Cooking is dangerous

I was making wontons a couple nights ago. They tend to spit when I flip them, so I was holding up a splatter screen between me and the frying pan. But somehow, hot oil popped out of the pan, over the screen, and onto my eyelid.

The science writer in me thought, “Wow, it’s amazing that my eye can see airborne oil and signal my brain quickly enough that I fry my eyelid instead of my eye.”

The science writer in me is not the vain type. The vain side of me was looking in the mirror the next morning at my blistered left eyelid and thinking about the UBC presentation I’m giving tonight.

I may scrap my intended script. I may speak about cyclops myths instead. And maybe about pirates.

Authors for Indies

Things that will probably happen at Black Bond Books in Ladner this Saturday, as I participate in Authors for Indies day:

1. They will find me curled in the back corner reading some irresistible book that I’ve found, and they will have to tell me to get back to work.

2. I will recommend Dan Bar-el’s Audrey (Cow) to adults looking for thrillers. Because really, everyone should read Audrey (Cow) and it IS suspenseful.

3. I will meet Ashley Spires and say something gushy, then excuse myself to go to the washroom and knock my head against the wall a few times.

If you would like to join me in any of these activities, I’m at Black Bond from 10 a.m. until noon. Stop by and say hello! Also, read Audrey (Cow).

News flash

Two exciting things to report! First, I am thrilled to have DNA Detective shortlisted for the Science in Society Book Awards, presented by the Canadian Science Writers’ Association. You can see the entire shortlist here. If you share my level of science-book-geekitude, you will want to read all the books in both categories. Who can resist a science book called Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? (Is she, do you think?)


Next in the news department: I’ll be spending the morning of Saturday, April 30th, at Black Bond Books in Ladner, as part of Authors for Indies day. I’ve always wanted to work in a bookstore, and this is my big chance. They’re even going to let me recommend books to random shoppers, which may prove dangerous for everyone involved.

Come and visit if you’re in the ‘hood!

The Inside Story

Its that time of year: the annual CWILL BC panel about creating children’s books is coming soon to the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library. It’s a great event, always packed, and FREE!

The panelists this year are wise and experienced folks. So if you’ve ever considered writing or illustrating for children, here’s the event for you:

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More info here!


I spent last week doing writing workshops with students in grades four through seven, as part of Richmond’s Children’s Arts Festival.

Wow! What an event! School groups (masses of school groups) arrive each morning. They’re each assigned to two interactive workshops — and those include everything you can imagine. Meditation. Creativity through movement. Puppetry. Animation. Sculpture. In between classes, there were rainmakers and hats to create, magic to learn, things to paint… My only regret from the entire week was that I couldn’t sneak away to explore all the stations!

My workshop was all about survival stories. The students threw themselves into tales of shipwrecks, plane crashes, or even zombie apocalypses. (There was a literary point to it all somewhere, though I admit the cannibalism was a bit of a tangent.)

This is our lovely space at the Richmond Public Library, pre-workshop:


And this is the post-creativity version:


Those Richmond librarians are a brave, brave bunch for hosting this event. (And a gracious bunch, too. They even let fellow presenter Kallie George and I sneak into their lunchroom every afternoon for respite time.)

I walked up and down the library stairs about a hundred times in the course of the week, but I didn’t notice this quote until the very last day. It summed up the entire festival wonderfully.


Thank you for having me, Children’s Arts Festival! (Next year, I’m going to disguise myself as a student and sneak into that animation class.)

Horn tootin’

I am so thrilled to have DNA Detective included in the Ontario Library Association’s Best Bets list for 2015. The committee reviews all the books written or illustrated by Canadians or people living in Canada and chooses 10 from each category: Picture Books, Junior Fiction, Junior Non-Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, and Young Adult Non-Fiction.

I’m in some wonderful company on the Junior Non-Fiction list. The other books include Child Soldier by Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys, and Power Up! by Shaker N. Paleja.

In other news, I am doing a Twitter chat with Publishers Weekly tomorrow at noon Vancouver time. In preparation for the event, PW is sponsoring a DNA Detective giveaway. You can enter here.

Readings and lights

I visited Graham Bruce Elementary School in East Van yesterday, as part of a Books for Me! literacy program. The students had been studying DNA, so I told stories from DNA Detective, but I’m pretty sure a few of those kids knew more than me. When I paused for questions, someone asked about the effects of gamma radiation. And I said something super-smart, like, “uh…”


They were a great group. Many thanks to Books for Me! and librarian Dee Mochrie for setting up the event. (You can always tell when a school has a great teacher-librarian at the helm!)

Just before the presentation, I scooted down the street to see a certain plaque at Sunrise Park. This week, the Vancouver Public Library and CWILL BC launched a program called Reading Lights. They’ve posted images from B.C. children’s books on street lights all over the city.

Just as I drove up to see the image from Deborah Hodge‘s Watch Me Grow!, the sun came out.


Here’s her lovely plaque:


It’s so fun to see these little bits of literature become part of the city landscape. You can check for plaques in your own neighbourhood here.

Alternate realities

I feel as if I’ve been lost for the past week or two in an alternate universe. In that universe, I’m someone who leaves her house each day and speaks to other human beings.

Shocking, really.

First, I spent a day at Chalmers Elementary in North Delta. I know a school has a good library when the first thing I see as I walk in is a castle. All the surrounding columns had been turned into trees, and great books were growing everywhere.


The next day it was off to one of my favourite libraries, the West Vancouver Memorial Library, where it always seems there’s more sunshine and light streaming in the windows than ever existed outside. There, youth librarian Shannon Ozirny had signed up a whole crew of eager writers to take part in a survival writing workshop. I’ve given this workshop a few times now, but West Van was the first place students chose to have their characters escape crisis situations by TELEPORTING TO HAWAII. Now, why had I never thought of that?

Have you ever heard of Bookfest in Maple Ridge? I had never heard of it before, and it is amazing. Hundreds of kids are plucked from their regular classes by virtue of being keen readers. They read eight books this fall, including When the Worst Happens, and they all turned up at the ACT Arts Centre — many of them in costume as their favourite characters — to spend a day celebrating books. The best part? Some of them were dressed as characters from my book!

After Bookfest, I spend two days visiting schools in Maple Ridge, including Alexander Robinson, Allouette, and Laity View. The librarian at Alexander Robinson, known as “Mr. J.,” has taught at the school for 15 years or so, but this is his first year as librarian. In the hallway, one of the students called to him: “My mom says you’re wasted as a librarian, because you’re such a good teacher.”

Which was an interesting semi-compliment. Because obviously the mom appreciated Mr. J.’s teaching skills but failed to appreciate the potential of a good librarian. And honestly, you could just tell these schools all had great librarians. The students were engaged and informed and curious, and it warmed the cockles of my writerly heart.

I am now retiring back to my regular universe for a rest. But giant thank yous to all the students, teachers, and librarians who gave me such wonderful welcomes over the past two weeks.

The people in the neighbourhood

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?

Of all the nerve(s)

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.


Sometimes I think I should take my brain back to the store and ask for a more reasonable replacement.