What’s That I See?

Could this be one of Dad's paintings?
Could this be one of Dad’s paintings?

One of the new projects I’m working on is a collaboration with Sylvia Olsen and Jean Jordan. We are researching and writing a biography for children about Elizabeth May, Canada’s first Green Party MP in Ottawa. Elizabeth has a long history of activism and we’ve been reading and discussing which pieces of her story make sense to include in a book for children. As part of that research, I have been re-reading her book Who We Are: Reflections on My Life and Canada. In the section in the middle with photos I came across this one that shows Elizabeth along with a number of others in Speaker’s Chambers in the House of Commons in Ottawa. The photo was taken in 1987 and it’s quite conceivable (there were a number of collectors back east who bought his work, including various on Parliament Hill) that the painting in the background is one of Dad’s. It sure looks like one of his, but the place where he would have signed is obscured, so positive identification is proving difficult. Elizabeth is a tad busy campaigning at the moment and though the group clearly chose to pose in front of the painting, I doubt she would remember anything about it, even if she had time to return my call to quiz her on this most pressing of matters. Pretty cool, though – until I hear otherwise, I’m going to assume this is one of the winter landscapes for which Dad is well known… If anyone has info to the contrary, please let me know!

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That Was Historical Fiction?

tarragon-islandT

Sometimes when I visit schools students ask me whether I ever read my own books. The thought horrifies me, actually – by the time a book has gone from idea to draft to draft to draft to draft #72 over the course of months or years,  after it has been hacked apart by members of my writing group, helpful friends and family members, an editor (sometimes more than one) and then picked apart and dissected by a copy editor and a proof reader (each iteration requiring me to re-read and sign off – or, rewrite as the case may be) trust me, the LAST thing I would consider reading for entertainment would be something I had written myself. This aversion to reading my own stuff is so deep I rarely read from my books even when I’m supposed to be at a book event where this sort of activity is expected. I’ve found all kinds of creative ways to get around actually reading much during a presentation and much prefer to switch into storytelling mode, which seems to me to be way more fun for everyone involved (who wouldn’t want to hear about that time with the mother bear on the side of a mountain when I was ten?) Needless to say, recently it has been strange having to read (meticulously, some sections over and over and over) Tarragon Island, a novel originally published somewhere around 1998 and which is soon to come out as an audiobook.

I realize the book came out before the turn of the century which does make it seem old, but reading it now it is astonishing how EVERYTHING has changed since I wrote it! That wasn’t even 20 years ago and it feels like a work of ancient historical fiction! The main character, Heather, moves from Toronto to a fictional Gulf Island in BC. So far so good, except when she gets desperately homesick for friends and family left behind she WRITES THEM LETTERS!! With pen and paper. These relics she slips into envelopes that need licking and stamps and a trip to the post office to send them on their way. There follows a lengthy period of waiting and wondering and speculation while she waits for a reply. The only computer in the household belongs to her mother’s business and even if Heather were allowed to be on it, the Internet hasn’t really been invented yet. At some point Heather, her brother Matt and their father take their little sailboat on an expedition and they get stranded because they run out of gas. They refer to a paper chart spread out on the top of the cabin to figure out where they are  – no GPS, handy iPod navigation apps, no watches that sound an alarm when the anchor drags… none of that! They decide to row their dinghy to the closest island (uninhabited) to hike to the other side where they see on the chart there is some sort of radio tower and where, they vaguely hope, they might find a PAYPHONE! A what?

This book is so completely set on another planet that I couldn’t even update it for a future edition – the plot wouldn’t work as these days when you run out of gas in the Gulf Islands you call someone on your cell phone. Kids who move from one place to another text each other on their smart phones or hang out online snap chatting or face booking or instagramming or whatever (note to self, this blog post will be out of date this time next week and will be considered a historical document, too) so they are able to stay in touch in a way that was never possible in the not-so-distant past.

I was considering pulling the plug on the project entirely, but then I reconsidered. The basic ideas (I hope) of missing people who are not with you, the trauma of moving, the challenges of finding your way in a new/very different community, and the struggles of finding your way as a writer are still the same. Despite the fact that Heather is stuck back there in the Dark Ages, I still kind of like her.

