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Am I travelling to exotic places? Yes. Am I inheriting a fortune? I have done. Am I falling in love? Over and over. Am I chasing a mystery? Regularly.
At least, my characters are, and that's pretty much the same thing. You see, the relationship between me and the characters in my books is a symbiotic one. I live vicariously through them, and they come to life through me. There's not a single word they utter or a thought they think, that I'm not right there helping them through it. I don't sit in my office chair, watching my characters play out their parts. Oh, no. I'm right there in the middle of the action, experiencing the suspense, the fun, and the heart break along with them.
It's a difficult phenomenon to explain to someone who doesn't write, but the truth is that even though authors create the stories, they are as astounded by what happens in them as are their readers. Writers don't know the actual words characters are going to speak until they open their mouths. So conversations are a surprise. The same holds true for characters' actions. I might know a character is going to find a ring on the road, but I'm likely going to be just as surprised as my character, when and how it happens. In fact, I guarantee I will be. I have to be! Otherwise, the scene will seem contrived, and the character will feel flat and lifeless.
In my writing group, we often talk about 'distance' in writing. The plot may be moving along nicely, but sometimes the readers feel removed from the characters, as if they are being held at arm's length. When that happens, it's a reminder to the author to get out of her chair and climb into the story. You cannot create believable action, nor convey credible characters unless you are part of what you are writing.
So when something -- anything, everything! -- happens to my characters (all of them -- even the bad guys), it is happening to me. My writing group recently commented at how real the grief one of my characters was experiencing felt, and though I was pleased to have captured that, I wasn't surprised that I had. And that's because during the writing of that scene, I allowed myself to experience the grief right along with my character. My heart broke with her, tears overwhelmed me, I covered my mouth and rocked unconsolably in my chair. Then I had her do exactly the same things.
Readers suspend their disbelief and allow themselves to share experiences with a book's characters. Writers must do the same thing. It is not enough that they write about their characters; they must become them.
As a rule, I'm not a list maker, but once in a while I accumulate so many tasks on my plate, that instead of simply doing them, I begin playing tag with my thoughts. I try so hard to remember the things I need to do and sort out the order in which I should do them, that I get little or nothing done aside from thinking.
So it was with my writing. I never used to outline. I just waited for an idea to strike, for the characters to walk into my head with a problem to solve, and away I went. Certainly I had a basic idea where the story was going -- or at least where I wanted it to go -- but the details of the plot and the supporting cast of characters were hazy, as if I was seeing them through a fog.
Then, in 2002, Orca Book Publishers introduced Soundings, a new imprint of short, gritty, engaging books for reluctant teen readers. As a former middle and high school teacher, I was very familiar with reluctant readers and knew how necessary and timely this new imprint was. It could have a big impact on turning non-readers into readers, and I wanted to be a part of that. I even had a title -- The Hemingway Tradition. All I needed was a story to go with it. Because the Soundings books were so short and aimed at such a specific audience, Orca recognized that it wasn't practical or fair to ask authors to write these novels on spec, so instead they offered contracts based on an outline and a sample chapter.
Suddenly feeling my way forward through a fog wasn't an option. I had to know exactly where the story was going, and I had to provide a map so that the publisher knew too. Never having outlined before, I had no idea what I should be doing, but being linear and analytical by nature, I came up with a format that worked for me. First I needed a story. That was not a problem. When it comes to ideas, my mind is as prolific as a rabbit farm. Having identified my central character and his problem, I then decided on a solution. Now my story had a beginning and an end; it just needed a middle. I jotted down a few ideas for conflict and plot twists, as well as sub-plots, and -- with a pretty good idea what was going to happen in my story, I began my outline.
I decided on a twelve chapter format. I wanted the chapters to be uniform, and since the final word count couldn't exceed 15,000, my limit was 1250 per chapter. I roughly blocked the plot into twelve parts and, picturing the scenes I wanted to dramatize in my head, I wrote down what I needed to include in each chapter. It looked like this.
∙ set in car crossing Saskatchewan ∙ Shaw relives his father’s suicide ∙ set tone for mother/son relationship ∙ establish the notion that Dylan Sebring’s death is unresolved
∙ provide rationale for the move ∙ give family background ∙ Shaw starts school ∙ introduce Tess Peterson and Jai Sra
∙ Shaw’s English teacher draws a comparison of Shaw’s writing to his dad’s ∙ though Tess smokes, Shaw is attracted to her ∙ Tess (editor) asks Shaw to join the school paper ∙ her pointed enquiries about Dylan Sebring cause Shaw to blurt out his suicide (he’s motivated by anger re: everybody saying how great his dad is, but he knows different) ∙ Shaw and Jai go to volleyball tryouts
During this process, the most interesting thing happened. As I sorted my ideas on paper, the story started to come together on its own, and my ideas began to flow naturally. The story was all right there.
The finished outline was more polished but still pretty bare bones. I didn't include every detail -- that's what the novel is for -- but I had a map.
Orca contracted the book based on that outline and the first chapter. I still think the opening paragraph is one of the best I've ever written.
"We had the top down on our old LeBaron, and the sun was beating on us from a sky that was nothing but blue. It was my mom's turn to drive. I was stretched out in the passenger's seat, watching Saskatchewan slide by and thinking there must be a couple dozen different ways for a guy to kill himself."
So far I've written six hi-lo books for Orca, each of which was contracted on an outline and sample chapters, but the act of outlining has become part of the process for all my writing. The main reason is that it is liberating. Once I have an outline, I don't have to try to keep everything sorted in my head, and I can focus on the chapter I am writing without worrying that it's all going to come together. I KNOW it will come together.
Oh, sure, sometimes I'm so excited by a new story idea that I barrel ahead for a chapter or three on sheer adrenaline and gut instinct, but at some point, I outline. I'm definitely a convert.
In just over three weeks Truths I Learned from Sam will be released. This is my 19th book (my 20th will be out in April), but holding that new book in my hands never gets old. When my first book came out almost sixteen years ago, all I did was wander around in a daze and make numerous trips to the bookstores to stare at it on the shelves. Any and all promotion was carried out by my publisher.
Today, it's a different story (no pun intended). Now authors play a major role in the promotion and marketing of their books. I'm constantly searching the Internet to see what kind of recognition my book is getting. I've done a trailer and am in the process of planning 3 'coming-out' parties for the new title. I've had bookmarks made and I keep my website updated. The publisher is doing its part too, and working closely with my PR contact there helps keep all our bases covered.
The thing I'm really beginning to appreciate in a big way is the power of social networks. When the cover for Truths I Learned from Sam was vying for top spot in a public vote online last week, I put out the all call to my facebook friends and my email contacts, asking them to vote -- AND THEY DID. Even better, they reposted my request and accessed their own networks to multiply my efforts. I realized early on, that it wasn't really a matter of which was the best cover, but a question of which author could muster the most effective network. My cover won with 44% of the vote, a good 12% higher than my closest rival.
