Friday, November 20, 2015

Body Positivity Part 2: Interview with Kari-Lynn Winters

My last post was an interview with Nicole Winters regarding body positivity in her book THE JOCK AND THE FAT CHICK. Nicole put me in touch with Kari-Lynn Winters (no relation), who has studied body image among youth extensively. Kari-Lynn is here today to do a follow-up interview, answering many of the same questions given to Nicole.

First, a note from Kari-Lynn:

I implemented and took part in a SSHRC-funded research project about the arts and body image. It involved producing a play and drama-based workshops for children (grades 4-7) that toured to 8 schools in the Niagara region (780 students). Data were collected with videos, photos, interviews, focus groups, etc. This is what I will base my answers on.

How do we teach kids that fat shaming is just as terrible as other types of shaming?

Shaming in any form can have devastating effects—lowering self confidence, destroying friendships, as well as contributing to isolation, depression, anxiety, and (in some cases) suicides.

I would like to broaden this topic from fat shaming to body shaming. 

Body shaming (e.g., fat shaming, lanky shaming) has been a part of life for a long time. However, from my literacy and arts research and from other research studies, it has become clear to me that body shaming is very prevalent in today’s youth cultures. Even young children (grade 4), were hyper aware of their bodies and how they fit in with their peers. 93% of the children we worked with/interviewed (N=780) had some issue/s with their bodies. Some of the more common concerns children raised included: arm hair, sweating, weight, height, skin colour, scars, wearing glasses or braces, and complexions. Indeed much of their concerns stemmed from peer pressures and their feelings of “otherness”. Additionally, some of their fears came directly from the media. For example, it was surprising to hear 8-year-olds talking about thigh gaps. Regardless of the type of shaming, the children found themselves humiliated, ugly, and unappreciated. Often they spoke about wanting to hide or to get away. Indeed, like any kind of shaming, body shaming has profound negative affects on a person’s physical and psychological health. 

How do we teach kids to love the bodies that they’re in, even if they are fat, in spite of being fat, while striving to be healthy?

Instead of focusing on the negative affects of an unhealthy weight, it might be helpful to think about possibilities and perseverance. This youtube video constantly reminds me of the strength of humans:

In some cases people can transform themselves through proper nutrition and exercise. But more importantly, humans have incredible opportunities to re-story their identities. This means that rather than changing their bodies, why not encourage children to change their mindsets and begin to refute media messages. With the children I have worked with, I try to focus on difference and ability rather than “sameness” and shaming. For example, Howard Schatz’s photo of Olympic athletes 

demonstrates a diversity of bodies. I show this picture to children, and highlight different contexts. I might ask, “If you wanted to be a gymnast, what challenges would you face if you had a basketball player's body?” “Or oppositely, what opportunities might you be granted because of that body shape?” When you re-story an attitude about the body, you not only see another perspective, but you also re-shape your own identity. 

How can we change the mindset of passively fat shaming (ie doing things like commenting ‘oh you’d be beautiful if you’d lost a few pounds,” “you have such a pretty face,” and those “helpful” people that try to suggest that everything could be easily fixed through proper diet and exercise)?

Encourage youth to stand up for themselves and for others by refuting comments with different perspectives.
For example, if someone says, “You can’t fit into those boots because your calves are too big.” Encourage the victim to respond with a new point of view. “I like my strong legs. I earned these muscles from sprinting up stairs.” Youth can practice acting out scenarios like these with their friends.

People will always position others, just as they always have. The secret is to be prepared to re-position yourself within a context, changing the point of view and by the challenging stereotypical attitudes. 

Have you ever changed your opinion (from hate to love) on a physical feature of yours? (An example: When I realized my daughter had the same hair as me, it became an object of sentiment, rather than an object of annoyance.)

Yes. I used to hate my big teeth. I felt like they were too big for my mouth when I was a kid. Now though, I love my wide, grinny smile…it is one of my signature expressions. People comment on it often. 

How do you feel personal mindset affects the average North American teenager? Is this something that should be included in the public school system curriculum and/or taught at home?

Yes. Personal mindsets can and need to be observed and discussed in schooled settings (because that is where many mindsets are shaped).
One project that I did was to encourage students to pretend to be expert mannequin designers and to design the perfect body.

Then these perfect bodies could be critically discussed, including students’ values about bodies, why mannequins are often designed in certain ways and how these designs sell products for corporations, and eventually, how to change mindsets about body image.

Additional discussions can be encouraged at home.

If a child displays their guardian's ideas and judgments on body positivism, how, then, do we educate the adults of America to create a safe place for their kids to be themselves in the midst of social pressure to fit into specific body sizes/shapes?

This is why we need children’s literature (such as Nicole Winters’ book) on sensitive topics—places where youth can retreat, reform ideas, and build knowledge about different mindsets. I am grateful to these brave authors, creators, and publishers who take on these projects. 


Many thanks to Kari-Lynn for participating and adding so much useful information to the discussion! I really appreciate her perspective, and I'm glad to hear about the great work she's doing with kids.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Body Positivity: Interview with Nicole Winters

Today I am very excited to bring you all an interview with Nicole Winters. Nicole's book THE JOCK AND THE FAT CHICK came out October 13th. She's here today to talk about body positivity, both in her book and in her own experiences. I've invited several readers to ask her questions on the topic, and you'll find those questions and Nicole's answers below. She has also asked Kari-Lynn Winters, an expert on body positivity, to join us for a part 2 of this series. I'll be posting Kari-Lynn's responses sometime next week.

First, here's a bit about the book:

No one ever said high school was easy. In this hilarious and heartwarming debut, one high school senior has to ask himself how much he's willing to give up in order to fit in.

