Out at Home


Christie Pits Panorama Bigger

The title of my baseball book may be “Out at Home.”

It still has to pass muster with Lorimer’s marketing and publishing experts, but Out at Home seems to be the leading contender. I like it–it not only harkens to the book’s gay theme but it is also (slight spoiler alert) descriptive of one of the major chapters.

Out at Home.

I love it.

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Hit by a Curve — my first novel!

Image: Paul Hum

Image: Paul Hum

I’ve just hit ENTER and sent my first novel manuscript to my editor, Kat, at Lorimer Publishing.

It all started last August, when Christie Harkin–who had signed me for the Gabby series at Fitzhenry and had recently moved to Lorimer–sent out a note to authors asking if they wanted to write a middle-grade novel.

I called her and she suggested that I write a baseball novel, since my son (the kid on the left in the photo, back when he was 10 years old) is an avid baseball player and most days in the summer I can be found on the sidelines at a game–or two, or three.

Christie said the novel had to have a few specific things: an urban setting, kids around 12 or 13 years old, lots of baseball action, diversity and problems or issues that kids can solve for themselves, without involving adults.

I went home and talked to my son and my husband about it. Together, we came up with a scenario in which a struggling PeeWee Select team is getting a talented new player–who just happens to be gay. It’s a new situation for these kids, who aren’t the most open-minded bunch to begin with. So how do they react? On one hand, they desperately need the new boy’s skill and expertise on the team. On the other hand, they’re now confronted with their own prejudices–that they perhaps didn’t even know they had.

I’ll be blogging about the novel and about the writing process, so please stay tuned. And I’ll let you know what my new editor says about the manuscript! (Fingers crossed!)

PS: Christie has recently started her own publishing firm, Clockwise Press, whose “mission is to publish high-quality young adult and children’s books featuring themes of diversity, inclusion, and global awareness.”

PS2: “Hit by a Curve” is just the working title. It will be changed. I’ll letchya know.


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Wonder how picture books are made?

COVER 3The idea for Gabby came from some research I’d done about literacy and “kinesthetic learning”–many kids learn to read faster if they can touch actual letters, like Scrabble tiles.

Gabby’s magic book creates letters. Whatever she spells with the letters, comes to life. That makes a connection for kids between letters, words and real-life things.

In Gabby: Wonder Girl, we wanted to extend the learning a bit, with questions–question words and question marks. So we had to invent a bit of a mystery for Gabby; she finds a mysterious photo of a little girl and wants to know: WHO is it?

Wonder Girl Joyce Cake 2This is me, just a bit older than Gabby, holding a prize-winning doll cake my dad and I had baked for a father-daughter contest. And below is the photo Gabby discovers in Gabby: Wonder Girl. (Greta is my late grandmother’s name.)

Gabby Greta photo







Once the text was written (Wonder Girl is 574 words, by the way) it was time to talk to my publisher, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. This is my first book with Cheryl Chen as my editor; she’d been enthusiastic about the idea of a question-based Gabby from the start. She poked some very intelligent holes in my manuscript, as a good edGabby versionsitor will do, pointing out where the story needed to be improved. So I rewrote… and rewrote… and rewrote. There would be 19 rewrites and polished versions by the end of it. Every word has to work really hard, especially since part of the book’s job is to help kids learn to read.

Next, illustrator Jan Dolby was given the text, to make her magic with it. It was particularly tricky, because Gabby creates questions (“Who?”) and somehow, Gabby understands that the answer is “Mrs. Oldham.” I thought the “Who?” could turn into Mrs. Oldham’s butterflies (from the second Gabby book) but I sure as heck didn’t know how! I just said, “Hey, Jan and Cheryl–figure this out, will ya?”

Long-story short… Jan pulled it off beautifully. Here’s what it looks like in the book.

Who butterflies











When the story opens, Gabby happens to be dressed up like a superhero. I love that idea, because if you’ve ever seen a kid put on a cape–they’re immediately transformed. And I wanted to portray Gabby as a powerful girl. A super girl!

Jan immediately caught onto that idea. She has all kinds of superhero t-shirts and paraphernalia. She loves superheros. She spent a lot of time thinking about “Wonder Gabby” and “Super Roy”, and studying superlogos.

Jan Superman napkin

I wonder if you picked up on the pun: “Wonder Girl” refers to Gabby as a superhero and the fact that she’s questioning, or wondering.

Incidentally, Gabby’s friend Roy is indigenous. I think it’s really important that kids in our northern and First Nations communities have picture books with kids who are like them. In this book, Roy becomes Super Roy. (Thank you to Grand Chief Eddie Erasmus and Dr. John B. Zoe of the Tlicho government and Dale Matasawagon from Canada’s Assembly of First Nations for their help in developing Roy.)

