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Rocket Man (2014)


Okay, not the Elton John version (although the song appears in the book:) It’s the title of my middle grade novel due out in April from Red Deer Press. The working title was “A Superhero Named Blob,” which became less suitable as we worked through the editing.

I think this is the final cover; my favourite part is the stylized rocket shooting for the moon.

Rocket Man cover

 

I’ve had some other exciting writing news lately. Later this year, I’ll be dedicating three months to working on my Lunenburg/Montbeliard novel thanks to a creation grant – thank you to … logo

Also, the Ontario Library Association (OLA) recently included The Power of Harmony on their Best Bets 2013 listas one of the ten best junior novels last year; it’s also a Hackmatack (readers’ choice award) Book for 2014/15, which I hope will involve more interaction with young readers.

So, that’s all good. Now, if Winter would only get the message that it’s been replaced by Spring – yet another snowstorm is due to attack us on Wednesday; I wish you a host of Wordsworth’s daffodils, ASAP:)

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed-and gazed-but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

 

 

Thanks, Mum and Dad

11303724655thanks-mom-and-dadMy parents have been gone for several years now. My dad died at 65; my mum at 70 – as I get older, those ages seem so very young!

I’ve had occasion to think about my dad a lot lately, thanks to a scan and a scope I recently had, and will continue to have every five years – because Dad died of colon cancer. Colonography and sigmoidoscopy aren’t exactly a walk in the park, but while I was lying there today, I thought of Dad and how he would willingly have undergone such procedures on an annual, monthly, or even weekly basis – if it had meant he could have lived past 65. He had a lot of energy and there were so many things he didn’t get to do. He’s the cute little one behind the drums in this picture from the 60s.

Old picture of Dad with Bob Mingo and the band

My mum had breast cancer when she was 49; it recurred relentlessly when she was 69. So, now that part of me is also prone to frequent examination. Mum owned a book store, The Book Nook, for 25 years, until she died. The Truro library still sponsors a teen writing competition in her name – The Ada Mingo Teen Writing Competition. Sadly, I don’t have any scanned pictures of Mum, yet.

And so, this is a little thank you note, but not for the usual reasons we’re grateful to our parents. I’m sure I still think of them every single day, and hope somehow, from afar, they still know how we’re doing.

These days, thanks to Google, it’s so easy to find a perfect quote to express whatever you happen to be thinking about, most times. Despite its time-wasting capabilities, I love Google!

I’ve read that American literary agents representing children’s writers receive up to 500 submissions – EVERY WEEK of the year. With that kind of competition, it doesn’t matter how great a writer you are, you simply must come up with an original story, or at least a highly original approach to an old story. I found lots of examples of uniqueness in the picture book section at the library yesterday – books that made me wish I could come up with such an idea. I’ve noticed that a lot of the best picture books these days are being produced by authors who are also illustrators; a few of the Caldecott Honor Books this year were also created by author/illustrators. If only I was artistic (she says for the thousandth time):)

Here are a few books I found that caused me to marvel at the author’s ability to create a very cool story around a seemingly simple idea/inspiration:

How to Heal a Broken Wing (Bob Graham)

A story about a boy, the only person in the crowd, who notices an injured pigeon and nurses it back to health – a perfect pairing of illustrations and (very brief) text.

How to Heal a Broken Wing

Where is Fred? (Edward Hardy, Ali Pye)

A clever caterpillar evades capture by a very persistent crow, with a satisfyingly perfect conclusion.

Fred

And Ol’ Mama Squirrel, wherein Mama protects her babies. “Mark my words,” she’d say. “There’s no shortage of creatures that would love to snack on a baby squirrel … but it won’t happen on MY watch!” In this book, the author/illustrator (David Ezra Stein) manages to create a fully-developed funny story – plot, characterization, setting and satisfying conclusion, with spare text supplemented by very expressive illustrations.

Squirrel

I LOVE picture books, and I’m constantly in awe of the brilliant, and original, ideas people come up with. There’s nothing like a trip to the library to get the creative juices stirring.

