Want a free copy of Creep Con? Willing to write a review? I have four copies to give away to the lucky scribes who contact me first.
Wanna meet me? Wanna win one of my books? Come on down to #teenfest in Calgary this Saturday, Sept 26, from 11-5 on Prince's Island Park and visit the Reality Is Optional booth. If you win on of our wacky writing and art games you get a book and other "fabulous" prizes. Also, every competitor gets a Reality Is Optional pin. What is Reality Is Optional? Click and find out. Want to know more about my books? Look up and click.
My latest book, Creep Con, about anime, comics, manga, and superhero cartoons and the fans who love them is now out. I am seriously in love with this book and I think you will like it too. I got to write about all my favourite things. You can check out more info about it at my page CREEP CON and even order a copy for yourself.
Okay, not the most unique advice out there. But, as a teacher and mentor, I meet a lot of young writers spinning their wheels. They are either waiting for inspiration - those divine days where all you can do is write the muse hits you so hard. Or they have made it to the middle, or three chapters in, or just past the part they had super planned . . . and they're stuck. No idea where the compass lies. Or, after a busy day of school or minimum wage job, they are too tired to even attempt writing. All of these are good reasons not to write and more importantly, not to finish what they've started. However the truth is the blocks to writing are not as solid as they seem.
I've gone through all of these. I've seen the dark days when the muse is gone. When a thirteen hour or even sixteen hour work day, eight days in a row, left me so sapped there was no room in my brain for words. I've had writing rooms so dark and uninspiring I didn't want to go in there and do what needed to be done. I've seen plots and scenes where the characters wander and nothing is happening. I've laid down my pen in defeat.
But that's not how you become a writer.
Luckily for me, I realized something. That annoying phrase those "real" writers were always spouting, "Write every day." was true. That was, if I was going to follow my dream of being a "real" writer, and by real I mean professional. I had to write, every day, no matter what.
So what does it mean, write every day? In my world it doesn't mean pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, nor does it mean a set words or a set amount of hours (unless a deadline is looming. What it does mean is that I am mindful of my work every single day. If I don't have time to throw down with the muse, I'm thinking of the next scene or couple of scenes. I work out problems over dishes, expand characters on the bus, and plot in the shower. Then when I do write - I'm ready to go.
But how does that help the museless, the uninspired, the perpetually exhausted? Well, answer this, "How bad do you want it?" How bad do you want to be a "real" writer? How far are you willing to go to chase that dream, to see this story in print? Because I've been there. I've had the stuck story, the year long writer's block, the exhaustion where I thought I was going black and white like some fuzzed out TV. None of them are a good enough reason not to write. You can make it into an excuse - but it's a lie.
If you're to0 tired when you get home from work, switch your schedule. Write before you leave, then when you get home, have supper and go to bed. I've done it. Working at a daycare left me seeing double. So I started getting up at three in the morning and writing for three hours, then heading to work. Social life? Not much. Finished play ready for stage? You bet. And that was glorious, seeing that thing up there and hearing the applause when the actors took their bows.
If you are uninspired, suck it up. I'm very rarely inspired in the beginning. Mostly I'm tired, and the screen is hurting my eyes, and I don't think I'm going to be able to pull it off. The muse only comes once I get going, and sometimes not even then. Being a professional writer doesn't come by magic, it comes after a long hard slog. So get slogging. Writers don't get finished by whining.
If your story, plot, character has fizzled out - don't stop and try a new story. Finish! Even if it's all coming up crap. Finish. Trust me, it will look better after you complete your project, put it away for a month or two. Or at the very least, it will be fixable. Instead of quitting, look over your plot and ask yourself, "what does my character want, why do they want it, and what is stopping them?" Basic goal, motive, conflict (GMC) stuff. If you have that, then look at the scene you're writing. Each scene will have the same thing (though maybe different from the over arcing plot). Finding GMO will banish pretty much any stalled out scene and evaporate most writer's blocks.
And if that doesn't work, look at your narrative structure and your theme. Do some character sketches. Do some plotting. Story doesn't happen with out pre-work, and sometimes you have to go back and get it done.