WONDER GIRL Roy Gabby Wonder Girl

I’ll be posting more about Gabby: Wonder Girl as the book is completed (we’re not quite done!) and of course, when it launches. In the meantime, please check out Jan Dolby’s website.

And please do pre-order Gabby: Wonder Girl on Amazon. If you live near me, let me know and I’ll sign your copy. If you don’t, send me your snail-mail address and I’ll send you a signed bookplate sticker.

I’d like to thank Winston, Rowan, Cheryl, Tracey, Daniel and the entire gang at Fitzhenry & Whiteside Publishing for their support, encouragement… and talent!

And, of course, Jan Dolby who I hadn’t met before Gabby came along but who I now love like a sistah. ‘Cause she’s awesome. And talented. And super-quirky. But in a cool way.


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Some wonderful Gabby “fan fiction”

Fan fiction from Grade 3 students at RH McGregor.

Fan fiction from Grade 3 students at RH McGregor.

I just love it when kids write their own stories using Gabby and her friends as the main characters. Recently, a class of Grade 2 students at Davisville Public School wrote and illustrated some phenomenal stories. I was presented with a big binder of them, which I will cherish.

And today, a class of Grade 3 students at R.H. McGregor School each read out their Gabby stories. And what great stories they were! In one, Gabby got hit by a truck (she’s fine). In another, she was burglarized and in another she was framed for a bank robbery! She lost her magic word book a few times, and she lost her dog — only to find that Mrs. Oldham had dog-napped it! She lost her glasses, went to Africa, went missing, ended up stuck inside her magic word book, won first place in a reality-based music show, had to hunt down her neighbour, went to a baseball game, asked Roy to the prom, went to the hospital, went to the zoo — and so much more!

Fan fiction by the Grade 2s at Davisville PS.

Fan fiction by the Grade 2s at Davisville PS.

The kids’ writing was thoughtful and evocative and really exciting. I learned that lots of kids like “big adventures” for Gabby — hit by a car?! — and aren’t afraid of a little espionage in their picture books.

As an author, especially one who’s working on the next Gabby book, I learned a lot about the kinds of stories kids want to hear, and the ways in which Gabby can be part of them.

Thanks to all of the wonderful writers at Davisville and R.H. McGregor!

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Blog tag: “The Next Big Thing,” Gabby—Drama Queen

Joyce Gabby JanThis post is part of “The Next Big Thing,” which is a world-wide blog tour—someone described it as a kind of chain letter for authors. It began in Australia, to showcase authors and illustrators and their work. If you Google “The Next Big Thing blog tour” you’ll get introduced to dozens of talented authors and illustrators.

Gabby illustrator Jan Dolby and I were tagged by two talented kidlit creators whose book, Skink on the Brink, comes out later this month. Skink was written by Lisa Dalrymple and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo, a three-dimensional media artist.

In the blog tag, each kidlit creator answers the same six questions about their book. Here are the comments from Jan Dolby and myself.

What is the title of your next book?
Gabby_coverOur first book, Gabby, came out in January 2013.

Our second book in the series is called Gabby—Drama Queen, and it comes out in September 2013.



Where did the idea come from for the book? How did you come up with the final character illustrations for the book?
Joyce: I’m very passionate about literacy. Something I discovered in my research is that if reading can be “tactile,” many kids will absorb and understand it better and possibly faster. So I thought, ‘what if there was a way to have the letters in a book be touchable, and moveable?’ And there it was!

As for Gabby herself, I knew that we would have to have a character who was smart and quirky enough to just go with the flow when strange things started happening around her. The actual name “Gabby” came up in a brainstorming session with my editors/publishers, Christie and Cathy. Before that, the character was named Sarah, after a little girl I know. I think “Gabby” really suits the character—plus it’s a mild pun, which I really like.

Gabby with friends Jan: I draw and draw until I create a character-drawing that I fall in love with. With Gabby I fell in love fast. I’ve always enjoyed book characters that have red hair and a spunky personality. I had to give Joyce’s book one of those.

I tweeked the character a little to give her more height and width—with an “emotional flower” and crazy curly pigtails.

After awhile, the tiny little girl—Gabby—with the red glasses and yellow socks arrived!

In what genre does your book fall?
It’s a children’s picture book, for ages approximately 3 to 6.
At the back of the book there are also literacy activities that parents can do with their kids.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Miranda Cosgrove young
Joyce: It would have to be someone young and very quirky and smart. Maybe someone like Miranda Cosgrove when she was a little younger (she played Carly in iCarly).

