Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Blogging Nieces!

Two of my nieces have launched blogs. The first blog belongs to my niece Kate McConaghy, who is living in New York working as an actress. The blog is called Barbie Kong and examines how celebrity and societal influences are shaping the lives of the 2010 woman. It is fun, entertaining, and insightful. Kate would love it if you dropped by for a look and became a follower. The other blog belongs to my younger niece Teaghan. Teaghan is 12 and is also know as my marketing manager/video production manager. She created my book trailer for Dead Frog on the Porch and a video about Sprite my crazy rejection letter eating cat.
Her blog is called the Tiny Canadian (or as I like to call it - the Random Rumblings of the Tiny Canadian). It also examines burning societal influences such as: What is tofu – some sort of white pasty emotionally disturbed jello that has come to destroy the world?; Where would we be without the LOL Cats?; and Why don’t goldfish bounce – are they really fanged water demons of doom? Burning questions explored from the point of view of a 12 year old. She’d be thrilled if you, or your favourite 12 year old, dropped by for a peak at her blog and became a follower. She also has another blog that is about saving the environment called The Big Green Project. She believe kids can save the environment one act of conservation a day and asks kids to sign up and record what they've done for the earth today.
Wow - talented, busy, blogging nieces changing the world one blog post at a time! And here at Three dead moths in my mailbox ... I explore such weighty societal (writerly) issues like why you need to get down and dirty and get the words right and what lime marmalade teaches you about character development.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Honey, it ain’t all about you or why everyone thinks I’m writing about them …

Before you get published you may spend a lot of time worrying that people in your life will think you are writing about them. Since publishing my novel, and a number of personal experience essays, I can give you one piece of advice – stop worrying - because everyone thinks you’re writing about them … all the time … your friends, your family, and the husband of a former colleague who made you Black Pudding once (we’ll get back to him).

I’ve already told you about my childhood friend Sandy who phoned me in a tiff one day after reading an early draft of Dead Frog on the Porch and claimed that she was one character and the other character was me and my character was picking on her character. My response: please refer back to the title of this blog post … Honey, it ain’t all about you.

Then there was my other childhood friend Jane who’s frog I accidently killed (the original dead frog on the porch) and I recounted the story of going to visit her and discovering that her house was a shrine to her dead frog. Parts of the story are set in the neighbourhood we grew up in, and parts of the story are in her house, and parts aren’t. Is she a character? Is Sandy a character? Am I a character? … if I tell you that, who the heck will read my yet to be written and published memoirs?!

So that leads me to the story of Bill Kidd (true name, I can’t make this stuff up), or Billy the Kidd, as I, and others equally witty, have called him over the years. He’s the husband of a friend and former colleague, and he happened to be in the pub when we were brainstorming the plot of my second novel Dead Bird through the Cat Door. Since then Bill has claimed that he is one of the culprits in my story – Aviary Finch. Aviary is the owner of the bird sanctuary and he is killing birds (I know, right!?). Bill even refers to it as the book with his character.

Yes, he gave me some ideas. Yes, we were drinking pints of some sort of fermented Scottish beverage. Yes, like the culprit Bill is Scottish. Bill supplied me with all sorts of ideas of evil things the character can threaten the protags with – like Black Pudding, and pot pie cooked with baby birds. Then he invited me to his house and proceeded to cook me all sorts of Scottish delicacies like haggis and Black Pudding, and made me eat them (the suffering for my art never ends – but it was good research). And I’m all “where’s the deep fried Mars Bar?”

Is Bill, a mild mannered engineer by day, an evil/crazy antag by fictional illusion? Is Bill the character of Aviary Finch? Is Aviary Finch based on Bill? You’ll have to tune into this bat channel in the fall, when the book is published, to find out.

Hey Bill, why all the bird seed in your pocket …?

Monday, February 22, 2010

An open letter to the dirt bag who stole my copy of Going Bovine

Hey dirt bag – yes, I’m using slang from the 80s – that’s how mad I am. So, dirt bag, ya had to go and steal my copy of Going Bovine by Libba Bray out of my car. I bought her y/a novel after hearing her speak at the SCBWI Winter Conference in NY.

It’s the story of a teenager with mad cow disease who goes on a road trip with his dwarf friend and a garden gnome to save the world and himself – I know right!?

