Tuesday, January 27, 2015

It's Conference Season! Or: How to Make Friends and Influence Professionals

It's that time of year again, guys! That time of year when we break open the piggy banks, count our pennies quarters, and figure out how many conferences we can squeeze out of our meagre writers' savings earnings!

(Seriously - we all wish we could go to all the conferences. ALA midwinter, SCBWI Winter Conference, the SCBWI Florida regional conference that just happened, but that I still wanted to attend… Right? Wouldn't it be great if we could go to ALL the conferences? But then we wouldn't have time to write anything, so I guess it works out.)

ANYWAY, since we're all planning our conference schedules - and maybe even gearing up for a conference right now? - I thought I'd post some quick "Do"s and "Don't"s for those of you who are getting ready to go to your first big conference, or who have been to a big conference before but just want something to read in the meantime. (I see you procrastinating out there. *wags finger*)

So, here we go: the "Do"s and "Don't"s of Conferencing!

DO: Research the faculty. Seriously, research them. Taking part in the Writers' Critique Roundtable Intensive at SCBWI's Winter Conference in NYC? An editor or agent is going to be sitting at your table and reading your work and listening to you give feedback to other writers. You have no say about whose table will have your name on it. Research the crap out of all of them. Get the whole list of faculty off the website, and go through it. Go to Goodreads and Amazon and check out the books they repped or edited. Figure out what you have in your Drawer of Undiscovered Treasure that might appeal to them, and bring it for your critique session. If you've been writing and polishing for a while, you might have three or four different projects that you could bring. Print 18 copies of each of them, and know which ones you plan to pull out for each faculty member's critique table. If you haven't been writing and polishing for a while, and you have but one shining gem to bring, don't sweat it. If the writing is polished, and you are generous with your feedback, and you listen, you'll get more than your money's worth out of the experience.

(I know the SCBWI website says that each faculty member can speak to all genres, but to that, I respectfully say: horsepuckies. I have been to conferences where a faculty member said something along the lines of, "Well, picture books really aren't my thing and I never read them, so I don't really know what I'm talking about, but..." Also, everyone has preferences, and they are generally pretty open and obvious about what those preferences are, because when it comes to submissions, nobody wants you to waste their time. If you look at someone's bio and all three authors they mention working with are authors of YA or MG Fantasy, that tells you something. Again, if you get placed at a table with an editor who edits Fantasy and you wrote Contemporary or an agent who reps novels and you wrote a picture book, don't sweat it. These guys are still readers. They still know a good book when they hear one, and they know how to identify what is and isn't working for them. But if you have more than one Really Good Thing, bring them all. Maximize your chances.)

DON'T: Tell them how much you researched them. Look, it's fine to say, "I read your blog. It's really helpful!" or "You edited that? I loved it!" But don't go saying, "I researched you online, and in this interview and that interview you said blah blah blah, and then I saw that you live in Anytown, and you work on Busy Street, and I couldn't help noticing…" No. You sound like a stalker. You don't want to give them that feeling.

In a similar vein,

DO: Bring Business Cards and Promotional Postcards! and Hand Them Out! Writing and illustrating are basically sitting-alone-in-your-living-room-typing-for-hours kinds of things. This is the biggest opportunity you will have in the history of ever to meet other humans who do the same thing that you do. Even if you're usually shy, handing out a business card is easy. "You're a writer? Me, too. Here's my card with all the stuff on it that I'm too shy or embarrassed to say out loud."

Publishing is a rough game. When those rejections pile up, when you've hit a wall with the mushy middle of your WiP, when you've started seeing double and speaking in tongues because the sleep deprivation has you going crazy, you will need other writers. Writers are your tribe. Find them and find ways to keep in touch with them. This starts with a business card. If the thought of making up business cards makes you break out in cold sweats, try Moo - their templates are all simple and professional and will all look amazing.

DON'T: Hand them out to the faculty. Unless they ask. Trust me, if they want to get in touch with you, they will ask. But there will be upwards of 1,000 of you and only about 25 or so of them, and can you imagine if every single person tried to give every faculty member a business card? They'd need a separate carry-on just for all that card stock.

