2012 YA Author Blog Takeover

Something exciting is beginning on Jenny Keller Ford‘s blog beginning this Sunday. She will be featuring 9 YA authors, one each day until the end of the month, including me. 🙂

We will be discussing our books and our thoughts on writing, publishing and life.

Her line-up will be as follows:

Sunday, June, 22 – Kim Richardson, author of ‘The Soul Guardians

Monday, June 23 – ME! (Susan Rocan), author of ‘Withershins‘ & ‘Spirit Quest‘.

Tuesday, June 24 – Emi Gayle, author of ‘After Dark

Wednesday, June 25 – L. S. Murphy, author of ‘Reaper

Thursday, June 26 – Kevin McGill, author of ‘Nikolas & Company: The Merman and the Moon Forgotten

Friday, June 27 – Jus Accardo, author of ‘Touch‘ and ‘Toxic

Saturday, June 28 – Michael Conn, author of ‘Maxwell Huxley’s Demon

Sunday, June 29 – Jamie Ayers, author of ‘18 Things

Monday, July 30 – Rachel Coker, author of ‘Interrupted: life beyond words‘ and ‘Chasing Jupiter

Please come by and see what we all have to say. Each day, the featured author will be hanging around Jenny’s blog to answer any questions you may have for them. To get there, just click on the picture, which will link you straight to Jenny’s site. Hope to see you there! 🙂


Second Sunday Interview

Hello, everyone! Welcome to my second Sunday interview. Today, I’m talking with Jenny Keller Ford.

Hi, Jenny! I am thrilled to have you here, today. I’ve been reading your blog since I discovered it a few months ago and have loved reading about your journey to publication. For those who have not been fortunate to catch your beautiful blog, would you please tell them a little about yourself?

Hi Susan.  First let me say how happy I am to be here.  Thank you so much for thinking of me and including me in your new blog endeavor.  It’s a great idea.

As for me, I was born in Neu Ulm, Germany and was adopted by a U.S. military family when I was six weeks old.  I traveled around a lot as a kid, and returned to Germany when I was six years old.  We lived there for two years and during that time, my mom made sure my brother and I were introduced to all the country had to offer…including castles.  As a little girl, I adored fairytales, so seeing these castles up close and personal solidified my love for them and all things fantasy, especially stories of King Arthur, Merlin and Camelot.  I suppose that’s why I read and write stories centered around dragons, faeries and magic.

I’m twenty-one years married, have four children ranging in age from 17 to 27, and I have a granddaughter who will turn 4 in July.  I am a willing slave to an orange tabby, two Australian Shepherds and a speckled mutt, and would probably own every stray and abandoned animal in the world if I had the space and the money to care for them.   

Wow! That’s a fascinating history. I love castles, too, and I long to travel overseas to see them. You’re lucky you got to live there! As for the animals, you sound just like my daughter! 🙂

How long have you been writing?

Ever since I could hold a crayon.  My mom used to have a whole box of my scribbles from when I was a kid.  Sadly, she passed away in 2006 and I have no idea what happened to them all. 

Sorry to hear that!

What inspired you to start writing?

My mom read to me all the time.  I remember snuggling with her on the couch when I was four, maybe five years old.  I’ve always loved to read.  Of course, I always thought I could tell a story better than anyone and I embellished lots of stories.  I called it having an imagination.  My mom called it lying.  I would tell stories about our Fox Terrier rescuing fairies from avalanches (that was one of my favorites), or tell stories about the dinosaur-turned dragon that lived in my room. 

I love that! lol

In which genre do prefer to write?

I primarily write Young Adult fantasy, but I have ventured into other areas.  I like to push myself, step outside my comfort zone.  I don’t think I’ll ever be known as a romance or mystery author, but I enjoy playing around with the genres.   

It IS fun to stretch yourself and I’m sure it has a lot to do with becoming a better writer. 🙂

Please tell us a little about your writing process.

I sit down and write.  I don’t plan anything, however, sometimes I do write down brief outlines of what I’d like to see happen in the novel or story, but I tend to let my brain take me wherever it wants to go.  Most the time I write in sequence, but sometimes I’ll get ideas for later chapters and I have to stop and write them down.  I wrote the last line in the second novel of my Chronicles of Fallhollow saga before I ever wrote one word on the first novel.  In fact, every event in the second novel is written to lead up to that last line, that’s how much I’m married to it.

