Lockdown by Maggie Bolitho

When I wrote this post, yesterday, I thought spring had finally sprung. Tuesday, I was reading an ARC copy of Lockdown by Maggie Bolitho with the windows wide open, letting in the balmy plus twelve Celsius air (that’s about 66 degrees Farenheit). This morning, the ground was covered with white stuff. Boo!

Okay, I’m sure you’re sick of me complaining about our awful weather. I suppose it could be worse. We could be in the throes of an earthquake, like the characters in Lockdown. So, without further ado, here are my thoughts about the book:

original

The story is a cautionary tale that appeals to the Girl Guider in me. ‘Be prepared’ could be the main motto for this story, but even well laid plans can go awry.

Maggie Bolitho has written a compelling story set in the aftermath of a great earthquake that tears apart the west coast from California to Alaska. Young Rowan Morgan and her older brother struggle to survive the turmoil that follows when The Big One hits Vancouver. Fortunately, they are spending the summer with their survivalist father when it strikes. He has been preparing for just such an apocalyptic event for years and made sure his children were well-trained, but nothing they learned could possibly help them deal with potential looters, crazed citizens with a mob mentality, and hungry neighbours whose homes were destroyed. How do they decide who to help and who to turn away?

Amidst the confusion, their father is injured and hospitalized. They are unable to reach their mother because the phone lines are not operational. They must deal with this dangerous situation on their own. In addition, they are responsible for the care of their neighbour’s teenaged son, who has led a very sheltered life, as well as a cat belonging to their vacationing neighbours. Rowan, worried about her father, decides to risk breaking curfew to visit him at the hospital and runs into more trouble, as a result. They receive some assistance from a stranger, who mysteriously appears at opportune moments, but Rowan and her brother are suspicious of his motives.

Maggie Bolitho’s main character is a typical fifteen year old, who has been trying to break free of her authoritative father’s reign, which has been a source of contention between them. Despite her longing for independence, when she finally has some, she wants to return to the more secure life she had before the earthquake. She is racked with indecision but forces herself to remember her father’s advice and at least pretend to be strong for the sake of those in her care. Some of her decisions prove to be foolish and dangerous for her, but she perseveres, growing in wisdom and strength.

I would give this story a two-thumbs-up and highly recommend it for teens as well as adults. There were a few time that I, as a parent, yelled at the girl to think a little smarter, but overall I enjoyed it and think any teen would like it, too. There’s just the right mix of suspense and action that keeps the reader barreling along at break-neck speed. I was glad I had no major commitments so I could finish it in a day with few interruptions.

The official launch of Lockdown will be May 2nd, so if anyone in the Vancouver area is interested in getting an autographed copy, be at the Lynn Valley Library at 7:30 pm. If that is not an option for you, click on the picture of the book cover above and it will take you to the publisher’s website. It’s also available on Amazon.

 

Book Blurb:

When a great earthquake rocks the Pacific Northwest, fifteen-year-old Rowan Morgan is hiking in a suburban forest. Tremors rip the coast from Oregon to Alaska and turn Rowan’s world upside down. After her father is wounded and taken to the hospital, he orders Rowan and her brother to stay inside his earthquakeproof, survivalist home. While the electrified fences offer some protection, it isn’t long before mobs gather, desperate for some of the food and water rumoured to be held inside.

Rowan knows that if the hungry neighbours had any true idea of the riches in her father’s cellar and water tanks, they wouldn’t be so easily sent away. Early one morning, Rowan leaves the compound and sets off in search of her father. She is turned away from the hospital and so goes to check on nearby friends where she finds a local gang has moved in. She escapes from them only to run into a stranger she met in the forest the day before. Why is he following her and what does he want?

About the author:
MAGGIE BOLITHO is curious by nature and over the years has been a soccer player, a horsewoman, a martial artist, a scuba diver (volunteer diver for the Vancouver Aquarium) and a cyclist. Before making her home in British Columbia, Bolitho lived in Australia. In Sydney her home was in a red-zone, the highest bushfire risk possible and it was there, when she trained as a member of the CFU (Community Fire Unit) as a firefighter, that her interest in disaster scenarios came to life.

 

Scary October #28 – Sunday Interview

Hello readers! Today, I thought I’d do something completely different. Instead of an author interview I thought I’d do a character one, so it is with extreme pleasure that I introduce Michelle, the main character of my two YA novels, Withershins and Spirit Quest. It’s been 25 years since the end of ‘Spirit Quest’ and, upon the suggestion of one of my readers (thank-you, Diane), we are joined by her daughter, Kristen. 🙂

Me: Ladies, would you please tell my readers a little about yourselves.

