cookie factory

Cookies!

The other night we temporarily transformed our apartment into a cookie factory and baked a ton of cookies for the holidays—chocolate chip, cinnamon chip and chocolate mint chip—while watching Chevy Chase succumb to holiday psychosis in Christmas Vacation.

Usually the first batch of cookies gets a bit burnt on the bottom because we haven't figured out precisely how long to leave them in for yet (our cookie factory typically only opens once a year!) but this time each and every cookie came out perfectly. In the end things also worked out for Chevy Chase as his boss learned the error of his ways and decided to give Clark (Chevy) the bonus necessary to put in his planned swimming pool.

However, sometimes the holidays really are a full-fledged disaster. The pressure to be joyful can make us just the opposite if our lives are the slightest bit less than perfect. Financial problems, work stresses, falling out with friends, undergoing a break-up, fighting with family, illness, suffering the loss of a loved one or having to spend the holiday alone—any of these things (and many more) can infuse us with sadness, anger and feelings of deep frustation or dissatisfaction.

And so, although I hope your holidays are happy I also hope that if that's not in the cards for you this year that you can find a way to ditch the happy holiday pressure. Sometimes doing things for people that have it worse can help and sometimes we might feel better skipping the holiday entirely or breaking with previous traditions and spending it with different people and/or doing different things than usual. I think it's important to remember that now isn't always and that if are having a tough time now that next week, next month or next year you could be on top of the world.

With that in mind I want to wish everybody out there all the best for 2011! One of the things I'm really looking forward to is, of course, reading some great new YA books early in the new year. Here are some with late December or January release dates that I'm especially looking forward to and either have on order or recently picked up:

Taking Off by Jenny Moss, Fall for Anything by  Courtney Summers, The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson, Throat by R.A. Nelson

Truthfully, I finished Fall for Anything last week and it is stunning. Like Courtney Summers' previously novels it's extremely intense but Fall for Anything is my favourite of her books so far. I just loved Eddie and my heart ached for her as she tried to make some sense of her father's suicide. The books I love the most are the ones that make me feel something deeply and this is one of those books—a painful, truthful exercise in empathy.

***
One last thing, there are still a couple of days left to enter the contest to win signed copies of my three books at Ramblings of a Teenage Bookworm. Contest closes December 27th!
I finished my very first YA book back in 2000 but long before I reached the last chapter, I realized the story wouldn't be over on the final page. No, I needed to write a sequel and then a sequel to the sequel before I'd truly be done with those characters. Yep, it turned out I was writing a trilogy and in the middle of my second book I began doing some comparative reading and discovered two YA relationship trilogies that felt like first cousins to my novels. The first of these was the Jackie & Kev Trilogy—an Irish series by Marilyn Taylor (Could This Be Love? I Wondered; Could I Love A Stranger? and Call yourself a Friend?). The second series was by best-selling British author Kate Cann and is referred to as the Diving In series or the Coll and Art trilogy. Only it's not a trilogy any longer because at last Kate Cann has released a fourth novel in the series.

Diving In, In the Deep End, Sink or Swim by Kate Cann

While the first three books are from Coll's point of view, exploring her feelings as she falls for Art, discovers sex and navigates their often rocky relationship, this fourth book is, at last, Art's thoughts on their love affair. Being a big fan of the Coll and Art books I'm extremely excited about this new novel, Art's Story, because, as Kate Cann mentions on her website, this fourth book, “tells you if they stay together or not.”

Here's the blurb on Art's Story from Kate Cann's site: “While Coll's passion for Art is growing – what's he feeling? What does he think of her, how does he see her? And why is he so cut off and cruel sometimes? And when Coll comes back form Canada, can Art change enough to keep them together?”

I highly recommend the Coll and Art books for readers who are fans of realistic teen fiction. These novels remain amongst the best, most truthful YA books about a teen relationship I've ever read and they have the added bonus, for Anglophiles like me, of being British.

