Me at the Symposium


I found a couple of pictures of my co-panelist, Julie Burtinshaw, and me on the Manitoba Writer’s Guild’s FB page & thought I’d share it with you.

This was our panel on YA Fiction at the Symposium of Manitoba Writing that I spoke about a couple of weeks ago. The photo array of ladies above us showcases a few of our most prestigious Manitoba writerrs, including Nellie McClung and Margaret Laurence.

I love the wood details that were found throughout the Canadian Mennonite University. I took a few pictures of the architecture, myself:

 

 

I love the old part of the campus, which used to be the School for the Deaf which was built in 1921. To me, it looks like an old castle.

 

 

The inside has the feel of church.

 

 

The wood wainscoting is so elegant.

 

 

And there are surprising little features like these cherubic gargoyle-like stone carvings.

 

 

They are tucked into the sides of the doorway into the older part of the structure.

 

 

Nestled into several alcoves are these comfy little sitting areas with chairs that are perfect for curling up in with a good book. The natural light coming in the windows is wonderful!

 

Do you have interesting old buildings like this where you live?

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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. 

Literary Manitoba

Symposium on Manitoba Writing

For those of you worried that I had dropped off the end of the Earth, or went on a Space Safari, or I’m lying on my death bed, I assure you I am very much alive on this solid plane of existence/on this planet  – although I am a little tired and overwhelmed by the literary world. As I mentioned in my last post a week ago, I’d be going to the Symposium on Manitoba Writing this week. It has been a little bit of a whirlwind trying to take in as many of our literary speakers as possible while still preparing and presenting a panel of my own.

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The Symposium kicked off on Wednesday evening with a screening of ‘Tramp at the Door’ and a talk about Lise Gaboury-Diallo, a local French Canadian who has been an important literary mentor to the Francophone population here, having written a number of critical papers, short stories and poetry. She teaches at the Université de Saint-Boniface here in Winnipeg in the Départment d’études françaises, de langues et de littératures. For those of you who are not familiar with Canada’s bilingual history, Manitoba has a strong duality of languages and culture with many French communities in the province and in Winnipeg. Most of the first white folk that set foot on the prairies were French hunters and trappers and their language and culture has been painstakingly preserved here with French immersion schools along with dual-track schools and all Elementary schools are introduced to the language. Of the thirteen main publishers in Manitoba two of them are Francophone publishers; Les éditions du blé and Les éditions du plaines. Most of this morning’s panels and readings will be about French writing and spoken in French, so I have taken the morning off (since I only married into a French family and am not fluent in the language!) in order to catch you up on my activities since Wednesday.

Instead of taking in the French film screening and talk, I went to the airport to pick up my co-panelist, Julie Burtinshaw, a fellow YA author, who flew in from Vancouver. I brought her to her Bed-and-Breakfast to check in, then we headed downtown to grab something to eat at the Free Press Cafe where we stayed to listen to seven ‘Under 30’ young people read their work.

Winnipeg News Cafe

The cafe is a unique little place in the heart of Winnipeg, right down the street from Artspace, where the Manitoba Writers’ Guild office and other art-related spaces are located. The Free Press cafe is owned and operated by our largest local newspaper chain and provides a live-stream variety of programs, hosting events like town halls, mini-concerts, book readings and more. It’s also a good place to meet the journalists, as they rotate in a variety of editors, beat writers and columnists week to week. They also feature culinary delights by the local restauranteur Domenic Amatuzio. I had the Manitoba Club sandwich accompanied with their house salad – both were wonderful. Julie said the Portobello mushroom sandwich was equally delicious! After we ate, we were delighted to hear the prose and poetry of Joshua Whitehead, Joann DeCosse, Adrian Werner, Bronwynn Jerritt Enns, Andrew Eastman Carlyn Shellenberg, and Michelle Elrich. Make a note of their names as I am sure one day, you will hear their names spoken in literary circles and say, I remember reading about them back in May 2012!

Thursday morning I arose early, bubbling with excitement thinking about the day’s activities. I picked Julie up at her BnB and we headed out to the Canadian Mennonite University. The university is a two-building campus linking the old with the new. The main campus is set in what used to be the School for the Deaf, built in 1921. It was the perfect setting to house the literary symposium, bringing to mind images of castles with huge libraries.

The day’s events began in ‘The Great Hall’. Writers’ Guild members greeted us at the door where we registered, grabbed a coffee (or tea) and a homemade muffin or two before the Opening Ceremonies. Victor Enns, co-founder of the Guild began by introducing us to ’30 Manitoba Remarkable Books’ as selected by website visitors. Both books of poetry and novels were included in the list with such memorable authors as Carol Shields, Margaret Laurence, Miriam Toews, Robert Kroetsch, Jake MacDonald, David Bergen and Sandra Birdsell, just to name a few. If you are interested in learning all the books that made it onto the list, let me know and I will post the list at a later date.

