The swear police

My daughter read part of my work-in-progress today.

She said: “It’s really good, but you can’t swear in middle-grade, Mom.”

“I didn’t swear!”

“Replacing one letter with an asterisk still counts as swearing.”

Me, swearing under my breath: “Really?”

“Yeah, and you can’t say that other word, either.”

She’s talking about this line…

“Josh?” Holden says. “I always thought he was more of a benign dictator than an actual dick.”

“That’s such a good line! It’s not even a real swear word!”

“It’s a middle-grade book, Mom. You can’t say that.”

Me, glaring: “Fine.”

Who knew I’d one day be censored by my own forteen-year-old? And why am I writing middle-grade fiction when I can’t use swear-jokes?

As my mom once told me to say, when I was about fourteen… fooey.

Fall writing workshops

I’m teaching workshops with Ink Well Vancouver again this fall, along with my friends Rachelle Delaney and Stacey Matson. Because what could be better than spending a morning talking about writing?

Well, three mornings.

If you have writers in your life, published or unpublished, send them here to register!

Building Blocks of Plot: Conflict and Tension
Sunday September 23, 9:15 to 11:45 am
Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (2305 W 7th Ave, Vancouver)

Raise the stakes of your story, amp up the pressure, and torture your characters. The goals of this workshop may sound a bit macabre, but the results will be worth it! Cranking up the conflict in your story — in carefully crafted ways — will keep your readers turning pages long after bedtime. Together, we’ll examine time-honoured methods of creating conflict, try our hands at some new ones, and discuss less recognized ways (subtext, anyone?) to build tension in children’s books.
Cost: $60.00.

Building Blocks of Plot: Scenes that Sizzle
Sunday October 28, 9:15 to 11:45 am
Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (2305 W 7th Ave, Vancouver)

Whether you’re writing an early reader, a chapter book, or a young-adult novel, building great scenes is vital. So what are the components of a strong, compelling scene? Through famous examples, writing activities, and group discussion, we’ll explore ways to develop character, establish voice, and propel your story forward.
Cost: $60.00.

Building Blocks of Plot: The Arc
Sunday November 18, 9:15 to 11:45 am
Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (2305 W 7th Ave, Vancouver)

Hero’s journey? Twenty-two story steps? Something about a cat that needs saving? There are countless plotting methods out there. In this workshop, we’ll explore the ones that work best in children’s books. We’ll figure out how to choose the right plot form for each project. Then, even the “pantsers” among us will try our hands at plotting a story!
Cost: $60.00.

People who sign up for all three fall sessions receive a 20-page manuscript consultation. (Yes, more talking about writing!)

Lake daze

We had a lovely week-long vacation in Penticton, with daily lake swims, several rounds of mini-golf, and much ice cream.

There was also a visit to the Wibit, a floating obstacle course with a rock wall, a slide, and a trampoline. When the kids did it the first time, it looked fun. Easy, even. So Min and I allowed ourselves to be tempted out.

Oh my goodness. First of all, a floating plastic obstacle course is slippery! (Who could have guessed?) And when the floating, plastic, slippery obstacle course wobbles, and one frantically flails one’s arms, one is likely to take out a small child or two.


It looks harmless, doesn’t it?

We made it up the rope and down the giant slide. We made it up the rock wall and I replaced my bathing suit over the parts it was supposed to cover. We made it over the slanted balance obstacle. I tried and failed to find my goggles on the lake bottom. We did all of this while the kids ran back and forth in front of us like some new species of water-mountain-goat.

And then, in the distance… a floating bench.

Min and I wobbled and flailed our way toward it and collapsed, clinging to one another.

“We’ve done all the major obstacles,” I said.

“I think my knee ligaments are intact,” Min said.

“We should get off this thing.”

Which is when we abandoned our children and swam with the remaining shreds of our dignity back to shore.

For ice cream.

There’s “off one’s rocker,” and then there’s “perched on the edge, clinging to the armrests”

This is how a non-fiction project usually works: I create a proposal, including an outline and sample chapter(s), a publisher accepts the proposal, and then I write the book.

This is how a fiction project usually works: I secretly write something which may or may not turn out to be a book. If it reaches a somewhat book-like stage, I show it to my writing group, then my agent. If they agree that it might resemble a book, then the manuscript is submitted to a publisher.

These are both good systems. I’m comfortable with them.

But this year, something changed. This year, I signed a contract for a middle-grade novel which was NOT YET WRITTEN. This is theoretically a good thing. It means that a publisher trusts that I’m capable of producing a viable manuscript.

BUT WHAT IF THEY’RE WRONG??

I am now at the stage of writing something which may or may not turn out to be a book, except that it darned well better turn out to be a book, because CONTRACT.

I’m finding this somewhat frightening. Scratch that. I’m finding this Exorcist-level frightening.

My manuscript may turn out to be a bookmark. Or a potato.

How many words do I need for a potato?

Perfect picture books

I stopped by Kidsbooks last night, where Kallie George and Sara Gillingham were launching their latest picture books.

