Monthly Archives: February 2014

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 13: Where are you?

Welcome back! Over the next many months we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison‘s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read all the segments by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month thirteen:


“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 13: Where are you?

Magicians and novelists have something in common. They must learn “sleight of hand.”  You know, the old smoke-and-mirrors deal. Magicians pull rabbits out of hats. Novelists pull their readers into landscapes and time periods.


If we’re out in the audience, we probably don’t have a clue how that rabbit got into the magician’s hat, and, in a really well-written book, we don’t quite understand how the author so successfully plants us into a time and a place. For magicians the secret is often roomy sleeves and quick hands. For novelists, the twin secrets are subtlety and visualization.

Let’s take a look into a novel that does a great job of transporting us into time and place. That novel is FALL OF GIANTS by Ken Follett. In the hardcover edition (page 31) Follett describes a gray house. He doesn’t come right out and say, “The house was gray.” That’s too easy, and more importantly it doesn’t touch a reader’s soul. Instead he tells us that the house is named “Ty Gwyn.” He says that Ty Gwyn is Welsh for White House (aha! we’re in Wales), but he then tells his readers that the name is ironic, because the house is covered with coal dust. It’s so dirty that it discolors the long skirts of women (time period hint) who brush too closely as they walk by.

Follett knows his readers well. They’re the folks who love big fat thick historical novels packed full of story and facts. In this paragraph, those readers receive a visual image of a dirty gray house, but they also see women in long, full skirts, they learn two words in Welsh, and they discover that this particular house is located in Welsh coal country. Now that’s the way to write setting.

So  we’ve seen the fantastic finished product, but I still haven’t addressed the how-to angle. Here’s a few ways that I help myself write settings.

1. I watch a video or a movie set in the area I’m writing about.

2. If possible, I visit the location.

3. I talk to/interview people who live there or who have visited the area.

4. I read travel books and magazine articles about that particular location.

5. I look up statistics on Wikipedia or in my handy old-fashioned set of Encyclopedia Britannica.

6. I purchase maps and study them ardently.

7. I pinpoint the location on a globe. My globe has raised areas where mountains and highlands are located. I love the tactile aspect of exploring my setting with my fingertips.

All of those ideas will help you, but here’s the best-kept secret about performing the magic trick of producing an effective setting — or any visual image — via words. Before you write it, see it in your mind. Close your eyes and imagine that place until you feel as if you were there. If you the writer have a fuzzy image in your head, then it will also appear “fuzzy” to your reader. I don’t know why it works that way, but it does. (I told you it was all about smoke-and-mirrors!)

Once you have succeeded in placing that image in your mind, then you are ready to write it for your readers.

How do you help yourself visualize settings for your stories or novels?

Strength to your pen!


(Photograph Copyright 2012, Krystal Harrison)

*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy, and a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you come back March 27, 2014, for part 14.


Book Review: The Sun Zebra by Rolando Garcia

The Sun ZebraBook: The Sun Zebra
Author: Rolando Garcia
Publisher: R. Garcia
Date: November 18, 2011 (5th edition)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Genre: short stories, “adventures in living”
Pages: 66
Price: $1.79 on Kindle

My rating: a great little book that puts a smile on one’s heart


I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

The Sun Zebra is a collection of five short stories written by R. Garcia. They are wonderful stories about the adventures in the life of a little girl, Nell, and her parents, and are told by her father. Perhaps this does not sound very intriguing, but don’t be fooled. Mr. Garcia writes with heart and humour, drawing the reader in as he cleverly tells his tale in an entertaining way, giving the reader the feeling of being there.

Five stories. Five adventures:

  1. The Sun Zebra – after which the book was named;
  2. Bob the Intrepid Insectnaut!;
  3. Raven-Lenore;
  4. The Meaningless Christmas Tree;
  5. Birdman and the Fairy Tale

The preface begins, “This book is best described as a children’s book for grownups.” – and that’s a great way to begin. Each story inspires the reader to look at the seemingly insignificant things in life a little differently, and challenges one to see through the innocent eyes and understanding of a curious and thoughtful young child. As a delightful and easy read The Sun Zebra is enjoyable, interesting, funny, thought-provoking.

R. Garcia also writes under the pen name of Phantomimic. He has a following on where he shares his work, and which encouraged him to write a book. The Sun Zebra is the result of that decision. It is well worth his effort and a pleasure to read.