When I write a blog, friends and family provide links and repost on facebook, twitter, etc. They mention the book in their own posts and voluntarily write reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, Shelfari, and other book sites.
And it really makes a difference. Word of mouth really is a powerful tool. I am in awe, and I am also very grateful.
Within a week, I received two school-project-prompted requests for information about me and my books. This is not unusual. English teachers are always assigning book reports, and I am pleased to know that mine are some of the books students are reading and reporting on. After all, I write for young people, so it's good to know I'm reaching my audience.
As a former teacher -- who also assigned students book reports -- I am more than happy to help out with students' research. And there, dear readers, is what brings me to write this blog -- RESEARCH. I have no quibble with being a research resource, but I do take offense at students who expect me to write their reports for them.
That was the situation with the last two requests for information.
The first one wasn't even signed, but I knew it was from a student, because the return address was a Catholic school in Missouri. There was no salutation either. No easing into the request with "I really enjoyed your book" or "I couldn't put the book down" or "I can hardly wait to read other books you've written". There were none of the niceties that one expects before being hit up for help. All the email said was -- "I need you to give me the full plot outline for the book, Cheat." (The student used another term for plot outline, but I can't recall what it was.)
And that was it.
For the longest time I was merely flabbergasted. Not only was this email wanting in format, it was sorely lacking in common courtesy. Did the student's teacher not prep the class on proper research techniques, how to approach someone for information, and the types of questions that are appropriate? And when did please and thank you go out the window?
Then I got angry. The email was rude and disrespectful. The request was tantamount to plugging in a search chain on Google. Furthermore, the student wasn't asking me for information, she was basically asking me to do her project for her. What she was asking of me, she could do herself.
I was tempted to write back and give her a piece of my mind (not the part that she'd asked for either!), but I didn't. Instead, I heard my mother's voice in my head, saying, "Don't dignify the insult with a response," and I deleted the email without replying. I thought about contacting the school, but I didn't do that either. Often, things that I perceive as obvious breaches of conduct aren't seen that way by others, so I decided to give my blood pressure a rest and move on.
The second email request came from a mother on behalf of her son. So the warning flashers in my brain went on immediately. Why wasn't the boy emailing me himself? Was his mother doing his entire report for him? Again, there was no salutation. Whatever happened to "Dear Kristin Butcher,"? The body of the email was short. I can't recall the exact wording, but it went like this -- "My son is doing a report on The Trouble with Liberty. Could you explain where the idea came from for this book?" Once again, there was no please or thank you and no signature. If parents don't have manners, it's no wonder their kids don't.
This time I replied -- sort of. I knew a very detailed response to that question existed on the Internet, so instead of seaching online for the information first, the woman had obviously come directly to me. Having pity on her son -- because he may not have known what his mother was doing -- I emailed back a link with a brief reply informing the woman that she could find the information on the linked site. She didn't sign her email, so neither did I.
In fairness, I must say that the majority of requests I get for information are cordial, respectful, and courteous. If I am asked for information that is available on the Net I provide the link, but because I don't put a lot of personal information out there (eg. -- family and personal data), I do give out relevant information to students who ask politely. Often I get thank-you's too.
So, what's the point of this rant? In this Age of Technology, personal interaction is becoming less common, and social skills are taking a kicking. Parents and teachers, if you are not already doing so, please give kids the proper tools to help them move forward successfully. They will actually have to deal with real people from time to time. Teach them how to problem solve, to show initiative, to act respectfully, to consider the rights and feelings of others, and above all, to employ good manners. These things will take them a long way.
Write a story without a setting? It's like trying to write a story without a character. I don't think it can be done. A story has to happen to somone or something, even if it's just a grain of sand, and it has to happen sometime and somewhere. The setting can be pinpointed to the second or it can be as vague as long, long ago. It can be as isolated and simple as the inside of a coffin, or it can be as vast as the universe.
I would guess that for most authors, establishing a setting is one of the easiest aspects of creating a story. That doesn't mean it isn't important. In fact, setting is instrumental in defining the parameters for character development and plot movement. In my novel, Return to Bone Tree Hill, the setting is almost another character, and in the novel I'm currently working on, The Sentinel of Mabry Moor, the setting dictates the entire plot. (Notice how the setting is mentioned in both titles.)
Anyway, the topic came up at my critique group last week, and I've thought about it quite a bit since then. One of our members, who is writing a science fiction novel, has been floundering in recent months. Oh, she's been writing, but often just writing exercises, and even when she has submitted a scene from her WIP, it isn't always clear where or how it fits with her storyline. Plot direction and character attributes tend to be in flux. Last session, she told us that instead of writing, she's been world-building. She's been mapping, researching, juggling, rethinking and reforming the setting of her story, because she can't write her novel until she clearly comprehends where and when it's happening.(When you're creating a completely new world, the setting is obviously more intricate.)
By forcing herself to examine her setting and make some concrete decisions about it, it has gone from a blurry idea to a vivid world. Finally she can picture the place her story is set. She can see every part in relation to every other part and she can see her characters moving within it. (I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to be able to do this. You cannot hope to paint a picture for readers, when you can't visualize it yourself.)
Most important of all, clearly defining her setting helped her make decisions about the direction her story must take if it is to fit the setting. She realizes that she needs to change the time element, because by doing so she can reveal the story in a more dramatic way. Understanding her setting has also made her realize that her characters will react to situations based on their backgrounds (personal settings) as well as the present setting in which they find themselves. (It's the old you can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy adage.) People are in part a result of where and how they grow up. What motivates them is connected to their backgrounds too.
Of course, this spills over into the plot as well. Instead of trying to force the plot into the mold she had originally devised, she is using the aspects of the setting to dictate how scenes play out and how important they are to the story.
Now she finds herself weaving the elements together in a more natural progression and she is anxious to get back to writing. I have a feeling it's going to be a new, improved story.
No, I don't have a novel being made into a movie (yet), but it was a great facsimile this afternoon as the filming for the book trailer for one of my spring books, The Truths I Learned From Sam got underway. I know I complain about how technology pushes its way more and more into the publishing industry, but this is actually one of the aspects of it that I like.
I know nothing about filming anything, but fortunately I have some connections. The grandson of one of the members of my critique group is a promising young film maker. His name is Michael Stevantoni, and his work is not to be taken lightly. I guarantee you will see big things from him in the future. If you don't believe me check out this trailer to his latest film, The Brother. (The Brother is a link. Click on it.) Michael did some work for me a couple of years ago, and though he was good then, his skills have since grown tenfold. Now, at nearly 17 years old, he is turning out some amazing work. Film making is his career aspiration, and I'm pretty sure he'll get there. I'm just glad I got to work with him while I can still afford him.
