A Little Tri-State Love

Some books, despite your best efforts, end up a little like the proverbial wallflower at a party. Though they have a great story, a great cover, receive a solid push from the publisher, and they come out ready to shine, they end up sidelined on a shelf for some reason, never really making a solid impression.

Stepping Out was, unfortunately, that kind of book. Released by Orca Book Publishers as part of their Limelights series, Stepping Out tells the story of wannabe comedian Paige Larsson. Laughter is Paige’s currency in life because it takes the sting out of life’s tough stuff; it helps her fit in. But Paige has always used humor to mask the pain of a disability and when she’s given the opportunity to compete in a stand-up comedy competition, using that approach may not cut it anymore.

Last week, Stepping Out received a boost. It made the Tristate Review Committee’s 2017 Books of Note List. This brings it to the attention of readers in the Tristate area of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. With a little luck this means it’ll get off that shelf and into readers’ hands.

Four other Orca authors made the list too.

Becky Cita for Duke’s Den. Following her parents’ separation, Amelia finds herself in a new town with few friends until the new tenants move into her basement apartment with an assortment of rescue reptiles and other unusual animals.

Lisa J. Lawrence for Rodent. Isabelle longs to escape her life, where she is responsible for caring for her two siblings and her alcoholic mother.

Robin Stevenson for Pride: Celebrating Diversity & Community. A colorful and straightforward history of the LGBTQ movement.

Frieda Wishinsky for Camp Disaster. Charlotte arrives at summer camp to find there’s a bully in her cabin. Not only does she have the counsellor in tears, she also picks on Charlotte.

For the full list of the Tristate 2017 picks, go here: http://www.tristatereviews.org/BON2017.pdf


It’s Book Launch Time!

If you find  yourself in downtown Victoria this Wednesday night, join me at Munro’s Books while I launch Stepping Out.  I’ll be in fabulous company – Penny Draper, Sarah Harvey, Laurie Elmquist, Monique Gray Smith, Jillian Roberts and Jeff Rudd will also be there.

I’d love to see your smiling face too!

spring launch poster EMAIL

Stepping Out

STEPPINGOUTCOVER9781459808959Yesterday was the official release day for Stepping Out, my latest title in the Orca Limelights series. You should be able to find it at your favorite independent bookstore or an online retailer, if that’s your preference. And while February 16th was the actual day it went on sale, I tend to feel more celebratory when the book is officially launched, which usually happens in the company of other writers several months after it goes on sale (I’ll put a note here when that date is set).

Meanwhile, here’s an idea of what Stepping Out is all about.

Fifteen-year-old Paige Larsson loves to laugh. She likes it even more when others laugh with her. As a YouTube comedy vlogger, laughter is Paige’s currency in life.  It takes the sting out of life’s tough stuff. It eases the pain of nasty comments, agonizing moments in gym class, and awkward pauses at parties.

Now Paige is about to step out of her comfort zone and compete in the prestigious International Teens in Comedy festival. Winning will give her the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in comedy. It’ll also mean $10,000 for her school’s performing arts department. But Paige has always used her humor to mask the pain of a disability, and in the world of stand-up comedy that won’t cut it anymore. 

I find it ironic that I’ve written a novel about a stand up comic because I’m actually afraid of comedy. Afraid to watch it, I mean. I’m always worried that the comic is going to bomb, especially if they are obviously new or just starting out. There are times when I literally can’t look or listen. But when I think about it, maybe that unease helped with the writing. I could certainly relate to the terror Paige felt getting up on stage!

Just One?

favoriteIt’s always fun to be interviewed or contacted on Twitter. Because Stepping Out will be released in mid-February, and because The Art of Getting Stared At is up for a couple of reader’s choice awards, I’m receiving lots of tweets and emails. I’ve even been interviewed for a couple of blogs which is both cool and a little weird (as a former journalist, I’m used to asking the questions, not answering them).

