Sailing Update

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Days like this are great if you want to photograph masts reflecting in glassy water, but not so good for doing anything remotely like sailing… 

Having just returned from a day on the water it seems like a good time to do a bit of an update on the sailing front. Despite the fact we don’t have a boat (yet), I have marked November 1st as the date we will head for Europe (Greece? Montenegro? Croatia? Italy) for a sailing trip. We still haven’t pinned down destination or duration of the trip, but one way or the other I am bound and determined to be aboard a boat of some sort, for a while, heading somewhere.

While the details of the trip are still somewhat fuzzy, what is absolutely clear is that there is no time to be lost between now and then when it comes to getting myself prepared to take the helm and cast off the lines. Given that one now needs to have an ICC (International Certificate of Competence) in order to sail in most European waters, I signed up for a five-day sailing course through Sea to Sky Sailing. My original dates were to be at the end of March on one of the company’s boats, but then Dani and Toryn decided they would hire a Sea to Sky instructor to come over here to the island to teach them on their boat, Easy Rider. Because they had an extra berth, they invited me to join them, which makes a lot of sense given that a) we’re practicing on a boat we will sail on in the future and b) we’ll be sailing together in the future so it makes sense we’ll all be learning the same way to do things.

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Katabatic winds? My study notes are serving two purposes. First, they are supposed to be helping me retain info needed for the ICC written test (my aging brain no longer holds onto details the way it used to). Second, in keeping with one of my 2017 resolutions, I’m trying to add more visual elements to my notes and journals. This has been an interesting process for someone who has never tried to draw anything. If I feel brave, I might post more sketchy efforts here at some point. 

On the down side, the dates of the new training session are March 11-15, which has thrown me into a bit of a panic. Before then, I need to have completed the theory part of the course and get my VHF license plus get in a bit of sailing practice. My studies are well under way, but the clock is ticking now and I’m starting to have dreams eerily like those that tortured me throughout high school and university. In those dreams I show up for an exam and find I have studied for the wrong course or I try to get into the examination room and the doors are locked, or I’ve missed the exam date by a week or I open the exam booklet and discover I can’t read the language written on the page.

On the practical side, though I’ve sailed on and off for decades, my experiences have always been as crew. It’s quite a different thing altogether to be in charge of the boat. So, for the past several weekends, we (Dani, Toryn and I) have been trying to get out on the water before we are thrown into the deep end (not literally, I hope). Our first expedition was a bit hairy as the winds kicked up and we were all very rusty (fouled the jib quite handily and rattled ourselves quite thoroughly). Sailing brother, Sascha, popped over from Vancouver the next weekend and put us through our paces in very light airs in a fun expedition to Sidney Spit, a picturesque spot within spitting distance of Sidney.

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Up goes the mainsail…

That trip went pretty smoothly and included practicing picking up a mooring ball. At the end of it, we felt a bit more confident that we had not actually forgotten everything we had ever known about sailing. After enjoying a tasty barbecue in the cockpit, we also remembered how much fun it is to sail somewhere and then share a meal!

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Today we took Easy Rider out again, looking forward to sailing in light winds so we could do a bit more tacking practice. Sadly, the forecast 5 knots of wind wound up being 0-1 knots. Flat calm. It was easy enough to hoist the sails, but from that point on we bobbed around in the millpond with two gigantic limp hankies decorating the boat. What forward movement we actually managed to accomplish was more the result of the current pushing us than any impact from the non-existent wind. The fact there was not a single sailboat (other than us) out there should have been a hint that perhaps today was not a good day for sailing.

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We may not have buried the rail today, but it was mighty pleasant lounging around on the foredeck as we puttered back toward the marina. 

Undeterred, we floated around for a couple of hours before dropping the sails and motoring back to the dock. While uneventful sailing trips are generally a good thing, today’s journey to nowhere gives mellow a whole new meaning.

Wildlife count: 2 seals swimming, 2 seals perched on rocks, 2 dolphins and a bunch of sea birds. Note to self: Take a bird identification book to the boat.

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Speed Dating With My Daughter

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Who can resist gourmet cupcakes? Yummy!

Book promotion comes in all shapes and sizes. Signing books at a bookstore or doing a presentation at a school, library, or literary festival are all par for the course when it comes to getting the word out about a new book. This week, though, Dani and I took part in a less common book promotion, a speed dating event at a gathering of book reps and booksellers.