It’s always interesting to see which books are chosen as Newbery and Caldecott medalists/honor books each year – I was so happy to see that Flora & Ulysses, by my writing idol Kate DiCamillo, won the Newbery – her third Newbery recognition (Because of Winn Dixie (2001 Honor book); The Tale of Despereaux (2004 Medal)! She has such a marvellous imagination – I’ve read F&U twice already – it opens with a squirrel developing superpowers after being sucked into a vacuum cleaner (her inspiration came from her aging mother fretting about what she’d do with her vacuum upon her passing, at the same time as she had a sickly squirrel in her backyard). If you haven’t read it yet, please do – I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud!

Happy reading and writing (and illustrating).

I’ve been struggling with the opening pages of the story I’m working on lately – writing, rewriting, chopping, slashing, rearranging punctuation and words. Frustrating! So I decided to check out some first lines of middle grade novels I keep close at hand:

When May died, Ob came back to the trailer, got out of his good suit and into his regular clothes, then went and sat in the Chevy for the rest of the night.” 

May

Jacob held his pointer finger just above his thumb, forming a small rectangular box in the air. He closed one eye, held the box up to his open eye, and trapped puny little Majok in the frame.” – A HARE IN THE ELEPHANT’S TRUNK  (moi)

Uncle Ted said Jimmy bumped his head falling off the swing. He said Jimmy just seemed to let go of the chains when he reached the highest arc, and he fell, thunk, to the ground and lay still.” Hartry

 

The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby. I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I knew only from stories.” Vanderpool

 

They’re all very different openings, but what they have in common is that they invite the reader in to the story, and they raise questions – who is this person, and what’s going to happen to them? First lines must be full of the ever-elusive “voice”, set the tone, convince the reader it’s worth his/her time to read further.

I wrestle with beginning lines a lot more than closing lines. Not sure what that says about me or my writing process. In particular, I’m never fully convinced I’ve started the story in exactly the “right place”. There are rules about creating first lines with a lot of oomph, but there are also many examples of amazing books that completely break those rules, and all fiction-writing rules, in fact (example – “It was a dark and stormy night.” – A WRINKLE IN TIME, L’Engle).

Here’s a great blog post about first lines, specifically in relation to middle grade novels: http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/2010/07/first-lines-or-love-at-first-sight/

I’m usually inspired to get back to work when January 1st rolls around – how about you? Any fabulous first lines you’ve stumbled upon (or written) lately? Hope 2014 will be a banner year for you and yours – full of peace, health and love.

We were visiting Liam and Rachel in Toronto last week. If you haven’t tried out Air B&B yet, it’s the way to go when you’re visiting a city. We’ve used their service now three times, and all three short-term apartment rentals have worked out perfectly. Here’s the view from our penthouse on St. George St.

 

Looking South on St. George Street

Looking South on St. George Street

So, I was sitting at the corner of Queen and Bay, out front of Old City Hall one afternoon during the five o’clock rush, resting my aching feet, when a man plopped himself down on the sidewalk at the bottom of the steps. He proceeded to take off his brightly-colored sneakers and socks, roll down the rim of a Tim Horton’s coffee cup, shove it into one of the sneakers, then rest one elbow on a pillow he’d brought along.  From behind, it looked like he was drawing something on the sidewalk. After a few minutes of speculating, I had to stroll over to see what he was up to (I explained I was a nosy writer). He was SO friendly, and seemed happy to have somebody ask. “I’m just airing out my feet,” he said. “I’m 45, but have the feet of a 20-year-old because I keep them aired out.” He extolled the virtues of the particular vent he was lying on, insisting it was just as warm as being inside a house, grinning all the while. As I dropped some money into his cup and said goodbye, I read what he’d written in chalk on the sidewalk, a message for all the Bay Street people rushing home. “I love you!” in fluorescent green:)  I love encounters like that that remind me that people are people, no matter what.

And right across the street, The Bay has this most wonderful old-fashioned animated Christmas window display.

