Sunday, May 30, 2010

The high risk life of a writer

When you hear the words stock car racer, international spy, high wire acrobat, person who clips a cat’s nails – you think, those are high risk, dangerous, high adventure type jobs, right!?

When you hear the words author, writer and presenter you think …


Nice cozy comfortable jobs where the only risk is a broken lead in your mechanical pencil or a bruised ego from a rejection letter. We’ll I’m here to let you in on the high risk world of being a children’s author.

It all started when I was getting ready to go to the Young Alberta Book Society’s (YABS) annual professional development day, BBQ and AGM. YABS is an organization that promotes literacy through arranging school visits for authors, illustrators and performers and giving children the opportunity to express themselves through writing.

I packed up my pita bread and briefcase and got into my car. I then proceeded to drive into a fog cave where I was transported into an alternate parallel universe where pink was black, triangles were quadruples, north was west, and where a storm of white precipitation hammered a landscape of green grass and budding trees. I’m talking about the Voldemort of precipitation, the white precipitation whose name shall not be spoken – yes, a late (late spring snow storm). In this alternate universe it was no longer the end of May, the seasons reversed and I wasn’t sure what time dimension (or dementia) I was in.

Then the navigational deficit disorder kicked in. I made it to the town of Lacombe, Alberta fine, it was finding the farm house given that it was near white out conditions and white precipitation covered all the street/highway signs.

This is a conversation between me and uber artist/illustrator Georgia Graham as she talked me in as I drove (with another participant following in her car – it was a small tribe of the navigational deficits):

GG: do you see a tree nursery?

Me: (thinking of a large building that says gardening supplies on it) no! There’s nothing here.

GG: do you see rows and rows of trees neatly planted?

Me: Yeah, sure I do, I’m right next to that.

GG: That’s a tree nursery!

Me: curse that rural urban divide that keeps us from understanding each other! (This was the second and successful time I had shown up at the same house).

Once firmly ensconced in the leather hand chair that I claimed for myself. We commenced with the workshops.

There was one on copyright, copyleft and copywrong!? Social networking, linking your presentation to school curriculum, the AGM and lots of networking.

I met writers and illustrators I read when I first started writing children’s novels, like Cora Taylor and Tololwa Mollel. I networked with my writing/storyteller friends Dawn Ius, Karen Bass and Kathy Jessup, and met many more writers, storytellers and illustrators.

My attempts at stealing this chair were thwarted by my own unwillingness to haul it and stuff it into my tiny car. If anyone knows where I can get one please let me know. No writing room is complete without a huge hand reading chair (and then I’ll find a giant pencil to put in it).

After carefully washing my bowls and ceramic platter I promptly forgot them at Georgia’s farm – and who said a writing career was without danger!?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Spiraling vortex of negativity and other items on my To Don’t list:

The other day I shared my writerly To Do list. Now I’m going to show you my writerly To Don’t list.
Don’t get robbed by the Time Burglars:
I love this phrase: Time Burglars (not to be confused with the Hamburgler!). We all have 24 hours in a day but we let time burglars steel some of that time from us and from our writing.
I’m not including family and friends because they are time refreshers. Time spent living and loving life can only enhance your writing and the human experience. You have to live life to write about life.
And I’m not talking about the much-ballyhooed ones like TV and pulling weeds. We all know we watch too much TV and Don’t Pull Weeds - just don't. To quote Miss Marples: “A weed is only a plant in a place you don’t want it to be.”
Don’t sleep in: Sleep as a time burglar? Hmmmm, you could always wake up a half hour early and write, or better yet, turn off the TV, get some more sleep and then wake up half an hour earlier to write. Do I do this? Are you whack? Of course not. I can barely drag my literary butt out of bed when the alarm goes off. Find what works for you.
Don’t waste pockets of time: Use your time at lunch to write. Eric Walters gave me some great advice. When he was a teacher he used to write during recess and lunch. He said always carry a notebook with you and even if you can only write one scene in 20 minutes, you’re that much further ahead. Sharon Siamon also gave me some great advice: cultivate a cranky personality, then people will leave you alone and you can write!
Don’t get sucked into spiraling vortexes of negativity: we all know to get negative people out of our lives. ‘Nuf said. Getting sucked into someone else’s spiraling vortex of negativity does nothing to help you as a writer.
Don’t Gossip: This is an emotionally useless time burglar of gargantuan time burgling proportions. It’s a lot of wasted emotional energy. Listen and observe with the writer’s eyes and ears how people gossip and the patterns of their dialogue, and try to ascertain their motivation. But don’t participate (see spiraling votext of negativity).
Don’t be unhealthy: I’m talking emotionally and physically. Eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, and human contact are important to being emotionally and physically healthy. Being refreshed and alert will help your writing.
What are your time burglars?
P.S.: Coronation Street and Bollywood movies are the opposite of media related time burglars. Watch, or read, something out of your usual genre to be aware of different genres and their devices, and to see what you can learn. (Spoiler alert for Canadian watchers of Coronation Street as the episodes are a bit behind the times in the colonies).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A writers To Do list:

