My Biggest Pet Peeve

As most of you know, I’m currently in my fourth year of a concussion right now, and since I just came out of a five-day-long major migraine, it felt like a good day to talk about one of my biggest pet peeves in books, film, and TV. (If you’re a writer, you can consider this writing advice; if not, just let it be food for thought.) Ready?

Head injuries.

Specifically, people being hit in the head so hard, they’re knocked unconscious, then suffering no lasting effects once they wake up.

(I’m looking at you, Giles.)

Look, as the not-so-proud experiencer of three separate concussions (and mom of a once-concussed child), I know that you don’t have to be knocked out to get a concussion (only one of my three concussion hits included a loss of consciousness). But, chances are if you do get hit hard enough to pass out, you’re going to be left with one.

And that means you’re probably not just going to be able to jump up and run off like nothing happened, when you wake up.

I admit, concussions are pretty unpredictable things, but odds are you’re going to be left at least a few of the following symptoms: headache, dizziness, nausea, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound, and trouble focusing your eyes.

Now, in fairness, not all symptoms show up right away, (my son didn’t start feeling nauseous for about an hour after he hit his head), so maybe  you could make a clean escape before the pain set in, but if I don’t see the head injuries starting to take a toll at some point? *shrugs* Well, it’s a disbelief I’m not prepared to suspend.

I mean, I’ve only been knocked out once (playing softball, if you’re interested), and at this point, I’m not allowed to drive, suffer pretty much daily from headaches and/or migraines, and can’t leave the house without wearing sunglasses, so I’m a little sensitive about the damage head injuries can do.

Okay. Rant over. *Gets off soapbox*

What about you? What are the pet peeves you absolutely can’t handle in media? Let me know in the comments.

 

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The Sorting Hat is Proved Correct

This week I finally started back with my online critique group after a year away. (When I took a break last September, it was only supposed to be for a few weeks while I scribbled out a first draft…but then things spiralled out of control on a personal level and while I was writing, I wasn’t coming up with anything I felt I could show other people.)

I *love* critiquing. I really enjoy finding ways to make stories stronger. And reading other people’s critiques of the same piece will often give me valuable insight for my own writing. Revising is by far my favourite part of the writing process (I know, I’m such a weirdo). But first drafts for me are always filled with so much doubt…revising is all about improvement and striving for perfection.

Which is probably explains why I’m such a Ravenclaw. Yet, in all the sorting quizzes I’ve done, Slytherin has come a close second (once it even came first, but if Harry can choose not to be Slytherin, so can I). I’ve never really understood how I keep landing there. I mean, I guess I’m ambitious, in that I want to be a published author and I’m working hard toward that goal – but I wouldn’t sell a friend out to get there or anything.

And then came this week’s critiques. Don’t worry, I didn’t go all Simon Cowell on them, if that’s what you’re thinking. I promise you, my crits were perfectly constructive and encouraging and appropriately-worded.

No, it was the content.

Like, apparently I have very strong thoughts on the proper way to torture someone for information?

No joke, I think I wrote about half a page on why the methods used wouldn’t result in information, and then recommended an alternate course of torture that would inflict the most pain but the least incapacitating damage, to allow the suspect to talk.

I kind of scared myself.

I finished my note with “I swear I’m a nice person, I just read a lot of bad books! :D”

Seriously, though, it was a window into a terrifying part of myself.

But, fortunately, that’s not the kind of book I’m interested in writing. As dark as the themes of my YAs might get, so far they’ve stopped short of torture. So I’m sticking with my Ravenclaw status. After all, as J.K. Rowling says, “It’s our choices that show what we truly are…far more than our abilities.” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)

PS. My critique group includes books for all ages, and I believe this book is actually an Adult historical fiction (for those worried about torture scenes in children’s books)

PPS. If I’d been sorted at age 11, I’d probably have been put in Gryffindor, since I was quite the gutsy stand-up-for-yourself-and-others-at-the-risk-of-everything kind of kid. But these days (and ever since high school, I’d say) I’m definitely a Ravenclaw.

How to Write When the World Might Be Ending

*Please note: this is written as advice for anxious people like me who are stressing out at the daily influx of terrible news and looming possibility of nuclear war. If you are dealing with, or preparing for, any of the *actual* disasters to have hit our continent this week (including those of policy), then obviously your priorities will be to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Writing is hard, y’all. Like, really hard. Even on the best days, it’s a job and a half to string together words into works that are powerful, emotional, fun, funny, not to mention sensical (spellcheck tells me this isn’t a word, but then what’s the opposite of nonsensical? See what I mean about hard?).

But these days, when every other news alert feels like it’s bringing closer to the end of the world? It’s practically impossible to get words down on paper/computer.

I’ve blogged before about how hard it is to write contemporary fiction right now, when the world seems to be changing on a practically daily basis, but the futility of writing when there might not be a world left at all? That’s some really existential angst there, my friends.

And I’m not the only one thinking it. Someone on Twitter (I think it was Matt Haig, but I can’t find the post now) recently wrote: “Writing advice: write like the world will still be here when your book is finished.”

