You Asked ...
Is there anyone you dedicate your books to?
Each of my books is dedicated to someone who has had an impact on my life and/or my writing.
Where were you born?
I was born in Winnipeg Manitoba at 1:56 pm on April 23, 1951. I believe it was a Monday.
How long have you been a writer?
I have been a published writer since 1997, when The Runaways came out, but I was writing long before that -- in fact, probably from the time I learned how to make words. I'm not much of a pack rat, but I still have poems I wrote in grade 4 and some stories I wrote in grade 5.
Where do you get your ideas?
That is the hardest question I get asked, because I don't usually stop to think where the ideas come from -- I'm just grateful that they come! Without consciously thinking about it, a writer is always asking, "What if ...?" even over the simplest things. You see an ant carrying a seed and you marvel over its ability to move something so much bigger and heavier than itself, and you find yourself asking, "What if an ant could lift something as big as a car?" or "What if people had the same proportional strength as ants do?" And the next thing you know, you're writing a story.
What process do you use to write a book?
Many people think that writers wait to become inspired, and when the muse strikes, they write like fiends, effortlessly applying pen to paper until the story is told. Perhaps there are some people like that, though I highly doubt it. Writing is a skill that must be honed and polished. It is a job, and like every other job, the writer must work at her craft every day, whether she feels like writing or not. A writer inspires herself. She doesn't have the luxury of waiting for creative genius to stir her to action. Some days are easier than others. Sometimes you can work on the same paragraph for three hours and in the end, trash it anyway. Other days you can whip off 10 pages before lunch.
It is very tempting when a new idea pops into my head, to abandon everything else, and start on that. So I keep a file on the computer. I open a new folder, give this new idea a working title, and write down my basic ideas, a killer sentence that won't leave me alone, the name of the central character, whatever I need to stir my memory when I eventually have time to get back to it. Then my mind is able to return to what I should be working on. I have projects in this file that I stuck in a folder 5 years ago! Some of them I'm sure I'll never get back to; others I will. In fact, Cairo Kelly and the Mann, which was snapped up right away by the first publisher I showed it to, was a story that had been rolling around in the back of my mind for almost three years (while I was writing 3 other books). At one point, I took the time to outline it fully, but still I carried on with other things. So when the time came to actually write the story, I was truly ready ... ripe, you might say. I knew my characters perfectly, and the story practically told itself.
There is no right way to write. For every writer you speak with, you'll discover a different work regimen. Mine is a lot more loose than many. The first thing I do is decide which of the many story ideas I want to pursue, and then I focus on it. What I mean by that, is that I allow it to take over my thoughts. Initially that involves getting to know the characters and establishing the general problem of the story. I think about things like subplots, character relationships, flaws, twists, etc, but my mind is at a receptive phase, not actively plotting. Once I feel I know my characters, I start to get antsy to begin. At this point, I write a general synopsis of how I think the story is going to unfold. This process helps me to focus and filter. Once that is done, I outline the main events of the story in point form and perhaps make some hazy decisions about where chapters will begin and end. Then I begin to write. And that's when the story takes over. I have the security of my outlines to guide me, but I have the freedom to let my characters play out their story, and the details of the story, the events, etc. that really make or break a story arise naturally as I write. It's actually quite amazing how little things you introduce for no other reason than to provide interest in a scene can come to have major importance later in the story.
I write and revise as I go. Many writers race through their rough draft to get all their thoughts 'out there', but I find that polishing as I go, inspires more ideas. At any rate, by the time I'm finished the story, it is pretty much ready to go to the publisher.
As for research, again there is no right or wrong way. I do enough to make me feel comfortable with whatever I'm writing about, and then I start to write, hunting down more as I need it.
Procrastination is a writer's worst enemy. Self-doubt makes a writer avoid finishing something because then you have to risk being rejected. That beautiful kernel of an idea is now up for criticism, and that is a scary prospect. But the need to tell a story is stronger, so you squelch procrastination and self-doubt, and PUSH YOURSELF to keep working, especially when you don't want to. The reward is worth it!
Which of your books is your favorite?
It's usually the one I've just finished or the one I'm working on. I think that's because I get all wrapped up in whatever characters I'm currently writing about. They're like my friends, and while I'm writing their story, it's as if we're hanging out together.
How many books have you written?
Quite a few. So far 23 of them have been published: The Runaways, The Tomorrow Tunnel, The Gramma War, Cairo Kelly and the Mann, The Hemingway Tradition, Summer of Suspense, The Trouble with Liberty, Zee's Way, Chat Room, The Last Superhero, Cheat, Caching In, Cabin Girl, Alibi, two biographies for primary children about the lives of Marie Rollet Hiebert and Sylvia Stark, three Zach & Zoe books, titled Zach & Zoe and the Bank Robber, Zach & Zoe Bully and the Beagle, and Zach & Zoe and the River Rescue, as well as a teen murder mystery called Return to Bone Tree Hill, a YA novel titled, Truths I Learned from Sam, its sequel, In Search of Sam, and a non-fiction -- but very fun -- book about jobs in ancient Egypt called Pharaohs and Foot Soldiers: One Hundred Ancient Egyptian Jobs You Might Have Desired or Dreaded.(The title is longer than the book!) Look for a new chapter book from Sono Nis Press in the Fall of 2016 called Isobel's Stanley Cup.Then in the Spring of 2018, I shall have another title in the Currents Imprint from Orca Books. It's called Winter Road.
Are you working on a book right now
In addition to the books coming out in 2016 and 2018, I've begun work on an adult novel based on my great-grandmother, a woman who lived in the poorest part of East London at the end of the 1800's. It's titled Lady of Bethnal Green. I'm about 13,000 words in, but with the other projects I have contracted, I've had to put it on the back burner for a while.
Do you do the artwork for the covers of your books?
Well, I haven't so far, though I am currently doing the interior illustrations for Isobel's Stanley Cup. This is my first attempt at illustration. My fingers are crossed that I do okay.
What's the hardest part of being a writer?
Getting a publisher to publish what I write.
What's the best part of being a writer?
There are two best parts: getting to do it in my pajamas, and hearing from people who have read my books.