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.

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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).

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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.

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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…

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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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.

 

 

Myths of the Sea

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And the newest of the new books has arrived! This was a cool project with Pearson in London. There are three pieces included this volume – a short short story called Sean and the Sea Maiden, a re-telling of part of the Odysseus story, and a non-fiction piece about real life sea monsters. My contribution was the Scylla and Charybdis story from Odysseus – lots of terrible sailor-eating by nasty monsters. It’s a classic ‘between a rock and a hard place’ story and was lots of fun to write.

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This is a bit odd, but the only place I can find with a link to the book along with a cover image and a bit of a write-up is this Dutch website. I haven’t actually seen the book in the flesh myself – the package arrived in Victoria the other day and I’m currently back in the mountains so I can’t provide any additional information about the illustrator or who wrote which of the other two pieces (Malachy Doyle and Holly Bennett are listed but I’m not sure who did what…). More information to come when I have the book in my hands!

Meanwhile, back to work on the Footprints title Today’s research included reading about Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan and scientists in Antarctica. The chances of me ever getting bored in this life are slim to none!

 

 

 

Deadpoint Advance Reading Copies!

fullsizerender-11Sometimes getting mail is SO MUCH FUN!! These four ARCs of Deadpoint arrived in the mail today. They are already spoken for, but if you are a blogger or reviewer, let me know (I’ve added a ‘Stay in Touch’ link over on the right, or find my email address on the Contact page). There are a few more ARCs available from the publisher and I will pass your details along.

With ARCs in hand, the final version of the book can’t be far behind!

If you are a real keener, Deadpoint is available for pre-order at Amazon.com (and, full disclosure, if you click on the link and pre-order your copy from them, Amazon will send a few pennies my way). Though I confess to occasionally buying stuff (though generally not books) from Amazon myself, you can also order your copy through your local (preferably independent) bookstore. The independents are always my first choice of book-shopping destination! And if you are broke or super-stingy, or just don’t have room for another book on your shelf, that’s ok, too. That’s why we have public libraries.

Missed the book trailer we made for Deadpoint this summer? Here it is again.

Deep Roots and a Forest of Reading

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There is nothing quite so exciting (and hole-in-tongue-inducing) as getting an email that tells you not to mention to anyone that you have received an email with wonderful news! Such was the case when I learned that Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet has been nominated for a Silver Birch Award!!!

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The Forest of Reading is Canada’s largest reading program where the winners are selected by the readers. Students (and adults and ESL readers) from across the province of Ontario read titles in 8 different reading programs, vote on their favourites and, at the end of the year, a big reading festival is held where readers and many of the nominated writers gather to celebrate.

It’s a huge honour to be included in the list of nominated titles for the Silver Birch non-fiction prize and I’m thrilled to report that I will be able to travel to Ontario in May to take part in the festivities! More than 10,000 people will attend the celebration held at Harbourfront in Toronto!

For more information about the festival, visit the Festival of Trees website (it looks like they even have an app so you can keep track of what’s going on. I’m going to download it and see what that’s all about!)

If you happen to be a school teacher or librarian interested in having me visit your school or library while I’m in Ontario, check out my page at the Authors Booking Service website for more details about how to book a visit.