Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Toronto's Roald Dahl Day!

As those of you who have read my books might have guessed, I'm a wee bit of a Dahl fan.  The first third of ALEX was meant to be a bit of an homage to his work (especially the Daughters of the Founding Fathers' Preservation Society).  I love his whimsy, I love his dark side, I love his character names.  And I adore me some Vermicious Knids (is there a better creature name out there?  I think not):

And so I was totally honoured when I was asked to be a guest judge for Toronto's Roald Dahl Day!  It's happening this Sunday, and I figured I should maybe post the event info here on the off chance some of yous might be interested.

Here you go!  (and I hope to see you there!)

Sun Oct 23; 11-4pm $10 (All Dahl Pass)
The Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen St West

For the past five years, Roald Dahl fans throughout the United Kingdom have been marking the renowned children author’s birthday by celebrating Roald Dahl Day. Toronto fans finally got to join in the fun last year, when Small Print Toronto staged the first-ever Roald Dahl Day celebration in Canada.
  • This year, as the focus of our second annual Roald Dahl Day event, we’re planning a bumper crop of activities to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dahl’s classic novel, James And The Giant Peach.
  • “The Giant Peach Hunt” will give teams of two or more people a chance to use their wits to win cool prizes as part of a literary scavenger hunt.
  • Poet David Hickey will launch his new picture book, A Very Short Something (Biblioasis) – a tale about bubble-gum that would make Willy Wonka smile!
  • “The Giant Peach Bubble Contest” will establish which local Dahl fan can blow the largest bubble after chewing peach flavoured gum.
  • Director Henry Selick’s stop-motion adaptation of James And The Giant Peach will be presented on a full, cinema-sized screen.

What would happen if James discovered the Giant Peach in today’s Toronto?’  

We invited writers 8-12 to craft a short story (max 1500 words) based on the scenario of James, a lonely orphan in today’s Toronto, discovering a peach as big as a house filled with human-sized friendly creatures.

An all-star panel of judges  - including CBC Radio host and author Kevin Sylvester, authors Kelley Armstrong, Adrienne Kress, Lesley Livingston,  Evan Munday and Vikki Vansickle,  Susan Kernohan Director of Young Voices at the Toronto Public Library, Mark Medley, Book Editor at The National Post, and Janet Somerville, English Teacher,  Royal St George’s College - will read aloud the top entries and award prizes at this year’s Toronto Roald Dahl Day celebration on Sunday October 23rd., at the Gladstone Hotel.

The grand-prize winner will be published by Book Madam & Associates Magazine, a community hub dedicated to discussing all elements of the publishing industry, sharing stories and leading by example.

Renowned author Kenneth Oppel has prepared a video address to the contestants. At the age of fourteen, Oppel sent a story he wrote to Roald Dahl. Dahl was so impressed he told his own literary agent to get it published. Oppel says that the experience gave him the confidence to think he could have a career as a writer. 

Will one of the young scribes in our Roald Dahl Day story contest turn out to be the next Oppel (or even Dahl)? If an orphan and his creature-pals can sail a giant peach across the Atlantic Ocean, anything is possible.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Steampunk Tuesday - The Next Big Thing?

The UK version of the Huffington Post has an interesting article today about Steampunk and whether it's going to become the next big trend.  To quote:

"The look is also starting to influence street fashion. Steampunk clothing typically adds the 'best' looks of the Victorian era - explorers, soldiers, countesses, lords and prostitutes - to today's most relevant street styles: goth, burlesque, the fetishism of the Suicide Girls, the lace and leather of pirates, and the frills and capes of vampires. A few SP elements have already been seen in Top Shop, from spiked clothes to jewellery. Some say it's the inspiration behind the current vogue for men wearing rolled up trousers with loud - or no - socks. The trend also influenced this season's high fashion trends for fetish, glamour and dressing up.

Meanwhile, TV series like the BBC's latest Sherlock Holmes adaptation and US thriller Warehouse 13 owe a debt to steampunk style in their mixing of the 19th and 21st Centuries, as do the later Harry Potter films. There are SP video games, like the highly acclaimed Bioshock, featuring an undersea world of diving bells and crinolined orphan girls. As SP has grown, so too has the service industry around it. So you can now have SP weddings, with mechanical cakes. The trend has even given rise to its own vocabulary in which, for instance, people don't arrive, they "dock" (as in from an airship)."

So the question is . . . is the article right?

Is Steampunk about to explode onto the scene?  

