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?

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C is for Children’s Books

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
Madeleine L’Engle

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

C.S. Lewis

child reads 02 andrew-branch-180244Those are two of my favourite quotes about writing books for younger readers. There’s nothing easy about writing for kids and it’s been my experience that the fewer words one has to work with, the more challenging things become. My two picture books (Grandparents Day – now out of print – and a forthcoming title with Holiday House) were the two manuscripts with the most iterations. Both stories went through draft after draft after draft, first on my own and then, after acceptance by the publisher, working with editors to further revise the manuscripts.

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In the space of a few hundred words, characters need to be established and a story developed. Editors want to hear a unique voice (that’s a tough one to explain – it’s one of those things you recognize immediately when it’s working, but is almost impossible to pin down how it happens or what’s lacking when it doesn’t). Plot, pacing, and precise use of language are needed as with any other type of writing. Though we need to be aware that children don’t always have the same background knowledge an adult reader brings to a book, one of the cardinal sins of writing for children is to talk down to the audience – there’s no need to be pedantic and overexplain. Kids are smart, intuitive, and curious readers. They love cool words and big ideas. Their agile young minds can follow whatever plot twists and turns you’d care to throw at them. Even young children can have well-developed senses of humour that are surprisingly subtle.

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In recent years there has been a trend toward adults reading books for young adults and there are plenty of adults I know who read children’s books and thoroughly enjoy them. C. S. Lewis was right on when he said that a good book for kids is worth revisiting as an adult. Do you like reading books for kids? Do you have a favourite? There are so many I love I don’t think I could pick one favourite, though The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is right up there on the list. Which brings me to one last thought. It has always surprised me that when I ask students in my workshops what children’s books they enjoy, there are always some who give me a blank look and confess they can’t remember the last time they read any books for kids. If you don’t enjoy reading books for children you probably shouldn’t be writing them.

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This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge in which bloggers from all over the world write a blog post every day in April. There are a LOT of other bloggers taking part. Visit the A to Z Challenge blog to see who is posting what each day.

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Enjoy 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.

B is for the Beauty of Barf (AtoZChallenge)

With apologies to anyone emetophobic who may be reading
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There are some writers who agonize over their first drafts. As I understand it, their process goes something like this:
1. Write an opening clause
2. Reconsider
3. Rework the opening clause, add a comma and consider how to continue. For half an hour. Tentatively write the second part of the first sentence and realize that there was a much better way to write the first half.
4. Rework the first half of the sentence. Fiddle about with word choice for another 20 minutes. The chosen words seem ok, but the order isn’t quite right. Rearrange.
5. The first part of the sentence is sounding pretty good but now it doesn’t flow well into the second half.
6. Rewrite the second half.
7. Read both halves together and realize perhaps the opening would be stronger with two sentences.
8. Remove comma, period and capital letter.
9. Both sentences are now too short. The opening is definitely choppy.
10. Enhance both sentences. This takes up the better part of an hour.
11. At the end of all that (and a bit of final tweaking) the opening sounds pretty damned fine. It’s lunchtime but half a paragraph is better than none.
I imagine this meticulous ‘edit-as-you-go’ strategy is why some writers take a decade to get to the end of their first draft. For those who manage to stay the course and actually get to the end of anything by writing this way, wow. Hats off to you! (And please, if you are a writer who works this way, please leave a comment and share how on earth you motivate yourself to keep going and also, how do you cope when an editor makes a suggestion? Or, does this method work so well for you that no further rewriting is necessary?)