I provided Michael with a script and we discussed the overall effect I was looking for. Then he threw his ideas into the mix, and we came up with a plan. I hate it when someone tries to tell me how to do my job, so I stepped back and let Michael do his thing. Even so, he checked with me to see if I liked what was happening or if I wanted something else. The kid definitely knows what he is doing, and since I have no clue, I was happy to let him take the reins.
The actress in the trailer is the granddaughter of another writing friend. Since I seldom provide physical descriptions of my characters, there was a lot of wiggle room when casting the part, but Tsitika Ledlin made the perfect Dani Lancaster -- the central character of my novel. Though Tsitika claims to have no acting experience, she couldn't have played her part more perfectly. Her grandmother, Dayle Gaetz, even got teary.
Dayle and I did our parts too. I made it rain on the windows to provide the mood the trailer needed, and Dayle held a big bath sheet to block out offending light.
Even my husband got into the act, though not intentionally and not to the benefit of the filming. He arrived home just as the audio recording was getting underway, and though he thought he was being quiet in another room, the director had to call "CUT!" and my husband had to be shushed into silence.
The filming was an eye-opening experience, as well as a lot of fun. I can hardly wait to see the final result.
And you know I'll be sharing.
Truths I Learned from Sam, a YA novel coming out early next spring was reviewed in today's edition of CM Magazine (a great online review journal). Of course, I wanted a rave review. What I got was respectable. I'm disappointed, but the review was fair, and everyone is entitled to an opinion.
The reviewer did make one comment about my central character, Dani, that riled though, a comment that has been made before about other characters in my books. She said that Dani is 'competent, reliable, and thoughtful', and these are not realistic traits for a teenager. She also implied that teen readers might therefore not relate to Dani.
A teen who joy rides, is sullen, lazy, tells adults off, smokes, drinks, does drugs, shoplifts, breaks the rules, is in trouble with the law, performs poorly at school, lies, and is self-abusive is readily accepted as normal, but those who show compassion, common sense, and good judgment are not. If that's not stereo-typing, I don't know what is.
I am not saying that there aren't rebellious teens -- in fact, there are a lot of them, but not all teens fit that mold. Not all teens slip off the rails during their adolescence. It isn't a necessary or mandatory phase of growing up.
I know this from experience. Believe it or not, I was a teenager once -- a competent, reliable, thoughtful teenager. I cleaned the house and made dinner because my mom worked full-time. I was a straight A student. I was involved in student council and was editor of the school newspaper. I had a summer job. I had a curfew. I followed the rules. That is not to say I always fell in line with my parents wishes, but when I broke a rule I did so after careful consideration and was willing to argue my case or take the consequences. Don't go thinking I must have been a social outcast, because I wasn't. I was popular, went to parties and dances and had a boyfriend -- AND most of the kids I chummed around with were competent, reliable, and thoughtful too.
My children were the same. They didn't always make the choices I would have wanted, but we're talking minor issues none of us was going to lose sleep over. I trusted them, and they never let me down. They too did well at school and had active social lives. They were also elite athletes. They had freedom to pursue their interests, but also were given responsibilities. I always knew where they were and I was welcome in their lives and activities. The only time the school called was to say they were ill or were receiving some sort of award. There was never a single angry phone call from parents, coaches, or employers, and no run-ins with the law ever.
Now you can say my children and I were flukes of nature, but you'd be wrong. In addition to being a teenager at one point and raising teenagers at another point, I also taught teens for many years, and they taught me a thing or three too. One -- individuals respond according to how they are treated. What I mean by that is that even the most rebellious kid will respond positively if treated fairly. He may rebel against a parent or teacher because of the way they deal with him, but he may be a totally different person with a coach who has a different approach. Trust a kid and that kid will be trustworthy. Two -- when put in a position where their decisions really matter, kids will usually make the right choices, or at the very least, have good reasons why they made the wrong one. Take the roughest teens in town and put them in charge of a small child and BAM! instantly they become the adults and assume responsibility for that little person. Three -- if teens rebel, it's often because they feel they have no control over their lives. As much as is possible, they must be allowed to be the 'boss' of themselves.
How kids are raised and treated has a huge bearing on how they ply their way through their teens. There are violent, surly, dishonest, substance-abusing adults, so it stands to reason that there are teens like that too. But those competent, reliable, thoughtful adults also had to come from somewhere.
Therefore I resent the implication that because my characters have these positive traits, they aren't realistic or credible. Truth be told, there are a lot more competent, reliable, thoughtful teens out there than you think.
I must be getting old. I know this, not just from my reflection in the mirror or from my body's refusal to do things it used to do without any coaxing at all -- such as standing up after kneeling down or reading the telephone directory without a magnifying glass, but also from my increasing reluctance to embrace change. Considering there seems to be something new out there almost every day, this is not a good thing. I'm falling behind on even the simplest things. I don't own a cell phone. I can't operate the DVD player. I don't know the difference between Blue Tooth and Blue Ray. I have yet to explore iTunes. I don't own an eReader or an iPad.
Yes, I'm falling behind, but for the most part, it doesn't bother me. Things are changing so quickly that some innovations are out of fashion before I've even faced the fact that I'm ignoring them. And that's a good thing. It's kind of like when my kids were little and the laundry basket was constantly full of clothes that needed to be ironed. I always intended to get to it, but more often than not, I merely went through the basket every few months, and rather than iron, chucked the clothes my children had outgrown.
However, because of my job as a writer, some changes are harder to ignore and avoid. Contrary to what the general public might think, writers (at least most of us) aren't recluses locked away in ivory towers, scratching madly on parchment, forgetting to eat and sleep and bathe and growling at anyone or anything that disturbs us. We have families, yard work, cooking and cleaning tasks, and some of us even have other paying jobs. We attend our children's concerts, grocery-shop, watch television, go to conferences, book launches, speak in schools, and throw parties.
Moreover, we have to attend to the business of writing -- correspondence, grant applications, accounting, setting up speaking engagements, and promoting our work. Writing isn't just about writing; it's also about selling what we write, and more and more, this responsibility is falling squarely onto the writers' shoulders. Publishers help to a degree, but they don't usually have the budget or manpower to contribute substantially to a single author. These days, their part in book promotion mainly amounts to telling authors how THEY can promote their books.
Book trailers, for instance. This is a popular promotional tool at the moment, and I can say I have jumped into the fray. I have done trailers for two books already and am in the process of building another one. Not alone, mind you. I know my limitations and have enlisted the assistance of people more expert than myself to bring the projects to fruition.
Websites and blogs. Again, I didn't fight these trends. I have had a website since the late 90's -- I even learned how to do it in HTML, and is this not a blog?
I send out media notices of new books, search for reviewers, arrange launches, attend award galas (even when I don't win), and hunt for speaking opportunities. I have bookmarks made and give them out to my readers. I provide teaching materials for my books. I hand out business cards.