Michelle: Certainly! I am . . . uh . . . 40-something. (Smirk!) I live in a small neighbourhood near the centre of Winnipeg, a community known as St. Boniface. I teach Aboriginal Studies at the University of Manitoba. I’m married with three lovely children (glances at her eldest daughter).

Kristen: (squirms uncomfortably) Mom, are you sure you want all this out in the open? (eyes flick to her mother’s face and sighs) Fine! Hi, I’m Kristen. I’m 16 and go to River East Collegiate. My friends and I like going to school football games because the quarterback is really cute. (blushes)

Me: Michelle, would you mind describing your adventures when you were Kristen’s age? What made you decide to go to the St. Andrew’s Graveyard with Kevin & Jason?

St. Andrews Church on the Red River, Manitoba

Michelle: (chuckles) Wow! That was such a long time ago! You probably won’t believe any of this. Goodness knows, Kristen has her doubts about the stories I’ve told her. (She clears her throat) Well, we had a high school history project to do. We thought, or at least, I thought it would be a good idea to go to the oldest church in the area and check out some of the names on the gravestones to inspire my research. I convinced the boys it would be a fun way to do the research. Jason was able to borrow his Dad’s car, so he offered to drive us. We wandered around the graveyard until it closed, then went to eat. Despite the warnings, we went back and waited until midnight, then Jason suggested we do the withershins.

Kristen: (leans forward, insistent) Mom, you said it yourself, you hit your head! You must have blacked out for awhile. You just had a very complicated dream. (She turns to me)Why are you’re encouraging her?

Michelle: Honey, I thought the same thing, at first – that it was all just a dream. After everything I experienced, it could not simply have been a dream.

Me: Michelle, would you please explain what ‘withershins’ means?

Michelle: According to Jason, it was a ritual where a person runs around a church three times at midnight. He claimed we’d meet the Devil or be transported to the Netherworld. I’ve since discovered, it simply means traveling counter-clockwise or ‘contrary to the sun’, and when you do it with all the right elements, you can travel back in time.

Kristen gives a snort of derision.

Me: Why would you participate in a ritual like that, Michelle?

Michelle: For one thing, I didn’t think anything would really happen. For another, when Jason begged me with those puppy dog eyes, I couldn’t say no. I had such a crush on him back then! I’m just glad I didn’t meet the Devil or go to the Netherworld, although there were times I thought I really was in H-E-double hockey sticks, if you know what I mean. 🙂

Kristen: (rolls her eyes) There’s no need to protect me from bad words, Mom. I’ve heard a lot worse at school, you know!

Me: Michelle, what was your first clue that you’d been transported back in time?

Michelle: Once the swirling portal thing stopped and the fog disappeared, everything was so different. There was absolutely nothing around me – no trees, no buildings, no power lines anywhere. In the back of my mind, I knew I hadn’t run that far from the church, but I really couldn’t believe I had actually time-travelled. Would you?

Me: (Chuckle!) No, I suppose not. What finally convinced you it wasn’t a dream?

Michelle: I’ve had vivid dreams before, but nothing compared to the sights and smells of being back in the mid-eighteen hundreds. When I stepped in that horse poo and tried to get it off my runner, I knew there was something all too real about that place! What really convinced me was when Bear brought me to his grandfather and he started talking about everything that had happened leading up to that spinning vortex. That’s when I knew for sure. After all, no one else in that place could possibly have known, unless it was all some huge practical joke, but I didn’t think Lower Fort Garry would have gone to all the trouble and expense of removing a building and replacing it with a log cabin, all for the sake of a joke.

Kristen: Mom, you’d been doing research. All that stuff must have been in your mind when you hit your head, so you simply dreamed it all. It just seemed real.

Me: (ignoring Kristen’s outburst) It must have been hard to live in a time without all our modern conveniences. How did you manage?

Michelle: (with a rueful smile) Faking amnesia helped a little. Anytime someone questioned me about not being able to do things, I just chalked it up to forgetting. I was also a Brownie and a Girl Guide, so I had been camping before. I knew some basic survival skills and when I first arrived at the Lower Fort, I was thrust into a maid’s position. It didn’t take long to learn how to cook over a fire, how to mend clothing and a whole bunch of other stuff. Bear’s mom, Swift Doe, knew where I was from and taught me all kinds of things native women learned when they were young. Also, Owl, Bear’s grandfather, taught me some spiritual stuff and Bear taught me how to hunt.

