Wednesday, December 28, 2011
When did you lose your innocence? No, not that kind of innocence. The kind where the magic of Christmas is so strong - so unquestionably permanent in your schema - that you can't imagine it ever going away?
I lost mine at sixteen. I woke up early on Christmas morning and felt the usual thrill of holiday excitement that normally would have propelled me out of bed in the dark to see what Santa had left me. Only, that year, I glanced at the clock. And something shifted. I realized, in an instant, that if the gifts were already down there, they'd still be there in another hour. Or two. And then I did what up until that moment in my life would have been unthinkable: I rolled over, and went back to sleep on Christmas morning.
I've always described that morning as the day I "grew up". I actually thought it was sort of cool that I could pinpoint one specific moment in my emotional development that signified maturity and self-control.
But it wasn't until the other night, on a different Christmas Eve, that I realized the truth: my father had died ten months before that morning, and that was the first Christmas without him.
My decision to stay in bed probably didn't have anything to do with facing reality: it was actually all about avoiding it.
It seems obvious, as I type this, but it took me twenty-six years to make that connection. So maybe I really did hold on to my innocence a lot longer than I've always believed.
Or maybe now, at least, I know where it went.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
I did get over the idea of them sharing the pants, but I always wondered about their "you must never wash the pants" rule. Even in the movie version, this rule was addressed with an "EWWW". Today, Yahoo has provided me with their secret. I share it with you now:
"Denim retailers from Levi's to Gap want you to stop washing your jeans after every wear. Ultimately, the more you wash, the more water you waste and the more your denim will fade. To benefit the planet and your wallet, freeze your jeans instead. By slipping your pants into a plastic bag and tossing them in the freezer for a night or two, you can kill odour causing bacteria, preserve your worn-in fit, and maintain the colour so that they'll look brand new way longer. Plus, you will end up doing laundry less frequently. Time for a bigger freezer."From: http://ca.shine.yahoo.com/quick-tip-freeze-jeans-190000285.html
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
And so, write away - after all, it's National Novel Writing Month!
Thursday, October 27, 2011
In the video, Mercer noted that it's not enough to tell kids that "it will get better", because teens need role models.
I agree. And although I don't think there's any substitute for real, live role models, I think this is another example of a case where thoughtful, well-written young adult literature can be a powerful tool in making kids feel less lonely. I often receive email from readers who say my novels make a difference in their lives, because readers see themselves in the characters.
And I'll say it again here now: books had a huge impact on me, and on my own struggles during adolescence.
Mercer challenged adults to step up as role models, saying :
“If you’re gay and yu’re in public life, I’m sorry, you don’t have to run around with a Pride flag and bore the hell out of everyone, but you can’t be invisible. Not anymore. 300 kids is 300 too many,”I'm not gay, so I can't be a role model from that perspective.
But as an author, I am out there in "public life". And I have suffered from depression off and on throughout my childhood and adult years, and as an author who has struggled with depression, I'm standing up now and saying "Let me be your role model, because it DOES get better."
I'm always trying to balance my author's persona with my teacher's persona, and in a small, small town, maybe I'm taking a big risk here by admitting to my struggles wtih depression. But nobody judges me harshly when I tell them I survived Thyroid Cancer at age twenty-nine, so maybe if more parents and kids can see me thriving post cancer AND post depression, they will come to understood that depression -- like cancer -- is a treatable medical condition. And maybe if I tell them that there are a lot of amazing books out there about kids just like them, they won't feel so alone. And maybe by sharing my history I will help one person. And that will be worth it.
If you think you might be depressed, know that IT'S NOT A WEAKNESS, IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT, and IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT MAKING YOURSELF CHEER UP. Talk to someone you trust, or visit http://www.kidshelpphone.ca/teens/home/splash.aspx
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
All around me.
Not everything I see or do or hear about is going to end up being a part of my writing projects. But lots of those things will trigger ideas that turn into something else.
Last summer, I became obsessed with Greg and Annie.
I don't know Greg and Annie they really are, but one of them began declaring their affections through grafitti. The graffiti was VERY noticeable, because I live in a small, scenic town with far more retirees than grafitti artists - or vandals, depending on your point of view.