But the basic message I want to get across here is this: If you want to be a writer you have to write. No excuses. No whining. No waiting for some tingly feeling that only comes very rarely. Write everyday and finish what you start.
Now get slogging and follow that dream. You can do it. I believe in you.
Things I learned on the TD Canada Children's Book Week tour are probably more than I can put into words.
I learned that kids are kids no matter where they're from. It doesn't matter if they're in a remote community or in a big city, they love to play, laugh, and will totally recognize the Pokemon theme song when you start reading it. I met Otakus in Cartwright, and Avatar fangirls in Churchill Falls, and a DC Universe follower in Wabush.
I met teachers and Librarians looking for new and better ways to engage kids and teens and was able to share the type of stuff we do at RIO with them (Reality Is Optional Creative Kids' Programming). Perhaps we'll even be able to start up some new RIO programs in Labrador, after all RIO is an idea and a philosophy more than an organization.
I learned that Labrador food is salty but good. That deep fried dough is better than it sounds. And I learned not to eat leaves I find on the ground. (Big lesson there).
I learned not to be scared of air travel - it helps if you imagine you are in a really defective massage chair rather than a turbulent airplane. I learned that the people of Labrador are ALL friendly and kind. I didn't meet a cranky one out there - and I was there for ten full days! Every place I went people showed me around, shared their culture, toured me, welcomed me into their homes, fed me, played games with me (good ones), talked with me, and smiled. Man, they smile a lot! They wanted to know all about me and they were happy to share everything about themselves.
I learned that when you are a passenger in a vehicle in Labrador, your job is to look for moose (and polar bears) - and it's not a joke. I learned that isolated communities are actually insulated communities and that kids aren't cut off but connected.
I witnessed amazing imaginations as the students created stories with Godzilla, dragons, and living mustaches. I saw advanced programming in regular schools, and teachers who work extra hard to bring real pizzazz to their classrooms. I learned that every woman is called Miss and if you're not called that, you are called Dear. I have never been called Miss or Dear so many times in my life.
I learned that my Red Robin toy was more popular than I was - no I'm not jealous (really), that bakeapple is a berry, and deer are caribou. I learned that people in Labrador move slow. They are totally relaxed. Plan for breakfast, it will take a while. I learned that Labrador is probably the most bi-lingual place in Canada - or maybe tri-lingual. The Innu still have their language if the family laughing their guts out on the plane to Newfoundland was any indication. They weren't speaking French or English. I learned that teachers really care for their students like family. That community matters and that they don't have family reunions, they have Come Home days - for everyone.
Labrador is a wild place. It's pockets of people who sometimes get ripped off by the government, ignored by corporations, and have to scrabble to make a living in a resource based economy (not unlike Alberta). But they don't let it get them down. They still find reasons to smile and joke. Their first response is one of kindness instead of suspicion. Labrador is a really amazing place - and I'm glad I went.
After spending the night in L'Anse au Clair, I hopped into Sandy’s van and was zipped off to Dot’s Bakery and Coffee Shop for breakfast. I had a great breakfast sandwich and then bought some banana bread for the road (it was a good thing too as you will see later).
Our first official stop was in L'Anse au Loup (or Wolf Bay – so close to being a Doctor Who reference) at the Labrador Straits Academy. There I presented for the grade fives and sixes. We had a great deal of fun making up a historical drama about a Sheshatshiu woman who’s long hair can’t be cut due to a cursed flower she picked. It turned out that a sasquatch had created the curse to make her look more like him so that he could have a friend to play checkers with. After a bunch of misunderstandings and some magic (and poking dead people with a stick because that is evidently how one does first aid) the sasquatch was accepted by the tribe and shaved down so he could be more human. He even made a friend to play checkers with.
While I was at the school I got a tour of the whole thing. The school has all the grades from K-12. Not all the high school classes are available in the building so there is a remote learning room with computers. The music room was amazing, and all the kids were awesome. They also have a thing for sharks. AND I saw my first live iceberg. Actually I saw a whole bunch of them. They are very impressive in real life.
