Back in the Querying Trenches

I have mixed feelings about querying agents again. I mean, besides the obvious, “ugh, querying” ones.

On the one hand, I’m excited and proud to finally be done this manuscript. It took me way longer than normal due to my migraines and fibromyalgia (which are now mostly under control *knocks on wood*), so it feels like a major accomplishment to have something out there. On top of that, I think it’s a really good story, and I have faith agents will see that.

On the other hand, the mere fact that I’m querying again feels like a giant step backwards in some ways. Because I have both been here and done this, and I even had a book published, and doing it all again feels like some kind of sadistic Groundhog Day -level of punishment.

But I’m hardly the first writer needing to re-query partway through my career. I just need to suck it up and get on with it.

I actually really like writing query letters, and I think mine is pretty strong this time around. You can find my advice on them here and here. I even managed to find some comp titles this time, something I struggled with for my MG manuscript. (Julie Kenner’s Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom series meets Kim Harrison’s The Hollows, if you’re interested.)

So, now it’s just a matter of waiting. Querying is an incredibly slow process during regular times, I can’t even begin to imagine how long it will take during a pandemic.

Maybe it’s a good thing I’ve developed a stress-baking habit (which is currently being fueled by my kids’ addiction to The Great British Baking Show.) At least I’ll have lots of goodies to chomp on while I wait.

Pandemic + School = Disaster

Yeah, I know, another Covid-related post. I promise next week’s will be about writing. But the things I’m writing about here *do* affect my ability to write, considering I’m the one in charge of distance learning with the kids in our house, and I can’t write when I’m helping with schoolwork.

(Also, the whole being terrified of getting sick and dying-thing really interferes with my ability to concentrate.)

There are no good answers when it comes to school this year.

We’re still waiting on our school board to come out with its official plan, but we’ve been warned we’ll have about a week after they announce it to decide whether our kids will be attending or staying home for distance learning.

Personally, I’m leaning hard toward keeping them home, since we have high-risk family members and the privilege to do so (I’m a stay-at-home parent, who writes when I can, and my three kids have each other to socialize with.)

But even then, it’s a hard call. My kids could do with hanging out with kids they’re not related to (if we keep them home we’re going to have to arrange regular social distanced playdates, something we’ve been lax on), and distance learning last year did not exactly go smoothly.

Plus there’s the added factors that my two of my kids were waiting on assessments for specialized learning plans, *and* the fact that this would be my daughter’s last year at this school (which she’s attended since pre-K), and if she doesn’t go back, she may never see some of those kids in person again, as kids go off to different middle schools.

But I just can’t see how in-school classes can be safe.

There’s enough evidence about Covid-19 ‘s ability to spread indoors that our city has instituted a mandatory mask policy for all indoor spaces. However, that policy specifically excludes schools and day cares, and most of the boards in our province that have presented their plans so far, have said masks will not be mandatory inside classrooms (you know, that spot where kids will sit around breathing the same air all day).

Even if masks are made mandatory, it’s doubtful everyone will wear them properly (considering the number of adults I see with their noses hanging out) and the kids will still need to remove them to eat.

Masks or no masks, the next step is keeping kids separate. Our classes have shared tables instead of individual desks, which makes distancing near impossible, even if they reduce the numbers to 15/room as is being suggested.

As an alternative, some boards are suggesting splitting the kids into cohorts – groups of kids they’re allowed to get within 6 feet of…which doesn’t sound great to me? Aside from the logistical nightmare of supervising and maintaining those cohorts, if they split into groups of 5, that makes the up-close exposure for my family 7 kids minimum (assuming they group my twin boys together), and that’s not counting the fact that some kids have siblings who will be in close contact with another 4 kids, etc.

One of the reasons for cohorting (besides having to do it because of lack of space) is for social/emotional reasons, so the kids can be close to their friends. And with younger kids, I suppose it might work (assuming you could keep them to only that group – which is a whole other matter). But for middle school aged kids? What happens if your entire friend group, except you, is cohorted together? Or if you’re put with your bully? What if you’re put with your friends and then you have a fight? What if you’re put with the kid who’s been writing you love poems for the past two years and won’t take no for an answer?

