The whole existential thing

  1. A few weeks ago, my 14-year-old daughter said, “my generation is the most depressed one, because all the other generations until now have at least had hope.” Of course I reassured her that there was still hope for the world. “When humanity gets its act in order, things can change quickly,” I told her.
  2. I read yesterday’s UN warning that we have twelve years to reverse climate change or face catastrophe, and that’s really quick. It doesn’t seem as if government leaders can change their socks that quickly, let alone change humanity.
  3. Last night, we watched an episode of The Good Place. I won’t spoil the show here in case you haven’t watched it (you really should), but let’s just say an immortal being was asked to confront the reality of death, after which he had an existential crisis and curled up in a catatonic state. He had to find a way to live without ignoring reality, but without focussing on it exclusively. It’s hard not to curl up in a catatonic state when reading about climate change.
  4. In a couple weeks I’m speaking on a children’s literature panel at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference, and one of the questions on my preparation list is: “What’s the difference between middle-grade and young-adult fiction?” In middle-grade fiction, we’re still sheltering readers from some of the atrocities of the world. When you reach high school, though, you’re confronted with the whole stinking mess — in fiction and in reality.

THE GOOD PLACE — “What We Owe To Each Other” Episode 105 — Pictured: (l-r) Kristen Bell as Eleanor, Ted Danson as Michael — (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)

We’d better get our act in order within the next decade, so I won’t have lied to my daughter about hope. And I find a spot of brightness in this quote from former NASA scientist James Hansen: “1.5C gives young people and the next generation a fighting chance of getting back to the Holocene or close to it.”

I find a bright spot, too, in the sight of my daughter curled up this morning with an emotionally difficult book (Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Viviana Mazza), still brushing her teeth and eager to face the day. James Hansen said 1.5°C gives young people a “fighting change” and that’s all they’ll need, really. They’re pretty amazing.

(Meanwhile, my son is practicing the accent of the Swedish chef, because at 11 he hasn’t had to face any existential crises yet.)

As I re-read what I’ve written here, I realize the key words are both “hope” and “fighting.” They’re sort of mutually dependant, aren’t they?

Breakfast-table Beckett

I went with a friend on Saturday to see a collection of Samuel Beckett plays. I hadn’t read any Beckett since university, and I remembered only that he was unintelligible.

He remains unintelligible.

The first play featured a woman walking nine steps up a board, then nine steps down a board, stopping occasionally to say a few words, or hear a few words from offstage. My friend and I decided she was trapped in her own mind? Maybe?

In the second play, there was a boat and a moon. The women in the boat did some snoring, awoke for a nonsensical conversation, played some cards, then fell back asleep.

As I was describing these plays at the breakfast table on Sunday morning, Violence said, “I could easily write plays like that. I could make millions!”

Which led to this:

Husband: Let’s go swimming.

Violence: I can take the stairs back and forth.

Husband: It’s sunny outside.

Violence: And the Earth is round.

They are now awaiting their Nobel prize.

Mya’s Strategy to Save the World

Happy first day of school! It seems as if today should be about all things new, so I’ve decided to post the cover for my upcoming middle-grade novel, Mya’s Strategy to Save the World (Penguin Random House).

Here’s the official write-up:

Twelve-year-old Mya Parsons could save the world and organize her family, if only she had her own cell phone. A Dork Diaries for today’s socially conscious young readers.

Mya runs her school’s social justice club with her best friend, Cleo. Her lifelong desire is to work for the United Nations and change the world, and then bask in all the ensuing adulation. Her more immediate desire is to get a phone, preferably one like Cleo’s, with a leopard-print case to match. When her distracted dad and her long-distance mom (temporarily in Myanmar taking care of Mya’s grandmother) both say no, no way, and possibly never, Mya launches a campaign to prove herself reliable and deserving. She advertises her babysitting services, takes on more responsibility around the house, and attempts to supervise her sister’s skateboarding lessons. Her efforts leave her ego bruised and the kitchen slightly scorched. She’s no closer to touch-screen victory, let alone the Nobel Peace Prize she deserves. But all that changes after an accident leaves Mya to take charge—an experience which helps her realize how much she’s grown, with or without access to proper communications.

This is the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book, possibly because the cell phone issues in my house at the time proved so… um… inspirational. The book isn’t out until Spring 2019, but it’s officially available for pre-order now on Chapters Indigo and Amazon.

The swear police

My daughter read part of my work-in-progress today.

She said: “It’s really good, but you can’t swear in middle-grade, Mom.”

“I didn’t swear!”

“Replacing one letter with an asterisk still counts as swearing.”

Me, swearing under my breath: “Really?”

“Yeah, and you can’t say that other word, either.”

She’s talking about this line…

“Josh?” Holden says. “I always thought he was more of a benign dictator than an actual dick.”

“That’s such a good line! It’s not even a real swear word!”

“It’s a middle-grade book, Mom. You can’t say that.”

Me, glaring: “Fine.”

Who knew I’d one day be censored by my own forteen-year-old? And why am I writing middle-grade fiction when I can’t use swear-jokes?

As my mom once told me to say, when I was about fourteen… fooey.

Fall writing workshops

I’m teaching workshops with Ink Well Vancouver again this fall, along with my friends Rachelle Delaney and Stacey Matson. Because what could be better than spending a morning talking about writing?

Well, three mornings.

If you have writers in your life, published or unpublished, send them here to register!

Building Blocks of Plot: Conflict and Tension
Sunday September 23, 9:15 to 11:45 am
Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (2305 W 7th Ave, Vancouver)

Raise the stakes of your story, amp up the pressure, and torture your characters. The goals of this workshop may sound a bit macabre, but the results will be worth it! Cranking up the conflict in your story — in carefully crafted ways — will keep your readers turning pages long after bedtime. Together, we’ll examine time-honoured methods of creating conflict, try our hands at some new ones, and discuss less recognized ways (subtext, anyone?) to build tension in children’s books.
Cost: $60.00.

