Before the storm

I have been enjoying those idyllic days between delivering a manuscript and receiving the editing changes. The days during which all my writing seems perfect and my hours stretch gloriously free.

During this break, I have been writing self-indulgent nonsense which will likely never be published; crafting Christmas presents; baking; losing Words with Friends games against my mother and sister; reading; playing tennis; and even… hemming curtains (I know. Crazy. It’s as if my body’s been invaded by an alien imposter.)

I have to take advantage of these days because my next couple weeks are booked solid with school presentations and at some point during those weeks, there’s going to be a clunk in my inbox. An editor will have read my manuscript and discovered that my writing is not-at-all perfect.

Winter is coming.

(That was really nerdy, wasn’t it? That last line? I told you… alien imposter.)

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The people in the neighbourhood

Today I filled in for my lovely friend Stacey as a volunteer for the Writer’s Exchange. The organization works to get inner-city kids excited about reading and writing. This morning, the team was helping grade one and two students at Thunderbird Elementary start their own book about what they’d like to be when they grow up.

To kick off the project, the Writers Exchange hosted a mini job fair. I was there to represent the writers of the world. There was also a farmer, a flight attendant, a nurse, a police officer, two basketball players (maybe they only travel in pairs?), a magazine publisher, and a teacher. (There was no firefighter, much to the disappointment of the nurse.)

It was like being a real-life part of Sesame Street.

I think the police officer won the “coolest tools” contest, with the nurse a close second. And the flight attendant got bonus points because she had a miniature airplane with her. But the kids liked that I could write whatever and whenever I chose, and that the illustrator for my 50 Questions books got all his best ideas by putting a chicken on his head. (You were a hit, Ross!)

At the end of the morning, one of the little boys put his head down on the table and refused to leave the library. I felt the same way, really. I wanted to stay and talk to all the other volunteers. How does one become a farmer, anyway?

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This Changes Everything

I’m behind on my 75-book reading goal for the year, and it’s all Naomi Klein’s fault. I read This Changes Everything, and it took me forever to get through it.

It took so long because (a) Naomi Klein books read like gluten-free bread, dense and chewy, but probably good for you; (b) because she packs an encyclopedia’s worth of research into every chapter; and (c) because I kept collapsing onto my bed like a suicidal slug after every second page.


Min thought I was getting sick for a while, because he kept finding me in my slug-like state and I didn’t want to admit I was reading this particular book because I knew he would suggest that I, say, STOP READING and thus stop feeling so defeated. But, I’d heard that the second half of the book was more hopeful than the first, and I felt that if a brilliant thinker like Naomi Klein could dedicate years of her life to researching climate change, the least I could do was read her work. Oh, and maybe stop driving my car.

I will summarize the first half of the book for you, in case you don’t have access to antidepressants and thus can’t read it yourself. It says: Hell + Handbasket.

Also, there are a lot of scary deadlines. Like, RIGHT NOW. Stop oil subsidies, divest, create local economies, end globalization, develop renewable energy sources, and get crackin’ THIS AFTERNOON. Tomorrow morning’s too late.

Plus, if you drive a car, you would have owned slaves if you lived a couple hundred years ago.

(Yeesh, even the summary of this stuff is a big sack of suck.)

Okay, onto the second half. By continuing to pillage with wanton disregard for people and the environment, oil companies have lost their social licence to operate. There are grassroots movements around the world mobilizing against these companies, and against the governments (including ours) that have been corrupted by oil money.

So that’s more hopeful.

And I have to say, having finished the book, I’m now reading the news differently. It’s as if every protest and petition is one more step in a global movement toward greater equality and sustainability.

At least, I hope it each protest is another step. Because otherwise, I’m the slug that’s stuck inside the handbasket, and I now know exactly where I’m heading.

(Incidentally, there’s a lovely article by one of my favourite activist-writers, Tzeporeh Berman, posted on the National Observer site this week, which offers us Canadians reason to hope.)

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Of all the nerve(s)

I used to panic before all presentations. I’d lose sleep for a week, develop a terrible stomach ache, and erupt in acne.

Over the years, I’ve slowly improved. Before last week’s Vancouver Writers Fest talks, I lost only one night of sleep and had only one pimple (though it was ginormous).

Yesterday, I gave a lecture to a creative writing class at UBC, and I didn’t panic at all. I slept fine, had no unusual skin conditions, and even managed to dress appropriately.

But then, I woke up at 2 a.m. last night, stewing about all the things I should have done differently.


Sometimes I think I should take my brain back to the store and ask for a more reasonable replacement.

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At the Vancouver Writers Fest

The people at the Vancouver Writers Fest are just plain awesome. When I arrived at the Dockside Hotel on Granville Island this morning, Hal Wake hugged me. Someone handed me a bag of swag. I talked election news with Susin Nielsen. A lovely woman named Kathryn was assigned to shepherd me from place to place in case I fell into a writerly daze and walked off a dock. A sound guy rewired my microphone so I could flit around the stage.

