Category Archives: Meet the Author

Chris Hadfield – Book Signing: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

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After reading An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (click for review), I was very excited to join my friend Shalom to meet the retired astronaut and get our books signed.  The book (which I now feel a need to reread) is inspiring!  He shares his boyhood goal of walking on the moon and describes his hard work and persistence that helped him become Commander of the Space Station.

It was a long wait for the book signing as Chris got stuck in traffic related to the mudslide on the 403.  He was the passenger and tweeted his progress.  He even had a live chat with the couple across from us and their children were awestruck that they were speaking to an astronaut.  The individuals in the line up were excited, children were dressed in space suits and people were very patient.  Costco handed out chocolates and water to help with the wait.

Finally, Chris arrived at Costco to hundreds of waiting fans.  He was gracious and not only apologized to the crowd but reassured everyone that he would stay and make sure that everyone had their books signed.  The store closed, the lights dimmed and still books were signed.  Chris shook our hands and apologized to everyone individually for the delays.  It was an honour to meet him and I am very happy to have a signed copy of his book!

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney) @ the Inspire Toronto International Book Fair

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“I did not get the dream I set out for but I got one that’s better.”

The second author presentation that we saw was Jeff Kinney, that author of 9 Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.  These books (and the movies which were filmed in Canada) have been very popular at our house over the years and have appeal for both adults and kids.  Brendan has been our most recent reader of these books and was excited to get the latest release of The Long Haul.  As a parent who has taken our children on 17 hour road trips to Myrtle Beach, I too am looking forward to reading the adventures of the Heffley family!

Kinney shared a little bit about himself – he grew up in Washington, DC and now lives in South Massachusetts with his wife and 2 sons.  He shared his father’s love of comics.  Following his dream to be a newspaper cartoonist, he made his own cartoon character in college named Igdoof.  He told the audience that he admired the Big Nate books and wrote to this author who not only returned his letter but gave guidance about what he could do better.  The Big Nate author even included a drawing of Igdoof in one of his Washington Post cartoons alongside an image of Garfield and Bart Simpson.  Kinney graduated with a Criminal Justice degree and has worked in many different roles including newspaper design, medical softwaree, online educational games and currently his Poptropica website.  He sent out his cartoons and got many rejection letters so he decided to “masquerade as a kid drawing cartoons”, wrote down everything funny from when he was a kid in a sketchbook and then took 8 years to write his first draft.  After dealing with previous rejections, he took a sample pack to the New York Comic Convention and met a publisher who said that this was exactly what they were looking for.

It was very interesting to learn about his writing process:

January – Kinney always starts a new book in January and needs to come up with 350 ideas for his writing.  He showed a picture of wood blocks that he uses to keep track of the number of ideas he has come up with and to motivate him to keep going.  He shared that when he thinks of an idea he needs to “write it down right away or it will be gone” and that he has moved away from his physical sketch books to using technology including his iPad or phone so that his ideas go to the cloud.

After six months of coming up with ideas, he starts working on the cover.  He drafts the picture and gets paint chips to decide on the exact colour (incidentally, the exact colour of his books matches the exact colour of his tour bus).  After deciding on the exact shade, he comes up with his title.  I found it quite interesting that he had decided on the cover and title before he had even written the text.

July – He starts working on the manuscript using the ideas that he has come up with in the first half of the year.  While his children are outside enjoying the summer vacation, he said that he is stuck inside with his dog Thunder writing until he has exactly 217 pages.  When asked why his books are all exactly this length, he said that the first one was by accident and he decided to follow this pattern for all books as it is “fun to make them the same size and they look good on the shelf.

August – This is the month of drawing.  He completes 320 drawings using a computer tablet and program called Flash.  Each drawing takes an hour and he showed the audience examples of how he does his drawings.

September – He has finished all the drawings and “forgets the book for a while“.  He shared that he always feels a bit surprised when he gets the book in the mail and the first thing he does is puts it on his book shelf with the other books to see how they all look together and then heads out on his tour bus with built in bunk beds on a book tour.  He showed a picture of this year’s bus.  not only was it a vibrant orange but it had cartoons including the discarded cover picture that was not used.

Kinney was very inspiring and his presentation was geared to both the eager children and to their parents who brought them to the book fair.  He encouraged the kids to be persistent, referencing Canadian Author Malcolm Gladwell’s book, the Outliers which talked about working for 10000 hours to become successful. He told the kids:

“If you have a dream, really nurture it and let it grow.”

After the presentation, the kids lined up for book signing.  Despite the large line ups and expectation of signing books for 100 children in an hour, he spoke to my kids individually.  Brendan asked if he would draw a picture in his book and Kinney not only signed his book but also drew a quick sketch of  the character, Greg, while telling him that it takes a long time to make the movies.  We are certainly looking forward to reading this book!

