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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.

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!

Conference season


I look forward to October every year – and it’s not for the weather, which is invariably cold and wet!

From October 24-26 I’ll be attending the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. It’s the one conference I sign up for every year, as soon as registration opens. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with online friends, meet new people, and learn from all the fabulous presenters – people like Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Hallie Ephron, Donald Mass, Jack Whyte, and Cory Doctorow. The line up of presenters seems to get better and better every year.

If you’re a writer and you’ve never been to a conference, I’d highly recommend you find a local one and try it out. There’s nothing better than being surrounded with writers and talking about writing for an entire three days. It’s exhausting but exhilarating, and a great reminder that there’s a whole community out there supporting our writing journey. And even if you’re an introvert like me and a bit shy, you’ll find it’s not that hard to strike up a conversation. If you can’t think of a way to break the ice, you can always start with “Have you been to this conference before?”

If you’re in Surrey, come and say Hi. I’ll be at the SCBWI Canada West table off and on, happy to sign books, and thrilled to see you!

Victoria Writers Festival

And then two weeks later, from November 6-8, it’s the Victoria Writers Festival. I’m excited to see that this year they’re including an event for children’s writers on November 6 with Kit Pearson, Polly Horvath, John Wilson, and Morgan Purvis. If you come to that, look out for me – I’ll be there, as well as volunteering on Friday evening.

Writing Process blog tour

Newbie Nick coverThanks LISA MCMANUS for inviting me to be part of this writing process blog tour! The idea of this blog tour is to let you know a little bit of the why and how of my writing process, and to introduce you to some new writers you might not be familiar with yet.

Lisa and I know each other through the Vancouver Island chapter of Romance Writers of America (RWA) and the Victoria Children’s Literature Roundtable. Lisa’s first young adult novel, Newbie Nick, is due to be released by Lycaon Press on June 18th—the ebook is actually available for pre-sale right now. You can read Lisa’s answers to the blog tour questions here.

Here are my answers to the questions about my writing process:

What are you working on?

Prove It Josh coverCurrently I’m working on three different writing projects. One is another middle grade story featuring Josh and Dakota, in which they get up to all sorts of mischief as they try to clear Josh’s name when he is blamed for lighting a fire at the local mill. The second story is for a younger audience – I’m just in the early stages of that one, so there’s nothing much to tell just yet. And the third is a young adult novel – also in the very early stages. I’ve also signed up for an online photography class to spark my creativity (I hope!).

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

When Patrick and I were riding our tandem bicycle, him in front, me behind, he often used to joke that I was cycling with my eyes closed. We’d be riding along a back country road and he’d ask, “Didn’t you see that massive hole in the road? What about that heron standing in the field? Or that sailboat up on blocks?” It’s true—I hadn’t seen those things—which made me feel as if I were missing all the important stuff. Until I realized that I saw things he didn’t see. “Hey Patrick, did you see that bald eagle in the top of the tree? Did you see that picnic table – looks like a good place to stop? Did you see the mannequins standing in the window of that house?”

I think every writer has a unique way of seeing the world based on their childhood, place of birth, place of residence, family, work, hobbies, and experiences. It’s my unique view and the things I see that make my writing and my stories different.

Why do you write what you do?

The first book I remember reading as a kid that really fired up my imagination was Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. The children in his books had so much freedom to play and explore away from adult supervision, with endless possibilities for adventure—I wanted that too, and still do! It’s that sense of wonder that I hope to inspire in the children who read my writing, and that glimpse of a different life that I hope will help them see the potential in their own lives.

How does your writing process work?

My process evolved out of years of working as a technical writer, which required a combination of a deadline, a word goal or page limit, an outline, and knowing my audience. Lots of experienced writers advise new writers to just get the story down and worry about word limits at a later stage, but that much freedom and flexibility didn’t help me as a new writer. I needed parameters to work within.

Based on publisher submission guidelines and published contemporary middle grade books, I set myself a word count and figure out how many words should be in a chapter. Then I set up my Word document (or, more recently, my Scrivener project) so that the page looks as close to a published page as possible. I know for some writers this would totally kill their creativity, but for me, it helps to see what the finished “product” will look like. And knowing how long a chapter should be, gives me an idea of how quickly the action should move the story forward. If I get to the end of a chapter and nothing much has happened, it’s pretty obvious I need to cut some of this non-action and pick up the pace.

In terms of the actual writing, I try to write every day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. That way I’ve always got the story in mind, and even if some days I don’t come up with anything brilliant, I just have to be patient—eventually the ideas will come. I also like to have an outline so that I have a sense of the direction for the story. If I know where the story ends, I can work towards that point. Of course, that’s all in a perfect world. Sometimes writing is not so simple and I end up with hundreds of pieces, and have to put them together like a puzzle. Those days make me a bit crazy!

That’s pretty much it for me.

I’ve tagged two authors—Maggie Bolitho and Kay Stewart—to follow me on the blog tour next week, so be sure to look for their posts next Monday – June 16. I met Maggie at the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Canada West conference last year, and I met Kay when I volunteered for the Bloody Words conference in 2011.

Lockdown coverMAGGIE BOLITHO is curious by nature. She has been a soccer player, a horsewoman, a martial artist, a scuba diver, and a cyclist. Her many jobs have included waitress, florist, insurance underwriter, realtor, tax auditor, and accountant. Born in Victoria BC, Maggie has always been a devoted West Coaster. Except for the seven years she divided between Toronto and Edmonton and her twenty years in Australia. In Sydney she trained as a member of the CFU (Community Firefighting Unit). During this training, an interest in disaster scenarios was born.

An ardent reader from an early age, Maggie didn’t start writing fiction (short stories) until 2002. One of her poems and some of her award-winning short stories have been published in Australia, the US, and Canada. From 2012 to 2014 she led the Young Writers’ Club of North Vancouver. In 2006, she switched to writing novels. In 2014 her debut novel, Lockdown, was released by Great Plains Publications. You can find out more about Maggie at

Unholy Rites coverKAY STEWART writes a police procedural series featuring RCMP Constable (now Corporal) Danutia Dranchuk, often in collaboration with her husband Chris Bullock: A Deadly Little List, Sitting Lady Sutra, and Unholy Rites. All are available as audio books, and the last two in ebook as well as print format.  Kay has also published short stories, personal essays, and writing textbooks. You can find out more about Kay at

If you’re curious to read about the writing process of other writers all over Canada, try a Google search for “writing process blog tour” or “writing process blog hop”. You’ll find all sorts of fun posts, and maybe discover some new writers to follow or books to read.

If you’ve got questions or thoughts about my writing process, feel free to leave a comment on this post!