Monday, May 26, 2014

I was asked to join this blog hop about the "writing process" by my FB friend and fellow writer Kristin Butcher whom I admire for a lot of reasons. Kristin appears to have more energy in her little finger than most people have in their entire bodies!

Kristin and I have a number of things in common. One is writing, of course. We also hail originally from Winnipeg. She lives in BC and I still live here, in my home town. We both love to paint and draw. Kristin's terrific blog about this topic can be found at

To quote Kristin, "I feel like I have a foot in two canoes. I’m a prairie girl and a BCer in equal doses."

What is interesting for me about doing this particular blog tour on "process" is I get to recognize similarities in how other writers work, and yet also get to see how very different we are, too!

What am I working on? 

For my eleventh novel, I am working on something close to my heart.

I have spent many many years trying to find out where my Buffi/Buffie family came from. Thirty years at it, in fact.

During the reformation -  as protestants -  my Buffi family were forced out of Italy. They moved to the Rhineland Pfalz area (Germany). They lived there for generations assimilating with the local population. In the late 1700's the Austrian government promised free land in Galicia to skilled German farmers and artisans. Galicia was made up of Ukraine and Poland (as we now know them). 

The Kolonists' "job" was to help build up that area's badly weakened resources on behalf of the Austrian Empire. So off my family went again. They lived hard lives in Polish Galicia, but they built their farms, villages and many churches, as well as schools to educate their children. 

The next biggest move occurred the late 19th C and early 20th Century, when my family and other families in the German Galician villages lost their land and livelihoods because of Poland's determination to be autonomous. The Germans either went back to Germany or on to Canada.
Because of religious and economic pressures from the new Polish government, my family sailed for Canada and ended up in Manitoba. 

My research into immigration in Manitoba was a lot of work, but fascinating. With the help of Manitoba newspapers, archives, letters, personal written accounts (in Gothic German!) I was able to build up an in-depth view of German immigrants in Manitoba.

My story is a fast paced novel about one family facing poverty, slum conditions, prejudice, disease, untimely deaths, hard graft, and in this family's case - even a murder. But like so many immigrant families, I discovered, they brought with them a strong work ethic, as well as devout religious beliefs and a tremendous drive to succeed.

Many cards are stacked against this nearly shattered fictional family. For me, it is a very compelling place in which to be immersed every day.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

And why do I write what I do?

I have written, I suppose, in most "genres" for young people. I write the story that I feel compelled to write, and never pay much attention to genre. 

My ten novels, go from the supernatural, as in Who is Frances Rain? or The Dark Garden; to fantasies like The Warnings; and the more classic fantasy (I have been told!) of 
The Watcher's Quest Trilogy; on to hard reality as in Out of Focus; and then onto a complete departure in my last book, Winter Shadows ... the historical setting of the Red River Settlement in 1857 (although there is a time travel/ghostly theme in there as well!) 

My novels are really about young people living on the borderline between childhood and adulthood - a very potent place for a writer to explore. That borderline, which often determines when and how a child will become an adult, has always held a great fascination for me. 

My sisters and I lost our father to cancer just when I turned twelve. I went through a lot of chaotic anxieties ... with a rather - um - noisy family dynamic going on at times! ... and a wonderful mother doing her best for us by holding down two jobs. My memories between ages 12 and 18 are still vivid, confused, introspective, miserable, determined, studded with flashes of transient joy, but always charged with questions, and the fearfulness of constant change, change, change.

For an introvert, this was hard going, but it left me as an adult (of sorts!) with a rich vein of story telling to dig into!

It has also given me a deep understanding of that universal search for independence that young people face; that search for self; for the pondering of what will become of me? .... what do I have in me to be? What will help me decide my own future? This is always my main focus is in every book I write. And it is why I write as I do.

How does my writing process work?

As an painter, I always work first with a broad sketch in pencil on the canvas and my first layer of color is done in large free wheeling sections.

I become more and more detailed as I work.

In many ways, that's how I write. I get an idea - I work it out in my mind and on scraps of paper. I think  about it all the time, obsessively really, until I sense something intensely interesting is forming. When I sit down to begin, I am usually ready to get right into the first lines and the first few chapters.

