Wednesday, December 21, 2011

And the Winning Title is...

crush. candy. corpse.  
This is my first book with James Lorimer Company Ltd. Publishing and it's been a wonderful experience.  It should have happened back in 1987 when the acquisitions editor turned down my first novel ever:  Blueberries and Whipped Cream.  Such a lucky book that turned out to be, film options were sold, Australian rights, a couple of years ago German, Swedish and Norwegian rights.

But this is going to be an even luckier book because the spirit of my mother will bless it.
It's dedicated to her and she died as I was completing the last edit. Much of my experience visiting
with Mom in the Alzheimer's unit is fictionalized in this book.  Things that nearly happened, that I imagined happening as I sat hoping for some response from my mother.

Anyway, we've been agonizing for a couple months.  Or maybe it was just me.  But a reader, Charlotte Zronik, came up with the title and everyone, including the booksellers who previewed the mock cover, loved it.  Thank you Charlotte.  You may have a career in marketing and PR in the future.  Certainly you have an autographed book coming your way.

Coming from my magazine world, initially I thought, with the lower case letters, that the first three words were the "dek" and the all-caps WHAT HAPPENED IN THE FORTY-FIRST HOUR? was the title. But that's just cool graphics.  I do like alliteration but this is a bit of a tongue twister.  Say it quickly and you'll see.

But nobody really has to say anything out loud. They just need to buy the book and read it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Skyping Freedom Middle School in Stone Mountain Georgia

Not my fans, at least not yet, these are a class of kids from Georgia who listened to Thunder Over Kandahar as a read a loud. Sharon McKay came over so I could help her skype in to answer their extremely thoughtful questions.  I thought Sharon was joking when she said she was bringing me a burqa to wear for the interview. I chuckled out loud. That Sharon.  Such a kidder.  Me dressing up for that tiny skype window.
She wasn't joking.  It felt a bit claustrophobic even though it was a pretty aqua coloured fabric with some nice embroidery.  I found it hard to breathe and stumbled to the computer. Sharon spoke about the detailed research she does, usually onsite, and how she relies on  a team of supporters from the culture to fact check.
She likes to write about what she wants to know rather than following the old adage of writing what you know.  
So the question she left the kids with was, should a white middle class woman write about the life of a young Muslim girl?  Should she ever write outside her culture?  
I think, since we're privileged to live in a free speaking country, we not only should write about other cultures, but it's our duty.  They can't always write about their own lives with impunity. Also a western woman can write in a mainstream way for western kids to find the story readable.  One young woman who had read the book before listening to it and speaking to Sharon, told us how it had changed her life and how grateful she was that Sharon had written the story.  Brought a lump to my throat.  It's what every author hopes for.  Netoba Watson said the skype visit was one of the highlights of her teaching career. All I can say is, it's teachers like her and Itaski Arnette that help kids achieve their full potential and Sharon and I, as moms, and grandmoms as well as authors,value them.  You're lucky Freedom Middle School.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Cobourg Library Writing Contest-St. Joseph and Dale Road School

After this photo, my camera disappeared underneath the carpet in the back of my passenger seat.  I only found it on Friday after a hunt through the house that turned up all kinds of other interesting things. So we travel back in time to November 18 when I enjoyed (re) meeting Rhonda Perry, Cobourg librarian extraordinaire.  Each year her library engages several authors to visit schools to celebrate and encourage their writing contest.  St. Joseph School was kind enough to allow a gifted class to join their audience on this particular visit. I walked them through my writing process on a book called Last Chance for Paris.  In trying new ways to explore metaphor and similes, I often use paint chips and ask the students for the best shade of white to describe snow and then tombstones.  I also explain what difficulty I had in coming up with new ways to describe blue eyes for the character Tyler.  His eyes can be glacier blue since Zanna the main character now lives near the icefields in Alberta.  Sometimes when he's friendlier, they're described as lake blue.  Last question of the day was how would I describe the blue of my top which you can barely make out in this photo.  It was a challenge rather than a genuine desire for information.  The young man wore a crooked grin as he asked it.  I explained that writers sometimes have to think long and hard about these things, they don't come instantly.  That the cliche answer was royal blue but that if pressed, I would probably choose an emotion to describe the colour: sincere blue.  I'd read somewhere that blue was a good colour to wear to job interviews because it's is considered a "true" colour, true-blue.  Visiting schools is like a job interview, if you "pass" the students believe some of your writing tips and often read your books.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Happy Journeys Mom June 7, 1931 - November 3, 2011

November 19th was Mom's sendoff party.  Five out of six grandchildren attended, six great grandchildren and my brother and I, with our spouses, plus many friends and some Condo mates. Mom would have loved it. One thing I learned is how much a person is remembered and loved for their idiosyncrasies for example:  feeding kids Smarties so they get smarter (wink-wink), sending postcards with birds on it to a granddaughter because she is named Robin, paying quarters for correct Jeopardy answers, dressing in cleavage displaying leopard fabrics, and sewing/weaving through calves liver with bacon.  Mom loved to swim and called on all the Condo ladies every morning to head off to the pool.  She also enjoyed the Sound of Music  Festival in Burlington every year, playing Rummy Cubes, 
reading, big family dinners with lots of kids running around.  She would have loved the rouladen, red cabbage, cabbage rolls, spaezle, Schnizel, potato salad, and cheese cake served at her sendoff.  She would have liked hearing her granddaughter singing You are my Sunshine.  Most of all she would have loved all her great and grand children.  Happy trails Mom.  Auf wiedersehen.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Last Chance for Paris wins Hamilton Award for YA Book

