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An Excerpt from Raw Talent

28 Aug

I’m very happy to share an excerpt of my new book, Raw Talent, about a girl who wants to be a pop star but suffers from stage fright, published by Orca in their Limelights performing arts series. CM magazine gave Raw Talent a 4**** Highly Recommended review and called it “A timely story, well written.”

Copyright © 2018 Jocelyn Shipley. All rights reserved. 

From Chapter Three:

I pour myself a glass of water from the pitcher next to the plate of cookies. Then I sit on the sofa and take a sip. It helps, so I take another.

“Always good to stay hydrated,” Maxine says, reaching for a cookie. “Mmm, so good. Craig is an amazing baker. And Sunita, well, she makes living here a real pleasure. Honestly, I don’t know how I’m going to leave when my home renovations are done.”

“Yeah, Riverside House is awesome.”

Maxine finishes her cookie. “Now, tell me about your singing. Ever had any lessons?”

I shake my head. “I thought about it once, but then, well, it just didn’t happen.” That awful audition. So humiliating.

Maxine shrugs. “It doesn’t necessarily matter. Lots of popular singers are self-taught and don’t even read music. Anyway, Jasmeer tells me you’re going to sing at Farmshine?”

“Well, I want to. But I have this problem with stage fright.”

Plus, I’m a total fraud for not signing up.

Maxine reaches for another cookie. “Okay, let’s talk about that. First, I want you to name it. Call it what it is—performance anxiety. Second, I want you to know that performance anxiety is common and manageable. You can learn to accept it as a challenge, rather than a threat, and channel it into performance energy.”

Wow. She makes it sound like there is hope after all. “But what if I can’t?”

“If you want to succeed in show business, you will.”

Her stern tone indicates she won’t tolerate me wimping out and feeling sorry for myself. “Okay,” I say. “But do you really think I can do this?”

“Of course. That’s why I agreed to coach you. Trust me—I’ve been there and know how hard it can be.”


“Yes. Performance anxiety can happen to the most experienced performers. Suddenly, out of the blue, you panic. Your mouth goes dry, your heart starts racing, and you think you’re going to die.”

Maxine pours herself some water and takes a long drink. “I’m going to tell you something you may find hard to believe. I actually found it hard to go from film, where you can always do a retake, back to live theater, where you can’t,” she says. “Things got so bad for me at one point that I almost quit.”

“Really? So what did you do?”

“I had to face my fear and admit I had a problem. And then I went back to basics.”

“And those would be?”

“It all starts with proper breathing.”

“You mean, like, just take a deep breath?” “As long as you’re doing it properly. Have

you ever heard of something called diaphragmatic breathing? It’s also called belly breathing or deep breathing.”

“Um, maybe? But not exactly, no.”

“Shallow breathing won’t help you relax, and it doesn’t help you sing well. But deep breathing will calm you and give you a supported sound.” Maxine stands and places one hand on her stomach. “Like this. First exhale with a big sigh to get rid of all your air. Then, when you breathe in, take air into your belly.”

“Shouldn’t the air go into my lungs?”

“It will, but focus on expanding the belly instead. Let it fill like a balloon. Breathe through your nose, not your mouth.” She demonstrates.

“In for a count of ten…then out for ten.” She smiles and says, “Okay, now you try. Stand up.”

I feel silly at first. But once I get going, I start to relax.

“You’re getting it,” Maxine says. “I want you to practice at home every day and come back next week.”

“That’s it? Just practice breathing?”

“Do five sets in a row, several times a day, and work your way up to ten.” Maxine slides onto the piano bench and starts playing softly again.

I guess the lesson is over. “Thanks so, so much!” I say, heading out the door.

“You’re welcome,” she calls after me. “And don’t worry. You’ll be fine.”

I happy-dance down the hall to the study. “Oh my god, that was fantastic!” I tell Jasmeer. “Maxine is sooooo awesome!”

“Yeah, I know,” Jasmeer says. “But my mom being celebrity obsessed is quite enough.”

“No worries. It’s not like she’s Denzi. But somehow Maxine made me feel like I can do anything!”

