More Real-Life Superheroes!

The best thing about writing a book is you get to meet all sorts of inspiring people.

David and Nathan on stage

You are looking at a real-life superhero.

I don’t mean me. I’m talking about the young man I’m hugging. His name is Nathan Duke, and he introduced me at the Silver Birch Book Awards ceremony a couple of weeks ago.

OLA Forest of Reading festival

I don’t know how often you speak to an audience of 2000+ people, but I never do. Man, I was scared! My stomach felt like it was full of frogs.

Nathan, on the other hand, was totally calm. He breezed up to the microphone and started chatting with that audience as if he was Jimmy Fallon. He’d written a funny speech about how I wasn’t athletic when I was a kid, and how I’d never dreamed that I could write a book. As he spoke, I thought to myself, He’s the real writer, not me!

After Nathan said my name, I was so humbled and impressed, I jumped up and gave him a big hug. Let’s take another look at that picture, shall we?

David and Nathan on stage

That is probably my favourite picture in the world. Me hugging one of Canada’s most gifted young orators. One day, I hope to return Nathan’s favour. I can’t wait to introduce him when his book gets nominated for an award!

* * *

Here’s another inspirational person:

Dave and unnamed girl at St. Jude's

Her name is Paige Marchant. She came up to say hello to me after I gave a presentation at her school. Her last name sounded familiar, so I said, “Did you know there’s a famous marathoner named Marchant?”

“I know,” said Paige. “She’s my aunt.”

Lanni Marchant is Canada’s fastest female marathoner. Last October she set a new Canadian record, running the marathon in a blistering time of 2:28:00.

“Lanni Marchant is your aunt?” I gasped.

Paige nodded. I knelt down on the floor and shook her hand. It felt like I was touching royalty. I was.

lanni

 

 

The Shortest, Happiest Run of My Life

Not sure what I was thinking, exactly.

I was standing on a stage, speaking to 5000 screaming kids. When I suddenly decided I needed to go for a run.

forest of reading

I should explain. I was at the Forest of Reading’s annual Festival of Trees. The Festival of Trees is a huge literary amusement park, where kids get to hang out with their favourite authors and illustrators, take part in workshops, and basically get jazzed about books. One of the highlights is the announcement of the highly-coveted Silver Birch Award. Kids get keyed up about this award because they’re the ones who choose the winner. Any student who has read five of the ten nominated books gets the honour of casting a vote.

My book was lucky enough to get nominated. That’s why I was standing on that stage. Major thrill. If you’re worried that reading is going the way of High School Musical, you can relax. Those kids screamed for us authors as if we were One Direction.

Dave on stage

Each author was given 90 seconds to speak, and when my turn came, I began saying something super boring, about how reading is really good for your brain and you should really make friends with your local librarian because they’ll introduce you to new worlds of wonder and blah blah blah blah blah.

Seriously. I was more boring than watching your computer defrag. So I suddenly jumped off the stage and started running.

 

Here’s the thing. When I jumped off that stage, the aisles were completely clear. I figured I could do a quick lap around the audience, high-fiving kids all the way. Of course, the moment those kids figured out what I was up to, they swarmed into the aisles to say hello. This slowed my progress considerably.

There was another glitch. When I picked up speed on the return trip down the centre aisle, I noticed that the stage was surrounded by a fence. Good thing I’ve been doing lots of lunges lately. I vaulted over that fence, leapfrogged a stack of amplifiers, and made it back to the microphone in less than 30 seconds.

Dave laughing on stage

It was the shortest – and happiest – run of my life. When I sat back down, I barely even felt out of breath. And even though my book didn’t win (that honour went to the woman on my right – Robin Stevenson – for her soulful novel, Record Breaker), I spent the rest of the day walking two inches above the ground.

Hmmm. Maybe that’s how I got over that stage fence so easily. I wasn’t running at all. I was floating.

(photos/video courtesy Denise Anderson)

Running in London

My life changed on a Thursday. Last Thursday, actually.

I drove down to London and visited a bunch of schools. School visits are one of my favourite things to begin with, but it was a gorgeous day, all sunny and spring-like, and the kids I met were more beautiful than brand-new iPhones, and the energy in the classrooms was all hoverboards and high-fives. 20140129_090301_1 I had a total ball at all those schools. But that isn’t what changed my life. At the end of the day I visited St. Robert’s Catholic School, and did my usual “Ultra talk” for a class of sixth graders. The teacher had read almost all of my novel to the kids, and after my presentation was over, the kids asked me if the Urinal Hockey League actually existed in real life (it did!) and are there really bandits in running races (there are!) and have you really run into bears in the forest (many!). We took crazy group pictures while Katy Perry blasted from the boom-box, and then the kids asked, will you come outside and run with us?