I missed a few at the beginning (like the one on the railway crossing sign), but over the year that they appeared, I took pictures of quite a few of these "declarations". And in my mind, I began creating personalities for Greg and Annie. Physical descriptions. Background stories. I won't describe my own imaginings, but will share the photos here, so that you, too, might write their story in your own mind.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Maybe part of that reflection had to do with the fact that I spoke to another teacher this week about summer school. She said they'd read some amazing books, prescribed by the school board for summer school, but full of swearing that had been censored out of each book with thick black marker! As if teen readers won't know what the blacked-out word is, won't hear it in their minds as their eyes float past it, and never, ever, encounter profanity in their daily lives.
Or maybe it is because I am now tucked away in Niagara-on-the-Lake for a three day workshop on Critical Literacy, which essentially boils down to thinking deeply about things before forming your own opinions. Tonight, I share an example of why this is a super approach to life.
(Ahem). WAAAYYY back in the beginning of June, the great Laurie Halse Anderson responded to a Wall Street Journal article that criticized Young Adult Fiction. The title of the original article was: * “Darkness Too Visible,” by Meghan Cox Gurdon. The subtitle is “Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?”
I've read both the original article, and Laurie's response. I encourage YOU to do the same. If you haven't read yesterday's post yet, you might want to look at that one, too. And then I encourage you to be "critically literate", think deeply, and form your own well-supported opinion.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Then the rational part of me remembers that we all have different taste. I only read two of the most popular vampire series ever. Liked the first one, wasn't really into the second one, and decided to call it quits after that. Was I missing out on subtleties and nuances that the author (or a fan) could explain to me, possibly helping me to see the series in a more positive light? Maybe. But probably not.
Sometimes, you're just not that into a book. Maybe you never will be. Or maybe you'll revisit it at another time in your life, and marvel at what you missed before.
This customer review from the Barnes and Noble website has been bugging me for a while:
"I love reading books about real life situations however this book barely even talks about being in an abusive relationship and the dangers of being in one like it says it is. It was more focused on her art and few family issues. If you want a book about abusive relationships I wouldn't read this one."But last night I got this wonderful "fan letter" via email:
",,,[I] am a teen who has struggled with an abusive relationship rather similar to your novel Painting Caitlyn. I have read it numerous times and it has helped me in more ways than anyone who has tried. I have been thoroughly inspired and it has helped me to move on.... I wrote this to tell you that you have inspired me to stay strong and I wouldn't be where I am without reading your touching novels. I also want to thank you so much for writing them and just the opportunity to read your remarkable pieces of literature."
And even if I get a hundred of the negative comments, the positive ones like this always make me remember that the people who need the message will get it.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
"Readers will sympathize with Caitlyn as she navigates the rough waters of new love and the heartbreak from her past. This novel is unique and good to the last drop."Ahh..now I'm blushing!
Even if you've already read Maybe Never, Maybe Now (and if you haven't, why the heck not???), Teens Read Too is always a great site to find another amazing book.
Here's the trailer, again, to tempt you...
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
The cheque is part of the settlement from the tainted Menu Pet Foods several years ago. My beloved dog, Honey, was one of its first victims, as I purchased some pouch cat food as a "treat" for my mom's visiting cat, and my own. Neither cat would eat it. Nor would my sister's visiting Golden Retriever. I remember commenting about how bad it must taste, for a Golden Retriever to refuse it. But Honey was fourteen, and I suspect that her senses of taste and smell might have been failing. She ate some. And then she started vomiting. Several vet visits, IV treatments, one week, and a couple of broken hearts later, she died of liver failure. It didn't make sense, since, as an older dog, she'd had all her medical tests (including liver and kidney function) just a few weeks before.
It was six months before the tainted pet food story came out, and that that time they said it had only been a problem since December. But I knew, as soon as I heard about it, what had really happened to Honey. I watched the lists as more and more products- with earlier and earlier dates - were identified, until finally I saw it: the cat food brand I had purchased, with the date stamp matching the unused packages I still had.
I didn't join the class action lawsuit because I thought it would bring justice: one of the guys in China who was responsible for the scandal had already been sentenced to die, and even that didn't make me feel better at all. I knew no payment would make Honey's death okay, and as a pet, I was entitled only to financial compensation for loss of "property" - nothing for my grief and personal loss. But I joined the lawsuit anyway, for her. To add her name to the list of victims. To point out - officially - that what happened to her was not okay. To say that she mattered.
