RoundTable Recap: March 2014

Curious to know what went on at our monthly RoundTable meeting? Please enjoy this RoundTable Recap (prepared by Susan Croft, in charge of public relations for the WCDR). Also, look for more of these recaps after each RoundTable meeting!

U25: From Beginning to End

On Saturday, March 8, 2014, the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) hosted its first-ever panel discussion, featuring five authors who write for the under-25 (U25) market.  U25 includes writers of middle grade (MG, featuring protagonists aged 8-12), young adult (YA, featuring protagonists aged 13-17), and new adult (NA, featuring protagonists aged 18-25).  The panelists included MG author Joanne Levy, YA authors Lesley Livingston, Deborah Kerbel, and Norah McClintock, and YA/NA author K.A. TuckerThe discussion was mediated by literary agent Stacey Donaghy of the Donaghy Literary Group, who did a fantastic job moderating the Q&A.  While the authors wrote for the U25 market, their conversations applied to writers who wrote for all types of readers and all genres.

For example, Norah McClintock discussed research and accuracy with respect to her crime novels.  “I have quite the library of crime books,” she admitted.  But much of McClintock’s knowledge comes from research for the only non-fiction book she has written: Body, Crime, Suspect.  “It gave me the opportunity to speak to homicide detectives, forensics experts, crown attorneys, defense attorneys.”  Deborah Kerbel added that the internet has made research much easier—especially with respect to setting.  Kerbel’s book Mackenzie Lost and Found is set in Israel, a place Kerbel had not visited until after her book was written.  To set the scene, Kerbel used “travel blogs, videos, photos,” and was “able to put a setting together in my mind … when I found myself there, I felt like I had been there.  I’d seen it all before, so I must have succeeded.”   The most important part of a setting, Kerbel insisted, is to get the five senses involved; find out what a place smells like.  “Talking to people who have been there helps.”

McClintock also speaks to people when she has a specific question in mind: “I don’t want to know ‘is this the way you would always do it?’ but rather ‘Is it possible that something like this could happen?’ and usually it is.”   She added that “People like to talk about their lives.  They’re more than happy to share their experiences and insights.”  But of all this research, how much makes it into the book? “It depends on the book,” McClintock admitted.  Kerbel added that sometimes the best way to incorporate research is to pick and choose what you will describe to make the scene come alive, “so you don’t have to know everything.”

Lesley Livingston talked about writing what interests you.  As a kid, Livingston was fascinated by Greek and Roman myths, and later she became fascinated by “fairy culture.”  “You couldn’t swing a dead cat in Victorian times without hitting a fairy,” she said.  But by the turn of the century, “fairy culture exited, and it was like someone shut a door and I started with that as a starting point for the Wondrous Strange trilogy.”   Livingston admitted that her career path in writing has not been a typical one.  Since her first book was accepted as a trilogy, and she was asked to outline the next two books, nothing she has written has been unplanned.  “I’m not by nature a heavy plotter,” she confessed “and I don’t necessarily advise writing like that.”

Joanne Levy explained how to incorporate a message in a book without making it sound preachy.  “I wrote [Small Medium at Large] without wanting to put a message in it, but we learn from everybody … that’s the key to not being preachy: don’t intentionally put a message in it, but make it so the reader can learn from the characters.”  This is particularly important in the YA and MG markets, as authors will sometimes make the mistake of assuming that young readers are looking for simplistic stories.  McClintock added that “I know kids who hate reading and I think they will read a book that reflects in some way some of their true life experiences.”

Once a book is written, it’s time to decide who will publish it and how it will be marketed.  Deborah Kerbel and K.A. Tucker swapped stories about the differences in the Canadian and US YA markets.  Kerbel, whose books are published in Canada, said that her editors “cleaned up a lot of the grittiness; in my last book, my character swore in French, and they cleaned that up, too.”  The reason for this, Kerbel believes, is that Canadian publishers rely very heavily on library and school orders, and librarians and school staff will hesitate before purchasing books with dark or gritty topics.  Not so, K.A. Tucker says, of the US market.  “I wanted to delete things,” Tucker said, “but my editor wouldn’t let me do that because that was the character and it wouldn’t have felt true to the story.”  Lesley Livingston chimed in, saying “Write non-swearing that sounds like swearing.  If you have the emotions in the actions, then the words don’t matter as much.”

Levy’s experience was similar to Kerbel’s, as Small Medium at Large was originally written as a YA novel, and consequently had some “older” jokes.  In rewriting, many of these had to be removed because they were inappropriate for her younger, MG audience, and McClintock pointed out that kids are watching the same shows as adults—and even some that adults “aren’t watching because they’re too squeamish.  Do they want to read about that happening to people like themselves?  I don’t know.”

