NEWS!

I once asked a good friend how many books she thought I'd end up publishing. She thought about it for some time and came up with 10. So hopefully I don't get hit by a bus today because I have just sold my 10th book to Orca. The yet unnamed novel is also my first sequel. Rob from Coming Clean is the protagonist. He and his mother have moved 'Up North' to be closer to where Adam has been transferred to a new prison. This one is about how we sometimes see people as nothing more than a part of a group, and we lay all our pre-conceived notions of what 'those people' are like upon them.

This fall I have two books coming out. High Note (which has the most awesome cover, I'll post it as soon as I am allowed) and A Dark Truth (another 'skateboard' novel, but with a dark undercurrent). I'm currently working away on a couple of projects, but then sometimes I get a shiny new idea and go chase it for awhile. 

I had a blast at the Librarian's Super Conference last month. Some of the conversations I had with librarians pushed me to write this new book as a Soundings with Rob as the protagonist rather than to pursue it as the full length, stand alone novel I was setting it up to be. I guess what I'm saying is, it's nice to get out of the house once and awhile and talk with people. We don't do that very often as writers (or, at least I don't). 

For any of you keeping score, my Anticosti novel is still out there trying to find a home. 

In kind of non-writing news a friend (thanks Jason!) gave me a very sweet stereo and though I have yet to become a hipster doofus trolling the local record shop for 'vintage vinyl' I have rediscovered the joy of listening to music while writing. I'm slowly working my way through hundreds of CDs around here, and Spotify has never sounded so good. Recently on a Soul kick. Things get pretty smooth here some days. Music wise, anyway.

 

 

Giveaway!

'Set You Free' has been out since October, and somehow it has taken me this long to get a giveaway up on Goodreads. 

'Set You Free' is a special book for me for a few reasons. First, I love mysteries and, since day one, have been writing them whether I knew it or not. Secondly, it is my first stand alone novel. . All my other novels have been a part of a series, whether the Orca Sports, Soundings, or Limelights. I intend to keep writing in these series as well. But 'Set You Free' is a much bigger novel which allowed me the room to really get into the characters and the mystery. And, finally, it's about family. I dedicated this book to my two sons. 'you might not always be best friends - but you'll always be brothers.' 

So, if you haven't read Set You Free yet (and honestly, what are you waiting for?) Here's your chance to get a copy for free.


Flow

We got out snowboarding for the first time this year the other day and my mind immediately went back to flow. There's something about snowboarding and surfing, and to a lesser degree skateboarding, which makes me think of how we move through this world. With snowboarding, everything is about flow. There's nothing abrupt about it. You keep moving down the hill even while hitting rails or jumps. 


What I thought about this time, though, was slightly different. It occurred to me that we all need to find the thing in life where we feel the most flow. My Animation students bring this to mind often when they're hunched over their desks working away. The same is true for my writing (most of the time). I have heard writers say that it becomes easy. And it does, or at least, easier. Over time you figure out the way to make the difficult things work for you. The things that no one else would even notice. But in the end, there is talent and there is experience. We're all talented at something. I truly believe this. And with experience, whatever it is we can do becomes easier. More fluid.
It gains flow.
And to not do this thing becomes difficult.
This was the other thought I had while out boarding. I've had a great holiday season. We had friends and family around. There was hockey and skateboarding and snowboarding and many, many delicious meals. But I didn't write much at all. Certainly nothing new. It will take a little to get back into the flow, but once I do, I suspect I'll be right back where I love to be, here, at this desk, creating.

This is snowskating. So far, there is no flow. Just slide, fall. It's a full skateboard without the wheels. Instead there's a ribbed sheet of plastic on the bottom and a foamy top. It works very much like a skateboard, but the snow needs to be pretty flat and solid. On the plus side, the photo is of me standing on the edge of the large half pipe at Legacy skatepark and, with the fear of falling on hard concrete gone, I was able to drop in no problem.


 

Next Up on the Limelights Tour: Trudee Romanek

Trudee Romanek's Raising the Stakes is a great book about Improv. I've never read a book about Improv before, and I know a lot of kids get deeply into this art which can truly change and shape them. This is a book about doing what you love, but knowing you have to make everyone believe in you as much as you believe in yourself (which is often the hardest part). here's a brief summary of Trudee's book and her answers to some short questions.

 

It’s the start of a new season for Harrington High’s improv team—and Chloe is determined that this will be the year they make it all the way to the top. Her teammates (who also happen to be her closest friends) are a talented bunch, and she knows they can do it. They have to. Because getting to nationals is Chloe’s best chance to prove that she has what it takes to succeed—to her parents, to the improv scouts watching and, most of all, to herself. Chloe is doing all she can to help her teammates perform better. So why is everything falling apart?

