Vast Imaginations

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

Writing Dividends

Originally posted on What Next?:

My cousin Al sent me a link to an article about why writing is of psychological benefit. The article is by Gregory Ciotti and you can find it on his website Sparring Mind.  Ciotti has come up with a list of reasons why writing is of benefit to people. Each is backed with a link to research.  Here’s some of them. 

With the galley sheets for a history book I wroteWith the galley sheets for a history book I wrote

1) Writing leads to better thinking and communication-writing helps people convey complex ideas more clearly

I had an story in this bookI had an story in this book

2) Writing increases gratitude-  Writing about the good things in your life makes you happier and more thankful.

Working on a writing project in my office in Hong KongWorking on a writing project in my office in Hong Kong

3) Writing exercises your mental sharpness- Writing helps keep your brain in shape even as you age

Writing a Lives Lived column for my beautiful mother-in-law and having it published in the Globe and Mail was a way to express my grief and appreciation for my wonderful mother-in-law after she died.Writing a Lives Lived column and having it published in the…

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The Writing Life

Originally posted on What Next?:

Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life was a gift from a good friend. Here are a few things I don’t want to forget after reading it.

anniedillard_thewritinglifeDillard begins her book with a quote by Goethe.

Do not hurry. Do not rest.

I know you can’t rush the writing process and I know you shouldn’t stop writing. This blog provides a kind of discipline to write regularly and collect and explore ideas and information that I can use in other things I write.

storylines- ics history bookIt can take2-10 years to write a book. I’ve had a number of book projects in the works for a couple years now. I need to continue working on them and realize writing a book takes time. The one institutional history book I wrote was a four- year project.

woman in used book storeOnly after a writer lets literature shape her, can she perhaps shape literature.

I love to read but often…

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Red Butterfly

Originally posted on What Next?:

Amy SonnichsenAmy Sonnichsen

I decided to read  Red Butterfly , a brand new middle grade novel in verse, because the author Amy Sonnichsen is an alumnus of the Hong Kong school where I taught for six years.  

Here I am with the Amy Sonnichsen's sister last summer at a wedding we both attended in MinneapolisHere I am with the Amy Sonnichsen’s sister Michelle last summer at a wedding we both attended in Minneapolis

I’ve never met Amy Sonnichsen but both her mother Peggy and her sister Michelle were friends and colleagues of mine in Hong Kong.  Michelle had often talked to me about her sister’s writing and last summer when Michelle and I sang together at a wedding in Minneapolis she told me her sister had signed a book deal with Simon and Schuster. I made a note to look for the book and found it on Amazon a couple of weeks ago. red butterflyRed Butterfly tells the story of Kara who is taken in, but not officially…

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Pattern Me A Book

There are some quick and easy patterns to use when writing children’s books. They can provide a jump start for getting your book going.  I’ve written a half dozen books for my grandson since he was born using photos I’ve taken of him and easy to follow patterns that provided a framework for the stories. ABCThe alphabet book idea was the structure for a story about a visit to our family cabin at a Manitoba lake.  I was able to come up with 26 different activities or experiences one for each letter of the alphabet. Use ‘words that start with….’ when you are stuck and don’t be afraid to be creative for example ‘x is for eXcited’ .

the-snowy-day1After my grandson had been on a wintery Christmas Day walk in Winnipeg’s Exchange District with our family I wrote a book for him using the same structure and pattern that Ezra Jack Keats did in his book The Snowy Day. It’s a favorite book of my grandson’s and I just replaced his experiences in the snow with the ones of the little boy in the book.  Pick one of your favorite children’s books and try to repeat the structure and pattern in a book of your own. 

i-know-an-old-lady-westcottI’m using the cumulative pattern to write my latest book about our grandson visiting us in Arizona. On each page I repeat the things I’ve written on the previous page and add one more. The poem The House That Jack Built and the children’s song I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly or the Christmas carol The Twelve Days of Christmas are good examples of the cumulative pattern.

beginnerbooks-logoThe popular I Can Read genre inspired another one of my photo books.  I thought of things my grandson could do and came up with twenty pages of I can…. sentences that at nearly three years old he’s beginning to read on his own.  Since my grandson is bilingual I wrote the sentences in both of the languages he speaks. 

just like my dad mellingInspired by books like Mercer Meyer’s Just Me and My Dad and David Melling’s Just Like My Dad I wrote a Just like…… book in which I compared things my own son has done with similar things my grandson has done. Two photos on each page-one of my son as a child and one of my grandson illustrated the similarities. 

