Happy Thanksgiving!

giving thanksautumn-mountain-ash-yellow-leaves-natural-berry-hd

in gold and

red glory the

mountain ash greeted you this

morning as you tripped down the

stairs breathless with

designs of the

day as if all that

mattered were your

errant heart with its

arrhythmic timing and the

frantic pace of

living through ticking

ticking time except

that the mountain ash stopped you

and your eyes filled with

wonder at its

fractal gilt leaves and

bobbing red berries

in autumn’s

gold-plated

light

© 2015 Gail Sidonie Sobat

Another beautiful thanksgiving poem by Joy Harjo, “Perhaps the World Ends Here.”

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out: 

I Should be in ChainsKathy Fisher – Fisher experiments with sound – weaving audio, be it live music or ghost voices, in and around her poetry. She is a wordsmith, research lawyer, documentarian, biographer, oral historian and explorer, and always creates with attention to the ear and eye.

Writer’s Quote:Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.” – Alice Walker, American author (b. 1944)

Writing Tips:  On writing a gratitude journal or keeping a gratitude list (excellent fodder for other writing):

1. Hand-write your gratitude list. The kinesthetic experience of actually writing is valuable for several reasons: First, the physical act helps imprint the feeling of gratitude at the cellular level. Also, since it is a slower process than typing, writing by hand provides more time for contemplation, which makes for a more thoughtful list.

2. Set a realistic goal. Avoid immediate collapse by starting off with a reasonable number of items. If you set out to enumerate some insane number like 50, you’ll end up including stuff that not even the most zealous gratitude junkie would list. Better to limit yourself to one good reason than to dredge up sludge from a too-deep well.

3. Fake it, if necessary. Don’t worry about actually feeling grateful for anything, especially if during your formative years you confused gloom with sophistication. Until you are consistently inclined to see the glass as half full, act ‘as if.’ In other words, start by pretending that you are an authentically grateful person and write down what this alter ego is thankful for. If even this feels like too much of a stretch, maybe you’re getting stuck on semantics. Instead of calling yours a gratitude list, title it “Hey, it could be worse” and take it from there.

from Utne

Writing Prompt:  Think about a troublesome person in your life and craft a piece about why you are grateful for that individual.

 

Bearing Witness

Refugee

Did you feel thus, Aeneas,

when you led your bedraggled fellows, your son

your wife’s ghost, trailing and keening at your back,

from burning Troy?

 

Were the sea winds as cruel,

the gulls shrill harpies above your parched faces,

desiccated bodies, mocking your woeful state

of fallen grace?

 

Did dirty coins change hands

with double dealers to deadly ferryman

who tossed you in the waves from your leaky barks

to foreign shores?

 

Were the dwellers cold-eyed

with dubious welcome parsimony’s promise

to camp you in squalor or drive you with torches

to other lands?

 

Did they weep many tears

when the child yet a toddler washed to their sands

with nothing but drowned hope and a tiny red shirt

on his small back?

© 2015 Gail Sidonie Sobat

Please see this open letter from Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins Sans Frontieres:  The Right to Flight: An Open Letter to the Leaders of Canada’s Political Parties 

 

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out: 

Noble SanctuaryScot Morison –  “A powerful novel. Set mostly in Beirut, Lebanon, during the troubled summer of 1982, it tells of Geoff Andrews`s search for Nadya Karameh, the beautiful Palestinian woman with whom he has fallen deeply in love. Thomas Dix, an American journalist, is a wonderfully cynical fixer. Pierre Haddad, a wealthy Lebanese Christian, so charming when first introduced, proves to be a soulless monster. Both are complex and credible. This is a classic quest, the story of the hero`s search for a beautiful woman and the truth, complete with monsters and other bizarre hazards, helpers and hinderers….Noble Sanctuary is a gripping, painful, and disturbing book.”

Writing Quote: “All writers–all beings–are exiles as a matter of course. The certainty about living is that it is a succession of expulsions of whatever carries the life force…All writers are exiles wherever they live and their work is a lifelong journey towards the lost land.” – Janet Frame, New Zealand author (1924-2004).

Writing Tips:  “Titles are not only important, they are essential for me. I cannot write without a title.” – Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Cuban Writer in Exile (1929-2005)

Writing Prompt“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” – Martin Niemöller

A Writer’s Education

Liberal-Arts2There’s an old joke that many of my writer friends know well:

A neurosurgeon and a writer are introduced at a party, and the neurosurgeon hovers near the writer, “So what do you do?”

