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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Wait. . . are you saying you read children's literature?

If you write books for kids, does that mean you read books for kids?

I get this question A LOT. Unfortunately most of the time it’s a question accompanied by a raised brow, as if there is something taboo about reading books for kids. I feel compelled to write a blog post to attempt to correct what appears to be a misconception about children’s literature (kid-lit): That it’s somehow below other markets or off limits to people who are outside the target audience.

*Ahem* In both cases, It. Is. Not.

If you’re avoiding kid-lit because you think it’s can’t possibly have the complicated characters, intricate plots, or themes you want to read about. Or that it must be written in a simplistic way because kids are less educated than adults, you’re making a mistake and you’re underestimating kids.

The difference between adult novels and novels for kids is often the ages of the main characters – of course the age of the character influences how those characters view the world around them, what kinds of situations they'll be placed in, and how they'll react - but that's how things work in most novels.

Middle grade (MG) novels usually have main characters between the ages of 8-13, and young adult (YA) novels generally have characters 14 to 19. But the characters are no less real, than those found in adult novels. The plots, too, are not simplistic or cliché, at least you wont find simplistic or cliché plots any more often than you would in adult novels.

In fact, I’d argue that kids are less forgiving of flat characters and simplistic plots than are their adult counterparts. Some of the freshest and most exciting books I’ve read have been written for the children’s market. Avoiding children's books, would be like avoiding movies rated PG-13 and below.

When I recommend a book that happens to be kid-lit, and the person I’m talking to eyes me like I’ve just placed a diaper on my head and started singing that I am Henry the Eighth I am song, I don’t feel self-conscious (why would I? That Henry the Eighth song is brilliant!). I feel sorry for them. Their avoidance of an entire section of literature is to their detriment. They’re the ones missing out.

If I avoided kid-lit, I’d never have read The Harry Potter books, Hunger Games, anything by Dr. Seuss, The Percy Jackson series, Artemis Fowl, Fablehaven, Little Brother, The Graveyard Book, Caroline, Between Shades of Grey, The Book Thief, or any of the hundreds  of books I’ve read and loved geared for that market. 

So, to answer the question posed at the top: Do I read books for kids?

Yeah. Absolutely. And so should you!

Friday, November 30, 2012

I should have named my kid Rorschach!

Warning, I haven’t got a lot of sleep the last few days. My son has decided he must rise before dawn. I find my blog posts tend to be skewed towards peculiar when this happens . . . apologies in advance!

If you didn't know that a Rorschach test is an inkblot test, then you, sir/madam, have seen fewer court mandated psychologists than I have have not read the Watchman comic books.

As we all know, inkblot tests are windows through which psychologists see how much you truly hate puppies, or love Turkish delights, or secretly wish you were a fairy princess. gauge your true desires and motivations. 

Get to the point, Steve, what are you trying to say?

Ah, yes, indeed. . .

I’ve been taking my son to a play group some mornings, and I’m starting to think that “baby-babble,” that adorable nonsense that falls from the mouths of babies and toddlers like unfamiliar food, is a possible replacement Rorschach test for parents.

A bit of background information on my son: he’s 16 months old and doesn’t say a single coherent word. But at these toddler play groups many of the parents insist their kids are speaking full sentences . . . in English.

What’s more, they seem to think that I should understand what my son says, too. So many times I’ve been asked, “What did your son say? I couldn’t quite understand him.” To which I reply, “Huh? You couldn’t quite understand him? Does that mean you understood some of what he said? Should I assume my son learned Farsi when I wasn't looking? Because that’s what it sounded like to me. Sure as heck wasn’t English.”

I don’t have a lot of friends at these playgroups.

I'm no linguist, and maybe I'm not paying enough attention. Maybe there is real meaning behind my son's chatter. But it seems (much like a Rorschach test), what parents “hear” their toddlers say, is really what parents WANT to hear their children say. "What's that, Jimmy? You want to go down for your nap early? You want to watch another hour of Barney and Friends so daddy can get some work done? You want your mom to change your diaper? Ok, okay. If you insist.

Truthfully, I think my kid is just making fun of me. I think he’s saying, “Hey, this is what you sound like when you talk.”

Kind of like this guy:

Clip is of a music video performed in gibberish designed to sound like American English.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lazy "On Writing" Post . . . Achooo!

I wanted to do an "On Writing" blog post today, but my son is sick, and I am feeling it too, so I'm going to be lazy and direct you to a really great blog post about world building. The link will direct you to the fine people at Paper Lantern Literary.  This post is really thoughtful and heaped with great advice for writers.