I didn’t have much time to stick around though, we had to rush to get to the next school in Red Bay called Basque Memorial School. This was also a K-12 school, but unlike Labrador Straights – Basque only had 17 students (and only one high schooler). Using all the students (not all 17 were in attendance) we made up a story about a dragon who liked to paint but was lacking inspiration and a poet who really didn’t want to provide the dragon with inspiration by being eaten. Although one human was sacrificed in the end, the story had a happy ending as the dragon started doing illustrations for the poet’s writing. Together they made thousands of dollars on the poems (this was a fantasy story after all).
Red Bay is an old whaling town. It still has some of the old whaling buildings. The Basque were the ones who settled the place. Red Bay is still home to fishermen, but they also take part in the tourist industry.
Then I had only minutes to hop back in the van to head off to St. Mary’s All Grade in Mary’s Harbour. We drove over lunch – and I was really glad I had some banana bread to munch on. We arrived with minutes to spare and I got to work setting up. As usual all the kids wanted to see Red Robin. He’s always the first thing they ask for. The kids were really interested in my books and had questions about them before we got started with the presentation.
All the kids in the school (except the lone kindergartener who only went to school in the morning) came into the gym. There were probably around 70 kids or so. We made up a story about a girl who was looking for a guy but was being plagued by her ex-boyfriend. After his many failed attempts to get her to marry him, the girl decided that she really didn’t need a man and went off to start a dancing Ski-doo show. (The girl with the camera only took video, so I don't have any pictures to share of this school).
These kids had obviously been looking at the website. They knew exactly what books they wanted and it didn’t matter to them that I was sold out of many of the titles. We just made an order list and I promised to sign and send them the books when I got home. They bought me out of the books I had left.
After that it was a quick stop for lunch and then we were off again headed down some incredibly potholed gravel roads on the way to Cartwright. We traveled over 400 kilometers and for over 6 hours in the day. I was instructed, as I was the passenger, that it was my duty to look out for moose. Running into one is a real danger out here. I kept my eyes peeled and was both hoping and terrified to see one. Things became particularly dodgy when the clock ticked past six PM. Evidently the most moose hits happen between six PM and two AM. Luckily we made it to Cartwright without an incident.
Cartwright is a small fishing village. We arrived with a cold north wind spreading the scent of wood smoke. Many people around here heat their homes with wood. They had some ice fishing huts on the bay. Our motel is right on the bay, which is really cool. Sadly the hotel burnt down a couple of years ago. It used to be the hub of the community and lots of the locals worked there. They told me it had the best food in town. Now, without it there is only the small motel and the bar to get supper at. They do have a grocery store but it was closed when we arrived. We had some supper at the bar but I’m really glad I have that banana bread now as the bar doesn’t open again until 4:00 PM tomorrow.
I’m really looking forward to visiting my last school, Henry Gordon Academy. I’m a little sad I won’t have any books to show them. I had to make a best guess when ordering books and I ordered too few. I am actually really excited to meet these kids. I met one of the moms at the bar and she was telling me that her son started an anime club. I guess there’s a bunch of kids who are right into anime and video games. I think we’ll get along famously.
Sadly though, I can’t get the internet to work (which is why this is late) and I can’t get any phone signal either. I’m going for a walk tomorrow, hopefully I’ll be able to pick up a signal somewhere and shoot a message home. I don’t want them to worry!
Here’s another silly Robin picture to hold you over until the next blog.
The sun came out today! It looks really nice. I'm just having a breakfast of soy milk and an orange while packing and listening to iTunes on shuffle.
I leave for Churchill Falls this afternoon by plane. Churchill Falls is the second largest hydroelectric generating plant in Canada. The entire main town is in one building - school, hotel, restaurant, post office, library - everything. And it's all owned by one company. It should be interesting to see.
Anyway - the adventure continues - off we go (well after breakfast, packing, and a lunchtime wander. Let's not rush things. It's still pretty early in the morning.
I want to send out a big thank you to Trudy Andrews and Kelly Roberts for shuffling me around to the schools and airport, Kelly Barney for printing and delivering my flight itinerary after I some how misplaced it. I really don't know how that happened. I never misplace things. AND a great big thank you to Sandy Chilcote who is organizing this whole Labrador tour. You guys are awesome!
