Reading reviews of your own work is an interesting experience. Sometimes people totally connect with your book(s) and sometimes they don't, in a big, big way. Maybe what you write isn't their kind of thing. Maybe they dote on decisively happy endings while you're dedicated to the messiness of realism. Maybe they like non-stop action and plot twists while inner character development is what makes your stories tick. One thing's certain, you'll never win everyone over.

It's a wonder, when you think about it, that you can win anyone over. Picture edging over to someone in the street and saying, "Pssst, I want to tell you a story about some folks I've been thinking about." And then imagine that person in the street (a stranger to you) walking in-step with you for several hours, listening as you weave the tale you have to share, for better or for worse.

How audacious is that premise? The idea that you can make stuff up and someone will indulge you by listening to it? And basically that's what being a writer is—saying, "Humour me for a few hours because there are some people and this situation they're knotted up in that I'm dying to tell you about."

Now, the stuff each writer is dying to tell you is going to vary, but there'll be some similarities too. For instance, I wrote a book about a guy with a pregnant girlfriend and so did Nick Hornby. The characters, plot details and tone make them completely different novels. Someone might love Slam but not think much of I Know It's Over or vice-versa.

God knows how many love stories are out there in novel form but they're like snowflakes, no two are identical. Every writer who pens a love story is going to do it in his or her own way. Every writer who crafts a ghost story is going to do it in his or her own way. Every writer who creates a harrowing end of the world story is going to do it in his or her own way. Etc., etc., you get the idea. Even if aspects of a writer's book remind you of another writer's novel, there will be things about the book which are uniquely its own.

Lately, reading other people's reactions to my work has made me think about the unique way elements of my own books fit together and the kind of books I want to write (and the kind I don't). Other people's expectations for my books will, of course, often be different from what I want for them but here's what I want, what I've been doing and what I will continue to do:

1) The character is king in my books. You or I may not like some of the things he or she do or say during the course of a novel but, to the best of my ability, they are the things a given character would say and do, according to his or her nature. This doesn't mean he or she will constantly play out one note, though. People are more complex than that. Someone who is usually an extrovert and thrives on being the centre of attention might, on a given day, be contemplative and quiet and just want to be left alone. Someone who doesn't normally drink might, prompted by an abysmally bad week, knock back a six pack. But the characters are who they are and I won't force them to act in a certain way just to achieve a plot result if that's not what he or she would do. The characters are the heart of my stories and the most important thing to me as a writer is that I don't cheat them out of an honest story.

2) Life is long and there are seldom neat resolutions to complicated situations. I strive to reflect this reality so my books will often have fairly open endings. I definitely don't want to write books that meticulously resolve every issue a character has—and there's a good possibility that even their biggest issue(s) may not be entirely wrapped up—but they will be in a different place, a different frame of mind, than they were when the book opened. Change, whether inner or outer (sometimes both), will have occurred.

Jack Bauer
3) I love to write books that are emotional in nature. A lot of the time people are carrying around some pretty heavy emotional baggage with them as they go about their daily lives. You or I may not notice it as we pass them on the sidewalk, or even necessarily be aware of it if we know them well. But this is the stuff I like to write about, a person's emotional landscape when they have a secret they don't believe anyone will really understand or when they realize they've done something they can't take back (but wish they could) or find themselves falling in love with the last person they'd ever expected to. Consequently, there aren't a lot of Jack Bauer trying to save L.A. from a terrorist attack type moments (although I do like watching 24 and Jack Bauer rules!).

4) When you're writing contemporary realistic YA fiction the likelihood that you'll encounter some folks who are unhappy to read about what they consider 'bad behaviour' going unpunished is high. But I'm not interested in writing morality tales. In real life something terrible doesn't happen each and every time someone under the age of eighteen has sex or smokes a joint. A bad decision can have an enormous effect or very little. Conversely, awful things can and do happen when people do all the right things. That's what life is like, strikingly random. I don't want to write guidebooks on how young people should live their lives. What I hope I'm doing, what I'm striving for, is to write books that reflect the reality of teen lives.

If you and I are on the same wavelength regarding numbers 1 to 4 there's a chance you might enjoy my books. If you don't, the odds are that you probably won't like my novels, possibly in a big way. But if you want to walk in-step with me for a bit, while I tell you about some folks I've been thinking about and the situation they're knotted up in, I tip my hat to you and thank you for indulging me.

Woman walking
The problem with visiting places you're already really fond of is that pleasant return visits can cement your feelings in the most bittersweet way. Case in point: our second trip to Vancouver in the past two years. We knew we liked it; it's the reason we went back. But now...well now my longing for Kitsilano Beach, Stanley Park and the gorgeous Vancouver skyline are downright unbearable.