38th Annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards - InsideOr what about Quvenzhane Wallis – the girl who was in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”? She’s pretty smart and, I think, quirky.


Phyllis Diller 2Jan: When I came up with the Mrs. Oldham character, I was constantly thinking of Phyllis Diller. I loved her outbursts of laughter, her crazy hair and body language. I’m also a big fan of Rico Rodriguez (Manny) from Modern Family. His character on the show is so confident. That’s how I see Gabby’s friend, Roy.

What is a brief synopsis of your book?
Gabby—Drama Queen
When Gabby and her friend Roy want to put on a play, what could go wrong?
They soon find out, as “Queen Gabriella” loses her precious crown! They’ll find it in the most unlikely place – with the help of Gabby’s magic word-making book and her nutty but loveable neighbour, Mrs. Oldham.

Who is publishing your book?
Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, Publishers in Toronto.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? How long did the illustrations take to complete?
It took about a year to write the first Gabby book, and then re-write and revise it eight or nine times. When you don’t have many words, you have to make sure each one works really hard. Plus, you have to leave room for the illustrator to breathe.

It took a bit less time to write the second one, because I had less time—actually, we’re still revising but we’re pretty gabby-drama-queen-pg10close to the final product.

Jan: Creating the new characters for Gabby—Drama Queen was a blast and didn’t really take me that long.  That for me is the most fun.  Between the storyboard drawings and the final painted illustrations, I would say it has taken me about 3 to 4 months to get the illustrations ready to scan.  I’m at the digital stage where the magic of Photoshop and Illustrator come in.  That process will take just a couple of weeks to finish. 


ThankDavid Anderson illustrators for reading, blog tour-ers! I’m happy now to tag the next person in this blog tour, multiple award-winning illustrator and cartoonist, David Anderson. I’ve known David for a long time, back when he drew brilliant editorial cartoons for a publication I was an editor with, called Canadian HR Reporter. Of course, his drawings have also appeared in some lesser-known papers like, oh, the New York Times and Time magazine. Enjoy!

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The writing process for Gabby – interview by Debbie Ohi

Inky Girl by Debbie OhiDebbie Ohi is a wonderful picture book illustrator (“I’m Bored” and the upcoming “Naked!” by Michael Ian Black). She’s also got a wonderful blog called Inky Girl with tips and information for aspiring children’s book writers and illustrators.

Debbie Ohi and Joyce Grant

With Debbie Ohi, showing our then-proofs for I’m Bored and Gabby.

She recently interviewed me about the writing and editing process for Gabby.

Here’s the interview.


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NaNoWriMo means “write a novel in November”

NaNoWriMo logoYes, you heard that right. Write a novel in November.

NaNoWriMo is: National (presumably it refers to the U.S. but they welcome everyone) Novel Writing Month.

Starting Nov. 1, you write and write and write every day… until you’ve reached 50,000 words by Nov. 30. Simple! Well…

To help you in your endeavour, the NaNoWriMo website offers forums, blogs, tips, ideas and a word counter. (You scramble your writing and upload it to the website where it is counted and promptly deleted.) Your word count then goes into the pool for your city. Or just for yourself.

Obviously, this is something we can “just do ourselves, anyway,” right?

But… do we? No. If life was that simple, there wouldn’t be Weight Watchers. Or spin classes.

Or Chocoholics Anonymous. (Note to self: Start Chocoholics Anonymous.)
See? The ideas are flowing already and it’s not even November yet!

Sign up for NaNoWriMo and get inspired. Do it now. Before November. Because in November you’ll be, like, “Oh, it’s already started — I’m behind… I can’t possibly catch up… I’ll do it next year.”

Just like you said when you were trying to kick your chocolate habit. Uh-huh. Here’s the link again: NaNoWriMo.

"This tall" sign

By the way, there’s a kids’ forum as well so no excuses if you’re not “this tall.”

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Interview with up-and-coming literary starlet – Gabby!

Joyce and Gabby interview; by Jan Dolby, based on a photo by Robert Gagnon

Joyce Grant and Gabby take a time-out from their lunch to chat about their upcoming book – and Gabby’s fabulous hair; illustration by Jan Dolby, based in part on a photo by Robert Gagnon.

Gabby is the main character in Joyce Grant’s new children’s picture book (illustrated by Jan Dolby and published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside). She recently agreed to chat with Joyce Grant about the new venture.

JG: Gabby—may I call you that?—it’s so wonderful to talk to you in person. After all, you’ve been in my head for so long.

