Shortbread

I always tell myself I’ll get some Christmas preparations done in November so December’s not such a whirlwind. Then the final week of November arrives, and I panic, realizing I’ve done nothing.

It doesn’t actually take as long as I think it will, once I set myself to work.

I’ve placed my orders with the photo site. I’ve bought my cards and (mostly) written our Christmas letter. And last night… I baked the first batches of shortbread.

My family arrived like crows in the kitchen as soon as they saw the butter softening in the bowl. By the time the first circle was cut, they were sneaking batter off the counter. And there were protests like the pipeline protests when I limited them to one cookie each after dinner.

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My shortbread is well-appreciated.

It’s actually my mother’s shortbread. I make it each year from a recipe emailed in 2000. “How are things in wedding land?” it reads. “Are preparations going well? Our basement renovations are done and Dad has hung his stupid singing fish.”

Which makes me smile every year because the singing fish was a gift from my husband and it was a particularly inspired fish.

A few years ago, a friend wrote a cookbook and included recipes from our whole crowd of families. On my family’s page, she listed the ingredients for shortbread: butter, sugar, flour, cornstarch. Under method, it says: “Just call Tanya. Trust me, it’s easier that way.”

They don’t know that my shortbread isn’t as good as my mother’s. Maybe I don’t knead it quite right. She’s demonstrated again and again how to mix the flour until the dough is just the right consistency and the cracks appear. Mine is still never the same as hers.

What that email from 2000 should say is: “Call your mother. It’s better that way.”

But the crows don’t seem to mind.

Emily

There is really nothing more annoying than when your child, the child who seems to read a dozen books a week (and so could obviously fit one more into her schedule), REFUSES to read a book that you’ve recommended.

After Silence loved the Borrowers series and the Oz books and Narnia and Anne of Green Gables, I suggested she try Emily of New Moon. Which she made no effort to do.

So, I bought her all three Emily books for Christmas.

She put them in her closet.

Now, I should maybe stop to explain that I LOVED the Emily books as a child, I still love them, and every writer I know loves Emily more than Anne. I considered duct-taping the books to Silence’s forehead until she agreed to read them.

I couldn’t find that chapter in the parenting guides.

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Finally, FINALLY, she was a little under the weather one day this fall and she downloaded the Emily of New Moon audio book from the Vancouver Public Library.

She loved it.

I was torn between peeing my pants with joy and tearing out my eyelashes one by one.

She’s now on book three.

I may steal the print versions and read them myself.

Midnight reading

I finished Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing over the weekend, just in time for her to win a Giller to go with her Governor General’s Award.

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I have some issues with complicated grown-up books: (a) I read too many middle-grade novels and I’ve come to expect constant action, and (b) I read in little chunks of time between life interruptions.

So I was getting through the book last week, but I wasn’t getting into it.

Then one night I fell asleep at 8 pm while putting my son to bed. I woke up at midnight feeling like it was morning. I opened my book.

Suddenly, the dreamlike wanderings of lost and confused characters were entirely appropriate. The generations of musicians seemed clear and real and yet so tiny against the background of revolution and exile. I devoured a huge chunk of the book that night. Long before morning, I was in love.

When I finished the final chapter on Saturday, I lay unable to move until I’d made Min sit through a long, rambling summary of how bits of stories and music both tie us together and move on without us. And then I decided I might never be able to read another book.

I’m so thrilled she won the Giller.

Also, I may become nocturnal.

The real me

It was family getaway weekend. We picked up Min’s sister and headed to Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham, where my shopaholic daughter could bond with her auntie over the sales racks.

We do these trips once or twice a year, so I mentally prepare. Embrace it, I tell myself. Embrace the mall experience. And why not? I could use some clothes. Every time I have to leave the house for anything more formal than a pajama party, I have a wardrobe crisis.

But inevitably, this is what happens. I look at the first rack, then the second, then the third, and I think:

Who wears these clothes?
They don’t look like me.
What does look like me?
I have no idea.
Nothing looks like me.
I have no idea who I am!

Fortunately, JUST before I had to be checked into an asylum, I found myself.

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Yes, this is the tiger that saved me from existential crisis. He was electric, and we motored around the mall together. Min came along, too, on a giant bear.

Also, I bought a hoodie. It is perfectly appropriate for a pajama party.

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Creature control

I had a phone interview with a high school student in a life planning class. She had all sorts of questions about the publishing process, including “how much control do you have over the illustrations and the cover?”

Um… none!

Most writers get “input” rather than control. I often see initial sketches from the illustrator under consideration for a project. Then I see rough artwork so I can comment about accuracy. And I see the final versions so I can squeal over them. But as for veto power: zero.

Fortunately, the editors and art directors at publishing houses usually have much, much better visual taste than I have, and I trust them to make great decisions.

As I learned last week, I should be grateful that I at least have input. I sat down with two actor friends as they watched their newly released movie for the first time. Before it began, one of them turned to me and said, “You have to imagine you wrote your text, sent it away, and you have no idea what’s been done with it. That’s how we feel right now.”

ACK! I don’t have that much trust.

As we watched the (wonderful) movie, they said things like, “Oh, they cut a lot of that scene,” or “that part looked so different when they shot it.”

What a strange thing, to create something and then leave it entirely in the power of someone else. It would be like handing someone your egg and hoping that after it’s hatched and grown, you admire the finished creature.

I’m so glad I get to watch my creatures grow.

In the trees!