But if you happen to be in North America, you're not of out luck, because the Coll and Art trilogy was released on this side of the pond under the titles Ready? Sex and Go! several years ago. It's interesting to note what a different impression a title and cover give a novel considering that the same words appear inside. In this case, I think the British titles and above cover designs do a much better job of capturing the feel of Coll and Art's tale. You might get the impression from the American packaging that this is a sensationalized story but in fact its charm is that it's completely down to earth and open-hearted.

Readty? Sex. Go! by Kate Cann

I fell in love with Coll and Art's story years ago and now that Kate Cann's released Art's Story (which she says her old publisher wouldn't offer her a contract for because they felt “Art was too dark and negative”) I'm going to go back and gleefully reread them all as I wait for my copy of Art's Story to arrive in the mail. If you're interested in checking out Art's Story too, you can order it on Kate Cann's website.

Leader of the Pack and Art's Story by Katen Cann

As a side note, I'm happy to hear that Kate Cann also intends to re-release Breaking Up, which I was lucky enough to pick up in paperback several years ago. And, finally, if you enjoy books with realistic male central characters, you'll love Cann's book Leader of the Pack about seventeen year old Jack who struggles to balance his lives and breathes rugby mentality with the realities of a relationship.
There's only a sprinkling of snow in the city so far but it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas regardless. Here's what Toronto looked like like yesterday (December 8th):

City Hall sign: Dec 8

The view from Front Street:

Flatiron building, CN tower and skyscrapers from Front Street

Four foot high gingerbread recreation (created with 54lbs of flour and 54lbs of sugar) of the Royal York hotel's original 1929 construction. You can find it in the lobby of the Royal York:

Gingerbread version of the Royal York

Chilly, lonely park along the Esplanade:

Esplanade park

Overhead Christmas decorations in the Distillery District:

Distillery District

Christmas Market at the Distillery District. It runs until December 12th. Note the snowy sign pointing the way to the gingerbread house:

Distillery District

Distillery District

Distillery District Christmas market stalls:

Distillery District

Voila, the {edible} gingerbread house:

Distillery District gingerbread house

It was too cold to attempt the market ferris wheel:

Distillery District ferris wheel

But watching this choir singing Avril Lavigne's Keep Holding On was fun:

Distillery District choir skings Avril

And then we moved on to watch the skaters at Nathan Phlilips Square. I couldn't see where the skate rental place had gone but apparently it's currently in a construction trailer on site:

Nathan Phlilips Square

Nathan Phlilips Square

Menorah in front of Old City Hall:

Menorah,  Old City Hall:

The nativity scene at Old City Hall has been vandalized again this year—the glass had been smashed and the baby Jesus stolen:

Vandalized nativity scene, Old City Hall

As usual, the Hudson's Bay Christmas windows are absolutely gorgeous:

Hudson's Bay Christmas windows

Hudson's Bay Christmas windows

Hudson's Bay Christmas windows

Hudson's Bay Christmas windows

The Swarovski Christmas tree at the Eaton Centre was pretty much the only visible Christmas decoration in the place:

Swarovski Christmas tree, Eaton Centr

Berczy Park, Front Street:

Berczy Park, Front Street

Restaurant poinsettias:

white poinsettias in the restaurant

Brookfield Place holiday lights:

Brookfield place: let there be light
As a John Lennon fan, having a December 8th birthday can be rough. Inevitably, sometime during the day I end up tuning into one of the radio stations (this would be Q107 if you're in Toronto) playing 24 hours of Lennon tunes and feeling sad that John is no longer in the world with us.

John LennonHe's been gone thirty years now and sometimes the loss still comes as a shock, like when I was watching the documentary LENNONYC a couple of weeks ago. After spending hours witnessing the charismatic figure battle to stay in the city he loved, battle with his own personal demons, and spread his message of peace, it was difficult, all over again, to let him go again when the documentary reached the moment of his murder, the moment he was snatched away from us too soon.

