An excerpt from Shatterproof

17 Oct

Shatter

I’m so happy to share an excerpt from Chapter 3 of my new book Shatterproof, published by Orca Book Publishers in their Currents Series for reluctant readers aged 10 – 14. Hope you like it!

Copyright © 2016 Jocelyn Shipley. All rights reserved. 

“She blushes and can’t speak. Her friends urge her on. “Okay,” she finally says. “Here goes. Are you, um, are you Bo Blaketon?”

“What?”

“Are you Bo Blaketon? You know, from Shatterproof?”

Whoa. How I wish I was.

I glance over at Lug. His eyebrows have shot way up and his mouth hangs wide open. He’s probably thinking what I am. This is too weird. Dakota said the same thing in the car.

“Yeah, I know that show,” I say. “But no, sorry. I’m not him.”

The girl tilts her head and squints at me. “Are you sure?”

I snort. “Last time I checked.”

“Oh come on,” she says. “You’re him. But don’t worry, we won’t invade your privacy.”

“No really, I’m not.”

She gives me a flirty smile and fluffs her hair. “I heard that Shatterproof is filming in North Van next week.”

“So?”

“So that’s why you’re in town. And you’re from here, so it all makes perfect sense.”

“Well, it would if I was Bo Blaketon. But I’m not.”

The girl touches my arm gently. It feels like an electric shock. “It’s okay,” she says. “We won’t announce it to the whole world. But can you get me on your show?”

“No way!”

“So you are him!”

“No, I meant I can’t get you on that show. Because I’m not Bo Blaketon”

“Oh please?” She actually flutters her eyelashes and pouts her lips. “Just as an extra?”

“Hey,” Lug butts in. “He might be able to make that happen.”

I frown and shake my head at him. “What are you doing?”

“He-he,” Lug says. “Can’t blame these pretty things for trying.”

“But I’m not Bo Blaketon!”

They all stare at me like I’m lying.

Even Lug.

“Let’s go.” I stride away. “This is ridiculous.”

The girl follows, her friends behind her. “Look, I’m sorry,” she says. “I should have respected your privacy. But can you please just sign my arm?” She pulls a purple marker out of her purse. “Then I promise I’ll leave you alone.”

She’s wearing a flowery shirt, open over a tank top. She slips one sleeve off. Thrusts her shoulder at me. Points at her bicep. “Here,” she says. “Please?” She hands me the marker.

I can’t not take it. And then I’m scrawling on her smooth skin: Bo B. It kind of looks like BoB, which makes me laugh. It’s a nervous laugh though. What was I thinking?

“Ohmigod!” She actually starts to cry. “Thank you so much!”

Her friends gather close to take pictures. Lug steps in and shields my face with his hand. “Ladies, please! Privacy!”

The girl wipes her tears and grabs her marker back. “If you change your mind about me being an extra, here’s my number.” She writes it on my hand.

“Sorry, but we have to go.” I pull Lug away with me.

The other girls call after us, “Hey Bo, come back! Sign us, too!”

I break into a run.”

          Shatterproof is available from Orca or online bookstores.

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Writing Process Blog Tour

15 Sep

Joanne Levy nominated me to do the Writing Process Blog Tour, and I said yes right away. Joanne is someone I’m always happy to see, and her blog posts always make me laugh. Oh, and if I could afford to hire a virtual assistant, it would be her. Joanne Levy Author Photo

I met Joanne back in 2012 through #Torkidlit, a group of Toronto area writers of middle grade and young adult books. When I heard the title of her then forthcoming first novel, Small Medium at Large, I knew I liked her sense of humour and wanted to read her book. I bought two copies at her launch and gave one to my favourite Grade 5 girl, and wasn’t surprised that we both loved it. Small Medium at Large is quirky, funny, and much praised. It was nominated for the 2014 Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading in the Red Maple category (grades 7 & 8), was chosen as a 2013 Sydney Taylor Notable Book, and is a nominee for the 2014 Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Awards and the 2015 Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Awards.