I’m absolutely thrilled to have DNA Detective nominated for a Red Maple Award this year. Part of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading, the Red Maple is a reader’s choice award for kids in grades seven and eight.

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I’m personally glad I’m not one of those kids, because it’s going to be impossible to choose. Other books on the list include Pride by Robin Stevenson, Child Soldier by Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys, and Vanished by Elizabeth McLeod (which is currently topping my list of books I wish I’d written).

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Congrats to all the other nominees, and a huge thanks to the Ontario Library Association!

On vikings and the management of expectations

I took my son to see Rick Riordan yesterday.

Rick Riordan seems like a lovely man, and Kidsbooks did a fabulous job of the event. It was held in the Hellenic Hall (which maybe should have been the Nordic Hall for the occasion) and it was packed to the gills.

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My son was SO excited. I can’t properly explain how excited he was. And that, I think, was part of the problem. Because it was a vaguely unsatisfying evening. Which made me think about kids, expectations, celebrity, and the problems with balancing the three.

My son is a super-fan. But he’s also nine and was one of the youngest at the event. So he was thrilled to be pointed toward a free T-shirt table, then crushed to find the T-shirts in adult sizes. And he practically dislocated his arms clapping and cheering when a sword-fighting Viking emerged from the wings and ran around the auditorium. Then he was seriously confused when the Viking took off his wig and turned out to be a thin, bald man.

“Is that him?” he asked me repeatedly, comparing the bald Viking to the author picture on the back flap of The Hammer of Thor.

No, as it turned out. The Viking was a publicist, who — after neglecting to introduce himself — proceeded to give prizes to kids who tried to answer questions such as: How many weeks has Percy Jackson been on the bestseller list? How many countries have rights to Rick Riordan books? How many copies of Uncle Rick’s books have been printed?

The publicist had a strange idea of what might interest young readers.

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When the real Rick Riordan finally emerged, he was warm, engaging, and funny. But he spent about twenty minutes on a slideshow which was basically an advertisement for the books released in 2016 and those coming in 2017. Again, my son waved his arms frantically trying to ask a question during the Q&A portion of the evening, but of course only a dozen of the hundreds of kids in the room gained their 30 seconds at the microphone.

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Then the event was over, and we all went home.

I was thinking this morning about what would have had to happen for my son to be as ecstatic at the end of the evening as he was at the beginning. First, that sword-waving Viking would have had to be sent to Ragnarok. (Sorry, publicist.) And Rick Riordan would have had to personally shake my son’s hand, look into his devoted little eyes, and say “I’m so glad you love my books.”

I admit, that’s probably unreasonable.

So then I thought about what I expect when I go to see my favourite authors speak. I know I’m not going to get personal interaction. But I go to hear them reading in their own voices. I go hoping to hear wisdom — words that will keep me thinking in the days to come. And I go for inspiration. When I leave, I want to feel eager to start work on my own stories.

Both the overprotective mom and the writer inside me would have liked all those things for my son.

But he went home clutching his signed copy of the new Magnus Chase book, and he read well past bedtime. So maybe he’ll find his wisdom and inspiration in the pages, instead of the performance.

For the record, his question was going to be: “How do you come up with all those amazing chapter titles? They’re my favourite part.”

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Word of mouth

This is a friend’s account of a conversation between her 10-year-old daughter and Christianne of Christianne’s Lyceum.

Daughter: There’s a mom at my school who’s a writer. You should invite her.

Christianne: What’s her name?

Daughter: I don’t know, but she’s my best friend’s sister’s best friend’s mom and she’s really good.

As it turns out, I’ve spoken at Christianne’s (amazing) book clubs a few times. And I’m hiring the daughter as my new Director of Marketing… just as soon as she learns my name.

Galavanting

We spent the weekend on Vancouver Island, visiting my sister, brother-in-law, and nephews in their new home.

People from Vancouver probably shouldn’t be allowed to travel. It stirs up house-envy. Halfway through the weekend I decided my life would be significantly happier if I had just one more kitchen drawer, and would probably be perfect if I had a pantry.

Outside the kitchen, though, it was a lovely weekend. We went beach combing and mini-golfing, and stopped for lunch in Coombs. On Sunday morning, we visited the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association, which was amazing. There were all sorts of recovering birds and rescued creatures, including this guy:

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And, temporarily, this guy:

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The association rescued eight bear cubs and released them last year.

We returned on the ferry yesterday afternoon, so it’s back to rehabilitating words for me this morning, with no bears in sight. But I did just send off a book idea which included bears. Does that count?

Also, I’m entering my own rehabilitation re: the kitchen pantry issue. It’s a twelve-step program.

Quilt shop

My mom makes the most amazing quilts for my kids. Over the years there have been quilts with baby ducks, with fairies that actually sparkled, with circus animals, and with trucks. There’s a hanging quilt for Christmas, and a Halloween one with a witch that we’re pretty sure was modelled upon Auntie Sandy (sorry, Sandy).

This is my personal favourite. Behind every buttoned door hides a different monster.

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I’m not sure what my mom thinks happens to these quilts when she replaces them. I should probably be framing them. But instead, they’re folded and stacked on my daughter’s window seat or on my son’s closet shelf. And from there, they make their way into all sorts of projects. They have served as:

Fort walls
Picnic blankets
Treehouse ceilings
Yoga mats
Nerf gun targets
Sliding surfaces
Crash landing pads
Electonics workshop carpeting

If I were a picture-book writer, I’d have to create The Secret Life of Quilts.