Check out this website for other literary patterns that are easy to follow and provide a quick and simple framework to get started writing books for children. 

Other recent posts………

What Makes A Best Seller?

Writing My First Amazon Review

Launching Not One Book But Three

MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next?

Three ‘Build Your Platform’ Resources

In a previous post (Writer’s Platform?  Where to find yours), I offered this equation to sum up the components that go into a writer’s platform:  Writer’s Platform = W (writing) + V (visibility) + N (personal & professional networks)
I mentioned, too, that I was in the rudimentary stages of developing my N component.  With so many N possibilities out there – Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Goodreads etc.- it can be a confusing and taxing process.  Which N is most important?  Where should you devote time and energy?  How do you integrate different components?
Fortunately, help is available. Here are three resources that I’ve used and would recommend to anyone who is striving to develop a cohesive writer’s platform with a strong N presence:
imageThe February 2015 issue of Writer’s Digest has a number of articles devoted to the topic of social networking.  Among the most helpful: Get in Good With Goodreads by Michael J. Sullivan (how to tap into the world’s largest online reader hub to grow your audience) and Your Author Website 101 by Jane Friedman (everything from buying a domain name to building an effective  website). Another very useful article – Success Stories in Self-Promotion by Jessica Strawser and Tiffany Luckey – profiles 7 authors who ran successful promotional campaigns that pushed their self-published books onto bestseller lists.  Methods vary proving that one-size does not fit all when it comes to networking, but clever ideas abound in this article and, best of all, they’re free for the taking.
downloadBlogging for Writers: How Authors & Writers Build Successful Blogs by Robin Houghton (Ilex, 2014 is a colorful, well designed, and easily navigated book.  Framed around the premise that blogging is a powerful marketing tool and a worthy addition to any writer’s platform, Houghton lays out the key elements for building a credible blogsite that will attract readers. Fortunately for technically challenged individuals like myself, Houghton strips away the jargon and shows step-by-step how to set up and use the free features of WordPress and Blogger as well as their paid-for options. Lots of vibrant, successful blogsites are given as examples.
download (1)Melding the components of a writer’s platform together is made easier with Carole Jelen and Michael McCallister’s Build Your Author Platform: A Literary Agent’s Guide to Growing Your Audience in 14 Steps (BenBella Books, 2014).  Although each chapter focuses on separate aspects – using Facebook, harnessing Twitter, fostering connections through LinkedIn, strengthening your exposure through blogs and so on – Jelen & McCallister tie the individual pieces together, giving readers a cohesive picture of how the parts support one another. For newbies like me, simple step-by-step instructions, lots of examples, and flurries of screenshots make what could be overwhelming, palatable and practical instead.
Other posts you might enjoy:
Goin’ on a Blog Tour – One Traveller’s View
Notes from the Launch Pad
Make It Snappy – Writing the Just Right Book Blurb
cover - early pdfLarry Verstraete ( is the author of 14 books for youngsters.  Missing in Paradise, a novel for middle grade readers, is his most recent release.