Imagine a room (actually, a quasi room, more like a space partitioned off from a rather raucous party behind a not-exactly-soundproof folding divider) in which are placed half a dozen large, round tables. At each table, there are five or six booksellers from various places in British Columbia. The booksellers look a little weary – they have been looking at catalogues, ordering books, and talking to book reps since 9 am. By the time our event starts, it’s almost 6pm. Half a dozen piles of books are stacked on the tables and half a dozen anxious authors stand, one in front of each table. Don’t think about that too hard. It isn’t all that easy to stand in front of a round table.

The format works like this. When the coordinator says ‘Go!’ all the authors begin to talk about their books. Because the room is small and there is a party going on beside us on the other side of the partition, we need to yell at the top of our lungs to be heard. Even so, the booksellers need to lean forward to hear what we are saying.

Dani and I are presenting together as we are co-authors of Birthdays: Beyond Cake and Ice Cream. To make things a little more festive (and because we are not beneath bribery to get the attention of the booksellers), we also deliver a plate of gourmet miniature cupcakes to the table as we begin, one cupcake earmarked for each member of our tiny audience. Because we have very little time to move between tables, we’ve pre-stacked napkins and bookmarks to hand out along with the cupcakes. Because Dani is the goddess of themed activities, the cupcakes are beautifully displayed on paper party plates and she and I are wearing matching party hats.

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Once the timer starts, we have exactly five minutes to do our spiel (including time to pass around those cupcakes). We introduce ourselves (people regularly call me Dani and Dani Nikki. Fortunately, we both answer to both names). We explain how the idea of the book came to be (Dani earns full credit for this one. Birthdays all dates back to an amazing birthday she had in Japan). We then take turns highlighting what’s in each chapter. We’ve picked some nifty factoids to share (about bullet ants in Brazil, coating birthday celebrants in flour, water, and eggs in Indonesia, and what happens on Adults’ Day in Japan).

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Dani in Japan the year she turned 20.

To make things extra challenging, we leave 45 seconds for me to smoothly segue from birthday parties to traumatic climbing experiences, which then leads to the fastest-ever description of Deadpoint, my new climbing memoir. Just because I have two books out this season doesn’t mean I get twice the time to talk about them.

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At precisely five minutes, the coordinator stops the clock and all the authors must move to the next table and do it all again. We repeated this until all the authors had spoken to all the booksellers.

You could say it was all a tad stressful. Dani and I both left feeling a bit hoarse and nursing splitting headaches. I can’t even imagine how the poor booksellers were feeling! That said, it was a fantastic way to introduce ourselves and the new books to a whole lot of amazing, hard working, what-would-we-do-without-them booksellers.

Luckily for the rest of you, there’s no reason to have to listen to me and Dani shout about the new books. All you have to do is visit your local bookseller and ask nicely and they will happily order copies in for you. If you don’t have a bookstore in your town, that is a bit sad, but not the end of the world. You can always order online or head into your local public library.

 

 

Two Book Birthdays in the Same Week!

When it rains, it pours, as they say… As if having one book come out this week wasn’t exciting enough, the latest in the Orca Origins series arrived today! Birthdays: Beyond Cake and Ice Cream is a collaboration with my talented daughter, Dani. Dani and I also wrote Take Shelter together and, in fact, have another in […]

via Two Book Birthdays in One Week! — darkcreekfarmdotcom

Deadpoint is Alive!

deadpoint-covers-img_7569It never gets old, the arrival of a new book! Deadpoint was officially released into the wilds today (and, by wilds, I mean your local bookstore, library, or online bookseller…)! I love the quote on the bookmarks, “Fear is not an option.” I even like the punctuation – that period at the end of the statement is just so final. In fact, I think that statement deserves a whole blog post all its own because these days I’m living in a strange state of simultaneous excitement and near panic (kind of like how I feel when I’m climbing, in fact).

Even though the appearance of the book marks the end of one phase of the creative process (I really, truly can’t make any more changes at this point), having the book in hand is also the beginning of a new phase. With any luck, someone will now read it and then, maybe there will be some reviews. Even better, the reviews won’t be awful. There is nothing quite so demoralizing as reading uncharitable words about your baby. I say that even though I try not to take reviews (good, or bad) too seriously. Even though I try to keep them in perspective, it is still MUCH nicer to read a good review than a bad one. That said, write enough books and both good and bad are bound to happen eventually.

