Wednesday, 16 May 2018

OCULUM is in the house! 5 middle grade dystopia questions answered ...

OCULUM, from Dancing Cat Books
Available April 22/2018

It never gets old! Holding my newest book is a thrill that I'll always love, which I guess means that I'm still in the right business. 

WELCOME OCULUM

My new middle grade, science fiction dystopia publishes on Earth Day, April 22/2018 (seems fitting)! My author copies have arrived in the house, and to celebrate I thought I'd answer "5 questions people are probably going to ask me about this book." (If you have a question that I haven't answered, please ask. I'll answer it in another post.) Enjoy!

Q: Elevator pitch: what is Oculum about?

A: Humanity is recovering from environmental collapse, and two sets of children, one living a life of luxury inside an insular domed world and one living in the rubble outside, must somehow combine the best of both their worlds.

Q. What does Oculum mean? 

A: Oculum (noun) is Latin for "eye." In architecture, a circular oculus allows light and air into domed structures like the ancient Roman Pantheon. Some modern domes use an oculus, too.

Q: Why did you choose "Oculum" for the title?

A: I chose "Oculum" as the title because I wanted a word that sounded slightly weighty and ancient, as well as modern and futuristic. Latin words do that well!

Half of the story takes place in a domed world, known as "Oculum" to its inhabitants. Similar to the ancient Roman Pantheon and other structures (like Rogers Centre in modern day Toronto for example), the robot keepers in Oculum open the circular top of their dome to the sun and stars, using a simple but impressive mechanism.

Also, this story takes place as humanity begins to recover from a plague, environmental disaster and general collapse. The words, "Oculum aperui" mean "I opened an eye." While the book isn't didactic, I like the idea that we need to "open an eye" to what we're doing to the planet. Generations past and future will be watching (keeping an "eye" on us, if you like), to see what we do to save and preserve our world now, and what we do if we get a second chance to rise from the rubble.

Q: What made you want to write a middle grade dystopia? 

A: The idea for this book started with a vivid dream I had many years ago, of a mother with robot arms as she tucks a human child into bed. They weren't my arms (or my child), but the sweetness of the robot Mother's love for her human charge really stayed with me. I've always wanted to explore the idea of a middle grade dystopia, since they are quite rare, and here was the kernel of the idea: a robot Mother's love.

Who is she? Who made her? Why is she in charge of a human child? What's the child like who has only had cool, metallic arms to tuck her in every night? Do they talk of love? What kinds of love might survive the end of the world, anyway ...

Q: What challenges did you face writing a middle grade dystopia, and how is it different from young adult dystopia?

A: When I started to look around the modern dystopia genre, I didn't find that much written for a middle grade audience. There's plenty of great YA dystopia though, and while there's lots of overlap, there are also some subtle differences between YA and MG, mostly in the slightly gentler, more hopeful tone.

Could that be the reason for the relative lack of modern MG dystopia? It's hard to get the right dystopian message across in a gentler tone? I guess it's possible. Of course, if you know of good recent MG dystopias that I've missed, please let me know!


I read a few MG dystopias for younger readers as a kid, though, most notably John Christopher's "White Mountains Trilogy" from the '70s and John Wyndham's "The Chrysalids."

I think the shining example of middle grade dystopia is Lois Lowry's "The Giver," which is an astonishing book and I urge you to read it asap if you haven't! Monica Hughes' "Invitation to the Game" is another great book in the genre (she was also a Canadian author).

There was the challenge. As a middle grade author (Oculum is my 10th book for middle grade readers), I wanted to see if I could explore a dystopia in a meaningful way with younger kids.

So, I set out to write Oculum. I wanted to touch on environmental ruin, collapse, how society might restructure itself as it renews, and what would we lose and what would we value in the new world? What would happen to books, art, literacy, music? Who would raise the children? What fragile symbol could I use to represent what we stand to lose if the planet dies forever? (A peach.) And finally, how to do this all in a slightly hopeful way?

It WAS a challenge!