Kevin seems to have it all: he's popular, good looking, and on his way to scoring a college hockey scholarship. However, he's keeping two big secrets. The first is that he failed an assignment and is now forced to take the most embarrassing course ever--domestic tech. The second is that he is falling for his domestic tech classmate, Claire.

As far as Kevin is concerned, Claire does have it all: she's funny, smart, beautiful, and confident. But she's off-limits. Because Kevin knows what happens when someone in his group dares to date a girl who isn't a cheerleader, and there's no way he is going to put himself—or Claire—through that.

But steering clear of the girl of his dreams is a lot harder than Kevin thought…especially when a cooking project they are paired together for provides the perfect opportunity for things to heat up between them outside the classroom….

And now on to the interview!

1. Have you ever changed your opinion (from hate to love) on a physical feature of yours? (An example: When I realized my daughter had the same hair as me, it became an object of sentiment, rather than an object of annoyance.)

I noticed my first grey hair when I was sixteen and was teased. In my twenties, I’d be centered out at parties where people would stare, looking at my greys as if I represented doomsday (turning 30) which was soon coming for them. Then I decided to wear my hair in a pixie style and dyed it a lot (raven black, burgundy, ice blond, etc.) but didn’t like the grey regrowth or all those chemicals, so I grew it out. During those two long years, women would stop me on the street or when I was riding the subway, to pay me a compliment on its colour, surprising me, making me think they must be crazy. Now I’m pretty much 95% grey, no, silver is how I've come to see it and because it’s the latest fad to have silver hair, young people on the street now ask me where I get mine done. Now, I love it, it's what makes me me, and wouldn’t dye it for all the world.

2. Is Claire actually fat (overweight or obese), and if not, why not? If she is actually fat, how did you decide to go that direction? 

Here’s how the story originated: a friend of mine said growing up, whenever his mom cooked, dinners consisted of two steps, a can opener and a microwave. That hit me pretty viscerally. Days later, I thought, what if I had a character who was an athlete and his mom cooked meals like that? What if he thought that he could do better, but in reality he did much worse? I know, I’ll have him eat nothing but energy bars, shakes and gels. So now I had a character who means well, but is misdirected. I knew I wanted to write about him, tell the journey from the male perspective. At the same time, I’d been reading books with plus size teen girls in them and they all seemed to be similar: depressed, bullied, or abused. It left me feeling down and got me thinking, how can I put my food challenged hero (Kevin), and a non-depressed/bullied/abused/ plus sized character (Claire), together? The story just unfolded from there.

When I was researching Claire’s character, watching cooking shows — she's a budding chef — and also imagining her physical appearance, I looked at a lot of photographs online, including many “real women” campaigns and plus size fashion sites. I would love to say, or show you who inspired me, but I won’t. I don’t know her personally; I want to respect her privacy.

3. Did you do a lot of research on body positivity, eating disorders, fat acceptance, etc. for the book, and if so, where did you look? What did you learn that surprised you?

I visited tons of websites, so many that I kept a spreadsheet over the years with links so I could reread them. For articles, I drew from YA diversity sites, romance readers/writers sites as well as individual bloggers, book reviewers, chatting with friends, and watching people on YouTube. This is just a drop in the bucket:

No One In Romance Novels Is Ever Fat by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby
I’m also a fan of Virgie Tovar:

I learned my instinct was right; just like Hollywood, there appears to be repetition when creating plus sized characters: depressed/bullied/abused/the clown/the comedian/the best friend, etc.  What surprised me the most was the vile cesspool of hate on YouTube.

4. How do we teach kids that fat shaming is just as terrible as other types of shaming?
5. How do we teach kids to love the bodies that they’re in, even if they are fat, in spite of being fat, while striving to be healthy?
6. How can we change the mindset of passively fat shaming (ie doing things like commenting ‘oh you’d be beautiful if you’d lost a few pounds,” “you have such a pretty face,” and those “helpful” people that try to suggest that everything could be easily fixed through proper diet and exercise)?

Other than to say, show by example, I’m not a parent, teacher or an expert in the field. So while I did enough research to tell Kevin and Claire’s story, I lack hands-on experience to answer these questions with any authority. However, my friend and fellow author, Kari-Lynn Winters, (no relation) who has a PhD in Education, just presented a fascinating research paper on media and body image and its effects on students. She gathered stories from people about body image and turned them into a play that her university students presented for young kids. This was followed-up with hands-on workshops with kids in classrooms and the results were fascinating.

Kari-Lynn Winters will be joining us for Part 2 of this series. She will be answering these questions and sharing her expertise with us.

7. Do you feel a personal connection to this story: If so, what is your experience with that social teen dynamic?

Mentally, Kevin represents who I was in high school, not an athletic teenage boy, but an awkward introvert who hung out with a social crowd. I distinctly remember alpha-members making snide, cruel remarks about other students (plus size or not). Half the group would jump in with comebacks and the other half, myself included, would exchange silent looks, knowing what was said was mean, but also lacking the courage to stand up and say something for fear of backlash. What an awful insecure, shame-filled, terrible feeling. I’m certainly not like that person now. If I hear something cruel, I'll speak up.

Mentally, Claire represents who I am today. I was a lanky, gawky, awkward, insecure, braces-wearing, flat as a board teen, and now, the older I get and the more curves, scars, freckles, laugh lines, and grey hair I amass, the more I like it. It represents a life well lived. It’s like, here I am world, and if you don’t like it, f*** off. Too bad I wasn't more like that in high school.

8. How do you feel personal mindset affects the average American teenager? Is this something that should be included in the public school system curriculum and/or taught at home?

