Thursday, October 28, 2010

Library Nerds, Room to Read and Amphibian Bling

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear John Wood, Founder and Executive Chairman of Room To Read speak. Not only is John proud to be a library nerd, he's proud of the accomplishments of the organization he started. Room To Read is an international literacy organization that believes that world change starts with educated children.  

In the ten years since Leaving Microsoft to Change the World  John and Room to Read have established 1,128 schools and 10,000 libraries in Nepal, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Sri Lanka, Laos, India, South Africa, Zambia and Bangledesh. 

In addition, the organization has published 433 local language children's books, distributed 7.4 million books, and provided nearly 9,000 secondary scholarships for girls in those countries.

Room to Read’s programs have reached more than four million children as of 2010 and hopes to improve literacy for ten million children by 2015.
John is a genuine and engaging speaker. His focus is on raising the funding and letting those in the countries they participate in do what they do best. All the teachers, librarians, writers, illustrators, editors and publishers are local. They run programs in countries where the local governments and school boards are committed to sending children to school and keeping the schools and libraries operational. 
I donated a copy of Dead Frog on the Porch to John for Room to Read. Hopefully some youngster in one of those countries will be reading the adventures of twin sisters Cyd and Jane as they save the world one frog at a time. 
Here's a picture of John with my book and me with his book. 
What you can't see in this picture is the incredible piece of amphibian bling I picked up recently in china town in New York!
Oh, did I forget to mention that Room to Read realized that it's great to get donations of books already published in English, but it's also important for children to learn to read in their mother tongue. So Room to Read has established a Local Language Publishing program to create culturally appropriate children's books in their own language that will spark their imaginations. In some countries Room to Read is the biggest publisher of children's books. As John says, they are the "largest children's book publisher you've never heard of."  
Maybe it's our prairie roots that draw us to John's philosophy of GSD - get stuff done! Thirteen year old Samantha Terry of Taber, Alberta did the prairie equivalent of raising a barn for Room to Read. She raised more than $10,000 to build a school in Nepal! Way to go Samantha - you rock something awesome!
Left to Right: Samantha's Mom, Leann Hackman-Carty, and Samantha Terry.
Take a minute (or 20) tonight to read to yourself, your children, write a letter (or a blog post), buy a book for a friend, look up a word in your on-line dictionary and generally appreciate your literacy and its role in making your life what it is today. 
Be proud to be a library nerd!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dead Bird through the Cat Door Book Cover!

It's here! The book cover for my latest novel Dead Bird through the Cat Door! It's the second in the Megabyte Mystery series for middle grade readers (kids aged 8-12). 

Here's a bit longer description than what was able to fit on the back of the book cover.

Dead birds? Stolen cats? C’est what? When Cyd and Jane’s cat Yin gets kidnapped – that’s when it gets personal.
Once again, Cyd and her animal loving twin Jane are up to their bird beaks in intrigue cracking the latest Megabyte Mystery. The director of the bird sanctuary, Aviary Finch, is stealing cats to kill birds. But why? Their new sidekick Todd – who’s side is he on anyway?
The twins use the latest technology and Shakespeare’s Macbeth to help crack the case. Methinks the culprits doth protest too much! Will Cyd and Jane save the sanctuary, free the birds, and return the cats to their natural habitat of their owners’ laps? It’s predator eats predator when evil meets crazy!

Advance Praise for Dead Bird through the Cat Door:

"Mystery-solving twins, a bird hater out of Macbeth, and
lots of giggly wordplay -- good fun!"

“A zany and zippy follow up to Dead Frog on the Porch.
Snoopy twins Cyd and Jane are on the hunt for a bird killer,
but they expose an eco-conspiracy instead. Their over-the top
antics will have young readers laughing and clamouring
for more. This delightful novel places author Jan Markley in
the catbird seat among funny mystery writers.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Breathe Deep and Go - Jocosa of the Earrings Update Part 2

When we left off at the end of Jocosa of the Earrings Update Part 1, our protagonist er, heroine Jocosa was taking Lisa Rector's advice and looking for what worked in each scene. 
I'll let Jocosa take it from there ...  

