Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays!

On behalf of Buddy, Deedee, Arlo, Pinball, Rocko, Cedric, Mr. Butterworth, Trixi, Martin, and the newest members of our team, Max and Diggory, I'd like to wish everyone an enjoyable holiday season full of all the good things in life.

And, maybe it's just me, but I have a feeling 2011 could be a good one.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Box of Shocks


The Box of Shocks

That's the tentative title of my new novel due out in 2011 with Orca Books!
Beware of hidden boxes buried in basement floors!
Watch out for dogs that chew on old cars and metal appliances!
Be cautious standing on the edge of bridges!
Never go trick or treating at a pseudo-zombie's house!
Never trust a parrot that doesn't talk!
Never use too many exclamation marks!

Watch for further details!

Monday, November 8, 2010

First Line Triggers

If you want to have some fun, try these first line triggers on for size and see what your mind conjures up.

I knew I was in trouble when . . .

My grandma always told me never to . . .

The last thing in the world I wanted to see was . . .

I should have known that it’s impossible to . . .

I’ll never forget the sight of . . .

It was confusing to see . . .

When I opened the washing machine, I looked in and found . . .

Who would have known that . . .

When I opened my birthday present, I was shocked to see . . .

My life changed with the arrival of . . .

It didn’t turn out to be a very good idea when my friend suggested we . . .

If you come up with some good first sentences, not so good first sentences, or whatever, drop me a line and let me read them.

Open With a Blast

Let's use those jumper cables for the imagination once again, shall we.

Great writing begins at the beginning– with a great opening sentence often referred to as . . .


In writing a story, sometimes it’s that first spectacular sentence which launches you, as a writer, into the story. In other words, the story flows from the first sentence.

So, what makes a great opening sentence?

There are no rules, but it seems to me, a great opening leaves the reader in a state of curiosity, asking questions like, “What’s going on here?” “Where is this story going?” and so on. The reader’s curiosity has been tweaked, so they feel compelled to read on.

At least, that’s my theory. Stay tuned for some specific suggestions on how to create such mind-blowing opening sentences.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spontaneous Writing

Quiet Chaos

Okay, so here's the result of thinking over those randomly generated words . . . Quiet and Chaos. This piece is short and could serve the basis for a longer piece of fiction.

A riot broke out at the Marcel Marceau School of Mime when it was announced that white makeup would be severely rationed. This dangerous problem was soon defused when an anonymous donation of twenty cans of white latex paint arrived at the front gates under the cloak of midnight. The donor remains a mystery, although the school's principal may know more than any of us could imagine. Since that chaotic day, a quiet peace has reigned at the school. How long this peace will last has been thrown into question as rumours persist that a worldwide shortage of invisible boxes is looming. Caution is advised. There’s nothing more dangerous, nothing more frightening, than an angry mime.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Writing's Mad Scientist

Here's another playful writing activity that is bound to get the creative sparks sparking, the creative flow flowing, and the creative juices . . . um, juicing? Anyway, this is one step up from the Dictionary Game. Instead of one random word, you generate two. I call it . . .

Adventures of a Wordly Mad Scientist

You throw two strange compounds together into a test tube. You give it a shake. You heat it up over a flame. Then . . . who knows what amazing chemical reaction you'll get? The test tube may even explode!

I found a great site which generates random pairs of words:

When two words, a noun and an adjective, are randomly thrown together, you get some interesting combinations that really get your creativity sparking, flowing and juicing (?) I've tried a few out. Sometimes it takes a number of tries with the generator before you see one that has that special intriguing quality about it. So far, my favourite one is . . .

Quiet Chaos

I'll put this combination in my little mind and let the creative dough rise. I'm not sure what I'm going to write, but I know this combination has some possibilities. I'll get back to you on this one.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Playing the Dictionary Game

So, here I am, flipping open the dictionary, closing my eyes, and BANG! I point to a word. And that word is . . . stunt, as in stuntman. Switch on the imagination, and let the words flow. Here's what I've come up with . . .

