Found Art

According to MoMA (and who would know better than them when it comes to art?) the term found art applies to “existing objects, manufactured or of natural origin, used in, or as, works of art.” The point, as I understand it, is to question the boundaries of what art is by using objects that we don’t usually consider art and manipulating or changing them either by placing them in a space usually reserved for art—such as a museum—or by creating an instillation.
I am going to use the term found art in a different way. Well, maybe it’s different. I walk every morning with my friend Joanne and our dogs. Now Joanne is an artist. A real one. A fine one. Her work is evocative and emotionally alluring. I, on the other hand, am not. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have an artistic soul, or eye, or sensibility, whatever way you want to put it. I lack training and skill, yes, but interest no. So on our walks, Joanne and I frequently stop to admire the things we see around us and comment on them. We might see, for example, this path, and comment on the way the shadow lies across the grass suddenly plunging us from a spring day in Victoria to a winter’s day in France. (We actually refer to this path as France, as in, Hi Joanne, where do you want to walk today, shall we go to France?)


Or we find installations like this, lying in our neighbour’s garden, making us laugh. These people change their garden designs according to the season; right now we have just passed Valentine’s Day—hence the hearts.

Hearts in Garden

And sometimes we find things like this intricate, delicate and oh so beautiful wasp’s nest with its paper thin layers almost collapsing on themselves.

wasps's nest

(Wasp’s nest Photo by James Paul)

Joanne tells me about entropy, and the tension between order and disorder as we examine our find, and I think of my garden, currently in a state of disarray, and then I think that entropy is what the natural world is always doing.

So this is how I’m using the word found art. To express the tension between the world around us and the order and meaning we put on it. I see my garden as found art because it makes me think about the cycles of life. I see the wasps’ nest as art because its intricacy makes me re-examine my understanding of wasps’s minds, the pigs in hearts because they are a satire on a cheesy Hallmark day, and the path because it transports us out of our lives.

My friends Michelle Mulder, and Alex Van Tol, both authors of amazing books for kids, have tagged me in The Next Big Thing Blog Tour. You can check out their blog posts and find out what they’re working on, and here’s some info about what I have been working on.

What is the working title of your book?
Hmmm… the working title is So Much For Democracy, but I don’t like that. Too many words. I’m searching for something punchier.

What genre does the book fall under?

Juvenile Fiction, though I hope it will appeal to older audiences too, since it’s a story about family and culture and life.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve wanted to write this book for many years, but it’s taken me this long to figure out how. When I was 11, my family moved to Ghana and lived there for a couple of years, so I spent my early teens in Accra. In many ways my life was just like it was for my friends back home. We went to school, quarreled with our siblings, did homework, and hung out. But there were also many things that were different. Some of the differences were simple things, like having pythons for class pets, but other things were bigger, more important, like learning how to deal with the poverty we saw around us and how to cope with the strong military presence in the country. There were illnesses we’d never heard of, and sometimes limited access to clean drinking water and electricity, and in 1979, there was a coup. These are the things I wanted to explore in my story.

How long did it take to write the first draft of the story.

The first draft took only a few weeks, but it was terrible. Terrible. The next draft took longer and was much better. Yes, I learned my lesson.

What else about your book might pique your reader’s interest?

Other than a teacher who carries a python in her pocket? Well, the story’s really about a Canadian girl’s struggle to find her way living in a new land as her mother takes away more and more of her freedoms and the world around her becomes more and more dangerous.

That’s it from me. Now I’m tagging writer Laurie Elmquist. Check out what’s she’s working on.

Liking my own writing

How great it is to enjoy your own writing. Reading a passage and saying to yourself, hey that captures the idea well, I can feel the movement of the water under the surf board, the sting of salt water in their eyes. I can’t say this happens too often to me, so I’m delighted that it’s happening now.
I’m preparing a newly completed manuscript to send to an editor. I say completed, but you writers out there know that completed is a relative term when it comes to writing, but I’ve promised myself this is the last time I’m reading this manuscript. Like many writers I know, I could tinker forever. It’s not perfect, but it’s never going to be, and hey, I’m enjoying it, so it must be okay. Mustn’t it?

10 useful things I learned

10 useful things I learned when doing research for my next book.
1. Nesting pythons don’t eat. So, if you run across a nesting python, don’t fret. How will you know if it’s nesting? The eggs are the giveaway.
2. Lots of Ghanians are named after the day of the week. Adio is born on a Monday, Abena is born on a Tuesday, Akua is born on a Wednesday, etc. And, by the way, Kofi is born on a Friday, so now we know something more about the ex Secretary General of the United Nations don’t we?
3. Jerry Rawlings was 32 the first time he took over the leadership of Ghana. And I thought I was doing well having a career by 45.
4. Ghana has 9 government sponsored languages. Yes, you read that right: 9. Canada, get over yourself.
5. John Travolta was hot (that means cool) in 1979. But he was cool (that means hot) too.
6. The Sony walkman was released in June 1979. OMG I feel old.
7. YMCA sued the Village People for libel because of their song of the same name. Sid Vicious, a former member of the Sex Pistols, died due to a heroin overdose during the trial for murdering his girlfriend. What is the useful thing I learned? Entertainment was just as crazy then as it is now.
8. The Eagles, Pink Floyd and the Police were big. Need I say more?
9. In 1978 Argentina won the World Cup. Yep, important and useful information.
10. Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain in1979. Okay, I should have known that, but hey, I was only 12 at the time.

