Friday Review – The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley by Jan Andrews

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The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley is the latest book from Jan Andrews, published by Great Plains Publications. It’s also one of her first Young Adult stories, and I think she’s done a marvelous job. Jan managed to get into the mindset of a child who has been abused and abandoned. Kyle’s trust issues are front and foremost, with good reason. He has never had anyone in his life he could rely on, until the Jones-Wardmans welcomed him into their home.

Having 3 foster kids in our family, I can certainly sympathize and understand some of the things Kyle was feeling. Although our nieces & nephew came into the family as babies and have grown up with all of us, we love them as if they had been born into the family. That being said, I doubt it would have been as easy for them if they had arrived as teenagers. These three were lucky enough to have stability, a home that has been the only foster placement they’ve had, unlike students I’ve known who were not so lucky.

Silent Summer explores the life of one such child who was bounced around from one place to the other since his father abandoned him at the age of eight. Now, as a teenager off to another foster home, he has decided that not speaking is his only way of controlling the situation in which he finds himself. Kyle steels himself against disappointment. He does not dare to hope that Scott and Jill, as they ask to be called, could possibly want him around forever. He questions their motives in his mind but does not have the courage to voice his reservations and ask why they really agreed to take him.

Despite his silence, he communicates to his foster parents through mime. The reader, however, is privy to Kyle’s thoughts and those of his imaginary figments – his father’s voice berating him and a new character that is more analytical and sympathetic, created to help him through this latest transition. Slowly, Kyle begins to adjust to his new life in the country with a dog, a cat, a herd of cows and an injured crow. The crow becomes a parody of Kyle’s life; abandoned, injured, and afraid. His new foster placement also allows him freedom to explore his creativity. Then, someone threatens to disrupt the peace he’d begun to feel – his father.

I thought this was a wonderful story. I sympathized with Kyle for reasons I mentioned above, but also because Jan was so meticulous about her character’s voice. It shines through, loud and clear, despite the absence of words to those around him. As an educator, I feel it would be a great addition to any classroom library, opening up the issue of fostering to a class – discussing good &/or bad experiences, changes that should be made to the current foster care system, and creating sympathy and understanding for those who have been through it. It’s also a terrific story for anyone who just wants to read about a teen trying to cope with a lousy life. You can follow his hopes and dreams, his anxieties and reservations. 🙂

 

Book Blurb (Great Plains Publications):

When no one listens, what’s the point of talking?

Kyle McGinley doesn’t say a word. Fed up with being shuttled from one foster care home to another, he has stopped speaking.  But at the home of Scott and Jill Wardman, with the help of a crow, a swamp, and an excess of black paint, he begins to think that maybe, just maybe, life could be better.

As long as his frigging dad doesn’t mess things up.

About Jan Andrews:
Four time finalist for the Governor General Literary Award, Jan Andrews is an internationally celebrated storyteller and author to more than a dozen books. 

Sunday Interview – Colleen Nelson

Happy Sunday, Everyone! I’d like you all to welcome, again, the lovely and talented Colleen Nelson. She is a YA author and fellow Great Plains writer, among other things. You may recall my review of her first novel, Tori By Design and previous interview with her, as well as my review of her latest novel, The Fall.

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Hi, Colleen! Would you like to begin by telling my readers a little bit about yourself?

Of course! I live in Winnipeg and have two boys, ages 6 and 8, and three grown step-children. I was a teacher for about ten years before I had my kids and now I teach preschool, do a lot of volunteer work and write, write, write!

We know you now have two young adult novels published. Please describe what it was like to get them each out in print.

Tori by Design was a long, labour-intensive project because it was my first novel. I was lucky to have an amazing editor, Ms. Anita Daher, to coach me through the process.  I started writing The Fall soon after I found out Tori was going to be published, because I knew I wanted to write a book my sons would read one day (Tori is a bit girly!).

I learned so much from the writing and editing process with my first book, that writing The Fall was much faster. I still learned a lot working with Anita, but it wasn’t as grueling as with Tori. I equate an editor to a diamond cutter, bringing out the best and chipping off what detracts from the book. Anita is a master diamond cutter!

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How did the process differ between each project? How were they the same?

With Tori, I sort of stumbled along, losing my way a few times and doing massive re-writes. With The Fall, I wrote with intention. I knew the story I wanted to tell and who the characters were, which is why I was able to write it in about a year (Tori took four years). One of the main things Anita taught me when I was editing my first book, was that there has to be an emotional connection between the reader and the main character. I was conscious of creating that in The Fall from the beginning.

