Monday, October 30, 2006

Strangely enough, my capacity to retro-post has disappeared! Could this be a mac thing? Will try to log in on a pc and see if I can modify this... K - seems to be a mac thing... I was able to retropost just fine from my laptop. Strange.

Anyway, this post is actually from October 30th... written in Midway during the recent Kootenay tour...

Midway, BC

This morning started out in a re-powered Kaslo. Had a hearty breakfast at the Treehouse CafĂ© – my standard road trip fare of two eggs, over easy, hash browns, toast, and coffee. Then, over to the big, old wooden building, up the stairs, and inside – to find myself in the town hall with some very confused clerks staring at my gigantic portfolio.

A teeny, weeny library was, indeed, tucked into the basement – the double wooden doors under the big stairs I’d just schlepped up and then down. A small group (25 students in a Grade ¾ split and a handful of parents) joined us for a really friendly, fun session. When I held up the big photo of the tower at Aigues Mortes, ready to launch into my spiel about how the tower got transformed into the Tower of Carnillo one of the moms squeaked in the back row and said, “I was just there last week – that’s Aigues Mortes!” What a shock. Turns out her parents-in-law live there! There were a few other out-of-the-usual responses to my questions in this group.

“What does a farrier do to your horse?”
One boy suggested, “Takes it away for meat?”

Hmmm…. And in answer to my question about design flaws in my badly drawn spaceship copied from a notebook circa 1970 one girl suggested it didn’t have any chocolate bar storage. Indeed. A critical design flaw.

Wrapped up shortly after 10:30, hopped in the car and headed down the highway for Nelson. The sun had come out (thank goodness) so though there were occasional stray snowflakes, it was nothing like what I had to endure yesterday.

In Nelson, parked, ran to the bank to deposit the SNP cheque for Dani and run in to pick up a couple of sandwiches, a chocolate bar, and two pepperoni sticks at the deli. Ate the roast beef sandwich in the car as I dashed from the deli to the school and set up for the next talk, this time two split classes – grades 3-4 and 5-6, about 60 kids in total. This was another excellent, attentive, fun group despite the fact we went nearly the full 90 minutes at the end of the afternoon on the day before Halloween. Tomorrow the whole school seems to be participating in a talent show – too bad I couldn’t have seen some of that.

Diane had driven up from Winlaw and was parked outside the school with a care package – a fresh box of Kleenex (I’m still getting over my cold) and a bag full of tasty food – croissants, cookies, a couple of delish creamy smooth fruity drinks that double as meals and contain eighty-seven servings of veggies each, and a mocha! Oh, and chocolate!!!!! What a treat!

Then, a loooong drive to the west, listening to Gilead on my broadcasting ipod, racing the dying light to make it to Midway just as darkness was completing its arrival. Gilead is probably a little too contemplative for my ideal driving listen – I think I might switch to something else tomorrow for the drive to Trail and finish Gilead after I get home.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

(written by hand in a notebook, transcribed later, and eventually retro-posted...)

It has been a long time since I sat and wrote by candlelight... My entire day, except for the time spent in the car, has been without power.

Winlaw had no electricity during a planned power outage between 8 am and 2pm. Diane was up early to make coffee and toast, Jim piled wood into the stove and cooked brie omlettes.So, it was hardly slumming it when I made my way from the guest suite over to the house for a leisurely (delicious!) breakfast. Spent much of the morning reading Susan Williams, "Wind Rider", a prehistoric horse whispering tale set somewhere in Kazakhstan about 6000 years ago. Well-written speculative fiction, it does a brilliant job of asking the question, "What must it have been like the first time someone climbed aroard a horse?"

A short stroll down the hill for fresh air and a trip to the shop to pick up some SNP stock and return a phonecall from Dad (seems his Internet was down, Mikey the pig bit him, Zina had to sleep - quiveringly - in his bed because of all the fireworks, and some guilty boasting about climbing up a ladder to make a tarp roof over Mikey the biter)... and then off to Kaslo.

