The Year of Making Connections

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ARC Cover Better TogetherAn introvert by nature, it’s not always easy to reach out and connect with other people (you can’t imagine the depth of horror I feel when informed we have a party to go to… Eek! Small talk! People I don’t know!) But, when it happens and I actually get over myself and meet people or spend time with those I already know- there are few things more soul-satisfying and positive than spending time with others. I recognize some aspect of my inner nature does not make it easy to take that first step and make an overture, start a conversation… but my mind (and my heart) also know just how healthy it is to nurture relationships of all kinds, with all sorts of people.

I’ve been working on this for a while, but since we’ve just started a new year, I’ve decided to make this a theme. In the lingo of my yoga classes, I am setting an intention for the year which, hopefully, will become a new habit, a better way of being for the future. Which all sounds a bit airy-fairy, I know. So I thought I’d share a bit of some of what I’m doing/planning to do over the coming year to help make this new reality happen.

Better Together: Creating Community in an Uncertain World could not be arriving at a more propitious time. My fourth in the Orca Footprints series, this non-fiction book for kids will come out early in April (here’s a link to the book’s page at Orca Book Publishers… which reminds me, I should update my books pages here on the author blog… maybe I should add ‘connect with a personal assistant’ to my list of ways to stay on top of my To-Do lists!). The theme of the book is all about making connections, about finding ways to create a sense of community and why people in groups are such a powerful force for good and facilitating change.

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Many members of our family got together this year in Vancouver, where we took in a Cirque de Soleil show and ate a LOT of popcorn. 

Writing the book was a terrific exercise for me. I began by looking at the most intimate bonds we form – parent and child, siblings, grandparents, best friends – families in all their many configurations. Of course, thinking about family made me very aware of how lucky I am to have a good one! Keeping in touch isn’t always easy with relatives spread out between Canada, Europe, Tokyo and Hawaii. It’s a good thing we all love to travel and are able to do so often enough that various branches of the extended family manage to get together fairly regularly. One day, we should host a massive family reunion somewhere in the middle and get every one together – the Germans, the Brits, the Italians, the Canadians, the Japanese, the Swedes… That would be a mighty fun event.

Kipling Better Together

Anyway, that’s chapter one, which looks at those very first key relationships. Chapter two branches out into neighbourhoods and local community groups, bonding through the workplace, at school, at the local community garden (and, under less pleasant circumstances, the ways communities form when people are thrown together in places they don’t necessarily choose – leper colonies and prisons, for example).

Religion

The third chapter pulls the lens back a bit and has a look at how people group themselves according to religion, race, ethnicity, peer groups of various kinds – and, what can go wrong when a group defines itself in terms of those who are excluded or when two groups decide they have no common ground and must use aggression to decide who is stronger/better/more deserving. Because, of course, the basic human need to form tight bonds has a dark side when we focus more on the differences between groups than on the fundamental similarities common to all people, no matter where we live or what we believe in.

Little Women

The final chapter takes another step back and focuses on global organizations and how they try to transcend borders, nationalities, religious affiliations, and cultural differences to try to work together to meet basic human needs for all. And, it turns out, in a world where it seems at times we are doomed to be unable to get along, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Acts of human kindness, generosity, consideration, gentleness, and cooperation based on a desire to help and nurture are abundant. And, they occur at all levels – from a simple gesture between siblings to UN missions costing millions of dollars and involving people around the globe.

Mind Map

When I sat down to write this post, I did a mind map, sprawling all my thoughts about community and making connections on a couple of pages in my new journal (I start a new one each January). The page is full – overflowing with thoughts and ideas. This post, which I thought was going to be a very general one reflecting all those ideas, wound up being only about one point on the page… which is a good thing, I guess, if I’m ever stuck for an idea for a post I can grab another one!

Note: If you are a children’s book reviewer, contact me and we’ll arrange to send you a digital reading copy…

That Way! (reposted from darkcreekfarm.com)

I am famous in my family for my ability to get lost. Spectacularly lost. Like, in Canmore (a cute town with half a dozen streets, town where I now live, town in which, yes, I still get lost). Before we set off on this trip there were quite a few jokes about how if anyone could get lost on the Camino it would be me.