As for similarities in the process, working with the same team at Great Plains was a bonus. I had another wonderful launch at McNally Robinson and the staff was as supportive as always.

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The Fall is a very different book than Tori By Design. What sparked the idea for it?

Writing for boys required a different point of view than with Tori. Luckily, Ben, one of the main characters’ voices, came to me right away. He was a skater and had a best friend, Tessa. (Her voice also came to me clearly. In fact, she’s my favourite character.) But, of course, something has to happen to Ben, which is when I dug into my past experiences as a teacher.

When I was teaching junior high, a boy died suddenly. Watching how the other students dealt with his death was heart breaking. I say in my Author’s Note that ‘Grieving is difficult at any age, but being an adolescent complicates the situation’. I wanted to convey the confusing emotions that come along with grief and how each person handles them differently.

I thought you did a marvelous job portraying each of them – and that’s coming from a mom who had to watch her daughter & her friends go through a similar tragedy. 🙂

I found the POVs for The Fall to be presented a little differently, with Ben being in first person and the other two boys in third person. What was your reasoning for this? (not a criticism, just curious)

No criticism taken! At first, I wrote all three in first person. Ben was the main character and the other two characters didn’t speak until after the accident. As I was re-reading, I didn’t think Cory and Taz’ voices were different enough, so I switched them to third person to see if it worked better.

It was during the editing process that Anita suggested I make all three characters equal. I’d already come to know Cory and Taz as being in third person, so I kept their sections in that narrative.

Besides the obvious research into the sport of skateboarding, what other research did you need to do?

Surprisingly, I don’t know a lot about gang initiations, so that required some research. I also read some books, most notably ‘Raising Cain’ to get deeper into the adolescent male psyche. Boys don’t communicate or relate to others the same way girls do. I feel that society stifles their emotionality. I wanted the characters in The Fall  to present an honest portrayal of how males grieve.

But, as a writer, every day is research. I am always paying attention to how things look, smell, taste, what sounds I hear, anything that will add depth to my writing. Just driving through a new neighborhood provides research. I never know what will appear from my subconscious as I write!

Now for some fun questions . . .

Do you prefer chocolate or ice cream?

CHOCOLATE!!!!

What is your writing workspace like? (I’m in the process of redesigning mine and could use some pointers!) Feel free to attach pictures, if you like!

Lately, I’ve been relocating to the dining room table. I usually have papers, notes, calendars and coffee cups strewn around me. I’m a messy writer!

Me, too! That’s why I need a space with a door I can close when company comes over! lol

Do you have any rituals or items that help your muse speak to you as you sit down to write?

I read out loud a lot, to make sure the voice of the character is authentic, but that’s it.

Are there social media sites you’d like to share with us? (Facebook, twitter, blog, website, etc)

I have a website at www.colleennelsonauthor.com, a blog at www.colleennelson.blogspot.com and am on facebook , Colleennelson.547 and twitter @colleennelson14. Phew. That’s a lot of places to find me!

Are there any final words before we say goodbye?

Thank you so much for the opportunity to tell you about my writing. This book, The Fall, means a lot to me and I’m excited for people to read it!

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Colleen! 🙂

The Fall by Colleen Nelson

You may recall my review of Tory By Design by Colleen Nelson. If not, you can read it here. While Tory had a lighter tone to it, The Fall has a completely different feel. It is much grittier and courser than Tory, which is how it should be considering the subject matter. Set around the tragic death of a teenager, The Fall explores the effects it has on the boy’s three friends. Each teen tries to deal with the tragedy in their own way, which often leads to some very bad choices. Colleen delves into the topic with extreme sensitivity and creates empathy for her characters.

She adeptly brings the three boys to life. The main character, Ben, turns to his passion for skateboarding after Luke’s death in an attempt to put the tragedy behind him. Colleen’s research into the sport is evident by the terminology and expressions her character uses when he is in ‘Benjiland’, what he calls the zone he enters when zooming along on his board.

The surviving brother feels he should have been the one to die, not the ‘favourite son’. The tensions that arise because of that, push him away from his family instead of having them to lean on during the initial grieving period. He is essentially alone, dealing with the worst event of his young life.

The other friend shifts the blame for the accident onto Ben, hoping that will alleviate some of the guilt he feels. When that doesn’t help, he turns to a local gang for the acceptance that he doesn’t feel at home.

