Tuesday, December 14, 2010

2010 is going out with a bang!

This year may have started off slowly, but the pace sure picked up this fall. Things seem to be happening at lightning speed these days. First, the good folks at Dundurn signed on my new middle-grade novel, Chasing the White Witch (fall, 2011)! Next, the Ontario Library Association nominated Ghost Ride for the Red Maple Award! And now, I'm beyond excited to announce that my personal bullying story will appear in the amazing anthology, Dear Bully, published by HarperCollins US!

Stellar YA authors Carrie Jones and Meghan Kelley Hall are co-editors of this most awesome anthology that will hopefully touch many kids/teen lives by letting them know they are not alone in their struggles. Read how these two amazing writers came up with the idea here. Anyone who has experienced bullying (and, honestly, not too many people haven't!) knows just how painful and just how devastating to ones self-esteem it can be. The list of authors appearing in this anthology is incredible: Heather Brewer, Mo Willems, Ellen Hopkins, Cecil Castellucci, Eric Luper, Carolyn Mackler, R.L Stine, Alyson Noël, Lauren Kate, Lisa McMann, Lauren Oliver, Nancy Werlin, Jon Scieszka, Nancy Garden and Deborah Kerbel--to name but a few.

Once again, I'm not quite sure how I found my little old self on such an amazing list. I only hope my story will give strength to those who read it.

Here's looking forward to 2011! May it be filled with good health and much happiness for all of you!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

There's a Gap in my Mind...

Ah, but, sadly, most of you know that already. Actually, it's more of a leak--so be sure to remind me of any important stuff and often! (every five seconds should do it!)

One thing I don't need to to be reminded of is that MIND GAP will be released soon! Yay. I know it's only mid December and I have all the way until the end of January to go, but I'm getting super excited. Can't wait to hold it in my hot little hands. The first review for it just came out in CM Magazine--you can read it here (but, really, don't because it tells too much about the plot--bit of a spoiler.) Hey, how about read the first chapter instead?! Here is the blurb:

Fourteen year-old Jake MacRae’s life is spinning out of control. He is making all the wrong choices—gambling, drinking, hanging around gang members—and now he has been asked to make a special delivery. What should he do? Jake knows either way, his decision will seal his fate, but what he doesn’t realize is that this decision could not only destroy his life but the lives of those close to him. Before Jake makes up his mind, he receives a mysterious text message inviting him to a flash party on a midnight subway train. As Jake steps off the platform he has no idea he has just boarded a train bound for his worst nightmare. And what’s more—he can’t get off.

And here's chapter one (let me know what you think! I can take it. Well, maybe.)

Chapter One

“In or out?”

Jake shaded his cards with his left hand. He peeled up the corners with his right. Two of clubs. Ace of spades. He glanced at the cafeteria table. Face up, in a neat row, lay the seven of diamonds, the two of hearts and the jack of clubs. Deuces, he thought. Story of my life.
“Come on, man—in or out?”

Over the hum of gossip, the shuffling of feet, and the grinding of chairs, Jake heard a twinge in Cole’s voice. He looked up and their eyes locked for a second. Jake could read his best friend like cheap magazine. Cole had a big mouth, but he got nervous quickly. He was bluffing.

“In,” said Jake, tossing his second dollar into the pile. He shifted his gaze to the dealer.

Damon was more difficult to read. From his greasy hair, to the tattoo of a crown dripping blood emblazoned across his knuckles, all the way down to his brand new Nikes; the guy was stone-cold.

Damon threw a buck into the pile. He kept his gray eyes trained on Jake as he slowly flipped over another card and placed it next to the jack. Queen of clubs.

Cole checked and began chewing his lip.

Too obvious, thought Jake, battling the urge to smile. He pushed a stack of four quarters into the growing mound. He had a lousy hand, but at this point, he had nothing left to lose.
Damon answered.

Cole shook his head and swore. He threw down in his cards and began shoveling fries into his mouth. He seemed to be taking his losses much harder these days.

Damon flipped over the final card dragging Jake’s attention back to the game: Ace of diamonds.

Two pair, thought Jake, ace high. Nice.