The drive up the Slocan Valley was easy enough - I foolishly thought wind and a few showers wuld be the worst of the weather. Stopped in Silverton to find my I-pod cable so I could plug into the power outlet (formerly known as a cigarette lighter, though I don't think it has that function any more) - and to take a couple of photos of the outside of the local museum (closed).

Stopped again in New Denver, hoping the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre might be open. Found the Kohan Reflection Garden

and, bundled up against the wind, wandered through the short loop, breath taken away not just by the chilly gusts blowing off Slocan Lake, but also by the stunning colours of fall. The garden planners did a fabulous job of planting numberous varieties of decorative grasses and bamboos, the former fully mature wtih seed heads heavy and ripe. The blaze of Japanese Maples and deep red berries was all the more stunning against the dark grey sky.

The Memorial Centre, when I found it, was closed not only for the day, but for the season (though a sign outside indicates that it may be opened by appointment after September).

The road (the 31A) up out of New Denver is windy and it wasn't long before the spitting rain and cloud turned into a blizzard. Luckily, the barricade arms indicating a closed road were still up and I wasn't worried about the avalanche signs warning drivers not to stop as this was the first real snow of the season and there hasn't been a chance for any accumulation. At the highest elevations through the pass and where the road was particularly steep and/or windy, I geared down to low gear and travelled slowly, leery about having to hit the brakes if some deer or bear ambled onto the road. Saw a dead coyote on the shoulder and snapped some random snow shots while driving, by blindly pointing the camera out the window. The quality doesn't look great, but one gets the general (nasty) idea. During the whole trip (about an hour), saw only five or six vehicles, all coming from the other direction.

Reached Kaslo at about 4:15 to find the town apparently deserted and wind howling off Kootenay Lake. Drove slowly around town - up one main street two blocks long and down the 'highway', scouting for restaurant possibilities and/or a grocery store. Couldn't see anything at all open, so found the B&B on Front Street, half a block from the SS Moyie, to discover my host, Cathy lighting oil lamps and placing candles on various stairs leading up to the guest rooms.

Turns out the storm has knocked out the power and nobody knows when it might come back. I asked about a restaurant and Cathy suggested somewhere a block up the street - a place with a generator. My walk there proved fruitless - truly, the entire town had shut down.

A loud generator-like noise seemed promising. Following it to the source, came to the Mohawk Gas Station. They had power to run the pumps and cash register but not for lights inside. The two available flashlights were in use by other customers, so I felt my way along the shelves and into the cooolers and found what felt like some kind of chips (turned out to be of the tortilla variety), some kind of fruit juice (Snapple), a sausage roll (that was right), and a bun (turns out to contain Black Forest Ham and mustard).

Took these goodies back to the Victorian Room in "The Quaintest Hotel in Kaslo" and have been snacking in the gathering darkness while making these notes.

It was pretty well dark by 4:50pm, a fact to keep in mind while planning my driving for the week ahead. Tomorrow and Tuesday in particular require lots of time on the road.

So, blizzards and gas station food eaten in a cold, dark (though certainly quaint!) room can not compete with Dani's ubermodern life of lusury in the big city, but I suppose are memorable experiences in their own right.

5:30 pm. The wind is dying down a bit out there. I suppose I can pull up a candle and finish reading my book. How early is it polite to go to bed? Who would notice?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Friday – October 27th - (Written in the Vancouver Airport, retro-posted from Cranbrook)
The joys of wireless. Flaky wireless. No luck logging in to the YVR network – connection keeps dropping out completely and it’s too much trouble to lug all my junk elsewhere to see if I can find a better location. As usual, traveling with a lot of stuff, one of the many reasons these book tours are so stressful. Though I will be able to pick up stock from SNP (thank goodness), I still have 50+ books from Orca and Annick stuffed in my main suitcase. Orca bookmarks (not a whole whack, I must confess – there are limits and SNP has plenty – as long as each child gets something, I’ll be happy). Then, there’s the big artist portfolio stuffed full of display materials and samples – books, cover images, notebooks, etc. Elsewhere in the baggage I’ve tucked away my character cards and the Carnillo jewels. And speaking of Carnillo, the intensity of the unhappy emails from readers waiting for book #3 is increasing. I try to be polite, but its hard when the readers are anything but. So, sorry to everyone who is waiting for book three. This is what happens when you start reading the work of an author who writes multiple series. I don’t suppose it helps you to know that readers of the OTHER series are reasonably happy at the moment with new books out in the Jo historical series and the Tarragon Island series.