And, worst of all, what happens to those social circles when one kid develops symptoms?

Next is the hallway traffic, which can be helped by taking each class through the halls separately, but still need to account for the coathooks/boot benches (which currently require the entire class to stand shoulder-to-shoulder while changing out of and into outdoor gear).

Then there’s recess.

Kids need to run around. But if classes have separate recesses, supervision will be an issue (since teachers need breaks too). And supervision will be imperative – since Covid-19 makes bullying so much easier (who needs to punch someone when you can just threaten to cough on them?) Schools are going to need strong policies that are backed up with disciplinary action.

And while many people advocating for in-person school are citing a study that said kids are low-risk for death, complications, and spread, new evidence is coming to light to the contrary. Israel’s second wave is being blamed on school openings, children have been developing serious conditions post-Covid (and that’s just the one we know about – some viruses like Chicken Pox and Herpes stay dormant for years, popping up decades later to produce secondary infections. We have no idea what the long-term effects of Covid-19 are going to be), and a new study shows that children over 10 are just as likely to spread the virus as adults.

But even if that first study had been correct, it ignores all the adults in school system: teachers, custodians, office staff, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, etc.

Even if those adults can keep physically distanced from each other (no eating in the staff room or quiet discussions with other staff) and the kids (no applying bandaids, comforting sad or sick children, or just teaching up close and personal), they’re also still breathing the same air (in notoriously badly ventilated buildings) – not to mention using the same restroom facilities.

Which brings us to cleaning.

Our school board has announced funding for 16 extra custodians. For the whole school board. Our classrooms don’t have hot water, and last year were seldom supplied with soap or paper towels (but that’s okay, because the kids weren’t allowed to wash up after recess/before eating anyway).

So, if hygiene, sanitation, and ventilation are a bit sketchy, then the next best plan is to keep the virus out of the schools, right?

Well, it’s not that easy.

According to our province, parents are responsible for keeping sick kids home. But if you’ve ever been inside a school, you know how well that works. First off, you can’t always tell what symptoms are the result of a bad night’s sleep or allergies, and what’s something more serious. I’ve certainly sent groggy kids to school, only to get a call an hour or two later telling me they’ve spiked a fever or thrown up.

Plus, Covid-19 symptoms are pretty broad. Are parents expected to (or going to) keep their children home every time one has a scratchy throat or sniffly nose? What about their siblings? Can one child go to school if their sibling is potentially showing symptoms?

And that doesn’t even cover the parents who will send sick kids intentionally, because they *need* to go to work. (My city’s daily case count has doubled since last week, and almost half the cases are being blamed on adults working while sick. If people will go to work sick, they’ll definitely send sick kids to school.)

And even if we managed to keep anyone with any kind of symptom home, there’s still the little matter of pre- and asymptomatic transmission.

Which brings us to the question: what happens when (not if) somebody at a school tests positive for Covid-19?

I would assume the whole class gets sent home for 14 days, along with any bus mates, teachers, bus drivers, etc that came in contact with the infected person (according to Toronto Public Health, anyone exposed is to self-isolate themselves for 14 days, by staying in their house and away from other household members – including the recommendation to use a separate bathroom – which will be really easy to do with elementary-aged children, I’m sure.)

But does that extend to siblings? If my daughter’s class was exposed, I’d likely keep my sons home too, knowing how quickly germs spread in our house, but will everyone? What about the adults? Should parents of an exposed child continue to go out to work and grocery shop as normal? Or are they also under a 14 day lockdown?

What about the teachers who’ve covered more than one class (and despite the province’s assurances that teacher interactions will be limited, someone is going to need to cover prep-time and lunch breaks)?  If a teacher who covered three classes was exposed in one of those classes, do all three classes isolate? Or only if that teacher tests positive/shows symptoms?

What are the rules for secondary exposure? If someone in my sons’ class isn’t yet sick, but was exposed (say, at day care) does the whole class stay home? Or do they wait and see if the student from class develops symptoms, and only stay home then? What if someone in a student’s household tests positive (or even is waiting on test results)? Are they allowed to continue attending school and potentially infect the whole class?

