Friday, October 17, 2014

Immersed in canyoning

A few weeks ago I blogged about the new sport featured in my novel-in-progress:

As research for what my characters get up to, I'm currently "immersed" in researching canyoning. So here's another video on this extreme (and extremely interesting) activity, which mixes caving, rappelling (climbing down waterfalls and canyon walls) and swimming whitewater currents. Check it out!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Best of books, worst of times

[The sixth in my stories-behind-writing-the-books, which I offer intermittently here on my blog.]

Vertical Limits may be the most popular book in my "Take it to the Extreme" series of 10 teen sports novels, but writing it was so painful that I will never be able to regard it as my personal favorite.

I’d written only the first two chapters when I suffered a back injury from a fall unrelated to sports, which all but halted the book altogether.

To finish it by deadline, I literally suspended my laptop above me and wrote while lying flat on my back. I also used software to dictate parts of it. The irony of writing a book on extreme rock climbing while in this condition was not lost on me.

Fortunately, I had already outlined and researched the book. Better yet, I was working with a sympathetic climbing expert. 

Other anecdotes about writing Vertical Limits:
  • This sixth "Take it to the Extreme" book was supposed to be the last in the series, but my publisher asked if I’d be willing to extend the series to 10 books, which I did. :)
  • My editor was so shocked by the extreme climbing portrayed in this story that she initially balked at accepting it. Only when I informed her that I’d worked with several climbing experts (and paid out of my own money to have the editor of the Canadian Alpine Journal read it before I submitted it to her) did she relent. I learned later that she has a fear of heights, just like my character Peter.
  • To write the chapter where Peter visits a hypnotist to get over his fear of heights, I actually paid to go to a hypnotist (where I pretended to have a fear of heights). The hypnotist actually referred to “past life modalities,” and much of what the hypnotist says in Vertical Limits was taken from my actual session. Of course, the hypnotist didn’t know I was using her to write a chapter, but she got her fee, I got my chapter and my character Peter got over his fear of heights, so everyone was happy!
  • The runaway girl in the story, Katja, was inspired by a teen girl I met who, like Katja, nursed her cancer-ridden mother almost singlehandedly for months until her mother passed away.
  • In Acknowledgments, I thank Shaun Evans, a climber whose real-life escapades with climbing cranes in an industrial yard inspired my characters doing the same. By the way, my main character Jake took his last name, Evans, from Shaun and his brother David (who was in the kayak club for teens that I ran at the time).
  • It took me many years to recover from the back damage done by the fall (the one that so complicated the writing of Vertical Limits). It pretty much ended my kayaking days, but thankfully, I’ve managed to continue writing.
To order Vertical Limits:

Friday, October 10, 2014

Parent University (because kids don't come with directions)

Raise your hand if you felt stumped or overwhelmed when you arrived home from the hospital with baby in arms. Of course we all did: They don't come with directions!

But until this week, I for one had never heard of Parent University, a concept involving seminars and conferences for parents. (Google turns up 167,000,000 references to the term.)

I'm not sure when the first one came to be, or who came up with the clever name, but at the moment, Parent Universities exist (unrelated to one another as far as I can tell) in Savannah, Minneapolis, New Haven, Boston, Chicago, Fresno, Tampa, Scottsdale, Reno and a whole lot of other USA places. (Comment here if you know of more.)

I get my first initiation at one tomorrow, here in Castro Valley, California where I am visiting. I'll be manning a table and passing out tips on raising reluctant learners, as well as selling my books, including Jump-Starting Boys:

Parent University, Castro Valley Adult & Career Education
3rd Annual Parenting Conference
Strategies and Resources for Raising Successful Children
Castro Valley Adult and Career Center
4430 Alma Ave.
Castro Valley, CA 94546
(510) 886-1000

Hats off to all who organize and participate in these educational efforts. As parents, we need all the help we can get!

Monday, October 6, 2014

San Francisco Bay Area talks

I’m currently in the San Francisco Bay Area, and offering a FREE one-hour presentation for parents of boys at a number of libraries. 

The talk is based on my book, Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life ( 

Catch my presentation on any of the following dates at any of the following venues:

Saturday, October 11, 2014, from 10:15 to 11:30 a.m.

Note: I am not giving my presentation at this conference, but I will be offering free handouts with tips for raising boys, chatting with anyone who wants to stop by my table, and selling and autographing my books.

Parent University, Castro Valley Adult & Career Education
3rd Annual Parenting Conference
Strategies and Resources for Raising Successful Children
Castro Valley Adult and Career Center
4430 Alma Ave.
Castro Valley, CA 94546
(510) 886-1000

Wednesday, October 29, from 7-8 p.m.
Dublin Library
200 Civic Plaza, Dublin, CA 94568
(925) 803-7252

Saturday, November 1, from 11 a.m.-12 noon
Castro Valley Library
3600 Norbridge Ave., Castro Valley, CA 94546


Monday, November 3, from 6-7 p.m.
Oakland Public Library/Brookfield Branch
9255 Edes Ave., Oakland, CA  94603
(510) 615-5725

Thursday, November 6, from 6:30-8p.m.
Orinda Library
26 Orinda Way, Orinda, CA

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Berkeley or bust

I'm on a road trip from Vancouver, Canada to Berkeley, California, where I'll be for almost eight weeks (due to my husband's work). Our new kitten, named Fresca, is in tow! Shortly I'll be listing the libraries at which I'll be speaking in the Bay Area. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Foreign phrases in dialogue: tricky and time-consuming

Blame it on Valerie. She’s the hot French surfer who gets stuck on a deserted island with my characters Jake and Peter. For the first time in the Extreme series, this book allows for a hint of romance – as in, both main-character boys fall for Valerie, which is not a good idea when you’re best friends.
And she’s French, which introduced all kinds of unanticipated complications for me as author. First, I had to set up dialogue in which she used a mix of French and English. And it had to be Parisian French. Then I had to decide where to immediately translate and where to let the reader figure it out.