Each boy comes from a family in which the father is either out of the picture or rather ineffectual as a positive role model. One father died in a car accident that the son survived. Another is an alcoholic, giving the son the impression one can drink away their problems. The third is a ‘Deadbeat Dad’, bailing on his responsibilities as a father. As a result, the teens are put under greater stress, adding to the downward spiral of their lives. Will they be able to pull up in time to survive? That will be up to you to find out! 🙂

The death of a teenager is always a tragic event, whether it is caused by an accident or illness. I found myself crying through many scenes, as I remembered my daughter’s grief when a friend of hers died, suddenly, just before her 16th birthday. While that was caused by an unknown illness, there were so many questions like, ‘Why did she have to die?’, ‘Was there something I could have done to prevent it?’, and a bit of survivor’s guilt amongst her friends, ‘It should have been me’. Each of Colleen’s characters consider these questions, too, and the guilt they feel at being alive when their friend was not drives them away from people who care about them.

This would be a fantastic story to use in a classroom, helping students see how the characters coped with their friend’s death. The discussions that could be initiated would definitely help other teens who may be dealing with a similar situation in their own lives. I highly recommend The Fall as a wonderful read as well as a resource for other teenagers who may be having a hard time coping with a friend’s death, too.

Book blurb:

Before Luke came into his life, all Ben cared about was skateboarding, and whether his father would ever remember that he was alive. Then there was Luke, and it felt like he was being carried along on some sort of wave. But then Luke died, and everyone at school thinks it’s his fault. Maybe it is. The Fall charts the lives of three boys as they deal with the death of their friend and brother. One turns to alcohol to escape his guilt. Another looks to a gang to replace what he’s lost. Ben needs to find a way to reconcile his role in Luke’s death and prove that he was not to blame. He must also learn that the man he will become is his to define.

About Colleen:

Colleen Nelson examines the consequence of choice in her novels, through believable teen characters in juxtaposing situations and social structures. She has lived in Japan and New York City, but currently resides with her husband in Winnipeg.

I hope Colleen will be joining me here on Sunday for my ‘Sunday Interview’, so you can learn more about this talented writer. 🙂

Sunday Interview – Rhiannon Paille

Sorry it’s been awhile since my last interview. I’ve been trying to catch up with some reading and one of those stories was Surrender, which I reviewed on Friday. Today, I would like to introduce you to Rhiannon Paille, author of Surrender, the first in The Ferryman and the Flame YA fantasy series. She also was the coordinator for the C4 Lit Fest that I wrote about in April. She is a very talented lady, in more ways than one so without further ado, here she is:

Hi, Rhi! Thanks for joining us today!

For starters, would you mind giving my readers a glimpse into the life of Rhiannon Paille?

Crazy doesn’t cut it. I write books sometimes, read minds a lot of the time, organize events (I used to have 2 a year, now there are 4, and one of them is really really big) Plus I have 3 cats, 1 tiny chihuahua, and 2 cleaning fairies–I mean children, who are in elementary school. If that wasn’t enough I also teach Metaphysics, and my husband and I own 2 comic book shops. 

Did I mention the crazy part?

Crazy busy, I’d say!

Growing up, what were your favourite types of stories?

I was into Nancy Drew, Christopher Pike, Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High. While I write Fantasy now, I didn’t grow up on it at all. 

Before we talk about The Ferryman and the Flame series, please tell us a little about the first stories you wrote and what inspired you to write them.

I wasn’t inspired to write, so much as kicked out of English class and told to do “creative writing”. That was when I was 11, and I wrote a few short stories about creepy possessed dolls, forbidden love stories, and serial killer stories. 

Hahaha!

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The world and characters in Surrender blew me away! Is Orlondir a mythical place or one you created in which to set your characters?

Aw, thank you so much! Avristar is actually the unique name I gave to the island of Avalon, and if you read it again with that in mind you’ll see a lot of the correlations to Celtic Myth. I suppose when writing, the island did take on a life of its own, but I felt like the land was just as important as the characters living on it. 

When I was studying with the Grove of Dana College for Druidry, we talked a lot about spirits of the land, marrying the land, true kings, ecopsychology, and rites of passage. A lot of those lessons went into the world building for Avristar. 

How did your two main characters, Kaliel and Krishani, evolve as your writing of Surrender and the series progressed?

Aw, well Kaliel and Krishani came to me as pre-built characters in the sense that I knew what types of people they were, what was important to them, and how they perceived the land they lived on. 

I always knew Kaliel was a Flame, and I also knew her fate, which is actually what I built Surrender around. Krishani was quieter, giving me subtle clues about who he was. For the longest time the things I knew about Krishani I only knew because of Kaliel. Then when I began writing Justice I had to bond with Krishani and that was when I found out more about what he was and what it meant. 