1)            What do you, Trudee Romanek, have in common with your protagonist? 

I’ve always wanted to do things really well, even if that meant I had to “encourage” (okay, “push”) other people harder than I should. As an adult I sang in a quartet. I’m sure I drove the other three women crazy with my requests for extra rehearsals, more challenging harmonies, just one more run-through a little faster, and so on. But like Chloe, I (finally!) learned that I can’t force anyone but myself to dig deeper, go further, or want more.

 

2)            Finish this sentence - “One time when I was performing, __________________.”

One time when I was performing in a play, I discovered that if you freeze for a tableau with your face downward and your mouth open, you will drool all over the stage! Your only options are to A) break the tableau (gasp!) to close your mouth, B) go ahead and drool (Eww!), or C) make disgusting sucking noises so as not to! VERY important lesson learned.

 

3)            Do you follow any rituals when you write, like using the same pen?

Hmm. Not really. I often do a writing exercise to get my vocabulary limbered up. Those I sometimes handwrite in pen. Most often though, I write at the computer, typing with just my two index and middle fingers. (I look a bit like a raptor, I’m sure.) A friend knit me a pair of “writing socks” that I often wear, though only if my feet get cold. 

Introducing Kari Jones Author of Shimmy

At Ease was my first title for Orca's Limelights series (the next, High Note comes out in the Fall of 2016). At Ease was lucky enough to be released with two sisters, Raising the Stakes (by Trudee Romanek) and Shimmy (by Kari Jones). The three of us have interviewed one another regarding our writing and the process for these particular books. As well, there is a contest up on Goodreads to win copies of our books (links at the bottom of this page).

Lila has always wanted a career in belly dance, so she is thrilled when she is invited to join Dana Sajala's competitive and prestigious studio. But dancing at the new studio isn't quite what she expected. Dana Sajala is a tough teacher, and Lila finds the constant criticism stressful. On top of that, Lila misses the dancers from her old troupe, and a rift is developing between her and her best friend, Angela, who is not altogether sympathetic to Lila's struggles. Lila has always loved belly dance—the music, the costumes, the choreography—but when she realizes that none of it is as much fun as it used to be, she starts to question whether she has made the right choice.

1)            What do you, Kari Jones, have in common with your protagonist? 

I have always dreamed of being a dancer. I danced when I was very young, and again when I was in high school, and then I picked it up again as an adult. I love everything about dancing: the movement, the music, the costumes, the dancers. In my dreams I’m a really great dancer!

 

2)            Finish this sentence - “One time when I was performing, __________________.”

One time when I was dancing on a stage in the inner harbour in Victoria, BC where I live, a tall ship sailed right across my line of sight. I love ships, especially wooden ones. It was so beautiful, and it was only when I tripped over my own skirt that I realized my attention had been on the ship, not on my dancing. It took a fair bit of focus to bring my gaze back to the audience and ignore that graceful ship sailing out to sea.

 

3)            Do you follow any rituals when you write, like using the same pen?

I don’t have any really set rituals when I write, but I do like to drink tea. Lots and lots of tea. It can be dangerous having tea pots and tea cups cluttering up your desk, and I have been known to spill tea onto my computer. Oops. Good thing I save my manuscripts in more than one place! I’m more careful now.

Kari Jones giveaway

Trudee Romanek's giveaway

My Giveaway



And now I'm doing videos

I thought this would take less time, but it seems to take more. Nevertheless, I'm starting a bunch of videos about writing, specifially YA novels and, for the first while, even more specifically about #Nanowrimo2015 

As I've mentioned, I write books really really quickly. Which is the whole intent of Nanowrimo. Then I edit them very slowly. 

I hope to do one of these every few days, at least twice a week. Any comments are very greatly appreciated. Some of this might be old news, but I know there are writers out there who could use the help.


How to Write a YA novel, the Jeff Ross way

I think I'll make this an on-going post. In fact I'm considering making some videos, but then you'd have to stare at me as you received my wayward advice. Though you might also do what I do when I 'watch' writerly videos and cruise other sites at the same time.

Anyway, here's PART 1 in HOW TO WRITE A YA NOVEL AND MAKE ALL THE MONEY!