Stefano had a dream. That dream was to become a stuntman. One day, his big chance arrived. A movie was being filmed in town, and there was a call out for people who were interested in taking that first step into a career in the movies.

Stefano waited up all night outside the door of the movie director’s office, desperate to get a part in the movie. As he waited through the night, he dreamed of driving a Porsche at high speed through town, swerving around invading zombies while dodging machine gun fire. Or maybe they’d ask him to wrestle an alligator that had escaped from a zoo and was terrorizing the town. Could it be he’d be shot from a cannon, flying through the air and landing right on top of an escaping bank robber? The possibilities of Stefano’s role in the movie were endless, and he was ready for anything.

Finally, at eight in the morning, the door to the office swung open, and a scruffy looking man in a sweat suit covered in coffee and ketchup stains looked out at Stefano.

“Yeah? What do you want?” the man said.

“I’m here for a part in the movie!” Stefano shouted, jumping to attention to show his eagerness. “I can do anything! I’m not afraid of fire, loud noises, man-eating animals, or going really fast in a car! I don’t even mind jumping from trains or being shot from a cannon!”

“Have you done any of that stuff?” the man said, looking quizzically at Stefano as he rubbed the stubble on his chin.

“Well . . . not exactly,” Stefano replied. “I mean, I have ridden my bike really fast, and I’ve jumped from an awful lot of swings in my recess career. I figure those experiences have really prepared me for a career as a stuntman.”

“Is that so?” the man replied. “Well, the role we’re looking to fill in our movie isn’t exactly that dangerous, I’m afraid.”

“That’s okay,” Stefano said. “I’ve got to start somewhere!”

“Okay,” the man said. “If you’re keen, the job is yours. Come on in. We start filming in an hour.”

Stefano spent the rest of the day on the set of the movie dressed up as a giant ice cream cone. The movie’s director gave Stefano only two instructions– “Just stand there! Don’t move!”

Stefano’s first job as a movie stuntman wasn’t exactly thrilling. Even worse, Stefano was allergic to the giant ice cream cone costume. When he took it off at the end of the day, he was covered in strange purple dots.

But even worse, the director decided to cut the scene with the giant ice cream cone from the movie. The whole experience was one great big disappointment for Stefano. As a result, he decided not to become a stuntman.

“I want something with more danger!” he declared. “Something where I’m risking my life!”

So if any of you hear of someone looking for a lion tamer, please give Stefano a call. He’s busy in his backyard practicing with his tabby cat named Snickers.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jumper Cables for the Imagination

What’s the greatest fear of every writer? Illiterate zombies taking over the world? Loss of use of the left pinkie finger, thus necessitating the use of words that exclude the letters ‘q,’ ‘a,’ and ‘z’? Probably not.

I’m talking about Writer’s Block– the sudden inability to put words to paper. More accurately, the inability to create ideas which spawn words. I have a particular fascination with this phenomenon. Don’t ask me why.

Over the years, I have taken on this dreaded condition, developing a variety of methods for its remedy. They don’t always work, and some work better than others.

The first one I’d like to mention is what I call . . .

“The Dictionary Game”

If you’re stuck, and can’t think of the next sentence to write, grab a dictionary– a dictionary of slang is my favourite. Close your eyes, open to a random page, and jab your finger on a random spot on the page. Open your eyes and read the word. Challenge yourself to include that word in your next sentence.

It sounds counter-intuitive. Here you are, forcing yourself to fit a word into a sentence when you can’t even think of a sentence in the first place. The strange thing is, it often works. For some reason, when your mind is backed into a corner by being forced to use a particular word, this is a call to arms for the imagination. The random word is like a jolt that gets the mind rolling again.

Give it a try. Think of it as a game. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t lost anything. Let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Getting Lost in Lunenburg

Oh, the joys of getting lost! Last week, we were driving around Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, looking to head out of town when we took a turn and AMAZING! We came upon this very old school. I recognized it immediately as the inspiration for Eric Wilson's Ghost of Lunenburg Manor. Plus, right next door was the grave yard that is an important element of this fine book.
So, there you go. Getting lost does have its benefits. Always knowing where you're going is so overrated.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

More Artistic Interpretations

One of the reasons I wrote Buddy Concrackle's Amazing Adventure as a "pictureless" photo album was to have readers visualize each of the missing photos from Buddy's album. Last week, I received a number of incredible artistic renderings of these "missing" photos thanks to Melanie Dawson's class in Calgary. Here are just a few . . . Can you figure out the specific scenes from the story?