Also,

DO: Bring something you're working on, and look for opportunities to work on it. My first year at SCBWI NYC, my roommate and I held an impromptu critique session in our room after the roundtable intensive. I've done that kind of thing every time I go to a conference since. Exchange notes; exchange ideas. This is why you're going to a conference, so take advantage of the opportunity.

DON'T: Bring your WiP and try to hand it to a faculty member. Seriously, that is just tacky. That's right up there with calling your relatives to tell them what to give you for Christmas before they've asked. Also, see above in "Business Cards" but replace "carry-on" with "checked bag". Can you imagine having to lug 400 manuscripts home with you? More importantly: let's say the positions were reversed. You just gave a breakout session to 100 people, and then they all rush to the front to give you their printed and bound 300-page documents. Would you even like those people? You'd probably think they were clueless, and that they're so pushy they'll all be hard to work with. Don't be the person that an editor thinks is clueless and pushy and hard to work with.

And speaking of your WiP:

DO: Be prepared to talk about it. Not forever, but have your pitches ready: one sentence, one paragraph, it's X meets Y, etc. People will ask you what you're working on, so pick the one thing that is your Best, Most Shiniest Thing (or just your Most Current Thing) and be prepared to answer their question when they ask.

DON'T: Actively pitch your project to any agents or editors, except at a formal pitch session. Again: tacky. And pushy. Going to conferences is exhausting for everyone, but it's more exhausting when everyone you come across is trying to sell you something. I remember one awards gala I attended: I was chatting with an editor (whom I had just met! See? Editors are nice!) about our childhood aspirations, when someone who was obviously someone she knew came bounding up to her and said, "I have a book idea for you." Her eyes glazed over. Don't be the person who makes their eyes glaze over.

HOWEVER:

DO: Strike up conversations with everyone, including faculty. Editors and agents are humans, too. They like good conversation as much as the next guy. And you already have one thing in common: a love of books! Comment on how good (or awful) the coffee is, offer or ask for advice on the best breakfast danish to try, and ask them what they're reading these days. And if they ask you what you're working on, now you can tell them. But even if they don't, you have just had a nice conversation with another human being who likes some of the same stuff you like, and they've had a nice conversation with you. Win-win. BUT:

DON'T: Tailgate the faculty. Seriously, don't follow them around. If you happen to be waiting for the same elevator, awesome. Chat about how slow the elevator is! (NOTE: The Hyatt elevators are S-L-O-W.) But don't follow them around like eager little puppy dogs. That's stressful and 360 degrees of uncomfortable. Don't whisper about them with the other people in line for the bathroom as soon as they've gone into their stall: "I think that's SuperAgent So-and-So." They can still hear you, and it's creepy. (Yes, someone actually said that to me once while I was washing my hands in the bathroom at a conference. AWK-WARD.) Don't try to strike up a conversation with them every. Single. Time. You. See. Them. Give them a friendly nod and smile to let them know you remember speaking with them earlier, and go talk to someone else so that another writer can talk to them. Keep the room moving. (Unless they seem to want to engage with you, in which case, don't run away!)

DO: Be generous. With your thoughts, your opinions, your desire to make great books and to help other people do the same. (Also, Be generous with your stuff. Bring a supply of gum, breath mints, whatever is your breath freshening item of choice. And share it. Free coffee all day, a bunch of nervous writers and illustrators who probably haven't had time to eat enough… You'll thank me later, I promise.)

DON'T: Forget to listen. This is probably the best advice in this whole post. (Well, except for the breath mint thing…)

Honestly: listen. Getting to know people means listening to what they have to say. Especially listen to any faculty you happen to meet, because whatever they offer you, they offer in the spirit of making amazing books. You might not really hear them for a few years, but listen and store it away for when you're ready to process it.

So. That's my great advice for 2015's winter conference season. Have I missed anything? What advice do you have to give? Leave your tips in the comments, and have a great conference! ALSO: I will be at the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC from Feb 6-8. If you're going to be there too, give me a shout about that in the comments, too! Who knows? Maybe we'll end up at the same critique table.