Point the first: There's no one way to write a novel.
Sorry, maybe you thought I was going to give you the secrets. I don't have the secrets, because there are no secrets.
I think some authors get into a groove and do it the same every time. As in, they plan or don't plan. They work from 4am-10am every day, weekends off. They begin at the beginning and end at the end.
Then there are the rest of us.
Here are two ways I have written books lately. The first, a  new novel, due out Fall 2016, I wrote in a couple of days. It's short (for the Orca Soundings series), which doesn't mean it's any easier. Just that there's less typing involved. I wrote for 6 hours one day and 5 the next and amassed 16,000 words. I let it sit for a week, went back, spent another few hours on it, added 3,000 words, deleted 2,000, and set it aside for two days. Then I read through it, felt good about it, and sent it in. Now I haven't received an edit yet, so who knows, it could have all fallen apart, but it didn't feel like it. Not at the time anyway. I had planned each chapter before writing.  I had the characters down. The ideas.
It's about skateboarding so I was excited to work on it. I always knew what was going to happen next so, with absolutely no surprises, I could spend more written steam on describing 50-50 grinds and kickflips to those who have no clue what those things are.

Now, compare and contrast.
Back in late 2013 I had this idea for a book about a car going through the ice on the St. Lawrence River. I had no idea why this was happening, but there it was. It was a scary vision to say the least. It kind of haunted my dreams now and then. I stuck that scene in a couple of different books, but it never really worked. It needed to be the INCITING INCIDENT (more on this in the future). 
So, I began working on a book where one night 3 teens lives are forever changed on the St. Lawrence River. Where everyone makes good and bad decisions and then the cost of these decisions drives the rest of the novel.
I worked on this for a good 6 months, then edited it and gave it to my wife to read. She liked it (she doesn't always, just saying) but didn't like the ending.
Neither did I. It got weird. It went all over the place. It was like the end of Mulholland Drive. Actually, it was like all of Mulholland Drive in that it made NO SENSE.
But I had a new idea already. A new book I had already begun. So I kept working on that one and those three teens just disappeared into the past.
Since then I have written 5 other novels. FIVE. Some short, some longer. Then, as I was about to begin yet another project, I noticed the file called YA St. Lawrence  and wondered what the hell that was.
I opened the file and found this book. Immediately I saw it was not just the ending which was the problem, it was that the whole narrative voice was flat. It was all in third person, following each of the three teens. All three of them ended up alone. I decided to change a couple of things. First, they needed more friends. They needed to be with people. To talk. To live. And two, two of the characters needed to talk right to the reader.  They needed their own voices.
So now, over a year after I'd set it aside for 'a bit', I'm more than half done a re-write of what is feeling like a good YA crime novel. I love writing crime and will continue to do so. But the crime needs to be set in a moral question, and this novel has a lot of moral questions. To the point where, as I'm reading, I consider what I would do myself. Which I hope future readers will do as well.

So, there's no one way to write a novel. In fact, it seems as though I've done things a little differently with all 9 of my published (or soon to be published) novels, never mind those 11 or so that languish in a digital drawer. How you do it is how you do it, and that totally depends on the book you're writing. I hate to sound artsy, but the book sometimes demands you to work in a particular way. As long as it ends up in a way you like, who cares?

I Stand Before You

With Word on the Street coming up next weekend, I have been thinking about the amount of time I have spent standing in front of people. I was never really a 'shy' guy, but I didn't seek out the stage or the front of the classroom when I was younger. Actually, I liked to send pot shots from the third row in classrooms. 
There's every possibility that some teachers would recall me as the class clown.
I think the main reason for this was that school was kind of boring.
Anyway. The standing in front of people probably begins back in grade 7 or 8 when I went to the provincial finals of a speaking competition. I remember the kid who won. His talk was about fishing with his grandfather and he kept holding his hand to his brow and shouting 'LAND HO' like his grandfather had. My speech was about the difficulties of being a kid. I had no specific catch phrases which is why I lost.
In high school I was in a band (THE SEMANTICS!). We played a lot of shows, but that was standing on a stage with four other guys. Plus, our singer was, apparently, eye candy so I wasn't being gawked at that much.
I did a few gigs as a DJ where I was on a stage as well, but most of that career really took place behind little glass walls where you could generally ignore and be ignored. 
So it was strange when I began teaching. I wasn't prepared to speak in front of people those first couple of years. I had a chance encounter with a student of mine from 2001, my second year at the college. He thought the class was great, but then we'd both been drinking and his memory was likely fuzzy.
Since then I have stood before a lot of people at conferences, in schools, even virtually, and I've grown to if not enjoy it, at least appreciate what is happening. 
At Ease, my Limelights book coming from Orca in October covers this territory fairly well. I've spent a lot of time over the years trying to figure out how to control nerves and anxiety. It lessens over time, but that doesn't help anyone who is getting up on stage for the first or second time. I hope it reaches those readers who will find some comfort in speaking to others. 

