A non-writing accomplishment

Apples, from our own backyard. We planted a little apple tree two summers ago, and this is the first time it’s offered significant fruit. It’s a columnar tree, with barely any branches.

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If it had branches, I’d be tempted to climb to the top and chain myself there, just for some quiet time!

Instead, I’m going to gorge on apple crisp.

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Writer in pieces

I’m on the final pages of Ellen in Pieces, the new grown-up novel by Caroline Adderson.

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Isn’t the cover the most fabulous thing ever?

I say the new “grown-up novel” because I know Caroline more as a kids’ writer. She lives nearby, we attend CWILL BC meetings together, and I’ve read her chapter books. So I knew she was smart-funny.

But I didn’t, until this week, know that she was sharp-funny, wicked-funny, or raunchy-funny. And it turns out she is. Also, capable of writing scenes of chest-crushing sadness.

I’m going to look at her in a whole different way now! And I’m also going to look up her backlist…

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In which I lose my marbles

This school strike sucks for those of us working from home. It just plain sucks. Because I (a) don’t really make enough to justify full-time care for my kids and (b) given the choice, would rather not subject them to the Lord-of-the-Flies-supervised-by-texting-teens scenario going on at the day camp across the street.

All of this equals a LOT of extra time with my children, followed by work hours late at night, during which I heap curses on Christy Clark’s head.

Today, in an attempt to reintroduce my feral children to the use of their brains, I made them both complete pages from a math workbook. Unfortunately, this involved me having to relearn long division, so I could help MonkeyGirl.

(The fact that I’d forgotten how to do this means I was right all along. You actually DON’T need fifth grade math in order to live a productive life.)

Fortunately, I have this to look forward to. Brought over by my freelance writer friend Rachel yesterday, for an afternoon of commiseration:

wine

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The dangers of writing non-fiction

Me: We have to get you some new long johns for soccer.

MonkeyGirl: Why do they have to call them long johns? Why not soccer pants?

Me: Actually, there was this heavyweight boxer named John Sullivan. All the other boxers wore shorts, but he wore long pants, so they called them long johns…

MonkeyGirl: I didn’t want to hear the story, Mom. I just want you to call them soccer pants.

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In the news…

First of all, I’m going to Ontario for next May’s TD Canadian Children’s Book Week! That was my first choice of destinations, so I’m very excited to be heading east for a week.

And, while I’m sharing, there’s a lovely review of When the Worst Happens in Kirkus. It’s left me all a-flutter.

There’s a teetering pile of research material on my desk for my next non-fiction project. Maybe the kind words will inspire progress!

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Small town returns

My hometown of Creston is ridiculously friendly. But because I haven’t lived there for twenty years, I find walking down the main drag disconcerting. Everyone says hello. I’m never sure whether it’s a random greeting, or whether we know each other, so I end up making an expression somewhere between “good morning, stranger” and “wow, you look great after two decades” and I look like a lunatic.

Speaking of lunatics (in a good way), Min and I stopped by the town tennis courts in an attempt to continue my fledgling tennis education. I was wearing sandals and a sundress and I think he may have been wearing a bathing suit. We did not look like professional players.

Nonetheless, the varied (and I mean teen-to-senior-citizen varied) group of friends playing there motioned us over and invited us to join them. When we declined (because my lessons have yet to take effect and I am horrible) one of the men yelled, “tell them about the tournament on Saturday! We need two more players!”

That’s right. Tennis players in Creston are willing to enter tournaments with strangers in Birkenstocks.

See what I mean about ridiculously friendly?

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The invasion

Until this spring, my parents lived in a giant house on an acre of property. And did our whole family ever visit them at once? No.

But now that they’ve downsized, we all decided to arrive on the same weekend. As in: “Mom, Dad, there will be eleven of us here for the next eight meals.”

My parents, my family of four, my sister’s family of three, my aunt and her boyfriend.