Following Victor was a panel on publishing featuring David Arnason (editor of Turnstone Press), Anne Molgat, (director of Les éditions du blé), Jared Bland (managing editor of House of Anansi Press) and Joan Thomas (frequent contributing reviewer to the The Globe & Mail as well as award winning author of Reading By Lightning & Curiosity). They discussed the current state of publishing and what they thought was in store for the future. Anne described how the industry is moving away from the Big Publishing Houses and writers were relying on the smaller houses to get their work published. David suggested that being published was a means for authors to get ‘authentication’ for their work, ‘like a PhD for writers’, which I suppose is true in some ways but that opinion negates the struggle of hard-working writers who choose to go the self-publishing, or e-publishing route. In my opinion, their words are no less important than those of traditionally published authors. One point that was brought up was the fact that the smaller publishers of Manitoba seem to be thriving while others in Canada are struggling. Could this be due to the incredible writing community and the support of our provincial government? I think that may be the case. I had the chance to speak with writers from other provinces who don’t have an organization like our Writers Guild (with the exception of Saskatchewan’s Guild on which ours was based) that supports, encourages and educates writers.

One problem they brought up  was that with the smaller publishing houses, there is a lack of marketing budget leaving the writer with the task of promoting their own work. Suggestions such as using social media – blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc – was a good way to promote yourself. Book trailers and author-promoting videos on YouTube were good to create a ‘buzz’ about your writing. Here in Manitoba, McNally Robinson Booksellers does a fantastic job of supporting book-signings and book launches, puts prairie writers in their own section, which makes it easy to find local writing, and places our new books in prominent places. It has even brought in an in-store printing machine that can almost instantly print books in their library of on-demand titles. Of course, the publishers did not mention this new technology. I just thought I’d put that out there in support of such a great friend to the Manitoba writers. 🙂

Next on the Thursday agenda was a panel of Mennonite writing with David Elias, Maurice Mierau and Hildi Froese-Tiessen, a special session entitled Writing from the Margins – Farm, Forest,  Frontier with Fisher Lavell, Donna Besel and Sharon Arksey, and Readings by Chandra Mayor, Melissa Steele, and Lori Cayer. Since I couldn’t be in three places at once, I had a difficult decision to make. I chose to attend Writing from the Margins and was thoroughly entertained by the three women from rural Manitoba with their wonderful stories and personal histories. Those living on the fringes of urban life or in extremely remote areas have a difficult time being taken seriously as writers because they are nowhere near where all the literary ‘action’ is, but their stories still need to be told. For more information on all the speakers I’ve mentioned, please check out the Symposium information page here, which includes a brief bio of each one.

Lunches and dinners were included in the price of registration and were cheerfully provided by the cafeteria staff in the new building of the CMU. Although it was a bit of a walk, especially if you had a physical challenge like arthritis or torn tendons in an ankle as in the case of my co-panelist, it was a pleasant distraction from sitting and listening for several hours at a time. The varied menus included lasagna, bison stew and bannock, vegetarian sweet and sour meatballs with rice, and garlic sausage and salad. Then it was back to a literary fare.

First thing Thursday afternoon, Keynote speaker Marta Dvorak discussed how Manitoba writers and artists ‘are fine illustrations of an imaginative continuum on a planetary scale’. It was a scholarly account of her impressions of our literary history and culture. Afterwards, presenters read their papers on Poetry, Robert Steed, Urban Winnipeg and the Writing Community. By this time, Julie was feeling a little jet-lagged so we skipped out on the afternoon sessions and took in the used book sale instead. I picked up a half-dozen books that I hope will help in my future historical research, then I drove Julie to her BnB to relax before taking in the evening readings by David Bergen, Meira Cook, Struan Sinclair, Joan Thomas and Sarah Klassen.

I think I will end here. There are still some people I’d like to hear read this afternoon, and I might take in the finale tonight, a Cabaret evening at the West End Cultural Centre. On top of all that I have 80 emails to take in, mostly your blog posts that I have been neglecting because of all this literary activity. (Sorry about that!) Tomorrow, I’ll talk about Friday’s sessions, which includes my panel.

I hope everyone is having a great weekend, so far! 🙂

Busy Friday

Considering I have a writer’s meeting this weekend, I thought I’d better have something new to show the group. I haven’t done enough research to work on my next book and I do have a speech to write for our Writing Symposium that’s coming up, so I decided to concentrate on that, this morning. It is the Manitoba Writers’ Guild 30th anniversary, which means I am supposed to talk about YA fiction over the past 30 years. I’d already done some research on YA authors, old and new, but I still have a fair bit to do. It’s amazing how prolific some of those writers are and how many more have joined the ranks over the past decade. What is even more incredible is how many are from this province alone. We have also been fortunate to have two publishing companies in the capital city that are featuring a multitude of YA titles from local writers. It is wonderful to have so much support. On top of all that, the Manitoba and Canada Arts Councils help us by giving grants for authors to visit schools and libraries to introduce our work and talk about writing to a whole new generation of future writers.

Doing all the research and coming up with a flow to my speech, the time really got away from me. Before I knew it, it was afternoon and I had some errands to run. After a quick lunch, I headed out and didn’t get home until a little while ago. I haven’t had the chance to read the posts of the blogs I follow or log onto Facebook, yet. I’m just waiting for dinner to cook. It should be ready any minute, so I won’t be able to ramble on much longer. Once my speech has been written and presented, I will share with all of you.

Hope you all have a fantastic weekend!