Earlier this month, I attended my first-ever SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. It was fabulous- a terrific line-up of speakers (including one of my all-time favorite authors, MEG ROSOFF!), as well as some very inspiring breakout sessions and thought-provoking conversations.
And of course, over a thousand enthusiastic kid lit writers and illustrators, all in one hotel.
One of those writers was the Wisconsin author Jamie Swenson, with whom I had the pleasure of sharing a table at a wine and cheese party/book sale. We had a drink and lovely chat, and discovered we had a mutual friend in Wisconsin– and I bought a copy of her high-octane picture book BIG RIG for my truck-loving nephew… This is a book my son would have LOVED when he was small, full of awesome sound effects.
Oh- and thanks to Jamie, I now know how to spell URRRRNNNT-URRRRNNNT! Yes, that would be the sound of the big rig’s horn.
Jamie tagged me in this blog tour, and since I love talking about the writing process, I jumped at the chance. You can check out Jamie’s website and and read her about her own writing process on her blog. Here are my answers:
Question 1: What are you working on?
A few things, as is usually the case for me. I have a YA novel coming out in the spring, called The World Without Us. I’m doing the edits on my juvenile novel which is slated for fall 2015 publication, which is tentatively titled A Different Kind of Warrior. I’m also editing a number of books in Orca’s Limelight series, which are novels for ages 11-14, focused on teens in the performing arts. And I am looking at a contract RIGHT NOW for a book which will represent my first foray into non-fiction… And the little wheels in my head are starting to kick off some sparks which could possibly become something new for teens, but it is too soon to know for sure.
Question 2: How does your work differ from other books in its genre?
Well, there are an awful lot of YA and middle-grade books out there, most of which I will (sadly!) never have enough time to read (I try! And I am an insanely fast reader. But people keep writing more books and I fear I am just getting further and further behind. You should see the stack by my bed: total earthquake hazard).
So I’m not really sure how to answer this question. My books differ from Twilight, for example, in that they A)contain no vampires and B) don’t sell gazillions of copies.
But I think probably what the question is really asking is, what kind of books do I write. And since that’s MUCH easier to answer, I’ll go with that instead.
I have sixteen books published (my seventeenth and eighteenth books come out in 2015), and they are mostly middle-grade fiction and young adult fiction. All but one are contemporary (the exception being Record Breaker, which is set in 1963), and most are realistic stories about kids and teens and families dealing with the kinds of stuff people deal with: Secrets. Fear. Loss. Friendship. Betrayal. Identity. Family. Loyalty. Stuff like that. They’re books about figuring out who you are and what you believe and where you fit in the world. Which is something I am still figuring out myself, and probably always will be.
Question 3: Why do you write what you do?
Ah. Well, I may just have answered that above. But I think the fact that I spent ten years or so working as a social worker, crisis counselor, and therapist probably also has something to do with it. I’ve always been interested in people- what makes them who they are, the kinds of struggles they face, the ways they cope and change and grow. So that feeds into my thinking about my fictional characters and the sometimes complex dynamics in the families I write about.
Question 4: How does your writing process work?
I feel like I should know the answer to this after writing eighteen books! But honestly, it is different every time. There are a few common stages though.
#1: I start with a character- usually a character in a particular situation, or a character with a particular desire. In a Thousand Shades of Blue, all I knew when I began was that it was about a teenage girl sailing to the Bahamas with her family. In Record Breaker, I knew it was going to be about a boy who desperately wanted to (surprise!) break a record. But I don’t usually know much more than that to begin.
Once I have that character, I start asking myself more about them- figuring out, for example, why Jack so badly wants to break a record. And I start figuring out who else is in their life- their family, their friends, the people who are important to them. I wonder about what their lives have been like so far, and what good things and awful things have happened, and how they feel about each other. And then the characters start to feel real to me, and I jot down bits of their conversations and their thoughts or diaries or blogs, and ideas start to come as I write. And a story starts to take shape.
Which sounds, and is, kind of a messy process. So I also do a lot of…
#2: … rewriting. Like, a LOT. I do this as I go, as well as after I finish a first draft. Usually I tell myself that I won’t– that I will just write the first draft in a mad messy rush and then go back and fix it– but I can’t help myself. MUST. REWRITE.
#3: Somewhere just before the middle- say the one-third mark- I get hideously stuck, convince myself that I don’t have a plot (because, um, I don’t) and have no idea where I am going (ditto) and decide I should just quit writing and take up something more enjoyable, like playing with venomous snakes or jabbing myself with sharp sticks.