Kaliel and Krishani are in their mid-to late teens so I assume the story is considered YA. You wrote several intimate scenes between them. Do you have any concerns regarding the subject of intimacy and sex in YA? Do you think it’s okay to have explicit sex scenes or should the subject be handled more discretely? (This is something I struggle with in my writing, so I’m interested in your thoughts.)

Ahhh, I do have quite the opinion on this subject. I struggled with the sex too at the beginning, not wanting it to come off creepy, but romantic. My characters were actually the ones who kept pushing me in that direction, so I went with it, but tried to keep it tasteful. There’s a difference between sex and making love, I tried to make it sexy but appropriate for the characters. 

In this case, I did think more about the characters than the readers. I have two arguments when it comes to readers. The first is that reading a dirty book is not the same as watching porn. A book is non visual, making the reader envision what’s happening more than seeing it on screen (as in movies and television.) 

My second argument is that teens learn everything from what they see in movies, television and books. Let’s face it, when I was a teen, I didn’t know the first thing about what was good and what wasn’t good when it came to sex. Books are a great way to know what to do and what not to do in that category. And the final argument is that a lot of teens are going to experiment with sex whether you include it in your book or not. Another argument is that if you don’t include it in your book, someone else will. 

We could have this same conversation about all the violence and brutality in the Dystopian novels that have hit the shelves.

That’s very true!

Please describe some of the mythology around the characters, The Flame and The Ferryman. What attracted you to these particular myths and where might one find more information about them?

Ahh, you give me good questions, Susan. I love it! 

The Ferryman is traditionally from Greek Mythology (that word at least) but they are known by many names, Valkyries, Grim Reaper, Death Walkers, Archangels even have been known to help a soul on their journey through death. 

In Krishani’s case I discovered that the reason there was such a dire need for Ferrymen, Valkyries and the like were due to the fact that if the Ferryman did not send them to the after life, there was a chance other entities would come and take them to places like Hades and Purgatory, or a chance that these entities would consume the soul altogether and that person wouldn’t be reborn again.

Sadly, a lot of what I research isn’t easy to find on the internet. It’s in books like Walkers Between Worlds by Caitlin Matthews and The Druids by Jean Markale, Celtic Myth by Peter Beresford Ellis, and The Mabinogian

Ferrymen haven’t been at the forefront of many fictional series before, and when there is a Ferryman present, he’s never depicted the way Krishani is. 

In some ways you have to take Kaliel and Krishani and the mythology surrounding them as something you’ve never explored before. 

That being said, there’s even less on The Flames. Eastern myth speaks of a Violet Flame, but thinks of it as a spiritual energy– a thing, not a girl. It also fails to recognize the other eight Flames, but I’ve explained in the series that Kemplan, The Great Librarian worked very hard to erase the Flames from existence. 

So again, the mythological references out there are scant and you’ll have to read the series to get to know more about Kaliel and Krishani.

It will be my pleasure! 🙂

With regard to the magical elements in the story, did you research magic, wicca, &/or alchemy to make it ‘real’ or did you create your own ‘rules’ about how it should work in the series?

I’m a Druid, and I have studied for roughly eleven years now. I also have a PhD in Metaphysical Science and Parapsychology. I’m a world renowned Metaphysical Therapist, so I, um, read minds when I’m not reading books. 

When it came to magic in books, some of it is the unexplainable type, like Kaliel blooming flowers with her touch, and some of it is the methodical magic, like when Kaliel can astral project, or has visions of the other Flames. 

I like working with all types of magic in the series, but I don’t make magic a focal point of the series, as in, magic is just there, it’s part of everyday life for my characters, and in some ways it’s not as important to my characters as say, being with each other and not being magical is. 

A major theme in Surrender is that of choice and temptation, something young readers deal with on a daily basis. You also explored the consequences of giving in to temptation and what can happen if one chooses the wrong path. Was this a conscious thing when you began writing the story, or was it something that evolved as the story developed?

Funny, I set out to write a tragic romance that would break hearts. The idea of temptation was a bit of a detour to that, but definitely became woven into the entire series as things progressed. 

There was definitely a sense of choice in this story but I suppose I was always rooting for the happily ever after with my characters. I wonder if anyone else felt that as perfect as Avristar was, its views on love were imperfect, and perhaps that one small flaw could turn it from a utopian society to a dystopian one. There really is a fragile balance between right and wrong in Surrender, and I definitely wanted to keep readers on the wire. 

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You certainly succeeded at that! 🙂

Are there any other media sites you’d like to share with my readers? (ie. Facebook, website, etc.)

You can find me:

www.facebook.com/rhiannonpaille

@rhiannonpaille

www.yafantasyauthor.com

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we close?