Me: Kristen, does your mom do any of those things now or when you were younger?

Kristen: Well, she used to make moccasins for us when we were little. We used to go to Pow Wows. I was given a native name when I was 12. Last year, Mom and Dad prepared me for a sweat lodge ceremony.

Me: How do you think your mom knew about all of these ceremonies if she didn’t learn them from the past?

Kristen: Mom knows a lot of elders. Perhaps one of them taught her all that stuff.

Michelle: Sweetie, I didn’t meet those elders until after I returned from the past. Your Auntie Sherry introduced me to them after I told her what had happened to me.

Kristen: (folds her arms across her chest and scowls)

Me: (turning to Michelle) Tell us about some of the people you met in the past.

Lower Fort Garry, NW turret used for baking ‘hard tack’, a bread used by voyageurs and hunting parties

Michelle: Well, I first met the Reverend Cochrane and his wife, Annie. They lived in the original rectory at St. Andrews. They helped me a lot. I was scared and I’d bumped my head and sprained my wrist falling out of the time tunnel thingy, so the reverend took me to the Lower Fort where there was a doctor. Doctor Buchanan had just come to Red River with the 6th Regiment of Foot and had a little office inside the fort beside the trade store, about where the museum is now. He fixed me up and asked Governor Simpson if I could stay at the fort until my head healed.

Oh, yeah, before meeting the doctor, I was feeling a little light-headed because of the bump on my head and I fell into the arms of a rather handsome Scottish stonemason, Duncan MacRae. He was in charge of the St. Andrews Church construction. There were also a couple of girls I became friends with, the Sinclair sisters, Harriet and Maria. Margaret was sort of a friend, but hung around too much with Elizabeth, who hated me the moment she set eyes on me. I think it had a lot to do with her father being with the Hudson’s Bay Company. He was friends with the Chief Factor and his wife, Mrs. Wilson – and a more spiteful woman you’d never hope to meet! There were quite a few others, like Doctor Buchanan’s patients that I helped and Bear’s sister, Fawn, and the store clerk, Ian McNally, but we don’t have time to get into all that, right now.

Me: Now, you went through the withershins ritual not once but twice, is that right? Why would you put yourself through that again?

Michelle: I probably wouldn’t have considered it, as much as I missed Bear – and I missed him A LOT! Missing him, though, was the reason I went to the Manitoba Archives to learn what might have happened to him and my other friends. I came across an old article that talked about a trial that took place after I came home. The article said Owl had been hanged because they thought he had murdered me. You see, when I suddenly disappeared from the past to come home, the nosy Mrs. Wilson claimed she’d seen Owl and I leave the fort late at night, but only Owl returned – with my olden days clothes. She made such a fuss, that the courts decided Owl had killed me. I couldn’t let them hang Owl, so I used the arrowhead talisman that Owl’s spirit guide had given me and went to the church on the night of a full moon. I went back to try and stop them from killing Owl. I had no idea if it would work or not, but I had to try.

Me: Wow! Who would have thought your sudden disappearance would have caused such a tragic event! Did you manage to save Owl?

Michelle: (winks) I wouldn’t want to spoil the story! If you want to find out, you’ll have to read the book!

Me: Oh, you are a sneaky one, aren’t you? From the title, I imagine you learned a lot more spiritual stuff in your second adventure. Care to tell us about it?

Michelle: Well, let’s just say, I found it quite life-changing. There were moments I wasn’t sure I’d make it through the challenges and many times I doubted my resolve would last. If it wasn’t for the faith that Bear and Owl had in me, I don’t know where I would be today or if I’d even be here to talk to you. I owe them my life, body and soul.

Kristen: Mom, don’t you think you’re being a little melodramatic?

Me: They sound like the sort of friends everyone should have. (I turn to Michelle) Do you have any parting thoughts you’d like to share with my readers?

Michelle: Only that my appreciation for history has grown immensely because of my adventures. I still don’t like having to memorize dates, but I have a greater love for the people who made up our history, those who influenced changes in our society and helped to make our future better. These are things I hope Kristen will come to appreciate, one day (fondly casts her eyes to her daughter and smiles).