#4: Somehow– and it doesn’t get easier with each book, though I wish it did- I get myself through that stage. This usually involves gluing myself to a computer and slowly grinding out one word after another and ignoring all the SHINY NEW BOOKS IDEAS that suddenly bubble up and try to distract me. Also chocolate helps. And eventually, after a few weeks, there’s a click and I’m through and it’s like suddenly writing downhill again. Woohoo! Such a relief.
#5: Finish book. Revise book.
#6. Start new book. Usually out of one of the shiny new ideas that tortured me during stage #4.
And that’s about it really. Everyone approaches it differently though- so if you’d like to read more about other writers’ creative process — follow this blog tour to the next stop. I”m tagging Natalie Hyde and Ria Voros to follow me!
I met both Natalie and Ria in the spring, when we all had books nominated for the Forest of Reading awards and had the chance to meet at the amazingly fabulous Festival of Trees.
Natalie Hyde is the author of a number of books, both fiction and non-fiction. Cryptic Canada has been nominated for numerous awards, including the Hacktamack, the Red Cedar and the Silver Birch Express. Her most recent novel is Hockey Girl. Natalie lives in Ontario, Canada. Visit her at www.nataliehyde.com.
Ria Voros writes books for children and young adults. She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and currently teaches in Nanaimo, BC. Her middle grade novel, *Nobody’s Dog*, was published in 2012 and her young adult novel-in-verse, *The Opposite of Geek*, came out in 2013. She also co-created *Fork & Fiction*, a blog about the love of food and books. Visit her at www.riavoros.com or www.forkandfiction.com.
Their posts will be up in a week’s time. Enjoy!
I still can’t quite believe it. SO EXCITING!
But to backtrack a little…
Yesterday was the Festival of Trees in Toronto. For those who don’t know about it, the Festival of Trees is the culmination of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading program- and it is the largest Canadian literary event for young readers.
I live on the west coast and had never attended the Festival before. I’d heard it was big, and I’d heard it was fabulous- but seriously, the Festival of Trees has to be experienced first hand. I had NO IDEA. I was completely blown away, by both the size and the sheer fabulousness of this event. Over 8000 people attended this year and the atmosphere was more like that of a rock concert than any author-type event I’ve been to. I’m still on a high from all the conversations with young readers.
It was wonderful meeting the other authors too. Here’s a picture of the Silver Birch nominees on stage at the Harbourfront:
Each nominee was introduced by a student, and they all did such great work researching the author, writing speeches and delivering them to a huge and exuberant crowd. So impressed by their poise. As Kevin Sylvester commented, it’s a hard act to follow when the person who introduces you is more articulate than you are!
Here’s Micah, who introduced me. (Thanks Micah! You were awesome!)
I was completely stunned when my name was called and I realized that my book Record Breaker had won the Silver Birch Award for Fiction. I was also taken aback by my own reaction- I was thrilled (which wasn’t the surprising part) and also so incredibly moved. I actually was close to tears. I can’t express how much it means to me that so many readers-so many kids- read and loved and voted for my book. Several students told me that it made them cry, but in a good way. One even told me it was her favorite book ever.
Record Breaker is a quiet kind of story. It has some sad parts, and it has some sweet parts, and it deals with some pretty serious themes. It’s not laugh-out-loud hilarious (though it does have some very funny scenes), and it’s not a wildly exciting adventure story. But apparently it resonated with kids, and that makes me so very happy.
So thanks, everyone, for this huge honour. I feel so encouraged and inspired. I feel like writing MORE BOOKS!!!
My mother volunteers for an organization in Victoria, BC called the Compassionate Resource Warehouse. They collect donations and surplus materials locally– everything from clothing to sewing machines to wheelchairs and medical supplies– and ship it overseas in response to requests from organizations. Since they began in 2000, they’ve sent over three hundred and sixty containers to schools, hospitals, orphanages and NGOs in more than sixty-five countries.
I wanted to share these photographs from Zimbabwe. The Warehouse sent them books and shelves and furniture– and the receiving organization turned the forty-foot long shipping container itself into a community library!|It’s pretty fabulous. Check this out:
And here’s the inside:
If you live in Victoria and want to get involved, the Warehouse is always open to new volunteers– and if you live elsewhere but want to make a donation, here’s the link. You can also help by spreading the word- share this on Facebook or Twitter, or just tell your friends about it.
Yesterday was the Festival of Trees in Thunder Bay and I have to say a HUGE thank you to all the kids for making me feel like a *ROCKSTAR*.
What am amazing day.