“I’m a writer.” Warily, she takes a sip of her wine.  “And you?”

“I’m a neurosurgeon, but when I retire I think I am going to take up writing.”

“Funny”, the writer drains her glass, “when I retire I was thinking of taking up neurosurgery.”

The truth is that I’ve been writing since I was a child, as have most writers I know.  And, like so many writers, I have spent thousands of dollars and many, many years on my education.  As would any neurosurgeon.

For those who adhere to the 10,000-hour rule, while this blog in no way means to discourage you, it’s important to note that recent years have seen disclaimers and caveats to Anders Ericsson’s original study (see Time and BBC News).

While I do believe in practice, when it comes to a writer’s education, I am a passionate advocate of a liberal arts education. I applaud Alan Wildeman’s recent Globe and Mail article, “We ignore liberal arts at our peril.” Wildeman writes, “as a multicultural country playing in the global arena, Canada needs a citizenry that learns and studies human differences, social behaviours and cultural traditions. It needs a citizenry that encourages respect for human rights, and encourages artistic creation and appreciation of the arts. The humanities and social sciences engage in these intersections and contribute to what makes us human.” If one wants to be a writer, a liberal arts degree is one of the best preparations: “with its focus on the broad spectrum of human endeavour…. to ensure that our self-reflections are broad…and that we do not forget the importance of enlightenment and reason.” Above all, a liberal arts education forces one to read and read widely, often difficult texts that make one think hard and critically. I cannot stress how important this is to the craft of writing.

If one has not had the benefit of a liberal arts degree (and even if one has), then if one wants to write, there’s a good deal of book larnin’ to do – and not just the kind that offers to help you sell and market and write your novel or poetry. Reading. Taking liberal arts courses. Engaging in critical thinking. Challenging comfortable assumptions. Reading the masters. Reading. Reading. Reading. (The Importance of Reading)

Or try neurosurgery instead.

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out: 

Santa RosaWendy McGrath “What is real when seen through the eyes of a child? When does the harshness of reality transform idyllic memories? The young narrator…seeks the answers to these questions as she tries to make sense of the disintegration of her parents’ marriage—a process echoed by the slow disintegration of their neighbourhood. In subtle poetic prose, Wendy McGrath evokes afternoons at the fair captured in overexposed photographs, and a family’s disquieting day at the beach as moments that exist apart from time, in a place where every sense is heightened, and where every memory is sharpened as if in a lucid dream where understanding lies just beyond reach.”

Writing Quote: “I quickly saw the immense power of a liberal education. For me, the most important use of it is that it teaches you how to write. In my first year in college, I took an English composition course. My teacher, an elderly Englishman with a sharp wit and an even sharper red pencil, was tough. Now I know I’m supposed to say that a liberal education teaches you to think but thinking and writing are inextricably intertwined. When I begin to write, I realize that my “thoughts” are usually a jumble of half-baked, incoherent impulses strung together with gaping logical holes between them. Whether you’re a novelist, a businessman, a marketing consultant or a historian, writing forces you to make choices and it brings clarity and order to your ideas.” – Fareed Zakaria, Indian-born American journalist and author, host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS (b. 1964)

Writing Tips:  “Reading before writing… becomes a way of conversing with other writers.”- Stephanie Vanderslice   “You must try to know everything that has ever been written that is worth remembering and you must keep up with what your contemporaries are doing.” – Richard Bausch

Writing Prompt: Inviting __________________ to dinner. (e.g. Shakespeare, your favourite author, Tommy Douglas, Lady Gaga, etc.)

Funke-y Self-Publishing – Is it for You?

pink-typewriter1-1Sooooo… best-selling children’s author, Cornelia Funke, has created her own publishing company, in essence, turning to sophisticated self-publishing strategies to gain creative control over her work.  In a Publisher’s Weekly article, Funke “cites creative differences with her U.S. publisher [Little, Brown],” as the motive behind her decision.  Not only did she see her Reckless series as better suited for ages 14 and older (and she argued with her publishers about pigeonholing her for younger readers for seven years), Funke was adamant that her first chapter remain where it was and her ending remain as it was.  Also intending to publish her backlist through the newly minted Breathing Books, her arguments for this bold move make such good sense:  “I want to be a sailboat so I can fit into other places. If I have to figure this out myself, good! I feel I’m at a time in my career when I can afford to do this, and where I can say, as long as I cover my costs, I’m fine. I have many traditional publishers in Europe, Asia, and South America who still earn me money. And I can finally be a storyteller for all ages.”

