Monthly Archives: October 2016

“It took me one year to complete Skunk On A String . . .But it took me nearly a decade to figure out how to get the skunk down from the balloon.”| Q&A with Illustrator Thao Lam

For many of us, (And especially for those of us who must engage the world in a digital manner) illustrations are something we glance over and pass by. But in many cases, illustrators are people whose skill and craft adds a complex dimension to a book for readers to enjoy. Thao Lam is a illustrator whose ideas come through in careful planning and detail. She recently answered a few questions for me about her work.

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1) How long did it take you to create “Skunk On A String?” Was there anything specific that inspired you to create the book?

It took me one year to complete Skunk On A String. This includes storyboarding and illustration. But it took me nearly a decade to figure out how to get the skunk down from the balloon. Many years ago while I was in the shower, an image of a skunk tied to a balloon popped in my head. I never proceeded with the story because I couldn’t figure out how to get the skunk down from the balloon. Over the years I thought of many scenarios, like having the skunk rescued by an astronaut because he made it to the moon via balloon, but all those scenarios were too far fetch.

2) Where did you find your materials to create ‘Skunk On A String?’ Any idea on how many pieces of paper it took to create the complete book?

I lost track of how many pieces of paper were used in the making of Skunk On A String – too many to count! The assortments of paper came from papers I collected over the years; The Paper Place in Toronto; art stores around the city, and I order a lot of stuff from www.scrapbook.com

3) How has been the reaction to ‘Skunk On A String?’ Has there been any memorable experiences you care to share because of the book?

So far the reaction to the book has been really positive. The trailer for book has hit an all time high for Owlkids Books https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S781wbPaQ_k. It’s received great reviews and even a star from Kirkus. Since Skunk On A String is my first book, every moment has been memorable. I think my favorite moment was spotting copies of Skunk On A String at my favorite children’s book store, Mabel’s Fables. I have been going to this book store for years and would spend hours at the store browsing for inspiration and discovering amazing books, authors, and illustrators. It blew my mind to see my book in print along with those I admire.

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Image from “Skunk On A String” by Thao Lam. Image linked from the Owlkids website

4) What inspired you to go into illustration? Who are some of your fellow illustrators that you admire?

As a kid I would spend hours in the children’s section of the library pouring over books — something I still do as an adult. The idea that you get to spend your day drawing and being creative was mind blowing so there was never any doubt in what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Illustrators I admire: Jon Klassen, David Wiesner, and Isabelle Arsenault are my top picks if I were to get stranded on a desert island.

5)  Do you do many public events in relation to your work? If yes, is that something you enjoy doing?

I totally enjoy doing public events (though I still get stage fright each time). Skunk On A String has opened many opportunities and has introduced me to many folks in the industry as well as book fans. For example I got the opportunity to talk to some librarians and teachers at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference (OLA), which was great because I learned a lot about reading a wordless picture book to an audience. I am a big wordless picture book fan and have quite a collection of them but I have never shared one with an audience before so the advice I got from the OLA came in handy when I did my first reading. I especially like doing school visits, seeing kids get excited over books makes me smile!

6) You seem to be active on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter? How do you like using those apps. in relation to your work?

I am not really good at posting and tweeting, I have to keep reminding myself to be social. I find it especially hard to do while I am working but I guess posting and tweeting is working, just the marketing side of work (I prefer the creative side of work).

 7) You talk on your website about your love of children’s books. What are some of your favourite books?

Oh, that would be a long list! Currently “Dear Mr. Blueberry” written and illustrated by Simon James, the “Gerald and Piggie” series written and illustrated by Mo Willems, “The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend”  written and illustrated by Dan Santat, and “The Day the Crayons Quit” written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers are read on a continues loop in our household.

8) Have you given any thought into creating another book? If yes, are there details you care to share about it?

I am working on a second book with Owlkids Books. It is about making friends something I had a really hard time doing when I was a kid because I was shy and didn’t have confidence. The launch date is set for Spring 2018.

9) Your biographies list you as living in Toronto? How do you like living there? Are there items in Toronto that inspire you as an illustrator?

Toronto is so vibrant! There is so much diversity, culture, arts that something is always happening all year long. It is hard not to be inspired when there is so much going on. For inspiration I usually head to my favorite bookstores like Mabel’s Fables, Little Island Comics, or I just visit my local library. There are also great book festivals throughout the year, my favorite is the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The organizers do an amazing job every year, it just gets bigger and bigger and the list of featured guests is stellar, so much inspiration under one roof and it is free to attend.