Jake willed his pulse to slow. His mouth was a thin line. He ran a hand through his thick hair. Then he picked up his last stack of coins and tossed them casually into the heap. Nine bucks. Ten if Damon continued. Not what you’d call a fortune, but hey, it was better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Jake slipped his hand into the pocket of his jeans. He shifted his cell phone. Stray nickels and dimes danced between his fingers. If he lost this hand, he could kiss next week’s lunches goodbye. Like he’d done this week. And last.

“Call,” said Damon. He placed his two cards onto the pile of money as though he were claiming it. He had a pair of aces.

Jake let out his breath. The deuces came in handy after all. He turned his cards over one by one. Jake watched Damon’s eyes darken. Suddenly they reminded Jake of shark eyes—cold and lifeless. Jake stretched out his arms to rake in his winnings.

“Why gentlemen,” said a deep voice. “You wouldn’t happen to be partaking in the quite illegal and most suspendable act of gambling, would you?”

Jake peered over his shoulder at the towering six-foot-six figure of his English teacher, Mr. Dean.

“At the very least it would mean a week’s worth of detentions for each of you.”

Cole could wriggle his way out of a clogged pipe. Trouble was, his mouth was quicker than his brain. “Gambling? Us? Course not, Sir. We’re just having an enjoyable game of Fish. And this money here?” he motioned his chin toward the pile, “Why, it just happens to be sitting on the table, doing nothing.” He sat back looking pretty proud of himself.

“Nothing?” Mr. Dean frowned. “Hmm, I see.” He scratched his chin. He volleyed glances from Damon to Cole finally settling on Jake. “Well, if this money is just doing nothing, then I’m sure you gentlemen wouldn’t mind if I donate it to the Salvation Army where it can do something?”

Jake rolled his eyes and scowled, but he kept his mouth shut.

Mr. Dean patted Jake on the shoulder. “Life is an endless series of choices, Mr. McRae.” He leaned in, scooped up the loot and strolled off humming Amazing Grace.

Jake gave Cole a shove. “You idiot.”

“What’d I do?”

This money just happens to be sitting here doing nothing…” Jake mocked. “Couldn’t you have come up with something better?”

I didn’t hear anything brilliant shooting out of your mouth. And I guess you’d a wanted a pile of detentions instead?”

Jake picked up his cards and threw them across the table.

Cole sneered. “Think of it as bail.”

Damon was leaning back in his chair. “Forget it. It’s chump change. Let’s talk real business.”

Business. Right. Jake had avoided thinking about it all day. He reached over and grabbed a few fries from Cole’s plate. They were cold and tasted like cardboard.

“My brother says you guys have been hanging around the coffee shop long enough. He wants you to do a favour for him.”

Vlad was what you’d call king of the 5 King Tribe. He was the kind of guy you did not want to disappoint.

“We’re in,” said Cole all too eagerly. He glanced at Jake, but Jake didn’t say a word.

“Good,” said Damon. “Vlad will be happy.”

“So, um, what exactly does he want us to do?” asked Jake.

Damon was eyeing him like they were playing poker again. Only this time, Jake felt his cheeks flush.

“Meet at the coffee shop at one o’clock on Sunday. Pick up a package and take it to where Vlad tells you. A simple delivery.”

Simple, thought Jake. But what if simple gets complicated?

“Delivery. Sure,” said Cole. He flashed Jake another look. This one said: Be cool.

The bell rang ending second lunch. Damon grabbed the cards, shoved them into his pocket and swaggered off into the stream of students heading toward their lockers. “Sunday,” he called over his shoulder. He didn’t look back.

“What’s your problem?” asked Cole once Damon had disappeared. “Don’t you get it? When Vlad asks you to do something, you do it.”

Jake didn’t respond. His thoughts were doing back-flips

“It’s just a delivery,” said Cole. “Like Damon said—simple.”

“Simple,” echoed Jake. He was nodding, but his expression betrayed his uncertainty.

Cole sighed. “Make up your mind, man—in or out…”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Stellar List! (thrilled to have sqeaked onto it!)

As you all know (and by you all I mean all 12 of you who follow my blog), I don’t blog often—in fact, rarely would be ambitious. Each time I’m sure I have something really interesting to say, I write it down and then it doesn’t seem so interesting after all...