But when it comes to the Internet social networks, I feel myself starting to bog down. Yes, I am on facebook, and I do maintain a visible presence there. I am on Goodreads. I have a profile on CANSCAIP, TWUC, and CCBC. I have set myself up on Shelfari, Jacket Flap, AmazonAuthor Central, Indigo, the 49th Shelf, Google, and several other social networks. But updating those pages is a full-time job in itself. Believe me, I'm dancing as fast as I can.
Twitter proved the turning point for me. I resisted it for the longest time, but when an author I met at a writers' festival this spring suggested that she has had more positive writing support from that than any other network, I thought perhaps I should sign up. So I did. Even managed a couple of hundred followers in aboout three months. There were many links to worthwhile articles, and I read several, BUT there is no way I have the time to really keep up. AND THEN I received three obvious spam posts from Twitter followers I personally know, and I knew either they or I had been hacked. That was enough for me. I simply don't need the hassle. So I closed the account.
That's when I decided the social networks could go on without me. I shan't close the ones I'm already a part of, but I shan't be opening any new ones either. Pinterest? I'm not pinterested. Linked In -- I shall remain linked out. And the only My Space I'll be visiting is my own little office in my own little house.
Self-publishing. Hmmmn... I just don't know. I don't think it's for me, mostly because I prefer to write rather than attend to the business of writing. I know very little about self-publishing, and I am happy to keep it that way. I understand how the desire to see one's work in print can lure writers in that direction, and self-publishing has definitely proven successful for some people, but it's still a pretty slippery slope if you don't know what you're doing.
These days writers aren't gravitating as often to vanity presses, some of which have been known to rob hopeful authors blind. Print on demand books and ebooks are the current draw, and from what little I know, those options seem to be more user-friendly. Still ...
Publishing a book isn't just about getting your words in print. If that's all a person is after, Apple has a fistful of different publishing options. You can write and illustrate that story and print it up for your grandkids for no more than the cost of a Christmas gift. But if you're after a wider readership, worldwide distribution, fame, and fortune, you're going to have to bump shoulders with the big boys.
And that's the problem. Unless you haven't noticed, publishers are experiencing a bit of a crunch as they attempt to keep up with the evolution of the industry. Many houses have already gone under, been absorbed by other companies, or are teetering on the brink of extinction -- and we're talking publishers who have been in the business for a long time. These are dangerous times -- even for the pros, the folks who are experts in the field -- and yet there are still authors who think they can beat the system and self-publish.
My mother would say they have more guts than good sense. Perhaps, or perhaps not. If they've done their homework and are prepared to do what it takes, they just might succeed.
So what does it take? Well ... (and I'm just guessing here) ... money, for one thing. Not only will there be no advance, there will actually be costs involved with producing your own book -- computer software, layout design, cover design, proofing, photography, ISBN, promotion, printing, etc. (I have a feeling that little etc. is highly inflatable -- and expensive.) Self-publishing undoubtedly involves a great deal of time and work too. Suddenly, you're not writing your opus; you're dealing with Amazon and Indigo, you're knocking on booksellers' doors, you're trying to find reviewers for your book. And, hopefully, you're working on the logistics involved with sales. Do you take Visa and Mastercard? Paypal? The big publishers do. You're going to need a presence in all the social media. You'll need to Tweet, keep up with Facebook, Goodreads, Shelfari, Author Central, Indigo, 49th Shelf, Linked-In ... and the list goes on. All that takes a ton of time. Oh, yeah, and don't forget those public appearances you need to arrange and the website you need to build. You should probably employ the services of a tax accountant, maybe a publicist too. Could cost money. Better hope you sell a lot of books.
Still not daunted? Then get out there and do your thing. I pray you have a product worth selling. But how will you know? Without an agent or an editor, there is no one to provide objective feedback and help you produce something that's going to appeal to the public and really be worth reading. Certainly, YOU think your book is fabulous, but you're likely a tad biased. After all, this is your baby. You might not see the plot inconsistencies, flat characterization, time shifts, bad dialogue, cliches, and grammatical errors, but you can bet your boots that readers will. Without exception, every self-published book I've ever reviewed showed a big need for editing. And that's too bad, because some of those books might have been pretty good if they had had the benefit of revisions. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of editing.
So, for those who think they're up to the challenge of self-publishing, I wish you good luck. You're going to need it.
Yesterday I Skyped for almost an hour and a half with a fellow writer. The two of us met about eight years ago while touring for Children's Book Week. Our real life paths haven't crossed again since, but we have kept in touch through the social networks, email, a telephone call once a few years back, and most recently Skype.
After our face-to-face computer exchange, I was simultaneously inspired and depressed. He is so busy doing writerly things, I feel like a slug by comparison. On the other hand, I was excited to imagine all the avenues open to me that I wasn't tapping.
You see, he and I have one very big thing in common. We write for a living. We have to earn money at our craft in order to pay the rent and put food on the table. We can't NOT succeed, which means we can't just work on that novel when the mood takes us. Weekdays or weekends -- they're all workdays. And that's not a bad thing. We like what we do or we wouldn't be doing it. There are other jobs out there that pay regularly.
Unless you're JK Rowling, writing children's books is not a lucrative career, and if you don't have some other income to supplement it, you're screwed. So you take on other writerly jobs to help keep the wolf from the door. Most of us do school visits. That definitely helps, but schools seem to have less and less money these days. We also give workshops and speak at conferences. Again there are only so many of those opportunities to go around. I wrote an online science/mystery/adventure serial for a year. That paid well. I've done some work for the Ontario Department of Education, and written course profiles for colleges around the world. (That one was more work than it was worth.) I've done some editorial work and been paid for some book reviews. I worked briefly with a weekly journal for young people. I've done a bit of technical writing.
But that is just the tip of the ice berg. I need to do more. I've had offers to write regular articles for a periodical and to do some ghost writing, but for various reasons, I've given those opportunities a miss. I would like to give some courses -- after all, I was a teacher for a long time -- so I need to present a program idea to the local colleges, and I think I will. I need to be more active about pursuing other speaking engagements too. I'd like to look into website writing perhaps and contact the Department of Ed about curriculum/exam writing, etc.I need to send out some queries for non-fiction too.
Mostly, I'd just like to be able to write the stories meandering through my mind, but winter's coming and maintaining a roof over my head would be good, and that means writing for my life.
Remember that song, Head Games, by Foreigner way back in the late 70's? It was about a love relationship that was driving one of the partners crazy. I never really knew the lyrics, but I could sing the chorus and the song had a good beat to bop around to as I did my housework.
Though I don't like the kinds of head games the song referred to, I do like the term, and I really think it applies to my life, because I live in my head. That's where I'm happiest. I'm always playing head games.