The reviews are in for Set You Free and so far I am very very happy with them. A line like this (Well-developed characters, an original plot, and a thrilling story line make this book impossible to put down. This page-turner is a must read for teens who enjoy mystery...An extremely well written crime thriller that asks the question 'How well do you really know anyone?'" (School Library Journal 2015-10-01)) will make my morning, if not the whole day. We might be able to stretch that out until the end of the week if nothing weird happens.

So, this fall should be..... ok. I mean, it's going to get cold and the amount of time skateboarding will certainly drop, but launching new books will be fun. As will standing on a stage now and then. So, see you in Toronto at Word on the Street (September 27) if you happen to be in Toronto and want to watch a guy standing on a stage talking about a mystery he dreamed up in his shed.

He lives

I'm outside because it is morning and warm and all fall/winter/spring long I tell myself that come summer I will be out doors for every breakfast that isn't wet. So far, mostly so good. The one thing which being outdoors in the morning with your laptop does, however, is let you know just exactly how disgusting your keyboard has become.

I mean, this thing is just gross. After this blog is up I'm going in to sanitize it and pretend I never let it get so bad. Ewwwwww.

I'd like to say I've been working so hard that I haven't kept up with this blog, or the website, or anything outside of writing, writing, writing, but I seem to have slipped into my yearly ritual of just slowing right down and enjoying my days with the boys. We have done a lot of skateboarding. Two weeks ago we journeyed to a wedding in Cambridge and Alex and I hit a number of skateparks across the province. I have discovered that 'skate' parks is an odd term to use now as all of them, truly, are 'scooter' parks. I wish I could fully understand the love of these things. There seems to be three tricks you can do on them, all with the ease of launching yourself on a particularly stable pogo stick. There's the 'tail whip' where the scooter bottom goes spinning around between one and four times and then the scooterer lands nowhere near the actual deck but nonetheless claims victory. The 'flail the scooter over your head after launching out of a bowl' which I've yet to see anyone land. And then the 'hop up on something and make a grinding kind of sound then hop back off again' which they then refer to as a board slide, 50-50 or feeble. All skateboarding terms. And all but one requires 4 wheels, not two, while the final board slide requires a 'board'.

I know it sounds like I'm hating on scooter kids and I guess I kind of am. Not because I dislike them as people. My youngest goes back and forth between skating and scootering depending on mood.  But because skateboarders have been relegated to skateparks. We go anywhere else and are very quickly kicked out. And if there is anything more embarrassing than being a 40 something year old man being asked to leave a parking lot by a 20 something year old rent a cop, I'm uncertain what it is. 

Scooters and bikes can ride pretty much anywhere they like unmolested. Whereas skateboarders remain, strangely, the pariah of the  streets.  Anyway, I'm glad I got that off my chest. In the end I like seeing these kids out doing things and enjoying the thrill of rolling around in the fresh air. I just wish there were fewer of them at once.

On the writing front; I've finished Set You Free and At Ease! Two books, one year! I'm on a second edit of High Note and, once I manage to get this done, have no less than 5 'finished' novels (4 YA and an adult) ready for a second, third, fourth, fifth &c. edit/re-write or death by select all/delete. These are all lingering manuscripts from that lost year I had when I decided I could be Eric Walters and put out half a dozen books at once. Two years later I'm still opening these documents and wondering what, exactly, I was doing. Don't get me wrong, I like the books, but they feel, not unexpectedly, like rushed, too short, half-formed beasts. 

At the moment I have a few ideas for new books. But instead of diving into them (honestly, I think I've learned my lesson) I am jotting these ideas down and letting them percolate until one boils over and I have nothing else to finish and no desire beyond working tirelessly on whatever it is.

In spectacular daily news, TC Boyle is now on twitter. It's not a big thing, but TC is one of those writers who truly made me want to write more and more. He does everything from straight out realism to fantastic trippy to sci-fi. And every time his work resonates with something uniquely his. When on tour I often get asked who my influences are. I normally name YA writers, as that is mostly what I now write. Salinger always comes up. Libba Bray Jesse Andrews (Go see Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, but bring tissues). Then my adult guys, Haruki Murakami, Denis Johnson, Martin Amis, Jennifer Egan, David Mitchell. People who I will always read. Then there's the whole crime genre with Don Winslow, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, and Steve Hamilton (to only begin the list) who I will follow anywhere. Ken Bruen is another. I just finished Green Hell which is less a mystery and more of a smash in the face. But I almost always forget TC Boyle without whom I wouldn't have spent an extra day in London (he was in town at the same moment my flight was set to leave, I made a very expensive decision to skip a flight and wait around to meet him and it still feels worth it) and Nick Hornby. The two seem, to me, to come as a pair. Both ridiculous in many ways, but very well grounded in reality and the little bits of every day that pull at us.