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Link to Thao Lam’s website

Link to Owlkids website for “Skunk On A String”

Link to my review of “Skunk On A String”

 

“I love that the title resonated with him. I could see it in his face. It helps remind me of poetry’s potential to reach humans-at-large, not just writers and their friends.” | Q&A with Poet Kilby Smith-McGregor

Kilby Smith-McGregor has had a busy time since her book Kids In Triage came out last May. But being busy for her may not be a bad thing for somebody as insightful and talented as her. In the Q&A listed below, she talks about the book, other projects and her upcoming schedule. No doubt we will be hearing a lot more about her soon.

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1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of Kids In Triage? Was there something specific that occurred that made you want to write the book?

Late last winter I was visiting my uncle’s family farm near Fordwich, Ontario; he knew I had a book coming out and asked me what it was called. I said Kids In Triage and he took a moment’s pause and replied, “I guess that’s…a whole generation…more than one.” He’s a brilliant guy, a geologist, but not a ‘lit-culture’ guy. I love that the title resonated with him. I could see it in his face. It helps remind me of poetry’s potential to reach humans-at-large, not just writers and their friends. The most amazing part of publishing a book so far has been hearing from readers, real people, who bring their own context and perspective to the work.

 

The word triage is a medical and military term for classifying and prioritizing injuries in a mass casualty situation. In this collection of poems, I wanted to explore how we identify and deal with emergencies, both public and private. The contemporary world is a mess; the 24-hour news feed is on fire; so, where do we put our energy, where will our care and intervention make a difference? The book is also very much meditation on the body, on gender, violence, and the dynamics of families. These are abiding personal and philosophical obsessions for me, so it doesn’t completely surprise me that the material I eventually shaped into my first book circles around these questions.

2) Your website lists you as both a writer and a graphic artist. Is there one occupation you prefer over the other or are they both compatible in enjoyment for you?

Writing can be a near-transcendent vocation, but it is an absolutely terrible profession. I can think of maybe two or three writers in this country who make a living from literary writing alone. Many teach or work as editors and copywriters, and that can siphon off a lot of your literary juice, depending on your temperament. What I love about being a commercial graphic artist is that it’s creative, but in a completely different way. Even when I act as my own art director, my graphic design projects are in service of someone else’s vision or message, and I like collaborating with clients on that, using my skills and experience to help them represent themselves aesthetically.

 3) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

The major touchstone writers of my literary coming-of-age—for different reasons—are likely JM Coetzee, David Foster Wallace, Marilynne Robinson, and Canadian novelist Michael Helm. Until recently, even my work in poetry has been primarily influenced by prose writers. These are amazing writers, but also not culturally or linguistically representative of the full scope of brilliant stuff that’s available out there. I’ve been diving into the work of contemporary Canadian writers who are relatively new to me this summer: Cherie Dimaline’s story collection, A Gentle Habit (Kegedonce, 2015), and Vivek Shraya’s novel She of the Mountains (Arsenal Pulp, 2014); in addition to Madhur Anand’s Index for Predicting Catastrophes (M&S, 2015), and Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell: poems for a girlhood (Pedlar, 2015), on the poetry front. Then there are recent works by American poets Ocean Vuong, and Jericho Brown, as well as the stunning lyric memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place (Graywolf, 2011), by Binyawanga Wainaina. Wainaina’s book follows his coming-of-age in Kenya, and I had the chance to read it while travelling in Kenya in August—a real treat. I have a lot to learn and discover as a reader and I’m always eager for recommendations.

4) Is there much of a book/reading tour being planned for Kids In Triage? If yes, are there any specific events that you are looking forward?

I’m thrilled to be reading with poet Roxanna Bennet at knife | fork | book, a new Toronto series, on November 3rd [event link: https://knifeforkbook.com/2016/09/11/poets-meet-november-3rd/]. k|f|b is hosted by ever-dynamic reader and curator Jeff Kirby, who has launched a poetry-and-small-press-only bookshop at Rick’s Cafe in Kensington market. You can check out his amazing blog, pictures of the shop, and info about in-store readings on his blog [link: https://knifeforkbook.com/]. I’ll also be in Hamilton, Ontario, at the Lit Live Reading Series [link: http://litlive.blogspot.ca] on December 4th, with friend and fellow Wolsak & Wynn poet, James Lindsay, as well as some other interesting writers across genres.