Once those are written, I usually grind to a halt - and sit down and seriously begin to think and ask myself : where I am going with this story?

That is when I make an outline - of sorts - to take the jumbled ideas and possibilities in my head; and try and make some kind of organized sense of them. I know this outline will change - that it is always a fluid, movable  changeable feast (or beast! ... depending on my mood). I rarely know the ending until it happens, but I definitely need some pathways cleared of brush and tangled vines, so that I can see a few clear ways that just might get me to the end!

Once the line outline is done(ish!), and before I start writing again, I always set up a block outline of penciled empty spaces on joined pages. As I finish each chapter, I put into each "box" what characters are in that scene, the day, time, weather, the setting and of course major points of the action. These notes that I can spread out and look at as a whole, often help me see where the story should be headed.

I am probably one of the slowest writers on earth. I do rewrite as I go along, mainly to make sure it is making sense, and that I am building characters and settings, creating mood and tension, and correcting obvious mistakes. But, as with my paintings, I know the important details will be added when the major story line, tension etc are placed and the characters are really living in that story. I love that final rewrite. It takes me a while (or as my old editor used to say, "It will take as long as it takes!"), but I love the process. Fine tuning, for me, is a completely separate creative process. And it allows me the freedom to pull in details that will bring the story, setting and characters even more alive.

Margaret is an artist and writer who has written ten novels for young adults published in eleven countries around the world. Her books have won many awards and honors, including The Vicky Metcalf Award for Body of Work (Inspirational to Canadian Youth); The Canadian Library Assoc.’s Young Adult Book Award; The Silver Nautilus Award (USA); First Runner up in the CLA’s Book of the Year Award; a nomination for the Governor General's Award; and two awards for The McNally Robinson Book for Young People, among other honours. Her first novel, the bestselling Who is Frances Rain? - is still used in many classrooms across Canada and the USA. It is still actively in print and is now available as an e-book. 

Margaret's blog has a blog (Home page), and tabs that allow to you learn more about her and all her books. For a list of her awards and honours click on the tab "About me".

My fellow writers, who will be involved in the next phase of The Writing Process Blog Hop, are from Manitoba! We have some really terrific writers in Manitoba!

Brenda Hasiuk

Brenda is a life-long Winnipegger whose award-winning short stories have appeared in some of Canada’s top literary journals.  Books in Canada called her first novel, Where the Rocks Say Your Name…(Thistledown Press, 2006) a “taught psychological drama that readers will find impossible to put down.” Though marketed as an adult title, it was taught in a number of high school and college classrooms throughout Canada and was nominated for the McNally Robinson Book of the Year. Her second novel, Your Constant Star (Orca, 2014), was recently heralded by Kirkus Reviews as “a superb novel by a rising Canadian literary star.” A collection of her short fiction, Back Lane Lullaby, is coming out with Turnstone Press this fall (September 2014).She has a day job in communications with Manitoba’s largest union, and lives with fellow author, Duncan Thornton, and their two school-aged kids. 

You can learn more about Brenda by going to:

Susan Rocan

Susan is a Manitoba author with two teen novels published by Great Plains Publications. ‘Withershins’ explores pioneer life in the mid-eighteen hundreds and how a modern girl copes with the hardships; while ‘Spirit Quest’ explores the same character’s search for self-identity after discovering her First Nations roots.
‘Withershins’ was on the MYRCA list in 2009 and has been widely read by Manitoba’s student population. Susan has been asked to speak to numerous groups of students, both in the city and nearby towns, from grades four to twelve.

Susan has two Bachelor of Education degrees, majoring in Speech Pathology & Audiology as well as Elementary Education. She works part time with Special Needs students, often employing Sign Language techniques with non-verbal students.

Her blog is aimed towards other writers and readers, including book reviews and author interviews. She's also a scrapbook fanatic, which reveals itself mostly in the form of handmade cards which she likes to brag about on her blog, too. 

You can learn more about Susan at her blog at by going to:


Humpty Dumpty said...

Fascinating peek into your creative process, Margaret!

Margaret Buffie said...

Thank you, Humpty Dumpty. ;-)