Am I Weird?

Stepping into my office the other morning, I had a moment of clarity, in which I saw my desk as a stranger might.

It was pretty scary.

The most obvious thing was the computer. Okay, that’s normal. But that’s where normality ended.

Strewn around the computer there were papers. There were notes for a non-fiction book proposal that included calculations for the intrinsic rate of increase of pea aphids, notes about parthenogenic reproduction, and a list of potential titles, many of which included the word ‘alien’. There were also a smattering of papers and notes from the workshop I attended last weekend, a note about my son’s shoe size, and the beginning of a short story set in New Zealand’s not so distant future.

That’s not too weird, though the story is a little bizarre…

Making a lump under the papers were three D&D dice. I use them for my students–they can roll the dice to choose a random writing prompt from the list of 500 prompts I’ve made for them. Honestly, I don’t roll the dice to see if a character lives or dies in a story (though that could be fun). The dice sit on my desk between classes because they’re fun to roll around in my hands while I’m thinking.

Well, that’s not too strange…

Also on the desk was a stem of the storksbill I’d blogged about the day before. It was still there, though I should have thrown it on the compost when I was done with it. It was interesting to look at…

And nearby was the Weeds of New Zealand book that I’d used for reference when blogging about the storksbill. I’d gotten sidetracked after the blog post was written, and spend a good half an hour perusing information about weeds. I left it sitting out because, you know, everyone needs a weed book on their desk.

And here’s where the tableau on the desk got…um…interesting…

Two dead bumblebees nestled together near one corner of the computer. They’d been there for days–ever since I found them on the floor and noticed that one of them had a drop of venom on her stinger. I put it under the microscope at the time for a photo shoot, but then kept the bees on my desk as…as…well, for no good reason really, other than that I enjoyed looking at them, especially as their parasites (mites) started to abandon their dead hosts and crawl all over my desk, questing for a new bee.

That’s not weird, right?

Over on the other side of the computer was a dead German wasp in a plastic bag. She was in the bag because I’d just taken her out of the freezer. Um…yeah. She was clearly a queen looking for a good nesting site (and she was a non-native pest that I’m deathly allergic to), so when I found her in the house, the only sensible thing to do was to kill her. But there was no point in wasting her. I popped her into the bag and into the freezer to kill her without damaging her, thinking I’d pin her later and keep her for teaching.

That’s definitely not weird. Everyone stores bugs in the freezer, right?

And thankfully out of sight inside a folded piece of paper was the dead mosquito I’d brought back from Auckland because it was a species I don’t see much of here, and when I saw it land on my ankle to bite me, I thought it would be a good specimen to keep.



It was definitely time to clean the desk before someone came to visit.

Making Connections with Children’s Stories

Brian Falkner discussing his publishing journey.

I’m in a rainy Auckland this weekend at the Storylines Children’s Writers and Illustrators Hui. There are over a hundred writers and illustrators here this weekend, from people who have yet to start writing their first book to the venerable Joy Cowley, who has published so many stories over her long career she’s lost count of them.

Some curious observations:

The vast majority–probably 80%–of the participants are middle-aged women, parents of teens and adult children.

Another 10% is composed of younger women.

Most of the women are writers, though some are illustrators.

Only about 10% are men, and at least half the men are illustrators.

So why are most participants middle-aged women? Is it that a workshop like this appeals more to that demographic? Is it because that demographic has a greater ability to take off for a weekend to attend a workshop (both because of finances and because our children are old enough to stay at home alone)? Why aren’t more of the women illustrators?

My unscientific and haphazard look at how we all arrived at this place reveals a preponderance of teachers and former teachers in the group (which would partly explain the preponderance of women). Not surprising, perhaps. We have spent more time with children than others, and have an affinity for children and the books they read. Maybe we want to write the books we wish our students had read? Some, like the wonderful David Riley, who produces books about Pacific island heroes, write the books his students are desperate to read.

However we’ve gotten here, all of us share the goal of making emotional connections with children through stories and books. It is inspiring to hear the creative and diverse ways in which New Zealand authors are doing that.


Looking Forward, Looking Back

Lots of weeds, but plenty of progress too.

I have a tendency to look forward most of the time. I do a lot of planning. I plan the garden—what needs to be done each week during spring so I can get everything planted at the right times. I write detailed quarterly plans for my writing—focusing on what tasks I need to accomplish to get the next book out and increase my audience. I’m so focused sometimes on looking ahead at what I need to do next, that I can forget to look back.

Looking ahead, I see endless to-do lists, huge tasks to accomplish, and challenges to overcome. It is unrelenting, because there is always something more on the horizon. The jobs are never complete, the list is never empty. It can be overwhelming.

From time to time, it’s worth looking back. Never mind that over half the garden is still rank with weeds—look at the beds I’ve already prepared, the seedlings already growing in many of them. Forget the unfinished manuscripts, the editing that needs to be done—look at the four books I’ve already published, the four other novel drafts completed, the dozens of short stories I’ve written.

I don’t like to dwell in the past, but occasionally it’s nice to look back and see that all my work has actually gotten me somewhere.