book But Three

Originally posted on What Next?:

first three rebelight booksVast Imaginations is the first writing group for children’s authors I joined after moving to Winnipeg. On Sunday afternoon three members of that group launched books at McNally Robinson Booksellers.  The trio of novels were all published by a new Winnipeg press called Rebelight whose motto is crack the spine: blow your mind.  deborah froeseDeborah Froese one of the Rebelight founders, and a Rebelight editor, told us a little bit about the creation of  Rebelight Publishing and did a wonderful job of introducing each of the authors. suzanne costiganEmpty Cup is the name of Suzanne Costigan’s book.  Suzanne’s novel is about a seventeen year old girl named Raven whose mother kicks her out of the house after Raven experiences an abusive attack from her mother’s boyfriend. Will Raven find the inner strength to survive and create a better life for herself?

melinda friesenMelinda Friesen’s book is called Enslavement and is the first of…

View original 254 more words

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