And as always, thanks for stopping by.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Flash Fiction: Jurassic Park meets Indiana Jones

I decided to take part in Chuck Wendig's flash fiction writing exercise this week, just for fun. The assignment was to randomly pick a topic from column one and a topic from column two, and mash them together to make a story. Be sure to visit his blog, where everyone else who participated linked to their creations, and read some of the other entries.

I used a D20, and got Jurassic park meets Indiana Jones. So here it is:

MUMMIES ALIVE!

Peter checked his watch. Four more minutes until sunset, but it was still boiling. His shirt was soaked. He was sure he had lost at least a quarter of his body weight. And the tour guide was still talking.

When would they get to the good stuff? He had been excited about their family trip to Egypt, but that was before he had realized that the “exciting trip to see the pyramids” meant literally looking at the pyramids while boring tour guides droned on and on for hours about names and dates that nobody cared about.

Who wanted to look at pyramids? He wanted to go inside one!

He edged away towards the back of the crowd. His parents were so caught up in the lecture and the view of the Sphinx that they didn’t even notice. Within a few seconds, he was bolting across the sand towards the sphinx. His mom could take all the pictures she wanted; he was going to get a REAL souvenir.

Peter ignored the shouts coming from behind him. Twenty more yards... Ten... Yes! He collapsed against the rough stone, panting from the sprint. Maybe his dad was right - he needed to lay off the donuts. He reached up to wipe the sweat from his forehead, and saw a smear of blood across his forearm. He hadn’t even noticed, but he must have grazed himself on the rough surface of the sphinx’s base.

He stepped back and looked up. This thing was huge. It was like a skyscraper, but on its side - it was much wider than it was tall, and it was really tall. He jogged along the base, looking for an entrance. An angry voice was getting closer, and he needed to find a way in quick if he was going to find what he was looking for before they caught up to him and dragged him back to the hotel room.

Finally, he saw it - about fifteen feet up. He threw a glance back over his shoulder - a guard was almost on top of him! - and jammed his foot into a sizeable crack, reaching up with his hands to find finger-sized holds on the weather-pitted surface. Climbing as quickly as he could, he was just out of reach when the guard arrived at the base where he had been standing.

“Come back!” the guard cried. “You don’t know what you’re doing! It’s not safe!”

Peter kept climbing.

“You don’t know what’s in there! Please, come back!”

Peter scoffed. He knew what was in there: dead people and treasure. And he was going to get a piece of it. The kids at school wouldn’t believe their eyes. And he’d be guaranteed a good grade in history.

“PLEASE!” The guard screamed. Peter didn’t know why he seemed so scared. Maybe the guards had a plan to keep all the treasure for themselves. All he knew was, if those guys wanted Peter to come back so bad, they could come up and get him.

Finally, his right hand found empty space, and he reached up over the ledge and hauled himself up. His arms and legs were shaking with the effort, but he had made it. Maybe he could afford to keep eating his daily donuts after all.

He stood up and lumbered into the gloom, and a piercing scream shook the air.

“What the...”

Maybe his ears were playing tricks on him.

He stumbled forward another twenty feet. It was practically pitch black by now - he could just make out some old characters carved into the stone wall. What were those called? Heiro-something or others? He didn’t care. They were cool, but they weren’t treasure. He kept walking, fumbling in his pocket for a flashlight.

He felt something brush against his left shoulder, and he froze. “Hello?”

Moaning came from all around him. He snapped his flashlight on, and a linen-wrapped figure appeared not two inches in front of him, its dirty bandages hanging limply from its limbs.

Peter screamed. The Mummy lurched. Peter turned to run, but his feet caught on a dangling loop of cloth, and as he fell he hit his head on the cold stone wall.


His flashlight skittered away, rolling back towards the tunnel entrance, where it dropped into the security guard’s outstretched hands.

THE END

I hope you enjoyed it. It was fun to write.

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, January 9, 2015

New year, Same Old Me

Hey! It’s 2015! Happy New Year!

So, I never did the whole “Round-Up” thing - you know, Best Books of the Year, Best Movies of the Year, Best Board Games of the Year, Best Cute Pet Gifs of the Year. So many people do that already, and I don’t know about you, but I find those “Best Of” lists pretty overwhelming. Like I’m now obliged to read/watch/play everything, because those are The Best, but everyone’s list is different, so now I have a hundred books that I Must Read Now instead of ten. I didn’t want to add to an already crowded pool, you know?