I’m also grateful for some of the progress that’s been made since then, like indoor plumbing, but I have to wonder whether the cost of some of our modern conveniences has been worth the price to our environment. When I consider all the plant and animal species that have become extinct over the past hundred and fifty years, it makes me cry. When I think of all the polluted rivers and landfills that mar the land, these days, I shake my head and wonder whether it’s all been worth it. I see the greed of huge corporations who are responsible for our disposable society and want to shake some sense into them for not finding ways to reduce their carbon footprint and I blame the current governments for not taking a stand and creating a bill to protect the environment from those corporate piranhas. My long talks with Owl and Bear, and all the time I spent in the past, have made me more aware of our shrinking landscapes (shrugs her shoulders and smiles, briefly). Sorry for the rant. I guess I’ll stop now. 🙂

Me: I can’t help but agree with you. Progress does seem to be getting out of hand. What do you think about what your mother said, Kristen?

Kristen: I suppose she has a point regarding the environment. I still don’t see the need to study history, though. A bunch of old dead people – what can studying what they did make a difference to what happened?

Michelle: Sweetie, you don’t get it, do you? There are people in the past who fought for the rights and freedoms you enjoy today. If they had not done what they did, our lives would be very different and much more difficult.

Kristen: People like who?

Michelle: If Chief Peguis hadn’t helped the early Scottish settlers by bringing them down to Pembina before the snow came, your great-great-great-great-grandfather would not have survived the winter and you probably wouldn’t be here. If Louis Riel hadn’t stood up for the rights of the Métis people, you’d still be considered a second class citizen, treated badly just like your great-great grandmother was at the residential school.

Kristen: (sinks lower in her chair and pouts) If you say so, Mom.

Me: (to Kristen) Then you don’t think you’d ever want to go on an adventure, like your mother?

Kristen: Are you kidding me? You believe what happened to Mom was real?

Me: You mother’s adventures were well documented in both ‘Withershins’ and ‘Spirit Quest’. You still don’t think they were real?

Kristen: Haven’t you ever heard of FICTION? That’s all it is, you know.

Me: Then, if you had the chance to do the withershins thing you wouldn’t do it?

Kristen: I may try it, but I certainly don’t expect anything to happen.

Michelle: (smirks) That’s what I thought, Honey.

Me: (I notice something around Kristen’s neck) Is that what I think it is?

Kristen: (touches her chest and groans, then pulls out the arrowhead necklace) Mom gave it to me for my birthday, a few days ago.

Me: That is very cool! 🙂 (I catch Michelle’s eye and she winks at me) Well, I want to thank you both for joining us, today, Michelle and Kristen.

Michelle: Thanks for having me, Susan. 🙂

Kristen: Yeah. Whatever.

Me: Michelle’s adventures can be found in both books mentioned above. Maybe one day you’ll be able to read an adventure about Kristen, too! 🙂

Kristen: Or NOT!

Some of the settings in which Michelle was known to have traveled can be found on my Withershins Facebook page, here. I will also be posting more pictures of St. Andrews Church, the graveyard and Lower Fort Garry on this blog, once I have gone through the hundreds of photos and video clips I took out there this past summer. I can also be found, occasionally, on Twitter and Goodreads.

Hope you enjoyed this whimsical interview, inspired by other bloggers like J. Keller Ford, who have done similar interviews with their characters. 🙂

Something new!

 

Hi, everyone! I think I will make Sundays my ‘Interview Day’.

A lovely young lady interviewed me a couple of weeks ago for an upcoming blog post, so I thought I would return the favour. She’s currently working on a YA novel. So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce Misha from ‘My First Book’.

Hi, Misha! Thanks for joining us, today! Would you please tell us a little about yourself?

Hi Susan! Thanks so much for having me. I’m so honored to be your first interviewee. I’m 23 years old. Been writing since I was 13. I’ve done a variety of things so far in my life, just because I wanted to. Two of them, fencing and learning French, were inspired by The Three Musketeers. I also picked up the habit of checking the backs of antique wardrobes, even though I was already fifteen when I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the first time…

Wow! I’ve always wanted to learn how to fence, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of my favourites, too!

Your blog name is called ‘My First Book’ and you have a timer counting down ‘until Doorways is finished’.  Is Doorways your ‘first book’? Would you mind giving us a few hints about it?

Yes. More accurately, it’s my first completed draft, but also the first one I want to see published. 

