Tag Archives: When the Worst Happens

Happy news!

I am so thrilled to have When the Worst Happens included on the Silver Birch and Golden Oak lists for this year’s Forest of Reading in Ontario.

The Silver Birch is a middle-grade reader’s choice award and thousands (literally thousands) of kids read the books and vote for their favourites.

The Golden Oak is for readers in adult literacy programs. I visited with a few groups when my novel Truth was shortlisted, years ago, and they were some of the most inspiring readers I’ve ever met.

Thank you, Ontario Library Association!

Book love at the Lyceum

I spent yesterday evening at Christianne’s Lyceum, chatting with the Novel Knickers book club about When the Worst Happens.

First of all, if you’ve never been to the Lyceum, you must go. It’s a book-lover’s dream. A library downstairs, good tea, snacks (more on those later), and a loft filled with people who have gathered for a few hours specifically to talk about reading.

Last night’s topic was survival. This meant I had to complete Christianne’s crossword puzzle of survival answers from my own book (I failed miserably), and also illustrate, Pictionary-style, the word “cannibalism.” That part, I did quite well.


Yes, I’ll be illustrating all my own books from now on.

Next, there was a snack, which a volunteer had created based on the book! Unfortunately, most of the foods in When the Worst Happens are things like bat blood and maggots. So she decided upon foods one might dream about while in a survival situation. (A rather good idea, no?) If there are any other writers out there hoping to one day attend a Lyceum event, I would suggest writing appealing snacks into your manuscript.

And finally, there was a craft! Yes, a make-your-own survival chart. If you’ve read the book, you’ll recognize these as David Parkins’ “I’m cool and collected,” and “Yikes! I’m frozen,” and “PANIC!!!” survivor icons.


A huge thank you to all the book clubbers who made my evening at the Lyceum so interesting and so much fun.

In the news…

First of all, I’m going to Ontario for next May’s TD Canadian Children’s Book Week! That was my first choice of destinations, so I’m very excited to be heading east for a week.

And, while I’m sharing, there’s a lovely review of When the Worst Happens in Kirkus. It’s left me all a-flutter.

There’s a teetering pile of research material on my desk for my next non-fiction project. Maybe the kind words will inspire progress!

Idea evolution

I’ve written so little about When the Worst Happens, and I so love the book. Today, I correct this issue. Here’s the Darwinian story of how my survival book came to be.

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Step 1
I have lunch with Colleen MacMillan of Annick Press. She’s a tangential thinker, possibly even more tangential than me, so our lunch conversations tend to bounce around like boomerangs. But at some point, Colleen mentions that she’s been researching and thinking about polar exploration and a phenomenon called “polar madness.” Basically, when people are stuck for months on end without light, friendship, or vegetables, some of them lose it. But Colleen wonders why only some lose it, while others stay sane.

Step 2
I go home and start sniffing out ice-bound survival stories. They tend to be somewhat similar — ice, cold, hunger — so I expand the topic to include stories of survival from an assortment of extreme environments, including the depths of a mine and the centre of the Amazon. I write a proposal in which the stories are organized by geographical location, with sidebars to explore the psychological aspects of survival.

Step 3
Enter editor Alison Kooistra. Alison is certainly creative, but rather the opposite of tangential. She is the most organized person I have ever worked with. When she reads my proposal, she starts to wonder what a book would look like if organized by psychological survival strategy instead of geography. Then she suggests choosing four main stories and telling them in chunks. Readers will be able to flip through the book to read the stories linearly, or read cover-to-cover and find out bits at a time, along with survival techniques and supporting tales.

Alison doesn’t just suggest this. She sends me a spreadsheet.

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That’s right. A spreadsheet. I told you she’s organized. I don’t even know how to create a spreadsheet.

Step 4
I love Alison’s ideas. They remind me of my elementary school Choose Your Own Adventure obsession. Not all my previous ideas work with the new format, so I do some more research, I brainstorm with Alison, and I write a first draft. I attempt to juggle everything into place, and of course am unsuccessful, so Alison re-logics things.

And then we’re done. My daughter chose to read the book straight through, without hopping ahead to different parts of the stories. But I’m excited to see what other readers do. It’s kind of a choose-your-own-survivor book.

Now, let’s hope the project beats its way out of the proverbial Amazon and onto many bookshelves!


It’s been a busy few days, and I’ve barely had time to think connected thoughts. But rather than leaving the blog to drift any longer, I decided to share some of my disconnected thoughts.

1. I just read my headachy son half of My Mom the Pirate, and guess what the mom’s name turned out to be? Tanya the Terrible! Shiver me timbers. I’m going to talk pirate-speak for the rest of the day. (That’s really going to help with the connected thoughts thing…)

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2. I sent the first draft of my latest non-fiction manuscript to the editor about ten days ago and she’s SENT IT BACK ALREADY! This is entirely unfair, in my opinion. I should get at least three weeks to rest my brain. Her comments are both brief and reasonable, and she’s a lovely, funny editor, so I’m trying to find it in my heart to forgive her efficiency. Then I can start work on the edits…

3. My publisher has a real-life copy of When the Worst Happens in her office at this very moment. The book’s not out until September and the rest of the copies are on a ship somewhere between Asia and here, but she has an advance sample. Tomorrow I get to pretend to be glamorous and head downtown for lunch to see said copy and said publisher. Usually these lunches are full of news about what other writers are planning and I arrive having sworn to work on nothing new for six months, then leave with my head awhirl in ideas.

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Just what I need… my head awhirl.

All good things, at least! Now I’m — hoist the mast, mateys! — off to talk like a pirate again.

Best of the worst

Drum roll, please! Here’s my newest non-fiction title, to be released this fall by Annick Press:

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When the Worst Happens is about crazy situations, and how some people manage to survive them. It explores the ways our bodies respond to emergencies, the ways our brains function (or fail to function) under duress, and the different ways individuals and groups cope with crises.

Of all the non-fiction books I’ve worked on, this has been my absolute favourite. Maybe because as a generally paranoid person, I had plenty of questions about how best to survive a disaster. When The Worst Happens gave me the perfect excuse to research my deepest fears. (Among other things, I discovered that air travel really is safe. Even when planes crash, almost everyone escapes safely. Working in hundred-year-old mines, on the other hand… not recommended.)

When I created the proposal for this book, I suggested a chapter about Arctic misadventures, a chapter about desert disasters, etc. The information about the psychology of survival was to be included in bits and pieces. But then editor extraordinaire Alison Kooistra stepped in and created a spreadsheet (really) showing how the book could be organized around psychologic themes, with four main stories told in chunks scattered throughout. So, readers could skip pages to follow the stories one at a time, OR read the chapters in order to learn about human reactions. Genius, right? And all I had to do was figure out how to read a spreadsheet.

The book also has fantastic illustrations (in my wholly unbiased opinion) by David Parkins, and my favourite graphic design ever.

I’m a wee bit excited. Feel free to join me in my ongoing happy dance. The book’s due out this fall!