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I wrote from a very young age. I joke that my first “published” book was when I was 10 – they put the one and only copy of a picture book I wrote and illustrated, called “The Smallest Snipet of Snipeton,” into our school library, and four kids took it out. As for WHY I started to write – it’s always a bit of a mystery, isn’t it? I chalk part of it up to being an only child with a single parent mom – I was a latchkey kid, pre-internet, two channel universe, so I spent a lot of time in my own head, playing imaginary games. We also always had books in the house; my mom and I went to the library a lot, and I remember getting books as gifts on birthdays etc.
How did you become an author?
I was a TV writer first, for twenty years, before I wrote my first original YA novel. So I’ve always been a writer of one form or another. I always had it in my head that I’d like to try to write a YA novel – why that age group, I honestly don’t know, except that I’d written for a number of TV shows for that age group, including Degrassi Junior High, and I think it’s a fascinating time of life – a time of so many firsts. Anyway, at one point about 12 years ago I was really fed up with the TV industry, and always being at the mercy of a handful of broadcast executives – and I realized one day that instead of moping and complaining every day, if I called myself a writer, I should simply WRITE. And write something completely different. The character from “Word Nerd” (my first published novel) had been talking to me for a while. So I set myself a goal of four pages a day, and off I went.
What was your first published piece? Where was it published? How long ago?
Well, way back in the day I did write four of the Degrassi novelizations, for a flat fee. They just asked if I’d like to do it while I was working as a writer on the show. I wrote Shane, Wheels, Snake and Melanie. It’s a pity it was for a flat fee because those books sold around the world! ☺ But I remember thinking, “This is fun. One day I want to write an original YA novel.”
Please share your views on censorship--with regards to
It’s completely wrongheaded. Let kids read what they want to read. I understand that it’s really hard to parent these days (I’m a parent myself). But reading novels – even novels with mature content – this is not going to scar your kids or mess them up for life. Most kids are remarkable at self-censoring, anyway – if something is beyond them, or boring, or makes them uncomfortable, they put it down. Books are gateways into other worlds, other people’s POV’s – nothing but good can come out of being well-read. My books, especially Word Nerd, get formal challenges against them quite frequently. But the things that happen in my books are real, and happen, and they can either act as cautionary tales, or they can make a kid feel like they’re not alone. This is hugely important. To be honest I think there are so many more things to worry about as a parent – ultra-violent video games, the incredibly easy access to online porn – what is that teaching boys, and girls, about mutually respectful, caring, loving relationships? Zilch. Empathy? Nada. Novels are all about forming a bond with a protagonist, no matter how different he or she or they may be from you. Novels are all about empathy building.
Why do you think it's important to include humour when writing for children?
I wouldn’t say I think it’s important in general, as every writer is different. It’s important to me, and not really because I’m writing for children, but I think it’s just my outlook on life. I’d find it very hard to write anything without some humour. I generally, not always, like reading books with some element of humour in them as well.
What inspires you?
My inspiration comes from many places. Sometimes it’s stuff from my own childhood (my parents’ divorce, having half siblings, and now step siblings, a blended family), sometimes I get an idea from something else I read, sometimes an image just pops into my head. For my new novel out in September, “No Fixed Address,” I was in a Kelowna hotel room, between wake and sleep at 5 am, and suddenly thought, “I could write a book about a boy who has to live in a van with his mom.” And I wrote that down when I fully woke up, and that became the basis of my next novel, many months later.
Concerning writing for children, do you think it's an asset
No, I don’t think so. I’m a parent, but so many amazing writers for kids aren’t/weren’t. I don’t think either Maurice Sendak or Louis Fitzhugh had children, and they were brilliant at tapping into the kid psyche. I think it’s more about being able to tap into your emotional memories and feelings from that time of your life.
Concerning writing for children, share tips on how to achieve an age-appropriate writing.
I really don’t know how to answer this. I just try to write a good story. I never dumb down. I never try to change vocabulary, unless it’s a specific trait of my character. I suppose what I could say is that I think kids are less forgiving than adults; if you condescend to them, try to shove in a message, try to write a book you think they “should” read, or have long, boring passages of description – they will put it down and move on to the next one (or, god forbid, they WON’T move on to the next one because they’ve just been put off reading!). You have to write a well-paced novel and you have an obligation not to bore your reader. I’m pretty sure Neil Gaiman says that in his book “The View from the Cheap Seats.”