My son cleared his throat and read me his new story. It opened with great drama. A young boy woke to find his city invaded by aliens. He befriended one of the small aliens. He was about to negotiate peace with the bigger ones when… the spaceship shot him.
“Wait… what?” I said. “Your story was so great. Why did you kill your main character?”
“We only have to write two pages for school,” he said. “If I didn’t kill him, everything would get more and more complicated.”
And with that, he summarized all my writing problems. I start a book, I fall in love with the characters, I scribble along until things get complicated, and then… trouble. I’m stuck in the messy middle.
Me and Banksyfloundered in this state for quite a while as I tried to figure out exactly what Dominica and her best friends were going to do about the security cameras in their classrooms. Dominica had already taken some small, individual actions. I knew the book would end with a collective rebellion… but how would I get them from here to there?
Eventually, I skipped to the end. I wrote the scene about the students’ grand pièce de résistance. After that, it was simply a matter of figuring out what each character would have needed to do to reach that scene. I backtracked to fill in the missing pieces.
Writing is a messy process. As my son explained, it gets more and more complicated with every page. But sometimes it helps to remember that I don’t need to know what happens next. As long as I know what happens at some point, I can write forwards, backwards, and in between.
Though it’s best to avoid the alien spaceships along the way.
My new middle-grade novel Me and Banksy came out a couple weeks ago, so I’ve been visiting bookstores, chatting with book bloggers, and secretly sleeping with copies under my pillow. (Just kidding, but I do feel about new-book smell the same way my husband feels about new-car smell.)
Me and Banksy is the first of my books to have an audiobook edition, which I’ve already gushed about here. This week, I got to download and listen to it for the first time. My son, Violence, who has just turned thirteen (!!!) and who’s long been the biggest audiobook fan in our household, hung out with me in the kitchen listening to the first chapter. I think he’s decided I’m now a real writer.
There are reviews posted, including this one from Quill and Quire, one here from Shelf Awareness, and these lovely words from Publisher’s Weekly. Today, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre published an interview with me. I also have guest posts appearing on various book blogs next week, so watch this space for the links.
And thanks to everyone for your kind words and support!
Admittedly, I was asleep by 10:45 on New Year’s Eve, while my daughter and her friends celebrated downstairs, but I’m now wide awake and ready to celebrate.
There’s a lot to look forward to in 2020. I’ve been reading articles like this one, which offer some hope for the future. Greta Thunberg’s final post of 2019 on Twitter said, “This coming decade humanity will decide it’s future. Let’s make it the best one we can. We have to do the impossible. So let’s get started.” That seems like the perfect note on which to begin the decade.
On a more personal level, I have new writing projects to get excited about. Me and Banksy is finally hitting the bookstore shelves on January 7th. I say “finally” because birthing a book baby takes SO much longer than birthing a real baby, and this project has been in the works for a couple years. I’m so thrilled to see it in the world. Reviewers have been very kind so far. Here are some nice words from Publisher’s Weekly, and a starred review (eep!) from Quill and Quire.
Meanwhile, I’ve signed a new contract for a middle-grade non-fiction book with Kids Can Press and I’m about to send off a non-fiction book proposal co-written by my daughter. Fingers crossed!
I’m not one for resolutions, but my husband said something recently that struck a chord. He said you don’t always need to have fun. You can just be fun. I’m going to try for that.
Happy New Year, all! If you have resolutions or big 2020 plans, please let me know in the comments!
I’m presenting at the Vancouver Writers Festival this week, which is entirely unlike what I usually do with my time (ie. sit in front of my computer wearing grubby clothes, eating popcorn, and wondering why I seem to have named all my characters after people’s great aunts).
Yesterday’s presentation was about my new non-fiction book, Under Pressure: The Science of Stress. Ironic, because I was feeling more than a little anxious as I sat backstage waiting for my cue.
The event went very well, though. The kids were engaged and eager to volunteer (whew!), a big group of writer friends surprised me by getting tickets and planting their friendly faces along one side of the stage, and I only accidentally wore cat ears for half the time.
After the presentation, I went to not one, but TWO PARTIES! And I held a drink and a plate of snacks in one hand without spilling them on myself or on other people.
And then… would you believe… there’s ANOTHER PARTY?!?
I’m very grateful to be at the Writers Festival, and it’s run by the world’s smartest, kindest people, including a massive array of fabulous volunteers. A big thank you to artistic director Leslie Hurtig and Senior Artistic Associate Clea Young for including me!
Here’s some exciting news… Me and Banksy, my novel coming out with Penguin Random House next spring, is going to be an audio book!
My kids and I are big audio-book fans, so there were celebrations in my house. Everyone thought I was very glamorous for at least fifteen minutes, until they wanted to know what was for dinner and whether their martial arts gear was clean. But hey, those were fifteen dog minutes, and we parents take what we can get.
I had no idea how audio books were made. My friend Stacey sent me this great video, so I could pretend to be intelligent while on the phone with the producer, Ann. (“On the phone with the producer”… I wish I got to type that phrase more often.)