Ha! I LOVE how incredibly well marked the route has been. Ever since we spotted our first arrow outside the albergue in Sarria we have never faltered. Occasionally there are a couple of options (a slightly more rural path versus following the road for a bit) but mostly every place where one could possibly get confused has a bright yellow arrow or a stylized shell or an official marker or all three…

Where the path crosses a road, motorists are warned to slow down.

Though we are tracking our progress closely using both google maps and the Nike+ Run app (Dani is using the latter to let her know exactly when she reaches each kilometre mark, at which point she snaps a photo – no people and within 10 steps of the km mark) there is really no need for technology when it comes to figuring out where to go.

Of course, the string of pilgrims stretching as far as the eye can see is another indicator we are heading in the right direction!

Now all I need is for the rest of the world to catch on to the idea of superb way-finding assistance… and maybe I need to figure out where in life I want to be going so the yellow arrows will start to appear whenever I need to see one!

We are finally on the Camino in Spain!

Oh my… while we were away I had terrible trouble posting to this blog for some reason…

Here, then, is a copy (I hope) of a post from October… If this works, I’ll add the few others I managed to post from on the road (over on my other blog… darkcreekfarm.com/blog)

The Chinese proverb sums up how we feel today after finally, finally setting off on our Camino adventure.

After several days of brilliant sun and hot temperatures, we were all relieved when it was cool and a bit foggy as we left the Albergue in Sarria. We were also pretty excited to spot our first yellow arrow and stylized shell indicating we were heading off in the correct direction. I have no idea how many arrows and other way markers we passed today – a lot – but each one is a small message of hope that we were a step closer to our destination.

The cooler temperatures helped mitigate the horror we all felt as we stood at the bottom of the daunting set of stairs that lead up and out of Sarria.

Dad has been training for months, but always on more or less level terrain and never with his daypack.

 

Thank goodness Dani planned today to be a shortish day. The total distance travelled was only about 4km, but it was tough going in places.

The old part of Sarria felt like the perfect place to start our journey, steeped in history and full of albergues and small

restaurants and bars it was also full of pilgrims.

We stopped often so Dad could catch his breath but by the time we started up the final hill leading to the village of Barbadelo Dad was pretty bagged. Dani and I redistributed everything he was carrying between the two of us and insisted on a refuelling break along the way.

At one point as Dad was puffing on his inhaler and looking pained, I thought we had perhaps made a terrible mistake. Much of today’s path was through the woods (yay – shade!!) but that did mean it would have been pretty well impossible to have hailed an ambulance should we have needed one. Various passing pilgrims stopped to ask if all was well or if we needed assistance. Dad waved them off, but I wondered several times if perhaps we needed to reassess and perhaps procure a donkey for Dad to ride for the rest of our journey.

Eventually, the grade lessened and our wooded path opened out into an area of fields and small farms and the going was much easier. By the time we reached Barbadelo, Dad was full of smiles and shocked both Dani and me when he declared the day to have been a lot of fun!

We are not going to set any speed records, that’s for sure, but if we just concentrate on one step at a time, eventually we will make it to our final destination.

So. Much. Going. On.

Gads – where to even start??? How about with brownie mix?

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Do you have any idea how hard it is to photograph brownie mix and make it look delicious?
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This could be a mud pie… it isn’t, but it doesn’t exactly look appetizing. Hats off to food photographers who can make you drool just by looking at a photo…

Why brownie mix you may ask? Well, the forthcoming Christmas book includes recipes and craft activities, so we’ve been testing… Which might be a fine, fun thing to be doing if I wasn’t also trying to get organized to go away next week. At times like this, the kitchen shouldn’t really look like a bomb went off…

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This was actually after I had tidied up a bit… See the relevant manuscript pages on the counter?
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This is what the Brownie Mix in a Jar craft/recipe is supposed to look like. Note the snowmen? They are deconstructed seasonal earrings, destined to make a return appearance in the snow globe I’ll make after I run to the store to get glitter. Turns out it’s very hard to find small Christmassy items suitable for snow globe insertion when the retail cycle is currently hyping Halloween. I was sorely tempted to do a spider-themed snowglobe.

