The proof of my new young adult book arrived in the mail yesterday. As you can see, it is called Free Pizza and it comes out in May this year. After Seven Tales, it was tough to leave the world of castles and kings. It was tougher thinking I had to top that book, since everybody seemed to like it. So, whatever it took to make Free Pizza good, I was willing to do – even if it meant ripping and tearing and rebuilding and polishing the thing to within an inch of its little life. My editor, Marg Gilks, thinks Free Pizza might be the best thing I’ve written. Truth be told, I spent so many years working on it, I can hardly believe the book is done and you all will soon get to read it. My vulnerable little literary munchkin is about to take the stage!
It took me long enough. But I finally have a trailer for Seven Tales!
– Junges Maedchen by Alexei Alexeivich Harlamoff
– Self-portrait in a Straw Hat by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun
– Visit to the Witch by Edward Frederick Brewtnall
– The Prodigal Son by Gely Korzhev
– The Giant by N.C. Wyeth
– A Girl Reading by Johann Georg Meyer
– Ophelia by Fausto Bottai
Well, things are progressing nicely. My editor is now working on the new book (you can see a tease of the cover above). I’ll be announcing the new title pretty soon, so stay tuned.
Also, I’m happy to announce that I am now hard at work on the second Kana book. I can tell you, if you liked Kana and the Red Pilot, you will love this one. It contains the most exciting scene I have ever written in a kids book. The kind of scene that makes you want to run to a closet with a flashlight so you can finish it without anyone interrupting you. All I have to do is make the rest of the book as awesome as this and I’ll be away at the races.
Looking forward to Read-In Week 2018 and getting to share with you all!
As most writers know, a book is not finished until it is out of your hands and being printed in quantity. But I just reached a big milestone this morning when I put down my pen (well, took my hands off my keyboard) and contacted my editor to say the new book is ready for her critical eye. The title isn’t a hundred percent fixed yet, so for now, let’s call it the Polar Bear book. Here’s a little history of this thing.
I began writing it around 1982. Yup, you read that right. The gist of this tale is thirty-six years old. It started as a boy’s adventure story and was blatantly autobiographical. At that time it was called, The Boys of Summer, after Dylan Thomas’s famous poem.
I see the boys of summer in their ruin
Lay the gold tithings barren
The main action took place in the neighborhood where I grew up, around the Westmount area in Edmonton and toward the North Saskatchewan River, down Groat Road. Though I only had experience writing short stories at the time, I poured my heart and soul into it and began sending it out to publishers two years later. The book was huge in scope and when each publisher returned it, it seemed to prove my ambition was greater than my skill as a writer.
Over the years, I worked at it on and off, sometimes for months on end, often just trying to get a handle on trimming the story while retaining its core elements. Between 1984 and 2000, I couldn’t tell you how many drafts I did. But I have all of the work done in the past 20 years. There were versions done in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2009, 2010 and 2014. It also underwent various title changes, among them, Jam Side Up, In Their Ruin, Stuff Happens and the oddest of all, Goober, Booger and the Unreal.
Then in June, 2016 something happened. I had acquired a new skill that let me play with the story in ways I’d never dreamed of. That skill was, put simply, not caring what it took to make the book a thing of quality. For the first time, I was willing to ditch characters and events for the greater good. And that skill really showed itself in November, 2017 when, after 15 months of hard work, I threw out nearly a third of the book. I had already been telling kids what the book was about. And here, I was ejecting everything I’d told them. Ugh. It was a hard decision. But the book is ten times better for it.
Cutting that big chunk left me room to move. Less plot let me spread out and concentrate my efforts on what was important – the characters. The original story was pure autobiography, pure nostalgia, was in the third person and the setting was the 1960s. The new book took place now – with video games, the web and cell phones and we had a first person narrator.
I wanted the book to come out in the fall of 2018. But I think spring, 2019 is now more realistic. With this book, I will have accomplished the second of my life’s literary dream projects (the first one was Seven Tales). And what’s funny is, I can easily turn that chunk of ejected material into a full-blown novel of its own. But we’ll see. Right now, I am jubilant over finishing this book.
Teachers always encourage me to tell their students how many drafts it takes to write a novel. As it stands for the Polar Bear book, in the last two years, I did around 15 drafts. Prior to that, it would be tough to guess, but I would imagine it was in the many dozens – thirty or forty does not seem an unreasonable number. And that’s not counting the endless amount of time I spent trying to picture a structure, a frame, where this story could unfold.
What’s funny for me, in choosing to do whatever it took to make an awesome book, I quickly abandoned any ties to my own life, to autobiography. In doing so, I ended up putting more of myself into it than ever before. I can’t wait for this book to be out in the world. And I can’t wait for you to read it.