In fact, I was too young to really mourn John Lennon when he was killed in New York on December 8th, 1980. I became a fan in my teenage years, devouring Beatles and Lennon biographies, buying the music in tape format and reading John's own writings, In His Own Write, A Spaniard in the Works and Skywriting by Word of Mouth. He was an enormous influence on me, both creatively and in terms of social justice. He seemed fearless, direct to the point that the naked messages in songs like Working Class Hero, Imagine and Woman is the Nigger of the World, enraged and terrified some people while striking a chord of painful recognition in others who were ready for change, sick of hypocrisy and political and social double-think.

We will always have to fight for change and though I wish John Lennon were here to help us do it in person I'm extremely grateful we have his music and message, which continue to be powerful inspiration for anyone who wants to attempt living an authentic life in a society which often values artifice, money and power over what should matter—love, peace, equality.

Thanks, John, for everything.



***

I thought I'd include a few of my teenage writings (penned when I was sixteen or seventeen) that demonstrated my admiration and/or the influence John Lennon had on me as a young person. The first poem is directly about John, the second also touches on other aspects of my life (including what a stark blue my walls apppeared to be after taking down the collection of wall to wall posters that used to decorate my room!) and the third short piece clearly shows John's stylistic influence. I wrote quite a few pieces sporting a similar style around the same time and hope to post more at a later date. If you check out a story called Tomorrow Never Knows which I wrote several years later you'll see that John Lennon also makes an appearance there.

John


We all live and die
in our own time
But for you the city sighs
becoming its own grave
And the people all forgave
you for being human

***

Isolation

I read the news today oh boy
and thought of John and Scotland and the Twins
but they were only in my head
I wished to be with them instead
of this blue room with four blue walls
and all of them bare

Once maybe someone told me that you have to be dead
but I wonder now if it’s all in my head
like John and Scotland and the Twins
and I wonder if they lie surrounded by blue
though I know it’s true of Scotland
and possibly the Twins

I read the news today oh John
and couldn’t understand what all the words were about
or where you’d gone with the Twins
I wondered if it was Scotland and
is it true that you have to be dead
or is it all only in my head?

***
The Adventures of Hippy Head in the Unreal World

“Hippy Hair! Hippy hair!” the girls cried, making faces. Hippy head was too bloated to mind the name calling. He was really grooving now, there were chicks and everything. Hippy head’s mind was filled with weird visions. He could barely see the girls from his place on the ceiling.

“Come up here and see me,” Hippy head roared pleasantly.

“Oh, Hippy head, your hair’s too long for us.”

“That may be,” said Hippy and tied it in a bow.

***

Songs for John

Here Today, Paul McCartney:



All Those Years Ago, George Harrison:



Empty Garden, Elton John:



The Late Great Johnny Ace, Paul Simon:


I know I'm supposed to be on a blog break to concentrate on writing my new book but I've had to take a break from my break to giggle at the fact that Johnny Marr (ex Smiths guitarist) has told British Prime Minister David Cameron to stop saying he likes the band.

On December first Marr tweeted, "David Cameron, stop staying you like The Smiths, no you don't. I forbid you to like it."

Anyone who follows British politics will understand Marr's thought process here. It's pretty difficult to fathom what Cameron, whose government is slashing more than £81 billion from the budget (cuts which will hit the poor and vulnerable the hardest) could possibly admire about a band that was so critical of Margaret Thatcher's government.

David Cameron: let them eat cake!

Apparently Cameron "has made a big deal about his music preferences, talking up his fondness for The xx, Radiohead and Pulp, perhaps in an effort to look a little more alternative."

Perhaps we can look forward to other bands coming forward to tell David Cameron to get stuffed!

While I'm here I should mention that my blog tour concluded yesterday but if you want to win signed copies of all my books head over to Ramblings of a Bookworm. There you'll also find an interview with Jersy from One Lonely Degree. If you ever wanted to know more about him, that's the place to go to find out!
A couple of weeks ago I blogged that I was experiencing separation anxiety at the thought of putting my work-in-progress novel aside to focus on My Beating Teenage Heart copy-edits. How I feel now shouldn't come as a surprise because it's what always happens to me when I'm away from one of my books for more than a couple days, but anyway, this Keane song sums it up exactly:



Yes, Book XI and I have become strangers...

