The Freedom of Jenny by Julie Burtinshaw

I know this should be a Sunday Interview, but since I already interviewed the author of ‘The Freedom of Jenny‘ (you can find the interview here) I thought I’d finally review her historical novel, today. I deeply regret not reading this book sooner, but unfortunately it got buried among a mountain of other TBR books. When I ran across it the other day, I knew I needed to read it right away and I’m glad I did.  🙂

Jenny was born into a life of slavery. Her father was a slave on a different farm and was only allowed to visit on the weekends. Jenny, her mom & siblings lived elsewhere because they were on loan to a neighbouring farm by her father’s owner. Jenny and her family suffered many hardships, but it was her father’s dream to be free, despite her mother’s reservations about leaving the relative safety of the farm.

Slave-breakers were always a threat, capturing African Americans they might find along the road, whether they’d been freed or not, and selling them or re-selling them to whomever they wanted. Jenny’s mom worried that, even though her husband’s owner sold him his freedom, that the slave-breakers would take them and sell them to someone not nearly as kind as their current owners.

I think the author did a marvelous job of representing the life and emotions of American slaves. Her characters felt real and I was able to rejoice with them and cry at their sorrow.  Since I love history, I was thrilled with all the details that made the time period come alive for me. It’s very obvious that she has done her research and described it in such an effortless way that the reader is swept away to the mid-eighteen hundreds.

I’ve always had great sympathy for those poor souls, who were subjected to slavery and bigotry, so I was drawn to Jenny’s story. At the back of the book, the author states that she was inspired to write her fictional tale based on the real life experiences of Sylvia Stark, a slave who was emancipated in Missouri and made the journey to Salt Spring Island in what is now the province of British Columbia. I was thrilled by the fact that Governor Douglas, Earl of Selkirk and head of the Hudson’s Bay Company, did the same thing for emancipated slaves that he did with the Scottish crofters – brought them to Canada and provided land for them.

I highly recommend ‘The Freedom of Jenny‘ to anyone who are interested in the plight of the people taken from their native homes, transported to American and treated like cattle. 🙂


Sunday Interview #7

Hi, Everyone! Thanks for joining us for another interview! Today, I’d like to introduce Julie Burtinshaw, a Canadian author. She was my co-panelist when we spoke about young adult fiction at the Symposium of Manitoba Writing (see previous post here)

Welcome, Julie! Would you like to start by telling us a little about yourself? 

Well, let’s see. I live in Vancouver with my husband, our cat and we have two kids – one married and one in third year university. I love the ocean and if I’m away from it for too long, I go through withdrawal! I love reading, I love people, but I also cherish my alone time – to percolate ideas and to write.

What inspired you to start writing?

I actually can’t remember not writing. I was one of those kids who kept a journal from a young age. I was also a great letter writer in my teens and my love, or possibly need to write followed me into adulthood.  I do have copies of my first ‘book,’ which I wrote in grade one, with the help of my mom, who always encouraged my creative side.

I think it’s great that you have kept your book from grade one. It just goes to prove, your passion for writing started at a young age! 🙂

What was the first book you got published?


My first published book came out in 2000 and is called ‘Dead Reckoning’. It is historical fiction – a terrifying tale of the sinking of the steamship Valencia off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Why did you choose to write in the young adult genre?

I didn’t really choose this… but I am naturally drawn to kids – teens have open minds, inquiring minds and are full of curiosity. Teenagers are also in a time of reflection and best of all, the future is in their hands.

Would you please describe the process you went through to be published? Did you need to find an agent first?

Although I have an agent now, I did not have an agent when my first book came out. Rather, I sent it out to several publishers and was lucky to be picked up by Raincoast Books in Vancouver. I stayed with them until they closed their publishing arm in 2008.

What other books have you written?

The Freedom of Jenny

In the Historical Fiction genre, I’ve written one other novel: The Freedom of Jenny, about the black migration from Missouri to California to Vancouver Island in the 1850s. I’ve also got a fun little book of short stories called ‘Romantic Ghost Stories‘.  My fiction books are: ‘Adrift‘, ‘The Perfect Cut‘ and ‘The Darkness Between the Stars‘.

Romantic Ghost Stories

(For those who are interested, I’ve linked all the book photos so clicking on them will send you to a site where you can learn more about them)

Julie, you’ve just returned from a writing retreat. That sounds like it would be a wonderful experience. For those of us who have never been to one, what is a writing retreat like? 

Imagine a place, in this case a wonderful abbey in Saskatchewan where you are surrounded by other writers, you don’t have to make meals and silence is recommended between nine and five. Imagine a place where all you have to think about is what you are currently writing. Imagine immersing yourself in your characters – that’s what a retreat is all about for me and I recommend it for anyone who has to deal with the distractions of everyday life while writing a book.


Sounds fantastic!

Some writers are superstitious about their works in progress and won’t talk about them. Are you currently working on a new novel? Would you mind giving us a hint about what it will be about? (It’s okay if you want to keep it to yourself until you’re finished it.)

The Perfect Cut

Ha, yes I am one of those superstitious writers, but I can tell you that I have a completed novel with my agent and am nearly through another one – both of which I am very excited about. Let’s just say these books are both about kids dealing with parents – not always easy!  

I can’t wait to read them! 🙂

Have you ever considered digital or self-publishing?

The Darkness Between the Stars

Yes, I have and I am interested in turning some of my backlist into e-books, or creating a trade book and an e-book at the same time. 

Where do you see the future of young adult literature headed?

I feel very positive about the future of YA. Kids will always read, although the medium they read on may change. YA remains one of the fasted growing genres.  

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

If you are considering writing for youth, my best advice after eight books is to be real, be honest. Never preach and give the kids credit for their ability to read a sophisticated story. Never, ever write down to them, because they are smart and they will sense it right away.

If readers wanted to find you, where should they look? (Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc)

A quick google search for reviews and of course on Amazon, Indigo, Goodreads and Facebook. My twitter handle is #writerjulie and my blog is

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Julie!

Thank you for this opportunity to participate in your blog. 

It was our pleasure, Julie. Good luck with your future writing endeavors! 

Hope you all enjoyed meeting Julie and I hope you will check out her books. 🙂


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.

Product Details

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.”

Product Details

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.

Product Details

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.