Worst of all, it wouldn’t be realistic for her to speak perfect English, so I had to figure out how a not-quite-fluent French person would structure English sentences (without sounding like a “Hollywood Indian”).

Of course, authors do this all the time, and I’ve done it since Surf Zone in several books with Spanish-speaking characters. But believe me, it does throw up challenges and adds time to the writing process.

It helped that the self-described “surf bum” who became my consultant (Malcolm Johnson) had a French-speaking girlfriend he could run things by. It helped that my cave-diving friend Valerie Ducros (after whom my character Valerie was named) was French-French and willing to read the manuscript over after I’d finished it, correcting the occasional phrase.

And I was lucky that a friend married to a francophone was willing to un-Hollywood-Indian some of character Valerie’s English phrases. Examples: “My parents are not yet come.” “Better than visit from shark.”

Basically, since I have always found myself irritated by authors who “show off” foreign language facility by not translating words and phrases, I restrained myself as to how often Valerie spoke French, and I translated immediately after except where it was obvious. But clearly, I’m in particular debt to my friend who un-Hollywooded the purposely-mangled English; that was the most difficult challenge.

So, the story behind this novel is that due to a scuba diving accident, the boys and Valerie end up stranded on an island from which surfboards offer the only escape. To write the diving section (and also to write another book that year: Breathless --, I not only became a certified scuba diver, but took my instructor Darren Moss out to lunch to interview him and thank him for reading over pertinent paragraphs. (He also got a free autographed book. I signed it, “From your worst scuba diving student.” He said I was not his worst student, which I think is really scary!)

In my opinion, the scene where they run out of air in a tunnel that leads to the island is the most extreme scene I’ve ever written in any book.

Other trivia about writing Surf Zone:
  • The scene where the octopus wraps its arm around Jake’s wrist and traps him in the rising tide was inspired by a real-life incident I read about in the biography of a surfer.
  • Their boat is named The Adrienne after my friend, children’s author and ocean-life expert I consulted with, Adrienne Mason:
  • “Captain Dylan” and Gavin are named after my son’s friends who accompanied me on a research weekend to Tofino, British Columbia, Canada (where the story takes place).
  • I tried to sign up for surfing lessons that same weekend, but was unable to due to a storm. However, I have done a fair bit of kayak surfing, which can be quite terrifying. Did you know that kayak surfers, when they see they’re on a collision course with a surfer, are supposed to purposely flip over (and roll a minute later), to avoid the collision? Takes a whole lot of presence of mind and confidence to actually do that.
  • After reading the manuscript, an anthropology professor and friend exclaimed, “This story actually defines cultural appropriation for kids!” (The bad guys were stealing artefacts from coastal burial caves, which is both disrespectful and illegal.) Well, my readers may never get their mouths around “cultural appropriation,” but it was my intention to make them more aware of and sensitive about the issue.
  • The romance element was inspired by a Port Alberni, B.C. Canada girl who, after a school presentation I gave, asked me, “Why don’t Jake and Peter have girlfriends?” When I acknowledged her contribution in a talk at the same school a year later, she happened to be there, so I gave her an autographed copy of the book. I just love it when students at presentations give me ideas for future books!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Free presentation on getting boys to read!

Did you know that...
·      The majority of reluctant readers are boys
·      An estimated 40% of boys are reluctant readers
·      On average, boys are 1.5 years behind girls in language skills, into their teens
These are big concerns, and that's why I've been offering free presentations* to parents through PTAs, PACs, public libraries, literacy organizations and other parents' groups. The talk is aimed at parents of boys ages 7-17, and it's based on my book  Jump-Staring Boys: How to Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life.
ISBN: 978-1-936740-39-0 (Viva Editions, 2013), available at any bookstore

The free seminar includes discussion of...
          Why do boys struggle more than girls?
           7 things parents can do
           How to connect boys with reading
           Easy ways to instantly increase his confidence & performance

With this upbeat seminar, parents can stop despairing and start working with their child to help him be the best he can be.

Travel expenses apply unless I'm in your area. Note that I'm passing through Seattle, Portland, Eugene and points between next week. And I will be in the San Francisco Bay Area through most of October and November, except the third week of November, when I will be in Honolulu.

I'm giving this presentation twice this week:
Sept. 23, 7-8 p.m.
West Point Grey library
4480 West 10th Ave
Vancouver, BC, Canada

Sept. 25, 5:30-6:30
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada:

Note: The presentation lasts 60 minutes including Q&A time unless otherwise arranged.
*To book this presentation, go to:
Hope to hear from you!