Today I filled in for my lovely friend Stacey as a volunteer for the Writer’s Exchange. The organization works to get inner-city kids excited about reading and writing. This morning, the team was helping grade one and two students at Thunderbird Elementary start their own book about what they’d like to be when they grow up.
To kick off the project, the Writers Exchange hosted a mini job fair. I was there to represent the writers of the world. There was also a farmer, a flight attendant, a nurse, a police officer, two basketball players (maybe they only travel in pairs?), a magazine publisher, and a teacher. (There was no firefighter, much to the disappointment of the nurse.)
It was like being a real-life part of Sesame Street.
I think the police officer won the “coolest tools” contest, with the nurse a close second. And the flight attendant got bonus points because she had a miniature airplane with her. But the kids liked that I could write whatever and whenever I chose, and that the illustrator for my 50 Questions books got all his best ideas by putting a chicken on his head. (You were a hit, Ross!)
At the end of the morning, one of the little boys put his head down on the table and refused to leave the library. I felt the same way, really. I wanted to stay and talk to all the other volunteers. How does one become a farmer, anyway?
I used to panic before all presentations. I’d lose sleep for a week, develop a terrible stomach ache, and erupt in acne.
Over the years, I’ve slowly improved. Before last week’s Vancouver Writers Fest talks, I lost only one night of sleep and had only one pimple (though it was ginormous).
Yesterday, I gave a lecture to a creative writing class at UBC, and I didn’t panic at all. I slept fine, had no unusual skin conditions, and even managed to dress appropriately.
But then, I woke up at 2 a.m. last night, stewing about all the things I should have done differently.
WHAT GOOD WAS THAT? THE PRESENTATION WAS OVER!
Sometimes I think I should take my brain back to the store and ask for a more reasonable replacement.
The people at the Vancouver Writers Fest are just plain awesome. When I arrived at the Dockside Hotel on Granville Island this morning, Hal Wake hugged me. Someone handed me a bag of swag. I talked election news with Susin Nielsen. A lovely woman named Kathryn was assigned to shepherd me from place to place in case I fell into a writerly daze and walked off a dock. A sound guy rewired my microphone so I could flit around the stage.
I would like to live permanently in a state of writers-festishness.
I had two presentations today. I talked about DNA Detective with a big crowd at the Waterfront Theatre, including Liisa House and her enthusiastic grade sevens from Edith Cavell.
And a second presentation in conjunction with the downright incredible Michel Chikwanine and librarian extraordinare Shannon Ozirny.
Thank you to all the Writers Fest staff and volunteers who do such a wonderful job, and to the ever-smiling crew at Kidsbooks who put plenty of survival stories in plenty of new hands today. You’re all my favourites ever.
I’m a one-project-at-a-time kinda girl, but for the past couple weeks, I’ve been working on so many different things, my head is spinning. I have:
- Booked presentations in West Van for November, Maple Ridge for December, and Richmond for February. (I haven’t been this popular since I had a free French-fry connection in high school. I hope all these people don’t expect me to wear my clothes right-side-out and speak in complete sentences.)
- Finished an index for Extreme Battlefields, then reviewed said index once someone with a logical mind fixed it.
- Written a chapter of my newest non-fiction manuscript. (Only two left to go — hurray!)
- Revised my novel. And… um… switched the gender of the protagonist. I didn’t mention that plan to my agent. Do you think she’ll notice?
One of these days, I’m even going to shower. Because it’s always good to have goals.
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.)
I had dinner with my friend Mark recently, who teaches grade five. He mentioned that when teaching a unit about blogs, he used me as an example of someone who blends personal and professional stories.
“Do I?” I said.
And of course I do, but I’ve never thought much about it because the line between personal and professional in my life is rather blurry. The things I’m musing about in my non-writing time end up in my written work, and the social events I attend are often writing-related. All very confusing.
Yesterday, I went to Granville Island for the Vancouver Writers Fest preview. There, Artistic Director Hal Wake announced the line-up of writers coming to town in October. It was a room filled (packed!) with book lovers, half of them marking and circling on their advance reading lists. You could tell they were waiting for the introductions to end so they could start page-turning.
I also got a little hint about my own role in October’s festival, which gives me four months to get nervous. To prepare, that is. In a personal/professional way.
Whew… what a whirlwind! I gave two presentations in Pelham on Monday, then travelled by car, bus, train, and my own foot-power to Mississaugua. There, I gave three presentations in less than three hours at Allan A. Martin Senior Public School, and now I’m at the airport on my way to Ottawa.
So far, I’ve said two somewhat inappropriate things to large groups of people. While wearing a microphone. There should probably be some sort of psychological test which helps the Canadian Children’s Book Centre decide if authors have a filter before hiring us. But apparently there’s not, so here I am explaining to kids what my last name means if they say it ever-so-slightly wrong in Burmese. (It has four letters and begins with an “s.”)
In my defence, the librarian asked. (She’s lovely, as are the other teachers at Allan A. Martin. You can find them on Twitter at @mjwheelerali and @@AllanAMartinPS.)
Also, photos shouldn’t be allowed during my presentations because they’re always excruciatingly embarrassing. But, as sharing tends to make things less embarrassing and more funny, here I am wearing my underwear outside my pants.
Apparently, in Ontario, everyone wears their underwear inside their pants? This would have been helpful to know before my school visits.
It’s off to Ottawa now, where I will attempt to be more appropriate in public. I’m thinking chances are slim…
1. Lee Edward Fodi and I got lost in the Toronto airport parking lot.
2. We crashed with Kari-Lynn Winters in St. Catherines, then headed to Spring Into Reading, a literacy festival in Niagara. The whole show was orchestrated by the Ontario Literacy Association, and the kids were wonderful — fun, engaged, and willing to try their hands at anything. Even dangerous survival situations…
3. Lee and I got lost in the Best Buy parking lot. This could have become a theme except…
4. Lee was eaten by a giant T-Rex.
5. Finally, for a little extra awesomeness, Niagara Falls.
The good news: last week’s presentation to my daughter’s class went very well. I forgot to wear my giving-a-presentation-deodorant instead of my mineral salts, so the teacher now thinks I’m an abnormally sweaty person, but other than that, I was very happy.
Now, onto the next stage of my TD Children’s Book Week preparations: panic.
I hemmed a pair of pants last night. I counted to make sure I have eight presentable shirts. (I do, barely.) I’ve printed all my presentations and gathered most of my props. I now have to:
* buy a supply of energy bars
* find some stick-on moustaches (apparently these are a seasonal item?)
* organize one more afternoon of childcare for while I’m gone
* finish a big edit, half of which arrived on Friday and half of which lands today
I’m doing a writing workshop with my daughter’s class this morning, as a dress rehersal for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week in Ontario.
I had this conversation with my daughter about the workshop:
Me: What was I thinking? I’m way more nervous about presenting to your class that I am presenting to strangers.
Me: Because if I’m terrible, you’ll never speak to me again.
Silence: I’ll speak to you. But every conversation will begin with “remember that time you messed up in front of my whole class?”
She’s so helpful.
Assuming I don’t get egged this morning, here’s a poster for my first event in Ontario. If you just happen to live in the Niagara region, come on by!