Hints…. hmm… I’m not sure what to share, except that it’s the first in a four-part fantasy epic… 

Keeping it close to the vest, eh? That’s cool. What inspired you to write it?

I was rereading Chronicles of Narnia, actually, in preparation for the release of Prince Caspian. And then… Darrion was there.

How long have you been writing?

Ten years in (I think) August. But I’ve been writing poems since the age of seven and creating stories way before then. 

The writing bug bit you early! 🙂  Have you written anything else?

Yep. A LOT of poetry and a western. I’ll be rewriting the western later this year once I’m done with Doorways. Then I have an urban fantasy waiting to be completed… As well as two dystopians. 

Sounds like you’ve been busy! Please describe a little about your process. For example, when do you prefer to work on your writing? Where do you prefer to write?

I actually do most of my writing in bed at 3 a.m. to 5 or 6 a.m. in the morning. It’s just easier for me to write when the rest of my family isn’t awake. 

You’re quite a night owl! 🙂 I envy you your energy!

Do you have any idiosyncrasies, like writing with a cup of coffee at hand, placing certain items near your keyboard or writing pad, etc?

Idiosyncrasies will be that I draft in long hand in hardcover notebooks with black v-tipped pens. Recently caved and bought an expensive fountain pen and its refills. I was horrified to discover they were all blue. And yes. I know that it’s insane of me.

I think all writers must have a streak of insanity, so you’re not alone! LOL

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Working, singing, blogging, playing guitar… and some other stuff. My hobbies sort of change every now and then, depending on what I find satisfying.

How are you finding the editing process?

Love it. I know a lot of people see editing as a chore, but I just love seeing my (VERY) rough draft turning into something resembling a published book.

Once you’re done with your editing, will you be looking for a critique partner or two or do you already have someone in mind?

I actually use crit partners to edit, because I have an issue with seeing faults in stories that I’ve worked on too long. I am, however, looking for beta readers right now. 

Perhaps one of my readers knows someone who would be of help to you with this.

There’s been a big debate going on in the blogosphere about the merits and problems with traditional publishing versus self-publishing and e-publishing. What are your thoughts with regards to getting your own manuscript published?

My first thought: AAAAAaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrggggghhhhh!!!! Honestly. I have no idea. Just when I think that I’ve made up my mind, I read another argument to the debate and get thrown for a loop again. I guess that means I’m right in the middle.

Well, Misha, I wish you the best of luck with your manuscript. Please check back with us and let us know how it’s going.

Anyone who might have comments or more questions for Misha please leave them in the comments section, or visit her yourself at ‘My First Book‘. If you use Twitter contact her here.

13 Reasons Why

While I was reading easyondeyes blog post yesterday about the book, The 3 Mistakes of My Life by Chetan Begat, I was reminded about another book, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I still get chills thinking about it.

The basic story revolves around a girl’s suicide and an audiotape she made just prior to taking her own life. She sends the tape to the first person on her 13-reasons-why list with instructions that they read it and pass it on to the next person until it reaches the last person. She tells them that she made copies, which she sent to someone else who would continue the process should one of the people on the list not pass it on. Her words on the tape are interspersed with the actions of one of the recipients of the tape and how it profoundly affects him. He never sees the other 12 people she talks about in the same way again and he seriously thinks about how he might have changed the outcome if he had only had the courage to do something sooner.

It is a powerful YA novel that really makes a person think about their actions and how they affect others. Thirteen Reasons Why details how 13 people impacted the girl’s life in such a profound way that she felt she had no choice but to end her anguish permanently. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend that you do, especially if you have teenagers or if you suspect someone you love is depressed. It might save a life.

What books have YOU read that had a powerful impact on you?

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.

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. 

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! 🙂

Multiculturalism

Product Details

Product Details

I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures, as might be evident by my books, Withershins and Spirit Quest. I was fortunate to grow up in a family that treasured tolerance and acceptance of others, so was free to delve into the mysteries of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, or native spirituality, if that was what I wanted to do.


Growing up with a Hebrew school across the street from my elementary school, I acquired many Jewish friends. As I got older and learned about world history, I was horrified to learn about the Holocaust. I could not understand why anyone could let such an atrocious thing happen to the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins of my friends.

I wept for them.