I’m going to give you a peek into the exciting life of a Canadian children’s author. Here’s what my To Do list looks like on any given weekend:
- write novel,
- do laundry.
- write novel,
- go grocery shopping,
- cook lentils.
Next weekend: lather, rinse, repeat. Or the writer’s version: write, edit, rewrite.
That’s pretty much it.
This weekend I started writing the third novel in the Megabyte Mystery Series Dead Bee in the Sarcophagus. Egyptologists, ancient honey, and King Tut’s tomb lead Cyd and Jane on a quest to discover why the bees are disappearing. That’s what I’ve got so far … worried you ask? Nah, once I start the characters will take over and I’ll be on my way.
I’m also, in my quest to be organized enough to write a novel, a serial abuser of little yellow (substitute any colour especially neon colours) sticky notes. I think I nearly gave a former employee a nervous break down because of all the little yellow sticky notes I left on and around his desk.
I jot down endless lists of things to do (in addition to 'write novel, do laundry'). One sticky note is stuck on another bigger stiky note which is stuck on my real non-sticky to do list (which is a few pages long and has different categories). So in addition to my other flaw (Hi I’m Jan and I splice commas) – Hi, I’m Jan and I abuse little yellow sticky notes!
Here’s the best of both worlds: a giant To Do list on sticky notes!
Oh, yeah, if you see a Sasquatch out of her writing cave this weekend, throw her some sour ju jubes, and tell her to get back in.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cod Liver Oil and time off for good behaviour

Well, I just finished four school visits as part of the "It's a Crime not to Read" early literacy program put on by the Calgary Public Library and the Calgary Police Service. One police officer was at one of the visits and she ordered me to take time off for good behaviour and go read a book or something. It's a great program and I was happy to be asked to participate. The kids loved meeting an author, I loved talking about myself ;-j, the library staff showed up with bins of books for the kids to check out and the kids loved having the police officer there as a positive role model. Some of the kids even gave up recess to show me what they had written and to sign out books from the public library staff! Recess!? Seriously, recess - it's recess kids ... The highlight for me was, as always, watching the kids really get into the writing exercise I do with them. They have an infinite number of ideas (lots about their cats killing a variety of small animals) and a vast amount of creativity to tap into. The non-writing highlight was when I stopped at a local cafe in one of the neighbourhoods. These schools were light years apart and I needed a quick snack before I presented at the last school so I ducked into this cafe. This is the conversation I had with the owner: Me: I don't have much time, but need a quick snack, what have you got that you can whip up fast? owner: I've got tea, brownies and cod liver oil. me: hmmmmm, cod liver oil? owner: yes, cod liver oil. me: just out of curiosity, how would you serve that? owner: on a spoon. me: of course. Thought bubble above my head: walk away, backwards, and slowly out of the cafe ... don't make any sudden moves.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The police finally caught up with me ...