What a fine example of why self-publishing or, in Funke’s case, taking the publishing bull by the horns is such a fine new model.  One can’t help but admire her and, for those who write, hope to emulate her.  But, of course, I must offer a caveat.  Cornelia Funke has sold 20 million copies of her traditionally published books worldwide.  (The very article that I cite above was shared 1.4k times in but two days; Facebook cites 19,733 likes for her author page and she has thousands of Twitter followers.)  She is adored and loved and followed and tweeted about on a daily basis. Her audience is loyal and eagerly awaiting, so there is every likelihood that this new venture will prove a resounding success (and if it is not, she will not starve in her Beverly Hills home).

Those who want to self-publish are seldom as well-placed as Funke.  So necessary to successful self-publishing are the co-joined investments of time and money in order to create a professional product, market and sell it. If you don’t have Funke’s resources or a similar fan base, the road to a self-published bestseller is hard, indeed.

As writer Hugh Howie shares in Publisher’s Weekly, “successful authors work their butts off either way. There is no such thing as a lazy successful author. With a publisher or not, the author will be expected to market themselves. They will do interviews and go on grueling book tours, or they will be asked to write blog posts, to read and blurb other books from the publisher, and so on. Both sets of authors will be expected to engage with their readers on Twitter and Facebook. They will do signings at bookstores, or they will sit at craft fairs. The ones who eke out even a part-time living will outwork their colleagues who don’t. Forty hours of writing on top of a full-time job and caring for a family is the norm.”

Phew!

But hats off to Cornelia Funke for her derring-do!  I wonder if the same might be accomplished with a handful of intrepid and audacious CanLit authors who’d link arms and create an independent publishing company for publishing their own books.  It’s been tried to some success before…

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out: 

Food for the GodsKaren Dudley   “Dudley has quite elegantly and creatively taken a classic Greek myth and woven it into something unique. The base idea of taking Pelops, someone who had been served up as food for the gods, and making him into a chef, is brilliant. It is the ultimate source of all of the conflict in the story….The author’s love for mythology is apparent in this story, through simply defining it as a fantasy does not do it justice. It is equal parts mystery and comedy, not to mention being raucous thanks to a certain pair of gods who are just trying to help.” – Winnipeg Review

Writing Quote: “The good news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself. The bad news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself.” – Lori Lesko, self-published American author

Writing Tips:  “If you have market aspirations for your book, buy your own ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and create your own publishing company.”

Writing Prompt: “Empathy is first of all an act of imagination, a storyteller’s art, and then a way of traveling from here to there. What is it like to be the old man silenced by the stroke, the young man facing the executioner, the woman walking across the border, the child on the rollercoaster…?” from Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby

Part Two – Another Ten (Under -rated/-recognized) Titles

????????????????????????????????????????On my way back from vacation, I heard a segment from CBC’s The Next ChapterHost Shelagh Rogers spoke with writer and academic Randy Boyagoda on a topic related to this and my last post:  those books that “fly way under the cultural radar,” the ones that don’t get noticed (or enough notice) to catch the attention of the awards committees or nominators. How do such books (often from small and/or regional publishers) compete with the literary giants and their behemoth publishers?  What is the virtue of seeking out the undiscovered “hyperlocal” book?

In effect, selecting off-the-radar titles returns to the reader his or her reading agency – the right to select a book because something about it speaks to the reader rather than reading tastes being pre-determined and/or directed by a list.

Here is a transcript of the pertinent segment (the entire segment begins at 42:10 at the link above):

SR: What’s the conventional way that [hyperlocal] books find readers in Canada?

RB: That’s the challenge…beyond a community of already committed readership that poets and other writers have… the primary means by which books are read and discussed today is the prize or the prize economy….We read prize list announcements….If it weren’t for prizes, many books that otherwise would be very much worthwhile reading would be ignored, and that is…probably the best argument for literary prizes: that they bring to wider attention books that otherwise may not enjoy the hearing that they would deserve. But I think prizes also can have… a negative, a cramping effect upon our literary imaginations.

SR: So what happens these days to books that don’t win prizes or make a long list, even?

