A floatplane adventure

I love planes. I love airports, I love take-offs and landings, I love flying.

It might have started with my aunt – she was a flight attendant for Air New Zealand and sent us postcards from all over the world. Or it might have been my Dad’s love of airshows (I was that kid who begged everyone in the line-up for helicopter rides if I could sit in their lap because kids could ride for free with an adult.) Or it might have been our family excursions to the airport to watch the trainee pilots doing touch and goes.

When we came to Canada, I had a picture in my mind of what it would be like – mounties (thanks to Due South) and floatplanes (thanks to the season of MacGyver when he lived in a floating home in Coal Harbour). In reality, the only time I see mounties is at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (it’s a tradition, he dresses in uniform every year). Floatplanes, on the other hand, are a part of the landscape in Victoria. And yet I’ve only been on one once – now twice!

A few weeks ago I had to go to Vancouver for a work meeting. I was dreading the usual ferry trip. It’s a 30-minute drive, 90-minute sailing, and another 30-minute drive, plus traffic and ferry waits. I don’t mind it when we’re in Ginger (the van) and on holiday, but it’s not so fun going there and back in a day. Then a colleague mentioned the option of taking a floatplane, and suddenly the trip didn’t seem like such a chore.

On the day of my big adventure, I arrived at the floatplane terminal, checked in, and pretended to be cool and jaded like the other passengers who frequent the Harbour Air flights. But my inner 10-year-old was bursting with the joy of it.

When I climbed aboard, the pilot asked if anyone would like to sit up front. Expecting everyone to be clamoring for the chance, I politely waited a couple of seconds (it’s a Canadian thing).


“If no one else is keen, I will!” I said. Forget trying to be cool.

A woman across the aisle smiled at me. “Go for it.”

And that, my friends, is how I found myself up-front with the pilot, wearing headphones and a grin as wide as the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on the trip of a lifetime.

What the kids think of Prove It, Josh

It’s been a while since I posted anything new here, mostly because I’ve had my head down working on a new story, code name – Kai. This one is out on submission now, which any author will tell you is an anxious time. Will other people like it as much as I do? Will it find a home?

In the meantime, it’s back to the blank page as I get started on the first draft of a new story. I’m excited to dive into the writing but trying to hold back until I have a solid outline. This time I’m determined to understand the main conflicts and how the character will grow over the course of the story before I start writing. Yeah, I hear you say, good luck with that!

One thing that gets me in the mood for a new project is looking at the things kids said about Prove It, Josh. Some good, some bad, but all honest!

  • I like this book
  • I liked this book. The race part was fun.
  • This book was a bit funny. I think it was funny because Josh was 11 years old and he did not know how to read well. I was never thinking that you could dive in to a ocean that there are boats sailing but Josh did to get his dads clanks. It was sad for him that he wanted to go sailing but he had to go to a reading tutor. This book was a pretty long chapter book but it didn’t have many hard words. I would recommend this book to grade 3-5.
  • When I read the back of the book I thought it would be interesting, but when I was actually reading it, I didn’t enjoy it. I would rate this book 6/10 :()
  • i like this book because it is like a andvencher but in a book i at lest think it is so cool
  • I really liked this book! I really liked the ending when Josh said: “You’ll have to read the book to find out.” Since I really love this book, I would wish that there would be a second book like the Hunger Games series!!! XD
  • So far i loved this book cause when ever i read 1 chapter it feels like im josh im am very proud of josh but i am sad that he cant join the super hero program cause it makes me sad 🙁 the thing i dont understand is how come josh cant write proparly.I hope that he will learn tho i am happy that josh risked his life almost just for daniel and alex.I recommend this book to everyone that has read my text!With all my hope i wish at the end of the book josh will win cause i havent get to that part yet im still at chapter 6!YAY! at least im catching up 🙂 good luck to everyone in express 🙂
  • i really loved how josh risked his race for Daniel and Alex when they were drowning. i think its MUCH better than winning from Brittany, the brat
  • I thought it would’ve been a Bad book,but it was pretty good
  • I did not think it would be good but it turned out to be very good.
  • why was the book called prove it josh case 50% of the book did not go with the title
  • I think that learning to read is hard. But, when you are concentrated you can do anything. Josh is learning to read and he jest has to clear his mind and concentrate on learning new things like reading. I think that even when something is hard you should always try to do it before giving up. I hope that everyone enjoys reading this amazing book and thinks about what you can do when you think hard and concentrate you can do everything and anything.
  • This book is really amazing. It shows that winning isn’t everything and friendship is more important. Josh really believed in himself in the boat race at the end.I wished that the author could make a series of Prove It, Josh books.
  • This book taught me a lesson that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose it matters if you played fairly and helped your teammates at times !
  • The story was nice and it had a good moral to the story too.
  • This book was a really good one! It had good message and it was super interesting!
  • My favourite part of the book was when Josh saved Daniel and Alex from drowning. If you read this book you will really enjoy it.
  • Very good book , quick and easy read . Quite enjoyed it .
  • I like this book because josh likes boats and so do I ! 🙂
  • interesting and amazingly happy and sad Josh is a role model.
  • This book is very good. I recommend it to everyone!!!!
  • so far so good
  • My favourite part was when the boy was travelling in the boat and telling about what was happening in his life

Back to my blue writing desk I go. Wish me luck!