The biggest win wasn't the cheque, although thank you very much to Reliable Life Insurance for sponsoring my groceries for a week. (We eat a lot too and there may be crabs' legs this week) The amazing gift was that Ron Ulrich, Managing Artistic Director of Theatre Aquarius, read chapter six from Last Chance from Paris.  Imagine listening to seven minutes of a readingof your own work as you're standing in front of an audience.  He originally trained as an actor with the National Theatre School of Canada and his rendition was nothing short of spectacular.  You could feel the level of respect for children's literature and my book rising as he continued.  It's difficult for  writers to appreciate their own work when they've written and rewritten a piece and they've received all the reviews or (sometimes not received enough reviews) and gone through "recessionary" royalty statements.  But his reading made me appreciate my own talent.   It also made me think that literature needs to make use of every platform, whether electronic or auditory, to keep up the passion for the original medium: pages.
I enjoyed listing to all the readings but especially a surprise performance by Burlington Slam Poetry  Apparently they host poetry readings every third Thursday of the month at Philthy McNasty's, cover charge of $5 goes to the winning poet. I will definitely make a point of going.
The end of the evening featured a reading of the winning adult fiction, Trevor Cole's Practical Jean, another book I must acquire. Life is never better than when you have a stack of books at your bedside ready for your enjoyment. Thank you Hamilton Arts Council and Ron Ulrich!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Writing with Hillfield S. Students at RBG

A Morning of Inspiration

The sweet scent of exotic blossom mingled with a heavier wet earth smell,
An orange and white flash of fins and tails,
The smooth gloss feeling of the leaf we're not supposed to touch,
The sound of pencils scratching against paper and silence,
The warm minced beef taste of a soft taco lunch to end the writing experience. 

On October 14 two sets of students headed out to share new writing inspirations with a) Hugh Brewster at Dundurn Castle and b) me at Royal Botanical Gardens.  I enjoyed our tropical garden atmosphere for walking and writing in. The at-home challenge was for the students to write a five sense poem about their own favourite sensations.  The poems all came in now and because I didn't ask permission to post, I've created one myself to remind them of our time together.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Norwegian translation of Dying to Go Viral: Tur-retur evigheten

In English I've titled this story Dying to Go Viral.  In Norwegian, it appears to be Tur-Retur evigheten. Fourteen-year old Jade dies "skitching", skateboarding hitched to the back of a car.  She promised her dad she would wear a helmet at all times but her boy crush wanted to video her with her long hair blowing in the wind.  She awakes in a beautiful Japanese garden and meets her long dead mom.  Jade begs for another chance at life but is only able to secure a retake of her last week.  Still no one will be able to make her perform that stupid stunt again.  Jade manages to change all kinds of destiny in a positive way but can she evade her death?  You have to hope an English speaking publisher picks up the title so you can read the end.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Witchlanders by Lena Coakley at the Eternal Flame in Ottawa

This is a historical post in that it refers back to October 18. Kelly Duffin (Executive Director of The Writers Union of Canada) and I were dashing in to hear the second reading of Bill C11, the copyright bill. But I stopped at the Eternal Flame to read Lena Coakley's brand new Witchlanders.   Okay not really.  I was reading it on the my Porter Airlines flight to and from but I didn't have anyone to photograph me there.  Instead, a fantasy in front of Parliament.  More dramatic and fitting I think. Witchlanders tells an engrossing story about witches and magic and my favourite, the Dredhounds.   The cover is beautiful I'll have to take a picture of it more close up.  Pale blue with strands of white ice on it.  The writing is pure magic too.  Get a copy and read it somewhere comfy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Title Sudoku

As part of my job as magazine editor, I often help or come up with "cover lines", "heds" and "deks".
A "hed" is the title of an article, a "dek" is the preamble to further explain what's in the piece--both need to be catchy and cute.

Note the alliteration Catchy and Cute.  Alliteration is my favourite tool.

Sometimes I play with movie titles, as in a Greek restaurant review, I called it My Big Fat Greek Dinner (there were generous portions)  Everyone likes a double entendre although my  "Egg citing Breakfasts in the Annex" got voted off the island by my other editor.  Multiple entendres can seem like cliche puns.

I should be an expert on titles by now, after 27 books and five years of magazine editing. But the person who writes the piece, rarely is asked to title it.  That person needs an overview (for newspaper and magazine anyway) of what other titles are in the magazine, on the content page and on the cover (cover lines).  Yes, a piece often has three nomenclatures.

So back to my book: originally The Forty First Hour, named for the volunteers hours needed for the death/manslaughter to have taken place.

