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.
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.
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.
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.
Now that my future is safe, I’m going back to writing. And, um… professional-grade procrastinating.
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:
It seems I’m all about the drama, even decades later.