I shall dig my way out of the mountains of Kleenex in the next day or two . . . or three. I promise!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Glitter and Carrier Pigeons – Need I say more?

 . . . Okay, yes, I’ve been mostly MIA from my blog . . . and from twitter . . . and from facebook . . . you get the idea. But let’s face it, time management has to be one of the hardest things writers contend with (Rejection, though, comes a very close second). When you’re just starting out there are a few things you’re told you simply MUST do if you want to be a writer:
  1. Write books. This one’s true. You simply cannot be a writer if you don’t write.
  2. Depending on your goals, you’ll probably want an agent. That means you must divide your time between writing manuscripts and query letters and hoping one day you’ll snag that elusive beast known as the literary agent. (*Little known fact about literary agents: they prefer query letters sprayed with perfume, dusted with glitter, and delivered by carrier pigeons.)
  3. You must also build your online presence. You must tweet, and blog, and vlog (do people still vlog?), and facebook and chat up people on message boards and book review sites and other blogs, vlogs, and facebook pages. You must be witty and beloved by all those wayward souls who wander into your corner of cyberspace.
  4. Also, and this one’s fairly important, if you don’t want social services to take your children away, you have to pay attention to them too.  Pfft, needy one-year-olds!

I struggled with this for awhile - finding that elusive ballance - but then I realized something that should have been obvious: the most important thing a writer needs to do when they're first starting out is write books. The rest is secondary . . . well, point 4 is pretty important too . . . social services can be real ball-busters!

*Agents might not really like glitter and carrier pigeons . . . I've heard some prefer carrier-falcons.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Clubbing baby seals isn't funny! Well, not unless . . .

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

CHRISTMAS? Um, Can I Have My Gifts Early?

I saw it today!

Christmas cards and Christmas wrapping paper lining some of the aisles in a couple big box stores. I thought they usually waited until after Halloween, but apparently not.  This is what they want you to be thinking about:

Don't get me wrong. I look forward to Christmas just as much as the next guy. I do. It’s one of my favorite holidays. I just think people are forgetting something, and despite the fact that I’ve mentioned it before, it seems people are in need of a gentle reminder . . . ready? . . .


 “What?” you ask. “No Christmas? Why?”

 Why? Why? I'll tell you why.


Remember? The Mayans predicted the great zombie apocalypse. It'll come on December 21, 2012. The date which happens to also be my birthday. Do you remember now?

Here’s the official countdown clock that you should be watching:

 You may be thinking that the countdown clock above doesn't look very official. Or, perhaps you think it looks as though I found some free, online countdown clock making website geared for expectant mothers. Well if you thought that, you'd be right wrong. *ahem* It’s the official counter. If you don't believe me feel free to ask your local zombie expert.

Let me leave you with a little piece of advice:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Aspiring Authors, Are We All Crazy?

What does it say about someone who will plop themselves in front of a computer for thousands of hours, drafting a manuscript that might never see the light of day? I’ve been thinking about that lately and I’ve decided there is a degree of craziness there. Anyone who has actually written a novel knows it’s not an easy thing to do. What’s more, I don’t know any authors who found an agent or a publisher who didn't have a few novels that never sold: “Trunked novels” as they are often referred. 

So what is it that makes aspiring authors push forward after they’ve trunked a novel that took them months to create? What makes them think, “This time will be different.”?

If you’re thinking insanity, you and I are thinking along the same wave-length.

And don’t get me wrong, I am among the aspiring authors with trunked novels. I have a couple of them. They are bound and gagged and locked in a trunk marked “SHAME.” If either one tries to escape I will hunt it down and kill it.

A couple months ago I finished my latest manuscript – which puts my novel count at . . . quite a few. Some trunked, others waiting to be hoisted on unsuspecting children.  And what did I do when I finished it? I immediately started in on the next one. Only one thing can explain an action like that. You guessed it . . . Insanity.  

So what motivates you? Why do you, aspiring authors, write?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

While you laugh, I cry . . .

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Travel Inspiration III – The people!

Okay, I found that guy's picture online, but I would LOVE to meet him. I think he'd fit well into the stories I write. 

Every writer I know is only a telephoto-lens and an apartment dark-room away from being a creepy stalker. Writers watch people. It’s just what we do. We watch interactions, we watch reactions, and we stare at people. We do all that because we’re mentally writing down descriptions. Without believable characters, you can’t have a believable story. It just doesn’t work.

"C'mon, Steve," you say. "I can find people to watch anywhere. I don't need to travel to get inspiration in that regard."