Like signing up to sing at Farmshine.

Want to read more? Raw Talent is available through online and independent bookstores and directly from the publisher.




An excerpt from Impossible

9 Feb

I’m very happy to share an excerpt from Chapter Two of my new book, Impossible, published by Orca in their Soundings series for ages 12 and up. Resource Links (December 2017) called Impossible “… perfect for reluctant readers in either a literature circle setting or as an independent read.”

 Copyright © 2018 Jocelyn Shipley. All rights reserved. 

“I take the stairs, not the elevator, so there’s less chance of being noticed. I can’t risk anyone telling Wade they saw me going out without Violet.

What a relief the cooler night air is. I glance around as I cross the street, to be sure nobody’s hiding in the shadows. This area is pretty safe, but I always check, even in broad daylight. Have to watch out for a certain guy I never want to see again.

It’s been over a year since I escaped, and he hasn’t shown up. But he’s not the kind of guy to just let me go.

I don’t see anyone lurking, so I cut across the park, keeping clear of the party. Wouldn’t want to be tempted to join in. I focus on reaching Ready Go.

Luckily, the store isn’t busy. I resist the smokes, but break down and buy a carton of chocolate-fudge ice cream along with the diapers. When the cashier checks me through, she says, “Love that top. Where’d you get it?”

“Thanks. Old Navy final sale.” I don’t make eye contact, just hurry from the store. So far I haven’t been gone longer than it would take to load three washing machines and put in the coins. But what if Violet wakes up? What was I thinking, leaving her alone?

Back out on the sidewalk I see a kid from our building, Kwame Mensah, riding his bike. Hope he doesn’t see me and stop to say hey, like he does when I have Violet with me. That’s all I need.

I flatten myself into the doorway of a building to hide. I’m not completely out of sight, but it works. Kwame rides right on by.

Whoa! That was close.

I step back onto the sidewalk.

And then, out of nowhere, a black SUV with windows wide open blasts past. I catch a split-second glimpse of the driver as the vehicle squeals around the corner.

Just as Kwame reaches the intersection, a guy leans out the passenger window.

He’s got a gun.

He fires.

Kwame and his bike go flying. The bike crashes into the curb. Kwame lands on the pavement with a sickening thud.”

Want to read more? You can buy Impossible from independent and online bookstores, or directly from the publisher.

An excerpt from Shatterproof

17 Oct


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?”


“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 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.

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.

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.




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.







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.


the amazing Anita Daher

15 May

For my new YA novel, I had the good fortune of working with the amazing Anita Daher. Not only is she the associate teen books editor at Great Plains Publications, but she has written five middle grade and two YA novels, which have been finalists for many awards. It’s no surprise that her YA novel Two Foot Punch,about the sport of parkour, is a fast-paced, high-energy thriller. She also writes columns for The Winnipeg Review and The Winnipeg Free Press, teaches, mentors, does presentations and school visits, is active on social media and is the Manitoba/Saskatchewan Representative for The Writers’ Union of Canada. But somehow she still has time for her family and Wager the Wonder Horse!
So what was it like to work with this busy and talented editor? A real pleasure. From the beginning, Anita expressed her support for my book, and kept reminding me how much she believed in it. Her suggestions were always just that. I could think about them and use them – or not – as I saw fit. My book, my call. Luckily, we both agree that less is more, so when she asked me to make cuts, I did. And right up until the last minute, she emailed suggestions for small changes that made a big difference.
I am so impressed and inspired by Anita. That’s why I wanted to interview her about writing and editing. I emailed her my questions, and she graciously took the time to answer:
JS: Anita, I’m sure you’re always asked how you manage to accomplish everything you do, so I’m going to skip that question for now. What I’d really like to know is how you got started as a writer? As an editor? Which came first – writing books or editing them?

AD: Hi Jocelyn! Before I answer your questions I have to tell you how much I enjoyed working with you. How to Tend a Grave took my breath away from the moment I first read it, and I enjoyed our discussions as we worked through the editorial stages.