Things I learned in November

Writing desk

This November I did NANOWRIMO—50,000 words in 30 days.

Friends have been trying to convince me to do it for years, but I balked at the idea. Writing 1667 words every day for 30 days sounded like hard work. I had other excuses too. I was always in the middle of another project and November is when I usually buy gifts to mail to my family who don’t live in Canada.

But I REALLY wanted to learn to write faster—and Nanowrimo seemed like the perfect mechanism for doing that. So I set aside my current middle grade writing project, delayed the gift buying (sorry family!), and dug out a book I bought with good intentions this time last year (Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days by Denise Jaden).

Then, on November 1, I sat my butt in the chair and opened a new Scrivener project. I decided not to worry about story structure, to just write a scene or part of a scene every day, in random order if need be. Get to know the characters, I told myself. Scary stuff! No outline, no plot, no conflict. Just a couple of characters and the idea that I would use alternating points of view.

Over the course of the month, I learned:

  1. It takes persistence—a goodly amount of it!
  2. I have to set strict rules for myself: no editing, minimal research, and most importantly, lock my inner critic in the garden shed.
  3. If I have a clear idea of where the scene is going, I can write quicker.
  4. Even though I’m an outliner, I can write by the seat of my pants if I’ve left myself no other option.
  5. First drafts don’t have to be good, they just have to be done.
  6. Making time to write means saying No to other things I want to do.
  7. I don’t enjoy writing words for the sake of meeting a word count goal. I prefer short time goals.
  8. No wine until the final 500 words of the day.
  9. Just write 100 words, and then another 100 words, and another. 100 words at a time adds up to 1667 or more.
  10. Some days are easier than others.
  11. It helps when dinner magically appears in front of you – thank you Patrick!
  12. Knowing friends are doing it too, and watching their daily word counts, is motivating – thanks Karen, Lisa, Annie, Pauline, and Aven for being there with me!

Did I make it to 50,000 in 30 days? YES! That makes me a Nanowrimo 2015 Winner!NaNo-2015-Winner-Badge-Large-Square

Did I learn to write faster? YES!

Would I do Nanowrimo again? Maybe. If I had a solid outline.

Would I recommend it to others? Yes, but only if you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. It’s hard work (really!) so it helps if you have a goal that’s more specific than writing 50,000 words. What’s motivating you to do it? Knowing that will help you face the page every day.

Can you read my Nanowrimo story? NO! At least not until I’ve edited it and given it some structure and rounded out the characters and figured out what the central conflict is and learned some of the genre conventions and… yeah, it needs a lot of work. For now I’m putting it aside to finish my middle grade novel.

Have you ever participated in Nanowrimo? What did you learn?

Dealing with public speaking terror

If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been for the last few months, since Christmas really, I’ve been hiding out in my house. You see, when Prove It, Josh was nominated for the Silver Birch Express award as part of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading program, I was faced with having to speak in public to thousands of children and adults. And I was afraid. In fact, I was terrified.

You might remember that before the book launch for Prove It, Josh, I joined Toastmasters. I’d like to be able to tell you that I loved every minute of Toastmasters, but the exact opposite is true. I loathed it. That’s not because I didn’t find it valuable, just that having to speak in front of the group, even once I got to know people, freaked me out every week, to the point where it was all I could think about. So after the launch I happily quit.

But you know what people say, something along the lines of, if you don’t learn your lesson the first time, you’re doomed to face that very situation again. And as an author, that’s exactly what happens when it comes to public speaking. Sooner or later you have to face this fear.

So that’s what I’ve just spent the last six months doing, and not doing well.

As a Silver Birch Express nominee, I needed to come up with three different speeches – a 45-60 minute school presentation, a 30 minute presentation with another author, and a 90 second speech to deliver at a microphone in front of thousands. I focused most of my energy on the longest one – the school presentation.

I decided Powerpoint slides would help ground me, and give the kids something to look at other than me. I talked to other authors about what they included and then I made several mindmaps and an outline to narrow down my content. Months went by and I didn’t make a lot of progress because I knew I still had plenty of time and Fear and Resistance were whispering in my ear that I was going to be a complete failure and that everyone would laugh at me.

That was when I realized that the best way to start my presentation would be with something funny, so that the kids would laugh at me. My idea was to get that out of the way, so that my biggest fear would come true, but on my own terms. And the best way I knew to get a laugh with a North American audience was to joke about my Kiwi accent, so I used the Steak/Stick story as a way to introduce the fact that I have an accent and to give the kids permission to ask me questions if they couldn’t understand me.

