Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Greg Loves Annie

One of the things people always ask me about writing is this:  "Where do you get your ideas?". 

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

Think Deeply!

Yesterday I blogged about the subjectivity of reading.  I'm still thinking about it.

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

Some Things Just Aren't Worth Arguing About...

Yes, Virginia, I do read the reviews of my books.  And no, they aren't all as favourable as the one I posted last week.  Very occasionally, I see a review that upsets me.  And then - much more than when I've had a good review - I find myself wishing I could engage in a "book talk" with the reviewer.  You know:   to explain to them what they didn't get.  To make them like it.

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

Another Five Star Review!

Thanks to Jen Wardrip and the folks over at Teens Read Too for the five star review of Maybe Never, Maybe Now

"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." 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

Remembering Sweet Honey

I got a cheque in the mail today.  A cheque for just over $500.  But I'm not happy about it.

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.

Honey was my ring-bearer when I got married.   Here we are in our wedding finery!

She loved a good game of Frisbee.

Hanging out with her cousin, Marbles.

And boat rides.

And playing in the snow.

But she loved spring, too.

And quiet time, on the couch.

Miss you everyday, Babygirl!

Monday, August 1, 2011

August 1, 2011

It's August. And I haven't posted a single thing in over two months.
Several recent summers have been consumed by writing deadlines, and last year I was preparing for the launch of two books.
And because I still have a "day job" (which I love), June was crazy-busy.
So although at first, I was feeling guilty and slacker-ish for not posting here, I eventually decided to make it a conscious blogging break (which, of course, immediately meant I discovered all sorts of amazing blog-worthy material).
I had a full - but relaxing - July. It all started with a wedding, where the power went out! The bride was the daughter of my very good friend, Laura, who was my roomate in Quebec during the summer of 1988.
Shortly thereafter, I headed out to Winnipeg to visit relatives. It had been a long time since I went on the kind of vacation where I was just the guest, with no real touring or sightseeing or anything to do, and it was fabulous. Even more fabulous was the chance to reconnect with my cousins and their children.
I came home to a cottage full of longtime friends and their families - all together, we were six adults, four kids, three dogs, some delicious food and a lot of laughs.
Then, I spent a hot, hot week at home in Ontario during the heat wave, swimming in the lake almost every day (sometimes alone, often with my friend Joanne), entertaining my mother and my honorary "aunt" Mary, and going to an outdoor theatre in record breaking temperatures.
Right about then, my friend and colleague Colleen called me from Nova Scotia, to invite me out to visit her at her summer place in Guysborough. I don't usually lean towards spontaneity, but I'm trying to, more and more. So I cashed in some Aeroplan points for a flight to Halifax, and surfed the internet for a decent rental car rate: FYI, Alamo was about 1/3 the price of all of the other major rental places, including unlimited mileage! "Veronica" (my GPS) got me out of parking garage, and pointed me East as the radio played - I kid you not - "Born to Be Wild". (It turns out that it's tough to actually be wild at 41 and 44, with a six-year-old in the cottage, but we did manage to talk our way out of ticket one night...). I spent the final afternoon kicking around Halifax Harbour where I bought the beautful Sea Glass Hunters Handbook,

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 had a day or two to do my laundry and remind my pets that I do actually live here, before packing up the boat and heading out for the long weekend with another large group of friends.
In and amongst the craziness that was my month, I have read some wonderful books (which I will share with you, here), and begun to write anew (mostly in my head, but that's where all of my ideas root before I transplant them to keyboard). Reading back through the highlights of July, I notice the common threads of family and friends, many of whom I have not seen in previous summers as I shut myself in to write. My books are all about relationships - how lucky I am to be celebrating my own.  

I look forward to renewing my blogging relationships, as well!