Which came first? Definitely the writing. Like many writers I started while young, forever jotting story ideas, overheard phrases, observations on napkins, bus passes, homework, anything within reach. I began writing with the intent to be published in the mid-nineties and published my first novel with Orca in 2002. In 2008 I popped into the Great Plains offices, where I’d previously worked as marketing coordinator, to discuss the company’s developing YA imprint with publisher Gregg Shilliday. I began as associate teen book editor that very week. It is a company I believe in with a publisher that trusts and supports its staff and authors—a terrific atmosphere!

JS: You write for both middle grade and teens. Do you have a preference? Why? What’s your current WIP?

AD: I enjoy each for different reasons. Middle grade novels are pure fun, even when scary. The ones I write are all action and reaction and characters learn important life lessons while working their way through adventures. When I write for this age I connect to the 12-year-old me (which isn’t that hard for me, by the way), and tap into an energy and gusto that is uber-fun. Middle grade readers have such an optimistic view of life.

But I also enjoy thinking on the complexities of being human, and recall how our awareness of this emerges in our teens, and continues through the years. I slip into a more thoughtful place when I write for teens, where my protagonists learn something important about themselves through interactions with other characters, even the bad ones. They tend to be tougher stories, painful, and writing them can be emotionally exhausting, but ultimately, perhaps because of this, I find the experience more satisfying.

JS: What’s it like being an editor who also writes? Does it make seeing a critique of your own work easier or harder? Are you able to edit your own work?

AD: Balance is always tough. I find it difficult to put all of my attention in another author’s creative work when I am working on something of my own. Luckily, I have a flexible work environment, and so I make sure that I schedule my own projects, especially first drafts, around Great Plains novel edits. I like to think editing for others has strengthened my writing skills, especially in terms of flow, however I still need objective eyes on to see the truth of what needs strengthening or fixing in my own work. I love this! Even when the truth is difficult, it is needed, and always makes for a better, stronger story. Lucky for me my first reader is my lovely agent Marie Campbell, who was first (and still is at heart) an editor. I love having her on my team.

JS: If you had to choose between writing your own books and editing other writers’ work, which would it be?

AD: As much as I enjoy editing, I would choose to work on my own stories hands down. My dream would be to write every morning, and ride every afternoon. Hmmm, I suppose I’m pretty much living that dream, though some mornings are devoted to editing over writing. I guess the key is the “every morning” bit.

JS: Can you describe your editing process? How many times do you reread the whole ms?

AD: My first look is during the acquisitions stage. I make notes that I take to the editorial table where decisions are made, but often several months pass before an author and I begin working on a manuscript. This is good because my memory is so bad it is like I am approaching it fresh again! Before we begin, I like to make sure the author is clear on my approach: substantive edit for big-picture stuff, then the nitty-gritty copy edit. We may need to go back and forth several times during each stage, or not. I like authors to know that I make suggestions where I feel they are needed, but unless there is a significant issue I won’t push. It may seem obvious, but it is the author’s novel. We are on the same team, but ultimately it is his or her name on the cover. The number of times I read a manuscript varies…perhaps between six and dozen times.

JS: As a YA writer, I try to resist the temptation to self-censor, but it’s always there. How do you deal with profanity and sensitive subjects as you write and edit? How aware are you of the possible negative reaction of teachers/parents/librarians?

AD: I think it is important to set aside that self-censor during the initial story birthing. If the story leads toward sensitive subjects, fine, and if profanity feels right for the character, that’s fine also. During rewriting I will use judgment, but it is only ever regarding balance, flow, rightness and truth for that story. An editor once pointed out in a particular story of mine that teachers may be sensitive about my character holding and pointing a gun. I understood the concern, but the story required it. In the end I made a small adjustment: the young person held the rifle, but did not point it at anyone.

A different sort of concern came up during the writing of Spider’s Song. In that novel, the main character is a cutter. During my research, I learned that reading about cutting might be a trigger for those affected. This concerned me greatly, and so I decided the character would not be actively cutting during the story, but employing strategies to fight the urge. I believe we must write truthful stories, and not shy away from difficult subjects, but that we must also and always be respectful to intended readers.