But today, is different! Today I'm thrilled to announce that Ghost Ride has been shortlisted for the Red Maple Award by the Ontario Library Association. I can't tell you how surprised and excited I was when I received the news. It's such an honour--especially given that the list is brimming with stellar novels by these awesome authors:

Wounded, by Eric Walters

The Summoning, by Kelley Armstrong

Only in the Movies, by William Bell

Not Suitable for Family Viewing, by Vicki Grant

Nieve, by Terry Griggs

A Spy in the House, Ying S. Lee

My thanks to OLA and huge congratulations to all of you! I'm so proud that my little ol' GHOST is going to RIDE alongside you!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Unlikeable Protagonists...Bah humbug.

I finally have some time--a whole bulbous whack of it--and I'm paralyzed. I could finish my current WIP. No wait--write three more books. Four??? Or I could clean my house. Or sand and stain the stairs. Or sit and do nothing. Sigh. Okay--not nothing--sit and listen to audio books! Bliss.

I just finished listening to The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It's one of those novels I'd always meant to read but never got around to it. I can't tell you how captivated I was by Mary and Dicken and Colin--one of those books I wanted to go on forever--the kind that left me happy and satisfied and yet so very sad when it ended because I never wanted it to end.
But, here's the thing. Mary--at the start of the novel--is a very unlikeable character. She is spoiled and snobby and miserable, a waif of a creature who doesn't even pretend to hide her disdain for people and the world. True, she was made to be unlikeable by the lack of parental love and care and the society in which she was raised. Still, when first I met her, I just plain didn't like her. And yet, she hooked me. I knew the novel would be about her journey, her growth as a human being, her enlightenment and ultimately, her redemption (all via the secret garden and the folk surrounding her) and I found this absolutely fascinating. Mary, like so many great unlikeable protagonists (Ebenezer Scrooge is one of my all-time favourite), developed over the course of the novel. I personally find these characters and their stories infinitely more exciting than those who are nice and good and morally unscathed from the onset and remain consistently such throughout the novel.

So why is it then that many works are criticized as having unlikeable protagonists? I've heard this comment in critique groups again and again. And how many writers have their work rejected citing this simple equation: Unlikeable protagonist = prompt rejection by editors who dislike (and I'm assuming therefore) don't feel a strong enough connection to the protagonist. Perhaps it's just that: It's not that a character must be positive and likable, but that the reader should feel a strong connection to that character from the onset. So how does a writer achieve this? How does one make their reader connect and cling desperately to a foul, selfish, dark character? How do you make an unlikeable character compelling?

Here's one quote:

The non-heroic protagonist can be anything from an ordinary Joe (or Joanna) to a victim to a very flawed personality or an anti-hero. These warts-and-all characters are fascinating to create, and they can seem very real. When drawing a character in one of these modes, you must always consider the impact on the reader. A too-ordinary Joe can seem dull, and so readers will lose interest. A victim can seem weak, and a deeply flawed character can be so unlikeable that readers will turn away. An anti-hero will probably be a character who makes wickedness seem charming or appealing, or at least excusable.
It is quite possible to have an unlikable protagonist or co-protagonist. If you choose this route, you need to decide whether your character is evil, misguided, distasteful or wickedly charming. If s/he has redeeming features, they must be believable.Read more at Suite101:
Creative Writing 101 - free Suite101 course http://www.suite101.com/lesson.cfm/16712/261/3#ixzz0tZMChkrF

Does the secret lie then in giving your rude, impatient, loathsome character at least one redeeming quality? Something to which the readers can connect so that they desperately hope for this flawed character to succeed much like routing for the underdog in sporting events?

I think I'm personally in love with the theme of redemption. I'm fascinated with discovering and understanding the reasons why a character might say or do awful things. I love watching these characters grow and in even some minor way, succeed. May there be many more Marys in the books that lie ahead!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Best Cake Ever--thanks to Natalie Hyde, aka Miss Apfelbaum!