The voice is so dead-on modern day Holden Caulfield, with a tragic/hilaric twist. The story has me simultaneously laughing my guts out, and twisting my intestines in sorrow and hope that I can’t put it down. The characters are so vulnerable, yet so committed to their quest, that you are rooting for them all the way. I carry the book with me everywhere – which is serious dedication since it’s hardcover. I read it at lunch, on coffee break, on the train (sorry for laughing out loud so much), to the place where they change the oil in my car … I take it everywhere in case I can steal a few minutes from my day to read.

I even took it into the sushi restaurant with me because I didn’t want anyone to steal it. But I didn’t drag it in with me to Deepak Chopra’s presentation because who in this infinite field of possibilities would steal it from my car?!

I gotta tell ya dirt bag, that’s the lowest thing you can do – steal a book from a reader when I was half way through. Why didn’t you steal my ipod with its 642 songs? Hey, how come there was no force of entry, how’d you get in dirt bag? Are you in cahoots with the parking lot guy? Why didn’t you steal the empty plastic container that had my lentil soup in it? Yeah, my ipod’s still here, plastic container, daytimer … what’s this hard thing at the bottom of my work bag that feels like a … book. Oh, there it is, and the bookmark is still there. Chapter 23, just where I left off … I’ve got a few minutes now at this red light …

Next blog post: Open letter of apology to all the dirt bags in the world.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

What B-B-Qued Beef, Moroccan Nomads and a shopping experience reveals about my character

Now that the manuscript for the second in the Mega Byte Mystery series Dead Bird through the Cat Door is with my publisher, I can spend a few weekends doing normal things with my friends like having lunch and shopping for new furniture for my bedroom and hey, I might even go see Avatar.

This is a conversation between my friend Amber and I as we were enjoying Barbequed Beef and Chai Tea at Tiffin Curry and Roti House my favourite East African/Indian restaurant. Keep in mind the whole – characters reveal themselves through dialogue - thing. What can you learn about me from this exchange of dialogue?

Amber: So what colour is the rug in the room?

Me: It’s kinda taupey-camely colour.

Amber: What about the fabric and the pattern?

Me: (moving my arms around like the multi-armed Hindu God Vishnua signalling the control tower to land a plane) Well, there’s kinda colour here, and then there’s the other colour there. And it’s really big and I spent a lot of time shopping for it – it’s hard to find a really big rug, you know, then stuffed it into my car and brought it home (clearly, the Chai Tea had kicked in).

Amber: (holding beef in her hand on the way to her mouth and with an astounded look on her face) Can you be more specific?

Me: You know when you’re in the Morroccan desert with a nomad family and you’ve been invited to have tea with the family in their tent. Then a sand storm kicks up and they have to pack up all their belongings and put them on the back of a camel. The giant rug they would use to do that – that’s kinda what my rug looks like and feels like.

Amber: You don’t have a frickin' idea what that rug looks like do you?

Me: Not a clue.

Conclusion: I’m a complex character who is simultaneously a writer with blinders on who can focus on her writing to the exclusion of all else and precisely observant. Or, I’m just a spaz.

We went on to shop and I discovered that there is a colour called Wenge (or espresso) derived from the colour of the wood from the Wenge tree. I also discovered jewelry armoires – entire pieces of furniture to house jewelry- seriously people! (Can't wait until mine arrives).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why don’t you quit your job and write full time?

This is the most asked and answered question of all when you are a writer. I’ve been asked it many times, and I've answered it many times.

There were two good posts this week about not quitting your day job to write. One on the Dystel & Goderich literary agency blog which links to an article on the Millions The Writer Career Arc or Why we Love the Susan Boyle Story which examines the myth of the rags to riches writing career.

I have two standard one-liners that I use depending on the situation. There is the sarcastic version: “Have you ever met a writer? Most of them are still wearing the same fair-trade cotton t-shirt they bought back in 1987 at the folk fest.” Or the modern realism version: “Have you ever met a writer? Most of them can’t even afford to buy a cookie to enjoy alongside their hot beverage of choice when we go for coffee.”

I’m still waiting for a payment of $17.50 from an article I wrote in the 1990s. I’ve let it go, after all my stalking activities lead to the editor’s phone machine (yes it was the 90s, before voice mail) where the message was: “I’m either at work or asleep. Leave a message.” I did. It wasn’t about the money (clearly $17.50 wasn’t going to make that much of a difference to my bottom line) it was about the principle – if you use my article you need to pay me.