Farting Around As I Go is Not For Me

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out I don’t work this way.  I am firmly camped in the school of barf. Now there’s a sentence that might not get past a writer who insists on perfection at every step of the way. Mixed metaphors, images that make little sense, a spare adverb. A certain ‘huh? I think I get what she’s trying to say’ response quite likely to be elicited in the reader. Nevertheless, for the sake of this example, I will press on with this messy first draft and try to describe what my puking on the page process looks like.
1. Even though I’m not exactly sure what I want to say I start writing anyway. No outline. No list of key points. Today, there’s not much more than a vague idea that I want to a) use a keyword that starts with B and, b) write about something to do with writing.
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2. I write the letter b. Book comes to mind. Yep. That’s how bland things looked when I started out. Boring.
3. Stare out the window.
4. Make tea.
5. Stare at the word book on the screen.
6. Delete all but the b.
7. Realize this is so bad it’s making me want to puke. I don’t have forever to write this. Too bad puke doesn’t start with B. But Barf does! Beautiful!
8. I have a title! And from there, I just begin to spew – everything I can think of to do with heaving stuff onto the page with little regard for how it will all hang together.
9. One thought leads to another. I can’t write fast enough to keep up.
10. Stray words slip into the margin to remind me to come back and explore related thoughts later
11. I write without stopping for perhaps ten or fifteen minutes and the basic content of the post is there.
12. I take a moment to reread. Divide the post into two sections. Expand the bit where I imagine how a more meticulous first drafter might handle this challenge.
13. I take out the terrible vomit joke.
14. And that’s it. A sloppy, kinda stinky not quite right draft.
It’s only then that I sit back and reconsider. Sitting back and reconsidering is immediately part of the revise, rewrite, edit, chew over, regurgitate (to stay with my theme) part of the writing process. At this point, the barfing slows down unless I need to add a fresh chunk to the mix.
What’s the advantage to this method? I always have something to work with. I don’t tend to get stuck. I don’t limit my ideas. I allow my writing to be terrible. I don’t worry that the phrasing isn’t quite right or even if I’ve made my point. That all takes place after I have finished with my initial projectile blathering.
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I know that there will be lots and lots of time between spewing out that first draft and the day anyone (even my editor) will get to have a look. I’ll talk about the revision, rewriting process elsewhere (perhaps for the letter R), but what I do know about puking my ideas all over the page is that at least then I have a starting place.
It may be messy and inadequate and confused and incomplete, but it’s somewhere to begin. It’s like having a glorious damp lump of clay sitting on the table in front of me, all bulgy and misshapen. Somewhere inside that lump may be an elegant sculpture waiting for my tools to reveal its hidden form. That’s how the messy first draft feels. Like a voluminous blob of potential
What about you? Are you a spewer like me? Or someone who likes to coax each word, each phrase, each image into being in its most perfect form as you move from sentence to paragraph to chapter to book? Hey – waddya know? Book found its way into this blog post all on its own!
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This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge in which bloggers from all over the world write a blog post every day in April. There are a LOT of other bloggers taking part. Visit the A to Z Challenge blog to see who is posting what each day.

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Enjoy 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.

A to Z Blogging Challenge – Write On!

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Ok, I’m a little late to the party with my theme reveal post, but despite the fact I am looking at a pretty busy April, I am going to take part once again in the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. This year, I’ll be writing about writing, which will be a real challenge as writing is my life and, like so many things we do a lot of, I confess I find talking or writing about writing a wee bit boring. Hm… I should have saved that for C is for Confession day…

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Some of the things I thought I might investigate during April are favourite quotes by and about writers, writing tips, and updates on various writing projects (I have several of the latter on my plate so surely I can come up with something you won’t sleep through…). If there’s something you might be interested in hearing about, please leave a comment. Unlike some of the very organized participants, I don’t have a master plan going in so your suggestions for topics would be well received!

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Enjoy 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.

Go Trees!!

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What wonderful news to start the day!! Deep Roots has been nominated for a BC Book Prize (Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize). Here’s a link to the full list of nominees: BC Book Prizes 2017

One of the sections that didn’t make it into the book was about trees and art… The past few days I’ve been talking to Dad a lot about art – and trees – so, here’s the link again to the little video we made of Dad drawing a tree.

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Enjoy 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.

Welcome to Patreon – Video

I recently decided to set up a Patreon account as a way to help smooth out the fiscal bumps and hollows of a life spent writing. Patreon guides you through the steps of setting up an account and as part of that process they encourage creators to make a short intro video… I am, for a change, playing by the rules… And so, I present to you, my intro video for Patreon:

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Enjoy 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.

**Also published over on my other blog: Dark Creek Farm: The Further Adventures of a Former Farmer

15 Painful Phases of Writing a Book

Want to know what’s going on in my head during the course of a book’s lifetime?

Scroll down for Fifteen Painful Phases of Writing a Book.

Imagine my delight when Orca Book Publishers let me know that Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet has been long-listed for the 2017 national Green Earth Book Award, awarded annually to children’s and young adult literature that best convey the message of environmental stewardship. (For more details, visit the official website.)