This is how an audio book gets made, from an author’s point of view:
Ann sent me sample audio files from three shortlisted actors. I was asked to review and rank these files, on the understanding that the publisher would have the final choice, and things might depend on each actor’s availability.
I listened to the audio files approximately one billion times. Fortunately, I had a live-in focus group and they were happy to give their opinions. We all loved an actor named Veronica Hortiguela. She sounded smart, funny, and emotional but not too emotional.
I sent the opinions of my focus group to Ann, who right away said that she’d offer Veronica the part.
Veronica said yes!
After the director read through the book, I received a list of pronunciation questions. Some of these, I could answer. For example, I knew how to pronounce my name. Other questions were more difficult. How did I want emojis handled? (I quickly consulted the focus group.) Artist Rineke Dijkstra is mentioned in the text. How should her name be pronounced? (Um… thank goodness for YouTube!)
Now production is underway.
It’s always thrilling to see a new book in print, but this time, I get double thrills. I get to hear the new book, too!
Word is sometimes tricky, because bad weather can scare away the crowds. (One year, the entire children’s tent blew away — fortunately without the kids inside.) But this year, we had glorious sunshine and lots of happy readers gathered ’round. There were seniors and toddlers and teens… including my daughter, who I thoroughly embarassed by sharing the real-life stories that inspired Mya’s Strategy to Save the World.
While I was at the festival, I had the chance to see lots of inspiring writers and storytellers in action, including Kallie George, there to introduce her oh-so-lovely Anne of Green Gables adaptation, Anne Arrives. I also met Rachel Poliquin, author of The Superpower Field Guide: Moles. After I spent her panel whispering, “I wish I’d written that!” to everyone around me, I had to introduce myself.
Come and join me at these fall book events. They’re going to be a blast, and I would love to see friendly faces!
Word Vancouver Sunday, September 29th, 2:50-3:50 pm I’ll be on the children’s stage with the wonderful Lee Edward Fodi (author of The Secret of Zoone) and Mahtab Narsimhan (Embrace the Chicken). We’re downtairs in the Alice McKay room at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch. Between us, we have books about butter chicken, skateboarding sisters, and skygers. What better combination could you possibly find?
Vancouver Writers Festival Tuesday, October 22nd, 1-2:15 pm Thursday, October 24th, 10:15-11:45 am On the Tuesday, I’m talking all about Under Pressure and the science of stress. I promise, you will be so prepared if you run into a bear on the way home from Granville Island. On the Thursday, I’m talking “Empowered Kids” with Sara Cassidy (Nevers), Michael Hutchinson (The Case of Windy Lake), and moderator France Perras. That’s three wise, insightful people, and me!
Word is a free event, a whole jam-packed day of literary goodness. Tickets for the Vancouver Writers Festival go on sale September 11th for school groups and September 16th for the public. (And many events sell out, so get yours early.)
I’m just back from three weeks in Italy with the family. We started in Rome, where Violence, on the taxi ride from the airport, shouted, “Wait… Rome has RUINS!?” as if we’d been hiding this from him. (Thank you, Rick Riordan, for making ruins interesting to twelve-year-olds.)
From Rome, we went to Siena, then Venice, and finally to Lake Garda.
Travelling reminds me that even when the surroundings are different — shopkeepers are speaking another language and I can’t figure out the street signs and I may have just eaten a mushroom or it could have been pork and it’s rather disconcerting not to know which — people are in many ways the same.
When two little boys are poking at one another in the restaurant, and their mother raises her eyebrows, I know exactly what she’s thinking. When they keep going, and she scolds them in Italian, I know exactly what she’s saying. Because people are people are people.
This particular people is a little jet lagged at the moment, but slowly easing back into the writing routine!
I hope your own summers have been fabulous so far!
I’m writing this blog post from the deck of Hillcrest Pool, surrounded by a million children. The lifeguards here are the most patient people in existence.
A few minutes ago, my son turned up dripping by my side to say he’d lost his friend in the pool during a game of hide and seek. I thought I might have to explain to the friend’s mom that her son had drowned as I was supposed to be supervising, but then I found the friend, sitting on a lounge chair. It turns out my son is as bad at finding friends in the pool as he is at finding socks in his sock drawer.
Trying to write on the pool deck is not so different than trying to write at home these days. My desk is on our stairway landing, which is perfectly fine during the school year, but significantly less convenient when my house is full of children.
My wise friend Stacey suggested I think of this as the season for inspiration and input rather than for productivity, and this idea has been helpful.
On the subject of input, I’m on the final pages of The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and the book is mind-blowing. Trees communicate. They taste and smell things. They nurse their young. And this is all science, not Lord of the Rings. I will never again see a forest in the same way.
I hope you’re enjoying the summer, with all of its hiding, seeking, and splashing. I’m off to hug a tree, ponder the existence of ents, and think about what I’ll write once my office is again my own.