RB: ….If it weren’t for those prizes, these books really do kind of slip away because we have such an accelerated understanding of why and how books matter….Books tend to matter basically in this country from late September until…early November and then again during Canada Reads. And it seems…like a kind of strange way to… understand the life of a book.  That right after a given prize season….[overlooked books] kind of ‘[wither] on the vine’…a sad image of a book that should have a life beyond a prize season. But why is it? We’re all kind of invested in this….  American English professor…James English… [has] written a book about this called The Economy of Prestige, and it’s basically a study of literary [and other] prizes and their constant, rampant proliferation and why and how these things have come to matter so much to our understanding of what we should listen to, what we should watch, who we should read…I think he makes a very persuasive argument that [prizes] kind of speak to almost a loss of our own self-confidence… why do I want to read this? I want to read this because I think it’s important; I think it’s interesting or this book critic has made a good argument or this book columnist has made this good argument for it instead of I want to read this because it won a prize.

SR: Well, literary prizes are awarded by juries made up of people so there’s subjectivity involved; there’s human appetite, human frailty so it’s not like running a race where there’s the first, second and third place medals that are obvious. How do you think readers should view the mechanics of prize-giving?

RB: [Reading only prize-winners] wouldn’t have been the case… 25-30 years ago when books…had a more prominent place in our culture as… common documents for conversation. So what have I done? In my own reading experience, I kind of reacted against [the prize-award system] in discovering this local, this next door poet and seeing my world around me in a very exciting way.

So in celebration of seeing our world around us in very exciting ways, I offer the next ten titles for your consideration and reading pleasure.  Hereafter, I will endeavour to include an under-represented/-read Canadian title in every blog post.

Stone Soup – Kate Marshall Flaherty  (poetry collection recommended by Randy Boyagoda) – Inspired by the poetic folktale… the cauldron of these inviting poems effortlessly blends ingredients both earthy and spiritual, jaunty and tender, compassionate and ecstatic. The poems encompass generations of family and friends and embrace a wide spectrum of cultures and traditions to reveal heights and depths of our common humanity from fresh and surprising angles of vision.

The Wolf’s Head – Peter Unwin – Unwin lays out the history of the lake and its lands… the stories of the…men who sought the Ontonagon Boulder, the strangling dread of Mishipizheu, the maddening determination of voyageurs….filled with extraordinary facts, humorous anecdotes, and an understanding of the people.  In simple, witty language that endears and engages, Peter Unwin brings Lake Superior to life like no other writer has, delivering in vibrant prose, the history of the Wolf’s Head.

Kissing Keeps Us Afloat – Laurie MacFayden – Kissing Keeps Us Afloat is humorous and joyful, uninhibited and sassy. In love with words and images, MacFayden positively swaggers in these exuberant poems that are loose and open and stylish. The poems touch on fear and loss, revenge and regret, but come back to the sensual, back to love, and to the beauty of the world.” – Shawna Lemay

Crown Shyness – Curtis Gillespie – “’Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what’s happening around him knows that what he’s doing is morally indefensible. He is like a confidence man, preying on the vanity, loneliness and stupidity of other people, gaining trust and then betraying them.’ In many ways, this quote sums up Crown Shyness….Gillespie’s tale is powerful… ending with a gut-punch climax.” – Quill & Quire

Gaits – Paulette Dube – A poetic look at movements made by animals and humans during a cycle of four seasons. The poems are rich in their simplicity, and convey the depth and mystery of the animal-human connection. Reverse anthropomorphism occurs and the humans come away having (un)learned something about the citizens of the forest while deepening an understanding of themselves….that as a species we are lost and lonely without our connection to the land, but that this connection reverberates with consequences.

The Alchemists of KushMinister FaustTwo Sudanese “lost boys.” Both fathers murdered during civil war. Both mothers forced into exile through lands where the only law was violence. To survive, they became ruthless loners and child soldiers, before finding mystic mentors who transformed them to create their destinies.The Alchemists of Kush is both a powerful and vital contribution to Canadian literature that looks at contemporary Edmonton from an African-Canadian perspective.” – Wayne Arthurson

Spider’s Song – Anita Daher – Stuck in Yellowknife with her crazy grandmother, AJ is one angry and lonely girl. Her blog has become her main source of contact with the world where she reveals her innermost hurts—the absence of her mother and of her father, who abandoned AJ when she was just a little girl; and the moving around she and her mother have had to do every few years for reasons she has never understood. And recently, she’s begun to cut herself—a powerful habit and shame she is trying to overcome. A gripping, chilling tale.