But maybe you guys really want to know what my favorite reads and watches of the year were? I don’t know. If you’re interested, I can do one. Let me know in the comments.

As for 2015, I hope to do everything the same, but better. So there will be the same type of content here, but I’d like to do it more often. I’d like to get back to video blogging again, especially when it comes to book reviews and book-to-film reviews and the odd bit of nerdery. You can also look forward to more writing samples appearing here, since Chuck Wendig posts some pretty fun writing prompts and I plan to participate more often in those.

And, of course, more writing off the blog, which will lead to more news! Things are always in the works and moving forward, and I can’t talk about anything yet, but I hope to have good news in the world of writing and publishing soon, so watch this space. (Obviously, I have the launch of my first book to look forward to this year! Kari-Lynn and I are really excited to be bringing BITE INTO BLOODSUCKERS into the world, and you should keep your eyes peeled for GIVEAWAYS in the coming months. March can’t come fast enough! If it can’t come fast enough for you either, you can pre-order a copy of it on Amazon here, from Barnes and Noble here, or from Chapters here. NOTE: The Barnes and Noble site lists me as an illustrator. HAHAHA I wish. Sadly, I do not possess the kind of photographic skill that is required for that job. I am the co-author, though. They totally got that right.)

Overall, my motto for 2015 will be this: Plan for the future, but live in the now. You have this day. Make it a good one.


How about you? What are your plans for 2015?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Of Ferguson, the Media, and a Brown Girl Dreaming: Thoughts on Narrative in America

I've been wanting to talk about diversity for a long time. All through the initial protests in Ferguson all those months ago, all through the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on twitter (when it was a spreading of ideas) and then on Indiegogo (when it became so much more than that - when it became about driving change). All through the INSPIRE Toronto International Book Fair, where there were panels on diversity, and where even the people presenting about other issues ended up talking about diversity anyway. All through the discussion and debate and frustration and reaction to Daniel Handler's racial slurs at the National Book Awards, and all through his "apology" on twitter, and all through his Apology and pledge to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.

All through all of that, I have slowly been gathering words, swirling them together in my heart and in my mind into something that resembled a cohesive whole more than a muddled soup.

And then a Grand Jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, and more protests started, and all of those words evaporated into the mist, carried away by the howling winds.

I took a break. In the meantime, I talked with friends in both my countries: around lunch tables here in Canada, and in various online spaces where my American family hang out. I read. I searched out a copy of brown girl dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson’s National Book Award-winning novel in verse that is really part novel, part memoir. It was surprisingly hard to find a copy, which I’ll get to later.

The book is excellent, by the way.

This week, a Grand Jury in New York decided not to indict the police officer who was captured on video breaking the law in NYC when he put Eric Garner in a chokehold that killed him. And the words are swirling.

#BlackLivesMatter
#CrimingWhileWhite
#CelebrateJackie
Ferguson
The National Book Award
The Second Amendment
The First Amendment
Celebrities singing onstage in front of a ginormous Christmas tree while protesters lie down in the street two blocks away.
#WeNeedDiverseBooks

All these threads.

Diversity is at once a simple thing and a complicated and difficult thing for me to talk about. Simple, because in my mind, it IS simple: we are all human; we all matter equally; we should all tell all the stories. That's it.

But it is difficult, too. Difficult because my skin is white, and I know that there are people in my life to whom my skin color matters, whether they realize it or not. Difficult because my heritage is mixed but my upbringing is less so, and even though I am American and Philippina and 4 years of Scotland and 4 years of England and 9 years of Canada and I feel like a melting pot, I look like the Privileged Majority. 

I understand that when I say, “we should all tell all the stories,” I say it from a position of privilege. I don’t like it, and I didn’t ask for it, but that’s what I inherited. America gave that to me, and it’s not exactly something that I can turn down, because even as it is tangible, it is intangible.