The reviews, though, are actually kind of important when it comes to selling books, particularly those like Deadpoint which have the potential to reach an educational market. Schools and libraries prefer not to buy books that are roundly panned. Fair enough. With limited budgets and shelf space, it’s impossible to just have a standing order for every new book that comes out. Teachers and librarians tend to read trade journals when looking for feedback on new titles. The rest of us tend to look at what people are saying on Amazon or Goodreads or Facebook (note: if you are a reader, it actually does make a difference to sales if you take the time to share your thoughts on a book. And, be honest – there’s actually not much benefit to saying you love a book when you don’t. If you hate this one, though, perhaps don’t send me the link… what I don’t read can’t break my heart.)

After a book comes out there’s also an expectation that an author will get out there and talk about it. If the book is for kids or teenagers, school visits and library presentations are the order of the day. I’ll try to do my share of those over the coming months. For non-kid audiences, bookstores are the most likely place for an event. For example, for Victoria-area folks, I’ll be at Russell Books on February 23 along with Miji Cambell and Trisha Cull. Here’s the poster – it would be great to see you there if you are in the neighbourhood! (We will be talking about writing memoirs – and I will touch on how real life had a huge impact on the writing of Deadpoint).

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Deadpoint also got a little early publicity when a few precious copies were given out as prizes at the Night of Lies event in Canmore in November. That was quite the memorable evening, not just because people got a sneak preview of the book, but because that’s where I did a presentation about climbing as a metaphor for relationships in general and, more specifically, climbing partnerships. That in itself wasn’t terribly noteworthy (I do lots of presentations each year), but at the end of this one, I proposed to my now-fiancé, Fabio. It was a good thing he said ‘yes’ as we had several hundred witnesses and a negative response would have been… well, way worse than a less-than-flattering book review.

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These days, there’s also an expectation that an author will do some social media promotion for a new title. I guess this could count as my obligatory ‘the book is out!!’ blog post and if you follow me on Twitter (@writergrrrl) or Instagram (writergrrrl) or Facebook you’ll know I’ve started to let the world know on those other platforms as well.

In fact, the work of promoting a book doesn’t really stop until the book goes out of print. It can be hard to support every title when one has quite a few out, but at the same time, it’s shocking how fast a book can just disappear if you don’t give it a little love and attention.

With all that in mind, may I present to you:

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(If you’d like to purchase a copy, please try to buy this first at your local, preferably independent bookstore, but if you don’t have one in your town, then here’s the link on Amazon. Thanks for supporting your local indies!)

 

 

When the Writing Just Stops

It’s so weird how this happens. I’m beavering away, have lots of ideas, am all eager to work and then… something shifts. The momentum completely stops. And I find myself drifting about feeling like I have never written anything and will never write again.

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This morning I was up early, tossing and turning because I had inadvertently forgotten my phone at the climbing gym last night (Panic! Disaster! Missing limb!). I waited until a reasonable hour and then headed into town (brrr… it was -28C out there!). The climbing gym was still closed, but the very helpful (and sympathetic to my twitchy, desperate state) woman at the main desk at the rec centre took pity on me and let me in and – yes, there it was!

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I embraced the phone and retreated to a table in the still-closed coffee shop to reactivate it  (I had been able to lock it and add an ‘I am lost’ message remotely through iCloud) and then pulled out my laptop. I figured that if I was out and about I might as well sit for a bit and work until the library opened so I could pick up a book that had come in for me.

There followed a great spurt of solid work on a screenplay I’m busy with. I was feeling pretty good at this point. Then I went to the library, grabbed the book, and headed home.

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…and then a very entertaining squirrel sent my day sideways…

And then the wheels fell off! I checked email. I stroked my phone. I answered a couple of texts. Checked Facebook. Had a look at Instagram. Read a few blog posts. Watched a YouTube video about a squirrel trying to break into a bird feeder. I browsed through the library book (which is, ironically, about getting one’s social media footprint under control), and then decided I needed a nap before I could get back to work.

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Yes, I napped (and no, not just for ten minutes). I woke up all groggy and had vague thoughts about about yoga. About my physio exercises for my elbow and shoulder. About writing. And did none of those things.

I drifted around the condo, trying to find a good place to work. The couch was too soft. The dining room table too hard. My regular work space with a decent office chair too boring. I installed the new operating system on my Mac and made some space on the hard drive. That took ages and, conveniently tied up my computer. Work? Impossible.

We were out of bread, so I needed to bake.