And it’s good advice. I mean, are you going to put your whole life on hold because there *might* be a nuclear war? Let your whole life slide into futility? I mean, if the world is ending, why bother eating vegetables, or going to work, or signing your kids up for swimming lessons?

Imagine if everyone had given up during the 80’s and the Cold War with Russia. How many books wouldn’t have been written. How many people would have got scurvy.

Okay, that’s the pep talk portion out of the way. Now for some practical advice on how to keep writing.

  1. Get prepared – I’m a planner, so it helps my state of mind to feel like I’m prepared for things. Look up what to do in case of nuclear attack (hint, it’s not get your car and try to escape), and make sure you have a basic emergency kit prepared (you should have this anyway, though it will likely be different depending on where you live. We’re prone to snow & ice storms here, so we usually check ours at the start of winter). *Bonus tip*: try and look up how to prepare without reading about all the bad stuff that happens – it’ll just make you panic more.
  2. Avoid the news – let’s face it, the news is a business, and their job is to make things as exciting (ie scary) as possible so people will tune in. There’s a fine line between wanting to be informed, and becoming a ghoul, transfixed by the daily horrors on the screen. Try to find the level that works for you. (This includes social media, which has become an outrage factory of late, and certainly has been adding to my anxiety. If you have to take a break for your peace of mind, do it.)
  3. Eat the cake – or drink the wine, whatever you need to do to relax. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I said not to despair and give up vegetables, but no one’s going to argue if you need a little cocoa-therapy to calm your nerves.
  4. Just write the book – back to the pep talk. There comes a time when you just have to tune everything else out and write the darn book. Because if and when all this is over, you don’t want to be sitting there with a blank computer document when you could have had a novel. It’s okay if the words don’t come as quickly or easily as they did before, so long as they still make it into the world.

So that’s my advice. Good luck, keep writing, stay strong.

 

P.S. A note for those who think I’m weird for stressing over this when I don’t even live in the States: Do you really think a nuclear blast or EMP is going to respect imaginary lines on a map and stop at the border? 

On Vacation (Sort Of)

The next two weeks are shaping up to be full ones for me, as I get my kids ready to go back to school, deal with doctor’s appointments (one kid is getting braces, another is preparing for a second knee surgery), and frantically try and throw together two new cosplays for Fan Expo in Toronto (which Hubs and I decided to attend with less than 10 days notice). And I’m doing it all while fighting a nasty summer cold.

(Update: Plus it looks like at least one of my kids may have lice…yay.)

All this is to say I’m going to take a couple of weeks off from the blog to concentrate on those things instead. I’ll be back in early September, when my writing schedule returns to almost-full-time, with lots of tales to tell.

Until then, if you’re interested in my cosplays, keep an eye on my Facebook page, I’ll be posting updates and photos there. Any other random updates will take place on Twitter.

See you in September.

More Thoughts on High School

Okay, so I know last week I promised to tell a reunion story…but after the events of the past week I’m going to skip ahead to a compare and contrast between my two high schools. Hopefully one day I’ll get to tell you the reunion story, but I’ll save that for a calmer time (assuming it ever comes.)

A lot of people seem to think of Canada as some kind of utopia compared to the U.S., what with our handsome and well-spoken Prime Minister, universal healthcare, and general reputation for politeness. But, as much as I love my country, we’re not perfect. And I’ve known that since I started at my second high school.

As you know, I changed high schools at the start of tenth grade. The first school was in Scarborough (a suburb of Toronto) in a very multicultural neighbourhood.

My second high school – the one I spent four years at – was in the country, about an hour outside of Toronto. My house was so in the middle of nowhere we couldn’t see any other houses from ours, (but we *could* cut through the woods to the next door neighbours’) and coyotes used to scope me out while I waited for the school bus.

 

Remember how last week I said I wouldn’t go to a reunion because I didn’t connect with people there?

I admit, some it was my fault. I resented the move. Resented being taken away from all my friends and the city I grew up in.

And there was also some culture shock. My second school was just so white. So white. Both my high schools were about the same size (around 2000 people), and while I couldn’t give you an exact breakdown of demographics, my city school had a diverse population. My second school? I think we had 5 or 6 students of colour. Out of 2000. (Okay, I didn’t know every kid in the school, it could have been as high as 10. I doubt it was 12.)

As a result, there was a lot of casual racism. Like, a lot. Most of these kids had never even *seen* a PoC (of any ethnicity). PoC weren’t people to them, they were more like mystical creatures, like dragons or unicorns – and the only things the kids at my school knew about them was what they’d been told by their parents or religious leaders.

When I tried to speak up, I got asked why I was making such a big deal. It’s not like it affected me. I was branded as overreacting and irrational. Eventually, I stopped listening so hard when they talked. I felt dirty, but what could I do?

Until the guy I was dating dropped a racial slur.

So I dropped him.

He was the first guy I’d ever had real feelings for, and all our friends wanted to know what had happened. At first I told people I just wasn’t into him. Then I told one of them the truth.

She got mad. How could I break his heart over something so petty? It’s not like I was one of *them* so why was I offended?

