Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The End of the Innocence

(With apologies to Don Henley for stealing his song title to label this post)

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

Finally! The Secret of the Sisterhood!

I'm a big fan of Ann Brashares' The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.  I didn't think I would be, as the premise of four girls sharing one pair of jeans seemed a little bizarre to me, but once I picked up the series, I grew to love the characters. 

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."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November is National Novel Writing Month!

...and while I don't expect any of us with "day jobs" will end up with final, polish works, the challenge of writing a set number of words every day could be just the motivator we need to hammer out a draft.  I thought about my first novel, Painting Caitlyn, for years.  But thinking didn't get it written.  The Random House contest for a first Young Adult novel did inspire me to write, because I had a set deadline.  I didn't win, but I ended up with a solid draft that only needed a bit of editing before Lobster Press picked it up. After that, I've written to contact deadlines (eg.  I submit an outline of what I think will happen in a book, sign the contract, and THEN write it.)  There's nothing like a little external pressure

And so, write away - after all, it's National Novel Writing Month!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rick's Rant/Reasons to Read

The media were abuzz today with the most recent "rant" by Canadian Comedian/Political Commentator Rick Mercer's latest "rant" about bullying and teen suicide.   The specific case he referenced involved a teen who was depressed,  was bullied for being gay, and ultimately took his own life.

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

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!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Will Work for Prom Dress!

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 musical, book writing, etc. etc.  I'll be back, though.  I promise : )

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Painting...Caitlyn....Cats...Book Trailers

Just when I start to feel more like a busy teacher than an author (writing a French musical version of Jack and the Beanstalk right now as a follow-up to our wildly successful Hansel and Gretel last year/preparing for the second part of our SEVEC French language exchange/actually trying to do my regular job) I got a very eloquent "fan letter" - en francais - for Chloe: un portrait. (The French language version of Painting Caitlyn). And then, I discovered this way-cool Painting Caitlyn book trailer which was created for an English class. And that stuff makes me remember that I am an author, too. How awesome is that? PS The Georgina Arts Centre and Gallery is having their Celebrity Art Challenge in June this year. Once again, they are looking for celebrities to paint small canvases that can be auctioned off. They are clearly a bit desperate 'cuz they keep asking me. Anyone out there reading this know someone with a more recognizable name who could do a painting for them???? The one I did for them last year was this, inspired by a friend's cat, named Luna:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Latest Discovery!

How did I not know that we had a karaoke channel on our cable package?

Monday, March 21, 2011

My March Break through Children’s Literature

Friday: Pearson International Airport (Toronto)to Rome, Italy

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 √©clair in Provence, and finished my afternoon drinking un chocolat chaud in a sidewalk caf√©. 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

My Quebec...Caitlyn's Quebec

Bonjour tout le monde!

I am wearing my "teacher hat" this week. I've brought 21 of my grade 7 and 8 students to Quebec City for a SEVEC exchange! It's an amazing program through which we were "twinned" with another school. Each of my students spends a week billeting at the home of one of their students, and during the day, we all come together for touristy educational activities. In May, our twins will visit Beaverton!

But the author in me is coming out this week, too. The fictional exchange that Caitlyn does in Maybe Never, Maybe Now was based on a combination of the last SEVEC exchange I organized, and the six week summer immersion program I did between high school and university. And we spent yesterday visiting many of the places described in the book. Places such as the Chateau Frontenac,

(This picture was actually taken a few years ago - the walkway below is undergoing reconstruction.)

Place Royale:

And the sculpture, Dialogue with History - it's the white squarish thing between the buildings below. For a better shot, see photographer Jonathan Houle's website.
Today, we are off to the Quebec Winter Carnival.

Friday, January 28, 2011

What's in a Name?

A lot.

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.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Movies, Martinis, and Manicures

On Thursday, I attended my second Movies, Martinis and Manicures event at The Roxy theatre in Uxbridge, Ontario.

It's a fundraiser which they theme around a chick flick. This year's movie was the 1997 flick My Best Friend's Wedding. We received mini veils with our tickets, and garters upon arrival. Guests were encouraged to send in their actual wedding photos in advance for inclusion in a slideshow on the big screen before the event, as well as to dress up in wedding attire.

I did send this wedding pic (circa 1994 - the glasses betray the date, but I think my dress and hair still have a classic feel). It's one of my faves, because a) it's casual and b) my eyes are actually open.

But I have to admit that I caved on the costume factor, for a number of reasons: I didn't want to wreck any of my good dresses, some of them don't fit right now, and I just really, really, really hate being cold. This is not me acting like an old lady. This is me being honest about who I am, and always have been. Even in high school, when everyone else was wearing running shoes through th snow and pulling their hands inside their sleeves and their shoulders up to their ears thinking that looked "cooler" than dressing properly for winter weather, I was the exception in boots, mittens, and hats or earmuffs. So let's just say that the other night I wore "Vegas wedding" attire:

(that's my friend Mary beside me).
So, pre-show, we ate wedding themed hors d'oeuvres, bit on silent auction items, had our pictures taken, and got our nails done by a number of local manicurists who donated their own time. Then they set us up with popcorn, a dessert table, and a "candy buffet". The candy buffet got me to thinking about the differences between children and adults. When you are a kid, it sounds like a dream to have enough money and independence to go to the candy store whenever you want and buy as much as you want. When you are an adult, you can. But most of us don't. And then when you find yourself at a fundraiser filling small paper bags with Glossettes, licorice, gummi bears, etc., you get crazy excited! At least, the women I saw did.
Anyway, the biggest gasp of the night came during the opening scene of the movie, when Julia Roberts' character reached into her handbag and pulled out a GIANT cell phone which she not only had to flip open, but also raise the antenna on. Crazy!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Four Things I Wish I'd Known Years Ago

(Ahem). Allow me to share with you the wisdom of my years, and pass along four bits of knowledge that have been LIFE CHANGING for me.

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.

You're welcome!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

If only there was a way to work some chocolate into this...

I just stumbled upon the coolest contest, featuring many, many things I love!

1) Cats
2) Black cats
3) Funny pictures
4) An excuse to surf the internet
5) The opportunity to write
6) Books!

In my world, that's almost a perfect evening!

Author Sean Cummings has posted an LOL Cats contest, featuring Gary in a pink bathtub.

(Exhibit A)

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

All Hail the Digital Age of Publishing!

Key Porter Books announced this week that it has "suspended publishing operations and is considering selling off parts of its backlist. "


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:

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! <>

Pretty dumb, eh?

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

Where does inspiration end and Copyright Infringement begin?

I've been thinking about art, and copyrights, ever since Boxing Day, when I read about this issue in The Toronto Star. They had a cover contest for an "emerging artist," promising to publish the winning entry - themed around Christmas in Toronto - on their front cover on Christmas Eve. And pay the winner $2500! (One wonders what might have happened if there had actually been BIG NEWS that day. But I digress.)

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.