I think Hollywood, corporations, books, music, fashion, etc., play a massive part in shaping the mindsets of teenagers. It’s a constant barrage of messages that try to tell young people what to think, act and feel. Corporations send them the message that they won’t be cool unless they use a particular product or wear particular piece of clothing (sold in certain stores with limited sizes), or look a certain way. And Hollywood? Where do I start? I often wonder what would have happened in the romantic teen comedy SHE’S ALL THAT if the geeky “unattractive” artist Laney remained who she was and didn’t get the cliché makeover and it was Zach who had to change, and it ended with them as a couple, but Laney was exactly how she appeared in Act I.

There are also teachers (e.g., social studies) who touch upon this topic, using “truth in advertising” as a start, and I’m all for more education on loving and accepting ourselves and other people both at home and in school. There’s a great website that addresses this issue. More awareness, open dialogue is a great start. I also think there should be more books with diverse characters that include people with various backgrounds, cultures, body types, disabilities and more. Check out and

9. If a child displays their guardian's ideas and judgments on body positivism, how, then, do we educate the adults of America to create a safe place for their kids to be themselves in the midst of social pressure to fit into specific body sizes/shapes?

I’m a writer who grew tired of seeing a certain stereotype and had the opportunity to do something about it. I understand my characters, Kevin and Claire, and how they feel; I also know that any story is only a partial reflection of reality and we all need to work together to make the real world a better place for everyone.


Thank you so much, Nicole, for joining us today! I really appreciate your answers to these questions; it's clear that you've spent a lot of time thinking about the issues involved. I'm looking forward to reading THE JOCK AND THE FAT CHICK!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Rolling the Sleep Dice

One night two years ago or so, when our older son was a baby, my husband was so sleep deprived he tried to stop the baby crying in the middle of the night by turning off his alarm clock.

It didn't work.

Trying to get a good night's sleep with a baby is like rolling two dice and hoping for double sixes. There's always something, and usually multiple somethings, that make a long stretch of sleep highly unlikely. Things such as:


Stomach Pain/Gas



Sleep Regression

Or you get lucky and:


Here's a sampling of how a new parent's nights might go during the first few months.

The first couple weeks:

Parents: Ok... we can do this. And once we don't have to wake the baby up to eat I'm sure we'll get a little more sleep. Just have to hold on for a few weeks.

Nature: *snickers*

Parents: ... Did you hear something?

The next couple weeks:


Nature: Isn't it obvious? There's gas coming out of your crying child every five minutes.

Parents: But why????? *frantic internet search* Oooooh. Ok, no more eggs for Mommy while this child is breastfeeding.

Parents: Still with the gas???

Nature: This is fun. Brb, making popcorn.

Parent: Alright fine, Mommy will cut out broccoli too.

Parents: Ok, ok! No more chocolate or caffeine either. Are you happy now?

Nature: Eh... getting there.

Parents: Finally, no more gas. But why is the baby eating nonstop? I thought the growth spurt was supposed to be over by now. And what's with all the spitting up and hiccups?

Nature: That would be called reflux.

Parents: Yeah, this reflux thing is not cool. *more internet searching* It says here to elevate the crib mattress on one side. Guess we'll try that?

Nature: Good luck...

Parents: How on earth did the baby get turned around 180 degrees? We're trying to elevate the head here, not the feet! Maybe it's time to give baby some medicine.

Parents: Ha! See? No reflux. Medicine for the win!

Nature: Yes, but the whole family looks like death. Do you even know whose snot that is on your sleeve?

Parents: Doesn't matter. This cold will pass, and then, finally, all will be well.

Parents: Oh, come on! What now?

Nature: Did I forget to mention? That reflux medicine comes with a killer stomach ache. Enjoy being up several times an hour.

Parents: Ok, no medicine! We surrender! Anything is better than this.

Nature: Wanna bet?

Parents: *silent weeping*

Nature: Congratulations! You get GERD. From now on, your dice are set to roll only 3s.

A few months in:

Parents: *eliminate dairy from Mommy's diet*

Parents: *give in and bring the baby into the bed all night*

Parents: *buy every reflux product in sight*

Parents: *Mommy is now subsisting on rice and lentils*

And then one night...

Parents: ...

Parents: Well, it isn't reflux for a change.

Parents: ...

Parents: But what is it?

Parents: ...

Parents: And why won't it stop?

Nature: Isn't sleep regression fun? And you got the video monitor, so you can watch every time the baby rolls into an uncomfortable position, sealing your sleepless doom.

Parents: ...

Parents: Alright, we've been awake for four hours straight. Who's up for chocolate coffee ice cream?

This time around I haven't yet gotten to the chocolate coffee ice cream stage. I'm hovering somewhere between "spending all our money" and "living off nonperishable food." I'm convinced that reflux is Nature's way of enforcing a strong mother-baby bond. I didn't really think I needed that kind of help, but hey, when you're looking for a bright side, that's a pretty good bright side to embrace.

All that to say that posting may be a bit erratic for a few months while we ride out the storm of sleeplessness. Have a great Autumn!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Pitch Practice: Character, Goal and Hook

Today I'm going to get a bit technical and talk about query pitches. This post is mainly targeting writers, but hopefully it'll offer a little insight into the process for others too.

So while I was in the hospital having a baby, I was featured on Amy Trueblood's Quite the Query. Head over there to see my pitch for The Never Silent, then hurry right back. I'll wait.


Back? Ok.

I'm really satisfied with this pitch. I signed with my agent, Marlene Stringer, for this book, so I absolutely consider it a success.

But what is it about this query that works?