I always tell people that Surrender is a nice book that reads like a nice book, that isn’t a nice book. I hope you love and hate it for everything it is and isn’t. 

I did love it but I can’t say there was anything about it I hated! 

I appreciate you spending some time with us, today, Rhi.

And, readers, if you want to read a fun adventurous fantasy, I highly recommend Surrender. Personally, I will be heading on-line very soon to purchase the sequels! Good luck with all your endeavours, Rhi! 🙂

Rhiannon Paille:

Author, Cookie Burner, Mind Reader, Karaoke Singer, Nerd, Wonder Woman
Follow Me: TwitterFacebookBlogWebsite
YA Fantasy:
Surrender (The Ferryman + The Flame #1) on Amazon
Lantern & Poison (The Ferryman + The Flame #1.5) on Amazon
Justice (The Ferryman + The Flame #2) on Amazon
Blood & Gold (The Ferryman + The Flame #2.5) Amazon
Non Fiction:
Integrated Intuition: A Comprehensive Guide to Psychic Development on Amazon
Follow Me: TwitterFacebookBlogWebsite

YA in the Classroom

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I figured it was about time I posted a writing-related post. I know it’s been far too long!

Today’s post was inspired by one of the panels I hosted a few weeks ago, at the C4 Lit Fest, which was entitled YA in the Classroom. As an educator and a writer of Young Adult fiction, it seemed a pretty good fit for me to talk about this subject. A lot of the matterial is geared for local educators, but I hope it will help out teachers in other locations, as well.

Some of the points I brought up to encourage teachers to use YA in the classroom were:

– kids relate better to stories involving kids their own age

– the subject matter is likely to be more relevant to students than literature aimed at adults

– if the kids like what they’re reading, it will encourage further reading, stimulate their imaginations and they are more likely to want to write like their favourite author

– Manitoba has so many wonderful local YA authors, whose work can be more meaningful to students than something written in the United States or England because the language & spellings are more familiar, there are more recognizable settings and there can be historical or geographical references that support other curriculum studies

– using YA written by local authors helps support the literary community in their own province, the authors are more available for school visits, and school literary visits excite the students & encourage them to write, too.

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YA over the past 30 years, as I mentioned in a previous post, has literally exploded onto bookstore shelves, especially in Manitoba. Publishers are now seeing this as a unique opportunity to reach a new audience. It is a resource of which teachers should make full use. There is such a variety of books to choose from; contemporary, comical, romance, speculative fiction, and graphic novels. Each one has its own unique stories and perspectives that a teacher can use within the class, depending on the needs of his/her students and the subject matter the teacher is trying to teach.

Speculative Fiction – encourages critical thinking with the ‘what if?’ scenarios To learn more, read interviews and book reviews on this subject, check out http://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com. It’s a great website that explores all kinds of Canadian fantasy, Sci-fi, dystopian/Steam Punk/alternative history stories, Monsters (vampires, werewolves, etc), all the types of stories that are popular with young people, today.

Here’s a quote from Speculating Canada by Jerome Stueart, who states one of the most important reason for using YA and in particular, speculative fiction, in the classroom: “I would put MORE speculative literature in the classroom starting with Kim Stanley Robinson’s climate change series, Science in the Capital—or his Three Californias. I would teach kids to imagine their own futures—what will they be doing 20 years from now, and what will society be like?  What do they WANT society to be like?  And where do they see the forces in control trying to lead us?  Kids can be taught to think speculatively and use it wisely.”

This is just one of the ways YA can be used in a classroom.

– Historical Fiction – can be taught alongside the history curriculum in a much more enjoyable way than simply stating/memorizing facts & dates. It brings history to life.

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Locks system on the Red River created because of the the difficulty boats had traversing the rapids

– Romance – can initiate discussions about relationships, good and bad

– Contemporary topics (cutting, suicide, friend’s death, etc) – help students realize they are not alone with some of those subjects and opens discussions about how they can cope with similar situations

– Comical – Who doesn’t like humour at some point in their life? It can lighten the mood in a class and provide a pleasurable experience, encouraging students to read more.

Graphic Novels – encourages poor readers to read in an easier format. It can also be used as a teaching tool for art lessons, bringing out the use of colour, perspective, movement, textures

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Anita Daher

These are only a few examples of how YA can be used in a classroom. It’s up to the teachers to research the numerous titles out there, read the blurbs on the backs of the books, listen to their students to see what the current reading trends are and follow book blogs like Chapter by Chapter to discover what’s available. Find out what books people are talking about to see if they would work in their class.

