The best kind of fan mail is not mail at all…

Recently I was humbled by the talents of a young girl in Saskatchewan. Through my author facebook page, her friend’s mother was very kind to send me some writing this young girl had done. To my complete surprise, it was The Stowaways Part 2, something I’ve been trying to write for ages! (What a relief… I wondered what having a ghost writer might be like, and now I know — it’s fantastic! )

But seriously.  Bryn wrote this wonderful work in grade 3. Look at the thoughtful cover and dedication page; the way she drew those twigs and vines, with careful consideration about the Stowaways’ environment, in nature. And the dedication: “To the writer of the Stowaways, who I have admired for starting my writing career” (That’s me!)

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I won’t post her writing unless she tells me I can (we writers have to stick together on keeping our work secret sometimes), but I will say it’s the best writing by anyone her age I’ve ever read. She did exactly what I teach kids even older than her how to do–to capture the essence of the characters through actions and dialogue, without describing their personalities with boring old adjectives — to show, not tell! Bryn already knows how to do that. She wrote nine pages of fun, imaginative, and accurate writing. Nine more pages than I’ve written in a while!

I will think of Bryn’s Part 2 often as I continue work on my Book 2…. Maybe she was humming while she wrote it. Maybe she was lying on her belly on the floor, kicking her feet through the air. Maybe she was sitting calmly at her desk. I don’t know. All I know is how uplifting it feels that a person as talented and motivated as her spent time writing a sequel to a book she liked. I feel joy that it was my book.

I wrote Bryn a  postcard (I wonder if she got it yet?). I’m not sure if I remembered to say thank you for inspiring a writer like me to keep going. Sometimes it can be tough to write a whole book. I sure hope she keeps going, too.

P.S. I showed your work to my editor, Bryn! She was “really impressed” and said you are “definitely a writer in the making.” 🙂

 

 

 

Life is for real, baby. Live it.

Toot toot! I’m back! I’d like to say it was a peaceful break, full of delightful trips down Creative Writing Lane – but it was void of any ‘productive’ work, barring labour and delivery.  No, not a baby! A TV show.

Outside of writing for children, I work in the film industry as a costume maker for film and television. Clothing the lithe and famous — that’s one of my games, yo! Have been doing so for nineteen years now. I just finished a contract on an HBO show called Lewis and Clark, starring Casey Affleck, which was shooting in Calgary, Alberta. (Sadly I’m not allowed to post photos of what we work on until it airs! And if you want gossip on the stars, you’re gonna have to befriend me and gain my trust somehow. LOL! There are some CRAZY stories to tell….)

Calgary was an unexpected journey but not an unwelcome one, in the end. I was getting over a relationship that ended rather sadly, and unable to concentrate on writing Book 2 of The Stowaways. So what better time to experience a completely new place? I took the contract and just went with it, even though I had been planning on writing the whole year. When the words don’t come… what can you do? Do something else.

I am happy to report that after the first six weeks of misery in Calgary, grumbling and moping over not writing (I am a certified Master of Resistance), Alberta won me over! What a positive, sunny place to heal your broken heart. I spent loads of time with bubbly Nicole McInnes, of OhDina fame, who was milliner on the show and also became a close friend  (Need a flower crown? Yeah, we all do sometimes. She’s your gal). Because of time with her, I rediscovered my fun side and came back to Halifax  feeling able to steer life again.

Sometimes you have to give yourself time to rehabilitate and strengthen before you can emerge from under a Rock of Pain. And sometimes you need someone to kick you in the, er… “posterior” and tell you to enjoy your darn self for once! Nicole was just that person.

Here’s a sample of the giggles we had at the Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alberta. Yeah, that’s right. Stuffed gophers. It’s not for everyone but if you leave without a smile on your face, I’ll be surprised!

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“I’m a beautician, not a magician.” (!)

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“Is this for real?!”

Yeah, it’s for real. Life is full of unexpected side-swipes, and though we may crash and burn for a bit, there is always the rest of today to turn it around. And there is always a Gopher Hole Museum to remind you that you won’t be sad forever.  You’ve laughed before, and you will laugh again!

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10 ways I like to procrastinate (proving I’m a writer)

It’s no big secret that writers find it hard to get in the mode of writing sometimes. For me, it takes a couple of hours to get going. There’s a process I seem to follow, every single day. I’m not sure what it’s all about, but I’m sure it will be addressed eventually in #9!

