Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Readers in Alberta Want to Know!

Wow! Thanks for all those questions! Here’s my attempt to answer at least some of them.

Where did I get the idea for the story? Is Wild Dog Summer based on a real event, or an event from my life?

Simple answer: no. I never lost a close relative in a car accident like the one that took the life of Joe Kelsey. But the idea did come from real life, in a way. While I was living in the small town of St. Clements, just outside Waterloo, Ontario, there were too-frequent accidents on country roads involving young drivers (usually) and drinking (sometimes). I would read about these accidents in the local paper and wonder how devastating that must be for the families of these young people. BJ’s family just grew out of that process.

Also, there really were “coydogs” in our neighbourhood. I still have the newspaper clipping that gave me the idea for the wild dogs in the neighbourhood. See?

Why did I change some parts of the book?

Hmmmm. This is an interesting question. The answer is pretty simple. I wrote Wild Dog Summer a long time ago (my daughter wasn’t even born then, and she’s now in university, so that gives you an idea…!) Since then, the way people speak has changed, and popular culture has changed too. In order to bring the story into a more contemporary setting, I did a quick copy edit. But to tell you the truth, I didn’t think I made that many changes!

How long did it take to write Wild Dog Summer?

I wrote it in ten days…BUT….I thought about this story for about six months before I started to write it. That’s how I work. I think about it for ages, letting the ideas swirl around in my head, letting things percolate and settle, letting the characters come alive in my imagination. Then, when I can see what the ending of the story should be, I start writing. So the writing only took ten days, but the creation of the story took months and months.

What are my hobbies?

Curling (I love curling!), music, and photography.

Just for the record: I haven’t thought much about dirt bikes before now, but you know, I’d love to try one!

Is there a sequel to Wild Dog Summer? How many books have I written?

I’ve written ten books. Two of them were originally published by Nelson Canada (Wild Dog Summer and The Legacy). I also published a book called Abby and the Curling Chicks. Under my Pugwash Publishers imprint, I’m republishing the first two books, and will be publishing a number of others, including the sequel to Wild Dog Summer called The Toymaker’s Son. (You can read the first two chapters on my website, on the Novels page.)

Do I have any pets?

Yes, I have a dog. His name is Tetley and he’s a Shetland Sheepdog. He likes to chase cars (because he thinks he’s herding them). And I can confidently add that Tetley is the best dog in the world. That's Tetley in the picture at the top of this post.

Thanks for all your questions! How are you enjoying Wild Dog Summer?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wild Dog Summer: A Shout-Out to Mr. Toly's Class

It’s strange to think that somewhere out there, a grade seven class in Alberta is reading my story! But thanks to technology – and this blog – we can actually connect, you in Alberta and me in Ontario.

So where shall we begin?

Maybe you have some questions about how I came to write this book. For instance, when I do classroom visits, someone always asks “Where do you get the characters’ names from?” Some readers want to know if the story is based on real events, or where I got the idea to write this story in the first place. Readers are often quite interested in the wild dogs, as well.

What do you think? Do you have any questions?

If not, I have a question for you: where are you in the novel, and what do you think is going to happen next?

I hope to hear from you soon!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Freedom To Read Week

Do you ban books without even knowing it? An article written by a children’s librarian and published in the most recent issue of Children’s Book News (the newsletter of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre) urges us to be aware of our own tendencies towards “banning” books.

Example: I am on the organizing committee of an annual writers' festival. In a recent discussion about which writers to invite, the name of a successful Canadian author was suggested. She writes contemporary fiction aimed at a female market. “Romance” writing? Perhaps, but not exclusively. “Chick-Lit”? No, not that genre, either. But as a few of us tried to describe this author’s work, one of the committee members rebuffed our efforts with the statement: “I don’t read that kind of thing.” The message was clear: “that kind of thing” is inferior. I disagree: I’ve spent some great reading hours with the work of this award-winning author and I would highly recommend her books. (And after our March 4th launch, I'll tell you who she is!)

We all have our tastes and preferences; we all have our favourite authors and genres. What works for me may not appeal to you at all – but suggesting that someone else’s tastes are inferior is the start of a slippery slope towards censorship, especially for those in a position of power: a teacher or parent, perhaps. Sampling the menu of reading experiences means developing a taste for the literature that nurtures us, and that goes for children as well as for adults. There’s nothing wrong with our likes and dislikes, and certainly nothing wrong with discussing and defending them. But let’s be open and tolerant too. Instead of judging, let’s celebrate the fact that everyone has the freedom to read.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Classroom Reading For The Fun Of It

I once read about a group of graduating students who, on the very last day of their high school careers, stormed the school office, commandeered the PA system, and proceeded to give away the ending of every book on their English reading lists. Lord of the Flies, To Kill A Mockingbird, Hamlet, The Stone Angel – on and on the list went. Death, violence, failure, and not a happy ending in sight.

When I read, I like to feel good about the experience. I like to appreciate the skilled use of language, the creation of characters, the intricacies of plot. If there has to be a bit of darkness in there to deepen the impact, I’m okay with that. But mostly I stay away from books that aim to disturb. I’m a wimp about this and I freely admit it, and it means I’ve missed out on reading some pretty amazing books, but it’s my choice.

The young reader sitting in the classroom does not have a choice. When the teacher says that the next novel study is going to be The Giver, or The Breadwinner, or Night, the young reader has no choice but to engage. There’s a good side to this, of course. The reader’s world is stretched and challenged by such excellent books. Questions are raised, answers are explored.

But the bad side is that those precarious readers, the ones who are already unlikely to pick up a book for the fun of it, resist even more. Reading becomes a task on the homework agenda, supervised and evaluated by the system. Reading is no longer a pleasure.

So when I write, I tend to create stories that I would want to read myself. There isn’t always a completely happy ending in my stories, and I often write about a world that has its share of darkness, but I hope readers find themselves wanting to turn the page and read on, and on. Most importantly, I hope that even those precarious readers will pick up my books - in the classroom or anywhere - and read just for the pleasure of reading.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Writing Chose Me

Grade Four. Little Jeanie in her school tunic (slightly askew, as always. I have the same style sense today) and scary hair cut. Look at those bangs!
But did I care? I did not. I was a happy, happy child because I was, even then...
A writer.
Some things do not change. The outside world of school and family and friends disappeared when I retreated behind closed doors to my little bedroom with its stack of books and paper. I read a lot, and when I wasn't reading, I wrote. Poems, stories, the first few chapters of novels. Pretend articles for newspapers. Letters to fictional characters. More stories.
So I grew up to be a writer, and I continue to write as much and as often as I can. It's not really something that I chose; rather, I think that writing chose me.
Any writers out there? If so, you know exactly what I mean.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Getting Started

It's not always easy, taking that wild leap into the cold water of a lake, or pushing off at the top of a challenging ski run - or writing the first words of a story (or a blog!). Where will we end up? Shivering, cold and dripping? Uncomfortably sprawled in a snowbank? Staring at a blank page? Maybe - but you'll never know until you try. And so often the result isn't bad at all. In fact, it's exciting!

Writing the first words of a story requires courage and a certain amount of faith. When I'm about to start writing a new story and feel daunted by the amount of work that lies ahead, this is what I tell myself: it will never be completed if I don't get started. And then I leap.

This blog is a place for us to share our writing and reading challenges and accomplishments. And questions. And feedback. It's for discussion and issues and answers. It's a place for us to meet - in print instead of in person.

I'm looking forward to meeting you. Just make the leap and write soon!