Still reading…

When my social media feeds are full of pandemic news, and my TV reflects a world on fire, and it seems impossible for any one person to make a difference, reading serves as my refuge, gives me windows to new ways of thinking, and allows me hope for the future.

I’m so happy to think of kids finding all of these things in their books. And if I were to give advice to a young person overwhelmed by the recent changes in the world, I would say, “Disappear into a book for a while. See what you discover there.”

With all of that in mind, I’m thrilled to have Mya’s Strategy to Save the World included as a Manitoba Young Reader’s Choice Awards Sundog nominee.

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And to have Me and Banksy on the list for the 2020-2021 Surrey Book of the Year.

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These are both reader’s choice awards, which are the very best kind.

In all of the nominated titles, I hope readers find things that make them think, things that make them laugh out loud, and things that make them feel a little lighter on a cloudy day.

Happy reading, everyone! (I’ll be joining you. I LOVED Maybe He Just Likes You, by Barbara Dee, Wings of Olympus, by Kallie George, and The Case of Windy Lake, by Michael Hutchinson. Next up: Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga.)

Not too sad, not too funny…

Years ago, my running group tried to become a book club. We thought the wine would be more fun than those little water bottles you wear around your waist on long runs.

But the whole idea fell apart when we tried to choose a book.

“I have to read the last page first,” my friend Heidi said. “I can’t read the book if the last page will make me cry.”

“I don’t read funny books,” someone else said. “They’re never funny.”

And so it went…

Failed book club members,
but supportive friends.

Between us, we excluded all possible reads, and we were left with only running.

I feel a little like that failed book club, in my pandemic reading choices. I need something that will hold my attention amidst a thousand distractions, but not something too trivial because I feel as if I should be doing something useful with my time, and not something too sad because there are already a lot of sad things.

This week, I settled on comfort reading, and I’ve been churning through Emily of New Moon at bedtime.

But I’m also listening to the audiobook of My Lady Jane, which is somehow a collaboration between three authors, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. It’s an alternative history of England with the quirkiest narrative voice ever, and I’m enthralled.

Next up, and even at this moment waiting for me at the curb-side pick-up at Vancouver Kidsbooks, is The Glass Hotel by Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel. She describes it on her website as: “a ghost story that’s also about white collar crime and container shipping.” (What???)

Emily is the author of pandemic novel Station 11, another capitivating read, even (especially?) during COVID19. I have high hopes for The Glass Hotel… I’ll let you know!

What are you reading these days? And what are your rules for book choices? I’d love to hear…

In need of inspiration?

I have two bits of news to share today, both from Ink Well Vancouver, the writing community I run along with fellow children’s authors Stacey Matson and Rachelle Delaney.

We’ve launched a newsletter, and our second edition is coming out within the next few days. You can sign up here.

AND, we have an online writing workshop coming up! Kallie George will be hosting on Sunday, May 3rd, as we delve into the writing and editing of picture books. There’s still time to register, and lots more information at Ink Well Vancouver.

In the meantime, happy writing!

A rare moment of quiet on the back deck.

Time is a social construct

My friend Stacey sent me an email the other day. I know this is late, she wrote, but time is a social construct.

So true, especially these days! I always tease my husband for planning his life in eight-minute increments. Suddenly, he’s home for hours at a time. (At this moment, he’s practicing with his speedbag in the garage. Let’s blame any typos on the fact the house is shaking, shall we?)

My kids actually seem happier without the daily routine of school. Yesterday, my daughter wrote an essay, finished a project, made lemon tarts, sewed some masks, and trounced us in Settlers of Catan. My son has been doing 3D modelling tutorials. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know he turned my Me and Banksy cover into this squirrel…

… which James McCann then 3D printed for us, creating this…

I love the layers of creativity happening!

I always think I’m going to be more productive when I have acres of undistributed time, but often — as is now proving the case — I get more accomplished when my writing hours are limited. I’ve been working on a picture book, I’m almost finished a proposal, and I have a manuscript due in a couple months.

I’m assuming everything will get done, somehow. Because work, like time, is a social concept. Right? It’s just all happening a bit differently these days!

My new writing schedule

8:30 am
My daughter is still fast asleep. My son heads off to do his homework. My husband sets up in the family room to work from home. I begin writing.

9:15 am
My son drapes himself around my neck. I tell him to pour himself a water, then read a chapter of his novel. My husband continues working, undisturbed.

9:30 am
My daughter emerges, hungry. I make breakfast suggestions. My husband continues working, undisturbed.

9:45 am
My son announces that he will die of boredom unless he’s able to use the main computer. I switch to the laptop and retreat to my bedroom. Inexplicably, my husband is now on the living room couch, conducting meetings ON SPEAKERPHONE.

10:30 am
My son is frustrated because his animation files won’t upload. It may work if he can switch computers. He takes my laptop. I continue working, on my phone. At least the conference call downstairs appears to be over.

11 am
My husband announces he’s finished his work. My son says his brain has died. My daughter needs help finding a sponge. (Why? I don’t even ask.) 

I am privileged to have a home with multiple rooms, and blessed to have my family members close. I make myself repeat this sentence five times, slowly. 

Words written today, not including blog rant: 245.

The pandemic pause

What a strange time. We’ve all pushed the pause button, and we don’t know when we’ll be allowed to press play.

In some ways, we writers are better prepared than most. I could spend hours a day alone at my desk, researching and scribbling, reading and thinking. Except…

I’m not alone.

There’s usually a child draped around my shoulders, wondering what to do next. And a husband calling from down the hall. And an extra-loud Facebook conversation echoing from my daughter’s room. I am the lone introvert in a family of extroverts.

But, really, I’m grateful to have them around me. As someone who does, in regular life, often spend hours alone, I recognize the value of connection. And even in this new state, I’m usually the one gathering my family for a walk, or a bike along silent streets, or a disc toss in the empty park.

It’s difficult to imagine quite how we’ll return to normal, or what a new sort of normal might be.

I hope my daughter’s gym teacher is amazed when Silence suddenly hammers out a hundred push-ups. I hope Violence’s grandkids one day wonder how he became such a card shark. I hope that a decade from now, we look back at the pandemic and think how close our kids grew during their enforced isolation. And that no matter what happens, I hope we continue to see our home as a refuge from the world.

On virtual tour

I’ve been a social butterfly lately, all without leaving my house. In case you’re not getting enough of my blathering here on the blog, you can also find me at…

Reading with Rendz, musing about accidental inspiration.

Fab Book Reviews, chatting with Michelle about rebel characters.

PRH Young Readers, searching for mental space.

The Contented Reader, having tea and talking privacy with Victoria.

And if you’re still not sick of me, there’s a lovely review of Me and Banksy posted at Shelf Awareness.

All this, and I’m still in my pyjamas. 🙂

 

Skipping to the end

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.

The end. 

“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 Banksy floundered 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. 

New book bonanza

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.)

This was a nice surprise at Vancouver Kidsbooks.
And look how many copies they had for me to sign!

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!

Happy New Year!

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!