And I can understand why there are people saying things like "black people need to stand together", because when you look at the demographics of the prison system, and then you look at the statistics when it comes to things like arrest and conviction, and when you think about the history of access to things like education and employment opportunities and mortgages, it’s pretty clear that the deck is stacked. But at the same time, I think it’s really stupid that we are standing here, 50 years after Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, 50 years after Rosa Parks, still arguing about race.

I mean, come on. Look at us, still stuck in this place of caring what color someone’s skin is. I wish that we could all see past the color of each other’s skin, all of us. Because when you start your club as a reaction to someone else's club, you're still segregated. You're seeing each other as "other". And that is a thing that is both pathetic and heartbreaking. The fact that we even need a hashtag like #CelebrateJackie or #WeNeedDiverseBooks is pathetic and heartbreaking. But: we do need them.

We need them because when I want to go to a bookstore near my home in Canada to get a copy of brown girl dreaming, because it won a pretty huge award and I've heard amazing things about it,



nobody



stocks



it



anywhere.



Nobody.



And I wonder what this means, that a book so powerful that it won it's country's highest honor is not stocked in any of the major chain bookstores in a country where most of the people do not look like the person who wrote the book, even though the people of that country regard themselves as celebrating diversity. Because if we set aside the fact that the book just won the award, and maybe the stores haven't been able to stock it yet since the announcement came out - it's an amazing book that was released months ago. They should have had it in stock anyway. Why didn't they? It can’t be because it’s an “American” book; Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars and Diary of a Wimpy Kid are everywhere, end-capped and displayed prominently on tables where everyone can find them.

And I have trouble parsing out these thoughts - the feelings of frustration at reading someone's opinion that only black people should tell black people's stories, the feelings that my skin color does not actually say anything about me (even though it says a lot about how people treat me), the feelings of anger at the people who justify police brutality without realizing the position of privilege that police officers hold over all of us, the understanding that I have been an unwitting beneficiary of White Privilege and all that it offers. The voices around me that insist that Canada's narrative is different from America's, that as a nation whose history is that of the place to which oppressed people escaped, they don't have this "race problem", and the voice within me that asks if that is the case, why, in a nation that is so diverse, do over 90% of the books have white faces on them?

All those narratives.

All those threads.

All those threads weaving together, in and out, over and under. Creating a whole.

When I hear people - in Canada, mostly White, but including people of all colors; in America, people who are White - say that maybe if Mike Brown and Eric Garner hadn’t done anything wrong (sassed the police officer, sold untaxed cigarettes) they would still be here, I am reminded of Cliven Bundy, who refused to pay grazing fees for years and who didn’t get shot for it, even though he and his supporters aimed their rifles at Federal Agents sniper-style when the agents came to round up the cattle and remove them from a protected nature preserve. Not only is Bundy still here to tell the tale, his cattle are still grazing on Federal protected (but not-really) land. Faced with the rifles of an angry militia - which takes “sassing” to a whole new level - the Feds gave up.

It shouldn’t be about race, but it is.

I am reminded of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by Cleveland Police when they saw him holding a toy gun that looked like a real one. And then they dilly-dallied before providing him with first-aid. A 12-year-old child.

Contrast this with the case of heavily armed James Holmes, who admits to opening fire in a crowded Colorado movie theater, killing 12 people and injuring over 70 people in 2012, but who is still here to talk about it.

It shouldn’t be about race, but it is.

There are hundreds of cases like Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and Michael Brown every year in America. There are studies that show that when confronted with a stereotype - a Black person with a gun, a White person without one - people react more quickly and more accurately than when confronted with images that break the stereotype. Racial bias and racial profiling are a real thing in America.

And this is where we are all responsible. Because when we create media that show Black people as only the sidekicks or criminals, we plant the seeds that grow into racial bias. When the only movies that center around a Black character are movies in which all the characters are Black characters, we sow the seeds of racial bias. When we publish whole bookstores full of books with only white people on the covers, we deliver a message to our children and to ourselves that White people’s stories matter, that White people’s stories are important, and that people whose skin is a different color are not and cannot be the heroes, and we sow the seeds of racial bias.

When we publish photo captions like this:



we not only sow the seeds of racial bias: we water them and pile on the fertilizer.