Last week, a theme of sorts emerged.

I was asked to identify my favorite color, my favorite meal, and the book that had changed my life. In other words, a kind of favorite too.

The last question was posed on Twitter and I wasn’t the only writer asked. There was also a deadline. A book club wanted to know as they were discussing our latest releases the next day. I read tweets from the other authors offering up their single life changing book. I mulled and fretted and walked Team Sheltie and got my daily writing done and mulled and fretted and went to the gym and mulled and fretted some more. Eventually, I responded with several tweets saying I couldn’t pick a single book because different books had impacted and changed my life at different times. I picked a couple: Charlotte’s Web, Mrs. Mike, Karen, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Alchemist, The Lovely Bones. But there were so many I left off: Green Eggs & Ham changed my life because it taught me to read; Jonathan Livingstone Seagull changed my life at thirteen because it affirmed for me that there’s more to life than meets the eye; every single Junie. B. Jones book I read to my daughter changed my life because I saw the importance of humor in storytelling. Interview with a Vampire changed my life because it opened my eyes to a completely different style of writing and a new genre. Lady of Hay changed my life because I read it and said, “I want to write a past life novel too.” And I did.

I can’t pick a favorite color either. I adore the pale green of a seedling bursting through the soil. The blazing orange of a sunset. The black of my velvet throw. The rich purple of an amethyst cluster. The voluptuous white of summer clouds. The shocking red of fireworks. Even gray, which I never really thought much of before, has become a favorite. I’m letting my gray hair shine and, to me, the color speaks of authenticity and courage. Because in our culture, it is still far more acceptable for men than women to embrace their gray hair.

Don’t get me started on food. How can people pick a favorite food? Or even a favorite meal? A last meal? Faced with that challenge, I’d be starting my last meal several weeks in advance. I’d feast on crepes and smoked salmon . . . avocado and shrimp on a ciabatta bun . . . baby greens with my homemade raspberry vinegar . . . juicy peaches with wedges of brie. . . dim sum . . . curried scallops and biriyani rice . . . scones with clotted cream and chunky strawberry jam . . .spicy basil tofu . . . and steamed crab and mushroom risotto and a fatty rib eye and baked potatoes loaded with everything and French press coffee and popcorn with lots of butter. Lots and lots and lots of butter. Oh, and halloumi cheese. Maybe not with the popcorn but crispy fried halloumi would be in there somewhere too.

I can’t pick a single favorite anything. Except when it comes to love. I do have a favorite man. I married him. I also have a favorite son and a favorite daughter but someday, when they commit to their ‘one and only,’ my list will surely expand. I hope it does. For their sake and for mine. For them because we all deserve a life filled with love. And for me because I like my favorites multiplied.

The Land of ‘What If?’

what-ifI spend half my life playing in the imaginary land of ‘what if?’ What if a girl who doesn’t care about her looks suddenly loses all her hair and becomes obsessed with her appearance (The Art of Getting Stared At)? What if a woman who doesn’t trust her intuition must rely on it to save the life of a child (What Lainey Sees)? What if a girl who doesn’t like being the centre of attention must go on stage in front of thousands to have a shot at achieving her wildest dream (Stepping Out)?

‘What if’ is story oxygen. But the phrase is also part of my DNA. I probably came out of the womb crying ‘what if.’ You might say this is catastrophizing. I prefer to think of it as exercising my writing muscles while preparing for all eventualities.