You’ll definitely want to check out Small Medium at Large, and read about Joanne’s writing process in her postSmallMediumAtLarge_cvr

The Writing Process Blog Tour is a weekly blog post where authors answer four supplied questions about their writing process, then nominate another author to do it the following week. It’s been going on for several years now. Here are my answers to the four questions:

1. What are you working on?

At the moment I’m revising a historical YA novel I started seven years ago. Lots of writers have a book they say took them ten years to write, and this is going to be mine. I started with a snippet of family history, but without a clear idea of what the story was and how to write historical fiction, and got lost in the process of figuring that out. Putting the ms. away for a few years has given me insight into what’s not working, and I hope I’ll soon have it ready to submit.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

This is such a hard question. When I thought about it I was overcome with dread. Maybe because it would feel like bragging if I could think of something, or maybe because I know I should work harder at making my work fresh and original. So I’ll just avoid the issue and say that I write in a different genres – YA novels and short stories, tween novels, adult short stories, women’s fiction (writing as Elizabeth Sage), and I’ve even published children’s poetry.

3. Why do you write what you do? 

I prefer reading contemporary fiction, both YA and adult, so that’s what I write. I like to feature strong female protagonists, probably because I grew up at a time when many doors were closed to girls and women. Four of my early books were published by a small literary feminist press, and Stabenfeldt has published several of my books in many languages for their GIRL:IT bookclubs. But I’m interested in issues facing boys and men too, and don’t want to exclude them, so sometimes write from a male point of view. There’s Liam in my most recent YA novel, How to Tend a Grave, and Darcy in my anthologized short story, “Holding Harley”. I’m always trying to grow as I writer though, so plan to attempt an adult psychological thriller in the future.

4. How does your writing process work?

I used to get an idea and then just start writing. The first draft was all about finding the story, and then I’d have to do about nineteen drafts to make the book work. But I’ve recently changed my approach, and now plan the story first. I work out the hook, inciting incident, major plot points and character motivation before I start writing. The weeks or months when I’m doing this are misery, because it’s mostly thinking and making a lot of timelines and charts and handwritten notes. It’s frustrating because I feel like I’m getting nowhere and just wasting writing time. But the payoff is that once I figure things out, the writing goes very quickly, with way fewer drafts, and although the story can still develop and grow organically, there are no major structural changes. I’m pretty sure I’ll stick with this method, as for me it’s resulted in producing a better book faster.

I don’t worry about writing every day no matter what – that just doesn’t work for me.  And I don’t worry about reaching a daily word count either. I do what I can, and sometimes that’s three chapters and sometimes more like three paragraphs. I don’t edit much until I’ve got a first draft finished, which means letting go of trying to make it perfect and just getting it done. Then I let the ms. rest awhile before editing and revising.

Okay, enough about me.

Karen KrossingI’ve nominated Karen Krossing to do the Writing Process Blog Tour next week. I got to know Karen when we chose her story “Profanity” for Cleavage: Breakaway Fiction for Real Girls, a YA anthology I co-edited.  A talented, dedicated writer whose engaging work receives starred reviews and many award nominations, Karen is Past President of CANSCAIP, the Canadian Association of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers. She’s also a freelance copywriter and editor and runs workshops for emerging writers. She has written many books for kids and teens, my favourites being The Yo-Yo Prophet and her latest, Bog.

Watch for Karen’s answers to the writing process questions on her blog on Thursday, October 2. And read her books, too!

Thanks so much to Joanne for nominating me, and I’m looking forward to Karen’s post next week.

Meanwhile, what’s your writing process? Please feel free to comment below.

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Telling Tales Festival

12 Sep

Looking for a fun family event in the GTA this Sunday, September 15? Come to Telling Tales, a FREE festival of stories and music at Westfield Historic Village in Rockton.