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Not that the smell of fresh bread wafting through the house is a bad thing…

And that’s it!! Not much to show for the day!! The evening, which might have been a reasonable emergency back-up plan is shot because we have a Christmas party/bowling extravaganza to attend… So, yes, even bowling is taking priority over getting anything else done today.

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In other ironies, one of the projects I have on my to-do list for today is to work on another module for the Beating Writer’s Block course I’m developing for the online writing school! Maybe I should go back to the units I’ve already finished and do the exercises again myself!

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Or, maybe I should just accept that some days, a couple of pages on the screenplay is all that’s going to happen. And, maybe the fact I was done before the time of day when I’m usually finishing my breakfast cup of tea and arriving in front of the laptop is actually a cause for celebration. Maybe this was actually an incredibly productive day and what I should have spent the rest of my time doing was reading or going for a walk or calling friends or doing a yoga class or anything at all other than trying to work. Ok, maybe not the walk (you did notice the temperature, right?)

Whatever this day might have, could have, should have been, it’s pretty much over now. The good news is that bowling should be both fun and potentially inspiring (just think, what would The Big Lebowski be without bowling? And, yes, as it turns out, there is some bowling in my screenplay so maybe this evening will, in fact be all about research and not a write-off at all!!)

The Dude: Walter, ya know, it’s Smokey, so his toe slipped over the line a little, big deal. It’s just a game, man. —The Big Lebowski

**Most of the photos today came from unsplash.com – that’s how unmotivated I was. Couldn’t even get myself inspired enough to take a photo of my own fresh bread!

Fewer Words, Longer Process

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                                                        Photo by Kaiyu Wang

Waaaaay back in 2014, my then agent (P) posted a link to an interesting NPR story about a woman bricklayer on Facebook. I can’t remember exactly what P said, but I think she mused that the article might provide inspiration for a story of some sort. I was intrigued and began to investigate bricklaying. At first I had no idea how to approach the subject – but as I was doing a bit of research, I was reminded just how beautiful brickwork could be. That’s when I thought a book about a bricklayer, a woman, might make for a visually interesting picture book. Except, of course, one generally wants a child protagonist in a picture book.

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                                                                  Photo by Tim Gouw

Right about the time I was doing my research into bricks and mortar, I was also listening to the radio and some coverage about Little League Baseball. One of the top pitchers at the time was a girl and members of the sports media were discussing whether or not the major leagues would ever see a female pitcher. I got to thinking that maybe my child protagonist might be a little girl and her mother a bricklayer.

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                                                       Photo by Kai Oberhauser

I have never forgotten a conversation I once had with an editor and the suggestion that a whole story could be written using only verbs in single word sentences. No adjectives. No adverbs. No helpful little words like ‘the’ or ‘and.’ And, all active verbs. So, a story might be told like this:

Skip. Trip. Crash. Bleed. Weep. Hug. Smile.

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                             Photo by Jordan Whitt

Both bricklaying and baseball have their own, unique vocabularies, so I decided to try writing an absolute minimalist text that told the story of this mother and daughter as they each worked towards achieving a significant goal – the daughter pitching in a championship game and the mother seeing a big construction project through to the end. The plan was for the two stories to run along one beside the other. I sent a draft to P not long after she posted that link on Facebook and she quite liked the general idea, but sent the manuscript back for a bit of tweaking. I mused. I tweaked. I sent it back. And so it went, back and forth – first between me and P., then between me and Amy (you’ve read about Agent Amy before). Each round of edits changed the shape a little bit – a more cohesive story developed, but I was determined not to use any more words than necessary and so kept to the uncluttered (concentrated) language of the first draft.

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                                                                                                                               Photo by Davide Cantelli

When Amy felt we were ready, she sent it off to New York and Holiday House acquired the manuscript. PRETTY EXCITING!

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Having a manuscript picked up by Holiday House is a pretty big deal! I am THRILLED to be working with them!

BUT, I wasn’t done yet. The editor there asked for some changes including adding more conflict and challenge to each of the character’s stories and I reworked the manuscript a couple more times. Then, as happens in publishing, the editor moved on and the manuscript landed on a new editor’s desk at Holiday House. This editor had a slightly different (and very smart, as it turns out) vision for the arc of the story. Instead of having the two stories develop over a long time span, she suggested I try condensing the timeline to a single day. She also wanted more striking parallels between the mother and daughter as they made their respective ways through the day.