Building Blocks of Plot: Scenes that Sizzle
Sunday October 28, 9:15 to 11:45 am
Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (2305 W 7th Ave, Vancouver)

Whether you’re writing an early reader, a chapter book, or a young-adult novel, building great scenes is vital. So what are the components of a strong, compelling scene? Through famous examples, writing activities, and group discussion, we’ll explore ways to develop character, establish voice, and propel your story forward.
Cost: $60.00.

Building Blocks of Plot: The Arc
Sunday November 18, 9:15 to 11:45 am
Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (2305 W 7th Ave, Vancouver)

Hero’s journey? Twenty-two story steps? Something about a cat that needs saving? There are countless plotting methods out there. In this workshop, we’ll explore the ones that work best in children’s books. We’ll figure out how to choose the right plot form for each project. Then, even the “pantsers” among us will try our hands at plotting a story!
Cost: $60.00.

People who sign up for all three fall sessions receive a 20-page manuscript consultation. (Yes, more talking about writing!)

Lake daze

We had a lovely week-long vacation in Penticton, with daily lake swims, several rounds of mini-golf, and much ice cream.

There was also a visit to the Wibit, a floating obstacle course with a rock wall, a slide, and a trampoline. When the kids did it the first time, it looked fun. Easy, even. So Min and I allowed ourselves to be tempted out.

Oh my goodness. First of all, a floating plastic obstacle course is slippery! (Who could have guessed?) And when the floating, plastic, slippery obstacle course wobbles, and one frantically flails one’s arms, one is likely to take out a small child or two.


It looks harmless, doesn’t it?

We made it up the rope and down the giant slide. We made it up the rock wall and I replaced my bathing suit over the parts it was supposed to cover. We made it over the slanted balance obstacle. I tried and failed to find my goggles on the lake bottom. We did all of this while the kids ran back and forth in front of us like some new species of water-mountain-goat.

And then, in the distance… a floating bench.

Min and I wobbled and flailed our way toward it and collapsed, clinging to one another.

“We’ve done all the major obstacles,” I said.

“I think my knee ligaments are intact,” Min said.

“We should get off this thing.”

Which is when we abandoned our children and swam with the remaining shreds of our dignity back to shore.

For ice cream.

There’s “off one’s rocker,” and then there’s “perched on the edge, clinging to the armrests”

This is how a non-fiction project usually works: I create a proposal, including an outline and sample chapter(s), a publisher accepts the proposal, and then I write the book.

This is how a fiction project usually works: I secretly write something which may or may not turn out to be a book. If it reaches a somewhat book-like stage, I show it to my writing group, then my agent. If they agree that it might resemble a book, then the manuscript is submitted to a publisher.

These are both good systems. I’m comfortable with them.

But this year, something changed. This year, I signed a contract for a middle-grade novel which was NOT YET WRITTEN. This is theoretically a good thing. It means that a publisher trusts that I’m capable of producing a viable manuscript.

BUT WHAT IF THEY’RE WRONG??

I am now at the stage of writing something which may or may not turn out to be a book, except that it darned well better turn out to be a book, because CONTRACT.

I’m finding this somewhat frightening. Scratch that. I’m finding this Exorcist-level frightening.

My manuscript may turn out to be a bookmark. Or a potato.

How many words do I need for a potato?

Perfect picture books

I stopped by Kidsbooks last night, where Kallie George and Sara Gillingham were launching their latest picture books.

Here’s Kallie reading from The Doll Hospital, which Sara illustrated with a limited palate that makes it look both richly saturated and adorably retro. It’s a gorgeous book.

And here’s Sara playing guessing games with Boats Are Busy.

So much fun! (Why don’t I write picture books? Why do I write about pot and surveillance and teen pregnancy? Picture books are so much prettier!)

Silence speaks

The following is my 13-year-old daughter’s review of Rachelle Delaney‘s Clara Voyant. I’ve read it, too, and Silence is right. It’s brilliant! But I’ll let her tell you…

Hey all! Silence here! Just finished reading Rachelle Delaney’s newest masterpiece, Clara Voyant. One of my favourites so far this year!

The story follows Clara, a sixth-grader who’s just moved to a new school. Far away from her beloved grandmother, Clara is sceptical about her new neighbourhood from the moment she arrives. With a marketplace full of future-seers and mystics, it’s right up her mother’s alley, but far from her own interests. Arriving at her new school, though, Clara is hopeful, especially after joining the newspaper. She’s excited to become a journalist. Things don’t go as planned, however, and rather than breaking news, Clara ends up with… the horoscopes? Her mother is delighted, her best friend insists it will be great, but Clara knows it will be awful. Then, things get worse. Because what happens when Clara’s horoscopes start to come true?

This was a super awesome book, and I highly recommend it for anyone aged 8-12 looking for a fun read with a great main character. 5 stars!!!

Byeeee,
Silence

Clackity clack

I hereby present my one marketable job skill:

At dinner the other night, Silence was bragging about the 50 words a minute she’d logged in business class, while Violence argued that his hunt-and-peck method was impressively fast. Neither of them seemed to believe me when I said I could type more than 80 words per minute.

And I still might not have bothered to take an actual test EXCEPT that I have a rather blank resume. A few years ago, I made a friend in human resources promise to get me a real job if I ever needed one.

“Sure. You’ll just have to pass a typing test,” she said.

“No problem.”

The kids’ typing efforts (or lack thereof) reminded me of my future job prospects, and I decided to see if I’d survive in the job market.

Whew.

Now that my future is safe, I’m going back to writing. And, um… professional-grade procrastinating.