What this does create is a new dilemma. What am I to do with the next book in the series? My publisher and I would both like to do another one – we never felt that we were finished with Heather and her stories. But how on earth am I going to reconcile the leaps forward in technology we have experienced and which continue to come at us at an unprecedented rate? I can’t un-know what I know and these books are theoretically works of ‘contemporary fiction.’ Except, they aren’t any more. Maybe Heather (who would be about the right age, had she continued to grow up) might return to her island as a teacher at the local school and I could write the next book or two in a sort of familiar/sort of new setting with a new cast of kid characters who would, for at least a few minutes, be considered contemporary.

Hm. I’ve discovered another reason why I should never read my own books. What a can of worms lurks between those innocent-looking covers!

[Curious and want to buy a copy? Tarragon Island  is still in print and available from Sono Nis Press.]

More Audiobooks On Their Way

Improvise!
As long as I remember to unplug the freezers while I’m recording, the sound quality is remarkably good!

I was kind of horrified when I checked this blog/website (I’m much more likely to post over on my other blog, www.darkcreekfarm.com) to see what I still needed to do in terms of completing the transfer of the old content from my original author website to this location. Yikes! I knew there was still some tweaking to be done, but this place is a disaster! I would promise to immediately rectify the situation, but I have a growing stack of cool projects on my desk and the end of the summer to enjoy and a trip to the mountains in a couple of weeks, so I’m not quite sure when I’ll be able to push other things aside to finally, finally sit down and get this renovation done!

Meanwhile, I am loving working on those aforementioned new projects! Some time back I produced the first of a series of audiobooks for Sono Nis Press – Julie White’s The Secret Pony. This novel for kids who love horses was meant to be the first one of several to come out in this format (Here’s the link over at Audible.com, in case you are interested.) At long last I have upgraded my computer and learned the basics of Adobe’s Audition (audio editing software) so I could create chapter by chapter audio files for new projects here at my place rather than having to go into town for each recording session. I am responsible only for producing a reasonably clean and accurate reading of the text – no editing. That job is handled by the remarkable Tom Dufleit, a meticulous audio editor/producer who takes the uploaded files and then massages them into files that meet industry production standards.

I had heard that doing the voice work for an audiobook was a lot harder than it first appears, but I have to say I didn’t think it would be that bad. And, I confess, I thought that recording one of my own books would be easier than someone else’s. Hah! I hadn’t realized how much dialogue is in Tarragon Island (the first in the series and the next in the production cue)! Not only that, it isn’t just a couple of characters who talk to each other, it seems like half the island community has something to say! It’s not like I’m doing a full on theatrical production or anything, but trying to come up with subtly different character voices for all those different speaking parts and then remembering who sounds like what when they only have a couple of lines to say six chapters apart is really hard! Add to that the fact one’s voice changes depending on the time of day, how much yacking you’ve done before sitting down to record, between the start and the end of the recording session, and even whether you’ve had a hot or cold drink before starting and suddenly, it’s very impressive to listen to the great audiobook narrators remaining consistent from start to end of a very long book. It takes many hours of reading and then editing to get one hour of finished product and I can tell you it’s pretty stressful and tedious along the way!

If it isn’t bad enough I have to pay attention to what I’m reading, any ambient noise, rustle of paper, clunk or thump from some distant place in the house – or, heaven forbid, sirens or creaking doors or the hum of the heat pump outside – all has to be controlled. If I notice a problem, I have to re-do that section of the chapter. If I don’t notice right away (or if my reading doesn’t exactly match what is written) Tom lets me know later and I have to create another, correct sound file. I don’t have a fully insulated sound booth, so I’m making do with a small pantry that is tucked away in a quiet corner downstairs. Even so, I have to unplug the fridge in the mudroom next door, the freezers in the pantry, and shut down the central A/C-furnace-heat pump while I’m recording to try to minimize as much extraneous noise as possible. I didn’t think the pantry was a noisy room until I began this mission to not have to commute to town for these sessions.

The good news is the technical bugs are pretty well worked out and Tom the Meticulous is reasonably happy with the files I am sending him, so with any luck we can get into a bit of a routine and get the next several audiobooks out there into the digital world before too much longer.

Stay tuned…