Q&A with Lois Peterson

 

The following is a guest post by Lois Peterson. To learn more about Lois and her work, please visit her website.

I thought I’d share five issues/questions that arose this week during a workshop by Sheree Fitch, CWILL BC author speed dating presentations at the Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable event (which also featured a compelling keynote by author Kenneth Oppel), and Saturday’s Getting Published workshop at Port Moody Library.

ONE. How do I protect my copyright?
When I hear this question I hear, lurking beneath it, the fear that if the writer talks about their idea, someone else will steal it. My gut reaction to this is that ideas grow by airing them, and that if you keep them too close to your chest they are likely to shrink, shrivel and die.

The reality is that most writers have more than enough of their own ideas to pursue, and aren’t about to pinch yours. Sure, they may appropriate a germ, find some resonance in a glimmer of the story… But it they do steal it (I’d rather use the word ‘appropriate’), they are likely to bring to it their own views, story and narrative and by the time – if ever – if finds its way onto paper – it will be unrecognizable.

A few years ago in a workshop I gave twelve students the same set-up for a story. We talked about setting, character, pacing, and plot points, then everyone went off to work with the idea. What came out of the exercise were twelve totally different pieces – that varied in tone, voice, POV, theme and plot. Two became narrative poems. One morphed into a personal essay about the underlying life-lesson the writer intuited from the premise. And the remaining pieces of fiction were each unique in different ways.

I love to share the germ of ideas I’m playing with. And often find that it grows and changes in my mind based on the reaction, input and questions raised by those I share it with.

For those concerned about the actual process of imposing copyright limits on your own work, in Canada the act of creation itself confers your own copyright. There is no need to go through the steps of mailing your manuscript to yourself in an unopened envelope, as some suggest.

Dealing with what you consider violations of your copyright… many professional associations help you interpret and in some cases apply the provisions of Canada’s very complicated copyright law.

TWO. What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
PRO. If you self-publish you can exert more control over content, format, design… almost everything of the process.
CON. Few self-published authors take the time, effort, or are willing to spend the money on professional editing. With no one monitoring the quality of the work — the craft skills at play — the work may well not be as polished or as a professionally published piece of work.
PRO. It often provides an avenue for producing a book that in the mainstream market might never see the day due to limited appeal, individual/family interest, etc. or for finally seeing in print a project that has not found a publisher in the conventional industry.
CON. Self-publishing authors need to know a lot about editing, book design, cover art, marketing, promotion, time-management… which all takes LOTS of time, and for many, a steep learning curve.
PRO. It can be a way to build an audience for your work.
CON. Very few retailers will consider self-published books, and not all libraries will stock them – unless they reflect a particularly local topic or are written by a local author.
PRO. Done properly, it can be very satisfying to know you’ve shepherded an idea from germ to finished product.
CON. Review journals are often the way many readers, bookstores and librarians learn about new books. Few journals review self-published books, and if they do, it can be very costly for the creator to distribute free review copies and time-consuming to identify review journals, blogs, etc.
PRO.There are a number of resources available to help self-published authors realize their goals:

THREE. I and my teacher-colleague want to write a kids picture book about feelings. Any tips?
Think story rather than lesson. Create a compelling narrative from which children can infer their own reactions and interpretations rather than offering a heavy-handed lesson with moralistic under- or over-tones.

Children LOVE story and are quite capable — with skillful support — of finding meaning in everything they read. The dullest books I see are often those where the author’s main goal is to teach… especially those who are dealing with the emotional life of the child rather than the intellectual one.

This question arose at the Port Moody Library session, the day after I’d heard a presentation by two very skillful teachers on what is known as Critical Literacy. You can view one of the presentations by Alexis Birner and Lindsay Bromley here at You Tube.

There is also a great list of useful picturebooks to use in critical literacy activities for children here.

FOUR. One questioner at the panel discussion wanted to know how much time each of the panelists spent on actual writing. And did thinking about the project count?
My usual response is that there cannot be any hard and fast rules, different things work for different people and you should avoid feeling you have to confirm to any ‘shoulds’ you might hear. Everyone works with different time, space and distraction considerations.

But my feeling is that the actual act of writing — as in putting words on the page — is like exercising any other muscle. Do it often and regularly and you will find the muscle flexible and responsive when you need it. Do it seldom, and you might find it hard to get started when you finally sit down to start writing again. Me, if all else fails I write one hour a day every day. Above and beyond that… ‘it depends.’

And does ‘thinking count’? Thinking is as important as reading, research, planning, learning, sharing… but again, to my mind, thinking activates different muscles and therefore, for my own practise, does not replace my writing time.

FIVE. What book most influenced you as a child? And I then went on to wonder how it has informed my own writing for children.
The book that stayed with me ever since I read it when I was about nine was The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier. While I recalled very little of the story over the years (the link here gives a wonderful account of it) what I recalled was how the children were brave and resilient, resourceful and determined…. all characteristics sadly lacking in my own make-up. I now know that in a way I try to write about children who confront whatever situation they face with courage and determination, and in my stories I want to celebrate their resiliance, and show that, in the words of Mary Ann Radmacher “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” (Thanks to KB Woodward Elementary school’s Kathy Coppin for sharing this quote with me.)

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