Saturday, June 26, 2010

Need Your Book Reviewed?

Would you like me to review your book? You could put the review on your website or use it however you like in marketing your book.

These days, with so many books being published, and the number of magazines that print book reviews declining, it's hard to get a book reviewed. Yet it's good publicity to have a review to post or quote.

As the author of thirteen published books (as of 2010) and many articles and reviews, including reviews in Ottawa's Forever Young and the online magazine Canadian Materials, I have a lot of experience thinking about books and their various reasons for appealing to readers.

I'll read your book (or manuscript) and write you a review that expresses my honest, informed and considered opinion. I charge $1 per book or manuscript page; that is, for a 200 page book I would charge $200.

For information about me and my books, please visit my website at as well as this blog.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Editors! Grrr! Yes, I know that writers are always complaining about editors, and vice versa, but my experience below might be enlightening to others.
For many years my book reviews have been published off and on in a western Canadian magazine with progressive leanings. It pays practically nothing ($35 for 700 words) but I wrote for it partly as my way of furthering the cause, as well as for the thrill of seeing my name in print.
I've rewritten reviews a couple of times because the editor wanted a slightly different slant. That won't happen again because I won't be sending them anything more. The editor held onto a review for two months, then rejected it, and now it's out of date. Blithely, he suggested that I try a similar Canadian publication - as if they would want something no longer timely.

As for that similar publication, and the thought of writing for it in the future - a flip through its pages is discouraging. Too many of its articles are lengthy and turgid. Many of the authors, though well-qualified in their fields, lack flair. Male writers predominate, and theorize. To plough through it, a reader has to be really motivated, as I was - and what's the good of preaching to the converted? If the publishers are truly committed to progressive social change, they ought to pitch the magazine to today's busy younger reader.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Recently, looking for writing contests, I found one which actually discouraged some writers from entering. The instructions suggested that writers who have had quite a bit of exposure, say, more than one book published, should choose not to enter, but should do make room for newcomers. Specifically, it was suggested that more experienced authors should mentor a beginning writer.

Most of the younger writers I've met in recent years don't need a mentor so much as they need encouragement and time. They're on the right track; they just need to keep going. Other aspiring writers want things from me that I can't supply, such as an introduction to an agent who will lead them to a major publisher. One beginning writer had the nerve to e-mail me a thinly disguised pitch to take over my books column in Forever Young.

The funny thing about mentors is that you don't always recognize them as mentors right away. The ideal mentor, I suppose, is a well-educated, voracious reader/successful writer who makes insightful comments and has good connections. I've received help from a couple of writers in residence who fit this description, and I currently have a mentor and friend who is well educated and a great reader who has been very kind to me.

I've shied away from other would-be mentors, like the relative who said she'd like to edit my work and the wife of a colleague who quoted cliches about writing at me. Neither of these ladies had ever put pen to paper except for writing required at work. Then there was the good Christian woman writer who told me she admired my telent but didn't like what I wrote. (Hers was not an educated palate.)

One of my very best mentors was a retired carpenter who left school in his early teens back in the 1930s. He was a young retiree who had signed up for one of my writing courses, and when he learned that I had one of those new-fangled devices, a home computer, he wondered if I would type some of his personal essays and poems - for pay, of course. To Victor (his middle name), work was work, whether it was typing a poem or building a house, and workers should be paid.

Victor's attitude was what made him valuable as a mentor. Those who knew him in his last few years, after his wife's death, might be incredulous to read that I admired his attitude, for some found him a cantankerous old geezer. Indeed, he was like the father in Dylan Thomas's well-known villanelle; he "did not go gentle into that good night", but "raged against the dying of the light."

When I met Victor he had already taken many courses in drawing and painting, and had developed his talents in these areas. He had a natural gift for storytelling, a love of words, and a good command of English. As well, he was convinced that anyone could learn to write or produce woodcrafts or paint, if he or she had the urge to do so, and was willing to put in the hours to learn the skill. He was sure that his stories about growing up in Ottawa West and rural Renfew County during the Great Depression were of historical value as well as being entertaining. Towards the end of his life when a local historian included some of his writing in a collection, his belief in himself was affirmed.

Victor did not tolerate rejection. He sought out people who might publish his work and found one in the editor of a rural magazine (now out of print). He entered contests where he had a good chance of winning. Just a few years ago, he invited my husband and myself to an open-mike session at a hotel in a small town outside Ottawa. I had some misgivings, as the participating poets were all young people, but he charmed them. When a local publisher rejected Victor's collection of articles, he published them in small booklets that my husband and I produced as a truly desk-top endeavour.