In the new year I’ll be visiting the Queen’s University undergraduate creative writing program, run by poet Carolyn Smart, and then Carolyn and I will travel from Kingston to Montreal to read together at the Resonance Reading Series [series link: http://www.resonancereadingseries.com] on February 7th. I’m thrilled to be touring with Carolyn; she’s a remarkable poet for her unflinching treatment of violence—as exemplified the brilliant, dark monologues of Hooked, and her new collection Careen, which undercuts the Hollywood treatment of Bonnie & Clyde. The trip is also significant to me because she’s the founder of the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, which I received in 2010, and has continued to be a kind supporter of my work from afar. I’m looking forward to the chance to spend some time together talking about poetry, prose, and Bronwen.

New events are updated regularly on my website: kilbysm.com

 5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I’m a spectacularly slow prose writer, but in the wake of publishing the poetry collection, I’ve doggedly returned to work on my short story manuscript, All Swimmers. I’m hoping to finish a full draft in the spring. The story collection shares many points of intersection with the poetry, so I hope it will be of interest to readers of Kids in Triage when it eventually comes out.

6) You seem to be an active participant on Twitter. How do you feel about the use of social media in relation to promoting your work? Will you be expanding your presence onto Facebook and other social media platforms?

I joined Twitter in the fall of 2015 and I thought I would hate it. But the access to interesting links and current conversations in the community won me over. I’m not sure it’s a very reliable way to promote your own work if you’re not engaged with it at a professional level (i.e. curating regular ‘branded’ content and using platforms like Hootsuite to manage your activity)—but I do think it’s nice to have a record of things you’re interested in, if people want to know more about you. It’s also a quick, friendly way to give a shout out of support and amplify the voices of others. I have no plans to join Facebook, though the pressure from my family is unrelenting.

7) Your bios have you listed as spending a lot of time in the Guelph-Toronto area? Is that where you currently reside? And is there a lot in the way of cultural activities in that area that keep you engaged?

I lived in Guelph for some of my childhood, and I also taught fiction at the University there as part of the Open Learning Program, but Toronto is my home these days. Toronto offers an embarrassment of riches in terms of cultural and literary events. Not-going-out can prove more difficult than going out, but I find it’s important to take time to curl up with my dog and just read or watch TV some evenings. Some of my favourite ongoing lit events happen here, though. I’m a huge fan of the HIJ House Reading Series [link: http://bookthug.ca/hij-house-reading-series/ ] graciously hosted by BookThug publishers Jay and Hazel Millar in their family home. Hazel bakes homemade pie for each installment, which is a pretty amazing feat—so come for the readings and stay for the pie! I also love the Pivot Reading Series [link: https://pivotreadings.ca], which has been run by Sachiko Murakami, and most recently Jake McArthur Mooney, and will be transitioning to a new host in the coming months; it has a great legacy and has showcased writers of all different stripes from across Canada and beyond.

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Link to Wolsak and Wynn’s website for Kids In Triage

 

“Above all I want readers to go outside, so embrace the natural world in whatever way they see fit, and to know that what’s in front of them pales in comparison to centuries past” | Q&A with author Zack Metcalfe

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There is no doubt for many of us that we consider environmental issues very important. But grasping what those issues are specifically can be very difficult for us to define. Zack Metcalfe is a strong believer in the environment and his work in journalism gives him insight into the problems of the world around us. But Metcalfe wants us also to deeply care about the environment too and he uses fiction as a means to explain to us what exactly those concerns are. Metcalfe recently answered a few questions for me about his latest work.

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1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline for “The Sky Was Copper Blue?”

1) This is the story of Madelyn Hathaway, a photographer-for-hire who spends her days covering weddings, birthdays, protests and the like across the Halifax Regional Municipality. She is exceptionally talented, but the monotony of her work drives her to the forests of Nova Scotia in search of creative fulfillment. And she finds it.

Nature photography challenges her and gives her the most important photographs of her career, not because of their quality but because of their contents. From her perch in the municipal park behind her family home, Madelyn rediscovers something lost to Atlantic Canadian wildlife a century before her time.

