My accidental ninja book

I have a book coming out this fall which I wrote completely by accident.

About a year ago, I sent Annick a proposal for a companion book to Extreme Battlefields. The new idea was called Alone at War, and featured behind-enemy-lines stories of spies and saboteurs.

Annick didn’t love the collection, but asked me to create a non-fiction book from one of the proposed chapters — the story of Mochizuki Chiyome, a female ninja-trainer in 16th-century Japan.

So I wrote that book. Then Annick said, “there isn’t enough information here.” Which was entirely true because, you know, 16th century. There were lots of sentences which began, “Historians think this might have happened…” Or, “Perhaps, at this point…”

We decided to fill in the blanks and create a historical fiction piece.

Perfect!

Except that I had never written historical fiction before. Turns out it’s hard! It took a few drafts to get the right balance between fact and action. (My lovely editor, Paula Ayer, should probably have her name on the cover and should definitely win some sort of medal for patience.)

The finished book is a hybrid. There’s a warlord named Takeda Shingen, definitely a real guy. Then there’s Chiyome, probably real. And there’s a village girl named Aki, who’s entirely a figment of my imagination.

When melded together, their tales are full of action, with enough twists to impress even Violence, who recently read the proofs and gave the story a rare two thumbs up.

And that’s how I accidentally wrote a book about ninjas.

Silence speaks

The following is a review contributed by my 12-year-old daughter, who chose her own pen name long ago, but is generally not at all silent. Enjoy!

Hi All!

Silence here. Just read Calvin by Martine Leavitt. Absolutely fantastic book about a seventeen-year-old boy named Calvin who was coincidentally born on the day that publishing of Calvin and Hobbes ceased. As a young child, he was given a stuffed toy named Hobbes, and now, at seventeen, diagnosed with schizophrenia, Calvin is seeing Hobbes again, and he is not happy about it.

Calvin lives on the Canadian side of Lake Erie, and Bill Watterson, the author of Calvin and Hobbes, lives on the American side. Accompanied by his friend Susie, and, of course, Hobbes, Calvin comes up with a plan to trek across Lake Erie, and see if Bill Watterson himself can make the hallucinatory Hobbes disappear.

Want to hear the ending? Read it!

A well-written, wonderful story that is a total must read, Calvin is great for older tweens and up.

My one complaint? A very misleading cover that was not to my taste at all. I’d heard of the book before, but the cover threw me off until my mom read it and told me I should read it too.

It’s 100 percent worth ignoring the cover and reading this book, though. It’s so good!!!

Literary tourism and fried bananas

We went to Disneyland recently. The week before the trip, I bought our park tickets and made a rough daily itinerary. Then I got busy.

Silence picked up my list and read: Tuesday—Beach.

“What beach are we going to?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Pick one.”

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but Silence is a super-fan of The Mother-Daughter Book Club series by Heather Vogel-Frederick. (Direct quote: “Heather Vogel-Frederick is a literary genius.”)

Silence has read the books multiple times; she’s listened to the audio books multiple times; she’s corresponded with the author; she’s memorized the middle names of all the characters. Thus, on our Tuesday away, we ended up renting a car and driving to Newport Beach. But not so we could see the beach. No, so we could find the tiny ferry terminal that would take us to Balboa Island, home of our (fictional) friend Cassidy Sloane, and birthplace of frozen bananas.

We spent the entire day driving, hunting for ferry, riding ferry, walking island, finding said bananas, and then doing it all in reverse, but it was a lovely, sunny day and Silence was very, very happy. (Violence wasn’t complaining about a day in search of chocolate-dipped treats, either.)

All in all, it was much more successful than our second “literary” tourism moment of the trip, which was a turn on the Harry Potter 4D ride at Universal Studios. That one left me sitting on a park bench with my head between my knees while the kids enjoyed their butter beers without me.

The edge of YA

A friend told me that Millennials are having less sex because their parents are too open about it, and it no longer seems rebellious. This weekend, I started to worry that my children won’t have any secret books stuffed under their mattresses because their mother doesn’t adequately censor their reading material.

We are on that very precarious edge of middle-grade/young-adult in my house. When Silence casts a book aside, it’s often because she’s deemed it “inappropriate” — a judgement she makes more harshly than I do. (I’ve promised her she can read my YA novel, Prince of Pot, when it comes out this fall, but I have a feeling she’s going to put me on her censored list.)