I just don’t see how schools won’t lead to more outbreaks. With our numbers in Ontario (and Ottawa) back on the rise, in-person school feels risky.

On the other hand, keeping everyone home (especially without paid leave) isn’t a great option, either. Parents need to work. Child abuse is going unnoticed. Kids’ mental health is suffering. And children who rely on breakfast programs are going hungry.

But I can’t help but believe if everyone who *can* keep their kids home chose to do distance learning this year, maybe we’d be able to lighten the load for those who need to attend. If distance learning could reduce the student body by even thirty percent, it’d shrink the need for more teachers and classrooms, and still allow space for physical distancing.

That requires a good distance learning, program, though.

No one was ready to switch to emergency distance learning last year, and it showed. But this year, we know distance learning will be needed, so planning should start now.

Boards should establish board-wide programs to be run by teachers too high-risk to be inside classrooms. Those courses could function both for those students who elect to do distance learning full time, and those who need coverage during a 14-day isolation period, when kids are sent home. This would also cover the eventuality of a teacher becoming ill – because there’s no way someone fighting Covid-19 will be able to run distance learning for their class.

Whatever our school boards announce, and whether our family personally chooses distance learning or in-person classes, one thing is for certain: school this year will be anything but “normal.”




Encouraging Mask Usage

This rant has been a few weeks in the making (it started as a Twitter thread), and I’m happy to say I’m already seeing some progress since I first started having these thoughts.

If you’re wondering why I’m so obsessed with Covid-19, you can check out last week’s post.

I’m not here to convince you about the science of masks. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, so you probably shouldn’t listen to me, even if I did. (However, if you’re curious, feel free to check out what the Mayo clinic, the University of California (SF), the WHO, the CDC, and the Canadian Government all say about them.)

Basically, they all agree that masks can help stop pre- and asymptomatic people from unknowingly spreading the virus through droplets (anyone who’s actually sick should be staying home). Are masks perfect germ-stoppers? No. Are they better than nothing? Heck yeah!

So, the trick now is to actually get people to wear them.

Some areas (including my city) have instituted mandatory mask policies, but without enforcement (case in point, on my 10 minute trip to a pharmacy last week, when a customer walked in maskless, the cosmetician called out to him twice, but did nothing when he ignored her and kept walking. He was then served at the cash with no argument. But considering the pharmacy technician wore her mask under her nose, and the pharmacist/owner had his under his chin, I’m guessing it’d be hard for the staff to enforce the policy on others).

And don’t even get me started on the people who refuse to wear a mask because “freedom.” (Is it infringing on your freedom when a store makes you wear a shirt? How about the laws against needlessly shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre? Or smoking inside a building?)

So if mandatory policies don’t work, what can we do?

Easy. We need to make wearing them cool. Moreover, we need to make choosing** not to wear one a social disaster.

How, you ask?

Well, to start: celebrities. I get that most of them are bunkering down in their mansions, but if they have time to film feel good music videos and Princess Bride remakes, they can post a pic or two of themselves in masks. Instagram should be flooded by mask selfies and profile pics. (Shout out to Mark Hamill, who is constantly posting old movie stills of himself with masks photoshopped on, and the children’s literature community who’ve been posting mask selfies under the hashtag #KidlitForMasks.)

But I want to see more. Some people think masks are unmanly? A few pics of The Rock, Joe Manganiello, and John Cena wearing them in bodybuilding mags would shoot that down pretty quick.

Add to that, posts by gorgeous celebrities about how hot they find people who look out for others by wearing masks.

And if a few more celebrities could get “caught” wearing masks by the paparazzi like Chris Pine did (thus making him my new favorite of the Chrises) it’d go a long way to influencing public opinion.

Next, the fashion magazines need to get involved. This year’s hottest accessory is definitely a mask. Every photo shoot should include masked models. Designers should be jumping at the chance to sell ridiculously priced face coverings with a their name on them.