The StableMates readers are just a bit more patient, perhaps because there are seven books in the series and they quite often make the leap over to the TI and Jo books without a lot of trouble….at which point finding another author to read is not a bad idea. A StableMates reader who sent a lengthy email last week did want to know when Jessa was going to make her way to Japan… With all this pressure, the most sensible thing to do was, obviously, to start another series, or two. Happily, these new projects are humming along just beautifully, though this is not likely to be anything more than aggravating to those waiting so patiently to find out what happens to Dominique in The Curse of the Festerworlds. Stay tuned.

Oh, the reference above to YVR and flaky wireless and book tours was just sort of dropped in there – but, yes, I’m on the road again, this time to the Kootenays courtesy of the Kootenays Library Federation. After popping into Winlaw to visit with Diane and Jim of Sono Nis Press for a couple of days, I’ll be tootling all over the place during a weeklong road trip in the mountains. My fingers are crossed that we don’t have a terrible snowfall (like they seem to be having in Colorado) because bad weather would make it very difficult to get from gig to gig.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

It wound up being a very vetty day today. In the morning, had a quick tour of the Shaw pet hospital's equine surgical facilities so I could take a few photos for the vet book. Worked for a bit at home and then, this afternoon, Dr. Gaunt from Elk Lake Veterinary Hospital came by to have a look at Emma's eye. Seems she bumped it or got a hayseed caught in there somewhere... The end result was a pretty yucky looking eye. Since I'm busy collecting vets at work photos, I snapped away as Dr. Gaunt did all kinds of intereseting things to Emma's inflamed eyeball. Fortunately, Dad (who has a phobia about eye things) was positioned on the far side of the pony so he didn't have to see what was going on. I have some pretty juicy shots of the nasty-looking eyeball, but I won't post them here just in case visitors are surfing through while snacking.

The prognosis is good. We don't think there's an ulcer or major damage to the cornea. So, we're treating with anti-inflammatories, steroids, and antibiotics to reduce the swelling and get rid of the infection. With any luck and barring any further injury, she should be ok. Hopefully, she will be well on the mend by Friday, which is when I head out of town for my school and library tour in the Kootenays. Posted by Picasa
Mikey, snoozing in a nest of hay. He has lost quite a bit of weight since his arrival here earlier this summer. You can actually see his ears now that they are no longer swallowed by excessive flub. A face only a mother could love... Posted by Picasa
While searching for a photograph of Dr. Dobson and a horse in an MRI scanner at the vet hospital in Guelph (for the vet book), found this photo of me in my Pony Express uniform in Nevada. This is one of my all time favourite photographs, taken by publicist Jan Mansfield. I was riding up to one of the many schools we visited across the state, mochila slung over the saddle, letters from BC students tucked inside the mailbags ready to be delivered to Nevada students. These children were playing outside when I arrived on Breezy, the half-Arab mare we bought in Nevada to ride along sections of the old Pony Express trail. The children spotted us and dropped everything to race across the playground, yelling, "Hey, cowboy!" I still can't quite believe that we made that crazy trip.... it's only when I stumble across photos like this one that I know we really must have been there. Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 23, 2006

My basic nature is somewhat disorganized (anyone who has ever seen my office will be laughing right about now and saying, "Somewhat?")... This does make it tricky to keep track of all the image files for the three photographically-enhanced books I'm working on at the moment. I have them stored on three different computers (don't ask) and even though I have done a lot of sorting and transferring and filing, there are hundreds and hundreds of images to keep track of. So, I've been going through the photo files, selecting and sorting, as I get closer to finalizing what's going into the current books and what might be useful for future titles (like the ploughing photo posted yesterday).