Writer’s Platform? Where to Find Yours

images (6)The term ‘writer’s platform’ has been floating about for years.  Every writer needs one, we are told. You’ll never get published otherwise. And even if you have been published, it’s critical to future success. No matter how good a writer you are, you’re dead in the water without a solid platform.
Yes and no. But more about that later.
There’s no doubt that agents and publishers are attracted to someone with a strong writer’s platform, but first, what is the meaning of the phrase?  There are numerous definitions.  In mathematical terms (did I mention I have a chemistry background?), here’s my own:
Writer’s platform = W (your writing) + V (your visibility as a writer) + N (the personal and professional networks you cultivate)
A writer’s platform represents your viability, your worth on the writer’s stock market if you will.  When purchasing a commodity (the writing you produce), agents and publishers (business people, essentially) assess the value of your current work and pit the quality of your writing against potential net returns it offers in the future.  Proving that you have the ability to reach your target audience and that you have visible, vibrant connections to those who will purchase what you write makes you – and your product if it is excellent and timely – attractive to agents and publishers who might front your project.
Creating a solid writer’s platform takes energy and time. There is no one size fits all, no one right approach, and no quick and easy method.  For illustration purposes and because I can’t speak for anyone but myself, I’ll use my own situation as an example of how these components work together.

images (4)

W – Writing
Your current piece of writing – the one you are marketing – is the most important element here.  If it is shabby, ill-conceived, or heaven forbid in the case of non-fiction, inaccurate, then the rest of your platform matters little.  But also important in the W department is the legacy you carry. Because I frequently write non-fiction for kids – much of it from a pool of science, history and true adventure – it helps that I have a science degree, was once a teacher who worked with youngsters the same age as my target audience, and have a list of credible titles under my belt. While these details might not be important for say poets or romance writers, they add authority to my non-fiction, making the W part of the equation more attractive.
V – Visibility
What is your impact as a writer?  Can you give proof of your engagement?  For my V, it helps that I belong to several professional writer’s associations and groups, and that a number of these are specific to my youth genre.  Also a plus, I’ve maintained contacts in schools and libraries, participated in book tour circuits, presented at conferences, festivals and in schools, judged writing contests and so on. These are V components – visibility factors.  Again, these will be different for writers of other genres.
N – Networking
I have a personal website. I write this blog, too. These are evidence of a wider reach – the N or networking component of my writer’s platform.  Some of the elements in my V list could also count here – participating in writer’s groups, for example.  I’m slowly incorporating other N elements that many say are important to a writer’s platform – Facebook, Linked In, Goodreads, Pinterest – the list is long and getting longer.

images (1)

Based on my own experience, it’s easy to get sidetracked in the N department.  When I find time slipping through my fingers as I peruse Facebook, tone up my Goodreads bio, or pin images to my boards, I try to remind myself of their place in the scheme of things.  No amount of networking (or even visibility) matters if the writing I do falls flat.
According to Jane Friedman, a prominent blogger and the CEO and Co-founder of Open Road Integrated Media, building a solid writer’s platform is a career-long endeavor. In her opinion, much of the emphasis to jumpstart the process early is overblown:
If you’re a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, memoir, poetry, or any type of narrative-driven work, forget you ever heard the word platform. I think it’s causing more damage than good. It’s causing writers to do things that they dislike (even hate), and that are unnatural for them at an early stage of their careers. They’re confused, for good reason, and platform building grows into a raging distraction from the work at hand—the writing!  (2013 post, Writer Unboxed)

Other posts you might enjoy:

Your Mission? Write a Statement
Dancing Between Censorship and Free Expression
Stepping into Nothing… Hoping for Something
Larry Verstraete ( is the author of 14 books for youngsters.  Missing in Paradise, a novel for middle grade readers, is his most recent release.

What Makes A Best Seller?

Originally posted on What Next?:

Orphan-Train-Cropped1I just read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Published in 2013 the paperback version now sits at number four on the New York Times best seller list. Its success is a surprise to its author. This is her fifth book and her other novels have rarely sold more than 10,000 copies. She never expected to sell over a million copies of Orphan Train. Why has this novel done so well? I can think of three reasons. 

orphan-train1. The novel informs people about a piece of little known American history. At the turn of the century thousands of orphans from eastern cities were sent on trains to the mid-west to be adopted by families.  Some would enter kind and loving homes while others would become nothing more than indentured servants or worse the victims of abuse and neglect.  There have been hundreds of books written about historical events like…

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Diving into My First Tweet Chat: Tips for Newbies Like Me

tweetchatI just engaged in my first Twitter Chat. I’m usually a little behind the times. I don’t like to jump into anything. Instead, I prefer to stand back and watch for a while. So when it came to joining in on a tweet chat, I creeped a few first. There were times when I considered jumping in, but I held back.

