by Suzanne Stengl | Jun 21, 2022 | Miscellaneous Moments, Reading
This is Mary Balogh signing “A Summer to Remember” for my hubby Rolf.
On Sunday night, Rolf and his friend Bryan returned home from a two-week car/bike trip from Calgary, Alberta to Winnipeg, Manitoba and back.
Along the way, they stopped in the little town of Kipling in southeast Saskatchewan. The town is named after the English author Rudyard Kipling. And, the town is also the summer home of Welsh Canadian author Mary Balogh.
A long time ago, when Rolf was looking for a new book to read, I suggested one from my Mary Balogh collection. Since then, he has been hooked.
Naturally, he looked up Mary Balogh’s website . . . and discovered she might be in Kipling when they were travelling through. So he visited the town.
The town is home to the world’s largest paperclip.
World’s Largest Paperclip
Rolf and Bryan are congenial sorts, and while walking through the town, they took up a conversation with a friendly, retired gentleman. When this gentleman learned that Rolf is a fan of Mary Balogh’s, he walked them over to Mary’s house.
Rolf had been hoping she might be in her yard, because, of course, he knew not to knock.
This is the sign I have on my Writing Room door.
Over the years, I have trained Rolf not to interrupt writers. (Or so I thought…)
Unfortunately, Mary wasn’t in the front yard. But since Rolf is persistent and hopeful, he went around to the alley to look in the backyard—where he saw her on her screened-in porch. She was typing, and looked up.
Rolf: I hope we’re not interrupting you.
Mary: Well you have now!
And then this gracious lady signed the book Rolf had with him, and talked to him and Bryan for twenty minutes about how she creates her characters.
He phoned me that night to tell me he’d met her. This was the highlight of the trip for him.
Mary Balogh Place
The town has named a street after its famous author, but she doesn’t live there. The full name of this street is “Mary Balogh Place”.
Here is Rolf creating his own Summer to Remember.
Rolf with his autographed book
From the realtor listing: Mary Balogh Place has lots for sale “offering a wonderful countryside view with unlimited possibilities for landscaping dreams.”
I first met Mary Balogh at an Alberta Romance Writers’ Association workshop in Calgary in March 2001. I had just started writing.
I also heard her speak at workshops for the Calgary Association of the RWA. Since she is a teacher by profession, she is also an excellent teacher of writing. And she is one of my favourite authors.
If you are ever in Kipling, please do not interrupt Mary while she is writing. After all, we do want to get that next book. Why not go to this coffee shop instead? You might just get lucky and find her here!
Paperclip Cottage Cafe
Here is the first book in a new Mary Balogh 3-book series. It releases on July 12. Mary was writing the third book in this series when Rolf spotted her.
For lots of information and an interesting read, check out Mary’s website here.
Have you read Mary Balogh? Have you ever met her? Have you ever attended one of her workshops?
Saskatchewan map from Depositphotos #53987815
by Suzanne Stengl | May 8, 2018 | Writing
On Saturday, May 5, 2018, the Calgary Association of the RWA hosted its annual Spring Workshop.
As usual, we started with a continental breakfast.
For this workshop, our guest speaker was Kristan Higgins, one of my favourite authors.
With eighteen novels written and published—in two dozen languages—Kristan obviously knows what she’s doing. Her nineteenth book is showing up in August. Her “NOW THAT YOU MENTION IT” is nominated for a RITA. This woman is definitely a professional writer.
She’s also friendly, an excellent teacher, and humble. The first thing she did as she started her workshop was to pick up her cell phone and take a picture of us. “First things first. I’m always tickled that people come to my workshop!”
The workshop was held at the Delta Calgary South in the Kananaskis Room—I love the classroom style setup.
This workshop had three topics:
- Secondary Characters, Secondary Plotlines
- Writing Humour
- Character Mistakes and Missed Opportunities
There was so much good material to absorb.
We break for a hearty lunch.
Kristan also critiqued several humour submissions telling us what worked, and what did not resonate. Notice her choice of words. She didn’t say it didn’t work. It just didn’t resonate with her.
