Desperation reading

We were eating Yorkshire puddings the other night, which was enough to make me turn to Silence and Violence and ask, “Have either of you read All Creatures Great and Small? James Herriot?”

Of course they hadn’t, because (a) that collection came out in 1972 and (b) they have a never-ending supply of middle-grade and young-adult books at their fingertips, either in print or through the virtual magic of Overdrive.

All of this made me think about the differences between their readings habits and mine as a kid. I was constantly running out of books, scavenging through the house for anything better than a cereal box to read. This meant I reread books endlessly, I picked up my grandpa’s Louis L’Amours, I read romance novels, obsolete school textbooks, and the encyclopedia.

The library wasn’t virtual, and it wasn’t particularly close to our house. It also wasn’t stocked with as many books for young readers as libraries are these days. So when I did get there, I read the entire rack of children-dying-from-rare-diseases-but-leaving-their-families-with-hope books from the adult section, all of Mary MacCracken’s memoirs, and everything ever written about astral projection.

My children are better read than I was (or am). But at their age, I was much more widely read.

So which is better? I have no answer for this question, it’s simply something I ponder over Yorkshire pudding and memories of animal stories. Which, now that I think of it, I should probably reread…

On the scheduling of bathroom breaks

If you raised your hand to go to the bathroom in my fourth grade class with Mr. Woods, and Mr. Woods thought you had asked to go to the bathroom too many times, he would say, “Do you have a TB?” 

TB stood for “tiny bladder.” I’m sure many kids thought this was funny, but I lived in mortal fear of being asked whether I had a tiny bladder. For the entire year, I avoided going to the bathroom. 

This should’ve been fine. There was time to go to the bathroom at lunch hour. But did I ever remember to go to the bathroom at lunch hour? 

No. 

I spent my lunch hours playing Mary Poppins on the jungle gym. Then, I spent my afternoons wiggling in my desk because I desperately had to pee but couldn’t ask to go in case I was accused of having a tiny bladder. 

You would think in the years between fourth grade and now I would’ve matured sightly. You would think I could at least remember to go to the bathroom during lunch hour. But this week I spent four days giving writing workshops at the Richmond Children’s Arts Festival. And did I remember to go to the bathroom during my breaks? 

No. 

Most days, I remembered that I needed to go to the bathroom about five minutes after I drove away from the Richmond Public Library and started towards home. 

Despite my obvious lack of life skills and time management abilities, the arts festival was pretty amazing. Every year, the organizers bring in actors, magicians, musicians, artists, and writers to lead workshops for kids from across the district.

This year’s students were incredibly engaged and attentive. The only downside to the entire festival was that I really wanted to leave my own writing class and join the improv workshop next-door. But apparently it’s frowned upon to abandon your students. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to pee.

Embracing winter

I went cross-country skiing last week for the first time since high school. And I lived, with all bones and joints intact!

Photo by the lovely Jacqui Thomas.

Friends and I drove up to Cypress in the afternoon, swooshed around in the snow for a while, stopped for dinner at the lodge, and then swooshed around again in the dark. Who knew winter could be so stunning?

AND, as a bonus, I found a cabin where Silence can live when she embarks on her hunter/trapper career.

Under Pressure

I just received the cover art for my upcoming book Under Pressure: The Science of Stress. It’s illustrated by Marie-Ève Tremblay. Her pictures are so quirky and sweet, they make me smile every time I look at the pages.

This is one of those books like Eyes and Spies, which I pretended to write for kids but actually wrote for myself. Ever since the first draft, I’ve been dragging my family out for walks in the woods. At least in June, once the book is released, they’ll be able to read the science behind my new forest obsession!

While this is my first ever title with Kids Can Press, I am kind of in love with them. I hope it’s not too soon to tell them that. I hope they don’t blush and say “thanks” or “we appreciate you, too.” Especially since there are already a few more books underway. That would be awkward.

MYA is almost born…

You know how people compare publishing a book to having a baby? It takes WAY longer to publish a book. If it only took nine months, teenagers everywhere would be pushing out pages.

This is all a convoluted way of saying that after several years of writing and waiting and popping folic acid, MYA’S STRATEGY TO SAVE THE WORLD is… almost here.

It got a lovely review in Kirkus this week. I know that a review is supposed to be a comment on a single piece of my work, but it often feels like a comment on the state of my entire soul. So, a kind Kirkus review is a wonderful thing. As Mya would say, amaZING!

MYA also made a guest appearance on this CBC list of books to watch for in Spring 2019.

Official due date: April 30th!

Kootenay reading

My parents sent me a copy of A Bright and Steady Flame, a new memoir by Luanne Armstrong. It’s a beautiful story, if harrowing at times. Personally, I loved the book most for its descriptions of life along Kootenay Lake in the 1970s.

While Luanne was struggling as a single mom and emerging writer near the southern end of the lake, my parents were chasing bears off our property about 40 minutes north, in Crawford Bay. And though she was an adult while I was a child, we apparently shared quite a few experiences: geodesic domes, carob chips, trailers, and random books scrounged from unusual sources.

My dad used to bring home cardboard boxes of books from Jual Auction. Opening one was like cracking a chest from the bottom of the sea. It could be full of sand or it could be full of treasure.

Even if you’re not from the Kootenays, A Bright and Steady Flame is a wonderful read. It’s the story of a woman struggling to find her artistic identity amidst poverty and social change, and the story of a friendship which endured it all.

My new Pokémon career

My son wasn’t wearing the elastics he was supposed to put on his braces, and none of my nagging had helped. So I made him a deal: if I caught him not wearing the elastics, he’d have to give me a Pokémon card.

Well, I’m here to announce that I’ve found the solution to braces compliance. He immediately started wearing his elastics. But the two times I caught him without them, he took great pleasure in giving me the worst possible Pokémon.

I’m now the proud owner of two cards. There’s Spoink, which does nothing but switch places with another card, and there’s my personal favourite, Nincada. Nincada does 10 damage… to itself.  

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?

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!