Anyway, while going through all these work-related photos, I was reminded just how many non-work images are sitting on my hard drives. So, I thought I'd start posting one a day here in a more or less random, disorganized fashion.

This first one is even kind of seasonal, being a bit creepy and Halloweenish. This is one of the scarecrows entered in the annual scarecrow-making contest down at the Historical Artifacts place... Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 22, 2006

  Posted by Picasa Posting this photo for no particular reason except that the blog is more interesting with less blathering and more visual effects. So, this was taken at the Historical Artifacts Park during the ploughing demonstration held earlier this summer. I really would like to do a book about the heavy horses and those who continue to love them despite the fact they've become more or less obsolete... Hopefully all these heavy horse photos I've been collecting won't all go to waste!

Friday, October 20, 2006

There aren't that many show-stopping hazards for the average storyteller, but laryngitis would certainly be one of them. Today was the BC Teacher-Librarian Association conference and I had two appearances to survive - the first, a panel with four Vancouver Island authors (Karen Rivers, Sheryl McFarlane, Kit Pearson, et moi...) moderated by former features editor of the Times-Colonist, Carolyn Heiman. This wasn't too bad - was able to suck on cough drops, speak softly, let the others talk a lot. Next was a quick lunch (minimal chatting required) followed by an author signing (again, much cough-dropping, water sipping, nodding... and, I might add... not much signing - lots of authors, lots of teacher-librarians, but not a whole lot of book-buying going on! Of course... they must all already have my books! Yes, that's it.)

Anyway, feeling like my head was encased in one of those old-fashioned diving helmets and my voice threatening to disappear again completely, I had to take the stage in the theatre and deliver a performance of the Marriage of Sir Gawain... Much stress. Huge relief that the microphone worked. With an intervention from the Gods of Story I got through it, though having been unable to do my usual neurotic rehearsing, it wasn't as tight a performance as I would have liked... And the venue (blinding lights shining in my eyes so I couldn't see the audience) was not the best for delivering a top notch performance. Storytelling is a very interactive, malleable, flexible kind of thing and when you can't see if the eyelids in the audience are open or drooping, it's hard to connect with the listeners.

The feeling is a bit like being alone in a shower and holding forth about something or other and then realizing there is actually nobody listening and having this horrible moment of self-consciousness that closes the throat and sets me to humming some inconsequential tune in a feeble attempt to reassure myself that I'm not losing my mind. This doesn't usually happen during a storytelling performance because when things are going well and I can see my audience properly, there's a lot of give and take - a conversation of sorts is going on so I really don't feel like I'm talking to myself.

But today, the strange combination of feeling a bit cut-off from everyone else in the room and having consumed far too much Tylenol and Echinacea and not doing my usual vocal warmups (with no voice, it seemed a bit pointless and I was seriously worried that I would use up whatever voice I might have had left) the whole thing was a bit of a psychadelic experience. As a final aside, it is very strange that this audience dissociative disorder doesn't really happen during a stage play - not just becuase usually one doesn't stand up there on the stage doing a very long monologue, but also because there's a script, whereas the story is a very fluid beast that can turn on the teller when the teller is feeling a little under the weather. I am guessing the feeling is more like hanging yourself out to dry as a stand-up comic - something I've always wanted to try but dread so much I've never bothered.

Good grief - what a ramble. After all that, came home and mucked out the paddocks, fed the horses, and then collapsed on the couch to sort of listen to the hockey game. I say sort of because I kept falling asleep. Did rouse myself to vertical position to hear the last 5 minutes of the game, followed by a heart-stopping 4:59 worth of overtime. And I'm glad I did because my beloved Canucks managed to pull out the win with only .7 of a second left to go!!!!!! Thank you, Sami Salo - you rock my world!

All of this was followed by an absolutely delicious dinner prepared by Dad who, entranced by France, cooked some scrumptious beef/onion/garlic/red pepper-laced rich sauce served up with herb-crisped roasted poatoes. Yum!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

You won't believe what arrived in my mailbox today! A small package, lumpy and bizarre-feeling, containing - ta-da! - a hoofpick signed by none other than the amazing Gail Greenough. Just in case you are not falling on the floor with astonishment, here's a brief bit stolen from Wikipedia about Ms Greenough...