I think . . . quite possibly.  I have definitely seen an influence on the fashion world.  My latest Steampunk outfit was purchased almost in its entirety at FOREVER 21 (including accessories).  And as the article points out, there are more movies and games than ever that have its flavour.  And while I still tend to have to explain what Steampunk is before I can explain what my new book is about, I am definitely finding more people are answering "yes" to the question, "Do you know what Steampunk is?"

And I think that is the best way of testing when Steampunk hits trend level.  The second the majority of people answer yes to that question, then we know we've hit the big time.

But until we do, and if/when we do, I ask all Steampunkers the following favour:  let's not judge.  Let's not be like the hipsters who pride themselves in getting there first with, you know, everything.  Where something becomes uncool the second the layman knows about it.  That's not what Steampunk is about.  Steampunk is about Steampunk, not about an image.  It is the ultimate Rorschach test and can be interpreted to be whatever the individual wants it to be.

For the most part Steampunkers are super supportive of each other, but I know that I personally have encountered people who have told me my costume needed work etc.  And you know what?  That made me sad, because I liked my costume (still do).  I was proud that I put it together, and thought I looked good in it.  It might not be what that particular individual considered Steampunk enough, but we all have our own particular way into the genre.  Mine isn't even through costuming in the first place, it's through writing.  Let's support our attempts, because making the attempt in the first place is what matters most. 

So let's not judge, but be welcoming and open.  And let's not judge if Steampunk becomes a trend: "Oh that person is only dressing like that because they bought that skirt at Top Shop."  Let's be happy to see others having fun with Steampunk, even if for them it is a fleeting thing.  Steampunk, ultimately, is about having fun.  Playing.  Let's not lose sight of that.

And once more . . . huzzah Steampunk!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Inkygirl - Debbie Ridpath Ohi

I met Debbie Ridpath Ohi a couple years ago.  She is a fellow Toronto children's book author (and illustrator - so she one ups me on that score . . . I shake my fist and cry out: "Ohi!!!!!!"), and one of the founding members of a Toronto based children's book author group . . . social gathering club . . . I don't know what you'd call it.  Well I know what we all call it.  We call it: TorKidLit.  And it recently celebrated its 2nd anniversary!

For the past two years we have gathered once a month at various pubs around the city (they never know what hits them) and chat about what we're working on, on the joys and frustrations of being an author, and also just about life stuff.  But it goes beyond that.  We also go to each others' book launches, do writing retreats, and share good news about each other on the interwebs.  It's in general a brilliant supportive group. 

So that's how I know Debbie.

I also know her through twitter, where she is known as InkyElbows.  If you are a writer and on Twitter, her feed is a must follow.  Daily she posts extremely helpful links about the publishing world, and writing in general.  She's on the ball, my friends, on the ball.

She also has a website called InkyGirl, and this is what I would recommend to all of you today to check out.  Aside from her wonderfully witty comics which you simply must read, she is insightful, generous in posting about others' achievements, and a total technophile.  She is the first to try out the latest tech stuff out there, one of the first people I knew to get an iPad, one of the first to join Google+ and she lets you know her thoughts on it all.

Also she has her first children's book illustration project out next year with Simon & Schuster called I'M BORED, which you all must purchase the moment it hits the shelves.

So here's a link to her website: (from which you can then find her personal website, blog and all manner of goodness).

And here's a picture of the two of us.  And vegetables.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Steampunk Tuesday - Movies

Often in an attempt to explain what Steampunk is I cite movies.  There's something about Steampunk that's hard to describe, but once you see it you just get it.

I thought then it might make sense to share a list of films that are Steampunk, or have Steampunk qualities.  Now as to the quality of the films themselves, well that I will leave up to the individual (if anyone wants to add further suggestions in the comments section, they would be more than welcome!):


This film tends to be my first citation, because even if not everyone has seen it, most people know about this movie.  After all it was a Will Smith vehicle and got quite the marketing campaign in the day.  And a giant mechanical spider.


Not as universally well known, but still generally easy to cite.  I always recommend the books over the film (though, note, they are not meant for kids).

SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009 version)

This one isn't fully Steampunk but is flavoured with it.  And it was extremely popular.  And the sequel is out this winter.


That Christopher Nolan movie before he directed BATMAN about dueling magicians.  Heck it's even got Tesla in it (the go to guy for Steampunk inventors).


That wacky Terry Gilliam.  Love him or hate him, the movie's got that Steampunk flair. And lots of other . . . stuff . . .


This movie brings the first three of Lemony Snicket's novels together quite well, with gorgeous cinematography, and inspired whimsy.  Not really set in the past, but not really set now, it still has that Steampunk flavour.



(And let's not forget the more recent animated Disney films:  TREASURE PLANET and ATLANTIS.) 