Meanwhile, over on the coast, Dani is going through thousands of family photos in search of suitable images to include in the book. We are both pretty excited about the book – another in the Orca Origins series – (what’s not to love about Christmas?), but also completely stressed as our respective planes are departing very, very soon… (according to my countdown clock, I will be taxiing down the runway in 6 days, 20 hours and 48 minutes).

So far, the recipes and crafts are working out fine – with the exception, perhaps, of the homemade tree decorations made from the strangest mix of applesauce, white glue, and cinnamon. They smell great and look like cookies (you cut the shapes out with cookie cutters) and one was very nearly eaten by a hungry family member as the gooey batch was drying on the counter! This is why we test recipes… I will be adding a warning that kids should make a sign warning people not to test the ornaments while they are drying, no matter how tasty they look!

patreon-logoEnjoy the blog? Consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works.

New Book!! Yippee!!

It doesn’t matter how many times it happens, it’s always exciting when a new book arrives in the mail! Cliffhanger is part of a new early reader series by Pearson Educational Publishing. I love the look of this book – clear, colourful photos and a subject dear to my heart!!

Because it’s destined for the educational market in Canada, it may be a bit tricky to order a copy. I have a few on hand, so if you would like a how-to climb book for young readers, drop me a line and I can probably get a copy to you.

And now, back to work on editing the Orca Origins book about Christmas and researching the new Orca Issues book about physician-assisted death. (And, yes – the wide range of subjects and formats is one of the reasons I love my job!! Bored? Never!)

Pushing Forward on All Fronts

After three months of being a writer in Paris (oh, it was fun to just write that phrase!), I am back in the Rocky Mountains with a list of To-Do lists! Part of the problem with being a full-time working writer is that there are always projects in need of my attention. Here’s a quick snapshot of what’s on my desk at the moment…

  1. Final revisions are due for Christmas: From Solstice to Santa (a new title in the Orca Origins series, co-authored with Dani). Because I now live here:

    IMG_7194 Three sisters.jpgand Dani lives here:
    IMG_7543 vancouver island… it’s a little tricky to get together to work on projects. While there are plenty of things we can do at a distance (we have been collaborating for years on all sorts of projects), there are certain tasks that require a large table and spreading out of multiple drafts and sets of editorial comments. I’ll be on the coast at the end of July and we have marathon editing plans. If I sound less than thrilled at the prospect of going through this manuscript one more time, it’s because sometimes these late-in-the-game rewrites aren’t exactly a ton of fun. On the up side, we are writing about Christmas, so how un-jolly could we possibly be about that? Actually, now that I think about it, one of the things we need to do is some final recipe testing. At least we will be well fed during our labours.

  2. Board books for babies! That’s all I will say for now. Except for this… if you ever imagined that writing a book containing very few words for an audience that is more likely to chew on your book than read it is easy… think again. Dani and I have been sending draft manuscripts back and forth and back and forth and back and forth a shocking number of times in order to come up with something reasonable that we can send off to our editor. Stay tuned… more details to come as these titles get further along in their development.
  3. The Camino project! Oh, we are so excited about this one! We’ve been working on writing samples and putting together examples of Dad’s work and fleshing out a proposal as we get closer to setting off on the trip and as the book project becomes clearer in our minds. I think we are booking our airline tickets this week! I’ll be writing a blog post (probably over on the more general blog, but I’ll post a link here, too) about my first experience at an actual Camino site in France. Here’s a teaser image from that experience:

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    Any ideas where this was taken? Leave a comment below… 
  4. Final revisions and captions for Better Together: Creating Community in an Uncertain World are due this month. I’ve had a sneak peek at some early page layouts and this book is going to be GORGEOUS!!!!!!! I can’t wait to post a sample so you can see it, too. This was a really cool book to research as the scope was broad and the subject fascinating. From babies in prisons to leper colonies to the Red Cross and the International Space Station, it was a bit mind-boggling to look at the myriad ways in which people come together for good and how sometimes strong bonding within groups also lies at the heart of some of our most awful conflicts.

