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 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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.