Organizers have been working on this Fifth Anniversary of the Telling Tales Festival for months now. They’re booked an impressive line up of presenters for kids from newborn right up to age 16.

I’m so excited to be reading from my award-winning YA novel, How to Tend a Grave, for ages 13 & up, at 1:30 pm on the Summer Stage.

It’s going to be a fabulous day! And best of all, the event is a fundraiser for literacy. Hope to see you there.

TTHats

 

 

How to play “Pianoball”

6 Nov

Not everything I write is as dark as my YA novel, How to Tend a Grave. Sometimes I produce amusing poetry for kids. And that can lead to other exciting things, like inventing a new sport.

Here’s how it happened. I got my start in poetry at an early age, when I entered three poems in the local Hobby Fair, and won first, second and third prizes. Okay, I’m not sure there were any other entries. But still.

As a teenager, I wrote a lot of poetry, now gone and best forgotten. But then when I had kids, I sold two poems to Chickadee magazine. That encouraged me to produce more poems for the children’s market, and although those were never published as a book as I’d hoped, one was accepted for Canadian Poems for Canadian Kids.

Now I’ve had another published in the terrific new anthology for Grades 3 – 6, And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems. The book is edited by Carol-Ann Hoyte and Heidi Bee Roemer, illustrated by Kevin Sylvester, and winner of the 2012 Bronze Moonbeam Award for Children’s Poetry.

When I saw the call for submissions for this anthology, I revised and submitted four of my in-the-drawer poems, and was thrilled when Heidi said they were interested in the one about a girl practicing piano while her friends are playing softball – if I’d make just a few tweaks.

Of course I would! Turns out she actually meant weeks. Heidi is one brilliant but very demanding editor. We tossed that poem back and forth for a full nine innings. She pushed me to throw harder, hit farther, run faster. I started calling her Coach.

Just when I thought practice was over, Coach said my poem needed a new title. I went through lists of sports and musical terms, but couldn’t find anything that worked. So I reconsidered where my poem came from.

As a kid I was an avid softball player, but a reluctant piano student. One year my piano exam conflicted with the city softball finals. My teacher forbid me to play ball, lest I not have time to prepare properly and to avoid injuring my fingers. No way was I listening to the “tick, tick, tick” of my metronome when I could be hearing the ump call “batter up!”. I did practice a bit though, and managed to get 73. But she wasn’t impressed – she considered anything less than 90 a bad reflection on her. She didn’t care at all when my team won the championship.

I didn’t care at all about anything but the joy of playing on that championship team with my friends.

And then, as these things go, once I stopped searching for a title for my poem and lost myself in the glory of my softball days, an idea came flying through the air. “Pianoball” felt pitch perfect. Coach declared it a winner and a new sport was born.

“Pianoball” is for all those kids who’d really rather be on the field.

Good game!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be reading “Pianoball” at the Toronto launch for And the Crowd Goes Wild!

Friday, November 9th @ 5:30 p.m. Northern District Branch – Toronto Public Library 40 Orchard View Blvd. (Second Floor), Toronto

Please come cheer me on!

Happy Halloween!

31 Oct

It’s the time of year to visit a cemetery if you want a good scare. Cemeteries are haunted with all kinds of spooky stuff like ghosts, zombies, demons and vampires.

But otherwise, stay away from the land of the dead, right?

Wrong. Cemeteries are actually full of life – or let’s say insights about life. Besides being places to remember the departed, they remind us of our own mortality, help us focus on what’s important and get our priorities straight. Maybe that’s why I’ve always wanted to use a cemetery as a setting for a novel, as I finally did in How to Tend a Grave:

The grounds of Mount Hope and Glory Cemetery look like a huge and welcoming park. Winding pathways lead through tall, leafy trees. The ornate gates in the black iron fence stand wide open. Liam starts to feel better as soon as he passes through them. It’s so peaceful here in the cemetery. Like he’s stepped into another world. Which of course he has. He’s entered a place where time stands still. Where everyday things don’t matter.”