I met fellow writer Natalie Hyde a few years ago via an on-line critique group. I remember her posting a few chapters of her then middle-grade WIP--it had an intriguing title Saving o eat. I was fascinated and began reading. The characters were engaging and real, the plot moved at a quick pace and the humour had me laughing out loud over and over. In short, I had no criticisms and knew it was a manuscript that would sell quickly and well. Shortly after, Saving Arm Pit (new title) sold to Fitzhenry & Whiteside and has a scheduled release date of Spring, 2011! Now, what does all this have to do with cake you might ask? Well. In Natalie's novel there is a certain character, a Miss Apfelbaum, who is an incredible baker. She bakes all sorts of amazing cakes that delight the hopeless characters of a luckless baseball team, the Terriers (love that name!). And after getting to know Natalie a bit better, I strongly suspected that she was, in fact, Miss Apfelbaum! Tortes and tarts, cakes and cookies--Natalie has something to fall back on in case this writing thing doesn't work out. Wait a minute--no chance of that, since Natalie has written, some 15 children's non-fiction books (yes, I said 15!!!) and has placed another novel, Payback, with Orca for a fall, 2011 release. With several other projects and works in various stages, this woman is a writing machine! Okay. Back to cakes. Now, I've heard Natalie mention various treats she's made, but when she spoke of a hamburger cake, I just had to ask. "What, pray tell, is a hamburger cake?" She not only told me-she sent me a picture and a recipe. Now, no slouch of a baker myself (holds chin up proudly) I had to try this incredible cake, and as a certain family birthday was fast approaching, I decided that I was on a hamburger cake mission. I slaved away at this cake for about 4-5 hours. "Four-five hours," said Natalie. "What on earth did you do?" Well, what I did was use the wrong kind of pan! So although I did, in fact, create the best hamburger cake ever, I also managed to create the largest hamburger cake ever and here it is! Thank you Natalie! Thank you Miss Apfelbaum! I tip my bun to you both!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The greatest gift...

Last week I went to our monthly CANSCAIP meeting and was surprised when Eric Walters handed me a package--a gift for my recent involvement in his amazing organization Creation of Hope. The gift--that he said is "just a small thank you" brought tears to my eyes. It was a lovely frame with photos of the children that Creation of Hope has helped. That, in and of itself ,would have been enough to warm my heart, but here's the thing--two of the children in the photos are holding MY NOVEL!!! Focused on the smiling faces, I didn't even realize it at first and then I saw what was in their hands--Ghost Ride! Eric had brought my book all the way to Africa in a recent journey! It was such an incredibly thoughtful and generous gesture, it left me speechless. It's the furthest my novel has gone--I can only hope the children enjoy it!

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Announcement...

It's official! I'm very excited to announce that my new novel Mind Gap will be published by Dundurn Press in January 2011! Here's the blurb:

14 year-old Jake MacRae’s life is spinning out of control. The decisions he is making are destroying his life and the lives of those close to him. One night, he receives a mysterious text message inviting him to a flash party on a midnight subway train. As Jake leaves the platform, he has no idea he has boarded a train bound for his worst nightmare. And what’s more—he can’t get off.
And here's the cover!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Please take a moment...

As Autism Awarness month comes to an end, please take a moment and watch this video. It's often too difficult for me to talk about, so I'll let Five for Fighting do the talking for me. Awareness is everything. Our children may have great difficulty learning how to relate to you--but you can learn how to relate to them! It's really all about understanding their world--how they perceive things. And if you haven't already done so--check out these AMAZING books! They are both brilliantly written, great stories, and give readers a glimpse into the mysterious world of autism. Rules, by Cynthia Lord

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, by Mark Haddon

And, if you happen to be in the Toronto area on Sunday, June 20th, come join us at Nathan Phillip Square at 10am and Walk Now for Autism! You can't miss Team Justin with our purple t-shirts!

Friday, April 16, 2010

David Booth. Wow.

Last night I had the amazing experience of hearing Professor David Booth speak. Literacy-guru that he is (and me being a teacher and all), I was certainly familiar with his name and his work. But what a difference hearing him live. He is such a charismatic and humorous person--soft-spoken, yet his words hit you like a hammer.

I was particularly interested in what he had to say about reading, reluctant male readers, new (or not-so-new) forms of media (Kindles, iPod's, PC's, Blackberries, etc.) and simply this: asking the right questions to excite and engage all learners. You could have heard a pin drop (okay, maybe the odd baby cry--which, by the way, didn't bother him one bit, in fact, he asked the mother who was about to leave with her baby to stay!), in the packed school gymnasium. So many of his stories and anecdotes hit home, I wouldn't know where to begin. Here is me caught on camera looking all captivated.
As a Canadian children's writer, I was particularly thrilled with his promotion of Canadian authors! And I absolutely loved when he told the audience that he often travels on planes and trains reading picture books--out loud! Since most of what I read is children's/YA books it made me chuckle as I often find myself sitting among people engrossed in the latest, greatest in adult literature. They cast a sideways glance, raise their eyebrows then frown as I proudly read my latest, greatest middle-grade fantasy or adventure or graphic novel or YA thriller or early chapter book...