This issue, like all major issues, is complicated. In addition to race, there are considerations like poverty and access to education. There is the issue of what it means when a child is born into a squat with drugs in her system, compounded by the lack of community resources to help those children grow up to be anything other than reflections of their parents.

But.

Arching over all of this, there is the issue of narrative: the narrative that we tell ourselves and our children, that swirls through our minds and runs through our veins. The narrative that says: America is what it is because we fought the Redcoats for it. The narrative that says: America’s economic roots, those prosperous Southern plantations that the North fought so hard to hold on to, depended initially upon the enslavement of colored people. The narrative that says: history has shown that we can't trust Them. The narrative that says: we didn't trust you to begin with. The narrative that says: the Individual is King, and if those people can’t solve those people’s problems, then it’s nothing to do with Me.

All those threads. 

The increasing militarization of police in America, the increasing number of firearm deaths in America, the gulf between the wealthy and the poor growing wider, ever wider in America. 

The segregation of the media while we pretend to integrate our lives, going to mixed schools and mixed workplaces and then returning home to our monochromatic neighbourhoods. 

The replacement of the soapbox, where anyone passing by could hear anyone’s opinion, by the echo chamber of the social media bubble, where we only hear the people who say the things that reinforce our preconceived notions.

All those threads.

I wish we could change our narrative. We need to change our narrative. It is time to change our narrative. If not now, then when?

I don’t know everything, but I do know this:

It would be so nice if this weren’t about race. But it is. In America, it always has been.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Good For You Is Good Enough: On Chapter Books, "Reading Up", and Stressed Out Kids

I’ve been thinking a lot about Chapter Books lately. Actually, all books, ALL THE TIME, but since I wrote a Chapter Book that I’m querying and I read a lot of those books in particular, I think about them. And I think about the concept of “reading up”, and I think about stressed out kids.

I haven’t been at this writing gig forever, and I haven’t been a parent forever, so I don’t know everything. But I do know this:

There is a lot of talk, on the news and in magazines and in the media generally, about how we are currently raising a generation of stressed-out, high-anxiety kids.

At the same time, there is a lot of talk (usually in the same places, often within the same program or in the same magazine issue - the unintentional irony is amazing) about how to get our kids reading younger, how schools expect them to be reading at an earlier age, and about how to help your kid “get ahead” and start “reading at a higher grade level” than their enrolled grade, so they can “get ahead of their peers and get a head start on life”.

There are levels to the problem here. First, we have the whole expectation that EVERY CHILD will somehow be ahead of every other child in every area, which is ridiculous and unrealistic and also unnecessary. (America, in particular, has an especially bad case of what I like to call "First Place-itis", both on an individual level and also as a nation. Unless you have traveled, one could be excused, based on what we hear from the American Propaganda Machine, for thinking that other countries - the ones that are Developed Nations, but that aren't the Top Dog - lack basic things like central heating and flush toilets and traffic lights. Trust me, America - being Number Two or Number Five or Number Twelve really ISN'T the end of the world.)

But the other level to the problem is the whole idea of encouraging kids to consume media that was not intended for them. I wonder if the people who write the articles encouraging parents to get their kids to read Harry Potter at the age of five have actually read the books themselves. Because when I was five, reading about a kid being hunted by a bad guy and then (SPOILER ALERT!) burning the bad guy’s face off at the end would have freaked me the hell out.

I know that if you’re a parent reading this, or maybe even if you’re an author or a publisher reading this, you’re probably defending the whole “reading up” thing. This is understandable. Parents want success for their kids, and publishers want to stay in business. And maybe your 5-year-old kid really can handle watching a man’s face turn to ash and then slowly drop away from his still standing corpse. (I guess this is me coming out against the idea of showing your kid the movie to help them understand the book that was written for kids much older than they are. Because, DUDE: if you don’t think they’re ready to read it? The beauty of books is that the images to go with the words are formed based on that child’s experience. Movies? Not so much.) But given the frequency of reports that our kids are more stressed out than kids have ever been, it seems clear that maybe more of us are wrong about that than we think. Maybe some of the kids who seem to be “handling it” are actually freaking out inside.