Anyway, see what happens when I don't write enough? It all comes out at once. What is in the future? Who knows, they say, or, as my character Sean Christensen in High Note loves to point out 'the past and the future bring us nothing but suffering. Only in the present can we be happy.' And sure, he stole that from Buddha, but what can you do? No one's coming up with anything better to say.

Enjoy your day if you're somewhere warm. I'll likely be at a skateboard park (sigh, scooter) today throwing my aging body around on concrete as though it could possibly matter. But, hey, it's better than golf.

Right?

Book Week and Skateboarding

I spent a week talking about skateboarding. Not a day went by that I did not give my 'Everything I Know I Learned From Skateboarding' talk during Bookweek. The more I did that particular talk, the more I really thought about what I was saying.  It's a catchy title, but it's also the honest truth. 

The talk is divided into three parts highlighting how we see 'failure'. There's failure because you have not taken the steps to succeed. Failure because you made a mistake (which as you grow older you understand is not a failure at all, but a necessary part of the process) and failure because others make you feel as though you have failed.

The main idea in the final third is the way people laugh at others mistakes. I enjoyed this part of the talk the most as I saw a number of kids understand exactly what I was talking about. That fear of making mistakes in front of people is huge. But in skateboarding, we all fall. We fall all the time. It's inevitable, it's part of it. If you don't fall, you don't learn. But that goes toward pretty much everything in life.

One of the other take aways from that part of the talk is the idea that we, as humans, get to decide who we are; others do not. I hope this idea hit for some of the kids because it's far too easy to let others dictate what you are good at, how you suck, and who you are. It's such a learning process (and by it I mean life) that if someone else tells you you can or cannot do something, it's pretty easy to go along with them.

This particular talk had a lot of skateboarding videos in it as well. While I watched Torey Pudwill and Chris Joslin destroy the streets and themselves, I thought about how much skateboarding has brought to my life; and still does. When I was younger it helped bring me a sense of identity. It was something I did and something I was. A skateboarder. It meant a lot to have something concrete to see myself as. That perception, and the sport, drifted when I joined a band and started spending more time on music. It disappeared almost completely when I was in University and trying to figure out how to be a writer. But in the past few years, it has come back into my life in a huge way. My kids skateboard with me now. It's an awesome bonding thing to watch them grow and find their way in the sport. For me, though, it's changed. It's not so linked to my identity any longer. Instead, it's something so calming and pure for me that I find it difficult to go more than a day or two without at least cruising around.  I need focus to land certain tricks.We lose the ability to focus as we grow. It's also physical exercise, which is very necessary. I have run a couple of marathons, but I'd much rather spend 3 hours at the skatepark now than 3 hours running trails. Skateboarding helps empty my mind. The free movements, the flow of it all. Without it, writing would be much more difficult. It has given me back an inner calm I used to take for granted. 

I understand that I'm an almost 42 year old man and this all looks like some sad mid-life crisis, but I'm not buying a Porsche (though that'd be awesome too) or doing any of the other things that seem to strike men when they hit my age. I'm returning to something that has, for a lot of my life, brought me a great deal of joy.

One of the best parts of the TD Canada Trust Bookweek for me was going into schools with a lot of skaters. These kids have changed over the years. Their fashion is mainstream without meaning to be. It's not a rebel thing any longer. There's an understanding that the guys on the wheels in parks are not the same ones spray painting their horrible scrawls all over the place. But still, when I got up there in front of hundreds of kids and asked 'What is the first thing you learn on a skateboard? The second.' and these kids were able to put their hands up and answer my questions, to be the authorities for once, that felt great. My teenage self was looking forward at me then and saying, 'I could have used that, you know.' So I hope, if nothing else, I gave some kids a feeling of worth. A feeling that they are not wasting their time or are never going to amount to anything simply because they find joy in standing sideways on a board.

Day 4: Croaking my way through Lethbridge

Red Deer took my voice. 

I managed to get through a single, abbreviated talk at Gilbert Paterson School. I stayed for some time, though, talking with anyone who could stand to listen to my sad little voice.