New additions to the title wars:  The Lesser Charge  (manslaughter is this)
We want to cue the reader that there is a trial as a major component of the story, so legal terms with double entendres might be good.  The senior with dementia in the home might be considered a low responsibility on the hierarchy of who is important to society hence, the dead 75 year old could be The Lesser Charge.
with an implied irony.

Irony is a good tone for the title because the character can be witty in a sarcastic way.

Suspicious    I just like this word and everything that happens in this story can play out so many different ways that it's all suspicious.

We could add other words  Truth and Suspicions.

Deliberate Actions

Nothing But the Truth

Sunny's Daze    (character's nickname is Sunny )

Circumstantial Evidence

Trial by Fire

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

A Reasonable Doubt

While I like playing title Sudoku, it reminds me of when we first brought our puppy home.  He had been named Willy by the breeder but my daughter was naming her newborn William and asked me to change it.  For three days we deliberated but until we decided it was very frustrating for us to call "Sit ...."  or "Be quiet  noname dog".  I'm very excited about this upcoming novel and I find myself wanting to tell librarians, teachers, booksellers and potential readers in general about it.  But to say I have this new book coming in March and not be able to quickly follow with "and it's called" is frustrating.

By the way, my puppy became Mortie as in "Be quiet, Mortimer".  Mortie  also sounds a bit like Willy to the dog so the transition was seemless.  He's mischievous, throwing huge boots or pillows around when he needs our attention, and very vocal.  He seems to try to articulate his barking into groans, whines and words.  I can't imagine him with any other name.

If you have any suggestions, please make them.  Feel free to combine titles that are already listed:
"Trial by Circumstance"  "Reasonable Evidence".  Or vote on your favourite.  My new title, when it's decided, will become the perfect match too.  Thanks.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Name that Story

Here's the first 900 words of a new book for me coming out in the spring with my new publisher Lorimer. The book was originally called The Forty-First Hour, because it's structured around the forty compulsory hours of volunteer work Sonja aka Sunny must do in order to graduate.  She comes an extra hour of her own free will to visit a woman in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and when the woman chokes to death, the administrator of the longterm care unit has Sunny charged with manslaughter.  The story crisscrosses three strands, the trial, Sunny's volunteer journal to her teacher and then her own first person narration.  The ending will give the verdict but I hope the reader will question not only what was alleged to have happened but also the notion of judicial vs moral guilt.  If you want something to happen but you didn't plan it but maybe you didn't go out of your way to stop it, are you guilty legally?   And what if the victim had told everyone she wanted to die. Are you guilty morally?

I like A Reasonable Doubt but my good friends at the publishing house want a title that plays up the trial and the character of Sunny--she's a strong character who places a high value on appearance. She wants to pursue a career in hairstyling.  She has deceived in the past but struggles to become a better person in the story.   If you choose the title the editors agree on, I'll send you the first copy I get.


“Sonja Anna Ehret, you stand accused of manslaughter.  How do you
It’s been a year since it happened and now, here I stand, front row centre of a courtroom. Four windowless beige walls surround me and I find it hard to breathe let alone answer. Silence hangs heavy and musty.
A couple of clerks watch me from behind a long desk. Dressed in black robes they’re like crows on a wire between me and an eagle, the judge.  He trains his eyes on me from a higher perch, a throne-like desk flanked on either side by a flag. 
Two people sit on the other side of the aisle from me. The pouffy-haired business woman is Mrs. Johnson from Paradise Manor, the one who had me charged. The guy beside her is a reporter judging by the steno pad in his hand.  Everyone’s waiting for my answer. The clock on the wall ticks slowly forward.
I want to plead guilty.  Immediately the trial would end and the sentence would be lighter, probation and a few thousand hours of community service. But it would kill my parents especially Mom.
She sits in back of me, tall, pale and thin with her chin held high. She’s a proud woman and I’m already the Big Disappointment of the family not at all like my older brother Wolfgang who is minding the condo management company so she and Dad can be here. Next to Mom sits Dad, slightly shorter but square shouldered and strong. He and Wolfgang look alike, guys you can instantly trust and lean on.
My family is the only reason I’m considering this dragged out process and I know they’ll stand behind me no matter what.  Still what happens if I am found guilty?  The sentence will be way worse, a couple of years in a correctional youth centre at least.
Twelve jury members stare vacantly at me from the left side of the courtroom waiting for my answer. They’re going to decide my fate. Really?
My lawyer told me to dress in smart casual but I’m guessing no one instructed the jury.  The best-dressed one wears a kiwi-coloured sweatsuit, the worst, relaxed-fit jeans and a long-sleeved red plaid shirt.  Then there’s the lady in the front with a stained top, a fat guy wearing a polo shirt with horizontal stripes, a guy with broken horn-rimmed glasses that make his head look tilted in a question. Two young guys with identical goatees fidget at the back. One is multiply pierced as though the rings in his eyebrows and lips are the only things holding him together.  The other scratches his beard a lot.  Five more jurors look like they’ve just left the bowling alley or their jobs as greeters in a box store. 
That jury doesn’t know that I took a half an hour to press my clothes and maybe that’s good. Maybe they’d hold it against me—excessive neatness, signs of a serial killer in the making. I’m wearing a dark grey skirt, a pale rose shirt and low-heeled pumps. A subdued look except for the pink streaks in my hair.
The guy in the glasses yawns, checks his watch then glances over at me.  Still waiting.
“Sunny?” Brendan McNeil, my lawyer prompts. I look down to the right where he stands. Another crow in a black robe.  Or maybe a raven. His hair is dark and closely cropped and everything about him seems sharper than those clerks at the front. His brown eyes measure me.
 Guilty, guilty, guilty.  My heart flip flops. This is it, I’m going to say it. Who cares what the lawyer told me to say? Can he honestly believe this jury will acquit me?
 I face the unsmiling bald judge.  He’s wearing a jaunty red sash across his robe.  I focus on that diagonal slash of red. Guilty, I say in my mind, and tell my mouth to follow.  But for some reason, that stripe of colour gives me hope.   Instead I speak out as clearly as I can:   
“Not Guilty.”
The judge raises his eyebrows at me.  Oh really? “Very well,” he says out loud. “Mr. Dougal, are you prepared to make the opening statement?”
The Crown prosecutor nods and approaches his stand like a large vulture, his robe floating behind him. His skin and hair look white against the blackness of the robe, his eyes are a window cleaner blue.  “Your honour, members of the jury,” he stares their way till all of them pay attention, “we will prove that on February 14, 2011, the defendant entered the Paradise Court Longterm Care residence and willfully fed hard candy to Helen Demers, a known diabetic who had difficulty swallowing due to her Alzheimer’s.”  The jurors squirm under his stare and he swivels to focus on me instead. “Not only was the candy full of sugar and therefore toxic to her, it was also in a format that would cause her to choke.” He looks towards the judge now. “Evidence will show Sonja had a relationship with Cole, the victim’s grandson, and that she carried out his pact with his grandmother to assist her in suicide so that when the victim began to asphyxiate, the defendant walked away purposely failing to provide medical assistance.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Twenty-four Hours in Ottawa