This is actually a video game coming out in 2012, but I saw the trailer for this while E3 was on, and I just think it's so totally gorgeous and so totally perfectly Steampunk that, well, check it out:





Friday, October 07, 2011

Singer/Songwriter Liz Jaremyn

So you might have noticed I didn't post for the last two days.  It was a matter of priorities see, I really really had to get my edits done, and so I had a bit of tunnel vision.

But I am now out in the light!  And I thought, instead of doing a roundup of links today, that I would pretend it was Wednesday and share with you all yet some more amazing talent.

Today, it's Liz Jaremyn.

Liz Jaremyn.

Now.  Fair warning, I've known Liz since we were 11 years old, so I might be a little biased.  But I say only a little because I've been to arts schools all my life, I've known many incredible artists of all kinds, from visual arts to dancing to acting.  And I definitely have known many amazing singer songwriters.  And despite that all, Liz is still absolutely one of the tops in my estimation.

Me and Liz after she came to see my show last winter.

First off the girl's got talent.  Her lyrics are sincere, deep and wacky.  Her voice is beautiful and just hits you in the gut.  And she's got rockin' guitar skillz, man!  No.  Seriously, she does.

Second of all, the girl's got soul.  She's one of the kindest, most caring, most open and truly hilarious people I know (she's part of this small group of gals who make me laugh more than anybody out there).  Like most of us, she's gone through a lot in her life, but unlike many, she has not become bitter or jaded.  She lifts you up just to be near her.  And I truly believe her music does the same.

Here is her Facebook page.  Please "like" her.  (I'd rather you "love" her, or "adore" her, but Facebook is limited in this way).

And here's one of her songs:

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Steampunk Tuesday - Cool Stuff

With Steampunk being such an aesthetic movement, you will find plenty of artisans creating some truly wonderful Steampunk stuff available for purchase.

I thought I'd share with you a few of my personal current favourites!

Let's start off with this super awesome prints from CollageOrama.  I own four of these, and you can see them in the photos of my apartment back on our first Steampunk Tuesday post.  They're printed on old dictionary pages etc, and look as good in person as online.

Next.  I might be one of the only people left on the planet who doesn't have a smart phone.  Yet.  I really want to get one.  And when I do get one. . . Well, this guy's Steampunk iPhone case would be pretty sweet.  His whole catalogue over at VictorianSteampunk (Etsy) a.k.a. "Victorian Steam Austin" (in Google) a.k.a "Victorian Steam Calculation Engine Co." (Store) of inventory is pretty impressive in general:

Probably most famous for the dresses (and models) on the covers of Steampunk goddess Gail Carriger's PARASOL PROTECTORATE series, Engima Fashions offers some fantastic Gothic inspired Steampunk clothing:


Looking for shoes?  The question is more like:  When are we NOT looking for shoes . . . Fluevog isn't just a Steampunk footwear shop, but they have so much that is Steampunk-esque they might want to consider a Steampunk advertising campaign someday.  LOVE this store.

Last but not least we have my amazing friend Katie Lintern who designs Steampunk jewelry.  For those of you who are new to my blog, I shall post pics now of the amazing necklaces she made for me.  Check out her etsy, here.

This is one necklace, but it's reversible!  Cool huh??

And the other necklace.  Love how delicate and elegant this one is.

And that's it for now!  A small sampling, but I shall share others later on.  Always leave 'em wanting more though, right? 

On a totally unrelated yet related note, preparations are well under way for the filming of my book trailer for THE FRIDAY SOCIETY.  It's looking like it's going to be super cool, and I will keep you all posted with behind the scenes info and pics. 

Monday, October 03, 2011

Why I Write For Children

Back in 2009, just before I launched my second novel TIMOTHY AND THE DRAGON'S GATE, I did a guest blogpost over at the then agent, now author, always delightful Nathan Bransford's blog.  It was on why I write for children.  Seeing as I often get asked that question, it seemed to make sense that I take some time and answer it at length.

I'd like to repost it here because a) still wrapping up edits so I figure stealing from myself is a smart choice, and b) I still feel extremely passionate about this subject.

So here you go!

As a writer of middle grade novels, I probably get this question most often: “Why do you write for children?” Actually that’s probably the second most common question I get. The first most common question is, “So are you the next JK Rowling?” which I could never find an appropriate answer to until I just started replying, “Yes.” At any rate. This second most common question of why I write for children has always been a very interesting one to me, and one which I would like to discuss now.

First I would like to discuss the nature of the question. Often it comes out of a genuine curiosity – why do I like that particular genre, kind of like “Why do you write mysteries, western, literary” etc. But it can also come from a place of total confusion where truly the question is, “Why do you write for children instead of adults?”