When I speak with my sister, I get weary just hearing about all the activities that fill her life. She's forever going somewhere and doing something -- golf holidays, house renovations, throwing a party, taking a trip, going to the gym, playing tennis, taking a course, etc. When I have to use up a whole day running around, it can actually make me grumpy. I don't even like taking time out to go grocery shopping, and I find housework a real imposition, though I do it, because I can't stand a dirty house. I enjoy getting together with people and attending sporting events and other functions, but not day in and day out. I prefer to plan for such things, and one outing a week is enough for me. My mother is like a humming bird, buzzing from the library to the bank and then the dollar store and then coming home to bake mince tarts, banana loaf, and sausage rolls. I have to psych myself up for that kind of a day, and I'm always happiest when it's over and I can return to the comfort of my mind.
Okay, right about now, you are thinking I'm a slug. You could be right, but I don't think so. I cook, clean, do laundry, run errands, help my mom, travel, do public speaking, paint, socialize, and, of course, write and complete all the other tasks that go along with being a writer. I'm actually a pretty reliable, responsible person, BUT I'm happiest when left alone to wander through my mind.
I have been like that forever. When I was a kid, I would curl up in a corner and read all day. At least I would have if my parents would have let me. But they had this idea about fresh air and exercise and were forever shooing me outside to run and play -- which I did. I had friends and I enjoyed the stuff we did together. But I was just as happy to pack a lunch and go for a day-long hike -- solo -- through the bush and up the mini-mountains surrounding my home. I could sit for hours gazing out over the countryside or staring out at the sea, just thinking and imagining. It was like visiting a spa for the soul.
Drawing, painting, and crafts also brought me comfort, because I did them alone and they nurtured my need to be creative and to imagine.
Writing was a natural off-shoot of reading and another great solitary pastime, so after teaching myself to type, I began recording the stories that filled my head. Everything I saw, heard, touched, tasted, and smelled triggered something in my brain. The inside of my head has always been something like the Hallodeck on Star Trek. Anything can happen there, and it does. It is a wonderful place to play, and I don't even need air miles to go there.
The Book Thief/Markus Zusak
I didn't love it. I didn't hate it either, but I didn't love it, and because everyone else I've ever spoken to did love it, I can't help but think the problem must be with me.
The writing was brilliant -- there's no argument there. Zusak is a gifted author, creating metaphors that are so simple, natural, and original, that the images practically jump off the page. I love the meagreness of his writing -- less is definitely more. There is no doubt he is a master wordsmith with a refreshing style. In fact, I found myself rereading some passages (something I seldom do), because once just wasn't enough.
I thought it was clever to make death the narrator, especially for a story set during a war, and though I was prepared to hate him, I actually ended up feeling sorry for him -- his was such a relentless job tinged with regret and sadness. But, for me, the choice of narrator created a wall, a distance between me and the characters. The novel has an omniscient point of view -- who better to be everywhere and see everything than Death? -- but that narrative style almost always creates a wedge. It's like taking a step back from the action. Instead of being immersed in the lives of the characters, the reader is always aware -- albeit subconsciously -- that she is being told a story. The fact that Death regularly interrupts the tale with editorial comments further pulled me out of the novel. The use of vignettes didn't help either. Though they provided lots of opportunities for reading breaks, I felt they made the read choppy. As for the drawings and hand-written parts by Max, I didn't like those at all.
The story itself was heartbreaking, and though I'm sure that it is a good representation of what that time must have been like, the novel offers no hope, no light, no redemption, nothing to uplift the reader even a little. I'm sure that is fine for some readers -- but not this one. The tone of the writing is so sombre, that even the parts that should feel lighter, don't. I have no doubt that this was intentional on Zusak's part, which further proves his skill, but I didn't like it. A steady diet of death and heartbreak doesn't do it for me. The only positive outcomes of the story are Max's return from the war and the development of the relationship between Liesel Meminger and Ilsa Hermann, and those are related more as sidebars than happy conclusions. It was the story of apocalypse -- perhaps on a smaller scale -- but apocalypse nevertheless. Everything good was destroyed.
I was under the impression that The Book Thief was a YA novel, but after reading it, I would say definitely not. Cross-over maybe, but I wouldn't expect anyone below the age of sixteen to understand the depths of the story, let alone enjoy the read.
In conclusion: I get what Zuzak was trying to do, and I think he succeeded brilliantly, but did I love it?
Not so much.
Those of you who have read some of my previous blogs know that I have a passion for words that begin with E. For some reason E words are the most musical -- epistomology, endemic, egregious, ephemeral ... I love the sound of them all. So when I have a legitimate reason to use one of those words, I am always thrilled. (As you have probably guessed, I don't get out much.)
Anyway, yesterday I had an epiphany. The experience itself was wonderful as epiphanies often are, but the music of the word simultaneously dancing in my head made it doubly wonderful.
You see I am writing a book. Nothing new about that. I have been a published writer for fifteen years, and I have 20 titles to my name. I also have a multitude of manuscripts that haven't been published, so the fact that I'm writing a book is not the epiphany. The thing that's different about this book is that I am positively captivated by it. I am totally excited to be writing it. That is not to say that I haven't enjoyed writing all those other books. I have, or I wouldn't have done it.
The thing is that the longer I write, the harder I find writing is. Perhaps it's because I demand more of myself. I try different techniques, hone my skills -- in other words push myself to improve with every book. I think it's important to do that. It's kind of like when I learned to play chess. At first it was a challenge just to remember the manner in which each piece moved, and knocking my opponent's pawns off the board was a huge rush, but as my skills and strategy improved and I was able to see several moves ahead, the game became more difficult -- and less fun.
Before I was a published writer, I wrote only when the spirit moved me, and I wrote only for myself, so writing was always a pleasure. It was something I did to relax. Now writing is my job, and though I love it, I still need it to earn me money, so I'm always strategizing. I'm networking, I'm giving presentations, I'm marketing, and I'm writing books for the purpose of selling them. I still enjoy writing them, but I'm always looking down the pipe.
The book I am currently working on is so different from anything I've written before, that I have no idea who the readers might be, nor what publisher might be interested. I may not be able to sell it at all, and I don't care. This book is for me. If I can get it published, that's a bonus. But I am writing it regardless. It's a story I want to tell and I want to tell it a certain way, not because that will make it appealing to readers and editors, but because it appeals to me.
Writing for myself has recharged my writing battery. It is fun again -- all day and into the night. Each morning I can't wait to get working. Here's where the epiphany comes in. I have been so busy doing what I need to do to be a successful writer that I've forgotten how to write for the simple joy of it. Oh, I still have to play the publishing game and write what's going to sell, but I also need to remember why I ever picked up a pen in the first place. Every now and again, I need to push the pragmatic side of writing aside and write simply because I want to.
This morning one of the writers in my group posed an interesting question via email. Basically, she was asking how writers decide on the point of view for telling a story. It's an excellent question that evoked a variety of responses from the group -- which tells you right off the bat that there is no simple answer.