Case in point:  while gardening several weeks ago, a small twig (about the size of a paper clip) made its way into my boot. When I discovered it, I tossed it away. Later that night, the bottom of my foot began to hurt. The skin wasn’t punctured, but to be safe I put on some Polysporin before bed. The pain was back the next day, sporadically coming and going, and increasing as night fell. I checked my foot again; there was nothing. The same thing happened on day three: sporadic pain when I walked, especially if I was in bare feet or going uphill. By the end of that day, I’d started my trek through the land of ‘what if?’ What if that twig had minutely punctured the skin releasing some kind of invisible spore that was infecting my blood stream? What if some kind of deadly pathogen was coursing through my veins and heading straight for my heart? Or my head? What if I lingered in a coma and died right before Christmas, thereby ruining future Christmases for my children. Scratch the lingering coma and ruined future holidays. What if had some kind of muscle damage on the bottom of my foot? What if I had to get rid of my treadmill desk? Write sitting down? What if it got so bad that, eventually, I couldn’t walk? What if we had to sell the house because of all the stairs? What if Mr. Petrol Head decided we should move to Mexico and live in one- level hacienda and what if we met a doctor who specialised in treating rare and unusual afflictions and he cured me and what if I wrote the whole thing into a book which was made into a screenplay starring Jamie Lee Curtis Julianne Moore and what if it was nominated for an Academy Award. For the screenplay that I wrote.

I wish I could say this didn’t happen. I really do. I wish I could say that I took an oversized, extra- strength magnifying glass to the bottom of my foot immediately after it began to hurt to see if, perhaps, there was something I’d missed. Because that’s what practical, down-to-earth, clear-thinking adults do (to give myself credit, I would have done it had it been one of my kids). Instead I detoured to ‘what if’ land because that’s where I live most of the time.

I don’t know if it was intuition or my embarrassment at the thought of going to the doctor with an invisible foot boo-boo but on day four I pulled out my grandmother’s old magnifying glass, turned on a spotlight and took an up-close-and-personal look at the bottom of my foot. I discovered a tiny, microscopic, flit-of-a-thing (the size of a child’s eyelash) lodged into the pad of my foot. It was white-blonde, nearly invisible, and had probably been part of the twig before it claimed part of my foot.

Along with claiming several days of my creative ‘what if’ energy.

To give myself credit, the ‘what if’ factor works the other way too. I stumbled down the basement stairs the other day while carrying a basket of dirty laundry. I ended up with a bad sprain. My ‘what if’ litany afterwards was largely one of gratitude: what if I’d broken my ankle? My leg? Hit my head? Blah, blah, coma . . . blah, blah ruined Christmases forever. I was incredibly lucky and I knew it. Mixed in with my gratitude was a trace of self-reproach: that basket was too full and too heavy and you knew it.

I find it interesting that it’s my right foot that’s badly sprained – the same one that had the boo-boo that could have totally ruined my life. Symbolic, don’t you think? So I won’t be visiting the land of ‘what if’ for a while. I’m taking a side trip to the town of ‘making meaning out of the mundane.’

Because writers are good meaning makers.

The Lost Land of Re-entry

DSC00073Coming home was wonderful. I had an amazing gift waiting. Mr. Petrol Head had dug and turned and weeded and prepped all the garden beds. It took him two weekends and most of a week of evenings to get them ready for me to seed and plant. I hadn’t expected it and I was incredibly grateful as I’d pretty much resigned myself to a smaller garden and a much later start this year. But before I could get outside, I had a few last minute copy edits to finish for Stepping Out, royalty statements to sort through, a number of business issues to deal with and critique pages to read for a writer’s retreat I attended the weekend after I got back.

Re-entry and getting back to the writing routine was taking longer than normal. I didn’t question it; I expected the first week back to be busy. But as I planted the garden, it occurred to me that my resistance was about more than having too much on my plate.

I had some heavily pot bound tomato plants to get into the ground. As I broke apart the root ball, set them into rich, loamy soil and watered them in, I thought about how much they’d appreciate their new digs. Once they got over the initial shock of being transplanted, they’d be quick to take advantage of the unlimited space to grow, sending out new shoots and eventually – hopefully – setting luscious tomatoes we’d gorge on all summer long. Being unconstrained would result in a significant transformation.