What’s your one-liner answer to the question: why don’t you quit your job and write full time?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Top 12 Tips for Sasquatching yourself

This past weekend I entered my Sasquatch writing cave and I vowed not to emerge until I was finished Dead Bird through the Cat Door, the second in the Megabyte Mystery series. I emerged late Sunday afternoon with the manuscript finished and burning up cyberspace on its way to my publisher. Yay me!

Here are some things I learnt this weekend about successful sasquatching. You have already learnt the #1 rule of being a Sasquatch writer - cultivated a cranky personality so no one extends any social invites to you – eschew all human contact. Everything else is all in the preparation and the execution.

1. Fill your pantry with ready to eat foods like toast and popcorn;

2. Pay your heating bill – an unheated Sasquatch writing cave is harsh;

3. Stop shaving your legs, because even if you pay the heating bill, you might need a little extra furry warmth, for men – re-schedule your back waxing appointment;

4. Wear warm socks and extra fuzzy slippers – a writer with cold feet is a distracted writer;

5. Have your favourite sweat pants and giant sweat shirt freshly washed (we’re not mythical beasts ya know) and wear them for maximum comfort;

6. Have a cat sit beside your keyboard and chew on your knuckles because writers need to suffer for their art;

7. Have a back yard to your cave so you can kick said cat out of the house when it’s too annoying;

8. Have an ample supply of milk, tea, and honey on hand to make those endless cups of chai tea that fuel your creativity and keep you awake;

9. Observe the earth’s rotation with interest ('oh, the sun is up' 'oh, the moon is up') but don’t let the passage of time stray you from your goal (except get a good night’s sleep);

10. Give yourself a carrot (to go with your stick – or in the case of a real Sasquatch a deer carcass) and reward yourself with it – be it chocolate, sour ju jubes, reading time, episodes of Coronation Street (or all four together) – you need to give yourself a break;

11. Take a break before the moon replaces the sun even the Sasquatch writer needs some fresh air now and then and don’t forget to let the cat back in! and,

12. Don’t have your email open and minimized because every time you get an email that little box will pop up on your screen – Sasquatch writers can be easily distracted. The world has been searching for you for centuries and survived without you – they can survive a few hours of uninterrupted writing.

And smile because you are fulfilling your dreams and goals where many like you just talk about it and never do it!

Here's to some gold medal Sasquatch Writing!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Winter Olympics, NY and the Climatological Conspiracy Cracked Wide Open

I was in Times Square in New York and spotted this - a giant ad for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. I felt proud and I felt immense pride last night watching the opening ceremonies - Go Canada, Go Vancouver and Go Whistler! Good luck to all the participating athletes and I love the peaceful, cooperative spirit of the games.
But that's not going to stop me from cracking open the Climatological Conspiracy of the last two centuries.
You know how everyone in the US is like - 'Canada's a cold nation, north wind blowing in from Canada, we can thank Canada for that snow storm' ... am I right? We'll there's been a veritable meteorological cover up.
It was colder in NY than in Calgary when I was there a couple of weekends ago. And no, it didn't just feel colder, it was actually colder, degree by freezing degree. O Canada - the true north strong and free, and warm!
Needless to say, I didn't bring a touque and even thought about not bringing boots. Being Canadian, I thought I was going to a much warmer clime! I too have had the climatological wool pulled over my eyes.
I'll freely admit that I suffer from a navigational deficit disorder (i.e., if the Taj Mahal is to the right, I will go left). Turns out my niece Kate and Jocosa of the Earrings are equally afflicted. I had no idea that a walk through Central Park, for hours, would lead to me say "go on without me, save yourselves ..." We were looking for the John Lennon Memorial. Jocosa and Kate were talking theatre and I slowly fell behind afflicted by the cold ... fingers stiff, legs numb from the cold, and my asterisk was frozen solid! Where was my standing-at-the-bus-in-minus thirty below-coat when I needed it? We'd walk blocks in one direction to find out that we'd walked blocks in one direction too far. Then we'd walk blocks in the other direction. I remember mumbling: "if we see this same park again I'll skin both of you alive and use your hide as a coat and boil your bones for sustenance." (Nice language for a children's writer eh!)
But then, as the sun was setting, we found the memorial and all was calm and right with the world. And then we hopped a cab to the warmer clime of a restaurant.
Next Post: Top 12 Tips for Sasquatching yourself.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Just say no to that hot Pterodactyl boyfriend ..."