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The book has had some terrific reviews (including this one at CM Magazine) and was chosen by the New York Public Library system as one of the Best 100 Books for Children and Young Adults in 2016. It’s been nominated for a Silver Birch Non-fiction Award (I’ll be heading for Toronto to take part in the celebrations in May and speaking to students at several school and library presentations), which is pretty exciting.

Of course, I am delighted to see a book is finding such a warm response out there in the world. But on the other hand, I’m scratching my head a bit, too. I mean, I’ve written a lot of books now (30 or so, and counting) and I have never  been able to predict which ones will take off and which ones won’t. You’d think that after spending decades writing I would get a feel for when something is decent and not so much. What actually happens is pretty much the same process for every book. Here’s what’s going on in my head at each stage…

Fifteen Painful Phases of Writing a Book

Phase One: Getting Started

I LOVE this project! This is the best idea I have ever had! I can’t wait to get writing! I can’t type fast enough! My ideas are FLOWING! GUSHING! My life is a string of gleeful exclamation marks! My fingers are dancing over the keyboard! Yipppeeee!! (And, yes, I use words like Yipppeeee! in everyday conversation when I’m in Phase One and never again throughout the entire book creation process).

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It’s all good… in the beginning…

Phase Two: Getting Serious

Hm. This is harder than I thought it would be. I’m not quite sure I’m heading in the right direction. Maybe I should go back and start again. No, that would be a bad idea. Keep going. You can write your way out of this.

Phase Three: Mild Panic

What was I thinking? This is awful! Nobody will ever want to read this. I should stop and start a new project. Where is the paper shredder? So boring. It is agony to sit at my desk. My fingers are leaden and uncooperative. Oh, look – Facebook! Was that a dirty dish I heard calling my name? Yes, I think I need a long walk to clear my mind. Oh, man – I’m so tired after that walk. A nap would be the best thing. I will wake up refreshed and ready to get back to work. I feel like death warmed over. Tomorrow will be a better day.

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The dog days of book-writing… Let me sleep. Let the misery end…

Phase Four: Repetitive Face Palm Syndrome Sets In

I have lost it. I can’t imagine I will ever get to the end of this excruciatingly awful project. What made me think this was remotely a good idea? This is so bad. What a mess. I should retire. My favourite coffee shop has a Help Wanted sign in the window. I was a great waitress back in the day. I don’t even go near my desk. What’s the point?

Phase Five: Resignation

Ok, it’s terrible, but I am so close to the end I might as well just finish it so I can start on a new, better project.

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In those dark, dark moments of believing what I have produced is utter garbage, I bribe myself with the promise of a new project that, surely, will be better than the dreck in which I find myself mired… 

 

Phase Six: Submission

Well, it’s done now. Be strong. Click ‘send.’ Aggghhh! Off it goes to the editor. Steel yourself for the worst. Start another project.

Phase Seven: Really?

The editor doesn’t hate it. In fact, there are some redeeming qualities. Yes, some editing to be done, but actually, now that I’m sitting down to work on it again, the edits are doable. and there are parts that aren’t hideous.

Phase Eight, Nine, Ten… : More Editing

Ok, this is getting old. I am now more sick of this project than seems humanly possible. If I have to write another draft I. Will. Die.

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May as well take a long walk off a short pier at this point… 

Phase Eleven: Survived!

Hm. I am not dead. The book is in production.

Phase Twelve: A long time later…

Hey! A box of books arrived in the mail! Did I write that? It was all so long ago… Well, I’ll be… some of this isn’t too bad! Oh dear – I’d change that bit if I could. Too late now… Let’s hope someone else out there reads it and doesn’t hate it.

Phase Thirteen: Reviews, or Silence

With any luck, someone will care enough to read and review the book. I try not to read reviews too carefully – sort of skim through them to see if there’s anything really bad and otherwise file them away and try to ignore them. Ditto with lists of nominations – I have done my best and making it onto long-lists or short-lists is completely beyond my control. This is when I put on my best, ‘whatever will be, will be’ face.

Phase Fourteen: Shockingly short timeframe later…

The book goes out of print. Did it ever exist? Does anyone care? Does anyone else miss the book the way I do now that it’s gone?

Phase Fifteen: Return to Phase One

Because, you know… I’ve got this GREAT IDEA!!

(Images courtesy of the talented photographers at unsplash.com)

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Enjoy 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.