You can find The Sun Zebra on my BUY THE BOOK! page.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂



Interview with Tara Lazar

tarablogphoto2013Today I am delighted to welcome Tara Lazar to my blog. Tara is a mover and shaker in the world of children’s books. She graciously agreed to an interview with me to share about her journey and the exciting things she is learning and doing as a writer.

Tara, welcome! Thank you so much for consenting to allow me to pick your brain. First of all, congratulations on the publishing in 2013 of your first picture book The Monstore. It is a fabulous picture book.  (To read my review click here.)

Now, let’s dig right in. Please tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a pajama addict and I have one husband, two daughters, and far too many stuffed animals. I love to laugh. And according to my daughters, I laugh far too loud in far too many public places.


I love to laugh, too, and to make people laugh. Nothing wrong with that! 🙂 When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Who or what inspired you?

Honestly I knew from just about the time I learned how to write. I would always cheer HOORAY! when a teacher announced it was time for creative writing…while the rest of the class groaned.

All the books of my childhood inspired me—those by Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Paula Danziger, William Steig and Charles M. Schulz. The kicker was learning that “She Was Nice to Mice” was written by 12-year-old Ally Sheedy. I said to myself, “I can do that, too!” Of course, it took me a little longer to actually do it…


But, you did do it. Yay! As a writer, do you do much reading? How important is it to you to read other authors’ work?

I read daily. It’s a joy, an escape and an education. It’s like a football coach studying the competing team’s plays.

Over the last five years I’ve read so much that I’ve stopped watching almost all TV. I find that it just doesn’t stimulate me the way reading does. I get easily bored with TV. I never thought I’d ever say that. I was a TV kid growing up; you couldn’t unglue me from the set.


You have inspired me already! There’s where I can pick up my reading time instead of idly watching TV to veg, except for some movies. Who were/are your favourite authors? How have they affected your own writing?

Roald Dahl is my favourite author and a quote from The Minpins reflects my attitude towards my own writing: “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”


Oh, I love that inspiring quote! Why are picture books where your heart is?

I love the play of images and text that combine to create the whole—it’s greater than the sum of its parts. I never outgrew my six-year-old need for illustrations in a story.


Many of my readers will have heard about PiBoIdMo – Picture Book
Idea Month. This is your brain child, and a challenge I participated
in three times so far. How did you get this started and why? For our
readers who don’t know much about PiBoIdMo, please tell us about it.

I got started because I was jealous of all the novelists having fun in November with NaNoWriMo. I wanted a challenge for picture book writers. So I created one.

The challenge of PiBoIdMo is to create 30 picture book concepts in 30 days. Just an idea a day—you don’t have to write an entire manuscript (but you can if the mood strikes). Every day in November my blog features author, illustrator and editor guest bloggers who write about their own sources of inspiration, to encourage you along on your journey.


You do so much each year to inspire others through PiBoIdMo; it’s obviously loads of work. How long does it take you to get each year’s challenge set up with all your wonderful guest contributors, exciting prizes, and well-executed scheduling?

Funny, I have no idea how much time it takes! I love doing it, so time isn’t of consequence. I compose my wish list of guest bloggers throughout the year and start sending out invitations in August. By October, I’ve got it all scheduled. Each year I get a little better at organizing it. Organization is not my strong suit.


How has PiBoIdMo affected your own writing over the years, what has it done for you?

Well, I never complete my own darn challenge, that’s for sure! But being so immersed in picture books during the month gives me plenty of inspiration. I usually write a new manuscript in November.


Excellent! Do you have an agent? A critique group?

Yes and yes. I think both are crucial to my career.


The Monstore

How long did it take you to pull this book together to your satisfaction? And then how did you catch the attention of a publisher so The Monstore became a reality? Did you have to change your story much for it to be accepted and ready?

Honestly it was never to the point where I felt comfortable submitting it. I was gun-shy after years of rejections. My crit partner, Corey Rosen Schwartz (author of “The Three Ninja Pigs”), thought it was ready and encouraged me to query agents. It got attention and I signed with Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Joan sold it a few weeks afterwards. It was a whirlwind. And it spoiled me. No other sale has been that quick.


What a great start! How did James Burks become the illustrator of The Monstore? Your work and his are an excellent combination.

My editor and art director at Aladdin suggested James. They sent me a link to his online portfolio, explaining he could draw children as well as he could draw monsters—not an easy feat—and I agreed, “Yes, yes, a thousand times YES!”


It is exciting that this year you have another book coming to our bookstores! Please talk about that and what you have lined up for publishing.