Body Trade – Margaret McPherson – Weaving together two stories of survival, the main narrative follows Rosie and Tanya, two young Canadian women who leave NWT and head south on an ill-conceived road trip through California, Mexico and Central America. The story takes a life-defining twist when their search for freedom and adventure beings them into contact with predators of the Central American sex-trafficking trade. Body Trade asks: To what terrifying places will we journey, and at what cost, in order to save our own lives?

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of MatchesGaetan Soucy (trans. Sheila Fischman) – The peculiar narrator of The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches is an unnamed adolescent unsure of what to make of the world or who they are, even whether they are male or female. When the family patriarch dies, the family’s isolation is broken, and shocking secrets are revealed. Filled with intrigue, suspense and flights of fancy, Gaétan Soucy’s novel is an original and challenging work of fiction. Heralded as a literary star in Quebec, Soucy deserves to be read everywhere in Canada.

Fruit – Brian FrancisFruit tells the story of 13-year-old Peter Paddington as he tries to fix everything wrong about himself before his Grade 8 year ends. Specifically, to lose weight, get a boy friend and silence his talking nipples. Although lauded by CBC Canada Reads in 2009, I’d hate to see this novel fade into oblivion. It deserves to be read and re-read (and taught) across the country. “Laugh-out-loud funny.” – NOW  “Hilarious and gentle.” – Booklist

 

(And thanks to all who suggested The Book of Mary by me!  Shucks.)

* You’ll note again a decidedly Edmonton/ Albertan bias, but that’s just fine.

 

Writing Quote about prizes: “As for me, prizes are nothing.  My prize is my work.” – Katharine Hepburn, American actress, memoir writer (1907-2003)

Writing Tips:  “Want to win big literary prizes? Make sure your story is about men” – The Guardian

Writing Prompt: A man down on his luck realizes he has psychic mind-reading abilities. He improves his life by playing poker. Everything goes really well for him until one day he comes across another psychic at the tables.

Some Really Good (under appreciated) Canadian Books…Part One

Some books get all the street cred. They win awards and hoopla. Their authors are invited every-which-where and are added to lists (CanLit, writers-to-watch, top 100, etc.).

However, like musicians and artists (in all disciplines), there are those writers and books that escape notice for whatever reason. The authors aren’t in the right circles or the right time and place or they simply miss out on luck. No denying there is a lot of luck involved in getting noticed as an artist of any stripe in this world.

I think about my numerous friends in the arts, too many of whom are devastatingly talented but heartbreakingly unrecognized or under-recognized. I’d like to take this and the nextreally-good-literature-is-seldom-appreciated-in-its-own-day-the-best-authors-die-poor-the-bad-ones-make-money-its-always-been-like-that-walter-moers blog to recognize just a few of these fine people and their fine titles. In fact, this week, CBC stole my blog idea and created this list: 12 Underrated Canadian Novels.   But here’s mine– cultivated with a little help from my friends–of summer reading suggestions (with brief annotations) for under-read Can Lit*:

The Next Margaret – Janice MacDonald   “The very first Randy Craig Mystery was published in 1994 and is the ‘lost book’ of the series. We first meet Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig as she returns to grad school to do an MA in English literature at the University of Alberta focusing on novelist Margaret Athers, a reportedly  reclusive figure who can only be contacted through her publisher. But all is not as it seems. Soon, Randy must use her literary deductive skills to prove that the Department of English is harbouring a killer.”

Doubting Yourself to the Bone – Thomas Trofimuk  “A story about the nature of grief, about what it means to be a parent in the face of great sorrow, the idea of re-invented love and hope. Set in Paris and a small town in the Canadian Rockies, the novel is propelled forward by a horrific car crash that reverberates for the victim’s husband and daughters….this story serpentines through the labyrinth of grief and pain as the victim’s husband wrestles with the question, was the car crash an accident or intentional?”