To be honest, I found it a little daunting–all these people I didn’t know, multiple conversations flying through my feed at light speed. It felt a little like junior high and I’m the new kid. There’s this group of kids gathered around a bank of locker, laughing and talking. Do I just go poke my head in and say, “Hey guys, I can laugh and talk too. Here’s what I think!”

The other feeling I had can be compared to jump rope. I never could do double dutch. I never could get the timing down. So here I am, watching a tweet chat and topics are flying and I want to jump in, but then someone adds another topic just as I’m thinking through my response to the previous one. The pressure to come up with something on the fly also held me back. I’m the kind of person who likes to really think things through before I talk or type.

But, I decided it was time. No more creeping! Pull up your big girl pants and jump in there, even if that means getting all tangled in the ropes. I happened upon #k8chat last Thursday, hosted by Kate Tilton (@k8tilton). A group of writers, readers and bloggers were discussing book reviews. This was right up my alley as I’m just receiving my first reviews of Enslavement and I’m set to begin my blog tour on February 2. As I watched the conversation, the tweeters all seemed like a nice and open bunch, so I dove in.tweet chat screenshot

Here’s how it works: a moderator posts questions or topics with the chat hashtag and everyone responds. Simple as that.

Now for the tips.

  1. Search out a topic you’re interested or knowledgeable in. How? Here’s an article from Buffer.
  2. Always use the chat hashtag, otherwise your tweet won’t show up in the chat feed.
  3. Stay on topic. Think of it as a conversation with friends. If everyone’s talking about a movie they just saw, you don’t jump in and shout, “My book’s on for .99 this week. Buy it while it’s hot.” No. No. No. This is a place to make connections, not sell your stuff.
  4. Be kind. This is my rule for everything. You can disagree with others, but do it kindly. Remember, you’re making connections, not enemies.
  5. Know the etiquette. Check out: 10 Twitter Chat Etiquette Lessons.

Yes, it was a little overwhelming tracking all the conversations, but it was also fun. I connected with some new people and heard some new perspectives. I learned that some are super quick with responses, while some, like me, are not and that’s okay.

I plan to stop by #k8chat again. It conflicts every other week with my writers’ group, but I plan on being there on Thursday, February 5. For more about this chat, check out Maybe I’ll see you there.

Have you participated in a Tweet Chat? Do you have any advice for or readers? Or how about a great chat to join?



Enslavement (One Bright Future #1)Melinda Friesen writes novels for MG, YA and NA readers. Her first YA dystopian/sci-fi novel, Enslavement, has been met with fantastic reviews. Find it on Amazon. She is currently editing the sequel to Enslavement and querying her MG adventure fantasy, Snodgaard and the Mustache of Power. She lives in Winnipeg, MB Canada with her husband and four children.