So – my favourite ways to procrastinate are:

1. by writing this blog, which I tell myself is important for my “online presence”. I guess you’re reading this – so mission accomplished!! Mwah ha ha… wait a sec, are you procrastinating, too? Sorry. At least we’re in this together…

2. by cleaning the condensation off my wintery windows so I can study the wildlife, which I am meant to be writing anthropomorphized fiction about

3. by emailing all my writerly friends about how hard it is to write the “dreaded second book” (and then making them procrastinate, too, by writing me back and commiserating)

4. by writing self-important emails to the mayor about my unploughed road (meaning I can’t leave my house and procrastinate even more, which technically should be a good thing)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

5. twitter. need I say more? 140 characters is SO MUCH EASIER to write than 1,000 daily words.

6. by being crafty, i.e. binding blank books with pretty paper rather than writing in them

7. by writing lists of things I have to write

8. by writing lists of lists I have to write

9. by writing in my eight different journals about how hard it is to write, from eight different psychological perspectives, which are very very important to understand or else I won’t be able to write (Oh, irony, how I love thee)

10. and the all-time classic (drum roll, please…) — clicking Review – Word Count after every sentence I actually do write, however short

Notice how all these procrastinations still add up to thousands of words each day? Yup, I’m a writer!!! I’m obsessed with words.

Now that we see how much we want to write but how hard it is to stick to the right writing project, let’s go write. FICTION.

Happy Birthday, Rory! (An interview with the mouse in my heart)

One year already since the publication of my first novel, The Stowaways, starring you, Rory Stowaway!
How does it feel?

It was an exciting year. But tough! You put me through a lot of new experiences. Getting lost, finding a way out, losing our home…

Do you think it was worth it?

Yes! I got to do a lot of things I never thought I’d do. And I found out how courageous a mouse can be!

Would you do it all over again?

Um, why?

Because I’m writing you into a new adventure and you sort of have no choice about it. Unless you really, really don’t want to go…

No, I want to! We need to find a new home. Where are we going?

Well, so far you don’t know entirely where you are — just that there are strange new creatures to contend with, and some things that make you very uncomfortable — things you can’t explain. And you know how you love knowing the answer to everything… But one thing you will know is that your little sister Bimble is pushing to the front of the line, and you don’t like it.

But she’s only a pup!

Not anymore. She’s growing up fast.

Will she go on adventures with me?

Only if you let her.

Maybe…. She’s probably easy to travel with — she sure doesn’t say much.

We’ll see about that.

(whiskers twitching)

Do you have anything else to say? It’s your birthday celebration!

Are you ever going to eat those mouse cookies from the book launch — the ones in the freezer? ‘Cause if you’re not going to… I’ll take them!

You’d eat an image of yourself?

Yessss!

Okay (laughs). We’ll share them. You take the heads and I’ll take the tails.

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Thanks to everyone at Pajama Press for supporting me and my first novel this whole year, with such warm belief in a tiny mouse with big ambition. And also to my friends and family, near and far, who have become my mini book agents all over the planet.
Here’s to many more birthdays with The Stowaways!

A Tiny Furball of Hope

I’ve had a tough season, as we all have, trying to stiff-upper-lip the winter blues. Last weekend, I cracked. I just couldn’t take another cold, colourless dawn.

But then the tiniest thing happened to brighten my spirits.

I mean, really tiny.

My partner Brian discovered a mouse chewing at the floor under our hallway radiator. In his excitement, he scared the poor little thing and it ran into the living room and hid behind a tile leaning against the wall. Brian took out a flashlight and found him, curled up in the corner, with his nose tucked into his belly — stiff with fright that we were going to hurt him.

But of course we wouldn’t. I write about mice, so how can I possibly hurt one? Even Brian finds the idea of mouse traps deplorable, after reading The Stowaways “What if that’s Rory, on a mission of survival?” asks Brian.

“Much like us,” I say.

Oh, how I would have loved to scoop up that little mouse in my hand, and whisper to him how safe he is in our home.

This winter has been a sick combination of cold, grey, angst, and pressures that have all but torn us to shreds. But we bonded over our little mouse. His plight of survival is as one with our own. As we root for our house mouse, we root for ourselves.

And that’s a tiny but positive thing among winter’s rubble.

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(Image from Fenster)

First Award Nomination!

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I’ve been shortlisted for the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year for Children Award, for The Stowaways!!!

This is my first novel, so I never expected anything like this to happen. I looked back over the list of past authors who’ve won since 1947 and was excited to see Dennis Lee and Mordecai Richler on the list — they won for three of my all time favourite children’s books: Garbage Delight, Alligator Pie, and Jacob Two-Two Meets The Hooded Fang — books that I read over and over and over again when I was a wee little girl.

I am honoured, to say the least!!

Sometimes the Universe Won’t Take “I Quit” for an Answer

Okay. So that was a disaster.