“I don't know your thoughts these days
We're strangers in an empty space
I don't understand your heart
It's easier to be apart ”

With the copy-editing for My Beating Teenage Heart behind me (at least for the moment!), I hope we can remedy that unhappy situation soon and I'm going to put all my efforts into getting back to where we were, which means I'll be in Internet-lite mode again for at least the next few weeks.


But during that time I'm also on a blog tour with The Teen {Book} Scene so if you want to catch up with me (or some of the characters from my books), here are the details:

Monday, November 22:
Michelle at See Michelle Read
(Character Interview - Mason from Lighter Side)

Tuesday, November 23: Kelsey at The Book Scout
(Review: Light Side of Life and Death)

Wednesday, November 24: Christie at The Fiction Enthusiast
(Author Interview)

Thursday, November 25: Jessica at A Fanatic's Book Blog
(Review: I Know It's Over)

Friday, November 26: Lindsay at Just Another Book Addict
(Character Interview - Finn from One Lonely Degree)

Monday, November 29:
Kate at I Just Wanna Sit Here and Read
(Character Interview - Nick from I Know It's Over)

Tuesday, November 30: Kari at A Good Addiction
(Review: One Lonely Degree)

Wednesday, December 1: Corrine at Lost for Words
(Author Interview)

Thursday, December 2: Corrine at Lost For Words
(Review: Lighter Side of Life and Death)

Friday, December 3: Faye at Ramblings of a Teenage Bookworm
(Character Interview - Jersy from One Lonely Degree)

Many thanks to Kari and Kelsey for putting this tour together!
You know the way you can get tired of even your favourite food, if you've had it too often within a certain timeframe? Like, it's wonderful at dinner and you'd be supremely happy for the leftovers the next day at lunch but if you had to face the same meal yet again for dinner on that second day (and then the third and so on...) your enthusiasm would seriously wane?

Well, that's sort of what copy-editing feels like after awhile. To me anyway. No matter how much I love My Beating Teenage Heart I was at the point yesterday where I was immune to all its charms and equally as blind to any of its faults. Like, someone could have inserted an alien invasion into one of the paragraphs and I wouldn't have even noticed because I couldn't force my attention to stick with the words on the page.

So here are some things I did yesterday when I should've been poring over my manuscript but couldn't face it anymore:

1) Watched The Way We Were reunion on Oprah. My heart ached for Hubbell and Katie all over again. The following quote reveals, in a nutshell, why it could never work for them:
Hubbell Gardner: People are more important than their principles.

Katie Morosky Gardner: People are their principles.


Just hearing the song is always enough to make me want to sob!

Cheetos2) Munched on Cheetos with unbridled enthusiasm. Since Cheetos make an appearance in My Beating Teenage Heart I suppose I could make a case for my Cheetos consumption being related to the copy-editing process but constructing that argument sounds like too much work.

3) Watched multiple episodes of In Treatment. I've been addicted to the show since the beginning. Though we cancelled the movie network/HBO cable package only last spring, I had to reorder it this October because there was absolutely no way I was going to miss season three of In Treatment! Watching the show makes me want to go into therapy with Paul (Gabriel Byrne). I met Gabriel Byrne once in a Dublin bookshop when he was doing a reading & signing of his autobiography and he was so lovely and genuine. Lovely, I tell you!

Gabriel Byrne turns in a stellar, nuanced performance as Dr. Paul Weston (a talented but troubled therapist) on each and every episode of In Treatment. So far this season my favourite patient is the Debra Winger character—she almost had me in tears yesterday when she was talking about her mother. Amy Ryan (of The Office, Jack Goes Boating and Gone Baby Gone) is equally amazing as Adele, Paul's own therapist. If you're interested in character driven TV, In Treatment is the show for you.

Before I change the subject, let's enjoy a snippet from Gabriel's Byrne classic performance in the terrific Coen brothers flick, Miller's Crossing:

 

4) Watched Adventureland for the second and third time but the second doesn't really count because it was really only acting as background noise and I basically missed the entire plot. I'm not sure you can tell what a cool movie Aventureland is from this trailer but Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are great in it and so is the amusement park/80's setting.