I love cemeteries, especially historic ones. But I understand why some people feel creeped out by them. They’re somewhat dystopian places, after all. Things in cemetery society have gone terribly wrong. The quest for everlasting life has failed and everybody is dead. The citizens are buried underground, in wooden boxes and cement vaults, in neat, straight rows. The grassy, park-like place where they’re imprisoned might look like paradise, but no one can escape. Ever.

So yeah, no. These aren’t things we like to think about. Another good reason to use a cemetery as a setting for a novel. Well, guess what? We’re all going to die someday. Fear of cemeteries isn’t going to change that.

But while we’re waiting to find out what comes next, cemeteries are great places to remember the past, contemplate the present and imagine the future. Even when we’re suffering the deepest grief, a cemetery can help us feel alive. As the character Harmony says in How to Tend a Grave:

I like going barefoot in the cemetery. The caretaker keeps the lawns so green and lush that I feel like I’m walking into a storybook. The velvety grass underfoot makes me want to dance around the mossy, old gravestones. And sometimes I do. I know that might sound freaky, but when I’m dancing in the cemetery I feel better, more connected to life, than I do at home or at school or any other time really.”

Trust me, when you want more than a Halloween scare and need some perspective on life, visit a cemetery.

Done to death?

8 Aug

I recently read a list of things not to have in your YA novel, because they’re so common they’re considered clichés. A car crash and a dead mom were right up there at the top. Cringe. Got both in my new book, How to Tend a Grave.  

As a reader, I say death to clichés. So as a writer, I try very hard not to use clichéd phrases, character traits or plot points. I will cut every mop of dark curls and shock of white hair to the quick, and allow only one eye roll per chapter. I like to think of my work as a cliché-free zone. But when I did a bit more research online, I found that I had indeed committed a few cliché crimes in the past.

OMG, how embarrassing! I’m not going to tell you what I’m guilty of – I’ll just say that my current death cliché might well be my worst offence.

Strangely, I didn’t set out to write about death. I wanted to write about teens who vandalize cemeteries. Graffiti I can kind of understand – I think in some cases it’s even an art form – but why would a kid desecrate gravestones? I figured that my character would have to be out of his mind with grief and rage to do that, so he must have lost someone very important to him. What if his mom had been killed in a hit-and-run?

As the story developed, it became obvious that to help him heal, my character would need a love interest. Now where could he meet a girl who might understand what he was going through? At the cemetery where his mom is buried of course. And why would this girl be there? Oh, right. Because she’s lost somebody too. What if she’d been pregnant and miscarried her baby? So now I had two deaths in a book that began without any.

By the time I realized I’d written myself into a death trap, my book was already under contract and edited. And then, just before it was released, things got – as they tend to do in YA fiction – way worse. I read a PW Children’s report on Bologna 2012, which mentioned someone calling this “the year of the dead people,” and also referring to an editor asking if anyone had any “beautifully written novels that don’t have dead people in them?”

Enough. I get it. There’s a whole lot of death in recent contemporary YA fiction. Everybody’s jumping on the death bandwagon. But so what? Adult books are full of death too, and nobody seems to mind or even mention that.

Death is pretty universal, after all. It’s not just a trend, like YA covers featuring single word titles and impossibly beautiful young women wearing gorgeous dresses. Death is not a cliché. It’s, you know, epic.

And that’s why, even if I could rewrite my book, I wouldn’t take the deaths out. Okay, I might lose the car crash – there’s probably a more original way to kill somebody off. But I wouldn’t change the fact that one character has lost his mom and another her baby. Because books about death – whatever age they’re for – aren’t really about death at all. They’re about life. Real life, like we all face every single day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Canada Day!

1 Jul

O, Canada! I am so grateful for this country and feel incredibly lucky to live here. And in celebration of Canada Day, I’d like to show you some of my favourite places on Vancouver Island, BC, where I spend half the year.