And so, many years after I gathered up the vet bills and sent them away, I received reimbursement for some of them today (there were more claims than the settlement could cover, so claimants were offered only a percentage of what they submitted).
I know someone who makes beautiful things out of glass, and he has agreed to make me some jewelry, with Honey's ashes embedded in the glass, so that we can be "together" again. That is where part of the cheque will go. I'll be sad and angry when I wear it, but I'll be happy, too, remembering Sweet Honey.
She loved a good game of Frisbee.
And boat rides.
And playing in the snow.
But she loved spring, too.
And quiet time, on the couch.
Monday, August 1, 2011
featuring a photo of a pink heart-shaped piece of seaglass much like the one I have, and featured in the trailer for Maybe Never, Maybe Now! My flight was scheduled to leave Halifax at 10:50 p.m., and at 11, they announced that due to a mechanical issue, it was cancelled! Most people on the flight were, understandably, frustrated and upset, but I was in the fortunate position of not really having to be anywhere else right away, so with a little help from someone I love, I managed to secure a reservation in one of the only area hotels that still had a vacancy. The shuttle arrived within fifteen minutes, and I spent a lovely night in a beautiful hotel room before finally flying back to Toronto the next day, just before noon.
I look forward to renewing my blogging relationships, as well!
Friday, May 13, 2011
Author Aimee Ferris wrote a very cool looking book called Will Work for Prom Dress, and ever since its release, she's been inviting YA Authors to her "after party". That is, she's been inviting us to submit our own pictures. Check out mine here, and check out the book here!
PS: sorry (to anyone who might actually read this blog) that it's been so long since I've posted. Busy, busy. French exchange...new musical, book writing, etc. etc. I'll be back, though. I promise : )
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, March 21, 2011
After spending the last couple of March Breaks just switching from teacher to author mode, and working through story deadlines, I decided to take a real trip this year!
I had this favourite line in my head as we headed for the airport: “Hooray, hooray! We’re on our way! Our summer vacation starts today” from The Bears’ Vacation (Yes, I know it’s only March Break, and not actually summer yet, but way before the Berenstein Bears got preachy and started pumping our book after book with moral lessons, they used to be funny. And they rhymed. And that’s the kind of thing that gets stuck in my head.)
And since getting things stuck in my head is commonplace for me, I ended up mentally linking each subsequent day of my trip with a favourite children’s book.
Saturday: Civitivecchia, Italy
The forecast for my Mediterranean cruise through Italy, Spain and France: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.
Sunday: Sicily (Italy)
Our after-dinner entertainment was a group of Chinese acrobats who juggled hats, tossing them onto and off of each other’s heads…reminding me of The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.
Monday: Cagliari (Island of Sardinia), Italy
Full of delicious food after a lovely tour of an olive oil factory and a winery followed by a two hour dinner in the dining room. With so many beautiful places to see, and everyone giving me things to eat and drink – plus a bit of rough sailing on rough seas -- I’d have to say felt a bit like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland!
Tuesday: Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Ferdinand the Bull, who adored flowers in The Story of Ferdinand, would have loved the flower markets here. One of the loveliest cities I have ever visited. The sights and smells were heavenly!
Wednesday: Barcelona, Spain
So beautiful. But so much traffic. And I almost got killed by a speeding scooter as I crossed the road. Much like Mrs. Mallard in Make Way for Ducklings!
Thursday: Aix-en-Provence and Marseilles, France
Started my morning with the most delicious chocolate cream-filled éclair in Provence, and finished my afternoon drinking un chocolat chaud in a sidewalk café. Okay – it wasn’t Paris – but as group after group of children passed me on the streets speaking French, I couldn’t help but think of Madeleine.
Friday: Savona and Genoa, Italy
The crocodiles in the Genoa Aquarium, and
the reproduction pirate ship outside it – were reminiscent of Peter Pan!
Saturday: Back to Rome
Digging through my suitcase for a pair of clean socks, and feeling a lot like Harry the Dirty Dog. The only thing I really wanted to see here was the Coliseum. Not just for the beautiful architecture (and certainly not for its gory history ) but because I had heard that many, many feral cats live there. I saw only one. But she/he strongly resembled Sacha, a cat I adored for fourteen years. (Maybe a place that has seen so much death makes it easier for spirits to visit their loved ones, and it was her?) In any case, she/he completed my visit, and made me smile remembering the way she used to sleep draped over my shoulders as I wrote university essays, teacher’s college projects, short stories and even the early bits of Painting Caitlyn. I have other special cats in my life now. But thinking about Sacha, and a friend who passed away last year at the end of March Break, reminded me of The Tenth Good Thing About Barney.