It is a question that supposes that in an ideal world, an author’s first choice would obviously be to write for adults, because those are the “real” books. I mean, let’s face it, there is a stigma attached with writing books that aren’t for adults. There is also a stigma attached to writing genre fiction (SF/Fantasy) or romance books. In general, it is widely known that there are certain genres out there that don’t, for whatever reason, earn the same respect as commercial or literary fiction. This can be best demonstrated, I think, in a recent round table for The New Yorker, where in their attempt to discuss and praise a YA novel, the members of the round table manage to insult an entire genre with sweeping generalizations and total misinformation, calling the genre “facile” and “boring”.

Why it is that otherwise seemingly intelligent people are so determined to put down entire genres altogether boggles my mind. I truly don’t know why anyone of reasonable intelligence would make such generalizations. The whole point in having a thoughtful mind is understanding that there are good and bad elements to most everything, that making generalizations is the complete opposite of thoughtful logical analysis.

At any rate, because of these prejudices, I often do get the question.

And this is my answer:

I don’t write for children.

Yes, I am incredibly fortunate that one of the side effects of my writing is that I get to meet with some of the most amazing kids out there. That I get to be a source of inspiration to children around the world (which is still a little overwhelming for me). No author could ask for more. But in all honesty, I write in a genre that I happen to really love.

So what I’m doing, actually, is not so much writing for children as writing what I enjoy.

The question then becomes: What do I enjoy about children’s books?


I have never once had to explain to a child why it is possible for my story to have tall ships and laptops in the same universe. Why there is an Extremely Ginormous Octopus having conversations with people in a world where the rest of the animals behave as typical animals and no one blinks an eye. But I have had adults balk at those elements. And I have explained these odd juxtapositions simply as typical elements of “Magical Realism” (because that is truly my genre). Children are so much more willing just to sit back and enjoy the story, instinctively understanding that not everything has to have an explanation and that, in fact, sometimes a lack of explanation makes the story that much more fun.

I love the whimsy in children’s books. I love the saturated emotions, the dealing with real issues without overcomplicating them and over thinking them. I love how dark children’s books can be, how the stakes can often be life and death. And yet despite these elements I love how unsentimental children’s books are (contrary to popular belief of some writers who think children’s books must be morality tales, all sugary sweet; kids for the most part don’t put up with that nonsense). Children’s books don’t have time to revel in their self-importance. Kids are a tough audience and they’ll turn their backs if the story is less than stellar.

I love the humour in many children’s books I’ve read, the originality, the freedom. And I love the writing. Yes, you read right. I love a well-written children’s book. Because the actual writing in a children’s book can – surprise! – actually be good. The fact that a phrase comes across as simple, or straightforward, does not mean it doesn’t take a great deal of effort and talent to turn that phrase. Some children’s book authors can capture an exact moment, an exact feeling, in such a lovely straightforward way – but in an entirely original way as well.

Children’s books are also some of the last instances of the survival of an oral tradition. We rarely read books aloud anymore, nor sit around the fire and have someone tell a good old yarn. We read to ourselves, isolated in our own little world. But children’s books get read aloud. Parents read them to their kids, teachers to their students. For this reason many children’s book authors have great fun playing with language, with interesting words that are fun to say. There is a real love of language in children’s books.

In general there is a certain level of passion and excitement in the world of children’s books. It is a world that is, above all, interested in entertaining. I am not saying that kidlit authors aren’t interested in educating as well, but if the book isn’t entertaining you are going to lose your audience really fast and so lose out on any educating opportunities. The focus is so clearly on the audience and not on the author.

Finally there is also one rather grown-up pleasure for me as a kidlit writer: in the children’s book community, the authors, publishers etc, are just so wonderfully supportive of each other, so excited about what they do. It’s a community of warmth and generosity where, for once, the word “community” doesn’t have to stretch itself out of shape to be an apt description.

All of this is why I love children’s books.

Except that the books I read aren’t “children’s books”; they are “Adrienne likes this stuff books”. They are books meant for whoever enjoys them. I so often also get emails from adults who tell me they enjoy my work “even though they are meant for children”. Well, no. You enjoyed it, it diverted you, it was therefore meant for you.

The same can be said of any genre that one unexpectedly enjoys. We have to categorise things for practicality’s sake, but truly, every book is unique, every book has its own pros and cons. And that’s a wonderful thing. It might make life easier to put everything in its place, less messy, but, to me at least, doing so makes things a lot less interesting.

And a lot less fun.