Plot twist… or not

I went with my son to see Bumblebee over the holidays. As we waited for the movie to start, he said: “Here’s what’s going to happen. It’s going to be a lot like Pete’s Dragon. First, a kid will meet a scary monster. The kid and the monster will become friends. Then other people will find them, and the new people will be scared of the monster. The kid and the monster will have to fight to survive.”

“If you know what’s going to happen, why are we here watching the movie?”

“Because it’s going to be awesome.”

For the record, I did not think it was particularly awesome. But my son did. Even though it played out EXACTLY as he predicted.

Maybe I should adopt this plot for all future books?

My year in books

I made it to 76 books in 2018, a mere 74 less than my fourteen-year-old daughter. A few of my favourites…

In the nonfiction category, I loved Your Heart is the Size of Your Fist, by Martina Scholtens. She’s a North Vancouver doctor who worked for ten years in a clinic serving newcomers to Canada. The book was empathetic, poignant, and a window into lives completely different from my own – everything I want from a work of creative nonfiction.

In the world of children’s literature, my two favourites were polar opposites. I loved The Agony of Bun O’Keefe, by Heather T. Smith, which basically rips your heart out, shreds it up a little, and hands it back to you changed forever. And I loved Clara Voyant, by Rachelle Delaney, which is goofy and sweet and leaves you bubbling over with hope for the world.

There were two young adult titles with characters who stuck with me long after I finished the books: The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary, by NoNieqa Ramos, and The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo.

I did actually read some grown-up books, too. My ahead-by-a-mile favourite was Miriam Toews’ Women Talking. If you haven’t read it yet, it would make a great book to start 2019.

If you have suggestions for my to-be-read pile, leave me a comment!

New Ink Well workshops

Stacey, Rachelle, and I are hosting three new writing workshops this season, on Saturday mornings at Kits Neighbourhood House. We’d love company!

Saturday, January 26th
The Voice: KitLit Edition

Saturday, February 23rd
Epistolary in an Emoji World
(I promise it will be worth attending this workshop simply to hear me try to say “epistolary” aloud.)

Saturday, April 27th
All the Feels

Find out more here, and I hope to see you there! Both aspiring and published writers are welcome.

The happy mistake

In my defence, I had a cold, I’d just gone skiing for the first time in 25 years (and survived), and I was tired.

I was baking a pineapple upside-down cake for our New Year’s Eve dinner. I’d already melted the butter in the pan and sprinkled on the brown sugar, the coconut, and the pineapple. I’d mixed the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet in another. I poured the batter over the pineapple toppings, put the pan in the over, turned around…

… and found the bowl of dry ingredients sitting on the counter.

It’s true that I’m famous for forgetting ingredients. I often serve a curry, then look in the fridge later to find the cilantro garnish sitting on a shelf. Or I open the oven in the morning to find the dinner rolls that were supposed to be served the night before.

But forgetting to mix the dry ingredients into a cake batter… this was a new low.

I removed the pan from the oven and tried to scape the wet batter off the pineapple, which of course worked NOT AT ALL. So I ended up pouring everything — toppings, pineapple pieces, wet, dry — into a bowl and mixing the whole darned thing together.

And it was delicious. No one had any idea I’d planned an upside-down cake. My daughter asked if the cake had been difficult to make, and if we could eat it again soon. (It’s possible this question prompted snorts from my husband, who had joined me in the kitchen to witness the batter-scraping fiasco.)

Let’s hope 2019 continues as it’s begun… with mistakes that turn into delicious new creations.

Happy new year, everyone!

It’s always good to have goals…

In grade nine or ten, in a class called Consumer Education, we all took a computerized aptitude test. About half of us, including me, were told we should pursue careers in air traffic control.

I’m terrible in crisis situations, so you should all be happy I didn’t take that computer’s advice.

And surely those programs must have improved by now.

Right?

Well, my 14-year-old daughter, known on this site as Silence, took her own computer aptitude test in health class yesterday. My tiny, book-loving daughter who most recently dreams of becoming a paediatrician. And what did the computer recommend?

A career in professional hunting and trapping.

Happy hunting, Silence.

Hatching plots

Stacey Matson and I are teaching an Ink Well Vancouver workshop on plot tomorrow, so my brain is bubbling over with different kinds of outlines. Fichtean Curve, Hero’s Journey, Heroine’s Journey, Blake Snyder’s beat sheet, John Truby’s twenty-two steps…

Ironically, neither Stacey nor I are outliners. When we were planning this workshop, we discovered that both of us start writing, get halfway through a project, realize we need structure, and THEN start plotting.

But it’s possible that story arcs are even more necessary for writers like us.

Writers, that is, who plan workshops on structure in this sort of highly unstructured way:


Maybe I’ll learn something tomorrow!

Whirlwinds

I spent last weekend with approximately a billion lovely Edmonton relatives, including my 94-year-old grandma. I’ve been home for just long enough to do laundry and see Rachelle Delaney at the Vancouver Writers Festival, and now I’m off to the Surrey International Writers Conference.

It’s going to be a whirlwind. I teach a workshop on conflict and one on voice in children’s books, I speak on a children’s book panel, I meet individually with writers, and I try to remain socially appropriate for an entire weekend. (Possible? Probably not.)

I spoke at this same conference about five years ago, and it was fabulous. They do an amazing job of creating a welcoming, inclusive, exciting atmosphere, even when hundreds of us are introverts.

Plus: hotel room by myself for three days! (Not to imply that I didn’t love sharing those adjoining rooms with my sister and our four children over the Edmonton weekend, of course. But “room of one’s own” and all…)

This weekend’s writing conference is sold out, but if you feel inspired, there’s a cruise. Just saying.

After the conference, I’m home in time to create a haunted house at my son’s school, because somehow I’ve been put in charge of that. (Occupational hazard.)

Hope your own October weeks are fun, productive, and pumpkin-ish.

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.