The last period of the day was about to begin. It was their P.E. class.

Since it was so beautiful and I had my running shoes with me, of course I said YES!

I thought we’d maybe do a few easy laps around the schoolyard.  But after we’d conga-lined out the back door and into the bright sunshine, the P.E. teacher said, “Okay, let’s play Manhunt. Caleb, you’re it!  Who do you choose as a partner?”

Caleb glanced around, and then chose me.

ME! It was the FIRST TIME I’ve been ever picked first for a sports team!

And do you know what? I rocked at that game! As a kid I was terrible at soccer and basketball and volleyball and baseball and just about any other game with a ball, but when it came to Manhunt, I was THE MASTER!

Manhunt, by the way, is basically tag, except that two people start out being it, and slowly but surely tag everyone else. Once the other kids are tagged, they become “it” too, and join in the hunt, helping to chase down the last remaining players. Manhunt is basically nothing more than a 15-minute SPRINT. And I was sprinting after some extremely speedy sixth-graders!

It was the best possible way to end a long day. We laughed and screamed and bounded around that schoolyard like gazelles!  I wasn’t a grownup anymore. I was eleven years old. Eventually I tagged someone, and Caleb tagged someone too and our little group of “it” people grew and grew.

When the game ended we pleaded with the teacher to let us play again. He said yes.

What that game ended we pleaded with him again.

When the third game ended we convinced him that daily physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle, so of course he had to let us play one more game.

After the fourth game, the teacher gathered all of us kids in a quiet corner of the playground, and he had us sit down on a bunch of boulders. Then he handed me a beat-up copy of Ultra. “Would you mind?” he asked. “We’re only five pages from the end.”

He wanted me to read the end of the book to the kids! I was hesitant. That’s a very intense section of the book. In those final 5 pages, Quinn not only saves ——–, he also gets passed by ——— and nearly loses ———-, but then he thinks of ———, and sees ——— and ———, and there’s an intense final showdown with ——— at the finish line. And the whole time the clock is ticking…

The kids cheered and cheered until I agreed to read. I got a bit emotional as I turned the pages, and I actually choked up a couple of times. I often read from the novel in my school visits, but I’ve never read THE ACTUAL CLIMAX!  The kids were RAPT. They were so totally into it, and we were outside in the sun, and we’d just spent an hour racing around the schoolyard.

When I finished the last few sentences the kids stared at me in silence. “Keep going,” someone said.

“I can’t,” I said. “That’s the end.”

I was shocked to find that the book was actually pretty good.  I hadn’t really expected that.

“That can’t be the end!” said Caleb. “You have to write a sequel!”

On the two-hour drive home, I couldn’t stop singing.

The Ultra-Running Birthday Party

A young friend of mine recently celebrated her 7th birthday. Instead of going bowling or having dinner at Chuck E. Cheese’s, she asked her mom for a “spa” birthday party.

spa picture

A lady came over with her spa equipment and gave the girls (and two boys) manicures and pedicures. Then she gave the kids chocolate facial masks. “Most of us ate our faces,” my young friend told me.

The partiers enjoyed spa-licious smoothies, applied glitter tattoos, and sashayed about the house in fluffy bathrobes. They listened to spa music, read magazines, lit candles, and of course had a pillow fight. At the end of the afternoon, they put on a fashion show.

Sounds amazing, right? And it gave me an idea. If kids are having “spa” birthdays, shouldn’t there be an option for “ultra-running” parties too?

running cake

Say it’s your birthday. I could drop by your house in my running gear. To begin, I’d show you and your friends how to lace up your shoes properly. You’d be amazed how many different ways there are to lace up your shoes. It’s positively thrilling!

After that, I’d share stories about my craziest runs. Like the time I ran from Mississaugua to Brantford and drank eleven whole litres of water. Ot the time I jogged the rail trail from Dundalk to Owen Sound and counted every single railway tie along the route (14,157). Talk about a geyser of fun! This would be the best birthday EVER.

Soon enough, it would be time for the main event! We’d all go outside and run a few hundred laps around your yard. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too muddy. But even if it was, it would just add to the fun:

muddy kids

Since not everyone is super athletic, we’d keep the run short – just 3 or 4 hours. Along the way, I’d share tips on proper hydration and nutrition, and tell you and your friends how to avoid cramps and shinsplints.

Eventually, we’d stop to refuel. But you wouldn’t find any cake at this “ultra-running” party. Instead we’d feast on runner’s food: baked sweet potatoes, kale salad, dates and almonds, cauliflower and broccoli flowerets. If things got crazy we might open a bag of antioxidant-rich snow peas. It’ll be all fireworks and high-fives and hoverboards.