Three weeks of isolation and high hopes for writing Book 2 rapidly declined into weeping on the couch while watching Olympic figure skating, with crumbs of popcorn and pita chips ground into my big ugly sweater I hadn’t washed in ages.

In short: I gave up.

My back-up plan was to go into Wolfville, as I explained in my last blog, hoping to write in a beautiful public place instead of cottage isolation, but Mother Nature had other plans. It snowed every darn day, and since the drive between the cottage and town was a half hour on the highway, I chose safety over glory. (Although, the Canadian Olympic Team provided some excellent vicarious glory!)

So what then?

Well, that’s when the Universe stepped in. As soon as I got back to the city, I got a letter in the mail that one could liken to a gift from the god of your choice. I got a big grant from Arts Nova Scotia to write Book 2 of The Stowaways! (So no excuses now. I have a DEADLINE.)

But could I muster a smile? Barely. So the universe said. Okay, that’s not enough of a sign for you? How about this? And then I got news regarding a lovely recognition that I can’t tell you about because it’s top secret til April 3rd.

And could I smile then? Almost.

So the Universe said, okay, money and recognition aren’t enough to wrench you out of depression, so here’s what I’m gonna do: You’re going to spend an hour and half at your old elementary school with thirty-five grade 3/4 students. They’re going to remind you of who you are.

And that seemed to work much better.

Yup! I did my first reading today at the Halifax Independent School, the school I went to as a child. It felt like a safe place to begin, where I knew at least they would want to meet an alumna who had become a published author, even if they knew nothing of my book. It was meaningful, returning there with a proud offering in my hand, a book that was inspired in part by my time there thirty years ago.

When preparing for the reading last night, I remembered that I still had a lot of the illustrated books I’d made at that school as a child, so I fished them out from my parent’s storage room and brought them with me on my visit. I was so glad I did! The students loved these early stories as much as The Stowaways, I think because it showed them the possibility of becoming an author themselves. After all, I was once a student there, making up silly stories, too. One kid yelled “I feel inspired!” And another yelled out an entire story and then drew out all the pictures for it in ten minutes flat! (If only I could write that easily, now!)

Here’s a page from one of my early books, The Big Fat Worm, which I painted when I was 10:
The students loved laughing like the worm. (heh heh heh!)

Reading through my early books and visiting my elementary school was the boost that I needed. I didn’t need to write in isolation. Distraction wasn’t my problem – it was lack of belief in myself. I needed to be surrounded by the rawness of youth. And now I remember, I was meant to tell stories — that’s how I spent every waking minute of my childhood — on my bedroom floor, with blank paper, scissors, coloured pencils and my imagination.

That’s all.

Week 2 of Writing Isolation: Clearly, it Ain’t for Me

If you read my last blog, you’ll know I’m experimenting with writing in isolation. I was having trouble getting started on the dreaded second novel (because whose second novel was the big winner, right?!), so decided to try a new method to trap my muse.

I’m staying at my friend’s cottage in the outback of the Nova Scotian Valley for three weeks. Well, when I say ‘outback’, I mean cottage country overlooking a man-made lake — though it is definitely isolated this time of year. In the last week, I’ve seen a squirrel, a woodpecker, three crows and four cars. The most talking I’ve heard all week is by the lake itself — apparently lakes fart, gurgle and burp in winter. (Very amusing to someone who hasn’t conversed in a while). Oh, and I saw some rabbit tracks – which was also very exciting!! Life does exist here, but in hibernation.

So far, I can’t recommend deep isolation. Yes, I got some writing done in my first week since there are zero distractions here, but week two has been a complete failure.

I’m not lonely, as my friends keep in touch via email and send me all their support and news, so that’s not been an issue.

It’s the lack of energy, movement and sound that is boring my muse to death.

So today I drove into Wolfville, a nearby university town on the Harvest Highway; it’s Nova Scotia’s Tuscany, if you need a comparison. Hilly vineyards covered in snow, farmland swept by cold winds and eagles, all overlooking the beautiful Minas Basin. It’s stunning.

My first stop was the local bookshop, Box of Delights. I wanted to make sure they had The Stowaways on the shelf. That was a nice reminder that I am indeed a writer — they knew my book and had sold out of it. Yay! Then I walked to the public library to flog my book there — because who doesn’t want their book in every library possible?

And then, sweet world, I went to one of my favourite places in Nova Scotia: the Garden Room at Acadia University. Having purchased a great book called Osbert The Avenger, a middle grade novel written by Australian Christopher William Hill, I tore off my hat and gloves and threw myself gladly into a chair in the sun. Here was the energy I was lacking!

Garden Room

All this to say that I think we writers often dream of isolation, but in actual fact it doesn’t work for very long. I need to feel the energy of movement around me.