Sunday: Home via London
…with thoughts of A Bear Called Paddington whirling amidst the suitcases and British accents!
Saturday, February 12, 2011
(This picture was actually taken a few years ago - the walkway below is undergoing reconstruction.)
Friday, January 28, 2011
And just like people judge books by their titles, I judge books by the characters' names.
I understand that authors want memorable characters.
I understand that a name says something about a character, such as how old they are, or what their parents are like.
But I hate, hate, hate it when characters have weird names.
I'm not talking about names from languages other than English. Those are cool.
I'm talking about the HUGE number of YA books that have female protagonists with traditionally male names, like "Max" or "Eddie" - which honestly hardly ever happens in real life, but seems in fiction to be an every day occurance.
Or the more unusual, such as characters who explain that they were named after bottles of alcohol, or the diner where their parents met, or whatever.
I don't know why it bugs me so much. Some of my favourite names in real life are rare and unusual. And Taiton and Destiny were kind enough to "loan" me their names for Definitely Not Camelot, so I guess I've done it, too.
But Taiton needed a name from an unspecified non-English speaking place (more on that later). And Destiny was a minor character.
When I'm reading about an unusually named main character, it distracts me.
And it makes it feel as if the author is trying too hard to show how unique and special his or her character is.
Kind of like parents who give their kids long, fancy monikers with Roman numerals at the end.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Sunday, January 16, 2011
1) You can freeze lemon slices. This way, you always have them ready for a glass of water or a cup of tea. They act as ice cubes to cool down your drink. And you don't end up with a bunch of shrivelled up half-used lemons in the back of your fridge.
2) A disposable razor stored in a lidded jar of rubbing alcohol stays sharp and lasts ten times longer. Seriously - it does. And you only need enough alcohol to cover the blade.
3) Bacon is easy to cook - and far less messy - if you do it on parchment paper in the oven. Obviously, you need to use a cookie sheet with sides. Line it with parchment paper (I like to double up the thickness). Lay bacon out in strips. Cook in low oven - about 300 degrees F. for 20 - 30 minutes. Comes out cheaper and better than the pre-cooked stuff, there's no splattering, and it's easy to do a whole package this way in advance for a brunch. (I got this tip, and a lot of great recipes, by attending a cooking class with a humble chef. Check out his blog!)
4) Everyone should have a laundry hampers with separate sections for different colours. Mine has three removable mesh bags. I didn't think I spent a lot of time sorting laundry before, but this one makes it super fast and super easy to guage whether or not you have enough of one colour to run a load, grab it, and get it in.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
2) Black cats
3) Funny pictures
4) An excuse to surf the internet
5) The opportunity to write
In my world, that's almost a perfect evening!
Author Sean Cummings has posted an LOL Cats contest, featuring Gary in a pink bathtub.
All YOU have to do to win a copy of Sean's book UNSEEN WORLD is come up with the funniest caption for Gary's photo.
Here's my submission:
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Canadian publishers have had a rough couple of years, and there's been a lot of speculation about how digital publishing, e-books, etc. are going to change the industry. Yes, some traditional publishers will fall away in the shuffle. But I'm not sure that the digital reading revolution is going to be as terrible as some think.
Consider the music industry.
Back in my day - aka, the 80's - the sharing of music was very uncommon. You might copy an LP onto a cassette tape for yourself, to play in your oh-so-tiny (see my tongue in my cheek?) Sony Walkman, or receive a mixed tape from your boyfriend if he really liked you, but it wasn't a common thing to share and trade the albums you'd purchased. For one thing, they were pricey. And volatile. Tapes could get "eaten" by rogue equipment; albums were easily scratched/dirtied/warped. Copying things was also time consuming, as making a mixed tape using several LPs meant you had to sit through each song, pausing the tape recorder after each selection. It used to take all day.
Fast forward to 2011: all I have to do to get new music is click a couple of buttons. If I'm clever, I don't even need to pay for it. I also don't need cumbersome tapes or discs, because I can store it all on my hard drive, or an mp3 player. And even though I'd be breaking copyright, I can post that music on other file sharing sites, providing it for free to millions of others.
