Friday, August 18, 2023

Why I love indie bookshops

I picked up these beautiful owl cards at an indie bookshop in Charlottetown called Bookmark on a recent visit to PEI. I also browsed, and saw many writerly friends on the shelves, and didn’t buy any books because my TBR pile is huge and writing deadlines (self-imposed, mostly) are looming.

But paper things? Especially owls (my familiar, if you must know)? I just couldn’t resist.

At the checkout, I teased the (nameless, sorry) salesperson about the bust of William Shakespeare who appeared to be supervising her, and we talked about the recent talk by writerly colleague Terry Fallis at the store. How fun it was. What an impression he made.

So I told her that Terry had read and blurbed my latest book.

[Aside: I am terrible at self-promotion. My mother taught me never to brag, or, in her words, “toot my own horn”. It’s a curse in the writerly life, because OF COURSE WE HAVE TO SELF-PROMOTE, especially those of us without agents or Big Publishing Houses and their Big Promotion Budgets behind us. So this was uncomfortable for me. Okay, back to the action.]

She looked up. “You’re an author? Do we have your books on our shelves?”

Conversation followed, and in a second, she had a piece of paper, a pen, and was quickly taking down my details about books, publisher, genre. 

I felt so … SEEN!

So, here’s to indie bookshops and the people who work in them and visit them. Indies “get” it – the writing life, the importance of connecting writers with readers, readers with books, me with owl cards, even while Will Shakespeare is breathing down your neck. 

My list includes but does not end with...

Bookmark (Charlottetown, PEI)
Magic Pebble Books (Elora, ON)
The Bookshelf (Guelph, ON)
Mabel's Fables (Toronto, ON)
Munro's (Victoria, BC)
Woozles Books (Halifax, NS)
... and even my local yarn shop, String Theory Yarn (Fergus, ON), which has my latest book for sale.

Thank you!

Monday, April 18, 2022

Why we write

I don’t do many school visits. I’m an under-the-radar kind of YA author, and I don’t mind that. So when I do go out and connect with readers, it’s both daunting and exciting. 

"The Final Word" was the last meeting of the school's Book Club

My “visit” (via Zoom) to Hamilton District Christian High School checked every box: engaged students who asked excellent questions, enthusiastic and supportive teachers and teacher/librarians, some tough questions about the art and craft of writing, and some laughs. I loved every minute.

Writers don’t write for the accolades or to be told how wonderful they are (and anyone who reads reviews of their books on Goodreads knows how pointless that would be!) We don’t write for sales, or a market trend (at least, I hope that’s not the motivation...) We write because we’re full of stories we want to share. Because our characters become real to us. And we hope our stories and characters will resonate with readers, too.

That’s what this school visit was all about. LARKIN ON THE SHORE resonated with this group of young readers, and with their teachers – proof, if anyone needs it, that YA lit is just as appealing to adults as it is to the teen audience.

So I’m sharing a few scenes and words from my school visit. A little self-promotion, perhaps (because if I don’t do it, who will??), but also an encouragement to all the readers out there: When you find a book you enjoy, tell your friends, spread the word and, if you can, connect with the author. That’s why we write.

From the teacher-librarian who invited me to speak to her students:

“I have to tell you that I keep receiving such positive feedback from our group! I even had a parent tell me that her daughter, who has been to several author events, came home raving about you! Everyone loved hearing about the publishing process and they were thrilled about how approachable you were! I feel like I have been riding this wave since [your visit]! 

Thanks again for closing out our Book Club year on such a high note! I love recommending your books to our students and teachers who want a good YA read!!”

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Let's Talk Reviews

Okay, writers and readers, let’s talk REVIEWS.

Remember in school when your teacher asked you to write a book review but not to make it simply a plot summary? I received the first review of THE LEGEND (from that well-known review site that gives stars), and it is, in fact a plot summary. Along with the tag: “Agreeably entertaining.” Which I think means the reviewer found it boring…?

It’s a reality of the publishing scene, of course, that publishers will send your book out for reviews. The idea is that (fingers crossed) positive reviews will create buzz, raise awareness, and ultimately encourage sales – and readers. We writers do our bit by approaching bloggers and friends and going wild on social media urging readers to pre-order, to accept ARCs, to admire our covers, to join us at book launches and generally get on board and share in our delight at being published.It’s a good marketing plan, but I’m terrible at it. I hate asking people for this kind of cheerleading, and I find it excruciating to promote myself.

I just want to write stories, people. 

I know, I know. That’s not how it works.

So I’m going to do my bit and post a review. It’s not from a reviewer or blogger or well-known influential site. It’s from author P.S. Hozy, who is also (in this case) a copyeditor, in an email she wrote to my editor. Unsolicited, from someone who knows about the writing process, who read the book closely, and who has some context to the way I craft stories.

She said: “I really, really enjoyed this book. The flow and the pacing are just about perfect. I loved Griffin so much, I wish I could meet him as a grown man .... The dialogue is terrific, and I have tried not to tamper with its quirkiness. This is the third book I've copyedited for Jean Mills, and she just gets better and better.”

Is it subjective? Sure, but what review isn’t. Is it neutral? Perhaps not the way a reviewer at Kirkus is neutral – or, actually, IS that reviewer at Kirkus or anywhere neutral? Don’t reviewers bring their own file of likes and dislikes, biases and boxes-to-be-checked to their reading? Of course they do.