In many ways this story is about environmental empathy – Madelyn’s frightening realization that other living things are as thinking and feeling as ourselves, and equally entitled to prosperity. Through the lens of her camera, she considers the past and present of non-human life for the very first time, and inherits her share of the guilt for having destroyed so much of it.

2) It has been a only a short while since “Bring Clouds to the Kingdom” was released. Did you encounter any differences when writing the two books? Was there anything specific that inspired you to write “The Sky Was Copper Blue?”

It’s funny that I should write two books at once and finish both in the same week, and they couldn’t have been less alike. All books present their challenges and the last one we discussed, Bring Clouds to the Kingdom, was especially trying for reasons of plot, but The Sky Was Copper Blue took an emotional toll rather than a creative one. I wrote it quickly – perhaps two months start to finish – but it was downright disheartening to get into the mind of my main character. I cried through most of the last chapter, for example. As I admit in the book’s Afterward, at one time or another I’ve felt exactly as Madelyn does. Bring Clouds to the Kingdom, on the other hand, was mostly fun fiction.

 The Sky Was Copper Blue was inspired directly by my first year in Halifax, working full time with the environmental movement and facing the threat of extinction up close. The empathetic awakening endured by Madelyn is modelled on my own experiences from that time; the details are different, of course, but the underlying themes are all borrowed from my life in the city.

3) Is there anything specific you are hoping that “The Sky was Copper Blue” will accomplish? Any particle message you are hoping to get across?

Above all I want readers to go outside, so embrace the natural world in whatever way they see fit, and to know that what’s in front of them pales in comparison to centuries past. We might find beauty outside today, but this planet’s most awesome achievements no longer exist, which is a key theme in this story. It’s a sobering realization and an important one.

I also want to encourage the same empathy discovered by myself and Madelyn. In the book’s dedication, while writing to my goddaughter Amelia Jean Rutherford, I say it best: “Expanding our borders of empathy to include all living things is the most difficult and worthy challenge I can think of. I hope this story helps you accept and overcome this challenge for yourself.”

4) You mentioned in your last Q&A with me (Link) that you were hoping to do some public readings of your works. Have you had a chance yet do that yet?

Neither book was available to me until recently, in bulk, anyway. My copies will hopefully be arriving soon, at which point I’ll begin planning my launches. If my courage holds, I’ll try readings in Halifax, somewhere in southern Nova Scotia and probably Prince Edward Island.

5) So what is next in your publishing career? Are you still working on your novel about resurrection biology?

In recent months my time has been consumed by freelance writing for local publications, which is very rewarding, but whenever possible I continue work on my resurrection novel, yes. It’s been a long time since I’ve worked on anything this lengthy so progress is slow, but I dare say it will make a fine piece of fiction. I don’t expect to finish it until well into next year, so savour these novellas; they’re all I’ll be delivering for a while.

With my last few projects I’ve caught myself building upward, so to speak. I tend to finish one story then write another with the same theme, nurturing it once more with different characters and circumstances. With each new story my core theme gets stronger, taller and better. The Sky Was Copper Blue was my foundation stone and another novella of mine, Things Most Beautiful (unpublished), expanded on the same idea except better, I think. While they’re not sequels by any description, I do think of them as belonging to a series. My resurrection novel is the final installment of that series, as yet untitled.

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Link to Iguana Books webpage for The Sky Was Copper Blue

“I also suspected that large traditional publishers might turn their noses up at a book that appeared to be so “ethnic”. Being Polish hasn’t become cool yet, though every group will have its day sooner or later.” | Q&A with author William Kowalski on using crowdfunding to publish his latest book

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William Kowalski is one of the most detailed writers I know. So I was surprised to see about a month ago that he had launched a Kickstarter Crowdfunding campaign to fund his latest book The Best Polish Restaurant in Buffalo. But before my next paycheck came in in order for me  to help with his book, his campaign goal was reached. So in order to find out more about this book and the campaign, I asked Kowalski to answer a few questions for me – about the book, the campaign, and anything else he was working on. He took time out from a busy schedule to oblige me.

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1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of “The Best Polish Restaurant in Buffalo?”

