Time is a social construct

My friend Stacey sent me an email the other day. I know this is late, she wrote, but time is a social construct.

So true, especially these days! I always tease my husband for planning his life in eight-minute increments. Suddenly, he’s home for hours at a time. (At this moment, he’s practicing with his speedbag in the garage. Let’s blame any typos on the fact the house is shaking, shall we?)

My kids actually seem happier without the daily routine of school. Yesterday, my daughter wrote an essay, finished a project, made lemon tarts, sewed some masks, and trounced us in Settlers of Catan. My son has been doing 3D modelling tutorials. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know he turned my Me and Banksy cover into this squirrel…

… which James McCann then 3D printed for us, creating this…

I love the layers of creativity happening!

I always think I’m going to be more productive when I have acres of undistributed time, but often — as is now proving the case — I get more accomplished when my writing hours are limited. I’ve been working on a picture book, I’m almost finished a proposal, and I have a manuscript due in a couple months.

I’m assuming everything will get done, somehow. Because work, like time, is a social concept. Right? It’s just all happening a bit differently these days!

My new writing schedule

8:30 am
My daughter is still fast asleep. My son heads off to do his homework. My husband sets up in the family room to work from home. I begin writing.

9:15 am
My son drapes himself around my neck. I tell him to pour himself a water, then read a chapter of his novel. My husband continues working, undisturbed.

9:30 am
My daughter emerges, hungry. I make breakfast suggestions. My husband continues working, undisturbed.

9:45 am
My son announces that he will die of boredom unless he’s able to use the main computer. I switch to the laptop and retreat to my bedroom. Inexplicably, my husband is now on the living room couch, conducting meetings ON SPEAKERPHONE.

10:30 am
My son is frustrated because his animation files won’t upload. It may work if he can switch computers. He takes my laptop. I continue working, on my phone. At least the conference call downstairs appears to be over.

11 am
My husband announces he’s finished his work. My son says his brain has died. My daughter needs help finding a sponge. (Why? I don’t even ask.) 

I am privileged to have a home with multiple rooms, and blessed to have my family members close. I make myself repeat this sentence five times, slowly. 

Words written today, not including blog rant: 245.

The pandemic pause

What a strange time. We’ve all pushed the pause button, and we don’t know when we’ll be allowed to press play.

In some ways, we writers are better prepared than most. I could spend hours a day alone at my desk, researching and scribbling, reading and thinking. Except…

I’m not alone.

There’s usually a child draped around my shoulders, wondering what to do next. And a husband calling from down the hall. And an extra-loud Facebook conversation echoing from my daughter’s room. I am the lone introvert in a family of extroverts.

But, really, I’m grateful to have them around me. As someone who does, in regular life, often spend hours alone, I recognize the value of connection. And even in this new state, I’m usually the one gathering my family for a walk, or a bike along silent streets, or a disc toss in the empty park.

It’s difficult to imagine quite how we’ll return to normal, or what a new sort of normal might be.

I hope my daughter’s gym teacher is amazed when Silence suddenly hammers out a hundred push-ups. I hope Violence’s grandkids one day wonder how he became such a card shark. I hope that a decade from now, we look back at the pandemic and think how close our kids grew during their enforced isolation. And that no matter what happens, I hope we continue to see our home as a refuge from the world.

On virtual tour

I’ve been a social butterfly lately, all without leaving my house. In case you’re not getting enough of my blathering here on the blog, you can also find me at…

Reading with Rendz, musing about accidental inspiration.

Fab Book Reviews, chatting with Michelle about rebel characters.

PRH Young Readers, searching for mental space.

The Contented Reader, having tea and talking privacy with Victoria.

And if you’re still not sick of me, there’s a lovely review of Me and Banksy posted at Shelf Awareness.

All this, and I’m still in my pyjamas. 🙂

 

Skipping to the end

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.

The end. 

“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 Banksy floundered 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. 

New book bonanza

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.)

This was a nice surprise at Vancouver Kidsbooks.
And look how many copies they had for me to sign!

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!

Happy New Year!

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!

The Writers Festival

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 view from backstage at The Vancouver Writers Festival.

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.

I am making funny faces in every single photo. Why? Also, I’ve decided this is my only presentable outfit, so I may have to do Thursday’s event in my pyjamas.

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.

I know. Crazy.

Tomorrow, I’m at Event #34: Empowered Kids with Michael Hutchinson and Sara Cassidy. My daughter’s attending, so I can embarrass her by talking about which parts of Mya’s Strategy to Save the World are based on real life.

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!

The audio files

Here’s some exciting news… Me and Banksy, my novel coming out with Penguin Random House next spring, is going to be an audio book!

My kids and I are big audio-book fans, so there were celebrations in my house. Everyone thought I was very glamorous for at least fifteen minutes, until they wanted to know what was for dinner and whether their martial arts gear was clean. But hey, those were fifteen dog minutes, and we parents take what we can get.

I had no idea how audio books were made. My friend Stacey sent me this great video, so I could pretend to be intelligent while on the phone with the producer, Ann. (“On the phone with the producer”… I wish I got to type that phrase more often.)

This is how an audio book gets made, from an author’s point of view:

  1. Ann sent me sample audio files from three shortlisted actors. I was asked to review and rank these files, on the understanding that the publisher would have the final choice, and things might depend on each actor’s availability.
  2. I listened to the audio files approximately one billion times. Fortunately, I had a live-in focus group and they were happy to give their opinions. We all loved an actor named Veronica Hortiguela. She sounded smart, funny, and emotional but not too emotional.
  3. I sent the opinions of my focus group to Ann, who right away said that she’d offer Veronica the part.
  4. Veronica said yes!
  5. After the director read through the book, I received a list of pronunciation questions. Some of these, I could answer. For example, I knew how to pronounce my name. Other questions were more difficult. How did I want emojis handled? (I quickly consulted the focus group.) Artist Rineke Dijkstra is mentioned in the text. How should her name be pronounced? (Um… thank goodness for YouTube!)
  6. Now production is underway.
  7. It’s always thrilling to see a new book in print, but this time, I get double thrills. I get to hear the new book, too!

WORD

I had a wonderful time at Word Vancouver yesterday. I was at the children’s stage with the talented Kathryn Shoemaker, Lee Edward Fodi, and Mahtab Norsimhan. Missing in this photo is Norma Charles, who was there both to moderate our Between Worlds panel and to introduce her own new book, The Tree Musketeers.

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.

Sorry, Silence!

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.

Even the audience at Word was stacked with writers I wanted to talk to. Thanks to Stacey Matson, Kirsten Pendreigh, and Mark David Smith for coming out!

And thank you, Word Vancouver, for having me! It was bookish fun from start to finish.