I've been thinking about the answer to that question ever since a conversation I had with my critique partner about querying. The thing is, I'm one of those horrible people who actually enjoys writing a query pitch. I know, you hate me for that. But I think it's a fun exercise.

So I've spent some time analyzing my pitch-crafting method, and I've come up with something of a formula* that I frequently use. It has three parts: Character, Goal and Hook

Today I'm going to go through those three parts with a pitch for a story I'm making up out of the blue.**


Let's start with a girl. A teen, since I write YA. Let's call her Ellie. Right now we don't know anything about her, and we need to if we're going to get anyone interested in her. We need a reason for Ellie to be the main character, a reason why she is the only person who makes sense as the main character of our story. We don't just want a placeholder that any teen girl could stand in. So let's show how Ellie distinguishes herself from other girls.

Ellie sees memories when she walks into an empty room. They are silent, like 3D soap operas on mute. The more dramatic memories are brighter, the rest dim or faded to nothing.

Okay. That's a start. Ellie has a unique and interesting trait. I would want to know more about her. Now let's give Ellie a goal.


Every character needs a goal. (Even secondary characters in your story should want something.) In fact, your main character should have a goal in every scene. As the ineffable Rosemary Clement-Moore once told my group at a writing workshop, even a simple goal like wanting to fetch a drink of water can add to a scene. Having a goal means that there are stakes. The future becomes uncertain. Will the character be thwarted, or will they succeed? What challenges will there be along the way? So let's find out Ellie's goal.

When Jen, the Queen Bee of Ellie's school, goes missing, Ellie is the only one who knows where to start looking. There's a new memory of Jen in the girls' locker room, and it's the brightest one Ellie has ever seen. Finding Jen becomes an obsession.

Alright, great! We have a goal. It pairs well with the character, and everyone loves a good mystery. Now for the Hook.


So how is the hook different from the goal? Isn't the search for Jen enough of a hook? Why do we need more?

Well, yes, the goal should be enticing, but it's not necessarily a hook on its own. A good hook will add a new layer to the pitch that takes us from ho-hum plot summary to burning need to know what happens. It should work within the context of the Character and Goal but add a new dimension.

In my pitch for The Never Silent, the hook isn't that Henry is looking for a killer. Looking for the killer is his goal. The hook is that Henry, a con artist, now has to embark on the greatest con of his life in order to accomplish his goal. See how the hook plays in with both the Character and Goal there?

The hook should interact with the other elements. It's a twist on what we've already established. So let's add a twist to Ellie's pitch.

The more secrets Ellie uncovers about Jen, the more important the locker room memory becomes. But this memory is different from all the others.

This memory keeps changing.

And there we have it! A compelling twist that brings up a lot of good questions.

Now maybe there's more to add to the pitch. Perhaps there's somebody in the memory with Jen. Maybe it's somebody Ellie doesn't recognize. Or maybe Ellie does. Maybe it's her best friend.

That would be an interesting twist. But as it is, we have a great start here with our Character, Goal and Hook.

Exercise to try at home: Make up a Character-Goal-Hook pitch for a story you've never written, and post your pitch in the comments!

*There are a lot of ways to write a pitch. I am NOT trying to sell this one as the only definitive method. If you have a pitch that works for you and for your story, go with it.

**At present I have no intention of writing this story, but I reserve the right to do so in the future. If I ever come up with a plot...

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

One Eventful Night

So I've been gone awhile, but in case you haven't heard, it was for a very good reason: my family has grown by one member! He was born almost a month ago, but it's taken me until now to write about it. Today is actually my first day home alone with the boys, and so far it's going very well, though it does help that the big boy is out playing for a few hours.

Here's some of the story of the baby's birth:

For one thing, he took a lot more time about it than his brother did. Number one was out within five hours. Number two took somewhere around sixteen. It was a tougher birth all around--it was slower, I was far more tired by the end, and I had a bit of back labor wearing me out. On the bright side, even though I was induced, I never had to be given Pitocin, which I had been hoping to avoid.

If I learned anything from the experience it was this: that birth can happen so differently from one baby to the next, and making judgments about a woman's choices during labor is really quite thick-headed. I admit I used to have a bit of pride about the fact that I got through my first delivery unmedicated. Now, after the second, I have a whole new appreciation for epidurals.

In the end it was a really good thing that I got one this time. Almost as soon as it kicked in, I started feeling like delivery was eminent. Unfortunately the doctor was not at the hospital at the time. Now normally it would have taken her between ten and twenty minutes to get to me, but it just so happened that my baby decided he wanted to come at precisely the same time that there was a major accident on the highway in the middle of the night. So instead of twenty minutes I kept hearing "It'll be about another ten minutes..." In the end I waited nearly an hour before the doctor arrived (and then only because of a police escort), and that entire time I was resisting what nature was telling me very strongly to do. If I hadn't been so sleep deprived, I might have said, "Forget it, I'm pushing." As it was, all I could think to do was follow directions. And let me tell you, if it weren't for the epidural I would not have made it through that experience.

That night was eventful for another reason too: there was a meteor shower happening right as my baby was born. A lot of people were outside looking up at the sky, but I like to pretend they were all awake to celebrate a new little boy coming into the world. Although, now that I think about it, maybe that accident on the highway was caused by someone looking up at the sky instead of paying attention to the road. Hm...

Well, regardless, it was quite the night. My little boy has so many things ahead of him to learn, but one thing is certain--he already knows how to make an entrance.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Books with Hooks: The "How Will It Happen?" Hook

What pulls you into a book and keeps you riveted?

That thing, whatever it is, is a hook. It grabs you in the gut and won't let you go until you've finished reading.

