Meeting Notes from May 11; speakers Don Aker, Karen Bass and Charis Cotter

Tuesday, May 24, 2016 6:58 PM | Helena Aalto (Administrator)

Notes for Meeting May 11th, 2016

Recording Secretary : Anne Laurel Carter (

Our Vice-President, Jennifer Maruno, chaired the meeting and began by welcoming visitors and new members.

New Creations:

Stepping Into Traffic, fiction by Karen Rankin for ages 13 + from Thistledown Press about a sixteen year old boy who plans to make good in his eighth foster home.


Helena Aalto announced that our PYI annual conference will be held Sat Nov 19th at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, downtown Toronto at Shuter & Victoria close to the subway and the Eaton’s Centre. 

Helena reminded us that CANSCAIP is providing some of the programming at the Canadian Writers’ Summit at Harbourfront June 16th - 19th, 2016. 

The deadline for the new Writing for Children competition for unpublished writers is July 31st, 2016. 

Note: Our meeting location on June 8th only will be Durham College in Whitby (near Hwy 401). All are welcome at the dinner in the College with our speaker Kat Mototsune, the editor for children and teens at Lorimer Books. 

Speakers Panel: 

Jennifer Maruno introduced this evening’s panel of speakers: 

Don Aker from Nova Scotia (right), Karen Bass Alberta (centre), and Charis Cotter from Newfoundland (left). These authors were visiting Toronto for the as nominees for the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading Awards, and CANSCAIP President Sharon Jennings arranged for them all to come to our meeting.

Jennifer asked the panel the following questions:

1)    Describe your writing environment and how long you actually write.

2)    Where did your desire to write come from?

3)    What advice do you have for a writer who’s maybe experiencing the doldrums?

4)    Describe the ideal publisher.

5)    Do you ever say no to your editor?

6)    Do you work with a critique group? 

Don Aker

1)    Don wishes he was more disciplined but thinks every successful writer needs a “wife” (or supportive spouse). He wrote his first 2 novels writing from 5 - 6:30 am before his children got up and then worked all day as a teacher. He tours (now that he’s retired) and feels he has less time for writing. But when he’s home, he’s an early riser, has breakfast with his wife, goes for a walk on the beach and then works straight until 4 pm.

2)    He became a writer because he didn’t know how to teach writing and had to in the classroom. He went back to do his Masters and one of his courses was the Martha Vineyard 2 week Writers’ Course where he had to face a blank page and create/write every day and read something at the end of the 2 weeks. The instructor told him his piece was publishable and he started writing and struggling WITH his students. Writing a story with the critiquing support of a class, he won the Atlantic Writing Competition and didn’t look back.

3)    Don quoted Phillip Pullman saying Plumbers don’t get plumbers block, Writers don’t get writers’ block. It’s a matter of putting one word down after another. Don remembers writing a novel about a young man coming to terms with his brother’s suicide and feeling stuck about the scene where the boy found his dead brother. Sitting beside a woman on a plane, as usual he questioned her intensely and she told her story about seeing the towers come down in Manhattan and first reactions which were of shock. That conversation enabled him to write the scene: the boy would go and do something normal.

4)    Don believes the most important quality is promotion. Harper Collins has had excellent editors who have helped him make the best book. They also helped him laugh at himself. Don suggests writing competitions are an excellent way to get exposure.

5)    He had a book in 2012 he hated and asked the publisher to delay it. When he got a new editor, every suggestion she made was excellent and he trusted her and the book as a result was much better.

6)    He had a critique group early in his career and liked it. He no longer does because he became too busy. His first reader is his wife whose opinion he respects.  

Karen Bass

1)    She has an office where she squirrels away to write a first draft. She feels she wastes her morning time on social media before settling down to work 2 - 10 pm.  When she’s doing research she has no schedule.

2)    Karen was always an avid reader and when her daughter was four she went to work at the local library and took a writing course and got hooked.

3)    Karen went through a crisis when there were medical emergencies in her family and had to set it aside. Karen thinks instead of trying to empty yourself on the page, go fill yourself up with reading or travelling or any kind of life experience.

4)    Karen feels she has a great publisher, Pajama Press.

5)    Karen feels they are mostly right although she has argued a historical fact when she knows she’s right. She has hired a freelance editor.

6)    Karen lives in a small community and has two trusted readers not a critique group. 

Charis Cotter

1)    She lives near the water 90 minutes from St. Johns and begins her day with a walk, thinking about the story. She often sits on her couch looking out over the water when she’s not at her desk.  She feels she’s like a cat, getting tea, getting up, and finally settles down to a couple of hours in the morning, and couple in the afternoon 3-4 hours in a day. If she’s editing a story she can spend longer.

2)    Charis loved daydreaming as a child and put herself in her stories. As an adult she wrote her first novel for her nephew (which didn’t get published). She worked freelance as an editor for publishers. It took her five years from her nonfiction books to make the switch to writing fiction.

3)    Charis has recently thought about writers’ block and her only advice is to persevere. If Charis is stuck she writes about anything, the weather, her family, anything. Keep at it.

4)    Charis would like to be taken her out to expensive lunches, respect her ideas, listen, give her a great advance so she could live on it, they’d market and sell her books. Charis doesn’t have an agent but uses Sally Keefe Cohen to negotiate her contracts.

5)    Charis generally tries to trust her editors and consider their questions and suggestions although she will fight for something she feels strongly about.

6)    Charis prefers to work on her own.