Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Five Creative Good-Bye Gifts

Hey guys! Kate here.

So Leah has officially completed her big move and is safe and sound in Australia! As happy as we are for her to embark on this huge adventure, it was pretty tough for the fam to say goodbye to her for a year. If you’ve ever had a loved one go away, you know how hard it is to excited for them but be sad at the same time. You also feel like you should do something special so they know you care about them when they’re a bazillion miles away. If you’re at a loss for a unique, meaningful gift, here are five goodbye gifts that will wow the pants off your traveling buddy. These can be modified in any way so they could work for your best friend, your siblings, or your significant others.

1. Plane Activity Book: Leah came up with this idea when I first left for Tokyo six years ago, and I recently made one for Leah on her big trip to Australia. If your friend is in for long haul in that metal tube, you want to give them something to do! Grab a Duo-Tang (or a folder with prongs, for you Americans) and fill it up with all sorts of activities for your loved on to complete. Examples could be:
  • Letters of encouragement from friends and family
  • Word searches about the country they’re going to (just Google the name of the country and then ‘word search’ and you’ll find tons!)
  • Make you own crosswords! Websites like A to Z Teacher Stuff let you create your own crosswords. You could do it on things like your family and friends, trivia of their favourite television series, or random facts about their hobby. I made Leah one based on our novel, Jane Unwrapped.
  • Printed out poems or excerpts from novels. (The “I must not fear” passage from Frank Herbert’s Dune is an essential for any adventure in our family!)
  • Special photographs in plastic sleeves
  • Writing activities to keep your friend occupied. For example, in Leah’s book, I wrote on the top of a blank page of paper: Write a letter to yourself to read on the way home
2. Open When Letters: This one’s pretty well-known, but it’s such a great thought I had to include it. Open when letters are a series of letters you write to your friend, and they open them when they need to. For example, here are the titles of the ten letters I wrote for Leah to take to Australia: Open
  • You need to be brave
  • You are homesick
  • You need a laugh
  • Life is good
  • You need to remember your dreams
  • You miss your ex
  • You need some tough love
  • You need to remember how much I love you
  • We get good news about Jane
  • It’s all too much
What kind of stuff should you put in your letters? Words of encouragement; funny memories; a reminder that even if you’re not physically there, you always have their back. Write from the heart.

3. Scratch Map: Leah’s goodbye present to herself was one of these awesome scratch maps from Chapters; a world map where you can scratch off everywhere you’ve been. If you wanted to personalize it for your wandering friend, write specific bucket-list activities you know they want to accomplish on the back for them to check off. They’ll feel awesome when they scratch off Nepal on the front and “Climb to Mt. Everest base camp” on the back!

4. Homesick Fix: As pumped up as your traveling friend is, there’s a good chance at one point during their travels they’ll feel a little homesick. Get a small, light-weight scrapbook and fill it with their favourite photographs, along with associated memories. If you have space, you can even include little keepsakes, like special receipts, tickets, or notes. Make sure you include an encouraging note at the end though! It’s supposed to give them a taste of home, not make them miss you more.

5. Emergency Loneliness Kit: Well, this one’s a bit of a stretch as a goodbye present, because it’s not for the person who’s leaving. My significant other knew I would be upset about Leah leaving, so he prepared an Emergency Loneliness Kit: a box filled with Kleenex, my favourite drinks and junk food, and funny knick-knacks like Silly String and glow-in-the-dark balloons. Maybe it’s not your traveling friend that needs the present when they leave, but their spouse, sibling, or parent. On the flip side, you can always make a small-scale version of this to slip into your wandering pal’s bag! (Just make sure it doesn’t include any liquids!)

I hope this sparked your imagination for a few creative goodbye gifts. A personalized gift will not only mean a lot to the receiver, but it can also be cathartic for the creator: it allows you to make peace with the good-bye and get all your feelings out on paper.

What’s the most meaningful goodbye present you’ve ever received?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

10 Must-Dos in Tokyo

Hey guys, Kate here, and today I’m talking about my favourite city in the world: Tokyo!