Not only that, I want to see articles on accessorizing (should your mask match your outfit, or just compliment it? What are basic mask colors that go with any outfit?) Let’s have articles about maximizing your eye makeup, and how to remove foundation stains from fabric masks. Skin care tips for if your mask makes you break out.

On top of all that, we need PSAs.

You may have seen this Twitter post: is the kind of thinking we need. (Seriously, thirty years later, and I still chop my plastic rings into confetti, for fear of strangling sea animals.)

Let’s get a catchy tag line. The “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” of masks. (I’ve heard “mask it or casket” – but we can do better. I’m partial to “Don’t be an A**, wear a mask,” even if it doesn’t quite rhyme.)

Let’s face it (see what I did there?), we’re going to be living with Covid-19 for at least another year, and that means living with masks. The sooner we find a way to make them wanted and not just needed, the better off our society will be.

**I really mean the act of choosing not wear one for “personal freedom” reasons, NOT just the act of not wearing one. Obviously no one should have to disclose their medical history to prove they don’t need a mask. If we can make the phrase “I won’t wear a mask” the social equivalent of farting in a crowded room, then maybe the only people not wearing them will be the people who physically can’t, thus making the world a safer place for all of us.

mask selfie

Another Covid Rant

Yeah, I know. But there’s a reason I won’t stop harping on these things.

I have asthma. So does my husband. That puts both of us into the high risk category. I also have a couple of chronic illnesses which (as far we know) don’t seem to raise my risk for Covid, but if the ICUs start getting packed and patients are triaged, they’ll put me at the bottom of the list for a bed.

I’ve had pneumonia before, had to sleep sitting up so I wouldn’t drown overnight in my own lungs. And, thanks to a nasty early-spring allergy, I spent most of February and March on inhalers just to be able to catch my breath.

So, yeah, I’m worried about catching Covid. Worried about dying. About the possibility of my husband dying. About my kids growing up without one (or both) of their parents. Worried about the fact that even “mild” (in Covid terms this covers everything that doesn’t result in a hospital stay) and asymptomatic cases are being left with permanent lifelong conditions that may have dire consequences down the road.

And the only thing I can do to battle this nebulous threat is limit my family’s exposures. So I do.

Even though our city has a low case count, almost 50% of the cases we do have are a result of community spread. So my family is continuing to only do essential shops and keeping at least 6ft away from everyone outside our bubble.

I have been accused of living in fear, but I would much rather live in fear than die of over-confidence.

Hmm…this was supposed to be a rant about encouraging mask usage. Sorry, I just get really emotional thinking about the ways this virus could destroy my family.

I *do* have thoughts on ways to encourage mask usage, though. But I guess you’ll have to wait until next week to hear about those.

Until then, protect yourself and protect people like me and my family:

STAY HOME if you can. If you can’t, WEAR A MASK. And, either way, WASH YOUR HANDS!

July Check-In

Well, we did it! We made it through the first half of this awful year.

This month has actually gone fairly well for me.

Hubs and I have been watching The Great Canadian Baking Show  and The Great British Bake-Off which has led to experimenting with a whole bunch of new baking techniques (puff pastry! upside-down cakes! pate choux!) -You can check out my Instagram if you want to see the fruit s of those labors.

As well, I’ve managed to put in a good amount of work writing this month. My WiP finally feels like it’s coming together. It’s been such a slog, between headaches, and lockdown, and just stress, but now I have 80,000 not-horrible words strung together in a pretty decent way.

Not that they’re perfect. I probably have another two read-throughs/small revisions before I can send it off to critique partners, but this just feels like such a huge step forward!

There’s a not-small possibility I could be ready to query this thing by Fall (*knocks on wood* *throws salt over shoulder* *crosses fingers*), or at least before the end of 2020.

As a result of all that writing, I didn’t do much reading this month, as you can see below:

June Reading Stats:

  • YA Fantasy (2)
  • YA Mystery (1)
  • YA Contemporary (1)
  • A Mystery (1)
  • A UF/Paranormal (1)
  • Re-Read (1)

June Total: 6 (+ 1 Re-Read)

Year-to-Date: 94 (+11 Re-Reads)