Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dear Omniscient Narrator: It's not you, it's me!

Mary Anne Evans aka George Eliot
Apparently they made it into a movie ...
I finally summited the literary Mount Everest that is George Eliot's 900 page book Middlemarch. It's been on my to-be-read shelf for decades (bought in a used books store a few years after I graduated from my first university degree, when I must have declared that I was going to read all the classics). It has mocked me for years and I decided it was finally time to read it. 

Here's what I learned:

1. Grade five teacher - get out of my head: Okay, maybe it was grade six when I had a teacher who said you can't judge a book unless you read the whole thing. She was adamant. Even thought I stopped agreeing with that decades ago, it still must be lodged in my grey matter somewhere because I am loath to stop reading a book. I have the right to judge a book from the first sentence on. I can stop reading if it's not a genre that interests me or if I deem it to not be well written (totally subjective). I get that she was probably trying to get us to read all of our assigned readings. 

2. Omniscient narrator- we're through: It's not you, omniscient narrator, it's me. No, actually it's you. My head was spinning trying to keep up with who's pov the story was from. I have whiplash from the number of times the pov changed. Thankfully omniscient narration isn't trending. Love single or multiple pov books. 

3. I need a plot: You need a plot. We. All. Need. A. Plot! Donald Maass says if you want your book to be longer add more conflict, not description. I totally get that now. Yes, pages and pages of beautifully written description and character sketches, but I needed more of a plot (or less description). Now I get the appeal of plot driven books. Readers want something to happen. I like a balance between characters I care about and plot.   

4. Thank Buddha they invented editors: See #3. 

5. Don't give me a sub-plot if the characters and plot points aren't crucial to the ending: Don't make me care about characters that don't need to be in the novel. I also didn't connect with any of the characters on a deep level and I blame the omniscient narrator for that (it's always good to have a narrator to blame).  

6. I agree with Stephen King who said carry a book with you at all times. That was the only way I got through the 900 page book.

What I did like about it? It was hilarious in some parts, the insights were *cough* insightful, the issues of livelihood, money, status and love are universal, and it's good to know that politicians haven't changed. The historical perspective was interesting. The last two hundred pages rocked when the story kicked into high gear.  

What literary Mount Everest have you summited lately?   


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Author meets bald butt prairies ... again

As opposed to what? ... a dead bee hive?!
To get to the Young Alberta Book Society's (YABS) annual general meeting/professional development last year, I had to drive through a blinding freak May snowstorm. I chronicled my adventure here (and bemoaned the high risk life of a children's author).

This year it wasn't nearly as bad. Neither torrential rain, nor wind, nor fog kept a group of dedicated children's authors, illustrators and performers from travelling across the bald butt prairies to Red Deer for the meeting. 

YABS is dedicated to fostering literacy and a love of reading among young people in Alberta by providing access to the province's literary artists and their work through subsidized touring programs, youth writing camps and a whole lot more.  If you are a teacher, librarian, resource worker, literary artist or kid who likes to write - check out what YABS has for you. 

The meeting was held at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre so the surrounding (soaked) natural area could provide inspiration. 

We chatted, ate, talked touring, school visits, fundraising, shared experiences with various aspects of the publishing industry, talked about the future of publishing, weather stories, and even talked about finances (try to get writers to talk about numbers, just try). 
Trust a children's author to crawl into a giant fake tree!
Here's author Natasha Deen reading Joan Marie Galat's Dot to Dot in the Sky
It was a good day, I learned a lot, and the weather on the way home didn't disappoint. My hands were formed into claws by the time I got home, from clutching the steering wheel trying to keep my car on the road despite the blinding rain and high winds. 

Luckily, I had a cassette tape recorded in the1980s, from Simon and Garfunkel's concert in Central Park, to keep me company as my car literally flew over the rain slicked highway. Unluckily, since the technology is last century, the cassette would randomly flip sides. One minute I'd be singing along to Kodachrome and then it would flip sides and I'd be crooning to Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Ahhh ... the life of a children's author!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dead Bird Gets a Nom!

No, it wasn't this kind of nom!

I first heard about my nom on Facebook (maybe you've heard of Facebook - it's this little social networking thang). 

My friends started congratulating me for the nomination of my second middle grade novel Dead Bird through the Cat Door for the inaugural John Spray Mystery Award

Then cut to a scene of me frantically googling myself, my book, and the award. Nothing! I thought I was loosing my stalking skills. 

Little did I know that my writer peeps were all on the emailing list of the Canadian Children's Book Centre (CCBC) and got an email about a host of nominees for a wide range of children's book awards the centre administers.    