As editor I feel much the same way, however I do have to think of market and potential sales. If there is something in a novel that I feel may be a concern for teachers or librarians, I will point it out, but ultimately respect the choice of the author. Any significant concerns would have been addressed prior to the novel being accepted.

JS: All four of Great Plain’s new titles for Spring 2012, The Break by Nelsa Roberto, The Green-Eyed Queen of Suicide City by Kevin Marc Fournier, Cape Town by Brenda Hammond and my own book, How to Tend a Grave, deal with tough subjects – Alzheimer’s, suicide, apartheid, racial prejudice, teen pregnancy, miscarriage, vandalism, prostitution. What’s your take on the whole dark YA thing?

AD: I don’t necessarily seek dark stories. I like stories that make me feel, and believe that is what teens seek also. If the stories are dark, so be it, as long as they are well written. Every story has a deeper meaning, something the author is communicating. If that message has strength, and is effectively communicated in a humdinger of a story, I am happy.

JS: How many submissions to Great Plains Teen Fiction do you receive in a year?

AD: I’ve not sat down to count, but if I break it down to the number I see monthly, between 180 and 240.

JS: How many full ms do you request for every one you accept?

AD: Hmm, again, if I break it down…I may request twenty-four to thirty-six full manuscripts in a year, but our standard has been to publish only three or four. Moving forward, until flux in the industry settles out we have decided to stick to three. So, for every eight to twelve full manuscripts we request, we accept one.

JS: Do you always choose manuscripts that don’t need a lot of work, or will you take on something you love but that needs a lot of substantive editing? Is there a time when you’re reading a submission that you just know you want to publish it?

AD: We sometimes take on a manuscript that is pretty clean, but we never accept a manuscript that still needs a good amount of work, no matter how brilliant we sense a story might be underneath the clutter. The reason: if we say yes, and then need to ask the author to do a significant rip and tear, the back and forth might be demoralizing for the author, which does not make for a healthy author/publisher relationship. We may, however, offer thoughts, and invite the author to submit again if concerns are addressed.

And yes, often the manuscripts we accept are ones that just…spark. I love them from the beginning.

JS: Editors often play a huge role in making books better, but they don’t always get much credit for their contribution. How do you feel about this? Are you underpaid and/or undervalued? Are there misconceptions about editors that you’d like to clear up?

AD: I feel just fine about it! I get so much satisfaction in helping an author bring out strengths in an already wonderful novel (if I didn’t already love it, we wouldn’t take it on!). It is always, always about the story. Does this make sense? Also, I never forget that it is the author’s story, not mine. The pay is what it is…I guess if I had any financial savvy I wouldn’t have gone into writing and publishing (Hah! I don’t actually believe writers have a choice. We write. Period—and we gain additional income from writing related activities). I am enriched and inspired by the process, and always feel appreciated by my authors. That is enough.

Misconceptions? I don’t worry too much about those. Beginning writers may feel an editor must be an adversary, or that it is an editor’s job to “fix” their novel and correct their mistakes, but these are not authors I work with.

JS: Do you ever get to read just for fun?

AD: I do, but not nearly enough! For intellectual, creative and mental health I must remind myself to set aside works-in-progress, student papers and manuscript submissions and pick up something wonderful—and already published. My favourite time-protected reading space is in the bath (too much info?).

JS: Is there a question about writing or editing that you are eager to answer but no one has ever asked you?

AD: Hmm…I can’t think of anything at the moment. To me, editing isn’t a mystery. You either love it, or you don’t. If an author finds they enjoy the process of editing their own work and think they might like editing someone else’s, I encourage them to give it a go. The balance can be tough—working on someone else’s novel means time and creative energy not going into personal work—but if they can manage it, the experience can be satisfying. 

I’d like to thank Anita very much for taking the time to answer my questions, and for her kind words about my book. But even more, I’d like to thank her for being such a terrific editor. And as for that question I didn’t ask earlier about how she does it all, who cares? She just does – and the literary world is the better for it. That’s what really matters.