Which brings me to my next writing experiment: writing in public. I’ve never tried this before, and since I’m in the valley for another ten days, I am going to drive to Wolfville every day and write in the grand Garden Room by the fountain, where water drips from copper maple leaves near the grand piano that sits waiting to serve at a concert every night… well, you get it. I’m going to write in a place full of movement and potential, to see if that re-inspires me.

Life is a constant adaptation, is it not?

A Tolerable Isolation

The wish I hear most often from fellow writers is for a secret lair where the only legal entrant is themselves. The most wistful of these wishes I heard from a Scottish tweeter who wanted a hidden door behind a bookshelf that led up to a secret attic room. Does that not conjure up some wonderful thoughts?

Aah… smell that steaming hot chocolate warming your hand as you skip that last creaking stair on the way up to your hideaway. Victory! Nobody knows where you’ve gone and they’ll never find you. You cosy up in your cloud-like chair by the porthole window, overlooking acres of wild, unpeopled landscapes. Your favourite snacks and pens line the drawers of your desk. You may never leave — save for that darn doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day. ARGH!

So I find myself now faced with an incredible offer to write, for the first three weeks of February, in a small cottage overlooking a lake in the hilly lands of the Nova Scotian valley. The only thing is, I’m beginning to doubt whether this is actually a tolerable isolation.

Do we actually want complete isolation? For three whole weeks?

I suspect that what we really want is for those in our lives to give us space, time and the control we need over our own brains – to create that secret lair metaphorically. We need to be able to enter and exit as we choose, to be fed and watered and pampered for a few minutes and then wander back off to Neverland to see what happens next.

For most writers, this is a pure fantasy and perhaps why so many of us dream of isolation. So that nobody CAN get in the way. And we don’t have to feel guilty when we say to our loved ones:
“Ever hear of knocking?”
“I’m sure your sock will turn up.”
“It’s there, on the bottom shelf. Just LOOK, would you?”
“Okay, enough already. I am not here. I do not want to hear that you are here either. Do not breathe.”
Or simply: “Please go away…”

I wonder, though – in my second week of isolation, will I wish someone would knock on the door with a sweet little paw, whispering:

“Do you want some soup?”
“How’s it going?”
“You look tired, why don’t you take a break?”
Or simply: “I love you.”

Anyway, it will be an experiment of sorts. I will report back with Tales from the Valley of Isolation. I may surprise myself and never want to leave, but I suspect I’ll be looking out the window, not always at the one overlooking unpeopled landscapes, but the one overlooking the driveway, wishing my sweetheart would turn up, uninvited.

We shall see!
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Phew! (How I began Again… this time)

If you’re anything like me, you stress a lot about beginning a project but once you get going, you’re fine. This has been the bane of my existence since my teenage years, when suddenly I learned how to distract myself with things that weren’t good for me (those confounded hormones!). And it’s been all I can do ever since to try and get back to the free-wheeling habits of my childhood, when I was a fearless creator.

It’s true, I didn’t expect Book 2 to be an easy writing project (see last post), but I was beginning to think over the last two weeks, as I attempted to delve into the world of The Stowaways again, that I had ‘lost it’: lost my mind, lost my muse, lost my passion, lost my nerve…

But I had an inkling, and this is only from the experience of having written a novel before, that somewhere inside me I would find whatever it was I needed to begin again.

The thing that helped me get over the hump this time around is a piece of advice that my friend Jodi learned from a mentoring session she had with author Madeleine Thien. Apparently, Madeleine spends the first part of her day reading rather than writing. At first I thought this would be way too distracting for me, but since I was getting nowhere by acting on Things I Thought Were True About Myself, I decided to give it the ol’ “Costanza”: a Seinfeld term I use when considering doing the opposite of what I usually do, in hope of a wildly better result.

So this week I have been allowing myself to start my day by reading. I read for as long as it takes to relax the fear in me so I can sit down and write the 1,000 word daily goal I’ve set.

So far, it’s working. By the time I’ve read for 3 hours, I’m tired of holding the book up and I’m ready to change chairs and put into words the scene I’ve conjured up while reading. (If anything, I think more clearly about my own book while I’m reading someone else’s – sometimes I have to re-read a page of a novel several times because I’ve gone off the page and started fantasizing about my own book…)

So why not give it a try if you are having difficulties getting started on a daunting project. Read until you can’t help but write. For me, it’s a much nicer way to spur myself into action than the usual self-loathing guilt trip.

Bonne chance!

P.S. Madeleine Thien is an incredible writer – check out Dogs At The Perimeter – and a lovely, generous person to boot. If you have the opportunity to attend one of her workshops or readings, do it!