Little Qualicum River Falls is always scenic, but especially so in winter and spring when the water is high. From the lower bridge to the middle and upper bridges, there’s a great trail through the rainforest, bordering the steep river gorge.

Here I am on Mount Washington, renowned for alpine and nordic skiing in winter and mountain biking in summer. The photo on the left is looking over the Salish Sea and coastal mountains, and the one on the right is looking over the island. Yes, there was still snow up there last August, when these pictures were taken. Oh, and by the way, although I love hiking, I did ride the chairlift to the top.

Rathtrevor Park, on the calm eastern side of Vancouver Island, is a place where the tide goes way, way out, leaving a lovely expanse of beach dotted with tidal pools and sand dollars. You can hike the flats or a seaside forest trail, have a picnic or read a book here at any time of year, and it’s just as beautiful when the water’s up.

In Ucluelet, on the spectacular wind-swept west side of Vancouver Island, you’ll find the Wild Pacific Trail, an astounding place to watch waves crashing on rugged rocks as the tide comes in. This fairly accessible trail also passes through magical ancient spruce and cedar rainforest, before offering more breathtaking views of the coastline.

                    

 

 

 

 

 

So you can see why I love Vancouver Island. I hope you get a chance to visit this very special part of the country sometime. Until then, Happy Canada Day!

 

 

For Father’s Day

17 Jun

Papilio glaucus Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (male) 8.9.2009.jpgMy father is a yellow butterfly. No, really. As out there as it seems, I totally believe that my late father appears every summer as an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Why would I admit this? Probably something to do with missing him on Father’s Day. But how do I know it’s him?

Well. The first sighting was the day after his sudden death from a heart attack. My mother and siblings and I were gathered on the balcony of our family home, which overlooks a forested hillside and river, trying to stop crying long enough to organize his funeral. He’d been in good health as far as anyone knew, so we were in extreme shock. As we sat in stunned sorrow, a yellow butterfly darted right into our midst.

We all stared at it flitting about in the breeze. Then we looked at each other. “That’s him,” one of us said. “Don’t be ridiculous,” was the reply. But we all knew that if our father, a gentle soul who loved nature, especially gardens and flowers, had any say in what he might come back as, a butterfly was exactly what he’d choose.

The next day, as we were sitting on the limestone wall admiring our father’s perennial garden in all its July glory, we saw a yellow butterfly again. Hmm. Maybe it was raw grief that made us suspend rational thinking – we wanted it to be him, we needed it to be him. And while we did often see butterflies around the property, it was rare to see an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, especially two days in a row. So this time when one of us said, “It’s him,” we all agreed.

That was over twenty years ago. Since then, I often see a yellow butterfly when I’m somewhere my father would have loved – in a park, a garden, on a hiking trail. And whenever I’m with my siblings in St. Marys – walking by the river, picnicking by the little falls, sitting out on that same garden wall – a yellow butterfly almost always appears.

Honestly, I am not making this up. There is something so consistent about where and when we see him. “There’s Father,” one of us will say, and everyone laughs. It’s become a bit of a joke, but it remains a great comfort. And even if our butterfly theory sounds crazy, we all wonder if maybe, just maybe, he’s showing up to tell us something about the other side.

My father was a spiritual man, and certainly believed in an afterlife. One of the many important things he taught me was a sense of wonder about the unknown. So who’s to say he’s not a yellow butterfly now? I find that more probable that imagining him with a halo and angel’s wings, and more appealing than the dust to dust option.

But whatever and wherever he is, I’m blessed to have had such a marvelous father. To all the yellow butterflies and fathers in our mysterious universe, Happy Father’s Day.

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A big bouquet of thanks!

2 Jun

My launch for How to Tend a Grave last week was a wonderful event! I’m happy to report that total nakedness didn’t happen, and I didn’t get crumbs on my dress either (more later). Thanks so much to everyone who came and made it such a success, and to everyone who sent congratulations and good wishes. Your support is deeply appreciated.