I Love to Read Month: Celebrating Books and Writers

I-love-to-read-buttonIn Manitoba, where I live, February is “I Love to Read” month.  It’s a time when books are celebrated in schools, libraries and homes, when the benefits of reading are touted, and when readers of all ages are encouraged to hunker down with a good book during one of our coldest months.  Other regions around the globe offer their own versions of “I Love to Read” from British Columbia’s “D.E.A.R.”  (Drop Everything and Read) in April to the United States’ “Get Caught Reading” in May.  Whatever the name or month, the focus is the same – celebrating books and acknowledging the power they have to transform us.
Writers should celebrate, too.  We craft words and create the worlds that readers inhabit, and so “I Love to Read” and its close cousins are very much a tribute to those who write.  But since reading is the focus, perhaps it’s also a good time to reflect on our roots.  How and why did we become writers?  Did books influence our choices?  Does reading still influence us today?
In my case, books and reading played a huge role in shaping the writer I am now. Although I cannot recall being read to by my parents or siblings, I remember the first time a book totally transported me to another time and place. I was in grade 4.  The teacher – wise in the ways of keeping a restless group of children attentive – read a mystery novel to the class. I don’t recall the title or the author, but I remember the plot – a thrilling whodunit about a boy detective who solved a kidnap-murder case.  I hung on to every word and groaned with the rest of the class when the teacher closed the book at the end of each chapter.  Because of that experience, I became a voracious reader and the seeds of storytelling magic took root.
Read Aloud DailyWhen I became a middle grade teacher – then later a parent – I followed my grade 4 teacher’s lead. I read to my students and my own children daily. From a literacy-development point of view, I knew it was the correct thing to do.  Numerous research studies espouse the benefits of reading aloud to youngsters, even to those of high school age, but – I can admit it now – boosting reading comprehension was never my primary motive. I simply wanted for my students and children, the same experience I had myself in grade 4 – the glorious out-of-body feeling of being one with a community of others, all lost together in a gripping story that defies time and place.
I read aloud from a diverse menu. The Giver by Lois Lowry for its perspectives on society gone astray…Jesper by Carol Matas for its portrayal of moral dilemmas in wartime Europe… Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, for a heart-searing Southern story about a boy and his two dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann…Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel so we could follow Shade, a silverwing bat, on his epic journey towards maturity.
Best Christmas pageant everNot every offering was a heavyweight.  Each year, with the approach of the holiday season, I carved time out of the busy day to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson– a lighthearted account of sheep and shepherds running amuck at the annual community production.  As one, we chuckled as disaster unfolded then high-fived one another later when it was averted.
Books have always played an important role in my life.  I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them.  But what about you?  What books transformed you?  How?  Why? I’d really like to know.
Other posts you might enjoy:
The Kid Inside
Say What, Mary Poppins?  Wise Words for the New Year
Making a Difference for Writers on a Shoestring Budget
Larry Verstraete ( is the author of 14 books for youngsters, the most recent being Missing in Paradise, his first middle grade novel. Currently he is searching for the next great idea.

Writing an Amazon Review

a-amazon-reviewI wrote my first Amazon book review recently.  I’m wondering if formulating reviews might not be an excellent way to keep track of the middle grade and young adult novels I’ve been reading in my attempt to try to learn as much as I can about the craft of writing for the middle years and teen age group.  Compiling a review forces me to summarize succinctly what I’ve learned from reading the novel.

Preliminary coverThe first review I wrote was for Melinda Friesen’s young adult novel Enslavement.  I was impressed with the way she didn’t make it easy for us to pigeon-hole her characters.  Even the antagonists exhibited some good qualities and the protagonists had a number of characteristics that weren’t ideal. I want to try to include characters that aren’t easily labeled as good or evil in my own writing.

eyes open on bookFriesen also does a great job of throwing us headlong into the drama of the novel from her opening paragraph.  She reminds us how important it is for a writer to engage readers right from the first page.

AA033743Enslavement raises some great questions which would make for excellent discussion starters with teens.  Although I know a good writer shouldn’t ‘hit readers over the head’ with moral platitudes and life lessons I want my writing to provide my readers with challenging questions to think about.

series of books for teensFinally I think the novel would be a good fit for use in high school classes and it is meant to the be the first in a series.  Looking realistically at the market for middle grade and teen novels any aspiring writer realizes that if they want to make any kind of profit they will need to sell their book to school libraries. If their novel is a hit they will also benefit financially from writing their book in a way that makes sequels possible.

I tried to summarize all the writing lessons I got from Enslavement in my Amazon review.  Check it out for yourself to see how you think I did.

Other posts…….

Art Tours Inspired by Books

A Flood of Books

Have You Met Mark Twain

MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next?


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