• Richard Scrimger

can't see the forest for the trees...


The last months of the school year went through me like green corn.  Travelling all over Ontario (well, southern Ontario) thanks to the Forest Of Reading.  There were festivals in Thunder Bay, London, Toronto, Mississauga, and Oshawa, and I was there for each one, smiling, nodding, signing books, and making speeches and presentations.  That picture was taken in Peel, I think. You can't see me but I'm there in the front row.  Did I have fun?  Yes.  Would I do it again?  Totally.  Next month?  Well, maybe I'd wait a bit. A Forest Of Reading nom does more for book sales than just about anything else in Canadian kid lit.  So many schools are on board, so many librarians order your book ...  it's like a Scholastic Book Fair times 500 schools, and you actually make some money. I'm pleased that the selection committee liked Zomboy enough to include it this year.  You don't have to win the award -- the winner doesn't make any money or sell many more copies.  Simply being on the short list is a victory.  Which is just as well. Winning any award is a bit of a crap shoot.  The right judges, the right timing, the right book.  People's choice awards are an even purer crap shoot because the judges are regular folks instead of professionals.  Denominators are lower, emotions are higher. What kind of authors win readers' choice awards?  Cool ones.  Young ones.  Judges like to vote for people like themselves - which makes sense.  But more important than who you are is what you write.  Most kid authors are neither young nor cool, and some of them win. So, what kind of stories win?  The tear-jerker about a tough kid making her way against the odds is a good bet - especially if her dog or sister dies.  The action-packed adventure might win, if the world is in jeopardy and our protagonist has a cool weapon.  Adventure and sentiment rule.  Man, I wish I could write that kind of story.  But you have to believe and care about what you write, and I, well, I can't care about that stuff.  I don't mind reading it, but every time I imagine writing about a dog (or sister) gazing at me with liquid eyes as they breathe their last, I start to giggle. Want to know what doesn't win, no matter how the dice roll?  I'll tell you.  What won't win is a story about zombies that is really a riff on racism and school bussing, where the overall tone is funny quirky and the ending is left kind of vague.  Don't write one of those. Sadly, I did, and so I was not the winner of the Red Maple Award this year.  I didn't win in Thunder Bay.  Then I didn't win in London.  Then I didn't win in Toronto, Peel, Oshawa.  The picture up there does not show me winning.  It might have been one of the times Eric won (adventure, cool weapon) or Rona (dead children).  I spent the end of the school year not winning the award. Sigh.  I got used to it. Am I glad to have been on the short list?  Yes.  Would I do it again?  You bet. Will I write an easier-to-like book for next time?   I'll try, but I haven't written one of those yet.  Don't bet on me.

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Richard Scrimger | scrimgerr@gmail.com | Toronto, ON, Canada