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Captain Underpants (Dav Pilkey) @ the Inspire Toronto International Book Fair

IMG_4588Today I spent a terrific day with Erin and Brendan at the Inspire Toronto International Book Fair.  Brendan was very excited to start our day with a presentation by Dav Pilkey about his Captain Underpants series.

Pilkey started his presentation with his own childhood story including that “school had a way of wiping that smile off my face.” He spoke of his challenges dealing with his ADHD including problems with behaviour, restlessness, disruptions and reading problems.  His biggest challenge was dyslexia which became a huge source of anxiety.  He joked that his anxiety would cause the “whole classroom to fill with sweat.”  Because of his reading challenges, he focused on drawing and began to make comics.  He shared slides of his original comics that he wrote, called Waterman, which was about a person who was fishing, got struck by lightning and turned into water.

HIs inspiration for Captain Underpants was his second grade teacher who did NOT think that he was funny and did NOT like comics.  One day, when the teacher said the word underwear, the class laughed and were reprimanded “boys and girls, underwear are not funny”.  Dave responded by drawing his first Captain Underpants character only to have it ripped up and to be sent in the hall.  While in the hall, he made another Captain Underpants comic – the class LOVED it but the teacher ripped it up and told him to “grow up because he couldn’t spend his whole life making books”.  Clearly, he can spend his life writing books and has been very successful with the Captain Underpants series, Mighty Robot and Dog Breath.

It was interesting to hear that Pilkey lives in Japan and likes to kayak.  During one of his kayaking trips, he found a cave where he likes to write by a fire.  If he ends up with a mind block, he just goes for a swim.  He told the audience that they don’t need to find a cave to write because “creativity is all around us.”

The kids were treated to a reading and power point slides depicting his new, not yet published book, Dogman.  He used fantastic voices for the characters and the kids were spellbound.  The text was handwritten using the style that I like to call creative spelling (like my kids used to do).

He ended by sharing pictures of famous people who had also had trouble in school yet went on to be very successful, including:  Harrison Ford, Mohamed Ali, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Kiera Knightly, Steve Jobs, Jamie Oliver and Johnny Depp.  He told the kids that some people just learn differently.

“there really is hope for everyone if we use creativity”

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Update:  What was the best thing about the book fair?  Getting up for swimming on Saturday morning and finding Brendan having an early morning read!!  He is loving Captain Underpants, Book 11!!!!

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57. Us (David Nicholls)

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It is inspiring to read a novel after meeting with an author and learning about the writing of the book.  Us did not disappoint!  This novel told the story of Connie and Douglas – the artist and the straight-laced scientist – who had been married for many years.  As the couple prepares for their only son Albie to move away to college, Connie wakes in the middle of the night and tells Douglas “I think our marriage has run its course.”  Despite the shock of this announcement, the little family sight-sees their way across Europe while Douglas tries his best to win back his wife.

Togetherness becomes too much for the father-son relationship, which has been strained for many years.  Old hurts (like glued together lego) surface and are rehashed while Connie tries to mediate.  Oversharing, undersharing, things that should not have been said and things left unsaid create a widening gap between Douglas and Albie.  In frustration, Albie takes off with an accordion playing busker and Connie leaves for home following a scene in a restaurant.

It is hard not to feel sorry for Douglas as he tries, unsuccessfully, to share his feelings and repair his relationships.  He valiantly decides to track down his son and through a series of mishaps (including leaving his wallet in a locker, falling asleep in the sun and an unfortunate swim with jelly fish) he finds Albie and attempts to repair their relationship.

The quick chapters fit the cadence of travel, just like the author indicated.  It was nice to learn the name of the confection – Soft Mints – that Nicholls referenced during his tales of travelling on the train.  I chuckled as Douglas dealt with the bikers after the bicycles and vintage motorcycles fell domino style in the streets of Amsterdam which was based on David Nicholls real-life experience.

For those that are married and those that have teenagers, it is easy to reflect on some of Doug’s actions. Without giving away the ending, the book is enjoyable and comes full-circle.  While I enjoyed his previous novel, One Day, Us was superior and worth a read.  While the author felt that the story line was too “epic” for a movie, I for one, can picture Doug in the water amidst the flowing, stinging jelly fish!

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Meeting David Nicholls and Discussing the Release of “Us”

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This has been a busy week for new books!  Laura and I were lucky to attend this event at Harper Collins in Toronto and meet  author David Nicholls.  Us has just been released but I have previously read and enjoyed his novel, One Day.  The author was visiting from England and the venue was a medium-sized board room with about 40 others in attendance.