Traditional Newfoundland and Labrador breakfast of Toutons achieved. Turns out they are basically bread dough, deep fried (or pan fried depending on your preference) and sprinkled with sugar. You eat them with molasses. Some people eat them with butter and syrup. They have the texture of an apple fritter - but without the apple and spices obviously. They are really good and I don't usually like molasses. I would highly recommend them - but maybe not for everyday eating. People here love them a lot. The dough is sold everywhere. Toutons are a big deal.
Of course after a breakfast of fried bread I needed to do some serious walking. I wanted to find the library, the mall, and maybe the sushi place (even though it doesn't open until 5:00 pm). The sidewalks around here are a little hard to come by. Not the fault of Labrador City. They did make some. They've just had an incredibly harsh winter and there are huge icy mountains every twenty feet or so. Luckily, although the drivers go pretty fast, they do slow down when they pass you on the road. Still, it was more than a little sloppy out there. It rained last night and snowed part of the morning, but by 11:00 it was grey but not too cold.
So out I trekked. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings, but after that I was off. I found the Labrador City youth centre, the fire hall, and the library right off the bat.
I tried to use my "Smart" phone to navigate my way to the Labrador Mall of shopping and ended up overshooting it. But I saw some cool things along the way. There really is no downside to getting lost for a bit.
Finally I made it to the mall. There was a long line of cars going through the drive through to Tim Hortons. Inside the mall was packed - which is why I didn't take pictures. I saw some of the kids I taught yesterday. It's really the hub of the community. They have a Walmart, Canadian Tire, Sports Check, a couple of restaurants, clothing shops, jewelry stores, and a Co-op. I grabbed a sandwich, banana, and sparkling juice from the Co-op for lunch. I didn't feel like sitting down just yet. I also managed to cut my finger on the plastic sandwich container and proceeded to bleed everywhere because I left my band-aids back at the Inn. At least it wasn't a mortal wound.
Then I was off again to see what else I could find.
Funny story, I passed a playground zone which had a speed reader to let the cars know how fast they were going. If they were going over 40 km/h the sign went red. When I walked by it read my speed too. 5 km/h. I don't think I'll be getting a ticket. I was well within the law. I thanked the sign for letting me know my current speed. I wonder what Sonic clocks in at?
I bought a sticker and a collectible spoon at Jubbers corner store. They sell everything from Touton dough, French milk, snacks, groceries, tourist stuff, fireworks, toiletries, clothing (tourist type), slushies, ice cream, and black bear licences. I'm assuming that's to shoot the black bear and not to keep one for a pet. Though it would be totally awesome if it were actually a pet licence. Can you imagine all the people in Labrador City walking around with their black bears on leashes? How rad would that be? Of course they would be walking down Viking Street.
After all that I went to see if I could make it to Sushi Lab on foot. It's a sushi restaurant opened by a guy from Toronto. It's supposed to be good. Unfortunately, after the MacDonalds, the sidewalk ends and I would have to walk on the side of a highway, over a bridge to get to the part of town it is in. That plan seemed a bit sketchy so I headed back to my room instead.
Now, my muddy and soggy pants are washed and hanging to dry and I've reverted to pajamas for the time being. I may yet take a cab over to Sushi Lab or, I might just grab something a little closer and curl up with some anime or do some writing. I'm kind of worn out. I was walking for three hours while exploring this amazing place. It was really fun. I'm kind of sad I'm leaving tomorrow. Though I'm sure Churchill will be just as awesome!
On a total side note - Calgary Reads is hosting Reading Town and my RIO kids' writing club is a part of it, under the umbrella of the Alexandra Writers' Centre Society, of course. You can read the first story of the seven which will be tweeted out each day of the week long celebration. Just click the link here:
My first day of presentations and what a response! The kids in Labrador are just as wacky as the kids in Alberta. They are super friendly and full of amazing ideas.
The day started with me down at the Carol Inn’s restaurant looking at the menu. There was something called Toutons, which turns out to be a type of fried dough – kind of like bannock but more fluffy which you eat with syrup or molasses. I haven’t tried it yet. I figured if I was going to be teaching all day, fried bread might not be the best thing to have in my gut right off the bat. But I have tomorrow off so I’m defiantly going to give some Labrador cuisine a go!