One of the most common hooks is the "What will happen?" hook. It's the hook that mystery novels most frequently rely on. The "Who done it?" In other cases it's the plot that completely blows your mind because you didn't see it coming or the premise that twists reality and takes you on a speculative journey. You're glued to the pages because you're desperate to find out where the story is going.

The "What will happen?" hook can be very effective, but books don't have to have a mystery in order to have a good hook. Sometimes the reader can know from the start where the story is going but still be completely drawn in by the process of the plot. In this case the hook isn't "What will happen?" but "How will it happen?"

A superhero's origin story follows this pattern. We know she'll eventually become the superhuman fighter who saves the day. We know who the arch-villain will be. But we want to see how it happens.

Romance is also very commonly a "How will it happen?" story. We know the two leads will get together in the end. The draw of the book is not to see whether it happens but how they get there.

It was a romance that got me thinking about this second kind of hook. My agency mate Caitlyn McFarland published her first book, Soul of Smoke, this past Monday. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday reading it. (If it weren't for a great deal of self control I'd have finished it very late Tuesday night.)

The story is about a college age girl who comes across an injured dragon in human form while hiking in the Rockies. She gets swept away into the dragon's world of war and politics and magic, and in the process one of the dragons becomes magically bound to her. In order to save the world, she must choose to become bound to him in return.

There really is no question whether the human and the dragon will get together in the end. The story is a romance, and that's how a romance works. Besides, the consequences if they fail to do so are too disastrous to contemplate.

So how did this book keep me so captivated if I already knew what the outcome would be? It's because Caitlyn McFarland does a really masterful job with the "How will it happen?" hook. She puts a lot of things in the way of these two characters: personal demons, insecurities, suspicions, etc. And then she makes them work through all these stumbling blocks in interesting, compelling ways.

This is how the "How will it happen?" hook should work. And for Soul of Smoke it does work very well. I'm still enjoying the memory of my journey through the book, and I'm looking forward to the sequels.

What are some of your favorite "How will it happen?" books?

Coming to the End

I used to tell myself that the last thing I wanted was to spend the final weeks of pregnancy in the middle of summer. I basically loathe summer to begin with, and carrying around a space heater at the same time isn't really my idea of comfort. So how did I do?

Well, I've got one kid with a July birthday, and number two is set to come sometime in the next few weeks.

In other words: fail.

Somehow I also picked one of the worst summers to be pregnant too. I'm about ready to pack up and move to Siberia at this point.

Which basically means that I'm eager to have this baby as soon as he can come out. Today would be great, in fact. I mean, for one thing, he'd share a birthday with Harry Potter. And for another, I'd get to add a second pretty red birthstone to my family ring, which looks a bit like a flower. A second bud would look lovely, though I suppose a third leaf will look good too.

But babies come in their own time. My older son had to be evicted just shy of 41 weeks. I could see the same thing happening again.

And in a way that would be good. I had a really quick labor and delivery last time. I'm kind of nervous about getting to the hospital on time if I go naturally.

But on the other hand, oh, the waiting!

They tell you to be ready at any time. It could happen any day now.

Only it probably won't actually happen today, so get on with your life.

But be prepared. Have your bag packed. Make sure you've made arrangements for your kid. Know all the numbers you'll need to call. Have instructions printed out for the grandparents. Have the clothes all washed and ready and the car seat installed.

But don't get too anxious. It'll happen when it happens. So go ahead and pull the kindle back out of your packed bag if you like. Just hope you remember to repack it.

Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!

Wait... Wait... Wait...

It's all driving me a bit mad. This is how it goes though. Just one of many things we put up with for love of our children.

Anyway, if I don't post again for a while it's either because I'm hurrying to finish up all my work before the little one comes (which is also why I haven't posted in weeks) or because he is finally here. If I do post again, send me sympathy because clearly I am still in pregnancy limbo.

Wish me luck!

Friday, July 3, 2015


Who remembers Homestar Runner? I'm probably dating myself and/or categorizing myself as a particular sort of geek with that reference. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, Homestar Runner was one of the few entertaining sites on the internet a decade ago. (Along with the singing horses. Were those ever good times.) The highlight of Homestar Runner was, of course, the email, and to this day I can't think of the word email without hearing Homestar say it. Go on. Click over to the site and hover over the email button.

Now you know what I'm hearing every time I see that word.

I have seven email addresses. Se. Ven. That's insane, right? What could possibly have possessed me to sign up for so many accounts? Well, let's see. There's...

1. The junk mail. My very first email account. My one and only hotmail. Ah, the days when hotmail was still hot. Now I use it to sign up for things that require an email address when really, they can have no good reason for emailing me ever. Also, for some incongruous reason, that's where I get the newsletter. Which is about the only reason I ever check that account.

2. The NOT junk sign-up account. For those few retailers I actually want to hear from. And also the library.

3. The "friends and family" account. You know, from back before I realized that having a cutesy email address was unprofessional.

4. The more professional account. Ie, the one I actually use regularly.

5. The joint account. Which I share with my husband for when we both need access.

6. The "for some reason I'm going to sign up for all writing-related promotions and social media with a whole NEW account" account. Yeah, this is probably where I started going off the deep end.

And finally...

7. The account that came with my website. Which will one day be my "this is where my legions of adoring fans can reach me" account. One day... And also that's where I send out my newsletter.

So I may be crazy, but there it is.

The really crazy part though, is that I do not like email. (Unless you are my lovely agent, in which case I always love getting email from you.) So why do I burden myself with so much of it?