So, I unfortunately had to cancel on Vulcan which I feel will weigh heavily on my mind in the years to come. I'm attempting to stay silent this afternoon in order to be able to do two talks tomorrow in Claresholm. 

Luckily I don't need my voice to skateboard so I headed over to the really amazing Lethbridge park. I had the whole place to myself but didn't want to destroy my board board on a skateboard board  too much.

I spent the afternoon resting, drinking tea with honey, about three gallons of water, and not talking at all. But I don't really want to be sitting in a hotel room not talking. I want to be at these schools talking to all these awesome kids. So, fingers crossed for tomorrow.


Day 3, Jeff talks so much he can talk no more.

I lost my voice in Red Deer. An amazing day where I spoke with more than 800 kids all told, between Red Deer and Cochrane. Loved every minute of it. Enjoy a photo dump below. I will write more about this day later in the week when I am not half asleep and googling ways to get my voice back.

St Francis  of Assisi Middle School

St Francis  of Assisi Middle School

I'm starting to lose it a little. Just a little.

I'm starting to lose it a little. Just a little.


TD Book Week, Day 2

Camrose!!!!

Another awesome day. I had a great talk with some of the skateboarding kids at Camrose Composite High School.  Which meant I got to get my bored board on a board board out.

I did three talks and had interested and interesting students for each. These talks were sponsored by the Canada Council, so a big thanks goes out to them. A giant thanks goes out to Nicole Bannick of the Camrose Public library for putting it all together and Brenda Mucz for hosting the event.  Nicole took us to lunch at Stockmens Chophouse

I'm having a blast here in Alberta where I continue to find the people inviting and friendly. I managed to meet a truck driver at a coffee shop who showed me video of his ice road trucking. It was a stunning thing to watch.

Also, it was totally the first time I've ever seen my name in 'lights'

All in all, another great day and I managed to meet up with an old friend who happens to live in Red Deer now. 

What a great experience TD Canada Trust book week is. As I expected, exciting and exhausting.

 



TD Book week Day One

When I was a kid, a friend visited some family in Edmonton and had the luxury of going to the West Edmonton Mall. He spoke about how large it was. How sprawling. And, for some reason, I still remember him saying how there were "Four Gap Stores".

My mind went mad then. Why would any place require 4 Gap Stores? I couldn't fathom how large this place might be that depending on where you went in, it would simply take too long to get from one spot to another so The Gap had set up 4 separate stores. I wondered if each store was slightly different. Like, they had different stuff. And if they did, what was that stuff!? I didn't even shop at the Gap, so who knows why that all even mattered to me.

Well, today I found one Gap in the West Edmonton Mall. I didn't dig any deeper to see if others existed. There were sea lions, after all, and a skatepark in the basement of the West 49. It is a massive, sprawling space with a giant water park and skating rink, among other things. But just seeing one Gap settled something that had been picking at mind for a lot of years.
 

I visited Mayerthorpe today. A great school with an active and interested student body. I did four different presentations and was impressed by the school, staff, and student body. They had a great display of my books. 

The level of understanding of the students, of story, structure, and popular media, was impressive. 

Before leaving for Mayerthorpe, I stopped at the skatepark in Stony Plain. There seems to be a lot of skateparks in this province. I hope to hit the one down the street in Leduc in the morning. But that is going to depend on whether I drag myself out of the hotel early enough. 
Tomorrow, Camrose. 

Can't wait.

 

TD Canada Trust Book Week is upon us

Sunday is fast approaching and I have no idea if I'm prepared for this. I know my talks are finished. I've practiced them. I can't wait to get out there and talk with all these people. But I really don't know if I'm prepared...
I mean, do I have enough underwear? That's yet to be determined. Enough music on my phone? Enough space to put music on my phone? These are questions that need to be answered. Are there any movies on my laptop to watch? Will TC Boyle's brilliant new The Harder They Come be enough to fulfill my reading needs? 
I have my new skateboard, which I have been very good about not riding yet (it is currently sans trucks and wheels, but soon enough it will be road worthy).

I have new shoes! That's a real treat right there. 2 pairs because I'm already destroying my Etnies. New pants even.
Still have to look into that underwear stuff.
Who knew that heading out on tour could be so time consuming. I was wondering yesterday if I had ever had a hotel room to myself and I couldn't think of a time. Not once. My European tours were with friends. Luckily, I'll only have a night to see how this feels before my lovely wife (Megan the organized) will be joining me and saving me from whatever depravity I have slipped into (staring at the ceiling, I suspect. Possible mini-bar abuse). 
I need to pack, though. I need to give my kids some extra hugs because I'm going to miss them over this next week. I'll miss two hockey games and a recital! 
All that being said, I cannot wait for this to begin. I love talking about writing and skateboarding and storytelling. 