This story is partly fiction, and partly based on a real person: my great-grandmother. It moves back and forth in time, alternating chapter by chapter,from 1908 through the 20th century to the present day. In the historical chapters, we see a young Polish immigrant, her mother, and her sisters arriving at Ellis Island, making the trip to Buffalo, New York, and joining the throngs of Poles already there. Immediately, they do what everyone else around them is doing: they dig in and try to find some way to get established. In the present-day chapters, we meet their descendants, who are dealing with modern challenges, but who still feel a strong connection to their ancestors. Like many of my books, it has one foot in the past and one foot in the present. It’s about how these two worlds connect, and about what might come next for this family.

2) Was there something specific that inspired or motivated you to write “The Best Polish Restaurant in Buffalo?”

There were several things, but most importantly, I was inspired by my great-grandmother, Amelia.

I knew her fairly well, since she lived to be 98 years old. She passed away when I was 20. She was born in a tiny village in Poland in 1892, and she immigrated to America when she was 16. I was always fascinated by what her life must have been like, but she was never very forthcoming with details. Whenever I asked her about life in Poland, she would claim she didn’t remember. She seemed so incredibly old to me that I had no trouble believing she had simply forgotten ever being a child.

But now that I’m older, I know that our greatest hurts nearly always feel like they just happened yesterday. And the more I learned about what her life must have been like under the Prussian occupation, the more I realized it must have been so awful she preferred not to mention it. All of Poland was suffering during that time, under three simultaneous occupations: by the Prussians, the Russians, and the Austrians. Legally speaking, Poland didn’t even exist when my great-grandmother was born. It was treated by these nations like Tibet is treated now by China. If you buy a globe made in China, you’ll notice that Tibet doesn’t appear on it. Poland had no place on the map, attempts were made to erase its history, and its people were regarded as inferior.

I became even more fascinated when I realized that Amelia had come here with her mother and sisters–but with no men accompanying them. They left her father and brothers behind in Poland, and they never saw them again. In those days, that must have seemed very strange. Normally it was the men who would come over and work until they had saved enough money to send for their families. You did not often see women making such a huge journey on their own. There must have been circumstances behind this. I can guess at what they were, but we will never know for sure.

I wrote this book partly as a tribute to my great-grandmother, and partly because I wanted to get to know her better. I did a lot of research, and I made her world come alive for me.

I wrote it also because I was raised without much of a Polish identity. At this point, after three generations, we’re pretty much just American. I’m fine with that, but I’m still curious. What did it mean to be a Polish-American? I wanted to know more. I’ve explored the Irish side of my heritage, and someday soon I hope to begin exploring the Jewish side, which is a small part of my ancestry I didn’t even know existed until very recently. I have a lot of German background as well. As you can probably guess, this is really just a journey of self-discovery. These people made me who I am. I want to know who they were.

3) You have used a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to help fund self-publishing the book. What inspired you use that format to ‘get the book out’ as opposed to the traditional method of sending a manuscript to a publisher for them to consider printing?

There were a few reasons. Primarily, my experience with traditional publishing lately has been very disappointing. It’s always been a difficult industry, but my last traditionally-published book, THE HUNDRED HEARTS, was abandoned by its Canadian publisher and never found a traditional home in the U.S. at all, even though it won a major award and has been translated into German. So, I’m kind of fed up with the status quo.

I also didn’t feel like dealing with all the waiting and the disappointment that goes along with submitting a manuscript through an agent. It can take years for a book to get published. It might never happen at all. I’ve been down that road too many times. It’s starting to feel like madness. I know how to market this book and who to market it to, and the technology is there for me to do it myself. I don’t need to give up ninety percent of my royalties to make it a success. Maybe I’m being naive, but I think I can bring this book to the tipping point. I wrote it for a broad readership. It’s a very accessible book–it’s far shorter than most of my novels, which I think is a good thing, and it deals in universal themes that anyone can relate to.

I also suspected that large traditional publishers might turn their noses up at a book that appeared to be so “ethnic”. Being Polish hasn’t become cool yet, though every group will have its day sooner or later. It’s funny–I could never reasonably claim that I’ve been the victim of prejudice or racism, because on the surface I’m a white male, and I have benefited enormously from the privilege that accompanies that in our society. But there is still a distinct, if subtle, bias against Polish last names. There are certain assumptions about them, certain stereotypes: the big dumb sloppy Polak, or else maybe Brando’s portrayal of the violent, animalistic Stanley Kowalski, or the jokes about screen doors in submarines. We don’t really associate Polish names with literary fiction. When my first book was published in 1999, a woman I know who worked in publishing told me that if it had come out even a decade earlier, I would have been forced to change my name to something more WASPy sounding. I laughed it off, but at the same time I found it painful.