Digitization, then, for the music industry, has probably meant lower sales, and lower revenues.
But for the publishing industry, it may work in the opposite way.
Let's go back to the 80's. Or even 2005, before I had the inside scoop on royalties.
Books were the original victims of "file sharing". If I got a book I liked, I would recommend it to someone else. And then I'd hand it to them. And they'd hand it to someone else. And so on, and so on. In fact, I'm pretty sure that my friend Karen's $5.95 copy of Flowers in the Attic made it's way through every girl in my grade seven class without one of us ever going out to purchase a copy. Books are easy to share, because unlike albums, we aren't as likely to revisit them, even if we love them. Besides which: the more we love them, the more we want other people to read them, so that we can talk about them. And so they have traditionally been passed around, person to person, in much the same way that digital music is shared today.
Digital books will actually reverse this trend. Perhaps having learned from the music industry, e-readers don't make it easy to share files. And the equipment required to read an e-book is expensive - and personal - enough that even when I enjoy something, I am NOT going to hand over my Kindle to someone else to read. Instead, I'll recommend it. And they will buy their own copy, so both publisher and the author will receive the royalties that they deserve.
Here's another little secret that I learned years ago, but have been amazed to discover that so many others don't know: the publishing industry has traditionally had a ridiculous, environmentally irresponsible model that needed to be overhauled. Here's how it works: books are printed and shipped to bookstores. Six months go by. Bookstores need more space. They return unsold books to the publishers. Who else does that? Seriously. Can you imagine a grocery store sending unsold lettuce back to the farmer who grew it? There is absolutely no pressure whatsoever on the bookstore to research its product or order responsibly, because they aren't going to get stuck with anything unsold. And they don't even have to pay for return shipping, because massmarket paperbacks just get the covers ripped off of them and then get destroyed. The covers are much lighter and less expensive to ship, and tearing them off for return proves to the publisher that they actually went unsold, so the bookstore doesn't get billed for them. Picture the same system in a jewelery store:
Pretty dumb, eh?
Hmm..this batch of diamond rings didn't sell! Oh well!
We'll just rip the gemstones out of their settings and send back the gold to
prove it....then we don't have to pay our supplier for any of the
unsold rings, and the publisher can just absorb the manufacturing costs themselves! <>
If ebooks can eliminate that kind of waste and stupidity then bookstores and publishers can both get paid for the things that sell, and
nobody has to take any extra hits for things that don't.
Best of all, trees don't have to die for my art.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
The winning illustration was BEAUTIFUL - an impressionistic "streetcars-in-snow" painting that captures the beauty of the season amidst the hustle and bustle.
The problem, however, was that the winning artist may have been "inspired" by a photo she saw on Flickr. She didn't mention it to anyone until the photographer approached The Star, at which time she claimed to have looked at a lot of photos for inspiration. You can see the comparison here, but to me, the composition and tones are so similar that there is no question that her work is based on his.
So is it copying? Or being inspired? Would it have been different if she had contacted the photographer, or acknowledged him in the original article?
And just when I was feeling completely indignant on behalf of the photographer, my friend Kirsten Koza sent me this very cool website, wherein artist Dave Devries embellishes children's drawings to look like professional illustrations. So magnificent. Or so awful. Maybe he's enhancing their work to make it appear the way they envisioned it. Or maybe he's saying that the way they did it themselves wasn't actually good enough.
As an art teacher, I struggle with that concept all the time. The "less-is-more" part of me (which, I'm sure you've noticed, is only the part that does my hair, and cleans my house, and creates visual art - not the part that tries to write short blog entries and then can't stop....) wants my students NOT to write their names in giant letters on the middle of the page. NOT to make fifty snowmen floating on the page at all sorts of weird angles. NOT to entirely cover their shiny silver ornament, carefully decorated with a handprint that becomes snowmen, in red Sharpie marker. But I don't want to squash their creativity, or make them feel that their work isn't valid.
On the other hand, when they ask, and I can help by suggesting we move a line a little to the left, or by making it more symmetrical, I love to see how delighted and proud they are as their art becomes more like that which they imagined.
I think we all - young and old - would love to have an art makeover by Dave Devries.
As long as we know he's doing it.