The future is murky

Here’s a tricky question: should we encourage kids to become artists?

I was wondering this after I spoke to a UBC creative writing class a few weeks ago. I ranted for a while about the power of writers’ voices. When we write, we aim to affect and move people, and that can be an influential thing.

So yes, we should encourage kids to to become artists.

But then there was this article, waiting for me on Twitter. And this one. Many writers live off independent wealth, family connections, or the sponsorship of partners with stable jobs. (Mea culpa on the last one.)

This is crushing for two reasons. First, because it cuts from the conversation a lot of brilliant people who give up writing in order to support themselves. Second, because by encouraging our kids to become artists, we might be dooming them to lives of dependence.

All of this makes me thankful for my own parents, who watched me embark on a creative writing degree with not a word of complaint. My dad’s only suggestion, when I considered a journalism trade program, was that a degree from a university rather than a trade school would allow me more options. (I’m sure he didn’t think I was listening, but I was.) Other than that, not a word.

For six years, I wrote in the evenings while working a day job. I lived in a rented East Van attic and used a laundromat. Between salary and freelance income, I made $25,000 to $30,000 a year.

Then I married well.

Having the time and space to write has certainly increased my productivity. But my income from writing is still only $30,000 a year. So, would I be writing even if I were living in an attic and my kids were barefoot and there was plastic wrap on the insides of my windows? I’m a rather tenacious sort. I like to think that no matter how much it sucked, I would have done it. Then again, maybe that’s delusional. My kids kinda like their shoes…

So back to the original question: do we encourage that future for others?

I only know my own answers. I’m grateful, both for my parents’ encouragement and for my husband’s support. I hope my kids make their own choices as confidently as I did, whether they decide to be writers or doctors. I hope they find callings rather than careers.

And I dearly hope they never, ever work in LNG, no matter how much money they’d make.

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The editor, age three

This is my daughter Silence reading to her young friend Elia over the weekend:

Silence: “Well, I don’t like to brag, but I’m telling you, Liz,
That speaking of cooks, I’m the best that there is!”

Elia: Who’s Liz?

Silence: Liz is his little sister.

Elia: Why does he have a little sister?

Silence: He just does.

Elia: Why’s her name Liz?

Silence: Because it rhymes with “is.”

Elia: Why does it have to rhyme?

I couldn’t help picturing Elia twenty years in the future, as some editorial phenom at Random House:

This seems a rather traditional family, and Liz is a standard English name. Strive for more diversity in the text? Also, rhyme seems somewhat forced. Would a small boy really say, ‘I’m the best that there is’? Consider rewriting without the rhyme…

Dr. Seuss is lucky he didn’t live in the age of Elia.

Scrambled_Eggs_Super

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The storytelling gene

In my presentations, I often talk about storytelling, and the ways in which techniques are the same, whether you’re entertaining a crowd at a family barbecue or writing an information book. In each case, the best stories involve great characters, complications, and twists.

I’ve been known to repeat one or two of my dad’s stories as an illustration of this point.

Well, check out what arrived in my in-box last week, in response to a Leslie Neilsen video. This is one of my dad’s tales:

I used to work for Leslie Neilsen’s brother, Gordon Neilsen, retired Vancouver police motorcycle division. I set pins in his bowling alley at Skyway Lanes in Richmond. He weighed about 300 pounds and used to come to work and lift his belly onto the counter and breathe a sigh of relief.

I can’t remember why he fired me, but I know we didn’t like each other. I would come and work for the assistant manager when Gordie wasn’t around, and I would go in the back door and visit with boys working when he was. He spotted me once when I was back there, and he took off out the side door to catch me in the back. But I saw him just as he was going out the door, so I took off out in a field.

He never showed up out the back and I found out later he was after me, but he fell through the septic tank when he rounded the corner.

I never went back!!!

Complications. Twists. And I double dog dare you to find a better one-line character description, in fiction or non.

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The reluctant shopper

Check out this lovely video created by Annick Press about books for reluctant readers. It features the 50 Questions series and Seeing Red.

The video points out all sorts of reluctant-reader appeal tactics, such as cartoons, graphic-novel panels, short chunks of text. All wonderful, helpful things. But I think there’s one additional key to attracting reluctant readers: don’t be the shopping mall.

I spent part of Family Day weekend in a shopping mall, and it was rather excruciating. Something about fluorescent lighting and off-gassing polyester turns my brain to mush. But the main problem is that we don’t go to the mall to get the best of any one thing. We go to browse a billion almost-the-same, basically decent things. The mall is a collection of everything and the best of nothing.

Likewise, many non-fiction books are collections of everything. Every fact the writer can find. But kids don’t want to sort through the racks, and they shouldn’t have to. They should be able to flip open an information book and find the strangest fact, the most interesting person, and the very best story.

For the rest, there’s always Wikipedia.

Or the mall.

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New book resolutions

Having completed the index for DNA Detective, I have decided to follow new rules for all future books:

1. I will not refer to anyone by name. I will use “that guy” or “some woman.” Thus, there will be no indexing of proper names.

2. I will replace all country names with “place to the west” and “place to the east.”

3. All references to birds and animals will be replaced by “a creature.”

4. Book titles, names for theories, and titles of royalty will be omitted.

5. Where possible, sentences will be comprised of only verbs, adverbs, and adjectives.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, check out this page. Illustrator Lil Crump has done the impossible, and found a way to make a dead scientist look interesting:

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 11.30.04 AM

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S.O.S.

I am wandering lost in the index for DNA Detective. (Queen Victoria or Victoria, Queen?)

You can read my past thoughts on indexing and Pine Sol here and my thoughts on alphabetization here. Apparently this is a recurring theme.

If I don’t emerge in the next few days, call search and rescue.

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On the adorable-times-infinity scale

The trailer for Clover’s Luck by Kallie George is pretty much the cutest thing ever. AND, it just happens to be narrated by my daughter.

Once you’ve finished watching, you can head to the Magical Animal Adoption Agency website and take the quiz to discover what kind of animal you might wish to adopt. (I’m getting a sea serpent or a hippocampus. Do you think Min will mind?)

Then, you can join me at Kallie’s launch party on February 12th at 6:30 pm, at Kidsbooks Vancouver.

Kallie is one of the smartest writers I know, and her books manage to be sweet and deep at the same time. I’m so excited to see Clover’s Luck released into the big, wide world!

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What I learned from my son’s grade two teacher

We went to parent-teacher meetings a couple weeks ago. My son Violence had done very well on his report card, but earned a slightly lower mark in fine arts. So of course my tiger husband sits across from the grade-two teacher and asks what Violence can do to improve his art mark.

I’m thinking: “He’s doing great at reading and math. Why do we care that he got one lower mark?” But then the grade two teacher says something interesting.

She says Violence is a rusher. He’s used to being good at things, to finishing them efficiently, to being one of the first ones done. And art is not about that. The first person to finish an art project has not necessarily done the best job. He needs to slow down, add layers, and focus on the details.

Well, she may as well have been speaking directly to Violence’s mother. I am a rusher. I am impatient to finish things and send them off, then I’m impatient to get feedback. I’m impatient to see a published work, then impatient to write the next one.

I may have to post these words above my desk: Thou shalt not rush.

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Lost in Translation

It’s been a while since I posted any strange, un-translatable words from other languages, but I won’t need to anymore. Look what I’ve just stumbled upon:

9781607747109

I have ordered myself a copy. Because before I read this review and learned that “akihi” means you’ve listened to directions, then walked away and promptly forgotten them, I had no idea that anyone else experienced that particular phenomenon. I thought it was just me.

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