It was a grey drizzly afternoon when we arrived in Ottawa but I hiked from the hotel to Parliament Hill immediately.  Just the sight of these buildings inspires me into belting out "Oh Canada" and I wanted to get that nationalistic feeling for when we broke bread with MPs next morning.  I felt a little depressed at the desertion of the hill worrying that it foreshadowed attendance.  When I saw the statue of the lady listening to the man I thought it might prove a metaphor (me begging for someone to listen to us).
I'm happy to say this was not the case.  Ten people attended.  I won't list the MPs but my table included Burlington's Mike Wallace and Dufferin/Calidon's David Tilson.  I had a simple mission, to explain how a writer earned her living, to talk about what copyright means in terms of income and to talk about how the educational fair dealing exception  would negatively impact my earning stream.  This while we ate, always conscious that politicians had other places to be.  I thought it might be hard to squeeze it all in without madly ranting non stop but when Mr. Wallace, conversationally, asked if I earned a living at writing, it was easy to dive in.

Carolyn Wood, my publisher partner, spoke more on the business sides of the problem.  Mr. Wallace and Mr. Tilson asked questions and I believe they were sympathetic.

Next I headed to parliament to hear the discussion of the bill. Wow.  All the arguments seemed more to be about the digi locks that the educational exemption.  The example of the mom who buys a dvd and wants to put it on her Ipod for her child to watch on a long trip was cited over and over. We don't want to fine her 5 to 20 thou do we?  Another problem that was discussed was Distance Education.  According to discussions, after 30 days students are required to erase/destroy notes.  This was like book burning, according to the MPs.  Really.  Can't they just pay for the usage they actually need.  Remember when we used to have to buy text books?

At the end, however, one politician whom Kelly Duffin had spoken too, actually suggested including the three step Berne test. Fair dealing won't mean free chunks of our work then.  Hurray for Kelly.

Was the trip a success?  Yes, because we said what we wanted to.  Just like writing books, you have to celebrate the effort and process. If things don't go our way in the end, we know we did our utmost.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What People Should Know About Writers

Currently the rotten economy has made the publishing industry leaner and meaner.  Rejection notes sound curt and dismissive.  So much so that I caught myself telling a relatively new writer the other day that I couldn't believe I could make a living at it all these years (25).  She pondered at how difficult that must be herself.

The truth of the matter is that many writers earn a living besides blockbuster writers such as J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins or Stephanie Meyers.  What even new writers don't understand is that advances and royalties alone rarely make up that liveable income.

Writing-related income does.

So, the moment you write a book, you are often asked to teach others how to do it.  This could be in a community college or university depending on your own educational background. Or it could be a session at a writer conference. Children's writers also instantly become experts on how to make kids read--parents wring their hands as they approach me about advice on this matter--so income can come from family literacy talks.  We also know how to inspire writing in young people.

If you listen to anyone who is passionate about their work, you realize the potential to motivate and inspire students and others.  Income, and book sales, therefore can be derived from school, library, and bookclub visits.