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    Doing a bit of research in Paris at Shakespeare and Co., a bookshop that has played a central role in the community of writers for decades… 
  5. Promoting the recent releases… This year has been a busy one with two new titles so far that and another one to come. Café Books here in Canmore hosted an author signing on the weekend. It was HOT but lots of fun to chat with passersby, tourists and locals alike.

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    Trying to stay in the shade during a roasty, toasty book signing event at Café Books in Canmore. My trusty helper, Allegra, did a great job handing out bookmarks and smiles. 
  6. Promoting new titles Part Two: I’m setting up a book giveaway on Goodreads. I’m having trouble posting the widget link… stay tuned as I figure that out (or, navigate over the Goodreads and search for Deadpoint). I don’t think this is live quite yet, but I’ll post an update here on the writing blog when you can go and put your name down for a copy.
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  7. General promo and doing things like looking after my patrons over on Patreon. You, too, could become a patron (if you aren’t already). I had just set this Patreon page up before we had our unexpected trip to Paris, so I haven’t been promoting the concept as much as I should have been. If you are interested in supporting the work of a writer (me) and earning some nifty rewards, click on the link and check it out. It’s easy and as cheap as you’d like to make it and makes a big difference to me.patreon-logoEnjoy the blog? Consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works.
  8. Freelancing… Keep an eye out for Gripped Magazine – there just may be an article in there by me in an issue coming your way soon.
  9. Writing new stuff… I’m busy polishing some essays and articles on subjects like fear of falling, dementia, and being a writer in Paris in the teens (almost a hundred years after Hemingway was writing about being a writer in Paris in the twenties – it’s kind of a thing). Some of those pieces (mine, not Hemingway’s) were workshopped at the quite wonderful Lunchtime Writing Salons hosted by Hazel Manuel. Search for them at meetup.com if you happen to be in Paris and looking for feedback on a bit of writing. I attended several sessions and they were well worth it!

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    The view from Hazel’s place… Fine conversation, interesting writers, good food, occasionally wine… who could ask for more in a writing salon?
  10. The Writing School. Yes, I am still working on this project. If you are interested in signing up for an online writing course, take a minute to put your email address in the box and I’ll let you know when the first courses are available.

    That’s it for now, not because that’s actually all I have on the go but because the number 10 seems like such a logical place to stop. Happy reading and writing, everyone! Until next time…

 

U is for Uneasy Bedfellows (AtoZ Blogging Challenge)

At this very moment, I’m sitting on a Via Rail train speeding along the tracks between Montreal and Toronto (I should maybe have saved ‘V’ for tomorrow… ‘Via’ – but hey why start planning ahead now? The alphabet is almost over!)

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I’m feeling a tad jet-lagged, but am determined not to nap so I can reset my body-clock as soon as possible. Before the day is done I’ll be in London, Ontario, settled into my hotel and trying to get a good night’s sleep before making an appearance at the London, Ontario festivities related to the Forest of Reading, Canada’s largest literary event for kids. Deep Roots (how apropos is that? a book about trees being up for a Forest of Trees award…) is a nominee in the Silver Birch non-fiction category.

 

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Lunch arrived while I was working on the train… looking at presentations and trying to decide how much I should talk about various different books… 

Over the next week or so I’ll do a number of different presentations and mini-workshops and will speak to groups ranging from modest (a class or two at a public library) to very large (the crowd at the big award gala at Harbourfront in Toronto draws hundreds and hundreds of students from all over the province…) I’m an introvert by nature, so you would think that the idea of getting up in front of people I don’t know, perhaps many of them at one time would give me the jitters. But it doesn’t. Anyone who has seen me on stage will know I’m pretty comfortable up there, doing my thing. Hand me a microphone and it’s like some other creature takes over and starts operating my control center as if I were a performing ventriloquist dummy. I do suffer from pre-performance anxiety, but I’ve come to consider those nerves and quivery-ness to be a good omen. If I am shaking in my boots before I start at least I know I’m wide awake and that rush of adrenaline will help keep me sharp when someone hands me a microphone. And, once I’ve started, it’s too late to fix any problems with my presentation – I have no choice but to roll with the punches and have some fun.