G: My full name is Gabriella, but almost no one calls me that so please do call me Gabby. And yes, it’s great to finally be out of there—it was a bit cramped.

JG: Well, there’s lots of other stuff in there and I won’t apologize for that.

G: Streetcars? Chefs?

JG: Right. Sorry about that. They’re from a couple of other books I’m working on. They’ll be gone soon—I hope. But let’s talk about your book. You’re the star! Are you excited?

G: It is exciting! I was especially thrilled when our editor, Christie, suggested naming the book after me. I can’t wait to see my name on the cover.

JG: And your picture, too! Would it surprise you to know that your name was nearly Sarah?

G: What?!

JG: Well, when I first wrote the book it was called, “Sarah Makes Friends,” after a girl I know. And then Christie and Cathy (from the publisher) met with me for a coffee at Starbucks and we discussed other names. You were also nearly Fanny!

G: I’m speechless. I’m so clearly “Gabby.”

JG: Yes, I agree. And part of the reason for that is that Gabby is kind of a quirky name. Would you say you are quirky?

G: People call me that, certainly. I think they mean that I sometimes look at things a little differently. And I do agree with that.

JG: Can you give us an example?

G: It’s mostly about letters and words. For instance, you’re wearing a T-shirt. So I’m asking, “What does the T stand for? Is it ‘Tea shirt’—like one you’d wear while you’re drinking tea? (It would account for that stain, Joyce.) Or is it a Tee-shirt like you’d wear on a golf course? I mean, what’s the T for?”

JG: Well that certainly is a unique perspective. Oh, here’s our appetizer.

G: Alphabet soup—my favourite! Letters you can eat. How perfect is that?

Alphabet_soup by strawberryblues; Wikimedia Commons

Alphabet_soup image by strawberryblues; Wikimedia Commons

JG: Yes, stop playing with it, though. You’re getting it all over the…

G: See, if you put these letters together…

JG: Gabby, you’re splashing soup everywhere!

G: …just need another L for G-a-b-r-i-e-l-l-a

JG: Gabby, can we please talk about something else? I just love your signature red hair. It’s so “you.”

G: Thank you. And I don’t even have a stylist. I just get up in the morning and stick it in ribbons… really I just let it do whatever it wants. In fact, that’s my attitude towards life in general. Go with the flow.

JG: It certainly seems to work for you.

G: Yes. How else could I get two warring species to become friends?

JG: Now, Gabby, don’t spoil the ending for people!

G: Hey, it’s not every day a kid helps to thwart thousands of years of evolution.

JG:Thwart”? You do love words, don’t you?

G: Speaking of words, look at what I’m spelling in my alphabet soup!*

JG: Gabby, I think this interview is just about over, don’t you? Is there anything you’d like to say in conclusion?

G: Well, just buy my book, please.

JG: Well, it’s your book and it’s my book and Jan’s book and Fitzhenry & Whiteside’s book. In any case, this seems like a good note to end on. Thank you very much, Gabby.

G: Thank you. And you just ended a sentence with a preposition, Joyce.

JG: On which to end, then. Gabby—stop splashing!

G: G’bye!

JG: G’bye!

* “Fitzhenry.” She spelled Fitzhenry.

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My editor sent the layouts for Gabby!

Gabby layoutsI’d seen bits and pieces along the way, but seeing it all together was very exciting.

I was out of town on vacation when the email came through; I sent the file to my local copy shop so they could print a couple of colour copies for me to pick up on Monday morning.

It looks even better than I could have hoped. Jan Dolby has done an extremely thoughtful job, illustrating “between the words.” When I wrote the manuscript I took out some descriptive lines that I had thought might handcuff the illustrator. I wanted her to feel free to go her own way, creatively. And boy, did she!

Readers will love some of Jan’s little jokes and ongoing features–like the tiny frog who hides on every page. Kids love reading books again and again; having hidden illustrations and jokes makes reading the book an ongoing discovery not only for kids but for the grown-ups reading it with them.

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“Gabby” to be published Nov. 2012

In just a few months, Gabby will be published!

Writing a picture book is an exciting process and through this blog I hope to bring you into the loop.

For instance, many people think that your manuscript needs to include both words and illustrations. While it’s true there are some writer/illustrators, in my case — and in the majority of cases — the publisher chooses the illustrator for you.

My editor from Fitzhenry & Whiteside Publishing chose the perfect illustrator for this book. In my head, Gabby was irreverent, quirky, confident and likeable. Jan Dolby (check out her blog here) captured Gabby’s nature perfectly.

Gabby; illustration by Jan Dolby

Illustration by Jan Dolby.

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