The dream conference

Imagine this: a children’s literature conference where Stacey Matson was teaching storytelling and Carrie Mac giving a keynote about heroes, villains, and geeks. James McCann was offering a workshop on story mapping, Maggie de Vries on scene construction, and Jeremy Tankard on turning pictures into stories. Denise Jaden, Grant Lawrence, and Pia Guerra were speaking and mentoring. Would you want to go?

Because I would TOTALLY sign up!

Except… I am not 11 to 16. Damn it.

All last week, my daughter ran off to the VPL’s Writing and Book Camp each day and came home raving about the cool people she’d met and the things she’d discovered.

Then, on Friday, she got up in front of 150 or so people and read an excerpt from her short story. Calmly, clearly, as if it were no big deal.

I am hanging somewhere between immensely proud and insanely jealous.

Reading by the numbers

Before January escapes me completely, I thought I’d have a look at last year’s reading list.

I read 87 books in 2014, including 36 novels, 40 young adult or middle-grade books, and three short story collections.

There were only eight non-fiction titles on my list, which I think is an inaccurate reflection of the amount of non-fiction that I actually read. The problem: I often don’t finish non-fiction books. I read a few chapters for research. Or I get distracted in the middle of them and never go back. Both Cooked and Consumed, for example, have been languishing half-read in my bedside table drawer for months now. Which is embarrassing. I am a disgrace to the non-fiction world.

But, onwards…

I read seven books by people I know — a number I think I should improve upon, as a supportive fellow writer!

And, as always, some of my favourite reads were recommended by friends, either real-life friends or virtual. Here are my three top picks (books, not friends), in case you’re looking for something to read this January:

Ellen in Pieces, by Caroline Adderson, was raunchy, heartbreaking, and hilarious. Usually all in one page. Plus, it has the most gorgeous cover of the year.

elleninpieces

Annabel is the story of an intersex baby born in rural Labrador. The journey the father goes through, from denial to acceptance to unconditional love, was wonderfully done, and I found myself thinking about it long after I’d closed the book.

annabel

Derry Collier’s Open Secret is a crime novel that goes beyond clever to be warmly, insightfully smart. Plus, it’s set in my (fictionalized) hometown.

Open-Secret-web

That’s it for 2014! A big thank you to Denise Jaden, who included Anywhere But Here on her list of favourites for the year. I already have my copy of Denise’s Foreign Exchange, waiting to be read!

Live on stage (kinda)

I’m busy preparing for tomorrow’s trip to Citadel Middle School, where I’m giving three workshops on Storytelling Techniques in Non-Fiction. Which sounds rather boring, but actually means that I get to:

1. Tell my dad’s logging stories. (He tells them better, but I do what I can. And it’s not a fair comparison, because he gets to drink beer while telling.)

2. Hear crazy stories from students. (Last time I gave this workshop, I learned about imaginary bears in White Rock and solo flights by a sixteen-year-old.)

3. Hang out with the amazing Eileen Cook, Denise Jaden, and C.C. Humphries. (How cool is that?)

The logging stories? Well, you’ll have to book a workshop to hear them, or fly to California and ask the man himself. All I’m saying is: there’s an ice-bridge.

And Dad lived to tell the tale.

This is my brain on the spin cycle

Ten years ago, I came out of the bathroom holding a plastic stick with two little pink stripes on it, and Min flopped down on the bed looking as if… well, as if his world were about to permanently change. The first words he managed were: “we get to go to Disneyland.”

Last week, we finally went to Disneyland! We have been thoroughly spun, shaken, and stirred by every kind of ride, play, and event imaginable and it was fantastic. It was everything we hoped it would be, ten years ago.

But now it’s back to real life. And a mountain of laundry. As in, the Matterhorn of laundry.

Between loads, I’m talking to myself. Not only because I lost my mind somewhere along the Indiana Jones track, but also because I need to practice for tonight’s presentation to the Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable. I’m talking about economics, tiger dads, and whether or not to encourage my child to be a writer. (You can probably guess my eventual answer to that one, but I won’t spoil it here.)

They have promised me wine. Which may help me forget the laundry.

One other note: the day before I left, Denise Jaden visited my blog with some fantastic tips for fast fiction. In the frenzy of packing, I did a terrible job promoting her post. If you missed it, please check it out!