I was lucky enough to travel to Tokyo three times back when I was modeling. Leah was able to come with my on my last visit, so we decided to put together our top list of must-dos in the most electric, cutest, vibrant city in the world!

1. Take a dip in a traditional onsen. There’s nothing like getting hot, sweaty, and naked with a bunch of strangers, eh? In all seriousness, taking in a traditional Japanese hot spring is a must-do when you’re in Tokyo. Leah and I found a little hole-in-the-wall hot spring in Asakusa, an adorable section of Tokyo filled with food vendors, unique souvenirs, and shrines.

2. Say hello to red pandas, polar bears, and lions at Ueno Zoo. This was the one place I had to hit up every single time I went to Tokyo! Ueno Zoo is a massive, gorgeous zoo that is easy to get to, not too pricey, and so much fun! Give yourself lots of time because it takes a whole day to explore.

3. Get lost in the Electric City. Akihabara is a must-do in Tokyo for it’s chaotic, thrilling atmosphere. It’s called Electric City because it houses some of the largest and high-tech electronic stores in the world. You’ll be surrounded by neon lights, rushing people, and the occasional woman dressed up in a French maid outfit, advertising one of Japan’s infamous maid cafes. Plus, if you’re an anime or manga fan, Akihabara is the place for you! We spent hours gazing at the floors upon floors of manga stores and their merchandise. We came home with a suitcase full of Kingdom Hearts merch.

Shop ‘til you drop in Harajuku. This narrow alley is chock-full of shops, restaurants, and…other people. If you don’t mind riding the wave of crazy shoppers—ranging from beautiful lolitas to screaming shopkeepers—you’ll find some of the cutest fashions you’ll ever see, the best crepes you’ll ever taste, and the dollar store of all dollar stores: a five-level 100 Yen store. Plus, Harajuku is close to the other shopping utopias: Shibuya and Omotesandō, home of the giant toy store, Kiddyland.

5. Catch ‘em all at the Pokémon Center. If you’re a Pokémon fan, then there’s no way to skip the coolest gift shop of all time. Pretend you’re a Pokémon master and protect the world from devastation by purchasing clothes, stuffies, games, and absolutely anything else you could imagine at this massive store. Meowth, that’s right!

6. Blow your mind at the National Museum of Nature and Science. Just a few blocks away from the Ueno Zoo is the most incredible museum I have ever been to in my life—and I’ve been to a lot of neat museums. The National Museum of Nature and Science takes your breath away with their dinosaur skeletons, taxidermy exhibit on endangered species, and their evolution of life displays. Whatever your interests, this museum will have something on it.

7. Watch the cherry blossoms rain in Yoyogi Park. Leah and I spent hours upon hours sitting in Yoyogi park, people-watching and editing our novel. If you go in spring, you’ll be lucky enough to see a forest of cherry blossom trees, the ground pink from fallen blossoms. Yoyogi Park is also home to Meiji Jingu, a gorgeous shrine where you can write wishes on the wall or offer a prayer. You may even be lucky enough to witness a traditional Japanese wedding! 

8. Have a picnic at the Tokyo Imperial Palace. Stop by your friendly neighbourhood convenience store (AMPM was our favourite), buy yourself some rice balls, a Calpris soft drink, and some green tea ice cream, and head to the spanning gardens of the Tokyo Imperial Palace for the perfect picnic.

9. Say “Konnichiwa” to the most stylish Mickey and Minnie you’ll ever see at Tokyo Disney. I am of the opinion that if you have the opportunity to go to a Disney park, you go to that Disney park—and Tokyo Disney does not let down. Disney Sea is unique to Tokyo, filled with rides and architecture you would not see in America. Tokyo Disneyland however, has just the same magic of the original…except you’ll have a way cooler selection of Mickey ears to chose from, and you’ll most likely see more than a few Japanese woman hobbling around in four-inch high heels.

10. Ride the massive Ferris wheel at Pallete Town.
Daikanransha is a 115 metre tall Ferris wheel on Odaiba—an artificially made island full of attractions. The massive Ferris wheel is both exhilarating and terrifying, and if you go on a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji! Pallete Town also boasts other all-star attractions such as Venus Fort, a Venice-themed shopping mall, another shopping centre called Sun Walk which features tons of pet stores, and the live music venue, Zepp Tokyo.