When I worked full-time, I would write from around 9 pm until 1 or 2 in the morning, wake up at  6 a.m. and write for another 2 hours before I had to go to work.  Then I’d write during my hour lunch break.  After I lost my job in June 2010, I’ve dedicated the majority of my day to writing.  This includes short stories, flash fiction, novels and on my blog.  The writing never stops.  I’m truly blessed that way.  Now if only I could stop fiddling with my novels and get them published.  I also provide editing services to authors, especially those who have written non-fiction and want to self-publish.

That’s good to know. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who would be interested in that service. And I am certain that you WILL get your novels published, one day. 🙂

What is your strategy with regards to editing?

I do a lot of editing myself through multiple reads.  I also read my story out loud to my youngest son.  By reading aloud, I can find the spots where the cadence is off, where dialogue doesn’t work, and misspelled words my eyes skipped over before.  I also rely on beta readers and critique partners a lot!  They are better than any hunk of software out there.  They’re priceless.  I would be lost without them.  There is not enough gold or chocolate in the world to pay them for what they do. 

When I’ve completed a piece and I’m ready to submit, I put out a call for help.  I usually get about 5 or 6 takers, depending on the story.  Being that most of what I write is somehow fantasy related, I tend to call on those who enjoy fantasy and science fiction.  After the beta and critique partners finish their final edits, I put my story/manuscript through a free Autocrit-type software that catches overused words, clichés, incomplete phrases, etc. that my betas didn’t catch.  If I dare, I might ask one or two more betas to re-read it just to make sure I caught everything before sending it out to agents and publishers.

That sounds like a pretty good methodology.

I understand you recently had some exciting news about one of your stories. Would you like to let my readers know about it? Feel free to brag as much as you like! 🙂

Wow, this one really surprised me!  J. Taylor Publishing put out a call for submission this past January for their upcoming Make Believe anthology.  They offered up a visual prompt and asked writers to submit a short story, up to 10,000 words, based on that prompt.  As I always do with publishers, I took a look at what they usually publish, who their authors were and I read some of their books to get a feel of what they liked.  It seemed most of their authors wrote romantic urban fantasy/paranormal type stories.  The fantasy aspect I knew I could do.  The romance?  I was about to step out of my comfort zone but I figured, what the heck?  I convinced one of my friends and beta partners to go along on the ride with me.  We had until mid April to submit our short stories.  For three months my mind remained a blank slate.  Sometime in March the idea, as well as the MC’s name (Elton Fletcher), slapped me in the head, and I ran with it, with only 2 1/2 weeks to go.  My beta partner ran into the same problem and was scurrying to finish hers.  Finally the stories were done and we exchanged as well as called in more reinforcements.  Those last couple of weeks were intense with all the re-writes and beta suggestions.  Finally the day came and I had to hit the submit button.  I have to say my finger hovered over the enter key for a long time before I closed my eyes and did it.  Sometimes you just have to let go.

A few days later I heard from the publisher and they liked my story, but wanted to know if I would be willing to make changes.  After some nervous e-mail exchanges back and forth, they informed me they would get back to me.  About a week later, I received a congratulatory e-mail from the publisher welcoming me to the J. Taylor Publishing family of authors!  It was a remarkable feeling.  Sometimes I still can’t believe it.  My first real, contracted published piece.  There are no words to describe the feeling.  It goes beyond elation.  My story was chosen…my writing was validated.  I was, and still am, on cloud 9.  

After about a month, the publisher gave us permission to announce the great news.  A week or so later, the publisher revealed the cover of the book and the back cover marketing blurbs.  When I saw my name on the cover, I cried.  It was real.  My publishing dream had come true.  If you want, you can read all about the six authors and their stories at http://www.jtaylorpublishing.com/books/17 . Here’s the gorgeous cover.  The anthology releases December 3, 2012 in e-book format only and I can’t wait.  

That certainly IS a beautiful cover!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Only this:  never, ever give up on your dreams. Don’t be afraid to take chances.  Don’t be afraid of hitting that submit button.  I’m a prime example of what can happen if you go for your dream.  I never thought I could write something outside my ‘norm’, much less get it published, but I did. If I can do it, so can all of you.  All you have to do is believe in yourself and your writing.

Those are very inspiring words, Jenny. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. 🙂

This is so cool. Thanks again for everything!

You’re so welcome, Jenny!

If any of my readers would like to check out her blog, you can do it here. You can check her Facebook page here with her Author Page being this. You can follow her on Twitter @jkellerford. Hope to see you all back here next Sunday for another interview. Enjoy your week! 🙂

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: 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! 🙂


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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,


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?

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!