My head is still spinning and I’m still high from this workshop. I learned so many things that I can use in my own writing.
Some of the things we talked about
- Different types of characters: The Mentor, The Best Friend, The Deflector, The Reflector
- The difference between Secondary Characters and Fringe Characters
- What a “Christmas Card” is. (A character dropping in from another book in a series—and serving no useful purpose.)
- Having a sense of humour does not mean you can write humour. Note: In case you’re not aware, I’m writing in Canadian, so humour—instead of humor. (I’m bilingual 😊)
- Don’t try to be funny all the time.
- Don’t announce that something is funny. (
Beth laughed and laughed.)
- Thor vs. Loki
- Assassin Jason Bourne vs. Amnesia Jason Bourne
- An overlay of Questions to Ask Your Character—my favourite being: What is the new situation and why is your heroine the worst person for the job?
- Why do we laugh? What is the Psychology of Humour?
continuing the discussion: BC Deeks, Ellen Jorgy, Susan James, Kristan Higgins
In the Q&A at the end of the workshop, I found a little gem:
Kristan says to write your book for twenty minutes. Open the document every day, and spend twenty minutes with it—even if all you do is read the last bit you wrote. You might change a typo. You might tweak a sentence.
Don’t plan to sit down and write for Two Hours. Plan on Twenty Minutes, knowing you can stop after that. Knowing that after that Twenty Minutes, you can make tea or check Twitter. But do the twenty minutes.
And if you find you got lost in the writing, you may have to cancel the hair appointment.
Kristan Higgins, Suzanne Stengl
Have you read a Kristan Higgins novel?
Have you ever been to a Kristan Higgins workshop?
Did you read the one about Tweety?
by Suzanne Stengl | May 5, 2015 | Writing
It was one of those amazing weekends. On Saturday, May 2, 2015, the Calgary Association of the RWA held its Spring Workshop with guest speaker Debra Dixon. Debra is a writer and a publisher at BelleBooks.
Debra landed in Calgary on Friday. That night, the CARWA Board of Directors took her to the Sky 360 revolving restaurant at the Calgary Tower. Since I am the Membership Chair for the group, I was invited. And Amy Jo Fleming was invited since she was the critique winner. We enjoyed a lively conversation as we dined on menu items like Foie Gras and Goat Cheese Mousse, Wild Board Striploin and Wild Game Meatloaf Wellington. Then we headed up to the observation deck where we tested the glass floor.
Here’s the whole group.
standing L to R: Amy Jo Fleming, Treasurer Brenda Sinclair, Debra Dixon, President Shelley Kassian, Secretary Katie O’Connor, VP Communications Win Day, VP Programs Ellen Jorgensen. Kneeling: Membership Chair Suzanne Stengl
The next morning, I arrived at the Valley Ridge Golf Club at about 8:30. The workshop started with breakfast at 9:00. That’s a great way to get attendees there on time. Debra began her presentation at 10:00 sharp.
We learned about the Goal Motivation Conflict chart, Dominant Impressions and Tag Lines. The Valley Ridge Golf Club served up a delicious buffet lunch at 12:30 and we recommenced an hour later with Debra presenting her take on the Hero’s Journey.
About four o’clock, we started a “finding your voice” exercise and Debra passed the microphone around the room for members to read samples of their work.
After the formal workshop finished, about a dozen of us moved over to the onsite restaurant, Mulligan’s. Debra and Amy Jo stayed in the workshop room to review Amy Jo’s critique submission. And then they joined us at Mulligan’s. There was food and drink and Debra answered more questions and gave us more writing advice.
B. C. Deeks and I were the last to leave—about 8:30 pm. A twelve hour day and completely worth it. I’m still going over my notes and processing all this information.
If you can’t get to a Debra Dixon workshop, you must buy her book: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. This is one of the most helpful resources a writer can have on the bookshelf.
by Suzanne Stengl | Mar 24, 2015 | Writing
Debra Dixon, author of GOAL, MOTIVATION & CONFLICT is coming to Calgary, Alberta, Canada on May 2, 2015 and I’m already signed up for the workshop.