Which one of these would top your to-do list in Tokyo?

5 Tips to Getting the Most Out of a Writers' Conference

Hello, friends! Kate here.

I wanted to write a follow-up post in my entry on the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. I can honestly say going to that conference was one of the most important and positive things I did as a writer. However, at the same time, it can be a tremendously overwhelming experience. Whether you’re a first-time conference attendee or just looking to get a little more out of your next conference, here are five tips to help you rock any writers’ conference!

1. Prepare, plan…and play it by ear. Take it from a couple o’ gals who tried to wing their first conference—getting your stuff together in advance will save you a whole lot of stress. Take a good look at the workshops and presenters; highlight the ones that are most important to you. Research the agents and editors attending. Know which ones represent your genre, and make note of their names and a few of their clients. And perhaps most importantly, have your work in order. Leah and I spent the night before the conference madly editing our first draft, crafting an elevator pitch, and printing out pages in the hotel lobby. Make these things part of your packing list so you’re ready to go before the conference even begins. That being said, don’t be afraid to switch up your plan. You may really connect with a certain presenter and want to switch to their workshop, or catch an opportunity to pitch your book or talk with someone important.

2. Put your party pants on and get ready to mingle. Hey, us writers are happy hermits but once a year, we gotta crawl out of our dark holes, look wistfully back at our blinking computer screens and say, “Well, manuscript, I’m going out.” I am definitely not comfortable meeting strangers or starting conversations, but getting out of your comfort zone and making new connections is so important. Connecting with other authors is a great way to build a community of people who understand you and will support you through your ups and downs. Also, you never know who you’ll end up meeting. On our last dinner at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in 2013, an agent sat beside Leah and I. After talking with him all evening, he asked what our book was about, and ended up requesting a full! Even though he didn’t end up offering representation, he sent us a detailed letter with critiques that really helped us improve the book. Without making that personal connection, we would have never received such important feedback!

3. Pitch pitch pitch pitch pitch. Alright, this point depends on where you are in the writing process, but if you are at a conference with a fully-edited novel and you are ready to query…for goodness sakes, pitch the crap out of that book! Pitching face-to-face is a great way to judge an agent’s initial reaction to your premise as well as to catch their attention. If you have the opportunity to buddy-up with someone, have them take notes for you at the workshop so you can make the most of meeting agents and wooing them with your fantastic book! At SiWC, Leah attended the workshops so I was able to pitch as much as I could. We ended up with ten requests by the end! That’s way better than what we would have done if we just sent out good ol’ regular email queries.

4. Rest, relax, and enjoy it. It’s so easy to get over-stimulated by everything going on: pitches and workshops and fancy dinners and people to meet. Yes, you’re at a conference to promote your work, but don’t forget that this is supposed to be fun! You’re here because you love writing and it brings you joy—don’t lose that pleasure by stressing out about everything. Give yourself time to go up to the hotel room and take a nap or just rest you mind. Have a conversation with your lunch-mates about something totally un-writing related. Look around and enjoy the fact that for this one weekend, you’re not in reality. Any SiWC alumni will know the feeling when the emcee Carol puts on her dinglehoppers and all of these strangers are suddenly your friends, sharing an inside joke. Enjoy that moment.

5. Bring the magic home. When you leave a writers’ conference for the first time, I guarantee something inside you will change. You’ll suddenly be full of inspiration, hope, revelation. Don’t let that magic die out once you get back to reality. Remember why you were there and the feeling of being surrounded by your people. Remember that you are a writer.

To all those attending SiWC this year, best of luck and have a great time at the greatest writers’ conference on Earth! To anyone else attending conferences in the future, hopefully these tips help you to get the most of what I’m sure will be an amazing experience.

Let us know in the comments your tips and tricks at any writers’ conference!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What To Expect When You're Expecting...a trip to the Surrey International Writers' Conference!

Hey guys, Kate here.