 


 

How's Writing Going, Jeff?

Glad you asked!
It isn't.
I've been stalled for over a week now on my edits of the Anticosti novel which will, someday, be given a real forever name. Right now it's called Henry & the German, pretty much entirely because I like that '&' in there. But then there are about eight trillion books with the & in them now.
Such as Me & Earl & The Dying Girl which is an AMAZING book and also now a film

Although that's not even really all that new, though I can't wait for the movie because Jesse Andrews is awesome.
There are other books with the '&' between the names but I can't seem to remember what any of them are so I'm now wondering if it's a good idea or not. I should be able to remember names, shouldn't I? Though mine isn't  just names.... The German is there. A bit of mystery or something.

Honestly, the title doesn't matter at the moment because the book isn't finished and it really should be finished by now which means, sigh, back to getting up at 5am which I claimed to really enjoy, but, honestly without coffee that would be a disaster as well.
What else is new? It's the first day of Spring and it's snowing and cold but people are wearing shorts because it's Canadian to have frozen legs and stuff. 

On the reading front (did someone ask about what I'm reading?) The Buried Giant is a bit of a slog and I have no idea why. Ogres, Pixies, Knights and dragons! What could be better? Yet getting to the end of this thing is now an act of necessity rather than joy. It is a good book, and not hard to read, but the progress is just.... I don't know. And there's this stack of books on my bedside table I really really want to read and am not because I have to finish this thing first! 
99 Problems, yo, and finishing a book is one. Or maybe two.

 

 

Rough Firsts

In Screenplay writing it's called 'breaking a story's back.' It's the time that you have the treatment done, an outline formed, and you get down to writing page after page of actual, physical script. All the while, you're seeing people moving from place to place. Deciding what goes in and stays out. Pushing the story forward. Finding out what it's all really about.

The equivalent for novels is the rough first draft. You've completed however many words it is, maybe never really paying attention to word count. You've moved your characters all over the place, put them through their tests, and made a few decisions. And then, somehow, it happens.... The story makes sense. Or, at least you hope it does.

I've just (really just a few minutes ago) finished a rough first write of a new novel. This one was a long time coming. It began when I heard about Sea Cadets during WWII manning ships in the St. Lawrence as signalers. From there, it went to writing grant requests. Then,  a research trip to Anticosti Island last summer. When I returned I took most of the summer off to skateboard and hang out with my kids while finishing up Set You Free which will be out in October of this year. 

Nevertheless, I finally began working on this Anticosti novel back at the beginning of November 2014, and here I am today with a rough first draft done. I know the real work begins now. The re-writing and editing, &c. But this is where I like to be. I want pages written. I want to have made certain decisions. I want something to work with. I want to have this thing printed out and sitting on my desk all mashed up with ink and divided into sections and messed up with coffee cup rings and jotted phone numbers.

I feel this worked out well. It didn't always feel that way. The biggest problem I faced was having to write a book which was about 95% without dialogue. I love dialogue. It's likely the most interesting part for me. I create characters with dialogue and move the plot with it as well. So this was a giant challenge for me which, because I don't think ahead enough, I didn't even see coming. I was likely 20,000 words into this when I stopped and asked myself why it was such a slog. 

I'm going to give this a few days now to sit. Then I'll come back at it, print it out, see where everything fits, what might be missing, and go back at it with the technical look I always like to have. This is the time to read a book like a reader would, not as I already have. To decide what works and what doesn't for the sake of the story and not the sake of my initial 'vision'.

I'm happy with it. Which I am not always at the end of a first rough. The main reason, it seems, is because though it took me three months to figure it out, I finally actually know what this thing is about. And if that's all I take away from a rough first draft, then that is exactly enough.

 

The Year of Trying one thing at a time.

I managed to get a few books half completed last year (see previous post). This year, I'm working on one thing at a time, and it is RIDICULOUSLY DIFFICULT for me to do this. Especially since I have just figured out the structure of a new YA novel that isn't just a shiny new idea, but, it seems, the culmination of a number of ideas I have had for some time.  In fact, I can see some characters that I have really enjoyed writing before showing up in this. I'm putting down ideas and promising myself I won't really look at starting this at all until I get the current book I'm working on (The Anticosti novel) finished. After that, there's the new Limelights I sold to Orca last year that I need, and can't wait, to write. 