The Bay, Christmas display

The Bay, Christmas display

In other news, while I was away, I got an email from ANNE MURRAY. I’d sent her a copy of The Power of Harmony, in which “Annie Murray” has a cameo, since it’s set in her hometown of Springhill, NS in 1968, the year she was on the brink of becoming famous. In the email, she thanked me, apologized for not getting around to reading the book yet, assured me she would soon, and gave me her best wishes for the book. I’m constantly amazed at the generosity of some people, especially those who are crazy busy, famous, rich, etc. Part of her success, no doubt, has stemmed from the fact that she’s a nice person!  Now if she’d just Tweet about the book after she reads it:)  Have you had any interesting encounters lately, meetings that made you pause and reflect?

In rural Nova Scotia, sometimes you have to stop for free-range turkeys crossing the road:)

In rural Nova Scotia, sometimes you have to stop for free-range turkeys crossing the road:)

The two winners of the Goodreads Giveaway of The Power of Harmony are from Alaska and New York – Red Deer will be mailing their copies out this week:) Thanks to the 431 people who entered (and I hope a few of those people will read it even though they didn’t win:)
successLove this illustration of “Success” – there’s no straight line about it, I do know that. The other day I was asked by a student to give a “TEDx” sort of talk on the topic of “redefining success”; in other words, I wasn’t supposed to talk about writing, but rather give my opinion on that specific topic, in under 18 minutes. Very interesting … I’m not actually able to do it as I’ll be away for a week in November, but it’s given me something to think about this week.

I’ve been working so hard on my writing lately that I have an injury – my right baby finger aches all the time, from all that punctuating and “entering/returning”. So is success being  crazy busy all the time doing something you love? Sort of …

Then I came upon this quote, which made me pause and reconsider. Am I chasing happiness when I’m writing, or am I just being happy? Is there a difference? For sure sometimes I feel like I spend far too much time at my laptop, and when I’m in the middle of “make believe” (thanks, Laura Best), I have to force myself to go outside, take a few deep breaths and enjoy the crisp sunshiny days we’ve had this fall. Charlie totally appreciates this and watching her wag and romp and run definitely makes me smile (unless it involves fresh cow plops). But so does finding the (for the moment) perfect words to express whatever’s going on in the story I’m writing.

happinessSo, what do you think? How do you define success? Happiness?  Is chasing happiness the same as just being happy?

BOOK GIVE-AWAY (ENTER TODAY!)

http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/66630-the-power-of-harmony

Woozles Pink Day

Woozles Pink Day

 

 

 

The nicest people seem to hang out at book stores! Woozles had this wonderful window display for anti-bullying/pink day a couple of weeks ago – I was happy to see Harmony as part of that display. The Woozles women were also working hard at Word on the Street on Sunday, and they’re always so happy to see you!

 

http://www.slj.com/2013/09/books-media/collection-development/focus-on-collection-development/children-of-war-tales-of-child-refugees-and-safe-havens-focus-on/ Nice to see HARE included on this comprehensive list compiled in School Library Journal (SLJ) today.

WOTS

I was part of a middle grade authors’ panel at WOTS, along with writer friends JoAnn Yhard and Jill MacLean – we had a great chat on the topic of “Food For Thought – the role of novels in encouraging empathy,” and we actually had a decent crowd there to listen to us. Thanks to all the volunteers, including our friend, Jackie Halsey, who agreed to moderate the panel at the last minute.

Irving CentreWednesday night, I went down to the Irving Centre and met the people in the intro to writing for kids workshop I’ll be facilitating through Acadia’s Lifelong Learning  (ALL) program for the next six weeks. They’re a dynamic group, with lots of writing/editing experience, and it’ll be interesting to hear what they bring to share each evening. I typed out the text of Kathy Stinson’s new picture book, THE MAN WITH THE VIOLIN (Annick), based on the Joshua Bell/subway story that went viral on the internet a year or two ago, and read it to the group. The 440-word text is a brilliant example of a picture book text standing perfectly on its own without the enhancement of illustrations – but they’re brilliant too (Dusan Petricic – I think he’s an editorial cartoonist as well as an illustrator).

We couldn’t have asked for better weather for our writing retreat to Port Joli last week. This was my fifth year retreating to PJ for a writing week, and we got lots of writing done, but managed to fit in some beach time every day, too, plus long chats about writing and a million other topics. Thanks Marcia and Jackie:)

Port Joli, 2013

Port Joli, 2013
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