Mississippi Burning (Signet)

I soon realized that this sort of bigotry was not new. In school, we read Mississippi Burning, about the racism in the southern United Stated between the white and black residents, there. I could not understand why people could hate another person merely because their skin colour was a little (or a lot) darker than theirs, any more than I could understand why one culture was persecuted because they had different beliefs.

I still can’t understand it.

When I read about how the Europeans treated First Nations peoples in North America and other places, like Australia, I was appalled that my ancestors were really no better than the Klu Klux Klan. I think that’s why I am glad to see so much Young Adult fiction on bookstore shelves, today, that deals with bigotry and racism. We need to show our young people the horrors that man can inflict upon another.

With any luck, they will begin to see that we cannot perpetuate the hatred.

Even as adults, we all should just let it go and embrace our fellow man (or woman) whether he/she has red skin, black, yellow, blue or purple. We must love our neighbours, whether they are Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim or First Nations because, when you get right down to the roots, the basis for all religions is peace among all people. It is only the fanatics that take a small portion of their religion and distort it so that they feel the need to exterminate ‘The Unbelievers’.

For those of you who feel as I do, I want to share excerpts from a few books I have on my own bookshelves (most by Manitoba authors, I’m proud to say) that illuminate bigotry for the evil it is and how it affects our children.

A Place Not Home

Eva Wiseman’s ‘A Place Not Home‘ is about a Hungarian Jewish family who must flee their country because they are afraid they will be killed. Here is an excerpt:

“Mother warned us not to make a sound. She covered us, even our heads, with the blanket. I wished I was invisible.

Father walked to the door hesitantly. ‘Who is it?’

‘It’s Erno Gabor.’ Father let him in. I peeked out from under the blanket. Although the voice was familiar, I felt afraid even to breathe. Dr. Gabor’s face was as white as snow; sweat was pouring off his brow. He looked very different from the last time he paid a house call, when I had whooping cough.

‘My God, Erno, are you ill? Kati, get him some brandy!’

‘No, no, I’m okay. I must contact all the Jews in Veszprem. I’ve heard rumors that some of the former Nazis are making a list of all the Jews who are left. They are planning a pogrom. They want to kill us all.’

Mother muffled a cry of terror. Father was ashen.”

The Kulak's Daughter

A Kulak was a term used by Stalin’s Communists who did not conform or ‘share’ with the community. Farmers were expected to give up everything they worked for during the growing season for the good of the country, but it was not shared equally. In ‘The Kulak’s Daughter‘, by Gabriele Goldstone, Olga’s father tries to hide grain stores but there are spies everywhere.

“One morning, when I got to school, everyone’s talking in whispers about Michael’s papa. He’s disappeared overnight.

It’s not the first time a black car we’ve nicknamed ‘The Blackbird’ swooped into a farmyard to arrest a kulak during the night. But it’s the first time it involves one of my classmates. People say Michael’s papa had an anti-communist attitude. We all wonder who reported him. I know it can’t be Michael. Michael would never report on his father. Would he? . . .

One day, when the dark, heavy clouds that have settled over November smell like snow, the storm hits again. It’s almost four weeks since papa’s disappearance. This time, the storm doesn’t strike as a fancy, important looking black automobile. It comes, instead, as a big, noisy transport truck.

We go out to watch as two OGPU officers, with long guns leaning against their shoulders, get out. I notice their clunky boots.

‘You must leave,’ one of them says, handing Mama a letter. ‘Deportation orders. Everybody out of here. There will be a train in Zhitomir. You must be on it by noon tomorrow. This farm land will be shared by all people. It will be part of a collective for the Soviet workers.’

He looks at us children. We’re standing right behind mama. ‘Bring food,’ he adds, ‘if you want to eat.’

Then he touches his royal blue cap, gives a nod and stomps back to the rumbling truck. Doors slam metal on metal and the truck sputters down the leaf blown trail.”

Zlata's Diary:A Child's Life in Sarajevo

Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipovic is about the conflict in Bosnia. A young girl with a normal life is suddenly torn away from her home because of the war. It’s a true story. She often directs her comments in her diary to her fish, Mimmy.

“Dear Mimmy,

BOREDOM!!! SHOOTING!!! SHELLING!!! PEOPLE BEING KILLED!!! DESPAIR!!! HUNGER!!! MISERY!!! FEAR!!!

