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?

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.

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?

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.

Drama in Real Life

Waiting in the optometrist’s office with my son, I picked up a Reader’s Digest.

Drama In Real Life: Buried Alive by a Blizzard!

As a kid, I read whatever I could get my hands on. That included trashy romances, dragon adventures from the school library, my grandfather’s Time-Life series about aliens, my other grandfather’s James Herriot Yorkshire vet collection, my parent’s school leftovers, boxes of randomness that my dad brought home from auctions, and the entire rack of kids-with-rare-illnesses books at the public library.

But sitting in the optometrist’s office and holding this Reader’s Digest in my hands, I realized these were what I read most. They came home from the grocery store with the milk and eggs and were just as much a staple in our house.

There’s probably a direct connection between Drama in Real Life stories and this:

Or this:

Or this:

It seems I’m all about the drama, even decades later.

Recharge

Do you think if you lived with a scene like this for long enough, you’d forget it was there? You’d stumble to your coffee maker in the morning and ignore the windows?

I spent a few days on the Sunshine Coast last week, recharging and sneaking some writing time. After six days, I was definitely not done with the view. Not even my tepid photography skills could ruin it.

I hope you all had an equally relaxing Easter. I’ve been reading Startle and Illuminate and, as the juggling of real life begins again, I’ve resolved to take some advice from Carol Shields:

Time is not cruel. Given the good luck of a long healthy life, as most of us have, we have plenty. Plenty of time. We have time to try our new selves. Time to experiment. Time to dream and drift. Time even to waste. Fallow time. Shallow time.

We’ll have good years and bad years. And we can afford both. Every hour will not be filled with meaning and accomplishment as the world measures such things but there will be compensating hours so rich, so full, so humanly satisfying that we will become partners with time and not victims of it.

As it happens, Carol Shields didn’t have a particularly long life, but she did raise five children and win the Pulitzer Prize and a Governor General’s Award. I think she did alright with the time she had.

The Perfect Pitch

Friends Rachelle Delaney, Stacey Matson, and I are giving a class about pitches and submissions, on Saturday, April 21st, as part of Ink Well Vancouver.

We’ve done some brainstorming and we have WAY TOO MUCH information, but we’re going to pack it into three fun hours at Kits Neighbourhood House. There will be games of the actually fun and non-embarrassing kind, and there will be writing of the practical type, and there will be yogic dance.

Wait, scratch that. No yogic dance.

Pitch writing is interesting because it used to be done more by emerging authors, those looking for their “home” publishing houses. But now, writers are working with multiple publishers at once, and on multiple platforms. That means more pitches for everyone. So, whether you’re an emerging writer or an established one, you should join us.

Plus, it’s fun to talk about writing. What better way to spend a Saturday morning?

Brainstorming detritus

Sometimes when I’m walking or grocery shopping or waiting in line, I’m struck by a string of book ideas. So either I jot these on scraps of paper which I immediately lose, or I write them in my phone then forget ever to look at them again.

Here’s a sample note from 2016, which I’ve just rediscovered. If you’ve read Prince of Pot, you’ll recognize some names.

Failure of imagination
Portfolio
Project
Paint the bus
Half woods, half city, bear, bear rug. No, couldn’t paint bear rug, hazel lives forever. Drive to Vancouver, see what comes.

Isaac needs to find his own path, make his own decisions, follow his own art.

Doesn’t send portfolio?

Walt has a brother who’s an artist?

Walt left family behind. Had to follow what he believed.

Reference letter from Mr. Pires (who also left his family behind?)

About two of these things happened in the final book. Don’t worry, the bear rug wasn’t one of them.