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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
There was a wind storm in the middle of the night. Our windows were open, so I woke at 2 a.m. to the sound of our bedroom door going
BANG! Swing. BANG! Swing.
I got up and shut the windows. My husband didn’t stir.
I went back to bed.
I started thinking about the kids’ windows, so I got up to shut those. From my son’s room, I could hear the awning on the back patio flapping in the gusts as if it were about to lift off the roof and fly away. (Which did actually happen once before.)
I went back to my room. I shut off the alarm.
BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
My husband didn’t stir.
I went downstairs, into the backyard, and wound in the awning, which sounded like
Ee EEE Ee EEE Ee EEE.
This woke up my son.
Once he was settled, I turned the alarm back on.
BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
After that, I lay in bed for a while, waiting for all the beeping in my brain to stop.
In the morning, my husband said, “I didn’t hear anything. Are you sure you didn’t dream the wind storm?”
And then I had to kill him.
I bought a cherry-pitter last year, a fancy little machine involving springs and various compartments. I promptly put it in the cupboard and lost the instruction sheet. But THIS year, with a little help from youtube, I figured out how to use it. I am now a cherry-pitting genius. Dessert for everyone!
In other news, my daughter is safely home from her first sleep-away camp. She loved it. They probably had to tie her up and haul her onto the bus to get her home.
All of her sentences now begin with:
“When I was at camp…”
“My counsellor said…”
“The ice cream cones/breakfasts/skits/costumes at camp were…”
She has learned movie-star poses, crazy dances, many songs (one of which is now permanently stuck in MY head), pranks, swimming tricks, nail-painting techniques, and riddles.
When I was eleven, you would have had to pay me (millions) to spend time with a large group of other tweens. But now it sounds pretty fun. I think if I could disguise myself and attend for a week, I’d come home with enough material for an entire middle-grade series.
But then my daughter would never speak to me again.
My daughter’s away at camp for the first time this week. We’re all missing her around here, but we’re also doing as many fun things as possible without her. Because, you know, people should be punished for wanting to leave us.
One of our excursions was the canopy walk at UBC Botanical Gardens. It sounds so serene, doesn’t it? As if it might be suitable for seniors in safari hats?
I’ve actually been avoiding this particular canopy walk for years because I used to play ultimate with one of the guys who built it and, well… let’s just say he had too many substances in his bloodstream to be trusted with life-saving cables.
It was just as crazy as I feared. Look at this thing:
And when you’re miles above the ground, dangling from a tree, what do you not want to see? Duct tape.
We made it, though. And we found this lovely barred owl waiting to celebrate our safe descent. Or maybe waiting to laugh if we fell to our deaths.
I don’t personally trust the look in his eyes.
We spent last week in the Kootenays and the Okanagan, getting our lake time for the summer. There’s something about extreme heat that’s so much better when all you have to do is alternate between pool, water park, and lake.
Now I’m back to work. But my return was made a little smoother by this lovely piece of fan mail waiting in my mailbox when I got home:
Thank you, Senadee!
Any of you writers out there in need of inspiration this week? Is so, may I offer you the police blotter from my hometown newspaper? Just skim down until you find the rabbit…