Well, it's my favourite time of the year...time for the Surrey International Writers' Conference! For those who don't know, SiWC is an absolutely incredible conference for writers of any genre to meet, mingle, learn new skills, sharpen their old ones, and pitch their stories to agents and editors! Leah and I have been twice, and both times were absolutely incredible! As heartbreaking as it is to say, Leah and I are unfortunately not able to attend this year. Between Leah's impending travels and the situation of our current project, it just wasn't a financially-savvy thing for us to do. So to try to fill the void of missing our favourite activity, we dug up our discarded blog posts from our first conference in 2012. If you're a first-time attender wondering what to expect at your first conference or a SiWC veteran gearing up for pitches and parties, take a look below:

Kate's Post:

This Day We Write! 
I know my sister just posted a blog on the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, but it was such an overwhelming and amazing experience that I can’t help but want to publically share my thoughts on the entire thing as well. The SiWC was just an unbelievable experience, filled with positivity, energy, and hope. I left feeling electrified and invincible!

I’m not going to lie, I had my doubts about the conference before we arrived. I thought we weren’t ready to pitch our story yet, we hadn’t had enough time to perfect our writing, that we simply weren’t prepared enough to make the most out of it. I see now that nothing was farther from the truth, and I was just afraid. Thank goodness I had the constant optimism of my sister and the immense support of our parents, otherwise I would have bagged the whole thing and said, “Maybe next year!” for the rest of my life! I don’t believe our book will ever be 100% done, but somewhere along the way you just have to accept it and give it a go.

First of all, I love Vancouver! Even though it’s similar to Victoria, there’s always that feeling of Big City possibility as soon as the car pulls off the ferry. Our hotel was quite lovely with the comfiest pillows you have ever laid your head upon. We debated trying to smuggle one home but it wouldn’t fit in our suitcase. Registering with the con and getting our official SiWC folders and pens just heightened the excitement! (Oh, and not to mention we saw fantasy author Sam Sykes checking in at the desk so I had to fangirl-squee a bit.)

I was a bundle of nerves the first day, but relaxed when I saw how outgoing and friendly everyone around us was. Leah and I are not social Olympians, so making friends and small talk is not our forte. Lucky for us however, everyone else seemed more than happy to introduce themselves and break the ice.
The keynote speaker Friday morning was Jane Espenson, so being an uber Buffy-Angel-Game of Thrones-Once Upon a Time fan, I was in awe. Next, I sat through awesome workshops where I learned the do’s and don’ts of pitching (EXTREMELY helpful!) and heard some great thoughts on villains and conflict. During the conflict workshop, I received my first high-light of the trip: a text from my sister that read,
I got an appointment with Jack Whyte!!!!!!!
Jack said, “Well, after tearing that to shreds, I can tell you it’s very good.”

Meeting Jack was one of our hopes for the conference, but having him review our work was more than we could possibly dream! And, he said it was good. In his Scottish accent.

Incredibly, I got a last-minute pitch session with a certain agent that I really wanted to meet. Not so incredibly, Leah and I had not yet crafted our pitches yet and had to do so in 20 minutes. Incredibly, it came out sounding quite exciting! And even more incredibly, I was able to say the 40-second pitch without vomiting all over the table or bursting into tears (both of which I wanted to do). And even more incredibly, she said she wanted to read it! At first I was in shock, then denial (Oh, I’m sure she just says that to everyone so as not to hurt their feelings), then I decided to just accept it as a great thing and celebrate! Our very first query ever resulted in a request!

And what better way to celebrate than with a drink at dinner? Which were, by the way, delicious. Being a vegetarian, I was astounded by the amount of meat-free dishes they had, all which were incredible! And the company was even better. Talking about my work in a professional setting was extremely inspiring. I have so many supportive friends and family members in my life who I constantly lean on and talk about my writing with, but when I brought up our books to these new colleagues, I actually felt like I wasn’t discussing a hobby anymore – I was discussing a career path. I was discussing a lifelong dream.

