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!

Hatching plots

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:


Maybe I’ll learn something tomorrow!

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?