That was a quote from the New York Times Bestselling author of Going Bovine, Libba Bray when she gave the opening keynote address at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in New York a couple of weekends ago.
"Just say no to the hot Pterodactyl boyfriend" - that was a key message throughout the conference, and a message that I got in a way that I hadn't before. It's about discovering your true voice and writing what's authentic to you. Don't try to predict the trends (or the stock market or the weather) by the time you write a book with Pterodactyl boyfriends, find a publisher, get a contract, and see it on the shelf - years will have gone by and your hair will be as long as Jocosa of the Earrings'*.
Write what is truly and authentically in your voice and trust that readers will connect on an emotional level to your characters. Publishers are looking for that unique voice that stands out in the slush of the pile.
Some other gems from Libba:
  • find the crack in the rock - a deeper understanding of your characters;
  • first you jump off the cliff and then you build the wings- if there are no stakes then it is not worth writing - write like it matters to you;
  • put some marrow on the page;
  • honour your work with honesty - make this the year of writing dangerously, commit to writing with heart and soul, get to the unguarded place where miracles can take place; and (my personal favourite),
  • every time you use a cliche the terrorists win.
While you don't want to blindly follow trends, you need to be keenly aware of what's going on in the publishing market. Seems like fantasy is on the wane and dystopia (say what! - yes, I too had to google it!) is on the upswing - don't even get me started about steampunk (this is, apparently, a steampuck spider).
* In a few weeks, I'll be updating you on the state of Jocosa of the Earrings' hair and her submission to the god of agents.
Next post: the Winter Olympics, NY and the climatological conspiracy cracked open!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Hyperbole is the best thing ever!

I will be teaching two writing courses through Chinook Learning Services Continuing Education. You can register for the classes here.
The first one is 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.

The course will be offered three times, one each in February, March and May.

Course Code 63271

Tue, Thu 
6:30 pm - 9:30 pm
Feb 23 & 25

Course Code 63269

9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Mar 13

Course Code 63272

Mon, Wed 
6:30 pm - 9:30 pm
May 10 & 12

Writing Queries that Pop (I wanted to call it writing kick butt queries, butt they wouldn't let me)

This course is designed for writers who are querying or have a manuscript they are about to submit. You will submit your query letter in advance and be prepared to have it discussed in class for the purposes of making it stronger. The bulk of the class will be used to critique the participants' query letters. This is a hands on, spill some ink, break a few pencils kinda course. You've written your fiction manuscript. It's been through your writers' group and has undergone numerous rewrites. You think it's ready to send to publishers. You've done your research about which publishers would be appropriate and you've read their submission guidelines. Now you need to write a query letter that will get your submission pulled out of the slush pile.

Course code 63268

9:00 am - 4:00 pm
May 8

This is query letter writing hell - you don't want to go there!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What happens in book club stays in book club …

So the number of homemade cookies the guest author (moi) ate at the Owl’s Nest Books Junior Owlets Book Club – stays in book club!

I had a great time at book club. There were thirteen really enthusiastic kids (ranging from 8-11 years of age) who had all read my book (one accidently dropped it in a puddle but hey – reading is an extreme sport).

They read, they discussed, they drilled me, they debated photosynthisis, and they ranked (with disturbing precision – I think they were tougher than the Olympic figure skating judges)!

Dead Frog on the Porch ranked an 8.26 out of 10! They liked the characters, the problem the protags had to solve, and they thought it was funny. Which is all good.

Now, I think all kids are bright and talented, and these kids were no exception. There was one girl who is in grade three and is reading at a grade eleven level, another who is ten and in grade six! The boy, who said he reads anything he can get his hands on, has the entire works of William Shakespeare and began describing the plays to me. This was comforting because in the next Megabyte Mystery Dead Bird through the Cat Door – Methinks the culprits doth protest too much. Shakespeare’s Macbeth gives Cyd and Jane some clues to solving the mystery of why Aviary Finch, the director of the bird sanctuary, is getting rid of all the birds.

Book club was a great experience and thanks to Cynthia at Owl's Nest for inviting me. I love the fact that kids love reading enough to get up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday to go to book club. Plus …Cynthia's homemade cookies totally rocked it!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"You had me at homemade chocolate chip cookies ..."