First I met the fabulous Marissa, a sixth grader. Marissa is also a writer and lover of stories, and she did a great job- first by making me feel very welcome, and then by standing up in front of hundreds of people and introducing me! NO WAY could I have done that at eleven. I still get cold sweaty hands when I speak in front of more than, hmm, maybe six people. A shout out to Reese, too, who carried a very cool sign with my book cover on it (and I’m sorry if I am spelling your name wrong Reese! )
All the kids who introduced the nominees did it fabulously well- they had really done their research, and I think we were all impressed. And the AUDIENCE! Eight hundred kids can make a lot of noise- and they did! It was so great to see all that excitement about BOOKS!
And then- drumroll- the icing on the cake. RECORD BREAKER actually won the Silver Birch Fiction Regional Award for Thunder Bay. YOU GUYS LIKED MY BOOK!!! I talked to dozens of kids and signed tons of books and passports and book marks, and it was all SO MUCH FUN.
Here’s the crowd:
And here are some of the nominees (back row, left to right: Alma Fullerton, Kevin Sylvester, Rebecca Upjohn, Allan Stratton, me, Andrew Larsen, Elly McKay; front row: Natalie Hyde and Helene Boudreau)
And here (I LOVE THIS) is the Silver City movie theater that I led a workshop in. My name in lights! I’m expecting the paparazzi to show up any day now…
Thank you so much for a wonderful day, Thunder Bay kids. Sending you all a big virtual hug!
…And I am back on the road again. But, rather conveniently, Toronto is where my very lovely brother and his family live, so instead of a hotel room I have an adorable three year old nephew, a fabulous sister-in-law (who happens to also be a fabulous baker- check out her blog), and an enormous and very beautiful ragdoll kitten called Silly. Why yes, the three-year old DID name him- though apparently my brother voted with him.
Yesterday’s trip from Victoria was somewhat lengthier than anticipated… Got up at 4 am, headed to airport, cleared security and boarded plane, settled in with book… and then the pilot announced a mechanical problem and we all had to collect our belongings and disembark. And then- because I live on an island that apparently has no engineers on it- they had to FLY in an engineer from Vancouver to fix the plane. So it took awhile.
But- and this is cool- because we were all stuck hanging around for quite awhile, I had one of those cool small world experiences and discovered that fellow authors Meg Tilly and Don Calame were also on (and off) the plane. So I had a lovely time chatting with them and petting their very cute and well-travelled dog. Meg’s new book, A Taste of Heaven, sounds terrific and I am looking forward to reading it.
Eventually we all trooped back on to the now fully-functional plane and the trip began… WOOHOO! FESTIVAL OF TREES!!! SO EXCITING!!!!
And so now I am in Toronto and soon to board a plane to Thunder Bay. Here’s tomorrow’s very exciting looking schedule. I can’t wait to meet all the young readers and the other nominees- and I want to add a sentence to the Story Wall! What a cool idea.
The BC Book Prize Tour was beyond fabulous. What an amazing opportunity to visit a beautiful part of the country, and how inspiring to meet hundreds of children who were brimming with curiosity and creativity and enthusiasm. The BC Book Prize gala is coming up soon (five days and counting) but whatever happens in terms of the actual awards, I feel like I have already won something wonderful.
Above: With Catherine Greenwood, on the road to Hudson’s Hope- a breathtakingly beautiful country we live in!
And it is good to be back home, in my house, with my family, and even with my rather vocal cat– who apparently missed me!
And in eight days… I’m off to Thunder Bay and Toronto, for the Forest of Reading’s Festival of Trees. I am excited. My cat, however, will not be impressed. He’s already eyeing my suitcase with great suspicion.
We flew to Fort Nelson this morning, in a Very Small Plane. There was a lot of snow, and the pilot said we might not be able to land. For some reason, I thought of Dr. Seuss: “I do not like this, Sam I am.”
But… can I just mention how AWESOME northern BC airports are? Fort St John’s has TOASTERS! A whole display case of funky old toasters, including one which is actually a kettle as well. NEED! And Dawson Creek, Fort St John and Fort Nelson all have shelves of books- for a donation, exchange, or free. Plus all the staff are super friendly and helpful and kind of laid back and low-key in a way that us slightly nervous flyers really appreciate. Other airports further south- you have some catching up to do! I’d suggest starting with the book shelves.
Our pilot did manage to land us in Fort Nelson- and fly us out again later, despite the impressive amount of snow. And it was more than worth the trip. I spent the afternoon with 170 students in grades 5,6 and 7- and they were the most wonderfully engaged, curious, thoughtful and creative group. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them and could happily have stayed for twice as long.
We are back in Fort St John tonight, and tomorrow we head out on the last day of our tour- visiting schools in Chetwynd and Hudson’s Hope. I am looking forward to being in two communities I have never been to before.This tour has been a wonderful adventure.