I’m not saying one has to spend a fortune on book sets so each student gets a copy to study, although I’m sure each author hopes they will! It can be enough to have a copy of the books available in the class, allowing numerous choices for students to read during silent reading time, use for reading programs, or book reports. The teacher could also read the book, chapter by chapter, to their class and have discussions after each chapter to make sure that the students:

1) understand and difficult vocabulary appropriately

2) comprehend the main concepts in the story

3) discuss pros and cons about the subject matter as well as their own opinions

4) make a connection between the story & other areas of curriculum study

5) meet the book’s author, if possible (contact local writer’s guild or art council to see if there is a program that will fund author visits)

6) visit places mentioned in the story, if it has a local setting

All of the above deals with using YA fiction in a classroom, but doesn’t touch on the subject of the writer getting their work into the schools. These days, a writer needs to be involved in their own PR. So, how does a YA writer make themselves known to teachers?

– Send an email or letter to the local school divisions. Introduce yourself and your published work, telling them why you think your book(s) would be appropriate for use in the classroom. Ask them to pass the information to their teachers and librarians, letting them know you would be willing to talk to students about writing or do a reading.

– Find out when library conventions are being held and ask if you could participate and flog your book(s). You may not sell any at that time, but it gets your face and books out there, so when the librarians get their grant money and are wondering what books to buy, your name and book title will pop into their minds (with any luck!)

– Look into grant programs in your area and put your name on the list of people interested in participating. Sometimes, these grants can provide you with more income than the royalties on your book(s)!

Here are some resources both teachers and writers may find helpful:

Association of Manitoba Book Publishers (AMBP) gives a list of members here: http://www.bookpublishers.mb.ca/index.php/member-publishers/

Manitoba Writers’ Guild Public Readings Grant Program:
http://www.mbwriter.mb.ca/public-readings-grant-programsubventions-de-lectures-publiques/

Canadian Library Association’s list of Book Award Winners:
http://www.cla.ca/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Book_of_the_Year_for_Children_Award&Template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=2501

Manitoba Arts Council’s Artist in the Schools Program:
http://artscouncil.mb.ca/arts-education/artists-in-the-schools/

The Writers’ Union of Canada National Public Readings:
http://www.writersunion.ca/content/national-public-readings

Do you have a great YA book you think would be the perfect addition to any classroom?

Please mention it in the Comments section so teachers browsing through here might find it. Hope this has been informative to all you teachers out there who want to reach their students in a unique and satisfying way. 🙂

Sunday Interview – reruns & C4 Lit Fest

I’m sorry if you came by expecting to read an exciting NEW interview, but I hope you will enjoy this blog post just as much. 🙂

Being a writer gives one many opportunities to share their passion with other aspiring writers. Such was the case this weekend (hence, no time to set up an interview). I was asked to participate in the first annual (we hope) C4 Lit Fest. The ‘C4’ stands for Central Canada Comic Con, of which this is a branch, that deals directly with and for writers. Before I say another word about it, I want to thank Rhiannon Paille for all the time and effort she put in to make this an awesome weekend. THANKS SO MUCH, RHI! She managed to pull together a terrific group of writers and plug them into some fascinating workshops, panels & discussions.

The Rising

Many speakers were local writers. There were a couple of book bloggers and our special guest (drumroll please!), KELLY ARMSTRONG! Some were authors I have already interviewed: Craig Russell (The Black Bottle Man), Chadwick Ginther (Thunder Road) and Gabriele Goldstone (The Kulack’s Daughter). [If you don’t remember, or are reading my blog for the first time and want to learn about these Manitoba authors, click on their names to take you to my interviews of them.]

In addition to meeting those writing friends, I got the names and contact info of several more authors that I want to interview in the future, including Rhiannon Paille, author of The Ferryman & the Flame series as well as the C4 event’s organizer. I met a teen author and a self-publisher, too. My panels went pretty well, for the most part, and I think everyone who took part had a lot of fun. I even sold a few books! 🙂

I promise to go into more details later in the week. I took lots of pictures that will take time to process before I can download them into this blog and co-ordinate them with interviews and book reviews. You see, the card reader we have in which my camera’s SD card fits isn’t compatible with my MAC. As a result, I have to Photoshop each picture I take using our older PC, reduce the image so it is a more acceptable size to import and share on-line. Then, I must save it on my thumb drive, bring it to my laptop and finally download it into my posts. Gotta love the older incompatible technologies! I guess I have to sell more books so I can afford an i-Pad or something! lol

Anyway, consider this C4 Lit Fest – PART ONE. Stay tuned for PART TWO. 🙂

Sunday Interview #27 – Gabriele Goldstone

Good morning everyone! I have another Canadian author to introduce to you, today. Gabriele Goldstone wrote ‘The Kulak’s Daughter’, based on a true story. To read my review of her book (if you haven’t already) you can find it here. I’d like you all to give her a warm welcome. (Resounding applause and enthusiastic whistles!)