Strangely, I'm often paid to judge writing contests.  Minimally, still usually enough to pay for a full grocery cart.

Looking at, evaluating and/or suggesting changes on a manuscript should pay the mortgage for one month, depending on the size of the home and manuscript.

The expertise required to write a book can lead to the ability to edit others' work.  I love my part time job editing a parenting magazine called Today's Parent Toronto.

Freelance writing opportunities have become less frequent since everyone gives away information, such as what I'm doing right now, on blogs.   But I have, in the past, written for newspapers and magazines.  This month I hired myself to write a feature called Creating a Passion for Pages.

Additionally I have earned my way through being an electronic writer in residence, through writing a proposal for an internet travel journal and even bartered a museum membership by "trying out" to write the (wall) speech balloons for some microbes.

My family vacations have been structured around weeklong readings where the hotel has an amazing waterslide.  

Lately, most of my royalties come from other countries where I guess kids buy more books than in Canada.A windfall gain might be an Ontario Arts or Canada Council Grant.  I have been fortunate in the past.When a writer wins a GG, TD or other major monetary award, don't even ask what they're doing with the money.  They're paying down their VISA and/or personal line of credit.

Two fairly steady streams of income are public lending rights (moneys paid through Canada Council for books available in libraries) and Access Copyright (blanket licensing that charges small fees for small unrecorded photocopying and digital downloading--saves the user time if he/she doesn't have to write me for permissions)  Monday, I'll be flying into Ottawa to try to convince MPs to tighten the educational exception on the copyright bill C11 to protect the AC income.

Grocery cart by grocery cart, the bits of income all add up.

I think every writer longs to be a blockbuster author.  We feel inadequate when we're not, especially when signing a contract in the publisher's office. Or when a government (municipal, provincial or federal) makes cuts to the arts.

But, does the world only want blockbuster hits?  Think of all the wonderful surprising books that have changed your life that weren't best sellers.

I fondly remember a waitress hugging me after serving me my lunch because her child had stayed up reading her first book (mine) the night before.  I've heard that a young victim of parental abuse came to therapy clutching her favourite comfort, one of my books.  I know at least two young women who have fostered many guide dogs after reading my fiction on the topic.  There are many other touching stories I know about that make me realize that blockbusters are not the only important literature out there.
In fact, I often find the bestsellers rather disappointing.

So for the general public, don't begrudge the writer the fees for talks and other writing related activities.  Also buy the book even if you can put it on hold at the library or borrow it from a buddy.
Finally, tell your MP that the arts and a strong copyright bill are important to you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Warbird, by Jennifer Maruno at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre

This, the new Burlington Performing Arts Centre, makes a great setting to read Burlington's newest children's author, Jennifer Maruno's Warbird.  While the publisher was Napoleon, that press has been digested by Dundurn. I bought the book from my favourite bookseller A Different Drummer and then strolled over to this beautiful new building and read while my husband took photos for his architecture photography classes.  For once I really read the book in the location I picture. (In 1647) 10 year old Etienne swaps places with an orphan in order to escape farm life and explore like his hero Champlain.  His adventures cause him to see and experience things that finally make him turn around and go home.   I remember learning Canadian history in grade 5, fur traders, Indians, Jesuit priests having their hearts eaten by Iroquois (frankly the most exciting part).  How wonderful it would have been to have read Warbird instead of our history texts.  This would be a great book to read before visiting the historic park Sainte-Marie among the Hurons.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

TD Canadian Children's Lit Award Gala

The TD and The Canadian Children's Book Centre know how to make an author feel special.  Even if you're not nominated, this year I don't even have a book, out but the speakers always thank all of us for enriching kids' lives and all the spectacular little entrees and drinks and special touches, like this tophat escort helps make me feel celebrated.  I had read the John Spray winner, A Spy in the House.  Congratulations to Y.S. Lee and her beautiful baby. Can't wait to read The Glory Wind by Valerie Sherrard.  She beat out so many spectactular GG winning authors, her book must be fabulous.  I've read some of Susan Hughes animal chapter books so was happy for her win in non-fiction.  I Know Here is the picture book winner--we heard the illustrator Matt James speak at CANSCAIP and he was a riot.  The big win went to Erin Bow's Plain Kate.  I really love her hubbie James writing so I wonder if there will a family talent connection.  Has to be I guess.  Hope they invest the win wisely and yet have tons of fun too.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Inspiring Girls - Visiting Saint Mildred's Lightbourn School

For a long time I've wanted to visit Saint Mildred's Lightbourn School.  Sometimes in co-ed schools I feel like I've let the boys down because I've written female protagonist stories.  Teachers have said to me "Girls read anything, but boys won't read anything with a girl main character."  I don't believe every piece of fiction should be tailored to try to get boys to read. That kind of marginalizes girls. Allow male readers the pleasure of nonfiction if they don't enjoy following a narrative. Invite male authors in one year, and female the next to get a balance. 
  In any case, finally yesterday I had the opportunity to visit. It was a wonderful afternoon with some two hundred young readers and potential writers.  The girls asked some great questions, too.  I hope to visit them again.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

