My son cleared his throat and read me his new story. It opened with great drama. A young boy woke to find his city invaded by aliens. He befriended one of the small aliens. He was about to negotiate peace with the bigger ones when… the spaceship shot him.
“Wait… what?” I said. “Your story was so great. Why did you kill your main character?”
“We only have to write two pages for school,” he said. “If I didn’t kill him, everything would get more and more complicated.”
And with that, he summarized all my writing problems. I start a book, I fall in love with the characters, I scribble along until things get complicated, and then… trouble. I’m stuck in the messy middle.
Me and Banksyfloundered in this state for quite a while as I tried to figure out exactly what Dominica and her best friends were going to do about the security cameras in their classrooms. Dominica had already taken some small, individual actions. I knew the book would end with a collective rebellion… but how would I get them from here to there?
Eventually, I skipped to the end. I wrote the scene about the students’ grand pièce de résistance. After that, it was simply a matter of figuring out what each character would have needed to do to reach that scene. I backtracked to fill in the missing pieces.
Writing is a messy process. As my son explained, it gets more and more complicated with every page. But sometimes it helps to remember that I don’t need to know what happens next. As long as I know what happens at some point, I can write forwards, backwards, and in between.
Though it’s best to avoid the alien spaceships along the way.
My new middle-grade novel Me and Banksy came out a couple weeks ago, so I’ve been visiting bookstores, chatting with book bloggers, and secretly sleeping with copies under my pillow. (Just kidding, but I do feel about new-book smell the same way my husband feels about new-car smell.)
Me and Banksy is the first of my books to have an audiobook edition, which I’ve already gushed about here. This week, I got to download and listen to it for the first time. My son, Violence, who has just turned thirteen (!!!) and who’s long been the biggest audiobook fan in our household, hung out with me in the kitchen listening to the first chapter. I think he’s decided I’m now a real writer.
There are reviews posted, including this one from Quill and Quire, one here from Shelf Awareness, and these lovely words from Publisher’s Weekly. Today, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre published an interview with me. I also have guest posts appearing on various book blogs next week, so watch this space for the links.
And thanks to everyone for your kind words and support!
Admittedly, I was asleep by 10:45 on New Year’s Eve, while my daughter and her friends celebrated downstairs, but I’m now wide awake and ready to celebrate.
There’s a lot to look forward to in 2020. I’ve been reading articles like this one, which offer some hope for the future. Greta Thunberg’s final post of 2019 on Twitter said, “This coming decade humanity will decide it’s future. Let’s make it the best one we can. We have to do the impossible. So let’s get started.” That seems like the perfect note on which to begin the decade.
On a more personal level, I have new writing projects to get excited about. Me and Banksy is finally hitting the bookstore shelves on January 7th. I say “finally” because birthing a book baby takes SO much longer than birthing a real baby, and this project has been in the works for a couple years. I’m so thrilled to see it in the world. Reviewers have been very kind so far. Here are some nice words from Publisher’s Weekly, and a starred review (eep!) from Quill and Quire.
Meanwhile, I’ve signed a new contract for a middle-grade non-fiction book with Kids Can Press and I’m about to send off a non-fiction book proposal co-written by my daughter. Fingers crossed!
I’m not one for resolutions, but my husband said something recently that struck a chord. He said you don’t always need to have fun. You can just be fun. I’m going to try for that.
Happy New Year, all! If you have resolutions or big 2020 plans, please let me know in the comments!
I’m presenting at the Vancouver Writers Festival this week, which is entirely unlike what I usually do with my time (ie. sit in front of my computer wearing grubby clothes, eating popcorn, and wondering why I seem to have named all my characters after people’s great aunts).
Yesterday’s presentation was about my new non-fiction book, Under Pressure: The Science of Stress. Ironic, because I was feeling more than a little anxious as I sat backstage waiting for my cue.
The event went very well, though. The kids were engaged and eager to volunteer (whew!), a big group of writer friends surprised me by getting tickets and planting their friendly faces along one side of the stage, and I only accidentally wore cat ears for half the time.
After the presentation, I went to not one, but TWO PARTIES! And I held a drink and a plate of snacks in one hand without spilling them on myself or on other people.
And then… would you believe… there’s ANOTHER PARTY?!?
I’m very grateful to be at the Writers Festival, and it’s run by the world’s smartest, kindest people, including a massive array of fabulous volunteers. A big thank you to artistic director Leslie Hurtig and Senior Artistic Associate Clea Young for including me!
Word is sometimes tricky, because bad weather can scare away the crowds. (One year, the entire children’s tent blew away — fortunately without the kids inside.) But this year, we had glorious sunshine and lots of happy readers gathered ’round. There were seniors and toddlers and teens… including my daughter, who I thoroughly embarassed by sharing the real-life stories that inspired Mya’s Strategy to Save the World.
While I was at the festival, I had the chance to see lots of inspiring writers and storytellers in action, including Kallie George, there to introduce her oh-so-lovely Anne of Green Gables adaptation, Anne Arrives. I also met Rachel Poliquin, author of The Superpower Field Guide: Moles. After I spent her panel whispering, “I wish I’d written that!” to everyone around me, I had to introduce myself.