Artistic Interpretations

Thanks to the unknown student from Ranchero Elementary School who sent me this wonderful interpretation of a scene from Klutzhood, in which Arlo rides a bike through the library, chased by an enraged teacher-librarian.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Final Authentic Look

After six and a half hours of riding, this is my “Exhausted Bewilderment” look.

You be the judge as to which of these author photos would be best for the back of a book. In the meantime, I will continue to write and recover from my exhausted bewilderment.

Authentic Look Number Four

At five and a half hours, this is my “I Need More Oxygen . . . Much More Oxygen” look.

Authentic Look Number Three

At three and a half hours, this is my “Maybe I’ve Swallowed Some Dirt, But I’m Going to Keep Going” look.

Authentic Look Number Two

Two and a half hours later, this is my “I Broke My Chain and Spend Half an Hour Trying to Fix it While Being Attacked by Mosquitoes!” look. Excruciatingly authentic.

Look Number One

This is my “Brimming With Happy Thoughts and Overflowing With Optimism” look as the race is about to begin.

Authentic Author Photos

Ever noticed how author photos at the back of a book are mostly quite polished, staged, and posed? You never have a photo of an author at 6:00 a.m. only fifteen seconds after they’ve rolled out of bed. And you never see a picture of an author right after spending an hour or two in the dentist’s chair having a root canal. Yes, they are all so polished and refined.

I’m afraid I’m somewhat guilty of this myself. My photo in Klutzhood and Tabloidology was taken by my son, Ben, when we were out snowshoeing one Boxing Day. It’s the, “Hey, I’m in the Wilderness Under a Snow-covered Tree” look. No studio, no special lighting, but still, it was staged and posed.

May I present to you in the following posts a much more authentic set of author photos. These were taken spontaneously during the course of a six hour mountain bike race in Williams Lake called the Pedal by the Puddle.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Riding and Writing

What do these two activities have to do with each other?

Nothing and everything. (By the way, I wouldn’t recommend doing them at the same time, however, the mind works in strange ways regardless of what the body is doing.)

If you’re stuck for that killer ending to make your reader gasp in amazement, go for a bike ride.

Looking for a great opening line? Go for a cross-country ski. Or a run. Or a paddle in a kayak. Whatever works.

For me, it’s time to be out there, in the woods or on the water, all on my own, simply moving. This combination immerses the mind in a relaxed, creative mood when revelations suddenly flash forth whether you want them to or not.

I have to admit to carrying a notebook, and on occasion, stop to jot down a note or two. But usually, the revelation is enough to be remembered and applied to whatever I’m writing later that night.

So, riding and writing go hand in hand, along with skiing and writing, paddling and writing, and running and writing. Maybe I should buy a pogo stick!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Beast in the Dumpster

I was lucky enough to visit Hillcrest School in Salmon Arm, B.C. and see what incredibly creative activities the teachers and students are doing with my books. Here's a great idea for a class reading Klutzhood . . .

When Arlo's sitting on the Dumpster lid, he hears something and feels the lid move. He assumes there's some Dumpster monster down below. One of the teachers at Hillcrest School in Salmon Arm had her students listen to what Arlo thought the monster might look like. Then, she turned them loose and had them draw the monster in the Dumpster. What a great idea! The students' attention to detail was amazing.
Thanks to Joc, Hillcrest's Librarian Extraordinaire, for taking the picture.

If you have any other spectacularly creative spin-off projects relating to any of my books, I'd love to hear about them. Just send an email!

Also, don't forget about the Klutzhood study guide, full of all sorts of bizarre activities and questions, available at the Orca Books website.

What's Your Favourite Flavour of Ice Cream?

