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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The whooshing sound

I came across this quote from Douglas Adams: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

I never miss deadlines. I’m much to Virgo-esque for that to happen. And in many ways, I like to have a goal and a finish line. But there are all these other things — dentist appointments, kids with colds, and, ahem, the entire summer — that get in the way. And then I panic.

My next manuscript is due on November 15th and I feel so behind I’ve started waking at 5 a.m. to think about how behind I am.

Because that’s helpful.

If you’re looking for me, I’ll be the one in the corner, rocking, with her laptop a few inches from her nose.

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Blindly in love

This weekend, I learned to paddleboard. Last week, I attempted skim boarding (without even breaking a hip). Next week, we’re going hiking. There are many, many reasons I love Vancouver, including the beach and the forest and the mountains.


But what I love even more about this city is that many, many people here think it’s a good idea to paint a giant egg in the middle of an intersection.

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Extreme Battlefields

Annick’s Winter/Spring catalogue just arrived in my mailbox, which must mean it’s time to reveal what I’ve been working on this year.

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What am I doing writing about war? I have no idea. I like to think I’ve been writing more about extreme circumstances, action under pressure, and some impressively heroic leaders. These are definitely the most heart-thumping, adrenaline-racing stories I’ve even researched. I had to cut back on my coffee intake just to get through the first draft without having an aneurism.

Here’s the official, more coherent write-up:

The world’s strongest armies discover that Nature can be a secret ally or an unbeatable foe.

Not even the strongest troops can match the power of nature. in each of the ten stories in this volume, well-armed forces set off to battle human enemies but find themselves fighting the environment instead. Sometimes a leader carefully plans the perfect attack, only to find geography in the way. Other times the climate interferes unexpectedly.

• In 119 BCE, General Wei Qing used a sand storm as cover and was able to attack the Xiongnu nomads by surprise.
• Napoleon’s plan to quickly subdue the Russians was foiled by the savage “General Winter.”
• A massive network of underground tunnels gave the Viet Cong guerillas an unbeatable advantage over the much stronger American forces.
• The battle between India and Pakistan over borders has pitted both countries against the inhospitable Siachen Glacier.

Nature’s obstacles have led to crushing defeats, they’ve inspired accidental victories, and they’ve encouraged surprising innovation.

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The book features illustrations by Drew Shannon as well as photos, maps, and a rather dramatic design. I can’t wait for you all to see the real thing!

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Vancouver Writers Fest!!!

Let me apologize now for the three exclamation marks in the title of this post. But… the Vancouver Writers Fest!!! (Oops… did it again. Sorry.)

I’m so excited to be a part of the festival this year. And, as the catalogue has just arrived in my mailbox, it must be time to share a little news about my presentations.

DNA Detective
Wednesday, October 21, 10 – 11:15 a.m.
In this DNA Detective talk for students in grades 5 through 8, I tell stories about the deranged and obsessed people who figured out how DNA actually works. (One of them drank hydrochloric acid.) We explore the wild and wacky side of DNA mishaps, cloning, and woolly-mammoth reconstruction, consider the pros and cons of glowing goldfish, and wonder how Icelanders avoid marrying their cousins.

Against All Odds
Wednesday, October 21, 1 – 2:30 p.m.
This is a panel discussion with Michel Chikwanine, moderated by Shannon Ozirny. Michel was kidnapped by rebel Congolese soldiers when he was five, taken to the jungle, and trained as a child soldier. I am… providing comic relief? Because the closest I’ve come to a survival situation was Metrotown Mall on Boxing Day. BUT, I did write When the Worst Happens, which is all about how our body and brain handle crisis situations, how to control panic and take action, and how to survive just about anything. Except maybe rebel Congolese soldiers. (I may simply stare at Michel in awe during this hour. But you can join me.)

There are many more events that I’m dying to attend, so hopefully I’ll see you on Granville Island in October! (There. I’m down to one exclamation mark. How sedate of me.)

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The dream conference

Imagine this: a children’s literature conference where Stacey Matson was teaching storytelling and Carrie Mac giving a keynote about heroes, villains, and geeks. James McCann was offering a workshop on story mapping, Maggie de Vries on scene construction, and Jeremy Tankard on turning pictures into stories. Denise Jaden, Grant Lawrence, and Pia Guerra were speaking and mentoring. Would you want to go?

Because I would TOTALLY sign up!

Except… I am not 11 to 16. Damn it.

All last week, my daughter ran off to the VPL’s Writing and Book Camp each day and came home raving about the cool people she’d met and the things she’d discovered.

Then, on Friday, she got up in front of 150 or so people and read an excerpt from her short story. Calmly, clearly, as if it were no big deal.

I am hanging somewhere between immensely proud and insanely jealous.

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Breaking up

You know when a friend tells you that you have to read a particular book?

So you pick up the book and you start to read and it’s horrible, but your friend recommended it so it must get better, and you keep reading and reading and waiting and reading? And it never gets better?

And then you start to think that if your friend thought you would love this book, maybe your friend doesn’t understand you at all?

And then you think it’s possible that you can’t be friends anymore with someone who would think you could love this book?

Reading is dangerous like that.

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