My accidental ninja book

I have a book coming out this fall which I wrote completely by accident.

About a year ago, I sent Annick a proposal for a companion book to Extreme Battlefields. The new idea was called Alone at War, and featured behind-enemy-lines stories of spies and saboteurs.

Annick didn’t love the collection, but asked me to create a non-fiction book from one of the proposed chapters — the story of Mochizuki Chiyome, a female ninja-trainer in 16th-century Japan.

So I wrote that book. Then Annick said, “there isn’t enough information here.” Which was entirely true because, you know, 16th century. There were lots of sentences which began, “Historians think this might have happened…” Or, “Perhaps, at this point…”

We decided to fill in the blanks and create a historical fiction piece.

Perfect!

Except that I had never written historical fiction before. Turns out it’s hard! It took a few drafts to get the right balance between fact and action. (My lovely editor, Paula Ayer, should probably have her name on the cover and should definitely win some sort of medal for patience.)

The finished book is a hybrid. There’s a warlord named Takeda Shingen, definitely a real guy. Then there’s Chiyome, probably real. And there’s a village girl named Aki, who’s entirely a figment of my imagination.

When melded together, their tales are full of action, with enough twists to impress even Violence, who recently read the proofs and gave the story a rare two thumbs up.

And that’s how I accidentally wrote a book about ninjas.

Literary tourism and fried bananas

We went to Disneyland recently. The week before the trip, I bought our park tickets and made a rough daily itinerary. Then I got busy.

Silence picked up my list and read: Tuesday—Beach.

“What beach are we going to?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Pick one.”

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but Silence is a super-fan of The Mother-Daughter Book Club series by Heather Vogel-Frederick. (Direct quote: “Heather Vogel-Frederick is a literary genius.”)

Silence has read the books multiple times; she’s listened to the audio books multiple times; she’s corresponded with the author; she’s memorized the middle names of all the characters. Thus, on our Tuesday away, we ended up renting a car and driving to Newport Beach. But not so we could see the beach. No, so we could find the tiny ferry terminal that would take us to Balboa Island, home of our (fictional) friend Cassidy Sloane, and birthplace of frozen bananas.

We spent the entire day driving, hunting for ferry, riding ferry, walking island, finding said bananas, and then doing it all in reverse, but it was a lovely, sunny day and Silence was very, very happy. (Violence wasn’t complaining about a day in search of chocolate-dipped treats, either.)

All in all, it was much more successful than our second “literary” tourism moment of the trip, which was a turn on the Harry Potter 4D ride at Universal Studios. That one left me sitting on a park bench with my head between my knees while the kids enjoyed their butter beers without me.

Mad as a hatter

It was a weekend of parties. We went to a school fundraiser and silent auction on Friday night. Then, on Saturday night, we simultaneously hosted a Mad Hatter-themed sleepover (Silence) and a men’s UFC night (Min). It was an extra-entertaining combination, since Silence had already decorated the house with Alice-in-Wonderland characters and posters, perfect for a blood-thirsty boxing night.

The men went home, and six additional girls joined us on Sunday for a Mad Hatter tea party, where the decorations made much more sense.

Oh, and in between all those parties, we hosted two 10-year-old boys for playdates. (They didn’t notice the theme at all, unless they were looking for extra nerf-gun targets.)

This morning, everyone has left the house. The kitchen is (mostly) clean again. I’ve started on the mountain of laundry. And, most importantly, I have a few open hours for writing. But I’m keeping some of the decorations up. Maybe forever.

DNA Detective at the Lyceum

I visited Christianne’s Lyceum last night to meet with the Chronicle Crusaders, a parent-child book club. Then I faced off against the readers on a DNA crossword puzzle (I lost), and tried my hand at genetics pictionary (thus demonstrating why I don’t illustrate my own books).

The Lyceum is truly an amazing place. It’s chock full of books and curiosities and it draws the loveliest readers of both grown-up and kid varieties. One of the kids asked how royalties worked, so we had a rather depressing conversation about how writers get paid, but honestly… I could have been born on a farm in the Ukraine, and spent my life telling stories to chickens. How blessed am I to find myself in the Lyceum loft instead, eating dragon fruit and talking dragon’s blood trees?

Thank you, Chronicle Crusaders, for a fantastic evening!

Sizing up Eyes and Spies

School Library Journal gave a lovely review to Eyes and Spies this month. You’ll find it here, if you scroll down to the non-fiction section. The reviewer wrote: “‘Valuable’ is an understatement. A timely read on surveillance and mass data collection for public and school libraries.”

YAY!

I received the link from Annick Press just as I was drowning in the depths of Bellis Fair Mall. I was there as part of the annual family shopping trip that drives me to existential crisis. (Not that other things don’t.) It was perfect timing for a happy surprise.

If you’re interested in privacy and surveillance issues, and you can’t wait the couple weeks until Eyes and Spies arrives on shelves, check out the podcast Note to Self. They’ve just wrapped up a six-episode series on privacy and it’s fascinating. Apparently phone calls are protected in the United States partly because of a gambler who used phone booths to place his bets, got caught, and then argued for his privacy rights. Who knew?

I might have to write a second edition.

Eyes and Spies: the alternate subtitle list

My new book, Eyes and Spies, is now posted on the Annick website. It’s a book for tweens and teens about tracking, surveillance, and privacy.

This is one of the most interesting topics I’ve ever researched, and it’s occurred to me that we could have chosen a more pithy subtitle. Something like:

50 Reasons You Should Never Pick Your Nose in Front of Your Computer
Do You Really Want Your Dad to Find Pictures of Your Boobs Online?
Your Principal + A Webcam = Seriously Creepy
Swatting Kinda Sucks

I’ll have to suggest these for the second edition.

Creature control

I had a phone interview with a high school student in a life planning class. She had all sorts of questions about the publishing process, including “how much control do you have over the illustrations and the cover?”

Um… none!

Most writers get “input” rather than control. I often see initial sketches from the illustrator under consideration for a project. Then I see rough artwork so I can comment about accuracy. And I see the final versions so I can squeal over them. But as for veto power: zero.

Fortunately, the editors and art directors at publishing houses usually have much, much better visual taste than I have, and I trust them to make great decisions.

As I learned last week, I should be grateful that I at least have input. I sat down with two actor friends as they watched their newly released movie for the first time. Before it began, one of them turned to me and said, “You have to imagine you wrote your text, sent it away, and you have no idea what’s been done with it. That’s how we feel right now.”

ACK! I don’t have that much trust.

As we watched the (wonderful) movie, they said things like, “Oh, they cut a lot of that scene,” or “that part looked so different when they shot it.”

What a strange thing, to create something and then leave it entirely in the power of someone else. It would be like handing someone your egg and hoping that after it’s hatched and grown, you admire the finished creature.

I’m so glad I get to watch my creatures grow.

In the trees!

I’m absolutely thrilled to have DNA Detective nominated for a Red Maple Award this year. Part of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading, the Red Maple is a reader’s choice award for kids in grades seven and eight.

DNA Cover

I’m personally glad I’m not one of those kids, because it’s going to be impossible to choose. Other books on the list include Pride by Robin Stevenson, Child Soldier by Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys, and Vanished by Elizabeth McLeod (which is currently topping my list of books I wish I’d written).

vanished

Congrats to all the other nominees, and a huge thanks to the Ontario Library Association!