The Betrayal – Henry Kreisel  “This swift philosophical thriller explores the role of North Americans as witnesses to global history. With rich allusions to Joseph Conrad The Betrayal traces the effects of the Holocaust to Edmonton, Alberta, an unlikely spot for a moral showdown–or so one would at first think. A classic of contemporary Canadian literature.” – Goodreads

Allegra – Shelley Hrdslitschka  “[An] absorbing exploration of contemporary teen life…Hrdlitschka (Sister Wife) realistically depicts teenage emotional turmoil as Allegra’s growing obsession with Mr. Rocchelli combines with despair at her parents’ separation and the ups and downs of her new friendships. The main characters’ devotion to the arts enriches the drama.” – Publishers Weekly

Road Tripping – Conni Massing  “Every summer for the past 10 years, Conni Massing and a gaggle of her theatre friends have embarked on raucous road trips throughout their home province of Alberta….Massing’s funny, compelling, and educational account of these trips….may even inspire a bit of envy on the part of her readers. How can people have so much fun, one wonders, with so little? How do people make a pit stop for beef jerky an adventure?….Her love letter to her home province, is both funny and inspiring.” Quill & Quire

Delusion Road – Don Aker   “A taut, gripping murder mystery thriller… a page-turner that will leave readers both breathlessly cheering for the protagonists and eager to (re)experience the Bay of Fundy’s shoreline and all its rocky, majestic East Coast splendour. Aker excels is in his storytelling, creating vividly believable scenarios rife with razor-sharp tension, all wrapped up in an edgy, realistic portrayal of loyalty, the lies we tell, and the strength of the human spirit.” National Reading Campaign

A Wake for the Dreamland – Laurel Deedrick-Mayne  Friends William, Robert, & Annie are on the cusp of adulthood while the world is on the brink of war. Every arena of their lives is infiltrated by the war, from the home front to the underground of queer London to the bloody battlefields of Italy. Even in the aftermath, these friends fight their own inner battles: to have faith in their right to love and be loved, to honour their promises and ultimately find their way “home.” 

Ghost Messages – Jacqueline Guest  In pursuit of stolen treasure in 1865 Ireland, 13-year-old Ailish winds up trapped on the Great Eastern as it sails! The vessel’s mission is to lay the fi rst undersea telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean. On the journey, Ailish, disguised as a boy tries to track down the hiding place of her father’s treasure. With her trademark storytelling skills, Jacqueline Guest has fashioned a nail-biter of an historical seafaring action adventure.

Instruments of Surrender – Christine Wiesenthal  In this poetry collection, “Wiesenthal reveal[s her] mastery of craft and mature sensibilities. [She is an] excavator of past and present: … mining the uncertain terrain of childhood and youth, the hazardous surfaces of adult experience…[who] sees the wide world and record[s her] knowledge of its brutality. [She] write[s] of paternal betrayal with the same unsettling frankness they bring to day-to-day events.” – Antigonish Review

Gwen – Carolyn Pogue   Not only is Gwen a fantastic historical source with its references to Yonge Street, the St. Lawrence River and national heroes including Miss Pauline Johnson and Joseph Brant, it’s also a captivating story of a young girl determined to pursue her dreams and traverse new lands. Gwen is young, but her sensibilities and optimistic character are bound to evoke emotions from all age groups.

You Haven’t Changed a Bit – Astrid Blodgett Edmonton-based Astrid Blodgett’s debut story collection is a complex and darkly tinged look into the lives of troubled characters and the traumatic, life-altering events of their lives.“You Haven’t Changed a Bit” has the complexity and texture you’d expect from a well-established short fiction writer. The fact that this is a debut collection is a remarkable achievement and should convince you to keep an eye out for more of Blodgett’s work.

Finton Moon – Gerard Collins  Set in the fictional town of Darwin, NFL, Collins “build[s] his themes: of cruelty and malice, intolerance of every kind, violence, poverty, repression, and the pain of growing up, especially in the closed and claustrophobic environment of Darwin. But it’s not all to do with struggling against the cramped and insular confines of a small town. In the context of growing up, the book is about friendship; the obligations of familial and romantic love; and the hard, but often thrilling journey of self-discovery.” The Western Star

Part Two – Next Week!

(And thanks to all who suggested The Book of Mary by me!  Shucks.)

* You’ll note a decidedly Edmonton/ Albertan bias, but that’s just fine.

 

Writing Quote: “Even to be a famous author in America is no piece of cake. There are no screaming lines of fans waiting hours for the new release, no instant recognition that accords respect, no government funding for the arts to speak of and a risky living to be made at best. And for the other writers, it’s a struggle that only a passion for stories and books, bred early and deep, can sustain.” – bookwritingworld.com

Writing Tips:  There’s a saying in publishing that the moment you spot a trend, it’s too late to join it. By the time you finish writing something you think will be popular because it’s popular now, that ship will have largely sailed. – Writer’s Digest

Writing Prompt: ‘Shh! Hear that?’ ‘I didn’t hear anything.’ ‘That’s right. That’s the sound of your own oblivion.’