I would like to live permanently in a state of writers-festishness.

I had two presentations today. I talked about DNA Detective with a big crowd at the Waterfront Theatre, including Liisa House and her enthusiastic grade sevens from Edith Cavell.


And a second presentation in conjunction with the downright incredible Michel Chikwanine and librarian extraordinare Shannon Ozirny.


Thank you to all the Writers Fest staff and volunteers who do such a wonderful job, and to the ever-smiling crew at Kidsbooks who put plenty of survival stories in plenty of new hands today. You’re all my favourites ever.

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Happy news!

I am so thrilled to have When the Worst Happens included on the Silver Birch and Golden Oak lists for this year’s Forest of Reading in Ontario.

The Silver Birch is a middle-grade reader’s choice award and thousands (literally thousands) of kids read the books and vote for their favourites.

The Golden Oak is for readers in adult literacy programs. I visited with a few groups when my novel Truth was shortlisted, years ago, and they were some of the most inspiring readers I’ve ever met.

Thank you, Ontario Library Association!

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You know what would be good?

There should be an automated hotline for idea testing. You call, you tell the computer your idea, and it calculates whether your notion is spectacularly good or ridiculously bad.

For example: Ring, ring. I think they should turn the Jericho military base into a giant urban farm, with some affordable housing thrown in. Ding! Ding! Ding!

Or: Ring, ring. I’d like to write a book about aliens who come to earth and they eat all the oil rigs and the humans fight the invaders but they should really be happy because the aliens have actually saved the Earth from climate change… Bzzzzzzz.

Or: Ring, ring. Musicians get to make all these cool recordings of political songs. So, for the duration of the election campaign, all writers should put down their pens and learn to play guitars… Bzzzzzzz.

Or maybe that’s actually a Ding! Ding! Ding!? See, I can’t tell. Thus the need for a hotline.

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Reading, writing, and absolutely no arithmetic

I’m a one-project-at-a-time kinda girl, but for the past couple weeks, I’ve been working on so many different things, my head is spinning. I have:


  • Booked presentations in West Van for November, Maple Ridge for December, and Richmond for February. (I haven’t been this popular since I had a free French-fry connection in high school. I hope all these people don’t expect me to wear my clothes right-side-out and speak in complete sentences.)
  • Finished an index for Extreme Battlefields, then reviewed said index once someone with a logical mind fixed it.

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  • Written a chapter of my newest non-fiction manuscript. (Only two left to go — hurray!)
  • Revised my novel. And… um… switched the gender of the protagonist. I didn’t mention that plan to my agent. Do you think she’ll notice?

One of these days, I’m even going to shower. Because it’s always good to have goals.

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Tall northern tales

The kids and I took a trip to the north coast last weekend to visit my month-old nephew. We flew into Terrace on a Dash 8 (i.e. a Westfalia on wings), then drove from Terrace to Prince Rupert. The route took us past looming cliffs (including one that arced right over the highway and dumped a waterfall onto our windshield) and the wide and wild Skeena River.

But wow, Prince Rupert is rainy. People who decide to live there have special IV lines permanently inserted, so they can receive daily infusions of vitamin D. (Not really.) (But they should.)

As we walked along the waterfront in the rain on Saturday, we met an octogenarian who had lived in town since World War II. He told us about Prince Rupert before there was road access. Then he pointed to a barge in the harbour carrying a collection of multi-coloured shacks. It was a floating logging camp, he said, and just like the ones on which he used to work.

As we were about to part, he said, “But the best thing about Prince Rupert is the climate.” My sister and brother-in-law and I all stared at him. “We don’t get the big storms they get in other places,” he said. “It’s peaceful here.”

He’d obviously had his vitamin D infusion that day.

According to my brother-in-law, Prince Rupert was supposed to be a major city. Charles Melville Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Railway, thought it could be the greatest deep-water port on the coast. But Charles died on the Titanic, and Prince Rupert’s big-city aspirations went with him.

I thought the whole trip was worth it just for that story. And for my nephew, of course, who is just as adorable as his big brother and who so far shows no signs of sunshine deficiency.

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Problems caused by my lazy butt

I often read two books at once purely because I’m lazy. If I have two book on the go, one can live downstairs and one can live upstairs and I never have to wander around the house searching for my book. Makes perfect sense, no?

EXCEPT when the books start mixing in my brain.

At the moment, I’m reading Andrew Smith’s The Alex Crow and Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, both excellent. But in The Alex Crow, there’s a schizophrenic bomber driving around. And in When You Reach Me, there’s a girl receiving mysterious notes. I keep getting really worried as I read, thinking the girl is getting notes from a bomber.

Talk about adding suspense to a middle-grade novel.

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