Each scene had a clear purpose. I exited scenes in the midst of tension, and the dramatic action for my protagonist increased as the pages turned. My favorite scenes were those with a shared POV (one scene told from two different perspectives). I was also pleased with the way my protagonist’s journey ended, and since the beginning needs to be in contrast with the end… where did that leave me?

Itching to start.

First step: purge. I slashed and cut every section of the opening that was overdone, unnecessary, boring and anything that would prevent my heroine from moving forward. What was left?  Not much. But what remained was the spine of each scene.

 Next: sculpting. Now that each scene’s purpose was exposed, I could zero in on the internal tension that would catapult my heroine into the next action/scene. I also determined which scenes needed to be shared. Wham Bam: a finished draft. For the moment.

After letting it ferment a few days I began the proofing and refining so that I wouldn’t be embarrassed when I sent it off to my writing pals, which I did near the end of August. They in turn gave me fabulous feedback—identified info dumps I’d become numb to, revealed more clichés and asked spot on questions that forced me to clarify motivations and intentions. More purging, tweaking and plumbing.

Back to my readers. A thumbs up. I trusted them, but I wanted one last look because I also trusted Lisa Rector. In her 
Eleventh Hour Checklist workshop, she said if you are questioning your manuscript on any level, you’re not done. I could relate. Though I knew each previous draft was better than the last, my inner critic would linger with her “Think what you want, but” expression on her face, and I’d start again. Thank goodness.

But when I did the final read through of draft #6, I was never prouder of any writing I had ever done. It is the story I was meant to tell. I’ve told it the best way I know how, and I’m ready to share it with the world.

Oh, I’m not delusional. I know there will be more reworking to do down the road with an agent and editor. For now though, I will bask in the joy.

Next Jocosa of the Earrings Update: Submission fear

Bask in it J of the E, bask in it! Now, dear bloggowers, here's the picture you've all been waiting for. Here's a current pic of Jocosa's hair (and super groovy earring). 

and here's her hair a year ago:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pet Snakes, Gidget and putting yourself out there: Update on Jocosa of the Earrings

This is a picture of me and my new best friend - my niece's snake Aphrodite! Do I like snakes? Not particularly. But I told my niece I would step outside my comfort zone of furry domestic pets with paws and claws and hold her reptilian pet snake. As writers it is good to step outside our comfort zones - whether it's opening an emotional vein and spilling ink like blood all over the page, presenting at a conference, doing interviews or whatever scares you. We put ourselves out there every time we submit a manuscript or go to a blue pencil or pitch session with an editor or agent.  

One writer who put herself out there is  Jocosa of the Earrings. It's been almost a year since the Surrey International Writers' Conference where she declared that she wouldn't cut her hair until her book was published. She'd pitched to Donald Maass and he requested the first fifty pages of the re-write. She spent the last year re-writing it. Here, in her words, she picks up the story. 
When we left off, the last two thirds of my manuscript was sculpted, but the first third was a protoplasmic mess. For inspiration I trekked down to NYC to see a play and agent stalk. Did it work? Yes and no. I was juiced to hone the opening pages, but alas, my muse refused to oil my fingers. The keyboard remained silent, the computer page white.

Fear plagued my psyche.

Had I destroyed my creativity because I was too focused on the joy of having an agent’s interest? Was my passion for my story deflating? Was my lack of craft showing? Was I fooling myself about being a writer? What had I been thinking when I agreed to have my journey to publication chronicled on
Three Dead Moths?

Maybe I was only a dreamer.

Fortunately, there’s a bit of
Gidget in me. For those of you who don’t know—Gidget is a fictional character created by Fredrick Kohner in his 1957 novel Gidget, The Little Girl with Big Ideas--about a teenage girl and her surfing friends in Malibu. In 1957 it became a hit movie starring Sandra Dee and James Darren (one of my favorite fun flicks). And in 1965 it became a successful television show starring Sally Field.