I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK features an alien who gets knocked out of his book and crash-lands into the book of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Chaos ensues. I then have three more picture books under contract. And hopefully more…and more…


What a delightful story! Three more under contract? Wow! I look forward to the more … and more … 🙂
When do you write? Do you set goals for yourself?

I write all different times of day. While eating lunch, while falling asleep, while taking a shower. I don’t follow any particular structure or routine. In fact, I’m a very anti-routine type of person. I like doing things differently every day, and that means I don’t necessarily write every day. But I am almost always thinking of my stories, and I count thinking as “writing with invisible ink.”


“writing with invisible ink.” That must be what I do as I mull an idea over in my mind quite awhile, the trick is to get it onto paper. What process do you go through when writing and perfecting a story? How do you keep track of your ideas?

I write down ideas as soon as I get them. If the idea is really eating at me, I’ll begin a Word Doc with the title, premise, or first few lines. Sometimes I’ll even write a first draft immediately.

My process is different for every story. Some shoot out like a rocket; I can’t stop them. Others take a lot of “marinating”—that is, letting them sit in my subconscious for weeks or months. And yet others get revised 90 gazillion times, for years.


How do you manage your time with family, speaking engagements, PiBoIdMo, and everything else going on in your busy life?

I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal. I try not to structure my days and instead gravitate toward what I feel like that day. Plus I have MS, which means every day is different for my body and I can’t really plan too much or else I get exhausted. So I go by feeling. Miraculously, it all seems to balance out. Except the laundry.


Wow! You manage very well with what you have to deal with daily. I have a hard time living by a schedule on the best of days. What interests do you have apart from writing and anything involved with writing?

I used to be a figure skater, but since I was diagnosed with MS, I have not been able to skate. Writing has filled up that spot in my heart.

I also enjoy making jewelry. I taught myself how to wrap wire and bead, and I can sit for hours just creating. Right now I’m making book rings—they’re adorable!


I’m sorry you can no longer skate, that must have been a disappointing loss. It’s wonderful you are such a creative person so you can still find expression through your artistic projects … and I’m so glad you love to write. In closing, do you have any advice for hopefuls?

Have fun writing. Let your enthusiasm shine through. Choose this career because you love it—you love it like you can’t live without it. This business is extremely difficult, and you need that love to pull you through.


Thank you for this excellent advice and inspiring interview, Tara!


Check out Tara Lazar‘s blog here for helpful information for writers, and see what books she has coming up. If you are a hopeful writer of children’s books, and you want to participate in a fun, inspiring, information-filled challenge, while there click on the link for PiBoIdMo.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!

Book Review: The Monstore – by Tara Lazar

The MonstoreBook: The Monstore
Author: Tara Lazar
Illustrator: James Burks
Publisher: Aladdin
Date: June 4, 2013
Genre: picture book for ages 4-7 (and far beyond!)
Pages:  32
Price: paper: $16.99; Kindle $15.86
My rating: A fabulously funny and gorgeous book!

Having ‘met’ Tara Lazar on the Internet, mainly through her Picture Book Ideas Month (PiBoIdMo) challenge, I HAD to buy this book. The Monstore is her first published picture book and what a fantastic debut!

This picture book is gorgeous! Not only is it entertaining, it is full of delightful, colourful illustrations that cleverly keep the reader searching for more hidden little creatures. I admit I bought it for myself, but I shared some reading time with my eight-year-old grandson. We both had great fun (no exaggeration) making our way through the story and finding the many monsters peeking out of hiding places and making Zack’s life hilariously frustrating.

But who is Zack? Zack is a little boy who has a big little problem. His little sister is a big nuisance! Zack decides to devise a way to keep her out of his room since the “Keep Out” sign he stuck on his door didn’t do the trick.

Zack visits the candy store where there is a trap door with a secret knock that is required to let him in … into The Monstore! Once there Zack begins something he wishes he had never tried. He buys a monster to scare his sister, but that monster leads to another and another  and … with No Returns No Exchanges No Exceptions … it is one monsterly problem for Zack! And a very entertaining adventure for the reader.

Tara Lazar‘s The Monstore is a wonderfully imaginative, brilliant story that – combined with fantastic illustrations by James Burks – captures one’s attention immediately. This is a book for not only the imaginations of four to seven-year-olds, but for everyone who loves a fun story filled with surprises.

Watch for my interview with Tara Lazar; not only do we discuss this book but some other wonderful things she is working on.