Gail E. Greenough (born March 7, 1960) is a Canadian equestrian. She was the first woman, the first Canadian, the first North American and the youngest person ever to win the World Show Jumping Championships. Greenough was champion in 1986 at Aachen, riding a horse called Mr T (Hann). In 1990, she was made a Member of the Order of Canada.

Wow. Just wow. And how did this amazing treasure (which, btw, will never go anywhere near the filth inside a horse hoof...) wind up in my mailbox? Turns out my sister, Tonya, is doing a little barn work where the illustrious (can you tell she is one of my heros? heroines?) Gail Greenough herself rides... I can only think that Tonya slipped the appropriate horse an extra-big carrot... or swept the outside of a certain stall extra thoroughly... or squirreled a crisp $50 in the right grooming box... Do I care exactly how this came to be? Not really. So thank you thank you thank you Tonya! And thank you thank you thank you Gail Greenough!

Monday, October 16, 2006

So what could be harder than cutting 30% out of a manuscript? How about getting rid of everything EXCEPT 25%? Yup, that's the situation in which I find myself with the Karen Brain biography. So I'm diligently taking my 180 page manuscript and hacking away at it so I am left with approximately 45 pages. This so we can include plenty of photos throughout without breaking the bank. The length will actually wind up being very similar to the BTS books and will definitely put the finished book firmly in the land of books for 8-12 year-olds.

The good news is that Sono Nis would like me to do a second version of the biography, for adults and teens. The bad news on that front is that the original 180 pages are written for a younger audience and the manuscript isn't really long or detailed enough to satisfy an adult reader. I'll have to go back to my original interviews to pull out more details, conduct more research/interviews, and then have another crack at the longer book. In related (nearly awful) news, I came into the living room the other day only to discover the dogs had gone through my briefcase. For whatever strange reason, they decided that my digital voice recorder and [expensive!] Sony microphone were snack-worthy... Shards of digital debris everywhere! LUCKILY - I think I have everything downloaded from the recorder as I can't get anything to turn on and even if I could get any kind of turning on action, there is no data screen left! Also fortunate, the batteries were wedged in pretty tightly so even though the criminal hounds had removed the battery door, the batteries only show a couple of superficial tooth marks but no battery acid was consumed.

All of this trauma makes me very, very glad that I always take copious notes during an interview, just in case of equipment failure just like this!

So, how much cutting have I done so far? Not quite enough, but impressive nonetheless. Karen is post-op and about to move into Parkwood Rehabilitation Hospital and I'm only on page 48! So, the last section (recovery and getting to the Olympics) will be handled in the next section and that will give me a much reduced new first draft to work with. The next sweep should get me pretty close to where we need to be lengthwise for the draft that will [finally] get to my editor, Laura Petoum, in Toronto. For the short version, anyway. It looks like I'll be agonizing over the longer book for a while yet. Sorry. But if I have to suffer like this, it only seems right that blog-readers share my pain!
Of course, I couldn't send my only child off into the world without a hug... and a project. Visit Where is My Hug? and follow the progress of the hug I sent off around the world... The idea is to keep passing the hug along until it gets all the way around the planet and back to me! This is my small gesture in aid of world peace. I wonder who will bring my hug back home?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Whew! A busy few days getting Dani ready to head off for Dani's Big Adventure in Tokyo! (You can follow her progress at Dani's travel blog...).

