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 mysel

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. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Two memories, and choosing the one that matters

Two memories popped up on my FB feed today – one from my teaching life, and one from my writing life.

The first is from my last (very tough) year of teaching at Conestoga College. I remember it so well - the student walking up to me, grinning, holding out this large tea, and the rest of the class laughing and breaking into applause. Just a little moment of kindness and fun.

 It was a tough time back then – unexpected financial pressures, unhappy people in the family, gruelling work schedule at a job I didn’t really love anymore, and a lot of difficult juggling. I was a drudge. Depressed. Struggling. Trying to be everything to everyone when all I really wanted to be was a published author. And that dream was slipping further and further away.

The other memory that popped up was my first book signing, two years ago, after presenting at the CANSCAIP Packaging Your Imagination conference. I was living my dream: having a published book, and presenting at a conference which I had attended for years as an unpublished nobody.

Two memories. 

Okay, despite literary awards being awarded, and books being named to lists, and writers/creators turning up on Zoom at the speed of light, let's face it: for most of us, this pandemic is wreaking havoc on the writing life. My own writing life is a shambles: a book that disappeared into the abyss last winter, another project relegated to numerous slush piles, and a work-in-progress that I fear will never get into print. It was all looking so hopeful, but now, who knows?

But when I saw these two memories on my Facebook feed this morning, I felt a little nudge (or perhaps something stronger) and a voice inside telling me to get over myself. Get on with it. Look at the big picture and be grateful.

Because, as I sit here in this crazy year that is 2020, it's that moment of kindness in the classroom nine years ago that resonates with me the most.


Thursday, October 22, 2020

A Room of One’s Own

Virginia Woolf said that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. She said this in lectures at Cambridge University in the 1920s, talking not only about writing, but about feminism, and the ongoing struggle for women in the arts to be acknowledged, respected and allowed to succeed.

All important, all good. But it was always the “room of one’s own” part that resonated with me. Because I never really had one.

Okay, I’ve had rooms of my own a few times since growing up and leaving home. Usually the spare bedroom with a table or desk. Almost always a shared space. For years, when my children were young and growing and I was a college professor, the kitchen table was mine, all mine. Centre of the house. The hub, where Mom could be found prepping lessons and marking assignments in between making meals, folding laundry, arguing with the teenager about sketchy weekend plans, or offering advice on schoolyard politics. More recently, I spent almost 10 years at the dining room table, a.k.a. the home media bench, while working in sports communications. Me and the china and silverware.

And I still managed to write a couple of books that got published. But, but… 

A room of my own. A studio. An office. It was always a dream. And now, with kids moved out and a quieter pace of life, I have finally claimed a space just for me. For my writing, my books, my music, my rug hooking, my yarn stash. My stuff. My creativity. My solitude. 

Of course, you’ll still find me at the kitchen table with my computer, or in the living room by the fire with my yarn and needles, or in the family room watching the Leafs (one day soon, I hope) and playing my dulcimer. 

But to have my room of one’s own to retreat to…?  Yes, Virginia. There are things worth waiting for.

Here's a little tour...

A tiny glimpse of my embarrassingly large yarn stash. Please don't judge me.

Yes, I am a hooker.

The instrument is a mountain dulcimer, purchased over 30 years at the Halifax Folklore Centre, and well travelled. The books are part of a collection of traditional folksong that I've been amassing since I was 12 years old and my Grade 6 teacher gave me the school's copy of Edith Fowke's Folksongs of Canada. He knew I was onto something. (Thank you, Mr. Logan!)

Norton Anthology, Beowulf and Snorra Edda (that's Old Icelandic for, very roughly, Snorri's Stories - Snorra Sturluson's 13th century collection of stories and verse.) Also my mother's collection of Rosamunde Pilcher. Favourite re-reads, such as A Town Like Alice, Pride and Prejudice and Vera Brittain's A Testament of Youth. Current fiction and non-fiction from people I know (Terry Fallis, Brad Smith, Sara Jewell). And tons of music.

A workspace must include tea.