You can find The Monstore on my BUY THE BOOK! page.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

Happy Valentine’s Day! Something for you


IMG_0048Aren’t these lovely? Every Valentine’s day I can count on a dozen roses from my beloved husband. What he likes is candy … chocolates or cinnamon hot hearts.

Today I have a blogging gift for you. There is a new blog on WordPress that I thought you might enjoy. It’s called Sokarsweet. (or click here to see it.)

Sokarsweet is my daughter’s photo blog. She and her family live in a lovely house on a beautiful lake with a gorgeous view. Her largest windows face west so she gets to see the amazing sunsets. I hope you will visit her blog and check out her photo posts. 

Another thing I have done for you is to update my blog and fix a few broken links. My apologies for the bad links; I was dismayed when I discovered them. Now when you click on each book title listed under Book Reviews you are taken directly to the review here on my blog. I also posted them on some or all of the following sites, according to whether the book is listed or sold there: Library Thing, Shelfari, BookLook (if I got the book from them to review; BookLook used to be BookSneeze), Goodreads, Chapters.Indigo,, and I have many more reviews to do, and some author interviews are coming up, too.

Now I have a question for you.  Do you have a favourite quote or verse or Scripture for Valentine’s Day? Anything about love.

Here are a few good ones, including one verse of a catchy old song some of us will remember.

  • I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love. – Mother Teresa
  • Beloved, if God so loves us, we ought also to love one another. – 1 John 4:11
  • We love Him, because He first loved us. – 1 John 4:19
  • Lord, grant that I might not so much seek to be loved as to love. – Francis of Assisi
  • I love you a bushel and a peck
    A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck
    A hug around the neck and a barrel and a heap
    A barrel and a heap and I’m talkin’ in my sleep
    About you, about you
    ‘Cause I love you a bushel and a peck
    You bet your purdy neck I do

What can you add to this list?

Happy Valentine’s Day, thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings! 🙂

This is true Olympic spirit

The 2014 Winter Olympics are in all the headlines and seem to be what is on the minds of most people right now. What I love is the special kindnesses that come out of these world events, the heartwarming stories like this one yesterday:

Canadian coach comes to the rescue of a Russian competitor with a broken ski.

What Olympic stories have you heard that touched your heart?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

Book Review: On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties – by Thelma Zirkelbach, Barbara B. Rollins, Becky Haigler, Robyn Conley

On Our Own, Widowhood for SmartiesBook: On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties
Author: 67 different contributors
Publisher: Silver Boomer Books
Date: August 31, 2012
Genre: non-fiction anthology
Pages: 216
Price: $14.00
My rating: a bittersweet collection well worth the read

I was asked to read and review this book some time ago, and I’m glad I was given the opportunity. It was compiled by Thelma Zirkelbach, Barbara B. Rollins, Becky Haigler, and Robyn Conley.

On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties consists of almost one hundred stories, poems, and essays from sixty-seven different widows and widowers who are working through the grief of the loss of their life partner. It is a journey through the grieving process someone in that situation will understand, while not being too far removed from the appreciation of others not yet there.

Some entries will put a tear in your eye, others a smile on your face, and a few may cause you to chuckle.

I like what it says on the back cover, so will include it here:

Widowhood…a status with some deference but a role few seek. A new beginning usually greeted with dread rather than anticipation. The writers of this collection express the range of emotions at the loss of a spouse but the overwhelming message is affirmation of the strength they find to create new lives after deep loss. Widows and widowers will read these stories and poems with knowing nods, sighs and smiles. Other readers will find insight into a common human condition and perhaps courage to face their own unsought new beginnings. As the subtitle suggests, this is widowhood for smarties, for those who acknowledge the pain of loss but who are learning to live in spite of it, even to build on it.

It’s obvious there was much thought put into the creation of this book. Along the bottom of every page there is a continuous appropriate offering of quotes, adding to and complimenting the main content.


  • Someone who thinks death is the scariest thing doesn’t know a thing about life.” – Sue Monk Kidd
  • “I don’t mind dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” – Woody Allen
  • “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” – from a headstone in Ireland
  • “Grief can’t be shared. Everyone carries it alone. His own burden in his own way.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  • “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.” – Pierre Auguste Renoir

This anthology gives a well-rounded taste of the experience of widowhood, the deep profound loss, the pain and grief, but it also is encouraging and hopeful. On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties is not only for the grieving of the loss of a relationship, it is a glimpse into the experience and definitely a good read for anyone.

You can find On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties on my BUY THE BOOK! page.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