Saturday went by just as wonderfully with some beautiful keynotes, another successful pitch where an agent requested the first three chapters of our novel, and an extremely helpful and hilarious Blue Pencil editing session with Sam Sykes. Oh, and Jack Whyte called us beautiful, and what better compliment is there than one said in a Scottish accent?

Leah's Post:

I am on the ferry ride back from Vancouver. Wow, what can I say, the conference was amazing! For a long time, all I’ve heard is great things about the SiWC and now I know why! Above all else, the atmosphere was great there; I didn’t once talk to a person that wasn’t friendly and supportive! In case any of you are thinking of going I’ll write some notes on different aspects of it:

Blue Pencil Café: So for those of you who don’t know the Blue Pencil Café is where you get to sit down with a published author and they go over three pages of your work with you. My first appointment was with romance novelist Sheila Roberts, and even though I brought a YA sample with me, she was SO nice and helpful! She gave me the name of her agency and told me to email her when my book was finished. On the way out, I decided on a whim to see if Jack Whyte had any free appointments. It turns out he did…right then! Luckily I had the first three pages of my and Kate’s YA fantasy with me as well. I can tell you right now, you’ve never really heard your stuff read out loud until its read by Jack Whyte. If you’ve heard him speak, you’ll know what I mean! I was terrified the entire time, but at the end (after stopping multiple times to tweak things) he said: “Well, after ripping that apart I can tell you it was good.” I was so excited! The 15 minutes just flew by. I would recommend blue pencils to anyone; the advice you’ll get is invaluable

Pitch Sessions: Pitching for me was the most nerve-wracking part of the whole conference! I definitely need to work on calming down my nerves. I had my 40-second pitch practiced, and when I sat down, I think I just threw it all up (figuratively!) on the poor agent. She was very nice though, and even though she didn’t request any pages, she gave me her card and told me to email her if I had any questions. Kate had a bit more luck with the agents (she was pitching the same book with the same pitch so if anyone asks I’m going to claim I just had bad luck!) and we got a request for 50 pages and 3 chapters! So we’ll be busy fixing those up!

Workshops: I really enjoyed all the workshops. I liked the idea that you could float between them if you wanted, and leave for appointments. I’d have to say my favorite (and most helpful) was pitching 101, Complex Conflicts, SiWC idol, and the Secret Lives of Best Sellers. I enjoyed everyone I went to and wish I could have cloned myself to go to more!

The Banquets: Our mother was extremely kind and bought Kate and I the full package including all the meals. For anyone who’s thinking of going I’d highly recommended it. The key speeches alone were one of my highlights of the conference, two of the speakers almost brought me to tears! Not to mention the people you meet, everyone is so interesting. Plus one of the meals you get to eat with a presenter. Not to mention the food was VERY good.

Plus there were so many great things about the conference that I haven’t even mentioned, such as getting to hear Jane Espenson’s speech, bumping shoulders with everyone in the elevators, and the hotel beds were super comfy too! I’ve never been to another writer’s conference, but I can’t imagine one being any better. I had the time of my life and hope I can go back next year!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

5 Tips to Win NaNoWriMo

Hey guys! Kate here and today I’m writing about something terrifying lurking on the horizon…

As October approaches, a small pit of anxiety grows in every writer’s belly. At the beginning of the Halloween season, it’s merely a niggling tickle at the back of your brain, but as the days pass the feeling grows stronger and stronger until it overwhelms your entire being and you finally must ask yourself that annual dreaded question: to NaNoWriMo or to not NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, an activity that brings together writers from across the world, regardless of genre, style, or skill level. The object is write a novel in a month—in other words, complete 50,000 words in thirty days. This is an intimidating prospect for most any writer, but that’s why it builds such a tight community. Stick almost 400, 000 stressed writers in the same boat for a month, and that’s bound to build a little solidarity.