He discussed the research that went into his novel and how a baby-sitter had been working on a PhD in fruit fly studies.  This piqued his existing interest in science and lead to a family tour of a fruit fly lab.  This baby sitter was so eloquent talking about the insects that he decided to write a love scene that took place in the lab.

When speaking of the research done in relation to Us, he spoke of planning a three week tour to check confirm details of the  locations in the novel but that his publisher and partner had vetoed that idea.  Instead of the tour, he enjoyed a train ride from Paris to Amsterdam and from Munich to Verona to ensure that these scenes were correct.  While on the train, he described a customs raid that he had thought of adding to the manuscript but instead he deleted this story line and only used a specific confectionary that he had seen on a train menu.  He shared that he was able to utilize Google Maps to ‘virtually’ walk through the streets and ensure accuracy.

Nicholls used some real life situations in his novel.  He told of a trip to the Red Light District of Amsterdam when he had borrowed a bicycle from the hotel to go and meet his agent at a restaurant.  After the meeting, he found that his bike had been surrounded by fifty other bicycles.  In an attempt to unlock and remove the bike, he inadvertently knocked over other bikes and  a cascade of vintage motorcycles.  The bike owners came out of the bar leading to an interesting discussion.  Nicholls said that he used this true scenario in the novel but added creative license relating to the prostitutes.

It was very interesting to learn that the story was originally written about a man and his son going on a journey together.  This original draft was written in the third person and was a very slow process to write.  After completing 35, 000 words, he had his agent and partner read the draft and they jointly decided to throw it away and start over, restructuring the novel into short chapters which fit the pattern of travel and essence of time.  He  talked about his writing progress and adding a “hook” in each chapter with the hope making it difficult for readers to put the book down.

Nicholls described how he never writes based on a real person but “uses traits of others mixed up in a blender” also including a little bit of himself.  He gets inspiration from other authors and named both Anne Tyler and Canadian author, Alice Munroe along with the 1950s books Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge.  These novels, both told the same story, one from the point of view of the husband and the other from the wife, in a series of vignettes.

David Nicholls shared that he “really loves writing”, is really proud of this book and that he is very happy to write for a living. He told the audience that he had been an actor and while he acknowledged that he was “a terrible actor” what he liked about acting was the “words on the page”.

This was a great way to spend an afternoon and we left with an autographed copy of Us, that we are both eager to read, along with a picture with David Nicholls.

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Laura, David Nicholls, Susan

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An Evening with Jodi Picoult

CL-VIP-goldbond-banner-FINAL-web1411047652Thursday night, I was lucky to spend an evening with author Jodi Picoult in Toronto. The venue was a small theatre with about 200 other fans.

Jodi started the evening by giving a reading of her new book, Leaving Time which was released on October 14, 2014. She read two chapters of the novel, each narrated by a different character and was a very dynamic and engaging reader. The audience was spellbound, listening to her enthusiastic reading.

After the reading, she discussed the research that she did regarding elephants, including a visit to an elephant sanctuary. Many of the true elephant stories have been incorporated into Leaving Time although some identifying information may have been changed. She learned interesting facts including that each elephant has unique ridges on their ears, just like humans have individual fingerprints. She described heart-wrenching stories of abuse suffered by elephants in captivity and how elephants bond for life, never leaving a sick or infirm elephant behind. Jodi described how a shocking 38 000 elephants are killed every year for their ivory and how poaching supports criminal elements and terrorism and she suggested charities such as the Sheldrick conservation and Tusk Trust.

Following the reading and the knowledge exchange on elephants, Jodi sat down and answered questions from the audience. It was like sitting with her in a living room.   She was open, engaging and funny. She talked about how when she is writing she feels like she “a medium, watching a movie that only she can hear” and that she “worries” about certain characters. Even though she does not write sequels, she does tend to bring characters back in other novels.

When asked about her writing style, she described her routine which includes a run or walk with a friend while she “gossips”. After a shower she spends a couple of hours answering emails – she clarifies that she, herself, answers ALL fan mail, which is quite amazing! She starts her writing by reviewing what she wrote the day before and then keeps on writing. One tip that she imparted was:

“You can edit a bad page but not a blank page”.

Like many leaders, she attributes her success to “working really hard and having good fortune along the way.” She was a big reader as a child and told how she read Gone with the Wind at age 13 discovering “a whole world made out of words”. She had teachers who encouraged her and worked with many amazing writers along the way and has now written 23 books including a young adult book Between the Lines which she co-authored with her daughter.

The evening ended with a book signing and a chance to greet Jodi and have a picture taken with her.  Stay tuned for a review of Leaving Time (which is my December book club read).

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Susan, Jodi and Laura

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