I realized I needed a transformation of my own. My trip away wasn’t a rest by any means, but it was enough of a break to point out that I was feeling pot bound too. Boxed in by the never-ending demands of the publishing industry . . . by demands I’d put on myself. I’ve been writing for two decades. My twentieth book will be published next year. The publishing landscape looked quite different when I started out. There was no twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. Blogs were a thing of the future. So were e books. Marketing and promotion was done, for the most part, by publishers. A book a year was considered a respectable output. These days it’s not unusual for writers to produce two, three, even four titles a year. Some of those might be shorter books but the goal is clear: get your name out and keep it there. While you’re at it, make sure you have a social media presence, engage with your readers, market and promote yourself. And make sure you’re reachable by email 24/7 too.

I love to write. It’s as necessary to me as breath. I appreciate email. It’s fun to share on social media. And the changing landscape of publishing is creating opportunities I couldn’t have dreamt up two decades ago. It’s all good.

Except when it isn’t.

Opportunity and possibility often bring growth. Slow, steady growth is a good thing. Wild, exuberant growth may be exciting to watch but it can lead to trouble. When potted plants grow too fast and their roots don’t have enough space, they become pot bound. Eventually the soil becomes so compacted that the roots can’t take up nourishment and they fail to thrive.

The market demands writers grow quickly these days: set daily word counts, produce more books, maintain a mailing list, attend conferences. Do, do, do. Go, go, go. And without enough down time or space in our days to fill the well or feed the muse or simply refuel, we risk getting pot bound ourselves. We risk burnout.

Root disturbance can be a good thing. It leads to change and growth. So now that my outside garden’s planted, it’s time for a little inner root disturbance. It’s time to regroup, rethink, reprioritize. To examine my boundaries and look at what’s important on both a personal and professional level. To incorporate a little more reading time, puttering time, beach time, alone time.

A plant needs space in which to grow. People do too. So this summer I’m giving myself the gift of space. I’ve always seen it as a bit of a luxury. But thanks to another lesson from the garden, I realize it’s a necessity.    root-bound-tomato-plant-224x300


Homeward Bound

noplacelikehomeAfter a week of touring southwestern Ontario and a few extra days visiting family & friends in Toronto and Manitoba, I’m heading for Victoria. Though it’s great to head out on a grand adventure, it’s always good to get home. I’m looking forward to a loud, exuberant welcome from Team Sheltie, checking in with Teen Freud about his end-of-year finals, and seeing if Mr. Petrol Head has managed to get his Sunbeam Alpine on the road while I’ve been away.

There’s work waiting. Stepping Out is due at the copy editor June 1st so I’ll probably have a few last minute tweaks to take care of on that. I also have a draft of One Good Deed that needs my attention before I’m ready to send it off. And I need to see the doctor about a tetanus shot. Nothing trip related, but the garden needs digging and planting and there’ve been quite a few news reports lately about how important it is for gardeners to have a tetanus booster. I can’t remember the last time I had one so I’m clearly due.

But before I get to those tasks, I need to unpack, file away my presentation materials, and write up my trip reports and expense sheets. Catch up on my emails too. And that could take a while!


Yes, It’s True

one of those weeksphoto-2And it’s only Wednesday. If your week has been as crazy as mine, pick up a good book and forget things for a while.   I’m picking up not one but two books.  I’m deep into revisions on Stepping Out and as soon as they’re done, I’m back to One Good Deed, which I hope to have finished in early April.

Meanwhile, my May trip to Ontario for CCBC Book week is shaping up.  It looks like I’ll be visiting Guelph, Waterloo, Stratford and Woodstock before jetting west where I’ll spend a few days in Manitoba before coming home.

It’s going to be a busy spring.  I’m counting on it.

The End . . . is Really the Beginning

endandbeginningI’m doing the last bit of fiddling with Stepping Out before handing the manuscript off to the editor at Orca.  This book will be released as part of their Limelights Series. There’s always a sense of accomplishment at this stage of the game. And a feeling of completion too.