I’ll be attending the Owl’s Nest Books Junior Owlets Book Club (for children grades 3-6) on Saturday where my book will be featured and discussed.

Making liberal use of the comic literary device of hyperbole – this is how the opportunity was presented to me by Cynthia, the book club organizer:

You will arrive pre-dawn, on what will in all likelihood be a cold February morn (aren’t they all?) You will wait, alone and in the dark, outside the store, which won’t yet be open. At an appointed time you will be asked to recite the secret harry potter-devinci code-heart of darkness like code word and you will be let into the store. Ten children will have read your book. No parents are allowed in the room. The children will drill you on the content of your book and ask you questions. Then they will rank you – possibly off the shelf and maybe off the island. And they are tough; don’t let their youthful exuberance fool you. If they don’t make you cry, they won’t feel like they’ve done their job. And then you will be invited to eat home made chocolate chip cookies.

My response: you had me at home made chocolate chip cookies – it took a while to get there, but when you did - you had me.

Fear not sweet bloggowers, I shall return, with perhaps a slightly treaded upon ego and fingers covered in chocolate chip cookie crumbs, but I shall return.

I look forward to the adventure … (Cynthia emailed back to say the kids wanted me to know that I can have as many chocolate chip cookies as I want.)

P.S.: Owl’s Nest has a range of book clubs for children, teens and adults – check them out.

Monday, February 1, 2010

New York, Midnight-Blue Marbles, and Giant Groundhogs

I'm back from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in New York city! It was fabulous and I had a great time. But I'm not going to tell you about it ... yet! I have a couple of time sensitive posts this week. Next week I will blog about the conference, and I will reveal the great climatological conspiracy that I have uncovered.
But first Groundhog Day.
Melanie Jackson is a Canadian author and editor (she was one of the editors on my debut novel Dead Frog on the Porch). She recently published The Midnight Blue Marble with Gumboot Books. It's an Ailie Mooney Mystery.
GLITTERING DEATH... 1793: French revolutionaries lop off the beautiful, if rather vacant, head of Queen Marie Antoinette. They claim the Queen squandered France's treasury to buy a sumptuous diamond necklace. Fast forward to the present: Vancouver history buff Ailie Mooney, 14, inherits from her eccentric great-uncle a packet of Marie Antoinette's letters - and a clue to the whereabouts of the infamous necklace's central stone, a.k.a., the Midnight-Blue Marble. Someone wants to figure out the clue before Ailie does. Using Marie Antoinette's letters, our determined, if perpetually disorganized, sleuth must hunt down the diamond before she becomes the next murder victim in its ever-bloody saga.
It's an awesome book. I've read it and so has my 12 year old niece who loved it!
The 14 year old protag in Melanie's book, Ailie Mooney has a blog and agreed to do a guest blog post in honour of Groundhog Day tomorrow. Here it is:
Begosh and begorrah, it’s Groundhog Day

A guest post by Ailie Mooney

In certain parts of Canada and the United States, a groundhog waddling out of his hole on February 2 will see humans gawking at him. Following a tradition of questionable logic, these eager folk are craning to see if the groundhog casts a shadow. If it’s sunny, of course, a plump, round shadow will spread around the groundhog. This should put everyone in a good humor, right? Wrong. It means wintry weather will continue. But, if the day is too cloudy to discern the groundhog’s shadow, sunny spring is near.

Being a Mooney, and therefore of Irish descent, I consider it a birthright to roll my eyes about strange Celtic beliefs. And, begosh and begorrah, yes, this one dates back to the very ancientest of the Celts. On February 2, which they called Candlemas Day, my ancestors contrarily interpreted fair weather as gloomy news, and vice-versa:

If Candlemas be fair and bright

Winter will have another flight If Candlemas be cloud and snow Winter will be gone and not come again.

Someone ought to have at least fixed the rhyme in that fourth line.

Thanks Ailie. Check out her blog. Cyd, the protag in dead frog will be doing a guest post on Ailie's blog in the future.

And no, that is not a picture of my niece's fat cat, it is a groundhog, and if it pops its head up around these parts someone might mistake it for a gopher and shoot it!

Okay, back to me. Next blog post: home made chocolate chip cookies, middle grade book club and getting voted off the island ...