K.A. Tucker, who originally self-published her NA novel, Ten Tiny Breaths, before it was picked up by Simon & Schuster for a 4-book series, talked a little about social media and public relations.  “It’s absolutely critical to have that social media presence,” she said.  “It’s time consuming, difficult, and draining, but readers love being able to interact with the authors.”  But, Tucker warned, “don’t become subsumed by it.  The most important thing is the writing.  Yes, it needs to get out there, but social media can become an addiction and the work has to come first.”

The moral of U25?  Five great authors agree: You can do anything you want in your writing, so long as it serves the story.


(For a complete photo gallery of U25, click here!)

Other Highlights:

Just for U25, the WCDR extended a special invitation to young writers from Grade 8 to age 25. Several young people were in attendance on March 8th–at the crack of dawn on the first day of March Break, no less!–which prompted literary agent Ali McDonald of the Rights Factory to tweet “Most teens I’ve seen come out for a writing event! Awesomeness.” The young guests received a swag bag containing a variety of fun U25 gifts, along with information about a contest specifically for them, the WCDR U25 Writing Contest sponsored by Inkslingers!

Meaghan McIsaac, author of the MG novel Urgle, was a special guest of the U25 Panel RoundTable, and the WCDR was thrilled to have her attend the meeting and experience this special event.

Ruth Walker and Gwynn Scheltema of Writescape came up to the podium to draw the name for the U25 early bird registration prize. Barbara Martin won the U25 sponsor gift valued at $550. The WCDR would like to thank Writescape for sponsoring U25 and providing them with this wonderful incentive to attend the RoundTable meeting!

Blue Heron Books was on hand with a variety of books for sale—including a selection of titles by our guest speakers.  Just like they did for the February RoundTable, Rich and Dorothea Helms kindly manned the table. The WCDR would like to send their positive thoughts to Shelley MacBeth during her ongoing recovery.

Sherry Loeffler was at the library table, overseeing our collection of books that members can borrow from RoundTable to RoundTable, as well as managing our Pay it Forward collection. The WCDR library also contains a few books by the U25 panelists, so please drop by Sherry’s table next month!

Phil Dwyer urged WCDR members to submit their stories to our annual contest.  Sarah Selecky’s prompts can be found either on her Twitter feed (@SarahSelecky), or you can sign up for daily prompts on her website to have them delivered straight to your inbox.  Remember that contest entries must be based on a Selecky prompt—but if you have a story that just happens to fit the prompt, feel free to use it!  See the WCDR website for contest informationThe deadline for the WCDR Short Story Contest [with Sarah Selecky] is March 23, 2014, and you can’t win if you don’t enter!

There was also had a fantastic assortment of raffle prizes, including gift certificates from Blue Heron Books donated by the WCDR; an assortment of books donated by U25 panelists Norah McClintockJoanne Levy and Deborah Kerbel; a variety of novels donated by agent Ali McDonald of the Rights Factory; and a copy of The Lamp: A Journal for Graduate and Professional Students, donated by Susan Croft. All of our visiting young writers received a ticket to a U25-only raffle, and each left the RoundTable with a prize. The WCDR would like to thank U25 Silver Sponsor Penguin Random House for the slew of books they donated to the U25 raffle for the young guests!

After breakfast, Panelist Lesley Livingston led a workshop just for visiting young authors, and Laura Suchan facilitated the mini-workshop:Mind Mapping Your Writing.”  Mind mapping is an easy to learn tool that helps you brainstorm, organize and outline thoughts in a visual way rather than in sentences.  It offers a method of organizing, generating and structuring ideas and thoughts around a central word.  For the purpose of writing, mind mapping has many applications including query letters, articles, novels, character development and plot structure. Laura Suchan is Director of the Oshawa Community Museum where she has been balancing budgets and writing business plans for more than 20 years. Laura was project manager for several oral history projects and continues to teach oral history and memoir writing.

Instead of blue pencil sessions, WCDR members had the opportunity to sign up in advance for 15-minute pitch sessions with agents Sam Hiyate and Ali McDonald of The Rights Factory, and U25 moderator Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group.  For those who did not get the chance to pitch their books, there will be one-on-one pitch sessions coming soon!

The WCDR has so many people to thank for participating in the U25 Panel, and they’ve listed them all here!

The April RoundTable will feature horror author Chris AlexanderRegister early to avoid disappointment!

MEDIA CONTACT: Susan Croft, PR Coordinator −

PHOTOS: Kevin Craig and M-E Girard

Note: Please remember to register! We hate having to turn people away, and the mini workshops fill up fast, so registering early ensures that you can get a slot. We are not able to let you in at the door without registering in advance. If you pay by PayPal, verify that you get an email from PayPal confirming your registration. If you don’t receive the email from PayPal, contact Dawn Riddoch at and we will look into it. Thanks for your cooperation.