That’s my life! The life of an innocent eleven-year old schoolgirl!!! A schoolgirl without a school. A child without the fun and excitement of school. A child without games, without friends, without the sun, without birds, without nature, without fruit, without chocolate or sweets, with just a little powdered milk. In short, a child without a childhood. A war time child. I now realize I am living through a war, I am witnessing an ugly, disgusting war. I and thousands of other children in this town that is being destroyed, that is crying, weeping, seeking help, but getting none. God, will this ever stop, will I ever be a schoolgirl again, will I ever enjoy my childhood again? I once heard that childhood is the most wonderful time of your life. And it is. I loved it, and now an ugly war is taking it all away from me. Why? I feel sad. I feel like crying. I am crying.”

In My Enemy's House

In My Enemy’s House, by Carol Matas

The scene takes place in Germany during WWII and begins with two girls hiding in the basement where a Nazi sweeper team finds them and throws them in a truck with other neighbours they have caught:

“Finally, the trucks stopped and we were pushed out. We were at the old castle. In front of the castle before the parapets was a deep ravine — what had been a moat. There were lines of German soldiers with machine guns. There was a long line of Jews. I watched as the Jews were pushed in front of the ravine, five at a time, and then the soldiers opened up on them and they dropped into the ravine. Little children, women, old men . . . Mothers begged for their children’s lives, babies screamed in terror, the old men chanted the Shema. Fanny and I were near the end of the line. I wished we were near the front. Then our suffering would be over.

Fanny said, ‘It’s the Zuckermans.’ I watched Chaike’s mother standing by the ravine, beside her three sons and Chaike. The machine guns exploded. They cried out and then they were gone. I felt woozy and I dropped to the ground, head between my knees.”

These are only a few of the stories that delve into the subject of war and hatred and the atrocities one group of people inflict on another, just because they are different or won’t conform to an expected  political view. I have a few more on my shelf that I still need to read, so I will review them another time.

Have you read any YA fiction that deals with this subject? How did the authors handle it?

My Teen Fiction Shelves

My Teen/Children's section

Since my previous post My Bookshelf was so immensely popular, I thought I would continue with some of my favourite books on my teen fiction shelves. As a child I read such titles as Anne of Green Gables, The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew (didn’t every girl back then?), Heidi, Little Women, Wizard of Oz, The Yearling, Chronicles of Narnia, among many others. These titles I still have on my shelves, treasured tomes that saw me through many late night adventures – and because I am a pack rat and never throw good books away! Most of the books I read as a child were written by British or American authors. The only Canadian author among those mentioned was Lucy Maud Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables). In the last couple of decades, the field has exploded. Canadian publishers have seen the need to make more fiction available to our youngsters with relative content, local content and historical content.

The Olden Days Coat

Margaret Lawrence’s story, The Olden Days Coat, was one of the first Canadian authors I read as an adult. This particular story is dear to my heart because it involves traveling back in time. This was a book I used when I was student teaching. I think it helped to spark the students’ imagination.

When I actually started writing for children, I was very interested in what other children and teen fiction novelists were writing, so I checked out the competition. Here is a selection of some of my favourites in the field:

Carol Matas

Let’s start with Carol Matas, who was one of the first authors I checked out because the main setting for her books was Nazi Germany. Her characters were Jews trying to escape the tyranny of the time. Growing up in a primarily Jewish neighbourhood, I could relate to those children, imagining them to be my friends with all the trials & tribulations that they would have gone through had they been born into that tumultuous time. Footsteps in the Snowwas a book she wrote for the Canadian Diaries series, depicting life in our early colonial days. Carol easily draws in her reader and holds them captive with every page. Her books are hard to put down once you start.

Eva Wiseman

Eva Wiseman’s books are similar. Both authors deal with the Jewish life during the second world war. A Place Not Home was about a family who managed to escape Nazi Germany and relocated to a Canadian city. My Canary Yellow Staris about how a Jewish family is helped by the Swedish man Raoul Wallenberg, who protected many Jewish families against the Nazis. Eva is from Hungary and lived through that difficult time, so her subject matter, although fiction, is very close to her real life adventures.

Martha Brooks

Martha Brooks’ characters are set in a more contemporary time. They depict the angst and turmoil of teenage life. Her characters are all relatable and despite their rough edges, become people who you’d want to be your friends.

