On responsible journalism

I read this story, in The Atlantic, about the California drought. And I read this one about the water crisis in Brazil.

Let me summarize them here, so you don’t have to read them. They say, basically: “running out of water, dire situation, drought, thirst, emergency, apocalypse.”

Well, they don’t actually say that last word, but that’s what I got from the articles.

I have two suggestions to make for this sort of journalism. First, it should come with a warning button. Or three.

“You’ve just clicked on ‘California Drought.’ Are you sure you want to read this article?”

If you click “yes,” it says: “REALLY sure?”

If you click “yes” again, it says, “What about your family? How are they going to feel about you reading this article? Please have an independent family member click ‘yes’ before proceeding.”

Once you get through all that, if you choose to actually read, the article should be required to end with three things you can do to fix the situation. “Please stop eating broccoli, stop flushing all toilets, and contact your local representative today.”

Would that help? I’m not sure. I just know that I should have thought more before I clicked. Also, aaaaaack apocalypse.

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Cover reveal

I just received Annick’s Fall 2015 catalogue in the mail. Which must mean it’s time to show you this:

DNA Cover

I love it. The fly, in particular. And the genetics rock star on the left. And the sheep. Okay, all of it.

My 10-year-old daughter approves of the design, but is highly offended that the catalogue copy says the book is for ages 11 and up.

I’m sure they meant to say 10 and up.

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I’m back.

We had a fun and action-packed spring break. We hit Seattle first, where we went to the Experience Music Project. This was ostensibly for the kids, but actually so that Min and I could lock ourselves in a soundproof room and wail on the drums and guitars as if we had actual musical talent.

After that little escapade, we headed for Port Townsend, on the edges of Olympic National Park. There were the most gigantic shells on the beaches there. My inner five-year-old went a bit bonkers.


For my inner grown-up, there was a bookstore per block in Port Townsend. AND, when we sat down for lunch, the three woman at the table next to us were discussing novel structure. Not that I was eavesdropping or anything.


I do love Port Townsend. But just as there are wonderful things about going away, but there are also wonderful things about coming home. Quiet, for example. And reliable wireless. And, actually, a brand spanking new Mac. (The old one was having gagging fits.)

We shall see if the faster processing speed transfers to my brain. There is a big edit awaiting me, and a new project, too. Onwards!

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Seeing Red

I was in the hallway at the kids’ school last week when one of the moms stopped me. “I wanted to buy your book,” she said. “I found it and I was going to buy it, but then I looked inside… and it was horrible!”

I mumbled something incoherent about Seeing Red being meant as a sort of social history of blood…

“Why would you write such a thing?” she asked.

“Well, some kids like subjects like that.”

“Aren’t you worried that children are going to read your book and be incited to do violence?”

Um… no. That had never occurred to me. “I think they read worse things?” I said.


During all this, a voice in the back of my head was whispering, “Ah… so this is how Angie Abdou felt.”

I didn’t cry in the school hallway. I did stew about the conversation for a few days, and think of many, many more intelligent points I could have made.

Then the world came to my rescue. Because as I was talking with a friend in the playground (a relatively secure woman, thankfully), this same mom appeared and said to my friend, “I like your sweatshirt. Those were so in style five years ago.”

And there on the playground as I tried not to laugh out loud, and later as I made my friend feel better about her sweatshirt by telling her about my violence-inducing book, the whole situation became funny.

Plus, my schoolyard critic has given me the perfect response for the next time someone doesn’t like one of my books. I’ll say, “Well, I do like your shirt. Those were so in style five years ago.” And leave it at that.

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They say you can write anywhere…

The soccer camp my son was supposed to attend this week was cancelled (who knew soccer players were less reliable than writers?), so I ended up at Hillcrest Pool yesterday. Which was not a bad alternative to working, really.

Here are some thoughts from the pool:

The Old Men Diving
From the whirlpool
at public swim
I watch the old men dive.
Each climbs the stairs with care,
hand on the rail,
then steps to the edge
and waits.