You can have a look at photos from the 07 trip here and I'm starting off this year's selection of pics with my favourite place in Vancouver—Stanley Park. The people of Vancouver have it lucky—mountains, ocean and beautiful parkland, all within easy reach. Swoon. Walking the seawall in Stanley Park is something I believe I'd never get tired of, even if I had all the time in the world to do it.
Vancouver from Stanley Park

Vancouver from Stanley Park

Vancouver from Stanley Park

Lions Gate Bridge, Stanley Park

Several of the benches along the seawall in Stanley Park have intriguing stories to tell.

Alain Abrams (32) lost Jan 18 1986 in a remote Guatemalan Jungle in the worst plane crash in that country's history. I will never forget you, buddy. This bench is for you. Your friend and partner Allan

John "Mother" Holland to your shining palace built up on the sand we'll remember, always Steve & Sam

And others just make you want to nod in deep agreement.

In memory of L.H.  (Bob) Wade 1912-1994 Happiness - walking the seawall

Check out the spectacular view from Prospect Point Lookout, the highest point in Stanley Park.

The SeaBus ferries you back and forth between Vancouver and North Vancouver for the same low cost as a Skytrain ride or city bus fare. Scenic AND cheap, quite the combo!

The Vancouver skyline as seen from Granville Island.

As well as being able to juggle torches and swallow fire while balancing on the head of a pin, this Granville Island performer was downright funny. I would've given him more than $2 but had just dropped five into the guitar case of the equally talented street musician I saw before him. By the way, the Granville Island Market is a great place to grab lunch (whether that be fish, focaccia or whatever kind of tasty offering you fancy) and then check out artsy local shops.

Honestly, I could write an entire blog entry on Cupcakes. Their shops look every bit as delicious as their cupcakes taste. Mmmmm. If you're having a bad day, picking up one of their creations might well help set you right again and if you're having a good day the icing on a Cupcakes treat will send you straight to seventh heaven. Sadly, the only Cupcakes locations anywhere on the planet are in Vancouver (we dropped into the one in English Bay in the west end and then a downtown location right off Robson Street). But wherever you're coming from, Cupcakes is worth the trip. Seriously. I'm salivating just typing this.

Cupcakes. off Robson Street, Vancouver

Cupcakes, English Bay

Cupcakes, off Robson Street, Vancouver

Cupcakes, English Bay

Blue Hawaii Cupcake, yum!

This 100 foot totem pole stands just outside the Maritime Museum in Vanier Park. There are also several in Stanley Park itself.

Kitsilano Beach is the place to be on a sunny day, whether you want to strum a guitar by the water's edge...

Guitar guy, Kits Beach

play beach volleyball...

Volleyball game, Kits Beach

shoot hoops in the court across from the beach...

Basketball game, court across from Kits Beach

lie around soaking up the sun...

Kitsilano Beach

enjoy a salmon or chicken burger on the sand's edge...

Snacking, Kitsilano Beach

or just hang out with your favourite person.

Kitsilano Beach

Another bit of Vancouver I'm in awe of is the Vancouver Central Public library. Yup, this is the public library! It has seven floors and cost 125 million dollars.

Vancouver Public libraru

We worked a day trip to Victoria (on Vancouver Island) into our vacation this time. The B.C. Ferries journey takes about an hour and a half from Tsawwassen Terminal and offers some lovely vistas along the way.

Ferry from Vancouver to Victoria

Ferry from Vancouver to Victoria

Before I forget, I should also mention that I dropped in to sign stock copies of One Lonely Degree and I Know It's Over at the Chapters in the Burnaby mall, Metropolis at Metrotown (which is a great mall, by the way, the second largest in Canada). So if you'd like a signed copy and are in the area you know where to find one.
I'm having one of those days, for reasons I can't talk about, but it's one of those days which feel even worse due to the fact that there have been a lot of those days lately. Cumulative crap which might keep accumulating.

Also, my copy-editing for The Lighter Side of Life and Death got lost en route from New York to Toronto so I won't have a chance to work on it before I fly off to Vancouver after all, but comparatively this feels like the good news. You can see my FedEx package below, circling the International Space Station. Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk tried to grab it for me but it floated off into the great beyond. Perhaps by the times it does arrive back on earth, apes will rule the planet. They weren't my intended readership but I hope they find it entertaining just the same!
FedEx lost in space

Anyway, this means I have a wee bit of extra time at the moment and will have less free time than I anticipated after the vacation. Since I'm not sure when I'll be able to blog again there are a couple of things I want to say before I go, most of which are examples of things that have gone wrong in our society.

* The first is the tragic news of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, whose clinic was one of the few in the U.S. that provided late term abortions. That clinic will now be closed. If you want to better understand why such clinics are important read The Toronto Star's Antonia Zerbisias' article, Dr. Tiller understood women's suffering over late-term abortion decisions.