 

 

 

 

CBC’s This is That Hoodwinks WIR

Yes, I’ll admit it. This week I was a victim of click bait on Twitter:

I saw this and mindlessly clicked:

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 4.34.49 PMI read the article with horror and spent the next hour constructing a passionate counter-argument.

Then I thought I’d better do a little research.  I could find no trace of either the Canadian Education Committee or of Harold Wright.  After more digging, of course, I found the link to CBC’s satirical This is That.

I felt my outrage go limp.

CBC had baited me, and I’d fecklessly fanned the flames of my righteous indignation to the point of indigestion.

I took a Tums.

But the entire episode left me thinking about children’s and young adult books that feature talking animals and anthropomorphized animals, in general.  As a teacher-librarian and a children’s literature specialist, I find children’s books featuring animal protagonists to be charming and illustrative.  As an educator, I’ve always felt that talking animals built empathy for animals and humans and indeed worked on the level of allegory for human behaviour.  I think of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan to name but three of my favourites.  For me these are the precursors for more advanced study of such works as Orwell’s Animal Farm, Richard Adams’ Watership Down, Martel’s Life of Pi, and even those hobbitty creatures.

So I found the U of T research cited in Dominic Ali’s recent article, “When kids’ books feature animals with human traits,” troubling:

“…kids’ books featuring animals with human characteristics not only lead to less factual learning but also influence children’s reasoning about animals.

Researchers also found that young readers are more likely to attribute human behaviors and emotions to animals when exposed to books with anthropomorphized animals than books depicting animals realistically.”

Well, this sounded much like the claims of the fictitious Harold Wright of the non-existent Canadian Education Committee. I felt my ire rise again.

I do see the argument that an exclusive literary diet of talking and dancing mice can limit a child’s understanding of the natural world. I agree with the lead author of the study, Patricia Ganea, that a variety of books from magical realism to realistic depictions of the natural world are important. We need to feed the imagination and the intellect.  But I would argue that the imagination is better fuelled by stories featuring animals that talk and behave as humans than by the factual science book.  (And the notion of displacement seems a significant means for children to deal with how badly or kindly humans disguised as animals can behave.)

Missing in the study is any discussion of the vital role the parent or adult reader, teacher or librarian plays in guiding young minds to see the link between human and animal, or to understand the difference between reality and fantasy, or to grapple with the often harsh and cruel realities of the animal kingdom. Early readers need adult guides to help them understand, and they have such helpers in schools, libraries and at the bedside to explain these crucial distinctions.

I leave you with two lovely sites to consider:

The Guardian’s “The best talking animals in children’s books

and

PETA Kids’ “The Best Books for Kids Who Love Animals

Writing Quote: “What I mean is, things like that happen. They may seem might cruel and unfair, but that’s how life is a part of the time. But that isn’t the only way life is. A part of the time, it’s mighty good. And a man can’t afford to waste all the good part, worrying about the bad parts. That makes it all bad.” – Old Yeller, Fred Gipson (American author, 1907-1973)

Writing TipsTom Moorhouse, author of The River Singers and The Rising on writing about animals.

Writing Prompt: Musings on humans by your pet or choice of animal.

 

No Magic Elixir & BookBiz News

Delightful to be in the city of St. Ast-albert-placelbert ensconced in Douglas Cardinal’s beautiful building that houses the St. Albert Public Library.  I have a room with a view on the second floor.  Come by for a chin wag!

Just thought I’d share some articles on the elusive mystery of a bestseller.  Statisticians and computer analysts have spent many an academic career trying to chart just exactly what makes for a successful novel by tracking the algorithms of sentences and titles. The Guardian, one of UK’s most respected publications, offers these two stories:

But it seems there is no magic elixir to what constitutes a bestseller. Doggedness and hard work, though, seem to count for much. It’s also good to love words and writing them. Often.

In other bookish news, you’ve likely heard that e-book technology allows publishers to track the number of pages actually read on an e-book reader:

Of course, this lead to the inevitable “pay by pages actually read” model that Amazon (and likely others) will adopt:

Can you hear self-published authors everywhere offering up a collective groan? Sheesh!  Could the business of writing be even more fraught with uncertainty and challenge?