5) This sounds like a hell of lot of entertainment viewing, I realize, so lest you think I sat idly in front of the screen all day I'll point out my other big activity yesterday, which was renovating my website and blog. If you suspected something looked a little different around here, you're right—I put a fresh coat of paint on the place and changed up some of the graphics. Periodically, I tend to get bored of the website's appearence and then feel compelled to freshen things up. Hope you like the new look and I'm also hoping that I'll be able to post a sample chapter from My Beating Teenage Heart soon!
So I've been keeping my head down these last couple of weeks, concentrating on writing a new YA book, and though I'm still really only at the beginning I've been making some good progress on it.

Here's a snippet from Chapter One:
“When I wake up I have a pounding headache behind my eyes just like I've had every morning lately. At first my eyelids refuse to open fully and when they do the weak winter light wafting through my window burns my retinas.”
No matter how excited I am about getting started on a new book, I always find it difficult to move past the note taking and research stage and jump in. Facing a blank page (or blank screen) is pretty daunting and when I start typing the novel, for all I've thought about it, the book is sort of a stranger at that point—an unformed stranger.

Anyway, the new novel and I definitely aren't strangers anymore but I'm not entirely sure where we stand either. It's an interesting time and I'm extremely curious to see what's going to happen next but copy-editing for My Beating Teenage Heart arrived yesterday (with a fairly short deadline attached to it) which means that I'll have to set Book XI aside for the moment.

I was surprised at how much separation anxiety that involves. I seriously didn't want to stop writing! However, it's all about the copy-editing for now and so I'm continuing in Internet-lite mode for the foreseeable future, first to wrestle a bit more with My Beating Teenage Heart and then to dive immediately back into Book XI.

Internet Lite mode ahead

Completely off-topic but I just saw the trailer for Jane Eyre on the Women and Hollywood blog and am giddily awaiting its release. I've been an enormous fan of Mia Wasikowska ever since seeing her star as a troubled young gymnast in season one of In Treatment and Michael Fassbender was such a startlingly powerful presence in Fish Tank and Hunger that I'm certain this pairing is going to be dynamite!

Head over to Women and Hollywood to check out the trailer if you want to get giddy about this latest adaptation of Jane Eyre too.

Mia Wasikowska in Jane Eyre
When I first got on the Internet in 1998 our package with Compuserve gave us a mere five hours a month online.

Five. Hours.

I was living in Dublin at the time and I can't remember which sites Paddy and I used to check out in those five hours (clearly, not many!) but I do recall how cool it was to be able to email friends and family back home in Canada and that as crazy as it seems, at the time those five hours felt like enough.

Now I find I sometimes almost miss having such limited Internet access because as well as being a terrific tool the Internet can also be a horrendous time and energy sink. For someone who writes as slowly as I do that's especially problematic.

Internet Lite mode aheadI'm not sure how other authors manage to juggle writing with maintaining some sort of Internet presence but for me, well, the more places I feel like I have to be online, the less actual writing I tend to get done. So for the next while, possibly even up till Christmas, I'm going to be in Internet Lite mode to work on a new novel. This means I won't be around my usual net neighbourhoods much. Quite probably I'll disappear entirely for weeks at a time, although I'll still answer email...just very slowly.

Anyway, this new novel (which currently consists of a mere 13 pages) will be Book XI but it's in the top secret stage. My feeling on books in progress is that they're in an incredibly delicate state during which if I even look at them the wrong way they begin to unravel and/or run away and hide and/or disintegrate like vampires exposed to daylight). So for now, pretty well all I can say is that Book XI is another YA book (Book X, which I finished in July, is actually my first adult novel and I have a huge crush on it but it won't let me talk about it yet either; damn it's coy!).

So, yeah, I'm a little short on book info at the moment but some day I hope I can share more details on both Book X and Book XI.