So what’s this book about? First and foremost, it is a story of two dumb kids. Our adopted narrator, Brian McSpadden, has just found out he is going to meet his birth mother for the first time. His pal, Danny Cheevers has a huge accident involving his neighbor’s property and ends up having to pay for his mistake. The story is also about the boys’ annoying younger siblings and both sets of parents. Woven into the tale is some serious Canadian history, some mega-happy events and a whole bunch of hilarity. I can’t say I’ve ever read a book like it. But I can tell you, if you liked the loony tone of Kana and the Red Pilot, you’ll love this. And if you like a story that leaves you curled on the couch, trying to read through a stream of happy tears, well, this is your baby.
I’m still happily plugging away at the new book. I have a working title, but I won’t be revealing that till early in the new year. The book is a whole lot of things. It’s a about family, first and foremost. It’s about age; what makes a person old or young. There is a good chunk of both Edmonton and Western Canadian history. It’s very much about adoption and meeting birth parents for the first time. And like everything else I’ve written, there’s a good dose of twisted humor. I am nearly done the third major draft and expect to be done in the next few months. Then I’ll be recruiting kids to give it a read and let me know what works and what doesn’t. It’s been a long haul and I can’t wait to get it out into the world!
It’s been a while since I’ve written a new novel. But in mid-June this year, after all my fairy tales, I needed a break and decided to tackle one. I still don’t have a name for it, but I’ve finished the first draft and read-through and I’m quite happy with it. As with any new piece, it’s going to need a lot of work before it’s ready for the world to see. I call it my Groat Road book. (I know, it sounds boring. But I assure you, it’s anything but.) I figure it’ll be ready for Fall 2017. And yes, a creepy cave in a hillside plays a very important part in it!
Well, after all these years of thinking I was being poetic and original, I find out I am not the first to come up with a certain crucial phrase. In my book, Pretty Ballerina, the chorus goes like this:
It’s a pretty ballerina
with a little ocarina
and her pet chiquita cheetah
singing Auld Lang Syne.
This morning, sitting reading a history book, I nearly coughed my tea across the room. It turns out, the singer, dancer and actress, Josephine Baker, who gained fame in the 1930s with her risqué performances, loved animals. She kept exotic pets, such as a snake named Kiki, a chimpanzee (Ethel), a pig (Albert) and… a cheetah named Chiquita. (Ms. Baker even wore a skirt made out of bananas when she performed.) Chiquita often appeared with her on stage and even jumped off into the orchestra pit once, which I’m sure came as quite a shock to the musicians.
According to Wikipedia, “She was the first black woman to star in a major motion picture, Zouzou (1934)… Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States.”
During her career she was one of the most photographed women in the world and her huge popularity gave her a comfortable salary, which she spent on fine clothes, jewelry and pets. She adopted twelve multi-ethnic children whom she called her “Rainbow Tribe”.
She was extremely active serving in France during the Second World War and in the American civil rights movement in the ’50s and ’60s.
From her estate’s website: “More than 20,000 people crowded the streets of Paris to watch the funeral procession on its way to the Church of the Madeleine. The French government honored her with a 21-gun salute, making Josephine Baker the first American woman buried in France with military honors.”
So when you’re reading this silly book of mine, give a kind thought to Josephine Baker, who loved art, animals and children. She was a strong woman who stood up for what was right and deservingly, was admired the world over. You can’t say that about too many people who wear bananas.
I’ve been working on new fairy tales for the past year. Two are sort-of done and one is definitely done. I finished it this morning and I couldn’t be happier with it. It’s called The Stolen Girl and it’s about a child who finds out that she was stolen from her real mother as an infant. After working for all of last year on a very serious fairy tale, I really needed do something a little lighter, and this one fit the bill. It took three months from start to finish. While most of my stories take place between the 8th and 14th Centuries, this one is set a little earlier. I can’t wait to get it out into the world. As bedtime stories go, this one will surely be a favorite.
(Image Credit: Asher Brown Durand (1796 – 1886)
I’m happy to announce a new edition of Pretty Ballerina! Having read it a gazillion times to kids in schools, I began to see the need for a better layout of the story. So, after shifting a few things around and commissioning a spanky new image from the wonderful David Anderson, we have PB, 2nd Edition. Plus, we get a brand new cover, featuring our artist heroine and the fireman brigade about to hose Rusty right off his roost.
Big thanks to the dependably stupendous Dianna Little for the new layout and for putting up with all my nitpicking!
Well, it’s been a long road to the completion of this book. I’ve been reading from my proof copy to kids in schools this past week and the response has been pretty great. Nobody wants to wait for it. “Why can’t I buy that one?” they ask, pointing to the book in my hand. It’s been amusing trying to explain that these stories had their gestation two of their lifetimes ago. They just don’t grasp it. I may as well tell them I’ve been working on it since infinity.
The official launch will be at Audreys Books on Saturday afternoon at 2:00, November 14th. Here’s the Facebook event for it, and of course, everyone’s welcome. On October 14th, I’ll be reading from it at my old haunt, The Kasbar as featured reader during Mike Gravel’s The Rasp and the Wine series.