ASIDE: No, I don’t think it’s good to “desensitize” our kids. I want violence to always be an abhorrent, shocking thing to my children. Because once they accept it, they are one step closer to practicing it.

It saddens me that, in search of books for their ten-year-old “voracious readers”, parents hand them books like The Hunger Games and Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars rather than handing them books like When You Reach Me and The Tale of Desperaux. Not because the first set of books aren’t good books - in fact, I think they’re AMAZING books. But they are books written for teenagers, with the interests of teenagers in mind. They’re books written with the understanding that the people who read them will be concerned with things like how governments can wield power responsibly and what that does and doesn’t look like, and whether smoking pot is as bad for them as their parents say it is, and whether they should have sex with their boyfriend or girlfriend this weekend. Whether they’re “ready”, and what being “ready” even feels like, anyway.

Is your ten-year-old thinking about that stuff?

I hear people in the publishing world say that kids should be able to read whatever they wish, and that they will put a book down if they aren’t ready for it. I don’t completely agree with that. Because you can never un-read something that you weren’t ready for.

I think a valid question here is: why do we bother writing “for children”? What are the distinctions between “chapter books” and “middle grade” and “young adult” for, if we are going to encourage people to flaunt them? Those labels are signposts, guys.

I do not advocate censorship. I do not advocate the banning of books, or the removal of books from libraries and school curricula. I DEFINITELY do not advocate the sanitizing of books. (My WiP is a YA about a school shooting. It’s not sanitized. But it’s a YA, and it’s not for ten-year-olds.)

I DO advocate parents taking an active role in choosing, with their children, what their children read, and I advocate parents talking about books with their kids. I advocate booksellers taking an interest in helping their customers find the right book for them, above pushing the latest blockbuster. (Independent bookstores are much better at this than major chains, I find.) Some young kids really are ready to read books written for older kids, because they are asking those questions at a younger age. Also, some books on the “teen” shelves really are great for older tweens to read, just as some books on the “tween” shelf are genuinely appealing to 7-8 year-olds. But those are the exceptions, and most of them probably are not.

I wish - I really, really WISH - that we who make the books and publish the books and sell the books could continue to be be a little smarter about and more considerate about emotional preparedness. I hope that we will continue to be more sensitive to the emotional needs of children.

I wish that we, as a society, as a culture, would place “emotional needs” higher up on the importance pyramid than “reads and does math at a higher grade level than the rest of his class”.

Little children need, above all else, to feel loved and safe. And while I have never been a great fan of the litany of formulaic, sappy chapter books about fairies and ponies and princesses and puppies - IVY & BEAN and CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS are much more to my taste than RAINBOW FAIRIES and PUPPY PLACE - it saddens me to see Chapter Books coming out that open with demons and angry monsters and danger. It saddens me deeply. Because I do not think that we serve our six-year-olds’ emotional needs well with these types of books.

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

In Which I Pay a Stranger to Play With My Hair, and - Hey, Look! Headshots!

So, a few weeks ago, I went to a photographer's studio and got my picture taken, like, a bazillion times.

I have a long history of not being a very photogenic person, so, yeeaaaaah.

Me at 12. Oh, yeah. I was a looker, all right.

I was nervous.

Also, I had told them that I wanted to use their make-up person, and the receptionist (who is very nice) kept referring to her as their "hair and make-up artist", and she told me that I needed to allow for an extra HOUR-AND-A-HALF for that, and I naturally assumed that most of that would be used to deal with my hair, because… HAIR! Right? So I spent the whole two months between booking my appointment and having my appointment working up the courage to politely-but-firmly ask her to please not straighten/trim/change anything.

I was so nervous!

I even tweeted about it.

Overshare?

I also had to make a last-minute wardrobe adjustment.

Doesn't EVERYONE sew on the bus??

But when I arrived, the photographer was lovely and welcoming and wonderful. She sat me down on the couch and she gave me tea and she asked me what kind of "feel" I wanted the headshots to have (which was "natural" - meaning, I wanted to look like me, but less tired) and she was AWESOME. And she knew all about my book coming out because she had done her homework and looked up my Twitter, which was mortifying because of the above tweet. But neither one of us said anything about that. This lady is way too cool. (Did I mention that she is AWESOME?)