In the end, I created a dystopia with two first-person voices. The first voice is Miranda1 inside the dome (at 13, the oldest girl in Oculum). The second voice is Mannfred (12), a boy living rough outside the dome in the rubble, with his friends.

In Miranda's isolated world inside the dome with the robots and the younger children, the world is picture perfect, but there is no love or freedom. In the ruined City outside the dome, Mannfred and the other children know death, disease, hunger, but they are fairly isolated without much social interaction. So that was one way to get into a middle grade dystopia: with two voices from younger characters who have both been quite isolated.

And a few other MG tactics I used...

Violence: I wrote a gun into the story, but it plays a different role than it might in a YA dystopia (barter instead of destruction).

Language: Cranker, one of the main characters outside the domed world of Oculum, does swear but in a humorous way: "Festering gobs" and such (along the same lines as "sufferin' succotash" as my editor said). He was fun to write!

Romance: There is love in the story, but it's the love of friendship. The main characters in the dome, Miranda1 and William1, do hold hands and know that they will be together always, but romance is for the future.

Hope: Mannfred (Mann for short) is the main character outside the dome. He has the last word, and I loved writing the final chapter from his POV. He's a great character anyway, a big, gentle 12-year-old who is happy to carry the family's baby (and who has no stomach for fighting, although he always wins since he is so big). As for a hopeful ending ... you'll just have to read it to find out how I handled that!

Oculum is available everywhere APRIL 22, 2018.
Order your copy now
Read more about Oculum at Dancing Cat Books 
Read the very first Goodreads Reviews
More about OCULUM on this BLOG

Monday, 14 May 2018

For the children of OCULUM, a poem ...

We have left you,
The thousand chosen,
Kept you all safe here, at the fall.

There is a door,
And you must find it,
There is a door, within the wall.

Be the brave ones,
Then pass beyond it,
The Mothers shall rise, at the call.

*This poem is the opening page to my new middle grade dystopia, OCULUM (Dancing Cat Books, 2018). It is the first poem I've ever used as part of a plot, and in the case of this story it is both an invocation and a warning. I didn't read all those dwarf and elf poems and songs in The Hobbit over and over again as an 11-year-old for nothing (although unlike Tolkien, I stopped at 3 stanzas)!


OCULUM (Dancing Cat Books)
Cover by Emma Dolan

Read more about OCULUM on the publisher's website now.
Order OCULUM online.
Read about OCULUM on THIS BLOG.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Mother of Miranda1 holding a peach for Mother's Day...

Mother of Miranda1 holding a peach ...
Cover Illustration by Emma Dolan


My new middle grade dystopia, OCULUM, has been arriving in bookstores and libraries all month! 

Since it IS Mother's Day weekend and the book tells the story of two sets of children and their Mothers (one set of Mothers are robots) both inside and outside the perfect, domed world of OCULUM, here are a few pertinent words from the Acknowledgements Page:

"This book began as a weird, vivid dream, in which mechanical arms tucked a human child into bed. I’m not sure whose arms they were (or whose child), but I did take inspiration for the Mothers in this story from parenting my own children, Sarah and Ben. Thank you to them for our bedtime ritual which always ended with a little extra tucking before the lights went out.


I’d like to acknowledge that the character of Grannie in this story is inspired by the heroic feats of grandmothers the world over, raising the next generation of children orphaned by AIDS, war, addiction or in the case of this book, the end of the world. I’ve also taken much inspiration from my lifelong friend Sarah, to whom this book is dedicated, who has fostered, adopted and supported many, many children over the years, all who needed loving arms."

Mothers come in many forms, I think, even robot form. In the case of this story, one of the main characters outside the dome of OCULUM is a 12-year-old boy named Mann, who happily carries the family's baby on their journey through their ruined world (and doesn't mind changing a diaper here and there, either). 

We all need loving arms from time to time, be they human or robot. Hug back and Happy Mother's Day 2018!

Oculum is available everywhere
Put your copy on hold at Toronto Public Library
Visit the Publisher's Website for Media Copies and more
More about Oculum on THIS BLOG