After breakfast I was picked up and taken to Menihek high school. I did three presentations for kids in grade eight, nine, and a drama class/writing class. The stories which came out were really funny. We used the wheel of genre to randomize our genre then made characters to fit them. There was a lot of audience participation. In one story we had a Japanese drug lord who, with the help (or perhaps hindrance) of time travel, got his hands on Godzilla which he used to destroy Labrador City. Luckily our super powered hero stepped in and using a giant pizza got Godzilla on her side and saved the day. Then she went on to rebuild Labrador City into a northern New York.
After a lightning fast lunch I was off to J.R. Smallwood middle school. I had two presentations there. The kids were younger but just as fun. We learned all about story structure and made up a couple of stories including the one about Sparkle Girl who used the power of waffles to gain control of her magic wand, which had been stolen by an evil guy from Jamaica. It all worked out in the end because our Jamaican fellow learned how to fry eggs joined up with Sparkle Girl to make a sparkle waffle restaurant together. Then there was the story of the nasty hotdog vendor, who made the hero shave puppies and not return library books on time. True evil! In the end the villain turned good and the hero and the villain went into the dog wig business. I’m glad everyone had happy endings.
The thing that really impressed me with all the kids was how they looked after each other. Sure, there was friendly teasing but it was easy to see that they had each other’s backs. I really liked how the more outgoing kids made sure the shy kids had a turn too. Just amazing.
Of course because I mentioned that I might bring my Red Robin action figure with me, the kids asked to see it. Some even had a picture taken with it. They were really impressed with my knowledge of teen culture too. I kept getting these looks of amazement and the statement “You know that?” Thank you Reality Is Optional kids’ writing club kids! You have made me cool.
I think the thing that makes me laugh the most is when I read the Pokémon theme song without telling them what I’m going to read. Within two lines, kids break out in grins and laughter, some even sing along. They never suspect I’ll come out with something like that as a teaching aid. But for all the crazy stories, theme songs, and cultural references, when I finish the kids have a clear understanding of how a story is put together and how they can write a story of their own.
My top three highlights of today:
1) Being told I was now a girl’s favourite person in the whole world.
2) Meeting a really awesome youth writer.
3) Turning the cutest little girl you ever saw into a master villain and then watching her own that role. It was the funniest thing ever.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot, I was also interviewed by one of Labrador City’s reporters. He was a really nice guy. Sadly I forget every name ever told to me, so I can’t tell you who he was. But he was so friendly, just like everyone else here.
I’m looking forward to my wander around Labrador City tomorrow. I’m planning on trying Toutons, tracking down the sushi restaurant, and finding the mall of shopping. Time to be a tourist. I promise to take lots of pictures!
Thank you to The Canadian Children’s Book Centre, Newfoundland and Labrador public libraries, The Canada Council of the Arts, and the schools for making this possible. I’m having so much fun and from what I hear, the kids are too.
It all started this morning at 5:45, trying to navigate the Calgary International Airport. I was still pretty much asleep. I knocked my knuckle into the Jeep door, thought an announcement from a spooky looking speaker was about Autobots (it was actually autobus), and had a brief discussion about how the sky looked so flat that we might be living on a cube (Cube World)! Yeah, me and mornings don't mix.
I did finally find my way to the right place to check my bag with the help of some great white hatted people wearing Flames jerseys. You'd think we were in the playoffs or something! R
Anyway, I caught my fight to Edmonton and then had an hour to kill so I grabbed a breakfast sandwich, which turned out to be a good thing because the flight from Edmonton to Montreal was delayed, then slow, and we arrived only a few minutes before boarding began for the flight to Wabush, Labrador. I managed to get a drink and go to the bathroom, but not much else.
The Wabush flight made a brief stop in Sept Illes (not sure on the spelling) then up it went again on the way to Wabush.
I was picked up by the extremely wonderful Trudy Andrews who assisted me in tracking down supper at 10:30 at night.
Tomorrow I'm going to be presenting at two schools and I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be loads of fun. Of course I brought Red Robin along. He simply must go everywhere with me. Okay, maybe not must, but it's really fun taking pictures of him.
Now bedtime. It's been a long day and I have an early start tomorrow.
Writer, Teacher, Mutant. What more could you want?