500 Show for Burlington Public Library/ Sally Armstrong Event

Thank you Burlington Public Library for hosting, not only another successful literary event:  Sally Armstrong's The Nine Lives of Charlotte Tayler evening, but for all the great programs and support you give writers as well as readers.  I heard BPL's Andrea Gordon say over 500 tickets were issued and the One Book, One Burlington celebratory night needed to move locations from a fairly large venue at Central's auditorium to Port Nelson United Church where the beautiful stained glass windows and subdued lighting created a wonderful atmosphere for Sally's inspiring talk.  Sally spoke about the connections between history and identity and the power of women's stories.  Women can create peace.  Several audience members identified themselves as Charlotte's descendants and Sally said when she approached her computer each morning to write her story, it was as if Charlotte were waiting.  After watching her sign books to her audience, I said goodbye and Congratulations, Charlotte.  Thanks again Burlington Public Library for supplying me with wonderful opportunities that have launched my career as a writer, saved my sanity as a parent, enriched my children as readers and entertained and enlightened my whole family.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Tiffin by Mahtab Narsimhan on Hamilton Beach

Much of where I think would be a great place to read is not where I actually do.  Here's where I would have liked to have read The Tiffin a very moving story of the lives changed when a message goes astray in one of those large metal lunch buckets used to deliver hot lunch all over Bombay. Kunal is the perseverant orphan who searches for family through the story and ultimately finds it, maybe not exactly in the shape and form that he wanted it.  I fancy myself as an empath which sometimes makes me take on a story too much so I found it hard to handle what beggars go through in India.  I have a 10 year old grandson with some east Indian in his background and I can too easily imagine different circumstances for him.  Pretty sure children can handle the difficult parts better than I did.  This is a powerful story.  And why I wanted to read it here is not just because of the water.  I love to be close to a lake or ocean for ultimate Zen.  But here I am close to the spirit of the girl who is inspiring my next story.  I'm waiting for her to answer my questions.  It's easier if I'm reading a good story.

PS As soon I clean off my desk, I hope to post a close up of The Tiffin.  Or maybe that little girl stole it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Yo-Yo Prophet by Karen Krossing on Sugar Beach

Early Saturday morning I was heading to an Access Copyright meeting in the Star Building at the foot of Yonge. At the south end of Lower Jarvis I happened on a location I'd heard about and always wanted to see: Sugar Beach.  And I had the perfect book to read, Karen Krossing's The Yo-Yo Prophet (Orca Book Publishers)  Her main character Calvin actually performs and predicts from the harbourfront not far from here. I show two photos of the location only because it's such an oddity.  You can't swim from this beach and while it's inviting, the setting is quite industrial with that rusty ship docked nearby.  It took all my will power to keep walking and head for One Yonge Street.  Not only could I not stop to enjoy the book at this beach but on the Go Train in I re-read the black binder full of notes for the meeting.  I only hope my sacrifices give writers like Karen MORE MONEY.    
Meetings done, I made the time to read The Yo-Yo Prophet from a more mundane setting, my dining room.I love the characters,  Rozelle especially.  She's such a feisty big-busted girl full of spunk and innovation.  I wish Karen would write a story all about her.  I like the premise and I'm always intrigued by yo-yoing.  Can't get one to return unless I buy a cheater automatic return.  I think I now need a trick book so I can read it again and try to perform the things Calvin did. I like the unpredictability of the story.  Calvin has problems that don't solve themselves sitcom-like.  He acts on them and manages to shift the balance in his favour but in the end...well you'll have to read it yourself.  And by the way, this is not a book Just for Kids.  You don't have to wrack your brains for whom on your shopping list you should get a copy.  Buy it for yourself and enjoy.  There's no reason young adults should always have all the fun.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

How Do You Read to a Rabbit by Andrea Wayne von Koningslow

This is my grandaughter Violet's official first book.  I'm sure there were many other board books that she gummed along the way but How Do You Read to a Rabbit is her go-to favourite because she loves the pictures.  She loves animals, anyway, but how can you resist Andrea Wayne's whimsical gentle drawings?  I love her Bing and Chutney characters too and have a portrait of them hanging in my bedroom.  Violet currently likes the dolphin page in her book and has learned the phrase "all wet" from it. Her dad, my son Craig, also enjoyed many Annick picture books.  I remember his favourite used to be Mashed Potato Mountain by Laurel Gugler.  I'm so grateful to Annick for those little handsized picture books that I used to carry around in my purse, the emergency stories that I used to entertain my three children in the waiting rooms of life.  They introduced my kids to reading and to many great Canadian children's writers like Andrea. 