Yikes! I'm thinking I look much better dressed up as a big red dog, although my peripheral vision is much better in this get-up.

Here I am at Hillcrest School in Salmon Arm as part of my North Okanagan-Shuswap tour. What a terrific audience they were. Then again, everywhere I go on this tour, I've met vast hordes of enthusiastic readers who always ask the most interesting questions.

Yes, sure I get, "Where do you get your ideas," or "How long does it take to write a book?" But one bright little grade four student in Carlin asked, "What's your favourite flavour of ice cream?" My answer? "Tin Roof Sundae!" How can you beat the combination of chocolate, peanuts, vanilla, and whatever other magical ingredients they add? Of course, I'll eat pretty well anything (I draw the line at flavours containing live insects, reptile parts, or anything hexagonal) but Tin Roof Sundae is my very favourite.

Here's a question for you! What do you think would be the favourite flavour of ice cream for Buddy, Martin, Trixi, Arlo, Cassie, Mr. Butterworth (butterscotch?) or Ms. Baumgartner? If you have a guess, please send me an email, and I'll let you know if you're right.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Being Clifford

Take a look . . . a good close look, and I’m sure you can tell. Underneath that thick layer of brilliant red hair, behind those big friendly eyes, and somewhere inside that benign smile, you must be able to tell. Yes! It is, in fact, yours truly dressed up as the world’s biggest red dog.

But don’t think dressing up as Clifford is just all fun and games with a bit of tail wagging and paw waving. No siree! The Clifford costume comes with guidelines. Very strict guidelines. Among them . . .

Clifford is not to be seen with his head off at any time.

Clifford is NEVER allowed to talk.

Clifford is NEVER to lift his leg.

And there’s more. Plenty more.

So when you’re dressed up as Clifford the Big Red Dog, the pressure is on. You have to act like Clifford, which means you have to improvise.

How would Clifford react to, say, knocking over a book display with his errant tail?

How does Clifford dance like John Travolta?

How does Clifford sign autographs without an opposable thumb?

How does Clifford maintain his friendly, cheerful persona when he’s melting in a pool of sweat and his glasses are fogging up so he can’t see a thing?

How does Clifford manage the greeting of young children when he has no peripheral vision and can’t see anything within two metres of his big feet? (Check the picture. This kid is out of Clifford’s range of vision. We hope he wasn’t traumatized by being ignored by the Big Red Dog.)

Fortunately, I had a very capable handler who guided me through the trappings of a school family dance and fund raiser night. The evening was incident free– at least, as far as my limited vision could see– and Clifford’s reputation as a happy, helpful, rabies-free dog was upheld. Thank you Randy!

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Post Wins the Okanagan Short Fiction Competition

Much to my great surprise, my short story, "The Post," won first place in the 2010 Okanagan Short Fiction Competition. The story, written for an adult audience, can be found on the UBC Okanagan website. Thanks to my writing group for their feedback in shaping the story into its final form. Below is a photo of the actual post that inspired the story. If you want to see it, it's located on St. Anne's Road in Spallumcheen, B.C. Wherever you live, it's worth the trip to see it!

The Fraser Valley Tour

The author apprehensively receives a high five from the Spirit Bear outside the White Rock Public Library. (Note the hockey stick held firmly in the left hand, just in case. Although he may look like a jolly old fellow–the bear, I mean– you never really know. That's why you should always have a hockey stick at the ready.)

A special thanks to Ada Con for pulling the tour together.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Klutzhood Lands in the Fraser Valley!

A special hello to young readers of the Fraser Valley! Preparations for this year's Reading Link Challenge are under way. On January 18th, 19th, and 20th, Arlo, Pinball, Rocko, the Mysterious X, Cassie, and the rest of the cast of Klutzhood characters will descend upon six libraries in the Fraser Valley. Of course, all of these characters will be represented by the novel's author, Chris McMahen (that's me) and a borrowed hockey stick.

For those of you attending one of my sessions, come prepared with questions and quick reflexes. Elbow pads and face masks are highly recommended!

Thanks to the great people at the Fraser Valley Regional Library for organizing this tour.