But here’s some good news!  Writing is actually good for you!  Of course, we writers have always known this, but now there is an actual study cited in Rachel Grate’s article, “Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write.” Writing is good for the mind, the liver (unless you’re a F. Scott Fitzgerald), helps ease the effects of asthma and high blood pressure, and may even release dopamine and allow one to sleep better.

Writing Quote: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London, novelist & journalist (1876-1916)

Writing Tip:  “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” – Neil Gaiman, author (b. 1960)

Writing Prompt:
writing_pull1

Farewell, Fort Saskatchewan…

11694269So it’s so long, but not goodbye.  I’ve made some lovely friends here in the Fort.  And I want to send out a special thank you to the wonderful staff of the Fort Saskatchewan Public Library, especially Stacey Wenger and David Larsen.  It’s been a truly enjoyable time here with all of you.

YouthWrite will consume me for the next two weeks, but I’ll don my WIR motley again on July 13th at St. Albert Public Library.  You can reach me there at regionalwir@gmail.com, but I’ll be incommunicado until then.

Happy summer all!

Happy birthday, Yann Martel!

Writing Quote: “If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.”- Yann Martel, Canadian novelist (b. 1963)

Writing Tip:  “If you write genre fiction, you follow the rules, and you have to follow them because readers expect that. The strength and weakness, I suppose, of literary fiction is that it has no such conventions. A great literary work can be completely, completely unpredictable. Which can sometimes make them very hard to read, but it gives them a great originality. Writers have to decide where they stand in that continuum of genre-driven fiction to literary fiction, and you can do that only by playing by the rules, and then breaking the rules and seeing where you’re comfortable. Any writer will be happy and good only if they know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. You have to play around until you find something you’re comfortable with.” – Yann Martel

Writing Prompt: “It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards, even unto our names.” – Yann Martel   Respond!

You’re Invited to Songs of Innocence & Experience

Please join me and friends in an exploration of poetry and song this Tuesday, June 16 at 7 pm at Fort Saskatchewan Library

SonBlake_sie_covergs of Innocence and Experience:  Explore the connections between rhythm and rhyme, poetry and song. Join Gail (who’s also a professional singer) and special musical guests, Angela Flatekval, Kevin McCann and Geoff McMaster, to talk about how these forms are interconnected, and how poets and songwriters can inform and enrich each other’s writing practice and performance. Plus, learn how you can record and edit your own songs using the library’s Music Creation Station.

 

Unknown-1Angela Flatekval has led a vast and varied creative life.  From choirs and cheerleading in high school to the Arthur Murray years to Theatre Arts at Grant MacEwan to working with local companies (such as The Mayfield and Workshop West) to founding, producing and performing with the independent theatre company The Unconscious Collective through to now parenting and working with the wee-est of artists as a Kindermusik educator, expression through movement, music and physicality is first nature to her.

 

UnknownKevin McCann grew up in Edmonton where he was immersed in music and theatre, attended Victoria School, and after graduation, the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Victoria, BC. Kevin loves music, and during his school years received training in classical guitar, piano and voice. He’s had many wonderful experiences, from competing in local music festivals to singing “Bring Him Home” with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. Kevin is an avid reader, and has been inhaling fantasy novels since he knew they existed.

1926905_10152233587814116_103656239_nGeoffrey McMaster is a video producer, news writer and editor at the University of Alberta, and a jack of many trades. A university brat, he holds a number of English degrees (specializing in American and African American literature) as well as a degree in journalism from Ryerson. He has been a university professor and an instructor at YouthWrite®. As a freelance video director, he works closely with Jeff Allen Productions, Inc. While non-fiction in-depth pieces and video documentaries are his forté, he is also a photographer and an accomplished musician.

Writing Quote:  “Social media is a giant distraction to the ultimate aim, which is honing your craft as a songwriter. There are people who are exceptional at it, however, and if you can do both things, then that’s fantastic, but if you are a writer, the time is better spent on a clever lyric than a clever tweet.” Bryan Adams, Canadian singer songwriter (born 1959)
Writing Tip: Check out this blog: The poetry of songwriting: 10 top writing tips from howtowritebetter.net

Song Writing Prompt:   Title:  “Playing with Matches”  Run with it, songsmiths!