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Linwood Barclay and Chevy Stevens' Thrillers on my Ereader in the forest

My e-reader, just like my laptop, closely resembles my favourite childhood toy, my etch a sketch.  Okay, hands down physical books are still better.  I like to know where I'm at in a book, if I'm close to the end in physical page thickness.  My ereader makes me read faster just like SRA did when I went to school.  Who remembers SRA in the late 60s and early 70s?  Scientific Reading Association.  You were tested and put into a colour and then you had to read short stories on that colour of cards while being timed.  Afterwards you answered questions, again timed, and corrected your answers from another card.  Faster and faster, up the ladder of colours. Yes I can speed read now and it can be a blessing and a curse.  I don't savour details like some people.  Instead I gallop through plots which makes me a pretty good concept editor.  Too bad I have to copy edit things too.
I am a big Linwood Barclay fan as I first encountered him as a Star columnist who wrote about his Burlington (my town) home life.  His first mysteries still had that comfortable suburban feel and column humour.  Now they're gone to thriller twists and turns, but still with the great funny characters. I loved The Accident and read it in this copse of trees at Bronte Creek, in their dog park. Now I hate using any Chinese electric products.  Thanks Linwood!
Chevy Stevens is a BC thriller writer whose stories Still Missing and Never Knowing were great reads to gobble up on an Ereader. In the first, the real estate agent is kidnapped and lives a year with her abductor, bears him a child and all things creepy.  In Never Knowing the main character finds out some horrible truths about her birth father.  Twist seekers charge your Ereaders please.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

L.M. Falcone Ventures into Graphic Novel

Lucy usually writes scary novels like The Mysterious Mummer or Walking with the Dead (a Silver Birch Winner) but here she's collaborating with my daughter Robin McNicoll to touch up some illustrations on a new graphic novel.  It's still in grant proposal stage so I don't want to say too much about it.  I did read the first fifteen pages and it's hilarious. I hope Canada Council juries like having their funny bones tickled.  Still who cares, as long as I can buy and read the whole book soon.  Attracted by the hum of creativity, Hunter sat down to watch the process and in the end, received an autographed first draft, worth millions once Lucy takes over for J.K. Rowling.

Emceeing Discovery Landing's 2011 Sandcastle Competition

Nothing to do with writing or selling books, I just love sandcastles.  For the past couple of years I've been a judge in Burlington's Sandcastle Competition.  I wouldn't say I'm an expert in anything sandy but I just love the sculptures and the beach, watching the sailboats come in.  This year they made all their past winners judges and really didn't need me.  How about I emcee instead?  So same deal, great sandart pirate themed this year, hot hot weather, good beach music and lots of yachts and other boats drifting in.  I intro'd  bands and events into a microphone, something authors are pretty used to doing and enjoyed the day.  Now I said it had nothing to do with writing but as I stood there looking out on the lake, I remembered the scene from Dying to Go Viral. As part of her redo of her last week on earth, 14 year old Jade wants  to go to the beach but has no car or means and can't share with her family that she's only got a week to live either.  So she hops a bus and heads for Burlington Beach and it's a great day even though it's not Hawaii or California or any other exotic beach locale.  Dying along with Jade, taught me to appreciate local sunrises and sunsets and beaches as well as sand pirates like this.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Death on Track Take 2 Learning how to live

This is the second book in a series I'm working on where the main character dies in the first chapter, stupidly, and meets someone dead from her past at the gates of entry into the next life.  The character begs to return to life to address regrets and is granted the last week of her life to do over.  Can she avoid death? Maybe sometimes.
  In Death on Track, Paige evades bullies by taking a shortcut along the rails during a snowstorm.  Working on the second draft (and by second, I really mean about the hundredth, only this one is as a result of feedback from writers) I wanted to find an actual location where this might have occurred.  Here it is in summer, along Dundas Street.  The mall nearby is unfortunately a strip of box stores.  The high school, unbuilt and unnamed as yet.

When visiting schools and conducting writing workshops, I'm often asked to address rewriting but usually in the sense of how hard we work at it and how many times.  It makes it all seem like such a burden.  

Going through this second draft and painting on a second coat of detail was actually a delight.  I visited and interviewed an independent grocer, Mario of Marilu Foods on New Street.  I think I changed 10 words because of this interview but the story become so much more clear and real to me.   Most of the anxiety of writing is gone too as a result of the feedback.  My writing critiquers made me feel the actual plot of the story was a success.  The way it sounds in the creator's head is not always the way the public reads it so this was a huge relief.

Now I'm waiting for a second round of reviewers to write a third draft.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Around the campfire, The Magic Mustache by Gary Barwin

This is my daughter Jen reading to her four year old son William at their campfire at the Pinery Campground.  What amazes me is how intent he is in a story that he's had read to him a hundred times, The Magic Mustache by Gary Barwin.  In it the son who is a nose, is given the task of selling the only family possession left, a set of glasses.  His parents, a set of eyes, expect a good exchange in return.  But the nose settles for a magic beard.  The eyes throw it out and it grows similarly to the magic beanstalk.  The nose climbs it to the castle of a mouth who threatens to eat him. Lots of great rhyme and hilarity ensues.
There's a pretty happy ending about a face coming together and staying like that.   The magic of reading, the magic of a great story.