And then her make-up person walked in, and she ALSO had a cup of tea, and she was AMAZING. She also promised not to straighten my hair, which was a plus. We chatted while she put makeup on my face and put some gel in my hair, and the time flew by - it felt like about ten minutes.*

And then Denise Grant took my photo a bunch of times, and you know what? It was actually fun. Also, Christine Cho and Denise are WIZARDS, because LOOK!

Less tired! Also less 30's!
(Photo by Denise Grant Photography)

THEY ARE MAGICIANS, I TELL YOU!

All I can say is, I never want anyone else to take my picture again. Denise Grant is wonderful. If you ever need headshots and are in the Toronto area, go to her. And use Christine Cho for your makeup.

Now I'm going to get back to staring at that chick in the photo. I like that chick. I want to hang out with her.

*A NOTE ABOUT MAKEUP: I never wear it. But you know what? If you stand up in front of a professional photographer's lighting equipment without makeup on, those lights will wash you out. There will be shadows where shadows don't belong, and light spots where light spots don't belong, and you won't look like YOU. You'll look like a skull with tissue paper stretched over it. Also, if you try to do your own makeup, you'll use too much or not enough or something too shimmery or something too dark and it won't look good. Do yourself a favor and honor the time and expense of getting professional headshots by letting them do your makeup. They know what they're doing.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Book Review: THE THICKETY: A PATH BEGINS, by J. A. White

Oh, you guys. This book.

THIS BOOK.

I loved this book.

Incidentally, so did Kidlet Number One. We read it for book club, and oh, my gosh. We couldn’t put it down.

Here’s the publisher’s copy:

Hand in hand, the witch's children walked down the empty road.

When Kara Westfall was six years old, her mother was convicted of the worst of all crimes: witchcraft. Years later, Kara and her little brother, Taff, are still shunned by the people of their village, who believe that nothing is more evil than magic . . . except, perhaps, the mysterious forest that covers nearly the entire island. It has many names, this place. Sometimes it is called the Dark Wood, or Sordyr's Realm. But mostly it's called the Thickety.

The black-leaved trees swayed toward Kara and then away, as though beckoning her.

The villagers live in fear of the Thickety and the terrible creatures that live there. But when an unusual bird lures Kara into the forbidden forest, she discovers a strange book with unspeakable powers. A book that might have belonged to her mother.

And that is just the beginning of the story.

The Thickety: A Path Begins is the start of a thrilling and spellbinding tale about a girl, the Thickety, and the power of magic.


This book pulled me in from the first sentence. I love the way the sentences were crafted, the language, the rhythm. The whole book feels like one of those ancient stories, handed down by oral tradition through generations. It feels like a fairy tale, but not the pastel-colored sappy Disney kind. The Grimm kind. There is a way people speak when they tell these kinds of stories, a cadence, and the author captured it perfectly.

I also loved the creepiness of it. Grace, the antagonist, is truly wicked, and I love the way her sociopathic nature comes through the page. I was really rooting for her to go down, and it’s not every book that can bring out that reaction.

But it is with the underlying themes of the book that THE THICKETY excels. This is a book that asks questions about the overlap between the faithful and the occult, about what it is to be good and what it is to be bad. This is a book that explores the difference between being obedient and being brainwashed, and that explores what it is like to have one’s beliefs challenged in the most basic and meaningful way. Most astonishingly, it does so in a way that is appropriate and approachable for Middle Grade readers. In Kara, we have the faithful trope of the Heroine Plagued by Self-Doubt, but in the hands of J. A. White the trope never feels tired, which is a very, very rare find. This is a girl who is shaken to her core, and the twist at the end (which caught me by complete surprise) answers just enough for the book to feel satisfying, but not enough for the resolution to feel neat.


This book is not for the faint of heart or the easily frightened or disturbed, but would make an excellent novel study for more mature Middle Grade readers. Five enormous stars!

Find The Thickety: a Path Begins at your legal independent bookseller, or online at:
IndieBound
Chapters Indigo (for Canadian readers)
Amazon