I only hope I get another opportunity to hear Mr. Booth speak!

**photographs courtesy of Jagdeep Singh**

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

An interview, Creation of Hope and goat b-day presents...

Well, clearly it's taken me sometime to regroup after that frightening take-down experience with author, Deborah Kerbel, which is why my blog has remained sadly stagnant for some time...

Okay, I'm lying. I've just been lazy. But it's time to get unlazy (delazy?) and back to all this wonderful social networking!

First, the Markham Village Writers interviewed me! I was really excited to be asked. I mean I have sooooo many important things to say. You can read the interview here if you've got a moment: http://markhamvillagewriters.com/focus-on

Now way back, a month or two ago, I was honoured to be asked to present at an event with Eric Walters, Kenneth Oppel and Shane Peacock at Humberview P.S. As excited as those 600 students were to hear these amazing authors, I'm sure I was the most excited. They are all such fabulous writers and stellar speakers. I've heard them all before but could hear them a hundred times more and never get bored! Now, after Eric spoke about his organization, Creation of Hope, I was so moved that I had to do something, however small, to help out. I decided that since my own kids have way too much stuff, they would all get goats for their birthdays. (And since they are all about as stubborn as goats, I asked that they be named after my children!)

In case you haven't heard of it, Creation of Hope is an absolutely amazing organization where every single dollar goes directly to those in need. You can seriously change a child's life with just a few dollars! So the next time you don't know what to get for the guy(or girl or child) who has everything--buy them a chicken or a goat...or a bed, or mattress or books or socks or something--just tell them there is a child in Africa borrowing it for a while.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Got caught in the middle of a take-down!

Not many exciting things happen to me and after last night I’m thinking that’s a good thing! On our way to speak at our monthly CANSCAIP meeting, fellow author and good friend, Deborah Kerbel and I get caught in the middle of a take-down. An actual take-down. It’s still so surreal. Deborah parks the car on Orchardview, just north of Yonge and Eglinton. There we are, crossing the street, prattling on about our latest writing adventures, ups, downs, contract or no contract, interest from a publisher, blah, blah, blah, when these two guys run—no race past us nearly knocking us down. I had to step back and I swear they grazed Deborah’s jacket. The world suddenly slows—or maybe just my mind—as I watch them chase each other across the street. My first thought is, “how rude” for nearly knocking us down. My second thought is, “Wow. Did that guy steal something from the other or what?” My third thought was, “OMG GUN!!!!” as the one guy pulls a gun on the other. I hear Deborah yelp, “Gun!” as she grabs me and we scurry for cover around the corner, where we practically run into another guy who has this other guy pinned. Then it all starts to sink in. This is a take-down. The guy with the gun is a cop. OMG—what if the other guy would have pulled a gun and started firing??? We could easily have been caught in the crossfire! My knees were shaking. It’s still so surreal. I’ll take my boring old life any day…

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Triple Launch!

What a day! After two months of planning our tripple launch finally arrived! It was a great success!
So many friends, family and fellow authors showed up--I was touched by everyone's support! And I think it's true--a crowd attracts a crowd as many Indigo shoppers were drawn in by the noise and smell of cake! Funny, I had a dream the night before that Deborah Kerbel, Mahtab Narsimhan and I were sitting at a table in the middle of a huge field surrounded by nothing by crickets--good thing I'm not psychic. I actually sold out! SOLD OUT!
The cakes were unbelievable!

Friday, January 1, 2010


First off, Happy New Year to everyone! I hope 2010 brings you health, happiness and good luck! And speaking of good luck, one of you has been very lucky! Entered into the draw were Barb, Claudia, Matthew, Stephanie, Andrew (1), Andrew (2), Nathan, Gregory and Mac. Here is a short video of me conducting the official draw! Thanks so much to everyone for entering the contest and for reading Ghost Ride. I only wish I had enough jerseys for everyone!