Congratulations on your latest book Me and Banksy ($18.99, Puffin Canada), which came out last month. Reading your blog, it sounds like the process was a long one. Can you please tell me how long it took to get published and the steps it took to get there?
Thanks, Lisa! The publishing process for Me and Banksy was different than for any of my previous books. When Penguin Random House accepted Mya’s Strategy to Save the World, they offered me a two-book contract. I happily signed it, with fireworks and champagne bubbles popping in my head. But then I freaked out! Because I’d agreed to a (cue scary music) DEADLINE and I had NO IDEA what that my new book was going to be.
I started two manuscripts, and went back and forth between them until I drove my critique group crazy. Finally, a few concepts clicked and Me and Banksy came together. Just in time for me to press “send” and collapse!
Q. How was this book journey different from some of the other books you have published?
A. It’s always tricky to think back and decide how a book started. Sometimes my brain is like a dating site for ideas. I have unattached thoughts floating around, looking for their mates. In the case of Me and Banksy, I wrote three chapters featuring the characters of Dominica, Holden, and Saanvi. Then I got stuck. I loved their voices, but I wasn’t yet sure what the book was about. The dating-site magic happened when I started thinking about cameras in classrooms. Then everything came together!
Q. What were the main differences between the book you first pitched to the one we read today? How did the characters evolve?
A. In my initial manuscript, Max was actually two characters. There was an awkward classmate named Ivan, plus an athlete/photographer named Max. My teen daughter wasn’t happy when I combined the two, and she still refers to the new character as “Mivan.”
Other than axing poor Ivan, I don’t think I dramatically changed any characters. But the relationships between them definitely evolved as the manuscript progressed, then deepened further during the editing process.
I enjoyed your blog post titled Skipping to the end and how your son helped you realize you didn’t need to write your book in the obvious order. Have you used this method before?
My son is 13, and he appears to be entirely immersed in Minecraft. But whenever I ask him a writing question, he comes up with surprisingly good advice!
I do often write books out of order. I skip to the big events, then fill in the smaller, developing moments afterwards. Because I was on a tight deadline for Me and Banksy, and I was focused on getting the manuscript finished, I temporarily forgot about creative flexibility. It was good to be reminded!
Q. For the most part, are you a planner when it comes to writing your books or do you go with the flow?
A. Both! I start with a lot of free-writing. Partway through, I stop and outline. Then, once I start writing again, I immediately stray from my outline. It’s an inefficient process, and if anyone would like to break into my brain and streamline things, I’d be very appreciative.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for this book?
A. A few years ago, I wrote a non-fiction book called Eyes and Spies: How You’re Tracked and Why You Should Know. It was full of fascinating privacy and security questions. How do security cameras affect the way we behave? Why does privacy matter? I finished writing the book but I hadn’t finished thinking about these issues. And I wanted a way to explore them with readers who might not pick up a non-fiction book.
Q. In this book what came first (story idea, character, etc.)?
A. The characters of Dominica, Holden, and Saanvi came first. I don’t know where they came from, but when they popped into my head, with their own distinct voices, I fell in love.
Q. When/where did you first hear about thestreet artist Banksy and why did you want to include this person in your book?
A. I first heard of Banksy when he sold art from a pop-up shop in New York’s Central Park. He was already famous. He’d sold pieces at auction for half a million dollars. But when he offered his art in the park, no one recognized or valued it. One woman negotiated a discount and bought two pieces for $60.
I loved the cheekiness of the whole idea, and I’ve followed Banksy’s work ever since. In the book, Dominica says that Banksy has “a way of making it obvious that people can be wonderful and people can be horrible.” That’s why I love his art. It’s critical, but it’s not bitter. There’s still hope involved.
Q. The idea of cameras in the classroom (yikes!) or in schools at all is an interesting one. What do you hope readers will learn about privacy from Dominica and friends?
A. We often hear this line from security advocates: “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” But it’s simply not true. Sometimes, I work in my pyjamas, with my hair unbrushed, and I eat Cheerios out of the box. I’m not doing anything wrong (except maybe in my nutritional choices). But I wouldn’t want to be on camera!
I hope readers are inspired to think about issues of privacy and security. We don’t all need to decide on one over the other. We simply need to be aware, and to make our decisions carefully.
Q. Privacy becomes a bigger issue as the story progresses. Is this a cautionary tale or something from experience?
A. Many ingredients in the book – the use of RFID tags for attendance, and the misuse of the laptop webcam, for example – were drawn from real events. The tags are commonly used for attendance in Japan, and more and more in North America. The misuse of the laptop webcam happened in Pennsylvania.
Q. Do you have any other projects on the go?
A. This fall, I have a book coming out with Kids Can called This is Your Brain on Stereotypes: How Science is Tackling Implicit Bias. It was absolutely fascinating to research and write. Our brains play all sorts of tricks on us as they sort and categorize. Hopefully, as we learn to recognize these tricks, the world can become a more equitable place.
Q. Do you have a dream project?
A. Right now, I’m writing a book proposal with my 15-year-old daughter. If it works out, that will be my dream project. I’ll let you know!
Q. Feb. 19 is I Read Canadian Day. Can you please tell me your thoughts on this day and the importance of it. When you read Canadian, who do you turn to (picture books, middle grade, young adult, adult)?
A. Canadian authors and illustrators are amazingly diverse and innovative, and they’re expanding the boundaries of children’s literature. Our publishers are producing some of the world’s best children’s books. But too often, our books are floating in a sea of American titles. I love how I Read Canadian Day is giving people the chance to identify and celebrate some of the unique creativity all around us.
Some of my favourite Canadian creators are Rachelle Delaney, Kallie George, Robin Stevenson, Liz Crump, Stacey Matson, Monique Gray Smith, Julie Flett, Monique Polak, Lee Edward Fodi, Susin Nielsen, Celia Krampien… oh my, I could go on forever.
Q. Anything else you would like to say?
A. Thank you for having me! I love your blog. You’re wildly diverse in your reading choices, and that’s the way I like to read, too!