Last week, we went to Susin Nielsen’s launch for Optimists Die First. Silence is a HUGE Susin Nielsen fan and she was already reading while in the line-up for autographs. But once we were home and she was halfway through, she stalked into the living room, cast the book down on the couch between Min and me, and said, “This is inappropriate.”

I looked at what she was reading. There is a fairly gentle make-out-session/fade-to-black sex scene in the middle of the book.

So, fine. It’s good that Silence is making her own decisions about what she’s ready to read.

There’s only one problem…. We got a signed copy of the book for one of Silence’s friends.

So, do we NOT give her the book? Do we give it to her and tell her not to read it for a few years? If we give it to her, do I have to email her parents? And why aren’t there parenting guidelines on Facebook for this sort of situation?

The upside: I now get to read the book myself. And it is hilarious. And wise. And oh-so-perfectly appropriate for me.

Mad as a hatter

It was a weekend of parties. We went to a school fundraiser and silent auction on Friday night. Then, on Saturday night, we simultaneously hosted a Mad Hatter-themed sleepover (Silence) and a men’s UFC night (Min). It was an extra-entertaining combination, since Silence had already decorated the house with Alice-in-Wonderland characters and posters, perfect for a blood-thirsty boxing night.

The men went home, and six additional girls joined us on Sunday for a Mad Hatter tea party, where the decorations made much more sense.

Oh, and in between all those parties, we hosted two 10-year-old boys for playdates. (They didn’t notice the theme at all, unless they were looking for extra nerf-gun targets.)

This morning, everyone has left the house. The kitchen is (mostly) clean again. I’ve started on the mountain of laundry. And, most importantly, I have a few open hours for writing. But I’m keeping some of the decorations up. Maybe forever.

DNA Detective at the Lyceum

I visited Christianne’s Lyceum last night to meet with the Chronicle Crusaders, a parent-child book club. Then I faced off against the readers on a DNA crossword puzzle (I lost), and tried my hand at genetics pictionary (thus demonstrating why I don’t illustrate my own books).

The Lyceum is truly an amazing place. It’s chock full of books and curiosities and it draws the loveliest readers of both grown-up and kid varieties. One of the kids asked how royalties worked, so we had a rather depressing conversation about how writers get paid, but honestly… I could have been born on a farm in the Ukraine, and spent my life telling stories to chickens. How blessed am I to find myself in the Lyceum loft instead, eating dragon fruit and talking dragon’s blood trees?

Thank you, Chronicle Crusaders, for a fantastic evening!

Sizing up Eyes and Spies

School Library Journal gave a lovely review to Eyes and Spies this month. You’ll find it here, if you scroll down to the non-fiction section. The reviewer wrote: “‘Valuable’ is an understatement. A timely read on surveillance and mass data collection for public and school libraries.”

YAY!

I received the link from Annick Press just as I was drowning in the depths of Bellis Fair Mall. I was there as part of the annual family shopping trip that drives me to existential crisis. (Not that other things don’t.) It was perfect timing for a happy surprise.

If you’re interested in privacy and surveillance issues, and you can’t wait the couple weeks until Eyes and Spies arrives on shelves, check out the podcast Note to Self. They’ve just wrapped up a six-episode series on privacy and it’s fascinating. Apparently phone calls are protected in the United States partly because of a gambler who used phone booths to place his bets, got caught, and then argued for his privacy rights. Who knew?

I might have to write a second edition.

Snowpocalypse

It was complete snowpocalypse in Vancouver this weekend. We broke all the weather records. I shovelled the driveway three times on Saturday. The final time was at 8 p.m. and by the time I finished the driveway, the sidewalk was covered again.

This all would have been fine and fun and lovely (it was pretty) except that I was right in the middle of Eric Walters’ Rule of Three trilogy. In those books, the world’s computers go off-line and civilization almost immediately breaks down.

This meant that by Sunday morning, I was classifying our neighbours by their snow-shovelling habits. Those people across the street? The ones from Toronto who should understand about clearing the sidewalks, but apparently don’t? I’m not sure they’ll be amenable to sharing food and resources. The guy in the green house, on the other hand, was across the road helping his neighbour clear a path for his car. He’s definitely on board the community “lifeboat.” And what about the mysterious good samaritan who shovelled a clear strip down both sides of the block before anyone else was awake? We’ll need to meet him.

I’ve finished the books, but Silence is now deep into the first instalment. We’re probably going shopping for canned food and chlorine tablets soon. As soon as the snow melts, at least.