It’s cold and windy and snowy, but today was wonderful despite the weather- because I was visiting schools and talking with kids. Grade 4, 5 and 6 kids. Fort St John kids and Dawson Creek kids. Curious, energetic, excited kids. Overflowing with questions and ideas kids.
SO MUCH FUN. We talked about writing and books and where ideas come from and how they turn into stories. And then the kids came up with stories of their own…
In Fort St. John, the students conjured up Jack, a six foot tall thirteen year old who wants to be an NBA star, and Sherman, his best-friend-since-forever, affectionately known as Shrimp. Sherman has been in a devastating accident and lost all his memories of their friendship. Jack is determined to help him recover- and prepared to do whatever it takes.
In Dawson Creek, the kids created Angela, a girl with purple streaks in her hair and an annoying-but-cute two year old brother who she is fiercely protective of. Angela’s family has decided that they won’t celebrate their kids’ birthday’s because they have no money… but Angela is turning eleven and she wants a big celebration. How many bottles and cans will she have to collect to pay for it? And will her parents understand how important this is to her? Stay tuned…
It’s 10 pm and I am sitting in my hotel room after a whirlwind of a day, which took us from Victoria to Vancouver to Dawson Creek (those were flights), and then to Taylor, Fort St John, back to Dawson Creek, and now back in Fort St John (and those were rather nice drives with good jazz playing in the car and a slow rain falling outside).
Flying into Dawson Creek was particularly cool for me because Dawson Creek was the first place in Canada I ever lived (I moved there from England with my parents when I was four). My sister was born there. We stayed a year—and that was in 1973! Today was the first time I had been there in FORTY YEARS! Wild.
Flying into Dawson Creek was also great because the airport actually has a bookshelf where you can help yourself to a book and stick a few coins in a donation box. Seriously awesome, and made me absurdly happy. I took two books, because I had only brought three with me and was worried about running out of stuff to read (I know this makes no sense, given how busy we are, but I’m slightly phobic about ever being without a book).
The afternoon at Taylor Elementary School was fabulous and a great way to kick off the tour. Eighty enthusiastic kids ranging from age seven to eleven or so… and all of them writers! Seriously. I was reading to them from my novel Record Breaker—which is about a boy who desperately wants to break a world record—but Taylor, BC is going after a record of its own. Taylor is on track to become the town with the most published writers per capita—and I will be cheering these young writers on.
And this evening we were welcomed by a lovely group of readers, writers and librarians at the Dawson Creek library. What a gorgeous space- colorful quilts hanging on the walls, cozy couches and chairs, and—of course—books everywhere. I very much enjoyed listening to Catherine Greenwood’s poetry, and talking to everyone who came out to hear us read. Thanks to all of you for laughing when I read the funny parts of my book. And a huge thanks to the library for hosting us.
Feeling very lucky to be on this book tour and grateful for the opportunity. Many thanks to BC Book Prizes and all the sponsors who make this possible. And now—off to bed. The adventures will continue tomorrow…
So May is shaping up to be a Very Exciting Month.
My novel Record Breaker is a finalist for the Silver Birch award, part of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading program. Which is incredibly cool, because it is a reader’s choice award, which means kids in schools all over Ontario will read the nominated books and vote on their favorites. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?
Also my son is a huge fan of one of the nominated authors (and by huge fan, I mean I have read him about seventy books by this author- luckily, I am also a fan!) so actually having one of my books on the same list as this author (oh, okay- Gordon Korman! ) makes me seem, well, kind of cool. You know, a little bit. For a mom. (Though as my always pragmatic son points out, it also makes me unlikely to win… But that’s okay. There are some amazing books on that list and whatever happens, I am thrilled to be in such good company.)
I’m also thrilled because being nominated for the Silver Birch means I get to go to Toronto and to Thunder Bay, to visit schools and libraries, and talk to kids, and meet other writers, and attend the Forest of Reading festivities, which is an awesome celebration for kids and books and kid-book-people. My kind of party, in other words.
And while I am in Toronto, I get to spend time with the world’s cutest three year old, AKA my nephew Quentin. Which will be a whole other kind of party, one that involves building things and knocking them down, and possibly eating cake because my sister-in-law is the world’s best baker. Woohoo!
And– in case all that wasn’t excitement enough– I just found out that Record Breaker has been nominated for the BC Book Prizes’ Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize. Which is a huge honor, and I am over-the-moon delighted about it. Another wonderful list of books, and interestingly, three of the five finalists in my category are from my publisher, Orca Books– which I think speaks volumes about the great team at Orca and especially our fabulously talented editor, Sarah Harvey.
Congratulations to all the nominees for both awards– I’ve read and enjoyed many of your books and I am putting the others on my ever-growing to-read list!
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