Here’s Kallie reading from The Doll Hospital, which Sara illustrated with a limited palate that makes it look both richly saturated and adorably retro. It’s a gorgeous book.

And here’s Sara playing guessing games with Boats Are Busy.

So much fun! (Why don’t I write picture books? Why do I write about pot and surveillance and teen pregnancy? Picture books are so much prettier!)

Silence speaks

The following is my 13-year-old daughter’s review of Rachelle Delaney‘s Clara Voyant. I’ve read it, too, and Silence is right. It’s brilliant! But I’ll let her tell you…

Hey all! Silence here! Just finished reading Rachelle Delaney’s newest masterpiece, Clara Voyant. One of my favourites so far this year!

The story follows Clara, a sixth-grader who’s just moved to a new school. Far away from her beloved grandmother, Clara is sceptical about her new neighbourhood from the moment she arrives. With a marketplace full of future-seers and mystics, it’s right up her mother’s alley, but far from her own interests. Arriving at her new school, though, Clara is hopeful, especially after joining the newspaper. She’s excited to become a journalist. Things don’t go as planned, however, and rather than breaking news, Clara ends up with… the horoscopes? Her mother is delighted, her best friend insists it will be great, but Clara knows it will be awful. Then, things get worse. Because what happens when Clara’s horoscopes start to come true?

This was a super awesome book, and I highly recommend it for anyone aged 8-12 looking for a fun read with a great main character. 5 stars!!!

Byeeee,
Silence

Clackity clack

I hereby present my one marketable job skill:

At dinner the other night, Silence was bragging about the 50 words a minute she’d logged in business class, while Violence argued that his hunt-and-peck method was impressively fast. Neither of them seemed to believe me when I said I could type more than 80 words per minute.

And I still might not have bothered to take an actual test EXCEPT that I have a rather blank resume. A few years ago, I made a friend in human resources promise to get me a real job if I ever needed one.

“Sure. You’ll just have to pass a typing test,” she said.

“No problem.”

The kids’ typing efforts (or lack thereof) reminded me of my future job prospects, and I decided to see if I’d survive in the job market.

Whew.

Now that my future is safe, I’m going back to writing. And, um… professional-grade procrastinating.

Drama in Real Life

Waiting in the optometrist’s office with my son, I picked up a Reader’s Digest.

Drama In Real Life: Buried Alive by a Blizzard!

As a kid, I read whatever I could get my hands on. That included trashy romances, dragon adventures from the school library, my grandfather’s Time-Life series about aliens, my other grandfather’s James Herriot Yorkshire vet collection, my parent’s school leftovers, boxes of randomness that my dad brought home from auctions, and the entire rack of kids-with-rare-illnesses books at the public library.

But sitting in the optometrist’s office and holding this Reader’s Digest in my hands, I realized these were what I read most. They came home from the grocery store with the milk and eggs and were just as much a staple in our house.

There’s probably a direct connection between Drama in Real Life stories and this:

Or this:

Or this:

It seems I’m all about the drama, even decades later.

Silence speaks

The following is my 13-year-old daughter’s rave review of Jennifer Niven‘s All the Bright Places:

When Theodore Finch, a teen struggling with bipolar disorder, meets Violet, a girl who blames herself for her sister’s death, on a rooftop, they’re both thinking the same thing. For Finch, it’s love at first sight, and not only does he coax Violet down, he also portrays her as the heroine of the story, claiming she rescued him.

Violet is grateful, but doesn’t really want anything more to do with social outcast Finch. Then, through work on a project that takes them all over their town, Violet and Finch come to find what Finch always knew to be true… they are perfect for each other. But with Finch sinking deeper into his condition, and Violet still going over everything she could have done to save her sister, is their love enough to save them?

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is sad and beautiful, heartwarming and heartbreaking. A wonderful book for 13+.

—Silence

Recharge

Do you think if you lived with a scene like this for long enough, you’d forget it was there? You’d stumble to your coffee maker in the morning and ignore the windows?

I spent a few days on the Sunshine Coast last week, recharging and sneaking some writing time. After six days, I was definitely not done with the view. Not even my tepid photography skills could ruin it.

I hope you all had an equally relaxing Easter. I’ve been reading Startle and Illuminate and, as the juggling of real life begins again, I’ve resolved to take some advice from Carol Shields:

Time is not cruel. Given the good luck of a long healthy life, as most of us have, we have plenty. Plenty of time. We have time to try our new selves. Time to experiment. Time to dream and drift. Time even to waste. Fallow time. Shallow time.

We’ll have good years and bad years. And we can afford both. Every hour will not be filled with meaning and accomplishment as the world measures such things but there will be compensating hours so rich, so full, so humanly satisfying that we will become partners with time and not victims of it.

As it happens, Carol Shields didn’t have a particularly long life, but she did raise five children and win the Pulitzer Prize and a Governor General’s Award. I think she did alright with the time she had.