True enough. You certainly don’t need to travel to exotic destinations to find observable people. An afternoon on your neighborhood park bench will suffice for that goal. Same goes for cultural differences. I'm from Canada, which is a very multicultural country, and If I want to observe different cultures in action, I can do that at my local mall.

But there is a difference between the people you meet at the park, or mall, and the people you meet overseas. Sure there is a bit more in the way of culture when you're overseas, and the smells and textures of the environment will probably be quite different. But as far as people go, the group I most enjoy watching when I'm traveling ... the group I get the most inspiration for my stories from, are the foreigners. Other travelers. People just like me.

See, I like to throw my characters into situations they’re ill prepared for, and ill-prepared-for-experiences are a dime a dozen along off-beaten travel paths. It might be something as common as watching exhausted travelers dredge up just enough energy to play their thousandth game of charades with the hotel/guesthouse/hostel desk clerk in order to get a room. Or perhaps it's the couple who’ve just returned from their first Tuk-Tuk ride, thrilled, clearly, to be alive, but also confused because they have no idea why the driver forced them into half a dozen jewelry and tailor shops on their way to their destination. Or maybe it's the guy in the restaurant who stares in disbelief at the meal he has just received, and you know he's trying to sort out, a) how he’d managed to mess up his order so badly, and b) how one goes about eating a soup made up of live, swimming fish.

It's an interesting experience  to observe your fellow travelers. If you get the chance, I highly recommend it.

What about you guys? Where do you find the best place to observe people? Where do you draw characterization ideas from?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Travel Inspiration II - The Ordinary

Travel and inspiration are the themes for the next couple posts. I mentioned in a previous post about Ruins, and how they’re like a bolt of lightning to the creativity centers of my mind, but ruins are almost too obvious a source for inspiration. Another way travel inspires, is in experiencing the mundane in a foreign country. Those things the locals take for granted.

It is the ordinary that can really have an impact. I italicize “ordinary” because the one thing you learn when you travel is that “ordinary” is an entirely subjective term. Case-in-point: We moved to Victoria a couple years ago, and I asked everyone, "So, is there anything cool to check out around here?" We were told the typical stuff, "Parliament building, gardens ... etc"  but no one, not a single person, told us that two blocks from where we lived, tucked just a bit out-of-the-way, was Craigdarroch Castle ... A real castle. It's where I now take my son so he can play on the grounds.

Oh, and here's a picture:

It needn't been something so grand as a castle though. It could be something as simple as a view, or an item  hidden in plain sight (or hidden out of sight). I remember waiting for a bus in Japan and looking down at manhole cover (picture below) and wondering why in the world the city would spend the money on making such unique covers to manholes. I'll throw up a few images of the ordinary places/things I’ve seen that I’ve found inspirational.

How about you? Have you come across anything while traveling that everyone seems to take for granted? Something remarkable that no one notices? Maybe you live somewhere that most people seem to miss.

Door in Venice (there are lots of doors)

Bamboo Forest
Manhole Cover in Yokkaichi, Japan
Himeji Castle - I used to jog around this place at night.

Venice, Italy
Door knob in Venice


Monday, July 16, 2012

What Inspires You?

I took this picture on Naxos - in Greece

I’ve blogged about this before, but I thought it was time to revisit the topic. What inspires your writing? Where do you pull your ideas from?

I was thinking about that the other day and for me, the answer is travel.  I’ve been really fortunate to have traveled a great deal in my life, and a number of the places I’ve been have really had an impact.  There is something really exciting about finding yourself in a place where you don’t understand the culture, or the language.  When I start itching to travel, it's usually that feeling that I'm looking for. The feeling of being awestruck, confused, and frightened in the same instant. 

So, for the next few posts on my blog, I’d like to talk a bit about how travel has inspired me.

First up: RUINS.

Nothing quite invokes my imagination like standing in the middle of a ruined structure. What was it like a thousand, two thousand, four thousand, eight thousand … years ago? What did people do when they came here? Could historians have it all wrong? It’s that last question that really gets my mind working. It’s also where dozens of book-ideas come from for me.

Here are a few of the ruins I’ve seen, and here's where I issue you a challenge: Without using the internet, how many of these places can you identify? Or, can you at least name the country where they're found? (I'll put the locations beneath the pictures in a couple days). ETA: I noticed that hovering over the picture told the locations :/ so I decided to just put the locations down.

a) Thailand
b) Greece
c) Turkey
d) Greece
e) Myanmar (Burma)
f) Guatemala
g) Italy
h) Mexico

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Public Service Announcement

By far the funniest "ALOT vs. A LOT" post is this one! I'm sure every writer has seen it, as it did it's rounds a couple years ago, but it's worth checking out if you haven't: CLICK HERE