But, in fact, this particular end is the beginning of a process that goes on for many months.  From here, the next step is waiting for editorial feedback and tackling the revision notes. There are always revision notes, and there’s never any way to tell ahead of time how complex they’ll be.   I never sweat it. I happen to love revising (I usually revise at least once and often multiple times before sending a manuscript in), and I welcome feedback, so, for the most part, editorial revisions are a guaranteed good time. At this stage, the heavy lifting (fresh writing) is done; it’s a matter of fine tuning.

Once I’m finished with the editorial revisions, there’s generally a stretch of down time until I see page proofs and then get a glimpse of the cover. It’s always exciting to see what kind of visual the art department comes up with.

Some time after page proofs and the cover comes the actual release day . . . then the official book launch . . . followed by professional reviews . . . and the most important thing of all: reader feedback.

So as I type ‘the end’,  I can’t help thinking of my readers who, a year or two from now, will pick up Stepping Out and start at the beginning.

In my world, the end is the start of good things to come.

Stepping Out and Mickey Mouse

laught at yourself-Mickey-Mouse-Walt-DisneyThe first Mickey Mouse comic strip appeared 85 years ago this week and we’ve been laughing ever since. Okay, we were laughing before that too if you want to get all technical about it. But there’s no question the famous mouse has consistently brought hundreds of thousands of people joy over the years.

I’ve been thinking about humor quite a bit lately. I’m in the middle of writing a book tentatively titled STEPPING OUT for Orca Publisher’s Limelights line.  The story focuses on Paige Larrson, a 15-year-old Seattle girl who wants to be a comedian. In fact, that Mickey Mouse quote – to laugh at yourself is to love yourself – could pretty much be her mantra.  Laughter is Paige’s currency in life. As far as she’s concerned, laughter takes the sting out of life’s crap. It eases the pain of nasty comments and dirty looks; agonizing moments in gym class; and those awkward pauses at parties.

Paige has been uploading comedy videos to YouTube, and she’s starting to get noticed. Her daily views are rising. She has subscribers. She’s determined to be the biggest YouTube sensation ever. But her two best friends think she’s undervaluing herself. Without her knowledge, they submit one of her videos to an International Teens in Comedy Festival.  Paige is shortlisted.  Suddenly, she faces the biggest opportunity of her life.  But she also faces her biggest challenge. Because in order to compete, Paige will have to step out of her comfort zone and walk out on stage to perform in front of live bodies. That’s no laughing matter when she has a disability she’s self-conscious about, and the disability will be front and center too.

I’m having fun writing the book, though I have to admit it’s stretching me a little. I love comedy (the wackier, the better; I loved Craig Ferguson with his fake horse and gay robot skeleton), but stand-up comedy makes me uneasy. Especially when newish comedians are performing.  Ferguson was great at giving young comedians the stage near the end of his show. I admired his generosity, but if one came out, I’d tune out. At least I did before I started researching STEPPING OUT.   I would worry that no one would laugh . . . that they’d bomb in a very public and humiliating way. The thought would make me almost hyperventilate.  Certainly it was enough to make me leave the room or switch channels.

At first I thought maybe I shouldn’t be writing a book about a comedian at all. Why am I?  The editor was looking for a manuscript about a teen who wants to be a comedian . . .  the idea that many comedians use laughter as a coping skill has always intrigued me . . . Paige crept out of my consciousness and tugged on my sleeve late one sleepless night and . . . well . . .  insert ‘the rest is history’ cliché here.

It turns out my discomfort is a good thing. At least I hope so. If nothing else, I can relate at a visceral level to the fear and discomfort Paige feels as she goes through the process of preparing for the competition and stepping out on stage.

The big question, however, (aside from: will Paige win?) is can I convey the depth of that emotion to readers?   I hope so.  The manuscript is due at the publisher’s in six weeks. And it’s due out sometime next year.   We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, I’m looking to the Mouse for reassurance. mickey-mouse-characterzation-6-638