You'll remember when the RCMP told me to get out of town. Well, now the police have finally caught up with me! I'll be participating in a literacy program called It's a Crime Not to Read.
It's a partnership between the Calgary Public Library, Calgary Police and Rotary. It's an early literacy program for students in grades two and three. It connects students with books, reading, libraries, and presents the police as a positive role model. Once a month a police officer will visit a participating school and read to the students (I hope they make them sit on really small stools). Kids are encouraged to set reading goals and see the importance of literacy skills for everyone. Students take a field trip to a library, get a library card and learn about all a library has to offer. I'll be participating as a local author. I will visit four schools over two days and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm also going to get them writing because it's fun and it's never to early to start writing stories. It's a Crime Not to Read won the 2007 Marshall Cavendish Excellence in Library Programming Award which recognizes a school or public library that demonstrates excellence by providing programs which have a community impact and respond to community needs. This was the first time a Canadian library system was honoured with this award. I just hope I can slip out the side door before the police get there... but I'm conflicted because I heard there would be snacks. If I don't get arrested for tickling the students' funny bone, I might have to make a citizen's arrest if anyone tries to slip a cliche by me ... you know how I get about cliches.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Knitters save the Frogs and have a yarn to tell

Just to follow up on the theme of saving the frogs, if you are anything like twin protag Jane in Dead Frog on the Porch you'll like this. Jane, an animal lover turned pint-sized activist, refused to dissect her frog in science class. Maybe she could have turned in this as her science project. It's a knitted dissected frog which was produced by Knitting in Biology 101. You can also get the pattern so you can knit-one-croak-two. Maybe the Save the Frogs people should get together with the knitters I met in London, England during the public display of knitting (throw in a few knitters for peace) and you'd have a revolutionary yarn to tell (pun entirely intended, not necessarily funny). And to think I told my students in my Writing with Humour course to limit the use of puns because they aren't always punny. Except of course when they are used with panache, like they are in Kari-Lynn Winters' picture book When Chickens Fly (Gumboot Books and illustrated by Izabela Bzymek). It is a hilarious book about a chicken who dares to soar. It makes ample and expert use of puns and the illustrations are brilliant. Check out When Chickens Fly it's very punny ... I mean funny!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Save the Frogs and living in the moment

So I tried the whole, living in the moment thing - you know, it's all the rage. Unfortunately, the moment I chose to live in was me in the grocery store checkout line with my sushi and sour ju jubes behind a very chatty guy. He worked at the store, was buying his lunch and wanted an extra $100.00 off of his debit card. I know all this because I was living in the moment. Then chatty guy, needing to include me in his life, broke out with this diatribe: "Save the frogs?! So now we have to save the frogs!? We have to save everything. Save this, save that, save the frogs!" I pretended I was living in an entirely different moment and ignored him. He then completed his monetary transaction and left.
No, it wasn't a random rant on frogs. He saw my super awesome Save the Frogs canvas shopping bag. If you missed it, April 30th was Save the Frogs day. Led by the passionate Dr. Kerry Keiger, Save the Frogs is an organization made up of scientists, educators, naturalist and many members and it is dedicated to protecting the world's amphibian species. You can sign up for their newsletter or join Save the Frogs on Facebook. Frogs are the most threatened group of animals on Earth. Nearly one-third of the world's 6,618 amphibian species are threatened with extinction, and up to 200 species have disappeared in recent decades. In my debut novel Dead Frog on the Porch, twin protags Cyd and Jane save the frogs from scientists who want to create genetically stretched frogs - why? You'll have to read it - no spoiler alert here! In the new section, Under the Umbrella, on the Gumboot Books site, there is an article about celebration days coming up in May. So not only should we live in the moment, but we should live with a view to future generations since the actions we take in the moment effect the future of the environment. The problem with living in the moment is that some times you want to be living in the next moment, the moment when you'll be home on your couch eating your sushi and sour ju jubes - now that's some moment!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why don’t those poets just shut up already?!