The Kickstarter campaign occurred to me because I wanted to prepare the manuscript in all the ways a small publisher would, but I’m supporting a family and paying a mortgage, and I just didn’t have the extra money. I wanted to be a to pay an editor and a cover designer, and to have some money for advertising. I knew this would take at least several thousand dollars. I felt like I could raise that if I pre-sold copies of the book, which is essentially how my campaign was presented. I let people know that the book was already written. I think that made a difference. They weren’t subsidizing endless hours of me daydreaming in my bathrobe. They were investing in something that could rightly be considered a cultural commodity, something that had value for them. I also presented it as a new way of publishing, that is, the readers deciding ahead of time what they want to read, rather than having publishers make that decision for them. I’m certainly not the first person to think of that, but for many of my subscribers, this was the first time they had been exposed to that notion, and I think it appealed to them.

4) Am I right in assuming that your Kickstarter campaign was a complete success?Will you now be able to publish the book? (Even publish the book sooner than you expected?)

To my delight, my campaign surpassed my goal by about a thousand dollars. So,yes, I will be able to self-publish the book in the way I had envisioned, hiring a professional editor and cover designer. I’ll record some radio spots and buy some air time in key markets, and I hope I’ll have some left over for internet advertising as well.

I’m allowing plenty of time for the editing and the various design elements to happen because I don’t want anything to be rushed. If the book comes out some weeks earlier than planned, so much the better. I think that’s likely. But there is still a lot to do.

5) You mentioned in a blog post how much Facebook was used to during the campaign. (“I should really call this a KickFace campaign, or some similar portmanteau. https://williamkowalski.com/self-publish-like-pro-part-1/ ) Did that really surprise you? Will you be using Facebook more as opposed to other social-media applications from now on?

I’ve been using Facebook for a long time, but I had assumed that only a small portion of Kickstarter subscribers would find me through it. Boy, was I wrong. As I mentioned in that blog post, nearly all my subscribers came through Facebook, and they were nearly all people I knew. If it wasn’t for Facebook, I have no idea how this would have turned out. Probably not well. Kickstarter will promote certain campaigns itself, but they seem to focus on the really cool, flashy technology ventures. My Twitter campaign was ignored, drowned out in the chaos of the Trump circus and the nine zillion other more important things going on around the world. My posts on other sites were scarcely effective. In the end, it all came together because of Facebook.

6) Most of my fellow readers (and myself) not only enjoy reading books but also getting out and hearing authors speak about their works. Are you planning a tour with “The Best Polish Restaurant in Buffalo” once you get it published? If yes, is that something you plan to pay for yourself?

I think publicity events are going to be crucial. I hate to say this, because I detest touring–I’m really an introvert, and I would prefer to stay home. But once I’m out and about, I enjoy myself. I still have a lot of family in Buffalo, and there are sizable Polish communities there, in my hometown of Erie, PA, and in places like Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Allentown, etc. It’s not that this book will only appeal to Polish-Americans, but they are a logical place to start when it comes to scheduling events. I don’t know if I will visit all these places, or how I’m going to pay for it. But there have been changes in how touring works, too. Sometimes authors will agree to come speak to a group if that group will chip in for a motel room for the night, for example. If you get enough friends together, it costs you very little to have an author spend an evening with you, and it’s a great scenario for the author because he gets to sell books. So, any touring I do will probably follow that sort of a model. I will likely start planning that in the new year. In fact, I already have one event lined up, through a genealogical society in western New York State.

7) You mentioned on your Facebook page that you recently agreed to work with Orca Book to create another book for their “Rapid Reads” series. Are there details about it you can share? (Release date, title, etc?)

Orca has been just fantastic to work with. I’ve recently signed a contract with them for my seventh Rapid Reads, which are books written for adults who simply haven’t learned how to read yet, or who are new to reading English. Illiteracy is a huge problem in our society, but most literate people don’t know that, because people who can’t read tend to be extremely clever at hiding that fact. These books are also good for strong readers who want something fast. They use simple language, but they have strong story lines. This book is called JUMPED IN. It deals with gang life, just as my first Rapid Reads book, THE BARRIO KINGS, did. It also addresses the way young men of color tend to be treated by the police. These books find a wide readership among people who are in our detention systems, and who are still suffering greatly under what could be called “institutionalized racism”, or simply being born into disadvantageous circumstances for cultural reasons. I get a lot of letters from them. For most of them, it’s the first letter they’ve ever written to an author. For some, it’s the first letter they’ve ever written, period. I always write back.