As well as being a mentor, Victor was a father figure to me. Toward the end of his life, though, it became sadly apparent that I really wasn't family. Victor had had a happy marriage to a wonderful woman who was the glue that held the family together. When she was gone, things no longer ran smoothly for him. It wasn't my place, and I lacked the resources, to help him make arrangements when he couldn't continue on at home. My attempts to come up with solutions fell short of the mark. His greatest need came at a time when I faced other demands from other parts of my life. During his last illness he made it clear that he felt I'd failed him.

Now that Victor has been gone a couple of years, I look back on our twenty year friendship with more happy memories than sad ones. I remember how his friendship enriched my life. Victor never once suggested that I should be doing something with my time other than writing. He read one of my novels in manuscript form, made useful suggestions, and praised the technical logistical details of one key scene which I'd worried about. Best of all, when he dropped in to discuss one of his booklets or to have some typing done, he stayed for coffee and a chat about a wide range of subjects. He left behind wonderful poems celebrating the natural world. The glimpse of a deer in a clearing, or a chickadee feeding in a tree in my yard makes me think of him.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Favourite book by Julia Cameron

Some years ago I read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. It is full of encouragement and suggestions for the beginning creative artist. Just last year I read another of her books, Writing in this World (2002) and found it suited my needs as a more mature, more experienced creative person. Below is what I learned from Writing in this World:

She emphasizes that satisfaction comes from the creative process and from joy and pride in the finished product, not in the reviews. Commitment to one's art leads to diverse opportunities - not necessarily money right away, but opportunities.

With 35 years of experience as a writer/teacher/lyricist/creativity guru, Cameron says that she is the equivalent, in her field, of a senior partner in a law firm - that's the "level of her practice." Those of us, like Cameron, who have been practising our craft for a long time, have a right to choose who we work with, and to expect a fair return on our energy, both personally and professionally.

Creative people must be open-minded and open-hearted, receptive to new perspectives, but this desirable trait can also be an occupational hazard; it leaves us open to exploitation. People interrupt us because our work doesn't seem to them to be actual work. Far worse are "piggybackers", who pretend to want to help the artist but really want his/her energy, name and money for their projects. "As a culture," writes Cameron, "we treat writers badly." ( a sentiment I heard more than once at the TWUC AGM)

As we mature in our art we may have to distance ourselves from those who like to see us small and won't let us grow. At the same time, we often have friends who believe in us and would like to help us. "We sometimes have to tell friends how to help us," she says.

In writing this I haven't managed to convey how uplifting, encouraging and vindicating Cameron's book is. I urge you to read it for yourself.

Monday, June 7, 2010

I've been thinking about the WUC workshops last Friday. Two panelists (each in a different panel discussion) deplored the increasing numbers of books being published each year. One noted that in 2008, self-published books outnumbered traditionally published ones, and expressed the view that most of the former group were not worthwhile.Then in another session, another speaker talked about the "profusion of debut novels" by writers who lacked "established literary reputations."

Both panelists evidently believe that the economic principle that "Bad money(debased coinage) drives out good" applies to book publishing. The trouble is, "goodness" is subjective. Perhaps these panelists are unaware that some writers, now considered "great", self-published their work. Henry David Thoreau and Virginia Woolf spring to mind.

Glancing around the room full of writers, I noticed two people, each of whom had self-published a book which I'd read. One had gone the route of co-op publishing. The other had chosen print-on-demand. Both these books are lucid, reader-friendly and adhere to generally accepted principles of good writing. In my view, these books have as much right to exist as anything published by established traditional firms.

Julia Cameron, author and creativity guru, asserts that everyone has a creative spark within. She has been told that, in helping people fan this spark into a flame, she has unleashed a lot of bad artistic works. Cameron replies that there is already a great deal of mediocre art around, and that a little more won't hurt. She also insists that newcomers to creative expression often produce works of great beauty. (see Writing in this World, Tarcher, 2002) I'm on Cameron's side, not the panelists', in this debate.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


This past Friday I attended the workshop session of The Writers' Union of Canada annual general meeting in Ottawa. There, I was convinced of the importance of having a blog. So, thanks to my husband, Roger Latta, who is more technically savvy than I, I now have one.
Writing, especially fiction, will be the main focus of this blog. For the past thirty years I have been writing for publication. Currently my reviews appear in the Ottawa monthly, Forever Young, and online in Canadian Materials. My most recent book, published in 2009 by Baico Publishing of Ottawa ( is Spelling Bee (ISBN 978-1-926596-19-8, $22.95, available from myself or from the publisher. For information on my other books and published writing, visit my website at
The Writers' Union of Canada AGM workshops were interesting and a welcome break from the computer. It was exciting to see Margaret Atwood up close and personal, and a pleasure to have conversations with historian Valerie Knowles and memoirist Joan Levy Earl. In another post I'll probably have more to say about what I learned in the workshops.