On the way out of town, my sister and I agreed that either of us would have panicked in that situation. But Mom was very calm. And really, there’s something to be said for communal living. With that many women in the house, meals felt surprisingly easy. Even the dishes were manageable.

We had three great days together, including some time on Kootenay Lake and a trip to Fort Steele. Then the Kyi clan departed and hit the Okanagan for three days.

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There’s really nothing better to complete a summer than some lake swims and some fruit-stand loot.

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Idea evolution

I’ve written so little about When the Worst Happens, and I so love the book. Today, I correct this issue. Here’s the Darwinian story of how my survival book came to be.

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Step 1
I have lunch with Colleen MacMillan of Annick Press. She’s a tangential thinker, possibly even more tangential than me, so our lunch conversations tend to bounce around like boomerangs. But at some point, Colleen mentions that she’s been researching and thinking about polar exploration and a phenomenon called “polar madness.” Basically, when people are stuck for months on end without light, friendship, or vegetables, some of them lose it. But Colleen wonders why only some lose it, while others stay sane.

Step 2
I go home and start sniffing out ice-bound survival stories. They tend to be somewhat similar — ice, cold, hunger — so I expand the topic to include stories of survival from an assortment of extreme environments, including the depths of a mine and the centre of the Amazon. I write a proposal in which the stories are organized by geographical location, with sidebars to explore the psychological aspects of survival.

Step 3
Enter editor Alison Kooistra. Alison is certainly creative, but rather the opposite of tangential. She is the most organized person I have ever worked with. When she reads my proposal, she starts to wonder what a book would look like if organized by psychological survival strategy instead of geography. Then she suggests choosing four main stories and telling them in chunks. Readers will be able to flip through the book to read the stories linearly, or read cover-to-cover and find out bits at a time, along with survival techniques and supporting tales.

Alison doesn’t just suggest this. She sends me a spreadsheet.

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That’s right. A spreadsheet. I told you she’s organized. I don’t even know how to create a spreadsheet.

Step 4
I love Alison’s ideas. They remind me of my elementary school Choose Your Own Adventure obsession. Not all my previous ideas work with the new format, so I do some more research, I brainstorm with Alison, and I write a first draft. I attempt to juggle everything into place, and of course am unsuccessful, so Alison re-logics things.

And then we’re done. My daughter chose to read the book straight through, without hopping ahead to different parts of the stories. But I’m excited to see what other readers do. It’s kind of a choose-your-own-survivor book.

Now, let’s hope the project beats its way out of the proverbial Amazon and onto many bookshelves!

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The poisonous side of biodiversity

I’m excited to announce that 50 Poisonous Questions is part of a new exhibit at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. If you haven’t been to this newish UBC museum yet, it’s time. The place is spectacular… and not just because there’s a blue whale skeleton hanging in the atrium.

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The museum has worked all sorts of CWILL BC books into exhibits about backyard biodiversity. But, if you’re not feeling bookish, you can do what I do when I visit: spend an hour (or three) opening drawer after drawer of strange and unusual specimens.

Happy hunting!

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Uncertainty looming…

To school, or not to school? As the labour dispute drags on, everyone’s wondering whether or not kids will be going to class in September.

I’m a bit torn on the issue. As you may know, I’m a little paranoid about earthquakes. I figure every week my kids are out of school is five less days they can be crushed by falling debris. So there’s that.

We’ve also achieved a good rhythm in our summer. Monkey Girl entertains Monkey Boy for an hour in the morning while I do a smidgeon of work, then we do something fun together. And whenever I’m just about to lose all semblance of patience, they go to day camp.

On the other hand, in the two years since I achieved the promised land of both kids in school full time, I rediscovered a few things about myself. I can happily spend long hours alone. I like to eat cucumber sandwiches for lunch. I love CBC Radio. Since no one else in the family shares these loves, I’ve endured a ten-week silence, sandwich, and CBC drought.

Oh, yes, there’s also the issue of my children receiving an education. So far this summer, my daughter has learned to sew and my son has learned to do handstands. Think they can spin those skills into future career paths?

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