Despite what I said about being in Internet Lite mode there are a few places you'll definitely be able to find me next month and early December because I'm doing a blog tour (with book and swag giveaways) put together by YA blogger extraordinaire Kari of The Teen {Book} Scene. The blog dates and topics are below. If you're not in Internet Lite mode yourself then I hope you'll stop by and say hi somewhere along the way.

Monday, November 22: Michelle at See Michelle Read
(Character Interview - Mason from Lighter Side)
Tuesday, November 23: Kelsey at The Book Scout
(Review: Light Side of Life and Death)
Wednesday, November 24: Corrine at Lost for Words
(Author Interview)
Thursday, November 25: Jessica at A Fanatic's Book Blog
(Review: I Know It's Over)
Friday, November 26: Lindsay at Just Another Book Addict
(Character Interview - Finn from One Lonely Degree)

Monday, November 29:
Kate at I Just Wanna Sit Here and Read
(Character Interview - Nick from I Know It's Over)
Tuesday, November 30: Kari at A Good Addiction
(Review: One Lonely Degree)
Wednesday, December 1: Christie at The Fiction Enthusiast
(Author Interview)
Thursday, December 2: Corrine at Lost For Words
(Review: Lighter Side of Life and Death)
Friday, December 3: Faye at Ramblings of a Teenage Bookworm
(Character Interview - Jersy from One Lonely Degree)

Before I go I also want to recommend some wonderful YA novels I've read recently—Lure by Deborah Kerbel, Gentlemen by Michael Northrop and Nothing Like You by Lauren Strasnick. And I'm currently throwing all my self-discipline into resisting the temptation to read the first five chapters of Courtney Summer's December release, Fall for Anything, online because I don't want to deal with what I imagine the staggering withdrawal effects of having to stop at the end of chapter five would be. However, come December 21st you gotta know that's what I'll have my eyes glued to!

Lure by Deborah Kerbel, Gentlemen by Michael Northrop, Nothing Like You by Lauren Strasnick
Bye for now...
Continuing on from yesterday, here are some more autumn photos I've taken recently, these ones locally.

Strong autumn sunshine

Fall flowers - still hanging on!

Woodpecker taking a break

More fall flowers

And these are probably technically weeds but still pretty

A nice burst of  colour

Hanging chained skeleton

On the road, fall style


Skeleton hands reaching up from someone's lawn


Yesterday we went for an autumn drive up to Erin and Orangeville, both lovely Ontario towns. There's a collection of tree carving sculptures (43 in total) in Orangeville. You can see pictures of a few of them below, along with images of fall decorations, city landmarks etc.

Orangeville tree carving

Orangeville

Orangeville tree carving

Orangeville church

Orangeville church

Orangeville

The run-up to Halloween is an apt time for a 50% off skull tattoos sale!

Tattoo skull sale, Orangeville

Orangeville storefront

Posters asking for information on Sonia Varaschin's murderer were hanging in the doorways of many Orangeville businesses. If you have any information please contact the designated tip line at (519) 941-2522, extension 2211.

Have you seen this car or boot? The OPP and the Orangeville Police Service are investigating the murder of Sonia Varaschin.

Orangeville

Orangeville opera house

Orangeville tree carving

Skeleton making himself at home inside The Winchester Arms:

Inside The Winchester Arms, Oakville

Orangeville tree carving

Main Street, Erin

Erin Main Street

Erin shop front

Just off the main street, taking it easy with a bottle of chardonnay after a hard day's work:

 Halloween decorations, Erin side street

Wisdom from an Erin bakery:

Erin Bakery: The best things in life are not things

Have you ever seen the Tin Man look this cute?

Tin Man on rollerskates, Erin Main Street

I wouldn't have suspected crocodiles lurking in an Ontario river so was grateful for the warning sign.

Danger Crocodiles. No swimming.

But I couldn't comprehend the other sign.


Here's a close-up which appears to say that little girls shouldn't eat ice cream in the middle of the river. Maybe that relates back to the crocodiles too?


The weight scrawled on this pumpkin was a whopping 734 lbs. Here, I'm pondering how to lift it:

Me & a 734 pound pumpkin
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