Well, the thing is, I didn't always feel that way. I remember the days when email was a new and wonderful thing, and it meant that instead of waiting two weeks for my letter to arrive at its destination, a response to be written, and said response to arrive back, I had to wait only as long as it took my long-distance friends to compose a new email. For a girl whose social life revolved around friendships made at summer camps, that was a big deal.

But then things changed. Email became a place of bills, of advertising, of bombardment by things that maybe only mattered a little. I know a LOT of people who only check their email once a week or so now, and I can't say I blame them. (Except really, who are you people? I always have to know when I get new email.) The very convenience of email is precisely what makes it such a nuisance, especially now that the personal side of communication has moved to texting and social media.

So how do we manage it? How do we make email more effective?

1. Stop sending so much of it! If there is *any* other way to communicate, use it.

2. If you're typing more than a paragraph, reconsider. I have a former team leader who will be absolutely shocked that I'm saying this seeing as I used to send him entire essays over email, complete with complex questions. (His replies were usually a one word "Yes" or "No," and I had to figure out which of the many questions he was answering.) Should I really have spent so much time on an email? No way! If you have that much to say, say it in person. Or, if you have to say it to a lot of different people, print it out and mail it. The process of having to do that will tell you one way or the other whether the information was actually important enough to disperse.

3. Clean up what you do send. I saw an article today about eliminating the word "just" from emails. It was a good reminder. Be clean and direct. Don't hedge. Get to the point. And make the header of the email relevant. I've even seen recommendations that one put ALL relevant information in the header line if possible.

4. Don't expect a reply. If you really need a reply, ask in person. If there's simply no other way to ask aside from email, then make sure the question is clear and up front and not nestled in a bunch of other text.

Maybe one day we will live in a world where email will not be such a nuisance. In the meantime, how do you use email?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Cats, Kids and Passion

Ladies and gentlemen, I feel accomplished! Today I successfully took both the cat AND the toddler to the vet and made it home again without my hair standing on end from stress. This is all the more worthy of note seeing as the cat, who needed to be there, most certainly did not want to be, and the boy, who did not need to be there for any reason beyond not being able to stay home alone, was very much interested in getting into everything. Plus, I think I should get bonus points for doing this while seven months pregnant.

I'm definitely getting to the point at which leaving the house requires having a very good reason. It's hot, and I'm carrying around a space heater in my belly. If the toddler breaks away and dashes off, I will look like a penguin scuttling across ice if I try to run after him. In order to get me out of the house, one of three things has to happen:

1. An appointment I really shouldn't miss. I admit it was rather tempting not to worry about getting the cat her shots, but then, this is the most high maintenance cat ever, and if I didn't then something catastrophic would be bound to happen. (Seriously, this cat does not seem to understand that part of being a cat is being easy to manage. She's allergic to poultry, and recently had enough issue with the non-poultry food we were giving her that we were on the verge of having to go home made!)

2. We've played with all the toys, read all the books, have nobody available for a play date, and I can't justify letting the boy watch yet another half hour of Jonathan Bird's Blue World. And even then, sometimes it's easier just to let him throw the dirt in the potted plants onto the floor than bother to leave the house.

3. There's something I'm actually passionate about doing. But let me tell you, the threshold is pretty high. I love going swimming, for example--it's so amazing to feel weightless at this particular stage of pregnancy. And yet the hassle of putting on the swim diaper and the bathing suits and the sunscreen and packing the bag and driving to the pool and making sure the boy doesn't swallow too much pool water and getting showered and dressed in a humid changing room with a boy who doesn't realize the floor is disgustingly dirty and then getting into the hot car and undoing all the feeling of refreshment granted by the pool is really a bit too much to handle sometimes.

It's crazy how many worthwhile things in life require actually having passion before we're willing to do them.

Back in college I joined a group of aspiring game developers. We called ourselves GeeQ, and each of us, over time, earned nicknames. One day I brought a bottle of Passion Fruit drink to the group, and when I finished it a friend of mine asked "So are you full of... passion now?" (Cue eyebrow wiggle.) And from then on I was Passion GeeQ.

A while later my then boyfriend (now husband) and I went on a trip to Haiti to help with some medical work there. We had a lot to do and needed to stay focused, so the team made it clear this was not a romantic getaway. One night toward the end of the trip we were asked to talk about our experience there. The first thing out of my mouth was, "The theme for us this trip has been passion." Of course, I meant it as passion for what we were doing and compassion for the people who came to the clinic, but everyone else chose a rather different interpretation of my words.

So "passion" has been following me around for a good while now.

Lately it's come back again. At the beginning of the year I gave myself two major writing goals to complete before the new baby comes: to write the first draft of a new book and to finish a polished draft of another. I've done both, and with some time to spare.

I didn't count on having yet another book idea spring up on me and beg to be written.

It doesn't make sense to start a whole new book right now. I'm two months from my due date. What with all the appointments and general weariness that come with pregnancy, chances are not good that I would be able to finish this book before baby.

And yet, I feel so passionate about the idea. I simply can't stop myself from writing it.

That's how it is with passion--even if the thing we're doing doesn't make sense, we feel compelled to do it.

So I am. I've started writing. I don't know what will happen or when the book will be done, but I'm going for it.

What are you passionate about?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Research Book Recommendations: Poor Economics and The Bottom Billion

I don't know how I would write without having research materials right at my fingertips.

Actually, no, I take that back. I remember when I used to write without doing research. I remember how awful, how terrible, how truly dreadful those early manuscripts used to be. They were like playing pin the tail on the donkey--I had a vague idea that there was a donkey somewhere ahead, but I had no idea where or how to reach it. So I made things up and pretended that what I made up was a fair substitute for how reality actually worked.


