The climate solution

I flipped open the newspaper last week while my daughter was having a haircut. Whew, what a mistake. (The paper, not the cut.) In one three-page section, I read about climate scientists being ignored, more than 600 jobs being cut from the CBC, and the government disenfranchising voters.

Why don’t they just weave tiny needles into the newsprint, so you can stab yourself while you read?

Fortunately, the solution to climate change is on its way.

My husband had this conversation with my seven-year-old son a couple days ago:

Min: Your sister’s going to end up leading some sort of activist organization. When you become a scientist, you can get her the facts she needs to solve the climate crisis.

Son: I’m going to be a house painter.

But then, just when we thought all was lost for the world, he interrupted a completely unrelated conversation to say, “I’ve changed my mind. I am going to solve global warming.”

So, that’s a relief. Now if only he could handle the underfunding of our public schools in the meantime.

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Teenfest

On May 10th, I get to discover my inner roar at Teenfest Vancouver, where Eileen Cook and I are participating in a panel discussion about girl empowerment.

I finished Eileen’s latest book on the weekend, Year of Mistaken Discoveries. It’s about a girl who gets blindsided by tragedy, and goes in search of her birth mother as a possible antidote. (I am ridiculously horrible at summarizing plots. This is sort of what the book was about. There was also friendship, romance, ambition, and emotional daring. How can I stuff all that into one sentence?)

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I thought it was Eileen’s best book yet, full of unexpected truths. And as I can tell that Eileen will have plenty to say on our panel, I am now off to get in touch with my empowered side.

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Open Secret

I may never get over the thrill of reading something set in my home town. Or, in this case, in the fictional town of Kootenay Landing, which bears a striking resemblance to my hometown of Creston. It’s so much fun to picture where a character is walking, or imagine the exact view from a hiking trail.

Deryn Collier’s Open Secret is her second novel featuring Bern Fortin, coroner with swag. The book weaves together the lives of a mismatched batch of Kootenay Landing residents, all connected by a disappearance, a grow-op, and a murder. We begin to understand more of Bern’s history and we get to know an array of unique secondary characters. I would have read an entire book about any member of the supporting cast.

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Back to reading about one’s hometown, though. My favourite line of the book is this one:

There was an intake of breath, a barely perceptible pause, when the man walked in, as though the crowd had collectively spotted him, assessed him as an outsider, decided to ignore him, then carried on.

This is a classic small town moment — the micro-pause upon entering a restaurant or bar, while all pre-existing customers check to see whether they know you. It’s generally a benign, even friendly, pause, but it’s noticeable. And if you happen to take your Asian husband to a cafe in Three Mile, Idaho, where apparently no Asian man has gone before, the pause stretches to five or ten seconds and can be rather disconcerting.

Kudos to Deryn Collier for creating a riveting read and capturing the quirks of small-town life.

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Thoughts on (during) Captain America

I’m a good wife. I agree to see movies like Captain America even though I’m convinced I’ll one day have a seizure in the middle of a 3D action scene.

During this particular movie, there was plenty of time (amidst a prolonged take-down of three flying gunships) to close my eyes and think of England. Or, in this case, to close my eyes and think about the problems inherent in saving the world.

Captain America manages to avert his super-laser-gun crisis. But his world is still in shambles. And if he can’t save the world, what are the chances for the rest of us?

That got me thinking (as I said, it was a long scene) about the 10/10 smart people in real-life who are trying to fix things on a global scale. People like David Suzuki and Archbishop Desmond TuTu.

While these guys have had plenty of successes, their battles are a bit like Captain America’s. They’ve taken down a few gunships. The world’s still messed up.

So if Captain America can’t do it, AND David Suzuki can’t do it, what ARE the chances for the rest of us?

The only conclusion I could reach while my ears were being bombarded and my butt shaken (did I mention that Min booked us into moving seats?) was that we need to somehow harness the abilities of all of us regular 7/10 people instead of relying on the few 10/10s.

But then, we’ll probably need a 10/10 to implement that…

In conclusion, I’d really like to look like Scarlett Johansson.

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Biodiversifying

My family and I headed to the Beaty Biodiversity Museum on Saturday morning, them for fun and me to do a little research for an upcoming project.

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What an amazing place! I’d been there before as part of Celebrate Science, but I’d only gotten as far as the giant whale skeleton and the auditorium. I’d seen none of the exhibits. There are aisles and aisles (and more aisles) packed with every specimen you can imagine, from mammoth bones to bird eggs.

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As we were combing through these displays on Saturday and my kids were exclaiming about bison, I whispered to Min: “We’re raising complete nerds.”

Then I noticed my son was dressed entirely in grey, and called him a grey man from the Wheel of Time books, and got myself completely blamed for their genetics.

Ouch.

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After the museum, we filled the weekend with not one, not two, but THREE kids’ birthday parties, followed by a trip to see Captain America. I will be entering a sensory deprivation tank for the rest of the week.

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Circus Dogs review

Through intense buttering-up of Rachelle Delaney, my daughter recently got her paws on advance proofs of The Circus Dogs of Prague. You may remember that she wallpapered her room last year with posters of the dogs from the Metro Dogs of Moscow. Well, she loved Circus Dogs even more. But I’ll let her tell it in her own words:

Join Pie, Robert, Beatrix, and of course JR, on a trip to Prague with George and his new girlfriend Nadya. At first, JR loves Prague. Cake, Parks, Treats. But then he sees them. Cats. Worse, Nadya has adopted a stray cat! ‘Kisa’ is nothing but trouble. At least, that’s what the dogs thought. But when Nadya’s brother’s circus is going out of business, is it possible that Kisa could save the day? Read The Circus Dogs of Prague to find out.