Later that day the CCBC posted the press release.

The John Spray Mystery Award was established in 2011 to honour excellence in the mystery book format. John Spray, President of the Mantis Investigation Agency, noted that mystery books made him a passionate reader at an early age and helped him find his chosen career. It will be awarded annually to a Canadian author of an outstanding work of mystery writing for young people.

Check out the other books on the list and their authors. Marty Chan was nominated as well for his latest mystery The Mystery of the Cyber Bully

You'll remember Marty from the Mystery Comedy Smackdown he and I had a couple of years ago, plus he's an all round good guy and an asset to the writing community! And he gave me a book cover quote for Dead Bird through the Cat Door.  

Good luck to all the nominees. The winner will be announced in Toronto in October.

Boy that water looks colourful!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I see grammatical errors: a writer's superpower

We all have our super powers - that kid sees dead people, others see dirt in every corner of my house, and me, well I see (and hear) grammatical errors. They are everywhere - embossed on the side of a box of tea, inked in the newspaper, and when I'm listening in on bus conversations my ears bleed. 

It might be genetic, but more likely learned. My parents grew up in that era (aka the olden days) when kids learned grammar, punctuation, and ... wait for it ... spelling! My dad was a stickler for the I vs. me (which many people get mixed up) and my mom - well, I pity the po fool sales clerk who uses the redundant phrase: these ones.   

The who/that particularly irks me, and it's there are not there is (or the abbreviated convenience of there's) - people really!

Here's a couple of grammar nerds who took to the road to police the written text and correct people's grammar and punctuation (I hear people love when you do that!).  They were chased, banned from a national park and at one place someone threatened to break their sharpies legs.  CBS did a feature about their adventures of taking correct grammar to the mean streets! (it's a great video but I couldn't embed it here so check out the link). They wrote a book about their quest called - The Great Typo Hunt 

And lest you think I always use perfect grammar and punctuation I remind you that I've never met a comma I didn't splice

Weird Al Yankovich highlights another one of my pet peeves - the lack of the 'ly' ending.

Which grammar or punctuation error gets your verbs all in a knot?

Hope you have a grammatically correct week.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Stubby Cafe and other Stuff Kids Write!

Stubby - madder than a wet cat!
I've shared with you my niece Teaghan's crazy mad video production skillz - she created book trailers for both of my novels. 

But what you didn't know was that she started out writing menus when she was five years old for the Stubby Café. 

What's a Stubby and why does it need, not only a menu, but a cafe? I thought you'd never ask. 

Teaghan and I (and her cat Stubby) did a feature blog post on the blog ‘Stuff Kids Write’ about a menu she did for the Stubby Café

Stuff Kids Write is the brain child of my writer friend Leanne Shirtliffe and Chase McFadden. It's kinda like stuff adults write ... but funnier!

Leanne has another blog called Ironic Mom where her motto is: if you can't laugh at yourself, laugh at your kids! Check it out! 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What the geriatric rapper at Aquasize taught me about character development

Picture this: I'm in the Real Canadian Super Store (aka a big box store) with a grocery cart laden with supposedly lower priced food. I'm navigating a crowded isle, swerving in and out around equally ladened grocery carts like an NHL hockey player, when I stop to pick something off a shelf. Another cart pushes into mine. I look up and see an old guy wearing a hoody and a baseball cap like he's a geriatric gangsta rapper dude. He's pointing a finger at me.

Old rapper dude: You!
Inside my head voice: I know I'm blocking the isle, what are you going do beat me up?!
Old rapper dude: You! Sunday morning aquasize! (busts out a big smile - all gangsta!)

Then a light bulb went on (and I wasn't even in the lighting department), he's the old dude I see at aquasize most Sunday mornings. He has a penchant for a particular water weight and when the instructor dumps them on the deck I usually get there before he does and grab the ones he likes, before anyone else gets them, and give them to him. The equivalent of a water sport good deed for the day.

Why am I telling you this?

Put your protagonist and antagonist in different settings and see how they react, see what different character traits emerge.
How did twin protags Cyd and Jane react in my debut novel Dead Frog on the Porch when they were up against the Dr. Tallbot (aka the Cheese Pie Man) in different situations - at the lab, at their house having dinner, at the zoo, in front of their mother?

Try putting your characters in different, and unusually settings, and show us (don't tell us) how they respond to different things that happen to them.

Give me some examples of how you use different settings to evoke character.

Remember the last time I went to water aerobics and regretted it?