Guest post: Denise Jaden

I’ve invited the warm and lovely Denise Jaden to drop by and SPILL HER SECRETS! This woman is a novel-writing phenom. She churns out more words in a week than I do in a month, and she’s especially on fire this month, as part of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. So, get ready to soak in some great fast fiction advice…

How to Stay Motivated Through a Fast Draft
by Denise Jaden

It’s National Novel-Writing Month (nanowrimo.org), and hundreds of thousands of people around the world are right now attempting to write the first draft of a 50-thousand-word novel in a month. It sounds crazy. It is crazy. But that doesn’t seem to stop me from doing it year after year.

Even though I generally thrive off of lofty goals, that doesn’t mean there aren’t roadblocks along the way, and it seems like each year there are new ones. Staying motivated to write large chunks of words for thirty days in a row, even when you don’t feel any unction of creativity, is not for the feint of heart.

Here are a few things that help me stay motivated, whenever I fast draft, whether during National Novel-Writing Month or at other times of the year:

1. Go in with lots of ideas. Don’t feel like you have to make a formal outline, if that’s not your style, but make sure to do plenty of brainstorming ahead of time about your characters, possible motivations for them, possible obstacles to those motivations, and ideas of settings you might like to bring your characters to. Keep these ideas all in one place, so they’re easy to come back to when you get stuck or are feeling sluggish on a particularly difficult day of writing.

2. Create some visual and audio cues to your ideas. Before or during drafting, spend a half an hour browsing through Google Images, looking for people who look like how you envision your characters, or snapshots of the settings where your story is taking place. Print these out or use a montage for your computer background. Take a few minutes and make a playlist of any songs that remind you of your characters and your story. If music helps you, play this while you’re writing. If not, listen to this soundtrack in the car or at the gym and let the story ideas brew in your mind so the writing will be easier later.

3. Know what’s zapping your energy. Are too many of life’s tasks keeping you busy? Can you spend a day and make some frozen meals to help you through the month? Can you ask for some short-term help with some of your daily responsibilities? Are you hanging out with naysayers, or generally negative people? It’s only one month, so see if you can temporarily fix or detour your energy-zappers whenever possible.

4. Don’t look back. When we’re fast-drafting, we don’t have clear perspective on our work. Looking back will often create self-doubt, which will hinder our motivation for moving forward. Chances are the fast draft you’re writing is better than you think! I love this quote from New York Times Bestselling Author Rainbow Rowell’s recent NaNoWriMo Pep Talk: “Here’s something that really shocked me during my revisions: I kept almost every word I wrote during NaNoWriMo.” Until you complete your goal and step away, it’s impossible to judge the quality of your fast drafts. Why not trust that they could actually be good?

5. Find some cheerleaders. There are some great people on Twitter and Facebook who keep me accountable and cheer me on when I’m writing a fast draft. Put out a tweet or a status update and see if any of your friends would act as your cheering section, or join NaNoWriMo (www.nanowrimo.org) and find accountability there. There may be writers who can write books all on their own, without the help of any friends, but if there are, I don’t know of any. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, I believe it takes a whole network of positive, loving, and creative people to bring good books into the world. Don’t try and do this all alone!

Many of these ideas come from my forthcoming book, Fast Fiction (New World Library, 2014), but for more immediate tips, follow me on my blog, where I’m writing two new features, specifically to help fast drafters: Writing Prompt Wednesdays, and Fast Fiction Fridays.

fast fiction

Thanks to Tanya Lloyd Kyi for having me! She’s also stopped by my blog for her own guest post on the subject of getting going when you’re stuck!

Denise Jaden‘s novels have been shortlisted or received awards through the Romance Writers of America, Inspy, and SCBWI. The first draft of her debut novel, Losing Faith (Simon & Schuster), was written in 21 days during NaNoWriMo 2007. Her second novel, Never Enough (Simon & Schuster), was started first but took about eight years longer. Her first non-fiction book for writers, Writing with a Heavy Heart: Using Grief and Loss to Stretch Your Fiction, includes a variety of clear guidance and practical exercises to help writers get to the heart of their stories. Her second non-fiction book, Fast Fiction (New World Library) includes tips on constructing a story plan that works, as well as daily inspiration to keep writers writing, regardless of when the mood strikes.
Denise lives just outside Vancouver, Canada, and spends most of her time homeschooling her young son (who is also a fast-drafter of fiction) and dancing with a professional Polynesian dance troupe.

Galavanting again

I just don’t stay where you put me, do I? This time, I’m visiting Denise Jaden’s blog with some of my favourite writing tips. Denise writes both YA novels and non-fiction, and her upcoming book — Fast Fiction — is about how to churn out a book so fast you barely have time to pee. (Okay, that’s not exactly what her copy says, but honestly, I don’t know how she does it. I think a catheter might be the only explanation.)

Hope you stop by!