This book was awesome! I loved how Kisa was kind of unpredictable and sometimes, she was just so nice. Sometimes, she was just trouble!

There you have it. An advance review from JR’s biggest fan.

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Best of the worst

Drum roll, please! Here’s my newest non-fiction title, to be released this fall by Annick Press:

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When the Worst Happens is about crazy situations, and how some people manage to survive them. It explores the ways our bodies respond to emergencies, the ways our brains function (or fail to function) under duress, and the different ways individuals and groups cope with crises.

Of all the non-fiction books I’ve worked on, this has been my absolute favourite. Maybe because as a generally paranoid person, I had plenty of questions about how best to survive a disaster. When The Worst Happens gave me the perfect excuse to research my deepest fears. (Among other things, I discovered that air travel really is safe. Even when planes crash, almost everyone escapes safely. Working in hundred-year-old mines, on the other hand… not recommended.)

When I created the proposal for this book, I suggested a chapter about Arctic misadventures, a chapter about desert disasters, etc. The information about the psychology of survival was to be included in bits and pieces. But then editor extraordinaire Alison Kooistra stepped in and created a spreadsheet (really) showing how the book could be organized around psychologic themes, with four main stories told in chunks scattered throughout. So, readers could skip pages to follow the stories one at a time, OR read the chapters in order to learn about human reactions. Genius, right? And all I had to do was figure out how to read a spreadsheet.

The book also has fantastic illustrations (in my wholly unbiased opinion) by David Parkins, and my favourite graphic design ever.

I’m a wee bit excited. Feel free to join me in my ongoing happy dance. The book’s due out this fall!

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Desperately seeking silence

I made it through twelve days of spring break as an attentive, involved mother. I played card games and board games, travelled cheerfully, led adventures, and bought treats.

On the afternoon of the thirteenth day, I curled up in a small ball with a good book and refused to make dinner. (It’s fortunate I’m not a single parent.)

The book, incidentally, was Story House. I love when a book makes you think, “how does the writer know all that stuff?” In this case, Timothy Taylor appears to be a genius of architecture, boxing, sport fishing, molecular gastronomy, and, most impressively, counterfeiting.

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It’s not an easy read (take that with a grain of salt, since I spend much of my time reading children’s books), but a thoroughly fascinating one.

With the book finished, Day 14 of spring break was successfully navigated. I have now recovered my sanity and given up my Julie McCoy act, at least until summer strikes.

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Onwards to my own work…

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Laptopless

I left my laptop at home last week when we went to Whidbey.

I know.

I can barely believe it myself. But I took along a notebook instead, and found it surprisingly pleasant and productive.

Here are my three favourite things about writing by hand:

1. No one knows you’re working. There were no remonstrating looks from husband or children. No complaints. No requests to use my notebook for games or googling, which would have happened immediately if I were working on a laptop.

2. I didn’t feel like I was working. And often, I wasn’t. Sometimes I was scribbling ideas for blog post, and sometimes I was copying recipes from an ancient copy of The Moosewood Cookbook, because they reminded me of my vegetarian university years (when that cookbook was considered the epitome of exotic). And sometimes, just sometimes, I was writing entire scenes for my work-in-progress.

3. I wasn’t worried about writing trash. I’m right in the muddy middle of a project, and the weight of all the written scenes combined with the still-to-write scenes is a terrible mix of crushing and confusing. But in a notebook, I can write paragraphs or pages and not worry where they might fit or connect. If they don’t work, I won’t type them!

Along with my beach photos and Port Townsend loot, I’ve left Whidbey with a resolution: to sometimes head to the coffee shop with a pen instead of a keyboard for company.

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Browsing bookshelves

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One of the best things about staying in a guest house instead of a hotel is the shelf of books that’s always waiting to be explored, complete with trashy romances or experimental poetry or self-help for alcoholics. And no matter what books I’ve brought with me, I always find myself abandoning them for the trash or the poetry or… well, not the twelve-step guides. But everything else!

Here’s the odd collection I went through on Whidbey Island last week:

The Diviners, by Libba Bray, which was fantastic (of course, because who doesn’t love Libba Bray?), but too scary for me. I had to read it in daylight hours only.

The Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri. I don’t usually read short stories. I don’t like how they leave me hanging just after I’ve fallen in love with the characters. And this book is full of the worst kind of frustration, precisely because the stories are so good and I fell so thoroughly in love. I’d happily read a novel based on any one of these tales.

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Better Nate Than Ever, by Tim Federle. I read this at the insistence of my nine-year-old, who was whipping through books faster than I was. It was a silly, sweet, and heart-squeezing story. (My daughter picked this one up from her school library, where the librarian now lets her rummage through the new books before they’re even shelved. I have obviously done well teaching her life’s most important lesson: make friends with your librarian.)

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, by Evan Roskos. Is this not the best title ever? And I loved the main character in this book, in all his anxious navel-gazing.

Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo. Last week’s guest house had not only a grown-ups’ bookshelf, but a kids’ one as well. That’s where my daughter found this gem, which I read on our last night away. It was a candy box of perfectly linked stories and characters, tied up with a mildly magical ribbon. A perfect way to end the reading trip!

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