It's a complicated issue. The dictionary defines point of view as the narrator's position in relation to the story being told. In other words, who is telling the story? Is it being told in 1st person by one of the characters? Is it being told in 3rd person limited by an unseen narrator with access to the thoughts and feelings of one of the characters? Or is it being told in 3rd person omniscient by an all-seeing narrator who is privy to all events as well as the thoughts and feelings of all the characters? (There are other alternatives as well, but this gives you the idea.)
So how does one decide? For the most part, writers choose a POV that will help them tell the most effective story. If there is a lot happening to which no single character has complete access, the best choice might be to go with the omniscient narrator -- the fly on the wall that sees everything but has no stake in what's going on. If it's an angst-riddled story with lots of internal conflict, 1st person POV by the character with the most at stake is probably the best choice. If it is a tale of action, where the conflict is primarily external, 3rd person limited might be the way to go.
The bottom line is that you have to be very clear in your own mind about what story it is that you want to tell. Then you can decide who should be the one to tell it. This decision is further complicated when you consider the viewpoint of your POV narrator. Some regard the terms as interchangable, but I think there is a distinction. Point of view is concerned with who is telling the story, while viewpoint refers to the narrator's take or stand on the story. Ask two children involved in a dispute to explain what happened and the stories -- though they relate the same incident, will be night and day different because the narrators have a different perspective. So one must decide how the narrator perceives what is being reported. If it's positively, the narrator might use the word 'slim' to describe a woman. If it's negatively, the word choice might be 'skinny'.
So many choices! It can seem daunting to a new writer, but after a while it becomes an unconscious part of your thought processes and you find yourself making decisions without even realizing it.
What does it take to be a writer?
Honestly? I'll be darned if I know.
Like most everything in life, I think it's one of those listen to your gut things. A lot of people like the idea of being a writer -- starving artist and all that -- it has a certain romantic allure, but that's just for the movies. Writers have families and other assorted responsibilities just llike everyone else. For many, it is a dream pursued in stolen moments between other jobs, house cleaning, and chasing after kids on a soccer field. For others it means staying up late or getting up too early.
But it's not a sacrifice. Writers do it, because they can't not do it. Those who would be writers, if they just had the time, will probably never be writers. Otherwise, they would find the time. We always find time for our passions, and if there is one thing that can be said about writers, it is that they are passionate about writing.
Do we want to be published? Absolutely. Would we like fame? Sure. Would we like wealth? I certainly would. Are those the reasons we write? No. Without any of those things, writers still write.
Before I was published, I earned my living as a teacher (which pays a heck of a lot better), and I wrote when the spirit moved me. It wasn't a job. I wasn't looking for approval or validation -- I was just writing. And it was good.
Sending my work off into the world of readers who aren't related to me and who don't care about hurting my feelings -- WHOA! -- now that was an eye opener. Suddenly my work didn't belong to me anymore. It belonged to whoever was reading it. At first that bothered me a little, but the longer I am in the industry, the more okay it is. I understand and accept that the reader is as much a part of my writing as a I am. The stories are where writers and readers connect. Writers bring something and readers bring something, which means that the stories are different for each reader, but that's okay. In fact, it's good.
Now writing is my job. I work at it everyday whether I feel inspired or not. It's not as easy as it was when I just did it for my own enjoyment, but what I produce is definitely better and more rewarding. I work harder at honing my skills and I rely less on muses.
But writing is no less addictive than it ever was. I'm in this for life.
Many times throughout my life I have had people tell me they envy my confidence. This always takes me by surprise, because I'm as riddled with self-doubt as the next guy. I question everything I do -- wonder if I look a fool, worry that I've offended someone, even despair that my guests won't like my cooking.
But I cut my teeth on the 'whistle a happy tune' philosophy, so even while I'm tearing myself apart on the inside, I keep moving forward. I don't allow my fears to paralyze me. After all, what's the worst that can happen? People won't like me? I'm sure some don't. An editor will trash my writing? I have a pile of rejection letters to prove that's true. Guests won't eat the meal I've prepared? That has happened too. Will I die from any of those things? No.
In fact, after licking my wounds for a while, I pick myself up and try again. It's not that I'm confident so much as determined. I want to succeed, so I keep trying until I do. I learn from my mistakes. That is not to say I don't make more mistakes -- I do that on a regular basis too; afterall there are so many to choose from -- but eventually I find the right path and follow it to my goal.
Whether or not a person succeeds is up to the person. My parents always said, "Where there's a will, there's a way." I believed them. In fact, I grew up believing there wasn't anything I couldn't do if I was willing to work for it. Some might call that confidence -- over-confidence even -- but I think of it as a healthy willingness to work for my dreams.
At one point during my teaching career, the powers that be determined it was bad for a child's self-esteem to link his/her performance with attitude and effort. I think that was a big mistake. How a person perceives and confronts life is crucial to success and helping kids to realize they have control over that is providing them with a tool that can help them mold their entire lives.
Success doesn't happen just because you want it to, but it will happen if you are willing to work for it.
Believe that you can or believe that you can't -- either way you'll be right.
I have created a new genre. I didn't set out to. It was just a happy accident. (I love those.) It's called historical murder mystery fantasy. The story is titled The Sentinel of Mabry Moor.
Historical: It is set in Somerset, England in 1791.
Murder: A murder is crucial to the plot.
Mystery: No one knows who the murderer is.
Fantasy: The murder victim continues to have an active part in the story after death and is, in fact, the one to solve the mystery.
I'm really having a lot of fun with this, experimenting with technique, language, characterization, and format. The story itself is told in first-person present -- I thought this might make the historical aspect more immediate, but there is a short introduction/prologue before the actual story begins, and that is written in third-person past. It's intended to set the scene and the mood.
What do you think?
The fog stole into Mabry on Wednesday evening. It followed a fisherman from his boat to the Stone and Sparrow Pub and waited outside. By the time the fisherman finished his pint and started home for supper, the fog had swallowed every shop and lamp post on Darby Road and had even slithered into the cracks between the cobblestones.
By Thursday morning it had taken over the entire village. The sun never appeared, so the rooster on the post outside the smithy didn't crow. An arrogant cat wearing the fog as a cloak strolled unnoticed past a sleeping dog. The old hound opened its eyes, but seeing only a wall of gray, closed them again. The residents of Mabry—equally sightless—kept to the edges of the streets, using the buildings to feel their way. Was the apothecary shop the third door or the fourth?
But the fog wasn't content to conquer just the streets of Mabry; it wanted more, and when the housekeeper opened the shutters of the vicarage, it tried to push its way in there as well.
Living by the sea, the villagers were well-acquainted with fog and were never surprised when it arrived. And even though this particular fog was heavier than usual, they thought little of it—at first. By the third day, however, their patience had worn thin. The fog still showed no signs of leaving; in fact, it was thicker than ever, and the villagers began to wonder if they would ever see the hills of Somerset again.