But not only does NaNoWriMo build a tight community, it’s a great way to kick-start your novel. And isn’t that why you’re here? To write that goddamn novel that’s been burning inside you? Well, it’s only 1,667 words a day, so let’s get started. Here are your five tips for winning NaNoWriMo:

1.) Get your friends and family involved. As much as we love them, our friends and family members eat up a lot of our time. Warn them you’re going to be hermiting for thirty days. Be up front: “Dudes, I’d love to get drunk tonight, but I gotta write over a thousand words today.” Get them involved so they keep you accountable; share your dreams; brainstorm ideas with them. Last year, we convinced our dad to join NaNo and hung sheets on the fridge so we could show off our daily word count. If your family and friends feel like they are a critical part of your success, they’ll be less likely to distract you and more likely to encourage you…and forgive you if you ignore them for thirty days. Worse-case scenario, you can always get drunk and then write your 1,667 words! (All words are are good words, right?)

2.) Find a process that works for you. And by that, I mean make an outline. I know what you’re thinking…I thought this was about writing, not outlining! Well, settle down there, pantser, you can feel free to do your thing, but for something like NaNoWriMo where you don’t have the luxury of writer’s block, having an outline will keep you on track. Spend a couple days before November 1st creating an outline. For some, it may be detailed, every scene fleshed out. For others, you may just want a general map that you can fill-in-the-blanks along the way. Either way, the more prep work you do, the easier it is to stay on track and keep your mind focused on the last word.

3.) Utilize your online resources. There are amazing online resources out there for us writers! The first one is the official NaNoWriMo site, which is not only chock-full of tips, but also has a community for networking and encouraging each other, as well as a way to record your word count and let you know if you’re on track. The second is my favourite website of all time: Write or Die. If I ever publish a book, the creator of this is going in the acknowledgments. The web app is just a regular text box that let’s you set a word goal and a time goal. All you do is write. And if you stop writing…well, that’s where it gets interesting. I’ll let you guys do the exploring, but it’s definitely a resource I would recommend if you find you’re constantly clicking out of your word doc to check Facebook. Our third resource worth checking out is made for the iPad, so it’s portable, easy to use, and keeps you motivated. Novel in 30 let’s you easily see your word count and, if you have a Bluetooth keyboard, let’s you write anywhere.

4.) Don’t look back. How easy is it to get so wrapped up in what you’re writing that you don’t concentrated on the real writing itself? Oh, this sucks. That doesn’t sound good. I need a new word for that. I have to research this description. Editing is important, but for the first draft, you want to forget all that. Keep your eyes on the screen, your fingers on the keyboard. Don’t care if your description is clunky or your transition is awkward—you’ll fix all that later. NaNo is all about getting the words out of your head and onto the page. Let self-doubt take a bystand because you never know if that crap you’re writing will actually turn out to be a golden turd.

5.) Make writing a priority. You may be a student, a full-time worker, a parent, or whatever else…but you’re still a writer. November gives you a reason to embrace that part of yourself that’s often kept locked away because of your commitments to everything else. Well, for one month of the year, make writing a part of your life! Schedule it in—and keep to it. You want to write a novel, don’t you? Well, then you have to put one word in front of another, day after day after day. It’s as easy—and as hard—as that.

Hopefully these five tips have given you some confidence in order to embark on this amazing journey. Don’t worry; you’re not alone! Leah has won NaNoWriMo the last two years, but I’m a newbie, just like you! I have written over 50, 000 words in a month before, but this is the first time where I’m doing it as a community, as well as being a full-time student and working full-time.

We want you to keep us accountable so follow our NaNo accounts here:



Add us as a friend and we’ll add you back! And as an incentive to keep you motivated, we’re giving you the opportunity to win an awesome writing-themed gift bag! If you win NaNo, send us your NaNo link and we’ll enter you in a draw to win an awesome prize!

Happy writings, guys! Let us know what you think your novel is going to be about in the comments below!

Watch more NaNo tips on our Vlog!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Welcome to Leah Kate Write!

Hi everyone and thanks for checking out Leah Kate Write!

In our blog, you’ll find a range of posts encompassing everything a would-be adventurer needs on their journey…whatever your journey may be! Whether you’re looking for advice on traveling to new places, living abroad, writing a novel, surviving school, improving your relationships, or just pursuing your passion of any kind, we’re here for you!

We can’t wait to see begin this voyage with you.

Let us know in the comments what kind of content you are most interested in seeing!

Leah & Kate