Thanks to Ben McNally of Ben McNally Books for hosting. What a gorgeous space! If you’re looking for a place to hold a launch, I highly recommend this bookstore. But even more important, I’d like to thank Ben for being in the business of selling books. That’s what it’s all about, after all. So if you’re looking for a place to buy books, again, I highly recommend this bookstore.

Thanks to my husband Allan, my daughter Caitlin, and my friend, writer Lena Coakley, for so graciously offering to help with everything. They kept me calm, and I couldn’t have organized and survived my book launch without them.

Books don’t just happen either. Writers need help all along the road to publication. So thanks to my family for their unconditional love and support over the years. They sustain and inspire me. And thanks to Great Plains Publications and my stellar editor, Anita Daher. I am so grateful to everyone for believing in my book.

Thanks to Michael Galan for his photos of the launch, and also for taking the time last fall to visit a historic cemetery with me to shoot my author photo for the book’s back cover.

Thanks to Nicolle Thow, emerging cake artist, who made the fun cupcake cookie favours (shown in baskets on the signing table) and the absolutely amazing book cover cake for me. She didn’t even balk when I told her it had to look like a gravestone. She just went ahead and produced a delicious vanilla cake filled with vanilla frosting and fresh strawberries.

My mother always said, “Be careful that your words are sweet, in case those words you have to eat.” Right. Thanks, Mom! So here I am, literally preparing to eat my words, because despite all my fretting, the launch went really well. And the reason I didn’t get crumbs on my dress? The cake was so popular I almost missed tasting it at all. Luckily someone saved the last piece for me to take home.

How to Tend a Grave is out in the world now. Thanks again, everyone, for everything. Roses to all of you!!!

 

Naked Book Launch!

22 May

At the launch of Lena Coakley’s Witchlanders in Toronto, with L.M. Falcone

I love going to book launches. Other people’s book launches, that is. There’s so much to celebrate when a new book is released. I know firsthand how much work went into my friends’ books before publication – the years they spent writing, revising, despairing, revising, pushing through, revising, facing rejection, revising, finding a publisher, revising, working with an editor, revising, revising, revising and then finally, many years later, launching.

At the launch of Susan Juby’s The Woefield Poultry Collective in Nanaimo

But a launch for my own new book makes me very nervous. I know that on the day of, I’ll want to say, “Oh, you go on ahead. I’ll just stay home and read.” Because with the focus of the evening on me and my book, I’ll just feel, you know, so totally naked.

It’s not that I don’t get support from my family and friends. I do – immensely so. And it’s not that I’m worried no one will come, or that my scribbled handwriting will muck up the books when I sign, or even that I won’t be asked to sign at all. Those are major concerns, for sure, but my true dread comes from something far deeper. It comes from knowing that my entire heart and soul are laid bare in my book. It’s me there on the page, wearing absolutely nothing.

I so need to get over this. I can’t let my fear of feeling naked turn me into a ditzy blathering mess at my launch – I have to make it work for me instead. So here goes. Since my last launch was all about Cleavage, I’m going to assume that appearing naked at this one is the logical and perfect topper. I’ll keep in mind the artistic advantages too. Maybe I’ll inspire someone to write a story called “The Author’s New Clothes” or “The Naked and the Read” and then dedicate it to me. And just imagine the possibilities for launch photo titles: Nude with Book, Nude Signing Collector’s Copies, Nude Eating Cake. But best of all, if I’m naked I won’t have to worry about getting cake crumbs on my launch outfit.

Yes, there will be cake. And seriously, to spare everyone undue shock and embarrassment, I’ll risk crumbs on my dress and remain fully clothed (this time!) Please join me if you can for the launch of my new YA novel:

How to Tend a Grave

Thursday, May 24, 6pm, at Ben McNally Books, Toronto

Hope to see you there! Naked or not.