Hi, Gabriele, would you please tell my readers a little about yourself?

Hi! I’ve spent the last twenty-odd years focused on raising my three kids while working as a letter carrier. In my BC (before children) life, I travelled (spent a year in Europe), studied, (have a master’s degree in German lit and a B Ed.) and dabbled in writing. The one constant in my life has been reading. It’s how I connect and make sense of the world. 

I understand that this story is based on true events. What made you decide to write The Kulak’s Daughter?

Back in 2000, some distant relatives sent my mom a calendar with photos of ‘the old days.’ I’d never before seen an image of my mom as a young girl. What really caught my attention was that my mom found the photos too painful to look at. In fact, she hid the calendar under a tablecloth and I’d have to sneak a peak at the photos when I’d visit, without her knowledge. Eventually I made copies of two of the photos. I was so intrigued with the pre and post exile images and just had to know the details. Gradually, and gently, I got the story straight. It was difficult to watch my mom re-live what she had repressed for so many decades.

That sounds really hard, but I’m glad you managed to hear her story. There are many things I wish my mom had told me before she passed on. Finding pictures of her afterwards brought up many questions about her childhood that she never discussed.

Would you please tell us a little about the story line of ‘The Kulak’s Daughter’?

The story happens around 1930 when Stalin forces landowners (the kulaks) off their land and exiles them to remote parts of the Soviet Union. It was part of his First Five Year Plan and set the stage for the Holodomor. The protagonist, eleven-year-old Olga, is based on my mother. The story is told through her eyes. It’s a story about surviving loss and moving on.

The Kulak's Daughter back

Could you please tell me about the family picture on the back of the book? When was it taken? Is it your mother’s family? Did the little boy die on the way to Siberia?

The back photo is my mom in the back right corner. The youngest, on my grandmother’s lap, did die enroute to Yaya, Siberia. I did a Nov 11/12 post on what happened to her other brother. He was reported missing Jan. 1/44 in the war. I just got confirmation of it in the last month. So, yeah, I’m figuring out my family’s story because when I was growing up it wasn’t talked about and I always wondered what had happened to my grandparents.

I’m glad you’re still finding out facts about your family. I hope you eventually discover answers to all your questions. 🙂

What kind of historical research did you have to do for this story?

I read many books, studied maps, and carefully listened to my mom’s stories. I also talked to other people with similar backgrounds. In 2004, I visited her childhood village. That trip let me add realistic sensory detail to the story.  It was a profound experience both for me and for my mother. I was also able to read (with a translator, of course!) former KGB files and learn firsthand what happened to the rest of our scattered family.

map

That’s fascinating!

I didn’t quite overhear the conversation you had with someone at the last book signing regarding the rock you had with you. Is it from your grandfather’s windmill, like in the story? I’d like to learn more about it.

Fedorowka 03

In [this photo] with the white van, we’re visiting the village of Federofka (my mom’s home village) and asking to speak to the oldest woman in the village because she might remember 1930 and my mom’s family.

IMG

She does!

Then in the photo (below) she’s guided me to the rock base of my grandfather’s windmill (which was dismantled and the wood used to build the new collective manager’s office.) And yes, I have a piece of that granite base which I held and I think it helped me to write.

 

Fedorowka 08

Wow! To have a tangible piece of that history is so cool!

How long did it take you to write the novel?

I’d written bits and pieces – anecdotes that my mom had shared – throughout a couple of years. One of these pieces, I sent to the Writers’ Union annual short story competition – and it was short-listed. A contest judge, in his critique, suggested that the story should be part of a longer work. So I worked at completing the stories as a complete narrative. Once I got going, the novel poured out of me over the course of a couple of winter months. It was a wonderful experience. After that, I struggled with several re-writes. I’m one of those people who find revision harder than the first draft. It might be partly because I’m so darn insecure. In the first draft I’m just letting the story happen. In subsequent drafts, I’m paying more attention to what other people (like readers, editors, etc.) think.

I’ve met so many insecure writers. I think we all have a little voice inside us saying we’re just not good enough. It can be hard to beat back that voice and let our confidence shine. I’m glad you had the courage to send your story off to the publisher. 🙂

Speaking of that, what was the publishing process like for you? Did you need an agent?