By the fifth day, tempers were short and people dragged about stoop-shouldered as though the fog were a burden upon their backs. One woman confessed to feeling suffocated, and had to be revived with smelling salts more than once. An old gentleman who spent his days staring at the rolling fields became convinced his eyes had grown fur, and kept trying to rub them clear. Even the village children had tired of the fog, and games of tag and hide-and-go-seek gave way to bickering and whining. Employers snapped at workers, husbands barked at wives, and mothers scolded children.
On the sixth day the fog lifted. But by then, it was too late.
One of the members of my writing group is currently in a funk. She is suffering from literary overload -- too much of a good thing, if you like. And you thought there was no such thing!
The problem is she has been reading too many good books lately, and rather than be energized to greater heights in her own writing, she is overwhelmed by the wonderfulness (I love creating new words!) of what she has read and has fallen into a writing abyss. On the one hand, she aspires to elevate her own work to the level of that she so admires, but on the other, she feels so inadequate to proceed that she is paralyzed by what seems an impossible task. It's a bit like wanting to perform at Carnegie Hall right after you've learned to play chopsticks.
But no amount of cheerleading or advice from the rest of the group will get her through this phase. Intellectually, she understands the situation, but that doesn't stop her from feeling down about it. She just has to fight through it.
We've all been there -- read copious articles on writing as well as books the critics laud to the literary heavens. For a while it's uplifting, but at some point, we become overloaded with information, and our inability to sort, organize, store, and act upon it sends us into a tailspin. A little knowledge really can be a dangerous thing.
So what's the answer? Wait out the doldrums? Read nothing? Read only between writing projects? Scrap what you're working on and start again? Try to mimic your idol? Or just have a good cry?
June 30th was the self-imposed deadline for finishing my latest WIP, God is a Yankee. And I did it. (Never mind that the previous May 31st deadline and the April 30th deadline before that went by the board.) I got the book done. Moreover, I've sent it off to a publisher. (Can't get this rejection ball rolling too soon.)
Since then, I've done diddly-squat in the writing department. I've read and reviewed a book, and read one and a half other books for my own enjoyment. I've played numerous computer games. I've coloured my hair, had it cut, and have had a manicure. I entertained guests. I've gone out for lunch a few times, and in a couple of days I'm going for a short holiday with my mother and sister. But I haven't really done any writing.
Well, not anything that amounts to anything ... yet. I got down the three opening pages for what I'm hoping will be another hi-lo teen book, and I've invested some time researching it. I've also come up with what I think is a cool concept for an information book, but aside from throwing ideas around in my head, I haven't done anything with that either.
That's over two weeks of slacking off. And to be perfectly honest, it's felt great. But then ...
My latest chapter book for early readers, Zach & Zoe and the River Rescue, got a good review in CM Magazine and a highly recommended rating. It also earned an Excellent rating in Resource Links Magazine. The Last Superhero made the CCBC Best Books for Kids and Teens publication, and Cheat was named Editor's Choice by Library Media Connection and was named to the PSLA Top Forty list.
All while I've been sitting on my duff not writing.
So, of course, I feel fabulous for about four seconds, and then I start to panic. Those are the last of my published books! I have nothing else contracted! I have to get some more stuff out there before publishers forget who I am! I have to get writing!
Okay, slack time is over. Consider the fire lit.
During my career in education, I taught everything from grade 1 science and social studies to grade 11 gifted English, so it's not really surprising that my books target audiences from 7 to 18. So far I've written early reader chapter books, primary biographies, middle grade fiction, YA novels, a fiction/science mix, and an illustrated (Martha Newbigging did the illustrations) information book. Just about the only genre I haven't managed to crack is picture books, and I'm not holding my breath. That's 18 books in 14 years as a published author -- I'm happy.
One of the arenas I threw my hat into is Hi-Lo books. As a teacher, I know how tough it is to connect reluctant readers to books, so when Orca Book Publishers initiated the Soundings imprint in 2001 -- Hi-Lo books for teens, I wanted in. My first Soundings book was The Hemingway Tradition (2002). After that came The Trouble with Liberty (2003) and Zee's Way (2004). Then Orca expanded the concept and started another Hi-Lo imprint for slightly younger readers -- Orca Currents, and I have had two books published there as well -- Chat Room (2006) and Cheat (2010).
Both series have been amazingly successful, and most importantly, they have achieved what Orca set out to do. They have captured reluctant readers. The books are short -- generally around 15,000 words, but they are not dumbed down. Though the sentence structure and vocabulary are kept simple, the storylines are gritty, making the books ideal for the target audiences. The thing is that avid readers like the books too.
Here's the pet peeve part. Often when the books are critiqued, reviewers will say things like, "The writing is good, but the book is very short," "Interesting but not very challenging," "Wish it had been longer," and "Pretty easy read."
Hello?!!? Does the term Hi-Lo mean anything to you? If the books are interesting but easy to read, then we authors have done our job, haven't we?
Okay ... I'm officially in the groove. I just received the first rejection for my latest manuscript. Pfffffft! It never gets easier. But I tell myself that many of my stories that have gone on to be published elsewhere AND that have achieved much success were also rejected a time or two before they found homes. One such novel was rejected by this very same editor and went on to become a series, so in a way, that first rejection was a blessing in disguise. The thought doesn't completely eradicate the uncomfortable lump in my stomach, but it does inspire me to move on to lucky publisher #2.
The thing that riles most about this rejection is the editor's observation that the central character doesn't feel like a teenager. My characters have received this criticism before, and it always irks me. My characters are thinking, rational beings even though they are adolescents. I don't see this as being unteen-like. That's the kind of kid I was, and if I was like that then there are other kids like that out there too. In fact, I'm willing to bet that there are more kids like that than people realize. I taught teens for a long time and I was a parent, and in my dealings with young people I discovered that, given the opportunity, young people will think and respond to most situations in responsible, appropriate ways. It just has to be their idea. Teens don't have to be shortsighted and self-absorbed. I think we do them a disservice when we stereotype them like that.
And that's my rant for the day. Now where is the email address for the next publisher?
I can't believe it's been over four months since the last entry in my blog. I am ashamed. Why would anyone follow my blog if I don't write in it? All I can say in my defense is that I guess I didn't have anything to say.
Well, today I do.
Writing is a good example of feast or famine. From 2006 to 2008, nothing much was happening for me. Oh, I was writing, but publishers weren't answering my knock on their doors. And then suddenly all the doors opened, and I even had publishers knocking on my door! From the spring of 2008 to the spring of 2011, I published 7 books.
And then suddenly there was nothing waiting in the wings. No cushion. Nothing coming down the pipe. Yikes! Time to panic.
But calmly.(If you know me, you know that makes perfect sense.)