What Makes a YA Book?

I just finished reading a fantastic book called Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. I loved this book, and it got me thinking about what makes a book at YA book. Is it that the character is young? That can’t be, because there are lots of examples of books with young protagonists. Is it that the themes are related to young people? But the themes in this book are dealing with loss, grief, love, finding oneself… all the things any great book is about. So what is it then that makes this a YA book? Or is that category not real? Maybe there are no barriers between what youth and adults read. After all, I’m not a young woman, and I read books lablled YA.

The Next Book

Time to move on to the next book. It’s strange to leave one world behind and sink into another, but then that’s the joy of being a writer. I’ll let you know how this one goes.

Usher and Akon

I went to an Usher concert the other day. Let me set the stage for you. Vancouver and it’s pouring rain and my son, our friend and I and, oh about 20 thousand other people stream onto Rogers stadium. We all find our seats ( yes we were sitting apart-who wants embarrassing old mum sitting next to them after all) and the concert started. At first two men and a turntable came on and I thought did we come all the way to Vancouver for this? But then Akon came on and the crowd exploded and all was good. Favourite moments? When Akon put on a Canucks jersey and the crowd exploded. When Usher rode a platform across the arena in a space man’s suit and watching my boys have the time of their lives. Worse moment? When Usher dripped sweat all over the girl he brought up on stage. Is Usher sweat worth more than most people’s. She seemed to think so, but oh yuck.

Two Weeks Two Launches

In the past two weeks I’ve launched Storm Tide twice, once with Jodi Ludgren, and once with 8 other Orca book writers. They were both fun, and what I learned about book launches is that they’re really an excuse to see all kinds of friends who you don’t normally get to see, but like at weddings, you don’t get a chance to spend much time with them. So thanks so much to all of you who came out to either of the launches, and I hope we get more time together soon.
What I loved most about both events was listening to other writers’ stories about how their books came about and their writing or illustrating process. I had no idea how labour intensive illustrating graphic novels is!
It was also really fun to talk about my own writing process, and to read from my book. My favourite moment: when my seven year old friend came up to me and said, “You made me want to read your book.” Yahoo.

The First Reader

This week, for the first time, I gave the manuscript of a novel I’ve been working on to a reader. Wow, what a moment. Like walking off a precipice you can’t turn back from. There’s no pretending now. No saying, I’m not really working on this thing, it doesn’t really matter. It’s a manuscript now. A book in the making, not some notes and scenes I’m messing around with.
A big step yes, but I chose my reader carefully. I wanted someone who was an astute reader, but not a writer. Someone who could read with enough distance from writing to be a reader, but enough knowledge to be able to articulate their thoughts about the book to me. I didn’t want someone who’d just say, “it was great” or someone who’d day “I hated it, I don’t know why.” I needed someone who’d say I liked this part but not that, and here’s why. Someone who’d care enough to tell me the truth, and to take the time to tell me gently.
So who’d do all that? My husband of course. He reads voraciously. More than I, even. And he loves YA, which is what I’ve been working on. He was the perfect choice and he told me all the things I already knew but had been hiding from, plus a whole lot of other things. He honed in on the places where I wasn’t sure, as a writer, where I hadn’t quite made up my mind. He found the places I’d skipped over details because I didn’t quite know what I was trying to do. He took a look at the big arc of the story and found the places I hadn’t filled in. He told me when my characters knew too much or not enough. Wow, he gave me enough feedback to start editing again, this time with purpose, with direction.
So thanks Michael. Your input was invaluable. My next reader’s going to be writer Laurie Elmquist, who’s fine eye will catch even more detail. I’m intimidated already at the thought, though I know it’s necessary. But I’m also encouraged, because I know how empowered I feel right now to continue with this project.

Ode to Victoria’s Indepentent Book Stores

Author Jodi Lundgren and I took ourselves on a book tour today. We visited independent bookstores in Victoria that sell children’s books, and introduced ourselves as local children’s writers. I was nervous! Were we about to make fools of ourselves? First stop was Cadboro Bay Book Company, and boy am I glad we started there. We gathered our nerve and said, “We’ve come to introduce ourselves. We’re local authors, and we want to tell you about our recently published books.” The ladies smiled welcome, and we were both put at ease. The ladies asked us lots of questions about our books so that they could speak about them more knowledgeably when kids asked, and then showed us where our books were on the shelves. It was a wonderful, empowering experience. From Cadboro Bay Books we went to Ivy’s, Bolen’s, Munro’s and Tall Tales Books. We saw our books on the shelves in each store, signed copies and had those lovely “Autographed Copy” stickers put on them, and met many of the wonderful, committed and knowledgeable book sellers that take care of writers in this city. I know there are a lot of adjectives in this post—but it’s because I feel blessed when I see how many people there are out there spending their lives learning about and selling good books. The independent book stores in Victoria are so welcoming and they’re full of the best books the world has to offer. I’m so grateful to be part of that!