This is my underlined, stick-it-noted, well-read copy of her book.
It was back in 2002 when I first heard Debra Dixon speak. I still remember that workshop, presented by the Alberta Romance Writers Association, otherwise known as ARWA.
That Friday night when she arrived, we immediately learned something about setting.
Alberta writers would never think of meeting someone outside the airport. You wait inside, right? That’s normal, isn’t it? It could be minus 30 out there. Who would ever wait outside at the airport?
Someone from Memphis, Tennessee.
Finding Deb Dixon at the airport on that Friday night was an example of romance writers creating a comedy of errors. But Jenn, diligently walking around with her sign, eventually found our speaker, and the Board took her out to dinner.
The next morning, I remember arriving about 8:30 to a room bubbling with conversation. The day was packed with information, much of the format was lecture and a good portion was “interactive”. We created the GMC chart for Sarah, the rebellious debutante in a Western. The trick with the exercise was to try it outside of our usual genre.
The GMC chart can be used to create a new story, to tweak an existing one, or to find out why you’re stalled. And it’s also useful for that query letter or editor interview. I believe GOAL, MOTIVATION & CONFLICT is one of the most important books you will ever put in your writing library.
We had such a good time that day and I can still remember going out for dinner after the workshop.
Trish and I walked into Madison’s at 5:15. It was a Saturday night. The maitre d’ looked a little worried when we said we had about 10 to 15 people coming over. And no, we didn’t have a reservation.
But she quickly sorted things out and found us a long table where we could all sit together. I told her we were the ARWA group.
“ARWA?” The maitre d’ clearly had not heard of us.
I spelled it out for her.
The waiter also looked a little confused. Trish told him, “We’re writers.” And then she quickly added, “But we have money!”
The service was excellent, the food was high cal and the talk was flowing. I was still trying to come up with my Dominant Impression for my heroine. So was Donna Wickens. We were making notes on the napkins. The waiter brought more napkins.
I love these post workshop debriefings. The chairs around Deb Dixon kept getting new people in them as writers came to her with their specific questions. This lady is like the energizer bunny. She just doesn’t stop. Finally at 9 pm, twelve hours after our official workshop start, we called it a day.
And now the Calgary Association of the RWA is presenting a Deb Dixon workshop. I have a chance to hear her speak again, to reinforce what I know and to fill in the blanks for what I don’t know. And, besides that, I get to spend some quality time with writers.
Here are the details.
Date: Saturday, May 2, 2015
9 am: Registration and light continental breakfast
10 am: Workshop starts
Noon: Buffet lunch
5 pm: Workshop ends
Buy your ticket here. Tickets will be on sale until April 24th.
If you’re a writer and you live in or near Calgary, I hope you will join me at the workshop.
One more thing:
Register by March 31st and your name will go in a draw for a 25-page critique by Deb Dixon.
by Suzanne Stengl | Jan 13, 2015 | Writing
This is one of my favourite books on writing. I bought this copy in 1995. It was originally published in 1986 and there are updated versions since then. It’s the kind of book you reread and reread.
In WRITING DOWN THE BONES, Natalie Goldberg has presented the work as a series of vignettes, each two or three pages long. Some are only a half page. They are all powerful and concise. Whenever I need motivation for my writing, I randomly flip open the book and listen to what she has to say. Sometimes I get lost in her essays for an hour or more. Sometimes I do the exercises she suggests. I always close the book feeling inspired.
In an earlier blog entry, I describe one of her writing exercises here.
Some of the chapters I have circled in the Table of Contents are
- First Thoughts
- Living Twice
- Writing Is Not a McDonald’s Hamburger
- Blue Lipstick and a Cigarette Hanging Out Your Mouth
- One Plus One Equals a Mercedes-Benz
I’ve underlined and stick-it noted my way through the pages and I don’t lend this book to anyone. If you’d like your own copy, you can most likely find it at your library or buy it here.
Now, I’m going to make a cup of tea and get lost in this book for the rest of the afternoon.