Well, I know better now, though it is still so very difficult to get all the details right.

How do you know when you've done enough research? Someone told me once that you know you're finished when the information you're discovering is all something you've seen before in another context.

Of course, if that's true, there are some topics that would take years to research properly. Sometimes we don't have that much time.

I think I've stumbled upon one of those topics myself lately. I've been interested in the idea of a story set in a very poor environment. But what does that level of poverty actually look like in the day-to-day? I honestly had no idea.

So I've started doing some research, and I began with two books that have each turned out to be quite a revelation.

The first:

Poor Economics

The intent of this book is to explore what sorts of aid (if any) are actually helpful to the poorest populations. What do they need? Food? Chlorinated water? Bed nets? Will they actually use these things? Should the items be free or subsidized or what?

Some great questions, and I learned a lot about what works and what doesn't. So as a side note, if you give regularly to charity, you might consider reading this book to get a better idea of where best to send your money. The book doesn't come right out and list particular charities it recommends, but it does give some insight that you might use to come to your own conclusions.

Where Poor Economics really excels is in detailing how the poor make decisions and why they do things that might seem (to us) to be illogical. After finishing this book I feel so much more aware of how daily life actually works for those who live in extreme poverty.

The second:

The Bottom Billion

This book takes much more of a top-down approach. The major questions asked are: 1) What traps are keeping poor nations poor? and 2) What can we do to help them?

So far I've read only the first part of the book, which attempts to answer question 1 (and which is certainly the more relevant to my research). Whereas Poor Economics gives a good look at the perspective of the individual, The Bottom Billion has a lot of great information on a larger scale. For example, why is it that having one major rich resource can be detrimental for a poor nation? I would have found that idea completely mind-boggling until seeing the data laid out in this book.

So this too is good information for me, because it helps me to think about the setting of the story. (It helps that a lot of the details also fit very well with ideas I already had!)

Together these two books have gone a long way to getting me started on this research path. I probably still have a ways to go, but now at least the framework is laid out for me and I can see more clearly the areas where I might need more information.

So, if any of you similarly find yourselves in a place where you need to do research on poverty, these are an excellent place to start!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Fair Chocolate

I love chocolate. I think about it all the time. (No really. All through lunch all I can think about is the chocolate square I'm going to have for dessert.) I talk about it. I bake with it. And, of course, I eat it.

There is really nothing like good chocolate. So rich. So smooth. So delicious.

It's easy to forget that chocolate is a luxury.

After all, it's everywhere. Just this morning I was at the grocery store picking up food for the week, and I noticed a display with cheap chocolate candy on sale. It's so easy to find. Days that I don't have some kind of chocolate in my house are rare.

But for a lot of people, chocolate is far from common. It may not even be something they've tasted before. And you know who doesn't typically get to eat chocolate?

The people who harvest cocoa.

In fact, the chocolate industry is one (of several, unfortunately) that frequently relies on child and slave labor. Cocoa farming practices aren't often monitored, and workers' rights are usually neglected.

In other words, my chocolate habit has reinforced slavery.

That revelation isn't something I should just say "*gulp* Oops!" to and move on. It makes me angry! I want to do something about it.

The good news is that I can. By choosing what I buy, I can support fair practices around the world. How? Here are two great resources:

Free2Work grades companies based on their policies, transparency, monitoring and worker rights. You can see at a glance which companies score high, and which score abysmally low. It's eye-opening to skim through the chocolate companies and see just how few have good scores.

Fair Trade is a certification that tells you with a simple label that the goods are produced using fair, sustainable practices. More on what Fair Trade means here.

If I'm really serious about caring for the global community, I need to make some changes with how I buy chocolate. It's a luxury. If I can't afford the more expensive fair trade, then I don't need to buy it. When I do buy it, I need to be conscious of which companies I support.

This will be a challenge for me. As I said above, chocolate is everywhere. I need to be mindful of where my money goes. But this is a step that is important to me to take.

Today chocolate. Tomorrow... one of the many other industries listed at Free2Work. It'll be a process, and it might be hard at times, but these are choices I can live with.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Turtles, Possums and a Call for Readers

We've had a good long run of health here in our household these past few months, but we knew it would inevitably come to an end. Sure enough, the boy is down with a fever and stuffy nose this week. Fortunately (and fingers crossed that it stays this way), the germs haven't brought down either my husband or me. (Lack of sleep, on the other hand, just might.)

So yesterday the boy and I spent the majority of the day watching Disney movies. He particularly likes Cars, and I certainly don't mind watching with him. But eventually, enough is enough. Seeing as I couldn't bear to spend another day lounging on the couch, particularly when the weather is as lovely as I could ask for (and might not be this beautiful again until fall) I decided we ought to go out for a stroll in one of our local parks.

You would think this would be a great idea...

And as it turned out, it was! The walk in the park was wonderful, and it is not at all the point of this story. The point is what happened on the way there.

As I was driving down the curvy road to the park I noticed a turtle ahead of me in the middle of my lane. I did the only thing I could think of: I stopped, got out and helped the little fellow several feet into the grass. Hopefully he had the good sense to stay there.

Not my turtle. I was too worried about blocking traffic to pause for photos.

The experience was not what I would have expected. First of all, once the turtle noticed my presence, he was quite eager to move himself along under his own power. And he wasn't as slow about it as I would have thought, either. He bustled--as much as a turtle can bustle--to get himself away from me.

But after a moment I realized he was drifting a little too much in the wrong direction, and I attempted to steer him the other way by moving my hand into his path to discourage him. Apparently this was too much for the little guy. He stopped and pulled himself tightly into his shell.