I’m writing this blog post from the deck of Hillcrest Pool, surrounded by a million children. The lifeguards here are the most patient people in existence.
A few minutes ago, my son turned up dripping by my side to say he’d lost his friend in the pool during a game of hide and seek. I thought I might have to explain to the friend’s mom that her son had drowned as I was supposed to be supervising, but then I found the friend, sitting on a lounge chair. It turns out my son is as bad at finding friends in the pool as he is at finding socks in his sock drawer.
Trying to write on the pool deck is not so different than trying to write at home these days. My desk is on our stairway landing, which is perfectly fine during the school year, but significantly less convenient when my house is full of children.
My wise friend Stacey suggested I think of this as the season for inspiration and input rather than for productivity, and this idea has been helpful.
On the subject of input, I’m on the final pages of The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and the book is mind-blowing. Trees communicate. They taste and smell things. They nurse their young. And this is all science, not Lord of the Rings. I will never again see a forest in the same way.
I hope you’re enjoying the summer, with all of its hiding, seeking, and splashing. I’m off to hug a tree, ponder the existence of ents, and think about what I’ll write once my office is again my own.
This was absolutely fascinating to write. I had no idea we experience so many chemical and neurological changes related to stress. Plus I got to research obsessive tennis players, fearless base jumpers, and feminist rat researchers. (Um… the researchers were feminists. I’m not sure about the rats.)
This is my first-ever book with Kids Can Press. They have been incredible to work with — not an ounce of anxiety involved! Plus they recruited the über-talented Marie-Ève Tremblay to do ever-so-subtly-silly illustrations.
I kind of want to sleep with this copy under my pillow. Would that be weird?
Speaking of weird, I have two more books coming out with Kids Can Press in the next couple years, both on subjects that also begin with the letter S. My accidental S-sound series will eventually include stress, stereotypes, and sleep.
The writing part of the next two books is complete, so I’d better get working on a new proposal. Smells, possibly? Snails? S’mores?
Under Pressure is out in September. But you could avoid any undue stress and pre-order your copy now.
It was wonderful to see so many friends there. I felt like I should be renewing my vows or something. Can you renew writer vows?
Kidsbooks was amazing, as always. When Maggie introduced my book , she said readers only needed to read the first paragraph. Then they’d be hooked. Apparently, that was true!
I talked a little about the inspirations for Mya, including my daughter’s save-the-whales letter from years ago. (That letter was a hit. I think I’m going to subcontract all my writing to Silence from now on.) I talked about how Mya, the young activist in my book, wants to work for the United Nations, win a Nobel Prize, and, perhaps most of all, get her very own cell phone.
Then Kallie took the stage to talk about love vs. might. Wings of Olympus is about a winged-horse race, and about whether the love between one girl and her horse can help them triumph over mightier teams.
Kallie also told us about writing down her ideas for this book in a café. She was thinking about the words, smiling out the window, when a cute boy walked by and assumed she was smiling at him! He came inside to introduce himself. Now, several years later, that cute boy is her husband and Wings of Olympus is published book.
Overall, it was a fabulous night, full of books and cookies. Thank you to everyone who joined us for the celebration!
Because crafting is not my forte, I’ve subcontracted the paper cutting and cookie baking to my lovely daughter, Silence. She has happily concocted Make Your Own Nobel Prize instructions for the activity table AND made a delicious practice batch of peace-sign sugar cookies.
Violence, meanwhile, had a look at my first author copy. He said, “It looks good. I mean, I wouldn’t buy it because I could get three Pokemon booster packs for this price, but I’d definitely get it out from the library.” (I will be posting him on Craigslist any day now.)
The book launch is a double event, and my friend Kallie George will be there with her new middle-grade novel, Wings of Olympus, which is an absolute treasure of fun and adventure.
And what am I doing to prepare for the evening? Mainly waking up at 4:30 a.m., because my brain seems to think this is the perfect time to run through possible speeches. Sometimes I go back to sleep and sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I think I’ve been awake for hours, and then I remember talking to a gnome, so it’s possible I’ve been sleeping.
I may or may not be coherent once April 25th rolls around, but I will definitely be excited, and I hope to see you there! If you want to join the fun at Kidsbooks, you can RSVP here. The event is free for everyone. Even gnomes.
The launch is free, but if you’re planning to attend, you should RSVP here.
And, before you go, here’s a bit more about Kallie’s Wings of Olympus, a book full of adventure and daring and winged-horse love:
Aloft the slopes of mighty Mount Olympus, winged horses glide among the sun-splashed meadows. It’s a world full of gods and heroes, of daring and intrigue. It is not a place where one would expect to find a lost, parentless girl like Pippa. But destiny has taken this foundling from the mortal realm to jockey a steed in a once-a-century race of winged horses. Pippa has been chosen to ride Zephyr, an undersized but spirited stallion, and now Pippa has to confront the greatest challenge of her life—achieving victory in flight.