Manitowapow

Manitowapow: Aboriginal Writings from the Land of Water

I was going to call this post Literary Post part 2, but the first session on Friday was given by contributors of an anthology of Aboriginal Writers to promote their book Manitowapow: Aboriginal Writings from the Land of Water. From their readings and discussion of the book, I knew immediately this was a book I needed to have in my home library. The group explained the name of the book, which is the Aboriginal pronunciation of Manitoba and means “mystery life water”. Since the land of Manitoba sits on the bed of the former great glacial Lake Agassiz and much of the land is broken by rivers and large lakes, the name is definitely appropriate.

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While I haven’t had the chance to read anything from the book except the back cover blurb and the Foreword by Beatrice Moisionier (author of In Search of April Raintree) it promises to be full of historical writings from important people such as Louis Riel, Chief Peguis, Cuthbert Grant and Gabrielle Dumont; literary work from current eminent Aboriginal writers like Tomson Highway, Beatrice Moisioner, Duncan Mecredi and Rosanna Deerchild; political and non-fiction writings from contemporary Aboriginal leades such as Phil Fontaine, David Courshene and Justice Murray Sinclair; local storytellers and those from far-reaching Manitoba communities; new and vibrant voices expressing modern Aboriginal experiences (including an excerpt from the graphic novel 7 Generations: Ends/Begins). The contributing authors are representatives of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Dene, Inuit, Metis and Sioux writers of Manitoba. Their work is prefaced by a brief biography. Some pieces have been translated from the original text/story. Others remain in their original form. This is a book to satiate, at least partially, the thirst for knowledge about the Aboriginal people.

I can’t wait to jump into those pages!

After listening to them speak about their book, I felt a little intimidated. They were a hard act to follow! But follow, we had to do. As much as I wanted to follow them into their next session, Julie Burtinshaw and I were obligated to present our panel on Young Adult fiction. As the Manitoban and the historian, I presented the beginnings of YA fiction by jumping back in time with the use of a literary device – the imagination! I asked the audience to imagine a crazy-haired scientist (in keeping with Christopher Lloyd’s character in Back To The Future) bursting into the room carrying a metal box with a huge red button on top. He points at all of us and says, “Now, I’ve got you!” He slams his hand down on the button. The air shimmers like a hot desert mirage. Our stomachs feel like plunging down in a fast elevator. When everything returns to normal, we find ourselves in a bookstore. As we look around, all the faces are those of teenagers. The calendar on the wall reads 1982, the first official year of the Manitoba Writer’s Guild. Since we are all avid readers and we are in a bookstore, we look for books to read. We check out the shelves and find all the favourite classics, but the only Canadian author we notice is Lucy Maude Montgomery’ of the Anne of Green Gables series. Glancing about, we notice a table of newer books written by Canadian authors, mostly from Manitoba. Eric Wilson’s Canada-based books are there among newcomers Carol Matas and Martha Brooks, both authors from Winnipeg.

I continue on to the next decade, naming the latest titles, then the next decade and the next until we arrive back in our current year. (I will list all of the Manitoba authors I uncovered and spoke about in a future post, as it is a very lengthy list.) There are currently 81 Manitoban authors with about 90 new titles that came out in the last decade alone. It’s possible those numbers are higher, as there are new writers and new books coming out all the time. I doubt that I found all the independent and self-published authors and I am sure there are many who have produced e-books, as well, that I have failed to mention. We also have two main publishers (Great Plains & Pemmican) who make a serious effort to produce the work of young adult authors in this province and several more of the 13 largest publishing houses, here, have YA titles in their current catalogues. In light of this, I am very proud to count myself among the other Manitoba authors of Young Adult fiction, with two novels (‘Withershins’ and ‘Spirit Quest’), both published by the local Great Plains Publishing company.

Freedom of Jenny

My co-panelist from British Columbia, Julie Burtinshaw, explored the current status and future of YA authors. She described the atmosphere of the writing industry, that setting plays a big part of Canadian writing because it often determines where the story can be sold. Regional material sells best in the province it portrays. She mentioned that royalties alone do not make up the bulk of a writer’s income, that we have to rely on income from school visits and giving workshops and attending writer’s festivals in order to make a living, especially if this is our only full-time job. Most writers, unless extremely prolific, need a ‘day job’. She also argued that the comment she’d heard at the previous day’s panel of publishers regarding publishing as ‘the authenticator’ of a writer’s work is not entirely true, anymore. She believes it is the READERS who are the authenticators, for they are the ones who choose whether a writer’s work is worth reading again. She also mentioned a quote by Donna Besel from Thursday’s panel Writing from the Margins, “Urban publishers don’t see the value of country mice. They pour boiling water on your heads!”

“Not a ringing endorsement for the established publishers,” Julie said. “Some might say we are in a publishing revolution and I would agree, and as in any revolution there are casualties. In this new world, all too often those casualties are writers.”

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She mentioned Seth Godin, who spearheaded the Dominoes Project with Amazon. He intimated that success as a writer no longer depends on booksellers or best-seller lists. Julie said that self-publishing is now cutting out the ‘middle people’, that it is important for the writer to get good ideas out there quickly and to as many people as possible. We, as authors, must become our own advocates, because marketing budgets are no longer available to authors – except maybe those best-sellers. We need to get out to the schools, to festivals and bookstores to promote our work. Videos and YouTube book trailers are another good way to get ourselves noticed and presented to the world.

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Julie went on to say that a good portion of her workday is spent building bridges on social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, blogging and all those other ‘get-to-know-me-better’ places out in cyberspace. A writer has to learn what will work best for them, explore all the options, and put themselves out there.

In addition, she felt that any discussions about the future of writers, whether YA or any other genre, would not be complete without acknowledging e-books and the way kids read and continue to read in the future. That includes the social networks and sites like Pinterest. She feels that “reading has devolved from books, to  newspapers, to magazines, to comics to facebook to 145 character tweets to texting and finally to Pinterest (no text at all), or as I like to say, we’ve gone from Page to Pixels in a very short time.” The kids of today are so visually stimulated. She feels all that she has mentioned above is what it takes to reach them.

The Darkness Between the Stars

Considering e-books, she cautions that there are horror stories about work being taken and used without permission, e-book publishers who do not honour contracts with authors and the fine print in contracts, all of which means no royalties being paid. Do your homework, she advises because “information is power.” Despite the negative press, there is good news. Parents still want their kids handling ‘real’ books, information is better absorbed through books, and e-books do sell. In short, authors need to embrace all the new technologies/mediums (e-readers, audio-books, paperbacks, collectibles, flexible pricing, & value packs) if they want to be successful. Authors must also be aware of the drawbacks. Forewarned is forearmed, so to speak.

Young Adult authors must familiarize themselves with the trends. Be aware of the pitfalls and also be conscious of what the kids are reading, what they are interested in, and what their lifestyles are. So, what are they reading? she asks. Easy chapter books (short, high-interest novels about 78 ages long), contemporary stories, compelling characters, linear plots, trilogies (especially with the younger end of the genre), books with captivating covers, and those with regional interest do well locally, but not as well nationally. Another new trend is embedding bar codes into books so the purchaser can access on-line videos and songs related to the book. In conclusion, write what you think the kids want to read in the medium they prefer and you have yourself a winner!

Well, I suppose this is long enough for now. Hope I didn’t bore you all! 🙂

Do you have any advice for young adult authors that I haven’t mentioned here? Please feel free to add your advice in the comment section. 

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