Besides being a girl with unflappable patience and persistence, Gidget also learns practically everything she needs to know from books. Love it. I have scoured many a craft book throughout my journey.
Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction, both by Donald Maass, The First Five Pages and The Plot Thickens both by Noah Lukeman, and The Writer’s Journey by Chris Vogler to name a few.

But the Gidget in me said, “Not this time.”

I chose to consult my notes from the 2009 SIWC. And once again, clarity came through the voice of
Lisa Rector. One of the first things Lisa said during The First 50 Pages workshop was, “I’m not going to talk to you about what you are doing wrong. We’re going to talk about what you are doing right.” If you identify what you do well as a writer and repeat it, you can prevent a lot of mistakes, such as too much back-story, go-no-where dialogue, absent tension and sagging middles.

Works for me.

So, what was it I was doing well in the last two thirds of the book that I could steal from? I admit to feeling weird about identifying what I was doing well. Felt a bit conceited and made me want to look over my shoulder to make certain no one was laughing. But if you can’t identify what you’re doing right, how can you be sure you’re doing anything wrong? And if you can’t figure out what isn’t working how will your story ever make it on to the shelves?

Next installment: Jocosa, Jocosa let down your hair! We'll have a pic of her (and another pair of her fabulous earrings) and her growing hair. 

Now, from the Gidget school of not taking no for an answer...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Facing Fire by kc dyer: Darby Christopher Guest Blog Post

Today we have a guest post written by one of the characters in kc dyer's new middle grade novel Facing Fire

kc dyer is a Canadian children's author. She was also the coordinator of the Surrey International Writers' Conference (SiWC) for years - which is where I met her. kc has a penchant for wearing brightly coloured leggings. She's also just published her sixth novel! Virtual round of applause!

kc with those famous leggings at SiWC

She's dedicated to the writing community and was helpful when I asked her for advice. She, and the Surrey conference, have a special place in my 'how I got published story.' 

Sometimes kc forgets to brush her hair in her excitement at seeing her new book. But that's okay! 
Being a writer means never having to brush your hair!

Without further ado ....

Hi Jan's readers!
 My name is Darby Christopher, and I have locked Jan into a woodbox on the porch for the nefarious purpose of taking over her blog for the day. 

Okay, okay -- not true. The only thing in the woodbox on Jan's porch is a dead frog or two.

The truth is that this month I’m cruising around the internet in a blog-odyessy, celebrating the launch of my new book. It’s called FACING FIRE and Jan Markley has kindly made this space available so I can tell you about it. 

FACING FIRE picks up the story of what happened to me after the magical summer that you may have read about in A WALK THROUGH A WINDOWBoth books tell the story of how many different Canadians came to Canada. But while other people talk about boats and planes and dealing with customs, well, my books take a different view. I may not be too fond of frogs -- either dead OR on porches -- but I can tell you I've had a bit of experience with slipping through time.

Yep -- if you like time travel and want to learn more about either of my stories, have a peek at kc dyer's website:

Or better still, maybe you’d like to win a copy? If you leave comment on this post, Jan will put your name into a draw to win a signed copy of the new book – FACING FIRE. And if you actually link to this post somewhere else [like in another blog, or facebook post or even a tweet] we’ll put your name in for the draw for BOTH of my books. Go for it!

By the way, if you’re into looking for prizes, [especially if you like making videos], check out my blog HERE at Darby Speaks. I have an AMAZING contest going with some totally fantastic prizes. And if you like twitter, you can follow all the latest on the contest and the blog tour and launches @DarbyWalking.

See you there.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled Jan-cast....

This is what happens when you let zombies eat your brainz!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Human Skulls, Creepy Doll Coffins, and Defying Gravity

I'm back from New York city! It was frawesome (hybrid of fricken & awesome) as usual. I went to my niece's wedding which was beautiful. And spent the rest of the time kicking it in the city with family.

The doll in the suitcase was in the overhead bin above unlucky aisle 13. A little creepy. I think it's what happens when you answer 'yes', like I did, to the following boarder crossing guard's question. Here's our conversation:

Border crossing dude: Do you have anything sharp or delicate in your carry-on bag?  