* The moronic idea that women don't go to the movies. Nia Vardalos, star of My Life in Ruins and My Big Fat Greek Wedding writes in The Huffington Post:
A little-known fact: some studios recently decided to no longer make female-lead movies. Lately, I've been in meetings regarding a new script idea I have. A studio executive asked me to change the female lead to a male, because... "women don't go to movies." Really? When I pointed out the box office successes of Sex and The City, Mamma Mia, and Obsessed, he called them "flukes." He said "don't quote me on this." So, I'm telling everybody.
Read the entire article or Women and Hollywood's blog entry on the topic, Memo to Hollywood: Women Go to Movies and then prove the boys club running the show in Hollywood wrong by buying tickets for movies with women in the lead.

* The behind the scenes abuse and exploitation of teen models. Twenty-seven year old model Sara Ziff's new documentary Picture Me: The Truth About Modelling lays bare “the ugly, sleazy side of the modelling industry, the side few insiders like to talk about.”

One of the accounts of abuse that didn't make the final version of the documentary—“the model had agreed to be included but the day before the premiere in New York she changed her mind and became frightened about the repercussions”—is discussed in the Guardian's article about Picture Me:
A 16-year-old model is on a photo shoot in Paris. She has very little experience of modelling and is unaccompanied by her agency or parents. She leaves the studio to go to the bathroom and meets the photographer - "a very, very famous photographer, probably one of the world's top names", according to Ziff - in the hallway. He starts fiddling with her clothes. "But you're used to this," says Ziff. "People touch you all the time. Your collar, or your breasts. It's not strange to be handled like that." Then suddenly he puts his hands between her legs and sexually assaults her. "She has no experience of boys, she hasn't even been kissed," says Ziff. "She was so shocked she just stood there and didn't say anything. He just looked at her and walked away and they did the rest of the shoot. And she never told anyone."
In the same article Ziff explains that, “When you are working at a higher level there is no separation between life and work. You are expected to go to certain parties and schmooze. There is a pressure to have a drink with someone with an ulterior motive and not offend them because they may book you for a $100,000 campaign. They have the power.” She recounts the story of another sixteen-year-old model who complained when a forty-five year old photographer made a pass at her. “Her agency said she should have slept with him.”

More from me once I'm back and finished with copy-editing.

My friend is back from Vienna and said I could put up this photo from her holiday, which also, sadly, concludes my imaginary trip to Austria.

I think for closure's sake we need some Leonard Cohen music here. Of course, every day is improved by Leonard Cohen's words and music so any old excuse would do, but posting the below might be as close as I ever get to dancing in Vienna, wearing a river's disguise (though I hope not).

It happens that I'm due to go on a real-life vacation to Vancouver soon and between that and copy-editing for The Lighter Side of Life and Death that I have to zip through (so here's hoping FedEx gets here soon!), I won't be blogging for awhile...or answering email...or hanging out on online

More on the vacation and my upcoming One Lonely Degree contest when I get back!

***Update, June7th***

My friend says she actually snapped the Andy Warhol photo during the Bratislava, Slovakia portion of her vacation. And I'm still waiting on copy-editing which means that I can feel free to laze around...until it gets here.
It's no secret that Courtney Summers, author of the superb YA novel Cracked Up to Be and forthcoming book about mean girls Some Girls Are, is one of my favourite writer people so I was completely chuffed (and I don't get to use that word often enough!) when she asked me over to her website/blog to talk about One Lonely Degree. You can head over there to see us glory in our Canuck status by tossing around the word favourite with a 'U' and discussing Our Lady Peace.

* An interview with C.K. Kelly Martin (& Giveaway!)

As you can see, Courtney's also giving away a copy of One Lonely Degree. Answer a very simple question and you're in with a chance to win.

Thank you so much, Courtney! You rock (and ~*sparkle*~)!
By now you've probably already heard that back in April white rap artist Asher Roth tweeted, "Been a day of rest and relaxation, sorry twitter - hanging out with nappy headed hoes."

And you've likely also heard that in response to an outcry over his remark Roth deleted it and stated, "Totally just making fun of Don Imus - Sorry Scoot, not trying to be offensive…I’m extremely apologetic to anyone who took offense to my immature, bad joke."

But if you haven't heard hip-hop vlogger Jay Smooth's thoughts on what this incident illustrates about race in America and what we can learn from it, you should really check that out below.

We are in a new place right now, we’re not in the promised land but we are a few steps further down that road than we’ve ever been before and as we make progress we get more comfortable and as we get more comfortable, some of us get a little extra comfortable…Somehow in our racial interactions we tend to…start thinking coming closer together means we can care less about how we affect each other and some of us even start getting mad about it like, “Oh god, respecting each other’s humanity is such a pain in the ass! Do we really have to do this forever? Can’t you all just lighten up so I don’t have to respect you anymore?”

— Jay Smooth
Jay just nails this and alot of what he has to say here can also be applied to homophobia, sexism, ableism and other prejudices. If we find doing what it takes to be on that right path he mentions onerous that just shows all the more why our efforts are necessary, how deeply engrained our sense of entitlement is.
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