Once I had the beginning nailed down, I continued on, adding anecdotes and discussing how I became a writer. I told all my writing friends what I was doing, and they all offered advice, support and encouragement. But by the time April rolled around, I was a bundle of nerves and I woke up every night at 3am worrying that I was going to fall flat on my face. It got so bad I lost my appetite and coffee was giving me the shakes.

With three weeks to go, I finally finished my presentation. But then my fear solidified into a not unfounded concern that I wouldn’t be able to remember all this content, even with the slides to prompt me. One thing I learned in Toastmasters is that when I stand up in front of a group, my mind goes completely blank. How on earth was I going to do this?

At two weeks to go, inspiration hit me in the middle of the night. I could print out my notes and put them in clear plastic sleeves in a binder, and that way if my mind went blank, I had it all right there in front of me. Around this time too, I was chatting with another author about the Float House, where you can soak in a tank of Epsom salts for relaxation. Rather than do that, I started having a daily bath in lavender scented Epsom salts–and almost right away I was sleeping through the night again. Lavender essential oil is well known for providing relief from anxiety and Epsom salts contain magnesium, which can help you sleep. Also, the weather improved, so I made sure I sat outside in the sun each day, and I took some Vitamin B Complex on the off chance that I was depleted. And I STOPPED DRINKING COFFEE (yeah, I was that desperate!)

For the last two weeks I practised and practised my presentation, by myself in Ginger (parked at the beach) and in front of my neighbour and friends. With all that practice I realized that I would be okay. I even felt somewhat calm at times.

You might think at this point I had it all under control, and that I’d defeated my public speaking terrors, but you’d be wrong. I still broke out in a sweat, my hands shook, my mouth was dry, and I stumbled over my words. If you looked closely, you might have glimpsed the terror on my face. But, as Toastmasters had shown me before the book launch, I could do it. I could speak at a volume where people could hear me, and I didn’t embarrass myself by falling off the stage or fainting. I COULD do it. I DID do it.

Here’s proof that I did it, although my friend Kathy stopped filming before I started speaking so she could take photos.

(Thanks for this Kathy!)

And the kind folks at the London Public Library snapped this picture of me speaking at the London Festival of Trees ceremony.

London Forest of Reading

I’ve since read a book called Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool by Taylor Clark. The main point I gathered from this book, is that you simply cannot control how your brain reacts to a fearful situation–your brain says fight or flight, or in my case, freeze. All you can do is put yourself in the situation over and over until your brain learns that there’s no real danger. When it comes to public speaking, just prepare your speech and practise it as often as you can. And accept that you will be afraid, but do it anyway.

The best laid holiday plans… (part 2)

If you didn’t read the first part of this post, you might want to do that before reading on.

So, where were we up to? We were in Olympia with Ginger, and the mechanic had suggested that rather than continuing on our trip to San Diego, we drive Ginger home. When you’re on holiday, is there anything worse than turning around and going home?

But that’s what we decided to do. Using the trusty smartphone, I made reservations for the first ferry to Victoria the next morning and the last ferry to Port Angeles later that same day. And then we drove Ginger back to Port Angeles.

Since we were, in theory, still on holiday, I suggested we sleep in the Walmart parking lot for free, just to see what it would be like. Patrick wasn’t convinced we’d get any sleep with the bright lights and cars coming and going at all hours, but we actually slept well – worn out from all that thinking and planning, I guess. We even slept through a visit from the local county sheriff, who left us this note under the wiper.


The next morning, we caught the ferry home. Patrick changed the oil in the car and I did a load of laundry (exciting stuff!), and then we headed back down to the ferry for our second trip across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. To my surprise, at the ferry terminal, there were no 20 questions about arriving in the van and leaving in the car – no one even blinked, not the ferry people or the customs/immigration officials.

That night we hoofed it down to Portland. And the following day, we drove through a snow storm to San Francisco, where, I have to admit, I hyperventilated when the hotel’s front desk person told me there would be an additional charge of $49 a night to park in the hotel parking lot. Patrick sent me “the look”, the one that says “if you have a meltdown, I’m going to pretend I’m not with you”, (actually, he says it was more a “don’t worry, it’ll be fine” look), and so I managed to choke out the required “okay” and hand over my credit card. But it was worth it, to wake up on Christmas morning and wander across the street to Boudin for breakfast.

Coffee and almond croissants

Coffee and almond croissants

We spent a delightful day and a half in San Francisco, soaking up the sunshine, walking for miles and miles, and catching all the different forms of public transit – streetcars, cable cars and buses.

Next stop, San Diego…?

Letter from a reader

Today I received my first ever letter from a student. I know I keep throwing around words like delighted and thrilled and excited, but seriously, how cool that people are reading Josh, enjoying it, and taking something away from it!

I read your book ‘Prove It, Josh’ for my Silver Birch program. The message that I got from your book was that despite obstacles if you work hard you can achieve your goals. I really liked that at the end of the book Josh was able to read.

I play a lot of sports and I am on a rep soccer team. Sometimes I get discouraged when I have trouble learning a new move. Right now I am trying to learn a reverse scissors. Like Josh I will practise until I can do it.

Thank you Jaime! I loved hearing from you!