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                                                                                                                                    Photo by Jon Eckert

So, I reworked it all again a couple of times and – voila! A WAY BETTER story emerged at the end of all of that! Which, of course, is only really step one in the whole birthing-of-a-picture-book process. Now comes the tricky challenge of finding an artist who can bring the visual side to life. I am SO glad I don’t have to do any of that. Thankfully, the publisher, designer, artist and editor will do the heavy lifting as the book moves forward from here. I cannot wait to see the next stages as they unfold.

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                                                                                                                           Photo by Robyn Budlender

Of course, it’s quite possible that this next phase will take just as long or longer than the development of the text, but for anyone out there who thinks that just because there aren’t a lot of words in a picture book that writing one is a snap, think again! In the time it has taken me to get this far with that book, I have written half a dozen other, much longer books. Though I love the picture book format as a unique art form (and really, the very best picture books are exquisite works of art), I tell you, I think twice about embarking down the long and winding road of writing one!

 

**All images used in today’s post are from the do-what-you-want-with-them photo site, Unsplash.com

The Book that Almost Wasn’t (and which is now, apparently, very popular with New York Public Library librarians…)

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Whenever I do a presentation, someone inevitably asks where my ideas come from. It’s a hard question to answer because my ideas come from everywhere, all the time. Getting ideas isn’t much of a problem as pretty much anything anyone says or does, or things I see on my travels (or in my back yard or my dreams or …), snippets from the news, or a passing comment on Facebook or a cool image on Instagram or… well, you get the idea… the sources of inspiration are everywhere. The problem is always turning the idea into some sort of narrative, and that’s true whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction.

In the case of Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet, the idea resulted from a question I always ask when I’m giving a talk about books in the Orca Footprints Series.

What do we need to thrive on this planet?
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Kids have no problem answering the question, “What do we need to thrive on this planet?”. Food. Clean water. No pollution. Shelter. Those are the answers that come up right at the top of the list. Several times, though, students offered the answer trees. Which, to be honest, was not on my initial list of things essential to human survival. I only had to think about that suggestion for a few minutes before I realized just how right the kids were. Trees are actually a fascinating subject and, yes, trees are essential to our survival on the planet.

Did you know baobab flowers bloom at night and are pollinated by bats?

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Note: This is NOT a baobab tree.

 

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The more I read about trees (including The Wild Trees by Richard Preston which is just excellent and proves that if you are a good enough writer you can make any subject heart-stopping…) the more I realized that trees would be the perfect subject for another Orca Footprints book. I pitched the idea to my editor and, I have to say, the response was lukewarm.

I persisted and started doing research. And writing. And pestering (very politely) my editor. And thinking about what trees have meant to me over the years (each Orca Footprints title incorporates some personal connection the author has with the subject). Before I knew it, I had a manuscript. The editor started warming up to the subject. The designer started laying it out. We all found photographs of glorious trees making people happy. And, before long, Deep Roots was born.

Well wouldn’t you know it, that book has struck a chord! It has been nominated for a Silver Birch non-fiction award and, just yesterday, it showed up on the New York Public Library list of the 100 best books for children in 2016!! (Here’s a link to the full list.) The Korean rights have been sold and the book seems to be finding an audience for itself!

Trees? You think anyone would care about trees?

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Peeling bark on a madrona tree (aka an arbutus tree) on Sidney Spit, just off Vancouver Island. I LOVE these trees. They are just gorgeous! 

You may wonder what other suggestions from the students I’ve taken to heart. One of the things that was on the list of human ‘must haves’ (according to my informal student polls) was love. It took a little head scratching to figure out how an abstract concept like love could possibly work as a Footprints title, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized the kids were right. Alone, we are small and vulnerable: people need each other. The working title of the manuscript I just submitted this week? Love and Belonging: Family, Friends, and Communities Working Together to Create a Better World. I suspect the title will be shortened before the book comes out, but it turns out the manuscript was really interesting to write.

It’s all about love. heart-love-romance-valentine

At this point (we’ve had no editing rounds yet) it includes material as diverse as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, prison nurseries, the UN Charter, the Human Genome Project, what it means to have a BFF and the Los Angeles Police Department’s take on gangs. And trarantulas and the people who adore them. The book is not scheduled for publication until 2018, so we’ll all have to wait and see how it does, but the success of Deep Roots gives me hope that listening to my readers is perhaps the best place of all to look for inspiration.