Am I crazy, or is this a BRILLIANT idea?! Let me know what you think – I’m still working out the kinks.

 

The Perks of Being an Author

Being an author’s cool. You get to make up stories, you can wear a beret and no one complains, and from time to time people send you fan mail and tweets.

Best of all – you get invited into schools. Sometimes the students even give you stuff.

20140129_090301_1

That’s part of a huge banner featuring scenes and quotes from my novel, Ultra. It was drawn by a cast of thousands (okay, maybe hundreds) of students at Oakville’s New Central School. Those same kids also gave me a pair of awesome running “sleevies” – inscribed with the name of their school:

Sleevies alone

How awesome is that?! I’ve always wanted a pair of sleevies.  They’re perfect for those brisk spring runs.

Dave wearing sleevies

Here’s something else I was given – by the amazing students at St. Hillary Catholic school in Mississauga:

School letter

A school letter! This was particularly meaningful, since, when I was growing up, school letters only went to the football players and the track stars. Since I was completely un-athletic back then, I never had a shot at one of these…

Until now!  😉

It’s quite a thrill, going into schools. Some days I’ll speak to 500 kids. I tell stories about running into bears and having hallucinations on the trail. I talk about writing and being creative and never giving up! Sometimes I even get my nephew Quinn on the line via Skype, and ask him how it feels to have inspired a literary character.

Most of all, I try to have meaningful moments with as many students as I can. I keep my eye out for the arty kids – the ones who have something special inside them that needs to be expressed. Maybe it’s a graphic novel, or perhaps it’s a new computer language, or maybe it’s a cure for cancer. With luck, those kids will find the strength to pursue those dreams. If they have someone who believes in them, I believe their odds are improved.

Autograph - you are faster

I like to think that I’m inspiring these kids, but the truth is, they inspire me more. Almost every single one of them asks me: “When’s your next book coming out?” It’s the greatest gift. Almost better than those running sleevies.

All Writing and No Play…

How long has it been since you won something?

Been a long time for me, let me tell ya.

It was 1980. I was at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall in Port Dalhousie for the annual middle-school public speaking competition. On a clapboard stage for 7 long minutes I held forth on the fascinating topic of…radio!

It was a galvanizing moment, being handed that first place trophy. It gave a huge boost to my flagging teenage confidence; plus it helped launch a broadcasting career that has sustained me for 31 years.

That’s right – it’s been 31 years since I had a “win.” That’s more than 11,000 days. That’s a cool billion seconds! So you can imagine my delight this morning when I came across this:

The Cybil awards are handed out by a shadowy cadre of book bloggers in the United States and Canada. I don’t know who they are exactly, but I have some solid leads, and as soon as this cold weather breaks I’m going to head out on an extremely long run, and stuff a pair of dry-wick running sleevies into each of their mailboxes as a thank-you gift.
RyanHall
It’s the least I can do. Those judges have no idea how much I needed their vote of confidence today. I’ve been struggling to finish the manuscript of what I hope will be my 2nd novel. I’m at that tragic stage where I don’t know if my story or my characters or my writing is any good, in fact I’m pretty certain that it’s all a pile of dreck.
Remember that scene in The Shining when Shelley Duvall sneaks a peek at Jack Nicholson”s huge unfinished novel?
all-work-and-no-play
She discovers that he’s been writing the same sentence over and over; hundreds and hundreds of pages worth.
Sometimes I’m scared to open my writing, lest I come across pages like that.
It wouldn’t surprise me a whole lot, to be honest. Writing is a crazy-making act. Someone have likened it to “getting into a knife fight with yourself in a phone booth.”
So THANK YOU judges – for reminding me that I’m not crazy. I will now stop my crying. I can do this. I shall endure.

How Writing = Running (Part 17)

Number of seconds left until spring: 3,884,927.

Oops, make that 3,884,925. I mean 3,884,923.  

Of course, anybody who’s ever spent any time outside knows that there’s no such thing as four seasons. There are actually 365 of the things, each one a tiny bit different.

That said – oh my geesh! – winter is NEVER going to end! There’s four feet of snow outside my house. The concession looks like a white tunnel, with 12 foot windrows on either side.

The skiing is pretty good mind you —

Glenelg Forest

Photo credit: Shawna Watson

As for the running, I’m still logging my miles. Not as many as I’d like though.

A couple of months ago I made the painful decision to scale back my running so that I could finish writing my second novel. I’m still managing to squeeze in 60 kilometers a week, but it isn’t enough to keep me sane and balanced. Usually  I’m running closer to 100k. The shorfall is making me pretty, er, spazzy.