Monday, October 09, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!
Spent the morning at work on the Karen Brain biography (more on THAT when I'm not quite so tired), the afternoon working on Ringo (one of my horses currently in training), and the evening feasting at the Canoe Club. Who says salmon isn't an appropriate Thanksgiving menu item? Here on the mellow west coast, anything goes. Late evening spent adding more books to my LT catalogue - now over 600 titles, but who's counting?
In my last post I mentioned some slashing and hacking happening in the BTSAT Racetrack book. It may sound a bit dramatic to be chopping out a third of the book, but it's actually pretty normal. We cut at least that out of Jo's Journey, a way more difficult task as that was a work of fiction and it's kind of tricky to excise big chunks of a story without things feeling rushed or choppy. In the case of Jo's Journey, we needed the length to fit within the Orca Young Readers format. These are short novels with a large typeface intended to encourage readers who may still be feeling a little intimidated by fat novels. The books also include a few interior illustrations. Interestingly, Orca doesn't restrict content or vocabularly, so these aren't really hi-los, but rather, they're just short. Granted, in a short, short novel there isn't a whole lot of room for sub-plots, but it's amazing what one can fit into a little book like that.

The Behind-the-Scenes book is being cut for slightly different reasons. F&W is publishing the book in full colour with lots of photographs. The design is also supposed to be nice and open, with lots of white space on each page, plenty of sidebars and so on. I can't tell you how delighted I am with these decisions. A non-fiction book for horse-loving kids should have lots of photos of horses and horse stuff... and these days, black and white just doesn't cut it any more. Neither does a cluttered design with great long blocks of dense text. The plan for the book is all fine and dandy aesthetically speaking, but there are very real fiscal restraints at work. The cost of printing a full colour book, even offshore, is high and the costs rise with each signature added. Meanwhile, back at the retail end of things, there is only so much a consumer will pay for a book. If the book is for children, that amount drops. So..., despite the fact my original manuscript (pushing 100 pages) went down very well (remember an earlier post in which I said the editor felt we could proceed directly to the copyedit?) it was just too long.

Rather than slashing whole chapters (that would have been too easy!), I pruned the designated 30% evenly from the entire text. The first 5-10% was easy - most manuscripts easily contain that much fat in the guise of adjectives, repetition, passive verbs, and sentences that can be easily rewritten. The next pass was a little tougher - that's when each sentence is examined to see if it is really necessary, how much it adds to the text, if there is some way to combine one section with another to get the same information across. Another 10-15% was lost with that kind of process. The final cuts were hardest (by this time, I'd already lost 25 pages from the manuscript and it really felt like there wasn't anything else to lose!). Red pen in hand and bandaids close by, back through the manuscript I went again, removing some stuff I really liked but which wasn't, strictly speaking, absolutely necessary. On this draft I did quite a bit of shifting of information out of the body text and into slightly longer captions, getting rid of any duplication that might have existed between the captions and the text. The final section (additional resources) I cut completely, thinking that perhaps we could incorporate that into a teacher guide or on the website (which reminds me, I must get Dani to add a new section to my website. She has been busily re-designing it as the design was really looking pretty old and tired).

So at the end of it all, I have a much leaner manuscript that still has plenty of information for kids curious about life at the racetrack. Now we'll see what the editor thinks!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Ok... I have developed a serious new addiction... Cataloguing my library. I justify this activity by telling myself that I really should root out my duplicates and pass them along to worthy causes, but really, I am just having a blast going through my shelves, discovering old friends, dipping, browsing, stroking, and perusing.

If you, too, feel the need to tackle the stacks and stacks of books with which you are surrounded, set yourself up over at LibraryThing, possibly the best site to distract me in years. I'm trying to figure out a way to link my library to this blog... if you don't see an assortment of covers anywhere around, head over to library thing and search for BiblioFool - that would be me! Say hi. Start entering your library...

In case you are one of my editors, I only engage in data entry AFTER I've done my actual real work for the day... Fear not! Managed to cut the track manuscript by 30%, as requested. Hack. Slash. Gut. All in a day's work!

Ok... after a bit of fiddling and testing, it seems like if you click on any of those covers up there you will be taken to amazon where you may purchase said title (so you can then catalogue said book in your library and we will have a book in common and, as it happens, I will make a teeny weeny commission...). Click on the words 'my library' in green, and you will be taken to, yup, my library over at Library Thing where you can poke around through the books I've catalogued so far (I broke 500 this evening). See you in the stacks!