In October of 2010 my cousin -- a very creative mind in his own right -- came for a visit. I told him a cute anecdote. We both laughed, which was the objective of the anecdote, and I told him that one day I was going to write a book that embodied that anecdote, and I was going to call it God is a Yankee. I confessed I had no idea what the book would be about, but that very night, as I drifted off to sleep, the entire plot of the story came to me, and suddenly I knew what I needed to write. And boy, was I excited! It took me seven months to write the story, but I finished it at the end of June and promptly sent it off to one of my favourite publishers. The editor assigned the reading of the manuscript got back to me quickly. She didn't like it. (But you already know that. That was the last blog entry.)
If there's one thing I've learned about this industry, it's that the faster you get back on the bike, the less sorry you will feel for yourself and the more quickly you'll have success. So, that same day, I sent the manuscript off to another publisher.
The acquisitions editor at that house is a very odd bird in as much as she keeps writers informed. So, though I didn't get the final feedback on the fate of my story until yesterday afternoon, she kept me posted the whole way on what was happening. That is a writer's dream. Bottom line: the house is going to publish my book. Woo-hoo! Colour me thrilled. And ... I can't tell you this part yet, because it's not a for sure. But I'll get back to you.
Meantime, back at the ranch ... well, the computer, actually ... I had another idea for a book. It wasn't a new idea ... I've had it for a while, but I am finally ready to act on it. So, I write an outline and the first chapter and send it off to the appropriate publisher. They get back to me in about six weeks. The answer: YES!! Write the book. So, Caching In, will be in bookstores in the spring of 2013.
So once again things are happening for me, and I gots to get busy.
Of course, I have other ideas too. And I'll get to them ... at some point.
And there's a bonus to all this as well. The Frye Festival, which is the biggest annual literary event in Atlantic Canada has invited me to take part in next April's festivities. How cool is that? Even better, it will allow me to attend the Hackmatack Award Gala in Moncton, for which my book, Zach & Zoe: Bully and the Beagle, is nominated.
Have I mentioned before how lucky I am to be living this dream I live? Well, I am. I couldn't be more thrilled or grateful.
Golly, how can it be another new year already? My life is zipping by before my eyes. I'd slam on the brakes, but apparently I don't have any. I don't have a reverse gear either.
So ... since I can't go backwards and I can't stop, I might as well keep going forward to 2012.
Christmas was quite wonderful, but I have to admit I am happy it's over and life is back to normal. Strange as it might sound, I quite like routine. I find it comfortable and calming. It's the special events I have to psyche myself up for. Even so, the new year has arrived with a bang. I contracted two new books in December, and that means I have lots of work on my plate, especially since one of the books isn't even written yet. No problem. It's totally outlined, and that makes the writing a piece of cake. The other is written, but it's just hit the desks of the editorial department, and in a few weeks I'm sure I'll be up to my eyes in revisions. Both books are scheduled for spring 2013 publication. One is called Caching In (Orca Book Publishers) and is about two fifteen-year-old boys caught up in the treasure hunt of their lives. No angst in this one -- just pure adventure, mystery, a little danger, and a lot of fun. The second book is titled God is a Yankee Fan (Dundurn Press). This one is also for teens (maybe a tad older), but the storyline couldn't be more different. It is about Dani, a seventeen-year-old girl who spends the summer with an uncle she didn't know she had. Everything is wonderful -- better than wonderful -- until it turns to disaster.
I am also reading -- a second-round juror for a writing competition, and I have to tell you, the stuff I'm looking at is terrific. There are some fabulous new writers coming up.
I need to get my picture taken too -- professionally. I always thought authors were invisible; people might know their names but not their faces. So how come I'm always having to send off a photo to some writerly thing or another? The last time I had my photo done was 14 years ago. It's time for an update, even though I run the risk of frightening my readers -- and myself. (Once again I wish I had that back-up gear.)
At the end of April I'm off to Moncton, New Brunswick for the Frye Festival. It is the biggest literary event in Atlantic Canada, and I am very honoured to have been invited. I shall be visiting a bunch of schools while I'm there, as well as attending the big Hackmatack Gala. (Zach & Zoe: Bully and the Beagle is one of this year's nominated books for the Hackmatack Award.) So I've got some preparing to do for this adventure.
All of these activities should carry me through to June at least. After that ... well, we'll see where the year takes me.
I know I'm not keeping up with this blog as I should -- so much missed news, book covers not unveiled, and new paintings left unflaunted, but I have an explanation. Actually a couple of explanations. First of all, I got a new computer in January, and as a result, my old FTP protocol doesn't work, thereby prohibiting me from uploading any images. My second excuse ... er, I mean reason ... is that I am trying to update my website. No, that's not true. I'm trying to build a new one. It should have been done a couple of months ago, but I am so technologically challenged that I can't figure out how to get it up and running. I shall be visiting my son, the computer whiz, in early May, at which time everything should be set right. However, the longer I think about it, the more I start to think that perhaps I might have a better chance of getting the website I want if I hire someone to build me one. No matter how I decide to go, it will likely take another couple of months before that is all sorted.
Now for the catch-up part of the blog.
I'm just about finished writing Caching In. Two chapters left and I am confident I can finish them this week. All I have to do is stay away from Ancestry.ca, where I have been tracing my family tree. The process is totally addictive, and each time I discover a new ancestor or a juicy tidbit about someone in the family, I get all excited. This is an unbelievable adrenaline rush. BUT I AM STAYING OFF THAT WEBSITE UNTIL THE BOOK IS FINISHED. Really, I am.
God is a Yankee Fan has a cover! It's really dramatic and eye-catching. You can see it on Dundurn Press's website. Though the book won't be released until March of 2013, it can be pre-ordered from Amazon.ca and McNalley Robinson Books. Reserve your copies now, people!
In less than three weeks I'm off to Moncton to take part in the Frye Festival. Basically I shall spend the week visiting local classrooms and talking to students about writing and my books. I shall also be attending the Hackmatack Gala, because my book, Zach & Zoe Bully and the Beagle is one of the nominees. I'm heading to Moncton a couple of days early. I'm going to rent a car and explore some of the province. I especially want to see the Hopewell Rocks.
On the way home, I shall stop in Ontario and Manitoba to visit my kids and grandkids. What a wonderful way to wind up my trip, don't you think?
And then it's home and back to work. In mid-May I'll be Skyping with a class in Lauderdale, Florida about my book, Chat Room. After that, I shall be immersed in revisions for God is a Yankee Fan, and then I shall start outlining its sequel. Yes, that's right ... Dundurn Press has expressed an interest in publishing a sequel. I have an idea for a Rapid Reads book too, and there's always The Sentinel of Mabry Moor to finish. I haven't even started work on The Third Portal, not to mention the information book on ...
Oh, dear. I do seem to be quite busy. Do forgive me if I don't get back to you for a while.
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Actually, it's the same old me, but with a new website. So welcome! Have a look around and let me know what you think.