Luckily 'At Ease' and 'Set You Free', both coming out in October 2015, are, for the most part, finished. I just did the 'little bits of things that need cleaning up' edit of Set You Free. At Ease was completed in December. So my duties there are done.

Anyway, one thing at a time this year. Focus is my mantra.

Work that needs completing in the order it shall be done:
1) Anticosti Novel (Currently @ 18,000 words. Projected finished at 60,000)
2) Adult PI novel re-write (I had to write this book. It was just so stuck in my head that it had to come out. And I really, really like it. But it needs a major re-working. Must be done by June. Likely if and when it is published will be under a pen name.)
3) High Note, Orca Limelights 2016 (First write submission date of June 1st)
4) Shiny new idea....!!!!
5) Rummage through the other books I put together in 2014 and see if there is anything salvageable or if they were all nothing more than writing exercises, which would be fine as well.

I'm lucky these ideas keep coming. It's also healthy to let even the most shiny of shiny new ideas sit for awhile before diving in. In the meantime, I'll be visiting Alberta in May with the bookweek celebrations to give multiple readings. I'll do my best to blog, tweet, facebook, &c. that trip. I also have an incredible group of animation students this year that I'm having  a blast working with. 
So, my days are full, and good. Very good. Even those hours spent in arenas watching my sons play hockey. Those days are very good.

The Year of Trying it All

Before I came to YA writing, I had over 30 short stories published in magazines all over the world. I also had 11 unpublished novels.
ELEVEN!
All adult novels. A couple had some serious interest from agents and publishers but as time passed, for one reason or another, nothing came from them.
I love writing YA and moving forward I can see this will always be my main thrust. But through certain situations, I have either received funds to complete non-YA projects, or, have an idea that has been burning too brightly for too long to leave alone.

So, if anyone is interested in how I spend all this time alone, here's a run-down of what I have done and NEED TO FINISH in 2014.

Adult Literary: I received an Ottawa Arts Grant in 2012 to write a novel about a screenwriter who returns to Ottawa from Hollywood with his tail between his legs. He's a man absolutely lost, angry, frustrated, and feeling entirely wronged by his exile. In Ottawa, he discovers an old girlfriend who has a 13 year old son she claims is his. This is where we start. I've been working on this book on and off ever since and it is finally taking shape. 


ADULT MYSTERY: I've had this idea for ages. A Private Investigator in Northern New York who works exclusively with missing kid cases, dead beat parents, abductions, &c. When a woman comes to Private Investigator Elliott Byrne asking him to follow her husband around one day because  she suspects he is going to abduct their son, Byrne jumps at the opportunity to stop something horrible before it happens.
But, everything is not as it first appears and soon enough Byrne has no idea where he stands, or what he's doing.
I finished this last week. By 'finished', I mean, finished a first draft. A very rough first draft. This one will sit until the new year when I'll go at a second write.

MIDDLE GRADE: I'm working on this one now! It's WWII and U-boats are moving up and down the St. Lawrence. Young Sea Cadets work as signalers on freighters and warships defending Canada at home. When one of these freighters is sunk, 15 year old Kenneth Austin finds himself on Anticosti Island, tracking a German soldier who seems to have taken one of the other signalers hostage. I received an Ontario Arts grant for this one and the whole family went to Anticosti Island this past summer on my research trip. It's amazing to be 'back' on Anticosti every morning while I work on this. The island is a very unique place and as I move Ken through it, little bits come back to me. I intend to have a good first write of this done before the New Year.

YA: I know, I write YA. But this one is in third person! Unheard of! Three teens find their lives changed forever out on the frozen St. Lawrence. I'll leave it at that. A first write is done, a second (and likely third) extremely necessary.

As I am finishing up multiple books, I have decided I won't do this again. I get so distracted, though. I also find I use multiple projects as a way to battle any kind of block or difficulty I might find. But, then, eventually, everything I'm working on runs into difficulties and all I have is four or five half finished projects. The fact that I have completed first writes of a number of these books is a miracle. Now it's a matter of re-writing, re-writing, re-writing, and finding homes for all of them. Luckily, re-writing and editing is 'easier' than first writes because there is something to work with and you don't have to grab ideas out of thin air.

Until then, did I tell you about these new projects? Well there's this one about a young Opera singer, and one about brothers who do a horrible thing and then their children must pay the price and another about a group of travelling musicians who ride into what seems to be an abandoned town on the back of large cats, and....