This is a conversation between me and my work buddy Charlie. It took place five minutes into his first day of work.
Me: Hey!
Charlie: Hey.
Me: So I hear you’re a poet?
Charlie: Where’d you hear that?
Me: Word gets around fast here.
Awkward silence.
Me: there’s a real battle in this town between the spoken word poets and the written word poets.
Charlie: why don’t those spoken word poets just shut up already?!
Me: I know, right!?
After that we were instant friends. The next day when the administrative staff asked him if he needed any stationary supplies he asked for a podium – have podium will travel – ya gotta love that. Hey, wait a minute; maybe he is one of those spoken word poets. The arrival of the podium saw me break into a round of Don’t Cry for me Argentina.
Charlie is from Prince Edward Island (aka PEI) for my bloggowers outside of Canada, Prince Edward Island is a tiny province off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and is known for red earth, Anne of Green Gables, potatoes and podium traveling poets.
Charlie Sark's poetry is published in two poetry anthologies and on the PEI Poet's website. The first anthology was just released and is called This is an Honour Song. This is an Honour Song is a collection of narratives, poetry, and essays exploring the broad impact of the 1990 resistance at KanehsatĂ :ke, otherwise known as the “Oka Crisis.” Charlie's poem in that collection is called "Enemy Tongues'". The other anthology is called Lighting the Eighth Fire and is a collection of essays by Indigenous scholars. His poem in that collection is called "Kulu, Cops and You." It is a poem that was previously commissioned for the PEI CBC Poetry Faceoff (that's hockey talk for poets). Here's a review of the collection. Both books are put out by Arbeiter Ring Publishing. Charlie will be dropping off a copy of my debut novel Dead Frog on the Porch to the John K. Sark Memorial School (named after his grandfather), so the children in the community can check it out.
Charlie is a member of the Lennox Island First Nation and his family owns and operates the Indian Art & Craft Store on Malpeque Bay. It features Aboriginal arts and crafts from the area along with international Aboriginal arts and crafts.
Here’s a video that introduces you to Charlie’s family and the store. If you’re on the island this summer drop by … if you see a poet with a podium, you’ll know who it is.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

It's video day on three dead moths ...

You know how there were days when you were in school and the teacher would come in and
s/he would be tired so s/he showed videos for the class? Well, there was a lot of white
precipitation whose name shall not be spoken (alright, I'll say it - it was snow!!!!!) and it's
May so I'm tired.
Here are three videos to brighten your day:
The first one is the publishing process we all imagine when we're writing. The second is what
happens after you get published and the third is Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame)
talking about inspiration and the muse. The last one is long but it is worth watching, plus, if
the weather is carpy where you are then you've
got nowhere to go now do you!?
So sit back and click away ...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Squirrels ate my phone line, review of DFOTP, and writing with humour

It’s been a real – squirrels-ate-my-phone line – kinda week. First my cat brings a very-much-alive bird into the house, then squirrels really did eat my phone line (took the phone guy two hours on a ladder to fix it), and we had a spring snow storm (you don’t have to be a writer to know that’s an oxymoron).
To top it all off, my blog broke up with me!
It took the template and the widgets and just left. I didn’t see it coming. Sure we had problems, like when I put up a blog post and the font was so ginormous you could see it from an airplane. But I thought we were committed to working it out. Well, after a few glasses of wine and some heartfelt HTMLing, the blog’s back. We’ll pretend that nothing happened and move on from here. But I’m secretly planning to trade it in for an upgrade (to be launched in a couple of months.)
That was my week!
So you can imagine how happy I was to find a review of Dead Frog on the Porch on PopSyndicate by Eileen Schuh. It made up for the week that I had! Check it out and the rest of the reviews of books and movies on PopSyndicate.
Just to let writers know that I will be teaching a course through the Chinook Learning Services – Continuing Education CBE.
It is called Writing with Humour:
Humour is a way to engage your readers while getting your point across. Explore when to use humour, different types of humour, and the styles and techniques of humour writing. Humour is a powerful device when coupled with strong writing skills. There are still a couple of spots left if you want to sign up.
Mon, Wed 
6:30 pm - 9:30 pm
May 10 & 12