Anita Daher

Anita Daher is a fabulous writer who is so versatile in her work. She can write for almost any age of child. Her stories are interesting and some of her books are written so that even the most reluctant reader would be drawn into her worlds. My favourite so far, though, is Spider’s Song (I could not find my copy to photograph. I must have leant it out). Set in Yellowknife in the Yukon Territory, the story is current, dealing with internet chatting – a warning that people are not always who they pretend to be on-line. It also deals with the disturbing subject of ‘cutting’. This was the first time I had heard about it and I thought she dealt with the complexities of it very well. Oh, another reason why I think she is an awesome writer – she was the editor of my second book, Spirit Quest!

Eric Wilson

Eric Wilson writes adventures set in Canadian cities. I chose to read The Prairie Dog Conspiracybecause the Prairie Dog Central is an old steam-powered train that used to travel the tracks behind the house where I grew up. It generally only travels during the summer for excursions out to Grand Prairie, Manitoba. Occasionally, it hosts a murder mystery evening. As a child, my parents booked a Christmas excursion for us where Santa hopped on-board and handed out candy to the passengers. Anyway, Eric’s books would appeal to those boys who resist reading. The stories are engaging, easy to read and not very long.

Martine Leavitt

I was only recently introduced to Martine Leavitt. This story, Tom Finder, deals with a boy who has no memory of who he is. Tom does not know where his home is. He quickly learns how to live on the mean streets, who to trust, who to be wary of, how to get food and make enough money to get home, wherever that is. It is a touching story and explores a tough subject, but she does it very well.

Marty Chan

During the Thin Air Writer’s Festival here in Winnipeg last fall, I came across a wonderful children’s writer, Marty Chan. He spoke to a group of third grade students about his books. Wow! Was he ever dynamic! He could really relate to the kids and got them involved with storytelling. He had students up on stage acting out a scenario suggested by his audience. I HAD to pick up one of his books to read it. As luck would have it, I picked up Barnabas Bigfoot. Ironically, my writer’s group and I were discussing what might be the latest FAD in books/movies since we thought that the whole vampire genre was becoming passe. We agreed that the Sasquatch would be the next big thing, so here we have Barnabas. As with his personal appearances, Marty injects a lot of humour into his writing. The kids who attended This Air had read other of his books, so that is a pretty good endorsement. Kids like his work. The stories are not long, easy to read and enjoyable.

Rae Bridgman

How many of you liked the Harry Potter series? How many wish there was a Hogwart’s Academy in their own home town? Well, Rae Bridgman wrote a series of books with just you in mind. Although it really has nothing to do with Harry Potter, her stories do take place in a magical town somewhere in the heart of downtown Winnipeg where a chartered bus can pass through an apparently solid brick wall to enter. Her books are published by the same company that published my books, Great Plains Publications, so of course I had to read them. Rae is a multi-talented woman who not only can write engaging stories but she also creates some of the images found on her novel covers. She is a fantastic artist. Even her signature has an artistic flare to it, incorporating bugs and dragonflies. Her books contain all the ingredients for a great read; adventure, intrigue, magic and local settings. They were all fun to read. Although Gary Paulsen is not a Canadian author, he does write to appeal to the reluctant reader. His books are full of adventure and easy to read. Hatchet, and the other books in the series, appealed to the Girl Guide in me. It made me sit back and wonder whether I would have survived as well as his character, if all I had was a hatchet to cut wood for a fire. Gary’s books are used in the classroom as well, so that is why I thought I would mention them. Finally, if I might give a plug to two friends, both in my writer’s group.

KC Oliver

K. C. Oliver was published long before I was. She managed to find an American publisher to produce her first novel, Pretty, Pretty, a mystery in the tradition of Nancy Drew. Unfortunately, her publisher was small and she was not readily able to bring her books across the border to the local markets. She was forced to do a lot of self promotion. You can find out more about KC in her blog (see blogroll below)

Chris Rutkowski

Chris Rutkowski has been writing since high school and has numerous UFO books under his belt, as I mentioned in my last bookcase post. One of the books I did not mention last time was his Big Book of UFOs. This is one of those coffee table or bathroom reader books that have tons of trivia about UFOs and Aliens, both real and in fictional. Some of the topics covered are ‘Life In The Universe’, ‘UFO Sightings’, ‘Contact’, and ‘UFOs and Society’. The factual information is presented in chunks with trivia interspersed, such as ’10 Things Often Misidentified as UFOs’. If you are the least bit interested in the subject, I recommend this book as it is pretty comprehensive. Well, I guess that’s it for now. There are tons more books on my shelves but I just presented the highlights. Maybe later, I will show you all the books on my research shelves.