So there I was with little other choice but to pick him up myself and carry him over to the grass. And suddenly I realized... I wasn't entirely sure I was comfortable doing so. What sort of turtle was he anyway? Would he bite my hand if I brought it too close? And how close was too close? Just how long was his neck exactly, and could he reach my fingers if they were on his back?

But despite my doubts, I mustered up the courage and picked him up, keeping my fingers as far back as I could while still maintaining a decent grip. He remained tightly in his shell, and a few seconds later he was safely in the grass.

There are two things I took away from this experience. First: the unfamiliar can be unexpectedly scary. I didn't know until I bent down to grab the turtle that I would feel a bit of trepidation in doing so. Even though I grew up in a very rural environment, there are a lot of nature-type things I've never done before, and first experiences with nature can be intimidating sometimes.

[Once when I was a very little girl, an opossum showed up at the sliding glass doors of my house. My mom and dad called me over to come see it, but I had no interest whatsoever. I didn't know what an opossum was! How did I know it wasn't going to eat me? For all I knew this could be some intelligent boogeyman creature that could break through glass and gobble me up.]

Books can be that way too--writing the unfamiliar can be scary. We can have a really exciting idea, but when we go to write it down, we suddenly realize we're a little bit nervous about writing what we don't know. What if it doesn't turn out the way we imagine? What if the end result is terrible and people laugh at us? What if we get it all wrong because we simply haven't had the right experiences?

That brings me to the second point: some things are really hard to get right if you've never experienced them yourself. If I had decided to write a story about a turtle rescue before this morning, I may have been able to write a relatively convincing scene, but I wouldn't have had the same details that I do now. I wouldn't know how quickly the turtle would try to escape or how I would feel about having to pick it up. Those are the sorts of details that add authenticity to a story.

So where am I going with this?

Well, I've been working on a book for a while now about magical worlds and the people responsible for keeping them nice and tidy and safe. (Spoiler: they don't always succeed.) I would very much like for one of the characters to be a bi-racial girl (with a white mother and a Kenyan-American father). I feel that a) girls like her need more representation in novels, and particularly in fantasy and b) her background could be a big asset to the story.

The problem for me, of course, is that I don't have the relevant experience. Because of that, I'm looking for a few expert readers--people who have the experiences I lack and can comment on aspects of the character's background that I wouldn't think of myself. So! If that sounds like you and you love to read and would be willing to help me make this character feel authentic, please contact me! You can reach me at audrey (at) alockwoodbooks (dot) com.

And if you don't have the background I need but still want to help, please share.

Many thanks to all of you!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

7 Ways to Know You've Been on the Internet Too Long

Most of us have a sneaking suspicion that we're just a little bit too hooked on our wi-fi connection. Maybe it was the glazed look we got when scrolling through our news feed or the fact that we tried to have a conversation and tweet at the same time, and now the wrong words are going in all the wrong places.

But we're no worse than anyone else, we tell ourselves. We all have a little addiction. We haven't spent that much time on the internet this week.

Or have we?

How would we even know? Here are some helpful tips for checking whether you've been online a little too much:

1. You know that any article that starts with "7 Ways to..." is obvious clickbait.

Maybe the first few people to post an "X Ways to..." article just happened to stumble on a really good thing. Or they were savvy geniuses with a head for marketing. But now everybody knows: if you want more clicks, put a number at the front.

And those of us on the reading end, we used to be naive. We used to think our interest in these articles was genuine, that the article ideas were brilliant. Now we know better. We've been inundated with lists, and now we're jaded.

Clickbait is real. And we're no longer impressed.

2. But you clicked on it anyway.

Still, you had to know: what were the 7 ways? It doesn't really matter what the article is about. It could be "10 things in your house you should get rid of immediately" or "9 books you've never read that everybody talks about" or even "18 things that will start itching if you think about them too long." The compulsion is there. You must click.

Do you know all 7 ways? Can you guys the 10 things? Do you have 9 more books you need to put on your to read list? And what about those 18 itchy things? You're itching already--is that spot on the list?

We have to know what we're missing. Until we do, we'll have no satisfaction.

3. Because random internet surfing is mildly more interesting than picking your nails.

Which is what you'd be doing otherwise. Never mind that there's probably somebody sitting three feet away from you who, in another world, you would be having a lovely conversation with right now. You'd rather be bored than try to strike up a conversation you don't particularly feel like having.

We could go on about the evils of disconnectedness and the devolution of society, but let's not. That's not really why you're here after all. In fact...

4. You haven't read any of the words in the article except the ones in bold.

Face it. You're just skimming this article to see what the main points are. Once you know none of them are actually important, you'll go back to your surfing, content that you haven't missed anything vital.

We all do it. You see an article called "5 habits to make you a happier person" and you just have to know what the main points are. But you don't have time for a full read. Maybe if you just check the highlights to be sure you're doing all 5 habits... And if there's one you're missing, then maybe you can read the blurb under it, just in case it's applicable.

But you probably won't. As long as you get the highlights, you're set. You'll be happier in no time.

5. And now you're reading the normal print just to prove that you can do more than skim an article.

A bulletin point on an article called you out? How dare it! You'll show that article. You'll read every word, AND you'll remember them all.

But wait...

6. You can't remember what numbers 1 through 3 were without scrolling up.

Has any of this made any impact at all? Are you really going to remember 7 things from an article you skimmed in passing?

Of course not! Most of us can't remember 7 digit phone numbers any more, much less the brief article we read this morning about... wait... what was it about again?

7. But that wasn't really the point anyway.

You're just killing time. And that article you're reading is just looking for hits.

It's a win-win for everyone.