I tried to explain that I couldn’t date someone who didn’t see all people as people. Who believed in an “us” and a “them.” She didn’t care.

I don’t know what she told our friends, but none of them talked to me again after that.

I’m not telling this story to get a cookie. To be honest, I’m not proud of it. If I could go back in time, with some of the confidence I have today, I would still have broken up with that guy (obviously) only I would have told him why. Tried to get him to change (not for me, just to be a good person).

No, I’m telling this story to explain that racism is here. It’s always been here (in case that isn’t already obvious from the way First Nations communities have been and still are treated).

And being able to forget that, or not realize it in the first place, is a sign of privilege.

And it’s one I’m guilty of.

Because I have a problem.

I’ve set the YA I’m working on in a high school very much like mine (the second one). “A small town, full of small minds,” as my MC puts it. And my MC, despite her privileges (white, cis, het, from an upper middle class family) wants out.

But.

By making her world so white, I also feel like I’m letting readers down by not including enough representation.

Don’t get me wrong, I think my story is important: it deals with body image, and sexual assault, and misogyny – all things I’ve struggled with first hand, and all things that still important in today’s world. And I’ve done my best to make sure the representation I have included is good representation. But is it enough in today’s troubled times?

I just don’t know.

Honestly, for this story, I think it will have to be. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do better for my next story. Just like I’ll do better next time I confront someone’s racist behaviour.

In the meantime, since this book won’t be out for a while (since, you know, it hasn’t even sold to a publisher yet) I’m going to be reading. So, hit me up with recommendations for YA Contemporary books with good representation*. (Bonus points if they’re by a marginalized author).

I’ll start us off with my two most favourite recent reads:

THE HATE U GIVE by: Angie Thomas

WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by: Sandhya Menon

Add your suggestions in the comments.

*For the sake of this post, lets say representation of any identity a N*zi would hate: PoC, Jewish people, LGBTQIA, disability, mental illness.

PS For those wondering, I found a new group of friends that year, ones who weren’t racist, and they’re the ones I’m still in contact with. In case you were curious. Now, let’s see those book recs!

Some Thoughts on High School

So, as a YA author, it kind of goes without saying that I spend a lot of time thinking about high school. But last week I attended my husband’s 20th High School Reunion, and it sparked a whole bunch of new thoughts (mostly about my own high school experience) I figured I’d share with you (this may continue in multiple posts…)

1. Not all high schools are built the same. I’m talking the actual buildings here. I went to two high schools, in two different cities/towns, and they had a few differences, (like, one had a nice grassy quad to hang out in, and the other had a giant Shop/Restaurant Services/Cosmotology corridor) but they were both the regular kind of boring brick 1950’s-era buildings that are unmistakably schools.

Hubs’ school was a castle. Like, a 170-year-old grey stone building with an English class in a turret that had a window straight out of Romeo & Juliet. (Yes, he went to school in Canada).

2. People have fairly small groups of actual friends (the rest are just acquaintances). Most people at the reunion seemed to only “know” a couple of people (who they still kept in touch with through social media) and everyone else got a vague, “Oh yeah, I remember your name.” If you were one of the people whose core group of friends didn’t make it to the reunion…well, it was pretty much a room full of strangers.

3. Most of my friends at my second high school (where I spent 4 of my 5 years) didn’t graduate the same year as me. Some were in my year, but only did a 4-Year program. Others were a year older or younger from class (my schedule was all kinds of messed-up from changing schools) or clubs.

So, I probably wouldn’t go to my own reunion, since a reunion of my graduating year would be mostly strangers. The few people I want to stay in touch with are already my friends on Facebook.

(Although, let’s face it, if I suddenly become a best-selling author before my 25th reunion, I might be tempted to attend).

4. I *would* attend a reunion for my first high school (the one I only attended 9th grade at). Those are the people I went to school with from 4th to 9th grade, some of whom are still my best friends in life. And while I am Facebook friends with a decent number of them, I’d jump at the chance to meet them again in person.

(For the record, I actually went to their Prom, and had a reunion with them about…15 years ago? – In fact, maybe what I actually want is an 8th grade reunion, rather than a high school reunion…is that too weird?)

As it turns out, I had a reunion with someone I went to that first school with…but there’s a story to go with that, so I think I’ll save it for another post. Tune in next week to find out what happened…

Best Laid Plans…

The fun thing about being a writer is that you never quite know what your schedule is going to look like (well, unless you have deadlines, those are pretty set in stone).

So while I started the week revising my MG fantasy for a critique, the sudden arrival of revision notes from my agent’s assistant meant a change of plans was in order.

Which means I’m back to revising my contemporary YA. I’m hoping the number of line edits included means this will be our last round, but I guess that depends on how well I manage to revise.

I’m still squeezing work around the kids, getting up early to work before they’re awake, and occasionally working while they’re off playing, which means this won’t be my fastest revision ever. (I may already be counting down the days until their week at day camp.)

But I’m determined to make it my best. Get this thing as shiny as it can be, so it can go out to editors and hopefully hook someone.

So, keep your fingers crossed that my kids sleep late over the next few weeks.