When my social media feeds are full of pandemic news, and my TV reflects a world on fire, and it seems impossible for any one person to make a difference, reading serves as my refuge, gives me windows to new ways of thinking, and allows me hope for the future.
I’m so happy to think of kids finding all of these things in their books. And if I were to give advice to a young person overwhelmed by the recent changes in the world, I would say, “Disappear into a book for a while. See what you discover there.”
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!
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:
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.
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.
I sent the opinions of my focus group to Ann, who right away said that she’d offer Veronica the part.
Veronica said yes!
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!)
Now production is underway.
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!