Monday, August 22, 2011

On my living room couch Soames on the Range by Nancy Belgue

You read about all kinds of non-traditional families but you have to wonder how a child feels when their mom or dad announces something like a sex change or in Soames' case a father declares he's breaking up with Mom and moving in with his guy lover.  Soames lives in a really small town and looks and even moves like his father.  I cringe for him as I read about what he experiences.  That's the beauty of books, you can go through all the emotions and come out stronger without suffering the slings physically.

In the end something really exciting happens to Soames and while that might not be the case for every kid who has to experience a lifestyle change like this, it does feel right to me.  Even if everything goes wrong, wonderful things can happen too.

I read a lot more books than I posted about right here on this couch in my living room where the air conditioning makes it perfectly cool.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Who Goes to Literary Festivals

It had been a blistering hot week but for Imagine in the (Gage)Park, there had been a cooling rain the morning of the July 24th event.  Gary Barwin, Jean Little, Gillian Chan, myself as well as facepainters, voice coaches, puppeteer  and Frontier literacy volunteers were on the site to entertain and delight. 
Who comes out for these events?  You just never know. Ozo the dog came attached by leash to his master on a scooter. He has appeared on the screen in various roles, Ozo, not his owner.  For my audience, some very intense young writers complete with their manuscripts showed wanting to me to share some writing tips.  I read some of their work and know they'll be presenting at a festival some time.

I only wish I could have come to one of these events when I was kids.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

In a Lazyboy chair, The Second Trial by Rosemarie Boll

The lazyboy chair makes a very comfortable seat for reading this gripping but uncomfortable story. It's about a boy who is the only member in his family who gets along with his abusive father  and misses him after he, his mom and sister, go into a witness protection plan.  His new life is his second trial and it spirals downward till he engages in abusive behaviour himself.  Here's where I have to burrow into my chair.  I no longer sympathize with him when he stands by and even helps restrain a red haired boy as he is beaten and set on fire for the colour of his hair. Can you enjoy a read where the character sinks below your level of tolerable bad behaviour? Recently a book of mine was rejected because the main character lied and was therefor unsympathetic to the editorial panel.  I think the only rule, really, is for whatever reason if the reader feels compelled to continue, the story succeeds.   The abusive behavior bottomed out there and was the turning point for the character.  The Second Trial  by Rosemarie Boll is a great argument for adults to read young adult.  The books can be just intense as adult novels but are usually shorter with more of a concrete ending.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mortie, the Jackapoo, reads The Art of Racing in the Rain

You're not supposed to judge a book by its cover but this novel is a Chapters' staff pick fave.  I could have paid way less had I bought it in eversion but then I couldn't have shared it with Mortie.  Honestly, the cover made me smile.  The dog who narrates has an uncanny resemblance to Mortie, my Jackapoo, The story incorporates racing philosophy with life but (spoiler alert) a key person and the dog die in the end. It feels very Marly and Me.  Maybe this is a trick to sell books. So often the cover doesn't match the story but if we stick to favourite dog breeds, maybe the cover can sell the book because the readers, like me, likes pictures of their dogs.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

In a stream: The Writer's Life, The Margaret Laurence Lectures

This series on where and what we're reading was started as as kind of personal PR for books.  I think in this fast paced world of technology where you press 1 for English and 2 for French and never get anyone who really wants to speak to you (although the conversation may be recorded for quality ensurance), we're searching for more and more peaceful happy moments. Or is that just me. Yoga, hot and cold, is suddenly popular. Non fiction books that connect to spirituality in a mainstream way get gobbled up: The Book of Awesome for example.

When I speak to my fellow writers, I realize we're all trying to create more to sustain our living when the answer might be to do less and read more. Think of it as both job sharing and job creating. When we go on holidays whether to the tropics or the local beach, we usually most enjoy a quiet read.  And so for my own purposes I slowed down this summer and tried to document my reading.   I still write, edit for Today's Parent Toronto, and work as director on Access Copyright but I am making a point to READ and enjoy it and to document enjoying it in my favourite places.  Planking, writer's style?

Here I am at the Bronte Creek Dog Park Swimming hole reading an appropriate title:  A Writer's Life, the Margaret Laurence Lectures  25th Anniversary of the Lecture Series

I realize that when I invited others to share their reading holes and material how difficult it is to include a photo of themselves with a book.  It requires a photographer, plus a lot of us don't like pictures of ourselves. make it easier, if you wish to share, send me a photo of your book where you're reading it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

On the Beach (Lake Erie) Winter of Secrets by Vicki Delany

We never stop talking unless it's to read.  Sometimes we discuss our books.  Gisela Sherman's reading one on world war II as research for the novel she's working on. I'm reading a mystery set in the Kootenays, one of my favourite parts of the world, by Vicki Delany a writer who once took a course I taught (Creative Writing Its Realities--not my title). While I'm not a serious mystery buff,  I like to follow her cast of small town characters, including Constable Molly Smith, as they fumble through and solve crimes.

As we strolled the beach, we met a lady enjoying the latest Harry Potter before she gives it to her granddaughter.  Next door to us in a hammock lay a man who read his ebook for about four hours straight. One of the problems with those is the next door neighbors can't tell what you're reading!

Summer is one of the best times to relax with a great story, in whatever format.