One man bows slightly before each dive,
as if a line of invisible judges
watches, perfect tens in hand.
Then he plummets into the water
with a world-class splash.

One man has six-pack abs beneath
his wrinkles.

I wish I were an Olympic diver.
I could climb the stairs
and slice through the air,
slide into my reflection
and emerge to their amazement.

But maybe they would be disappointed
as their own perfect images —
bouncing slighty on their heels,
poised to slip into remembered lives —
were shattered by my splash-free dive.

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Vampire diaries

On Saturday night, we went out with some friends to see What We Do in the Shadows, a mockumentary about a group of vampire roommates. It was pretty funny, and impressively creative.

There was only one problem. I’d been reading for days about psychological need versus moral need in John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. One of these is something the character lacks which affects only himself; the other (I can’t remember which is which) is a lack which affects those around him.

So, yes. I spent Saturday night trying to determine the moral and psychological needs of vampires.

Does this sort of thing happen to other people?

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The celebration dance

I’ve just sent a first draft off to the publisher, which should give me between one and three weeks to celebrate freedom before changes and suggestions begin to arrive.

In the meantime, I’m going to tackle all the little projects from my back burner. I have a proposal to complete, some outlining to do, a few websites to update… and maybe a book or two to finish reading during time when I’m supposed to be writing.

Oh, and lunches and coffee dates, of course.

What good is freelancing if I can’t play hooky every once in a while?

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The future is murky

Here’s a tricky question: should we encourage kids to become artists?

I was wondering this after I spoke to a UBC creative writing class a few weeks ago. I ranted for a while about the power of writers’ voices. When we write, we aim to affect and move people, and that can be an influential thing.

So yes, we should encourage kids to to become artists.

But then there was this article, waiting for me on Twitter. And this one. Many writers live off independent wealth, family connections, or the sponsorship of partners with stable jobs. (Mea culpa on the last one.)

This is crushing for two reasons. First, because it cuts from the conversation a lot of brilliant people who give up writing in order to support themselves. Second, because by encouraging our kids to become artists, we might be dooming them to lives of dependence.

All of this makes me thankful for my own parents, who watched me embark on a creative writing degree with not a word of complaint. My dad’s only suggestion, when I considered a journalism trade program, was that a degree from a university rather than a trade school would allow me more options. (I’m sure he didn’t think I was listening, but I was.) Other than that, not a word.

For six years, I wrote in the evenings while working a day job. I lived in a rented East Van attic and used a laundromat. Between salary and freelance income, I made $25,000 to $30,000 a year.

Then I married well.

Having the time and space to write has certainly increased my productivity. But my income from writing is still only $30,000 a year. So, would I be writing even if I were living in an attic and my kids were barefoot and there was plastic wrap on the insides of my windows? I’m a rather tenacious sort. I like to think that no matter how much it sucked, I would have done it. Then again, maybe that’s delusional. My kids kinda like their shoes…

So back to the original question: do we encourage that future for others?

I only know my own answers. I’m grateful, both for my parents’ encouragement and for my husband’s support. I hope my kids make their own choices as confidently as I did, whether they decide to be writers or doctors. I hope they find callings rather than careers.

And I dearly hope they never, ever work in LNG, no matter how much money they’d make.

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The editor, age three

This is my daughter Silence reading to her young friend Elia over the weekend:

Silence: “Well, I don’t like to brag, but I’m telling you, Liz,
That speaking of cooks, I’m the best that there is!”

Elia: Who’s Liz?

Silence: Liz is his little sister.

Elia: Why does he have a little sister?

Silence: He just does.

Elia: Why’s her name Liz?

Silence: Because it rhymes with “is.”

Elia: Why does it have to rhyme?

I couldn’t help picturing Elia twenty years in the future, as some editorial phenom at Random House:

This seems a rather traditional family, and Liz is a standard English name. Strive for more diversity in the text? Also, rhyme seems somewhat forced. Would a small boy really say, ‘I’m the best that there is’? Consider rewriting without the rhyme…

Dr. Seuss is lucky he didn’t live in the age of Elia.


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