Reviews. Whatever. I don’t mind that my book is “agreeably entertaining,” and thanks for that. 

But I’d rather be a writer who’s getting “better and better.” So, yes, that’s the “review” I’ll savour.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Gold Sticker: LARKIN ON THE SHORE and the Whippoorwill Award

A gold sticker! 

Okay. There are big lists and little lists, and for an author, they all matter. Today I got a supply of stickers for the cover of LARKIN ON THE SHORE – stickers to announce that this book was awarded a 2020 Whippoorwil Award, a list curated by educators throughout the United States. (And oh, how I wish we had something similar in Canada!)

“The Whippoorwill Award for Rural Young Adult Literature is a curated list of high-quality literature. The award is intended to provide texts that can spark critical conversations about rurality. Award books must meet the general criteria for excellent in YA literature in its genre, portray the values of rural spaces, knowledge, cultures, and histories, and contribute to diverse representations of people and places.”

LARKIN ON THE SHORE is set in a small town in rural Nova Scotia. It’s the place where Larkin goes to heal – and she does heal there - but it’s also a place that threatens her well-being. No, not in a “I Know What You Did Last Summer” kind of way. But in that small-town culture in which everyone knows everyone else. People talking. People making judgements. People with histories and secrets. All set in a landscape of empty spaces and nature and farms and the shore.

I’m so happy this award committee of educators saw the importance of the meaningful, intentional choices I made when setting this book where I did. I hope teachers and librarians will help get this book into the hands of young readers who live this kind of rural life or who want to experience it through the words of a story.

Yes, a book with a gold sticker!

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Dude-lit, "objects in motion", and a short story

A few years ago, Heather Wright @wrightwriter and I worked on a project together: an anthology of stories featuring boys. We were inspired by our shared experience of being the mothers of avid-reader boys, but we were also inspired by a session we attended at the @CANSCAIP PYI conference, led by Shane Peacock (no slouch in the writing-for-boys category). 

Yes, you can argue that #kidlit and #yalit books are for everyone, and maybe they are, but Shane’s take was this: if you want to appeal to young male readers, you need to feature “objects in motion.” Objects in motion. I love this! So, Heather and I wrote some stories and created our little anthology, Dude! No, there aren’t “objects in motion” in every story, but the idea of targeting a unique audience in a way that appeals and nurtures a love of reading certainly is.

Prolific award-winning YA author Pam Withers (her latest, Drone Chase, is featured on the CBC list of YA books to watch for this spring) sees the need for dude-lit, too. She’s the force behind the website, which features reviews, author profiles and articles about books for boys. 

Pam asked if she could share a couple of our Dude! stories, so a few week’s ago Heather’s story “Shovelling Snow” was posted on her site. Today it’s my turn.

“Accused” is the story of a boy who finds himself on the wrong side of an incident at school, and the unlikely hero who believes in him. You can read it here: Accused

And please stick around and check out what Pam's innovative YADudeBooks site has to offer young readers, parents, teachers and librarians, as well as writers and publishers in the world of books for boys.

Friday, January 15, 2021

February 17 is I Read Canadian Day

February 17, 2021, is the second annual I Read Canadian Day, a chance to celebrate Canadian literature - especially reading aimed at kids.

Haven't heard of it? It was the brainchild of Eric Walters, one of the busiest kidlit authors in Canada, and was quickly picked up by organizations including CANSCAIP, The Canadian Children's Book Centre, Ontario Library Association, Canadian School Libraries, and Communication Jeunesse. Here's the call to action on the I Read Canadian website:

We challenge the nation to “Read Canadian” for 15 minutes and to share their experience at their library, in their school, with their families and friends, or on social media. Young people are encouraged to read, or have read to them, a Canadian book of their choice.

I can assure you that Canadian kidlit authors are all on board for this one. One initiative is to have celebrities dig into our books and share their photos on social media, like this one featuring my book Skating Over Thin Ice in the hands of Hockey Night In Canada broadcaster Chris Cuthbert.

Watch for my Canadian kidlit writing colleagues to post their photos, events, invitations and more in the coming weeks. And you can do your part by reading, sharing, following, promoting and just overall celebrating the many great Canadian books, authors and illustrators we have in this country.

On social media, you can tag @IReadCanadian and use the hashtags #IReadCanadian and #NowMoreThanEver

February 17 - I'll be there. So will this penguin. Will you?


Monday, January 4, 2021

Tangled branches and writing

I’m a big believer in this Mary Heaton Vorse quotation: The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

I have to confess, my chair has not seen a lot of action lately, for all sorts of reasons, mostly the effect of distractions big and small, including a fraught holiday season during a pandemic. My creative brain has been pretty much a void for weeks. Maybe months.

But now that the new year is here and I’m looking ahead to what will or what might or what might not happen in 2021, I find myself starting to twitch a bit. Standing at the kitchen door looking out at my backyard – cardinals and chickadees sparring for safflower at the feeder; a pine bough, heavy with snow, touching the ground to form an arch; the snowy branches of a honeysuckle tangled against the sky – I’m starting to hear the voices of as-yet-unwritten characters talking among themselves. Nothing clear. Nothing important. Just voices – characters – starting to tangle up together in my creative brain. 

Sort of like the branches of my honeysuckle.

So, I’m not worried. I’ll just stand here for a while, sip my tea, watch the birds, listen to the voices, try to see through the tangled branches, and know that as long as I’m listening, I’m also writing.