I never tried for an agent. Instead, I started with the big name publishers (naive!) and collected six rejections (including a lovely invitation to re-submit by Atheneum in NYC that I should have followed up on!)  The work then caught the interest of a small publisher down in Texas. I re-wrote the story into a first-person narrative, at their request, before it was accepted. Unfortunately, my experience with the small American publisher was not a positive one. It took five years for the book to get published and then the publisher closed down. I’m still grateful, though, that the book came out while my mom was still alive. She died in 2011 at the age of 92.

That is a very familiar publishing story. I think it’s great that your mom was able to see the book come out in print. 🙂

Are you working on anything else at the moment? If so, would you be willing to give us a sneak preview? I’d understand if you are superstitious about revealing too much about a Work In Progress.

I have a stand-alone sequel to ‘The Kulak’s Daughter’ that I’m about to send out. (Originally, Blooming Tree was going to publish it.) The story’s set in the former East Prussia in the mid 1930s. It’s a story about transition – in my opinion, one of the most difficult stages of life.  I’ve also got a ghost story and a brain injury story that I want to shop around. Trouble is, every time I get a rejection, I shrivel up and it takes me months to get my courage going again. Writing is hard on insecure people!

Whenever I hear about the effect rejection letters have on insecure writers, I remember a quote I read on Rachelle Gardner’s blog. Hope this helps:

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘To the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.” by Barbara Kingsolver 🙂

What words of wisdom do you have for other aspiring writers?

Wisdom? Ha! Let me see. Read, write, connect with other writers, and never stop trying. Seriously. This is a tough business and persistence really does work. Now if only I could take my own advice!

Are there any social media sites you’d like to share with us?

I subscribe to a variety of online blogs. (Great way to procrastinate!)  My current three favorites would be: The Children’s War, http://thechildrenswar.blogspot.ca/ 
All News, No Schmooze,http://lauriewallmark.blogspot.ca/ 
and CanLit for Little Canadians  http://canlitforlittlecanadians.blogspot.ca/

I’ve been avoiding Facebook and Twitter, preferring to spend my spare time reading off-line material.

Do you have any final words before we close?

Life is short. Enjoy it and don’t be so hard on yourself. Read the books you want to write. Write the books you want to read. Follow your passion, not someone else’s.

Wonderful advice! Thank-you for taking the time to chat with us, Gabriele. 🙂

Tori By Design – A YA novel by Colleen Nelson

File:Ground blizzard.JPG

Brrr! Similar conditions here, today. (Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons)

It’s a good thing it’s Friday! The weather here in ‘Winterpeg’ is pretty blustery, with winds gusting from 29 kilometers an hour up to 51 km/hour with 20 centimeters or more of snow expected (approximately 5 inches) by tomorrow night. It’s currently -12 degrees Celsius with wind chill temperatures feeling more like -22. Schools were cancelled outside of the city because of limited visibility and icy conditions on country roads, so I am sure there are a lot of hyperactive kids out there, happy to celebrate a snow day!

Since it is the perfect day/evening to stay inside and snuggle under the blankets with a good book, I thought I’d tell you my thoughts on a YA novel written by local author, Colleen Nelson.

Tori By Design

I thoroughly enjoyed Tori By Design and found it to be quite charming. While I loved creating dresses for my Barbie as a young girl, I didn’t have the desire that Tori had for becoming a fashion designer. Fortunately for her, she has very accommodating parents, who move the family to New York for a year to give their daughter the opportunity to explore her heart’s delight.

Things don’t go as swimmingly as Tori would have liked. Being ‘the new girl’ is never easy but she never considered any of the difficulties that arise. Although Tori has typical teenage moments with her parents and experiences some disappointments, she does eventually make some rather grown-up decisions.

Colleen has created a likable character in Tori and manages to bring the busy, crowded New York cityscape to life, along with the high school experience. I like that the romantic elements in the story were not as important to as Tori’s focus on her career goals, although they did come into play a bit. Overall, I would recommend this story to any young girl with aspirations of becoming a part of the fashion world.

If you’d like to learn more about the author, drop by here on Sunday for my interview with Colleen Nelson. 🙂

Sunday Interview #7

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

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

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

What inspired you to start writing?

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

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

What was the first book you got published?

DEAD RECKONING

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

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

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

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

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

What other books have you written?

The Freedom of Jenny

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

Romantic Ghost Stories

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

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

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

Adrift

Sounds fantastic!

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

The Perfect Cut

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

I can’t wait to read them! 🙂

Have you ever considered digital or self-publishing?

The Darkness Between the Stars

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

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

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

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

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

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

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

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

Thank you for this opportunity to participate in your blog. 

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

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