On the bright side, I’m nearly finished the book. I’m hoping to finish it by Valentines Day.

I should actually be working on it at this very moment. Instead, I’m writing on this blog. I’m procrastinating. You’d think that writing would get easier with experience, but it never does. There’s always that moment, each and every morning when I drag myself to the computer with that fresh cup of coffee, when I have to kick my own butt, and say: “It’s game time…you can do this! Now sit down and WRITE!

Those first few minutes are always painful – just like stepping outside for that morning run. Your muscles complain and your bones feel like they’re made of glass. You want to turn around and slide back into bed. But after a few minutes of jogging, your muscles loosen up, and you find a comfortable pace, and you remember why you love this crazy hobby.

It’s the same thing with writing. It usually takes me ten minutes to find my groove. After that, I stretch out with the words, roll around in the syllables, and luxuriate in the paragraphs.

I really regret that run

Writing and running aren’t the easiest of hobbies. But once you get going, there’s no stopping you!

This is What Keeps Me Awake At Night

Want to know the hardest thing about writing for kids? Coming up with fake curse words.

Let’s face it, most kids swear from time to time. You did it, I did it. It’s totally natural. It would be weird to write a kids’ story that didn’t have some kind of cursing. But to use an actual four letter word? Nah, I could never do that!

Instead, I come up with “fake” obscenities. Words that possess all the power and energy of real swear words, but that aren’t remotely offensive.

Coming up with a good fake curse is like finding a $20 bill on the sidewalk. You snatch it up and stuff it in your pocket, hoping no one else noticed your discovery.

Kara with the bubble gun

My neice Kara (above) is the master of the fake curse word. She gave me a couple of good ones last summer. BUTT KNUCKLE is my favourite. Don’t you just love the way that rolls off your tongue? Butt knuckle! There’s just something about those 3 syllables tied together. All those hard consonants: the B, T and K. Say it with me: Butt Knuckle!

(Question: what is a butt knuckle? Do we actually have such a thing, somewhere in our derrieres? I’ll ask Kara.)

Kara also gave me the classic phrase, POOP NUGGET.

What, you don’t like Poop Nugget? Blame Kara, not me!

I kinda like Poop Nugget, though it’s maybe a bit goofy. There’s nothing worse than a goofy fake swear word.  Kids’ll throw your book at the wall if the fake swear words are too goofy. Hmmm. I’ll admit I’m on the fence with this whole Poop Nugget thing. It skews a bit younger; toward kids with a more scatalogical sense of humour. Maybe I’ll let one of my younger characters use it. Minnow. Yeah, Minnow would say Poop Nugget for sure.

Speaking of characters, I’ve almost finalized the names of the characters in my next book. There’s Finn, Minnow, Brody, Skyler, Deena, Grac and Gwen. The villian, who’s plotting to cut down an old-growth forest, is the Tree Weasel.

I’m having trouble with one character though. She’s a fifteen year old girl with blue-green hair and scuffed-up knees and she likes to wear a Fidel Castro army cap and reflective aviator sunglasses. She started out as Sal, but that got problematic. Names starting with the letter ‘”s” are awkward in novels. In dialogue scenes, every other sentence ends with “Sal said.” 

So I changed her name to Dia. But that didn’t feel right either. So I changed it to Will, short for Willa. Then to Dal. And now Mel.

It’s getting frustrating. Butt Knuckle! Poop Nugget!  There, I feel much better now.

Real Life Superheroes, Part 38

I just discovered this. One of the best short films ever! And it’s built around the improv storytelling of 6 year-old boy.

Asa Baker-Rouse (age 6) wrote this. And his bubbly personality reminds me an awful lot of a certain character in my novel Ultra (okay…twist my arm…he reminds me of Quinn’s little brother, Ollie.)

Click the link. Be not scared!

 

Quinn and the 100-Mile Map

winnie

When I was a kid, I loved books that had maps. For instance: A. A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh” (above). And Arthur Ransome’s “Swallows and Amazons:”

ArthurRansomeMap

I loved being able to follow along with the characters; to know exactly where they were as they went about their adventures.

Those books inspired me to draw maps of my own. I spent a lot of time designing imaginary worlds; countries jam-packed with hidden tunnels and valleys. Mountains and caves were essential too. Secret getaway places. Strongholds. Forts.

I never lost my love of maps. So when I wrote my novel Ultra, of course I needed a map!

hand drawn map of race course

That’s a map of Hither Lake; the body of water Quinn circumnavigates in his 100-mile race. You might notice that the shape of the lake bears an uncanny resemblance to the lake where I spent a lot of summers as a kid:

Kennisis