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…

 

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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.

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

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.

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!