No, the “uneasy bedfellows” of the title refers to my status as a reserved sort of person who likes spending inordinate amounts of time alone doing exciting stuff like typing being thrown into the horrifying situation of having to spend time in small groups chatting with people I hardly know at all. This situation happens a lot at events like this. Tonight, for example, I will meet up with several other authors in an informal setting. We’re all presenting tomorrow in London and because a number of us are coming from afar, someone on the other end of the introvert scale from where I live has thoughtfully organized a get-together. Eek! Small talk! Ack! Casual chit-chat… Run away! Run away!

This is when an internal battle begins to rage. Part of me says that it’s perfectly reasonable for me (jetlagged and all) to just retire to my hotel room, have a shower, and go to bed early. After all, I need to be sharp for whatever tomorrow may bring. Such a grown-up tactic is just being professional. Another part of me guffaws and says, ‘But this is your tribe! Here’s your chance to chat over a glass of wine with some of the writers you admire most in this whole entire country!!!” Writers from eastern and western Canada don’t get together that often, and when we do, guess what? It’s always FUN! This is when another voice chimes in to this inner conversation and says, “Remember when you met so-and-so and you laughed so hard you spilled your orange juice all over the table? Remember when you met whosamacallit and you found your writing soulmate? Remember that time when you stayed up so late talking to whatsamawhosit you saw the sun come up and thought you wouldn’t be able to stay awake through your presentation the next day?”

Have I ever actually had a miserable time once I got over myself and left my hotel room and joined the gang? No. Au contraire, as they say in Paris (and Montreal). Some of the BEST times I’ve ever had in my life were at exactly this type of small scale gathering. The dread of the encounter is far worse than anything that ever actually happens. So what if I recognize a face but can’t quite place the name? That’s what these meet-ups are for! People introduce themselves.  Do I feel offended when someone can’t remember my name? Of course not. What if I can’t remember who, exactly, wrote what? Or which of the awards they are up for? Um, that’s what the question mark was invented for. This is how conversations get started.

 

Spending time chatting with other authors is a great chance to get to know each other. Sometimes, really great friendships form, friendships that last for years and survive long periods between meetings. (Didn’t I just spend a fabulous flying visit with the inimitable Monique Polak in Montreal??? Didn’t we meet when she was speaking at a library? Remember that, oh, voice of doom?) When the evening is well under way and the conversations are animated and we are all laughing, and yacking and having a great time I can’t actually imagine a better place to be. I know all that is quite likely to be the case over the next week as well, but honestly, it’s like that knowledge is trapped in some secret location somewhere that is not accessible to me as my train barrels along taking me to what feels more like an anticipated meeting with a group of hostile monsters.

This, of course, is ridiculous. Children’s authors are not hostile monsters. They will not laugh at me when I walk into the room. They will not pluck the olives from their drinks and throw them at me while pulling faces and pointing. They will not all turn their backs to face the wall rather than speak to me. They will not see me arrive, check the time on their phones and, as one, push back their chairs and say, “Well, that was nice. Here Nikki – have this table because we are all leaving now.” This may all sound very strange to those of you who belong to the extrovert camp, but this is the odd world where I live between social interactions which (though you may find this hard to believe, given this post) are generally reasonably normal. Fun, even. Sigh. It’s all a bit baffling, even to me and I’m the one who has been living like this for the past half century or so.

So, there you go. True Confessions Thursday, if that’s even a thing. What about you? Where do you fall on the introvert-extrovert scale? Get togethers with peers – are they your worst nightmare or what you look forward to most?