Me: Yes, in my lunch.

Border crossing dude: You have something sharp in your lunch? Sharp cheese, maybe?

Me: No, not sharp, delicate.

Border crossing dude: What's delicate in your lunch?

Me: Pita bread.

Border crossing dude: Yes, it is.

Okay, border crossing guys - not telling you how to do your job, but maybe the words 'sharp' and 'delicate' shouldn't be in the same sentence ... just saying!

Here are some of the pictorial highlights:

'Oh, that's just creepy!' My niece at the Evolution store

The Evolution Store in SoHo
Could be called 'human skulls R Us'

File this under: Way tooooo much information!
At the Hershey store. Do you have any bigger chocolate bars? 
Nephew wearing a piece of art created for him.

Where word nerds go to party! 

Bought four new books for the pile. While taking this picture I narrowly escaping death as I was on the path of a skateborder who was being filmed. When they shouted at me to move, I proceeded to run right into his flight path. Tourists eh?!

Guy waiting for subway - tired from reading a giant book. 
If owls are so wise, how did they manage to get stuck on the side of a building?! 

If you get a chance to see the musical Wicked I would highly recommend it. Here's an inspiring song from the play about defying your limitations and gravity - which is what all writers need to do.

On Thursday kc dyer will guest post. She is a Canadian author and past organizer of the Surrey International Writers Conference. She will be talking about her new book Facing Fire which is a sequel to her book A Walk through a Window. It's part of a blog tour and there will be an opportunity to win a copy of her book. More deets on Thursday.

I also had a chat with Jocosa of the Earrings when I was in NY, and we'll have an update next week on the vow that she took not to cut her hair until she gets published.

I'm off to defy gravity!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

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

I'm off to New York tomorrow for my niece's wedding. She's an actress and blogs at Barbie Kong. My younger niece will be there as well, she blogs at Tiny Canadian (nice, not so subtle plug for the blogging nieces!). So, for my newer bloggowers I'm doing another 'it's new to you post' and my regular, old time bloggowers will have forgotten they read this so it's new to them as well ;-j 

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, I was the other character, 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, 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 a few weeks when the book is published, to find out.

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

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Top Ten Reasons This Day Wants a Do Over!

1) I was late for the deep water aerobics class and all the little old ladies and men get there a half hour early and sign up so I was afraid the class would be full;

2) A grandma smashed into my car in the parking lot. Okay, so maybe grandma shouldn't be driving a van as she can't see over the steering wheel and like grandmas the world over doesn't believe in the shoulder check;

3) Spent time examining the car, no visible sign of damage. While discussing possible internal car damage I heared the story of how she's taking care of her grandchild and just dropped by the pool to pick him up - thought I would have missed the class for sure;

4) There was one last spot in the class, had a friendly chat with the pool guy about how much I needed the stress release because some grandma just smashed my car in the lot;

5) In the deep water pool splashing around watching the kids in the large pool splashing around when the whistle blows and every one is told to get out of the water and evacuate the building;

6) Grabbed my towel, locker key and evacuated the building. Smoke now very evident and very smelly, and hard to breathe;

7) parts of the ceiling began to fall into the pool;

8) Went across the street to the hockey arena and watched Hazard Materials (haz mat), fire crews and EMS show up. Turns out they were putting tar on the roof and it caught on fire;

9) Stood around in a soggy bathing suit covered by a towel for an hour waiting to get back in the pool to get my purse, house and car keys so I could get home;

10) They called two city buses and we waited in the warm buses wrapped in blankets for another hour until we got the all clear to go in the building and get out stuff out. It begins to rain.

The upside - there's always and upside - was that luckily there's an old guy, I like to call Merv Griffin, because he thinks he's funny and flirts with all the instructors, he kept us midly amused. And all my clothes smell like burnt tar - eau de burnt tar - next big fragrance.

Note to self: don't go to aerobics Monday nights and keep some granola bars in the glove compartment of my car!      

What kind of everyday stress can you put your characters through?