8) Outside of “The Best Polish Restaurant in Buffalo” and your book with Orca, are you working on anything else right now? (If you have time for anything else?) If yes, are there details you care to share?

I seem to be experiencing an explosion of creative energy these days. I have a few ventures going on: I am currently working full-time as an instructional designer, I make and sell dill pickles at KowalskisPickles.com, I run a small web design business at MahoneBayWebDesign.com, and I run a site called My Writing Network at https://mywriting.network, which offers free websites to anyone in writing or publishing who wants one. And yet I’m really just a writer trying to carve out enough time to write.

I have an idea gestating for a novel that feels very big and very complex. It has a murder in it, and also a political revolution. I have no idea when I’m actually going to write it. I’m quite excited about it, though. It’s the thing I think about when I’m caught up in the drudgery of my daily existence, the pillar of fire burning in the night sky that I’m following through the wasteland. I hope to be able to begin it sometime early in the new year.

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Link to William Kowalski’s website

Is There a Guy in All of Us? | Review of “Guy” by Jowita Bydlowska (2016) Wolsak & Wynn

I purchased a copy of this book at the 2016 Toronto Word on the Street festival

Guy

How we interact with people – how we talked to them, how we think about them, whom we consider friends, etc.  – is always an important element for us to consider. Do we ever reflect on our actions and our thoughts anymore in this fast-paced age? Or do we just go from one personal gratification to another without giving a second thought of the people around us. Jowita Bydlowska has written a novel giving us a perspective of a narcissistic male whose only concern is his next sexual encounter. And she has documented that guy well in her book Guy. (And appropriately named him Guy.)

Page 9

The beach is full. It is almost always full this time of day. There are cars parked on the sand, some with their hatchbacks open, sudden buffets of beige and while food – the food of the people who come this beach. The food of people who grow large and soft: children with apathetic eyes, women with chafed thighs, men with rolls of flesh over their hips.

There are Fours and Fives everywhere. Their eyes flick over my face, flick away. Flick back again. I love them for it, but the nerve. It’s the media, the music videos. Every wannabe Britney Spears thinks she is Britney Spears. But if you were to stick the actual Britney Spears on this beach with no handlers? After a few hours she’d be violently pink from the sun, and her thighs would be as chafed as every other girl’s here. Unhandled, she’d be burping up yellow Cheetos. She’d deteriorate from a Seven to a Four just like that.

A Four walks by, looks up from her phone. Small lips, big nose. Small breasts, a belly.

Bydlowska has captured a element of the human condition here. I kept flashing back to the plot of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and while Bydlowska’s Guy is not as ultra violent as Patrick Bateman, he is indeed as vile at times. There is a conceit about him that we all somehow can relate to – we know somebody like that – and in doing so a reader takes time out to pause to consider their realities.

Page 82-83

For my part, I’ve given Dolores a printout with numbers and email addresses that are missing on crucial letter or have the number one instead of a seven and so on.

I know that it’s almost impossible to hide in the world anymore, and that young women like Dolores make online stalking their pastime, but it’s relatively hard to find me out there. Besides, even plain girls who meet princes get distracted – by math, by a boy with a guitar, by becoming passionate about saving pets, etcetera.

I make a nice memory, but my silence makes it quickly obvious that they were right about their instincts that it was too good to be true. And the the fake numbers and so on prove it. There was no mistake.

It would be well enough alone if Guy was just a conceited jerk in his personal affairs but Bydlowdska has given another element of his life for us to consider our realities in. Guy is a talent agent and his attitudes towards women spread to his success in the popular music scene. Are our tastes in popular culture caused by the likes of Guy. Perhaps. And it is frightening to think so.

Page 113

My idea for making the tumour $isi’s thing turns out to be brilliant. Post-tumour, there are TV appearances: morning shows, afternoon shows, even a few evening show appearances. There are a couple of magazine articles. We get interview requests – too many, so we have to start turning them down. $isi has been asked to give advice on everything from how to be at parties to healthy eating to fashion in the bedroom. For the latest release, we rejig the lyrics so that the song has the word grey in it. The ribbon colour for brain tumour is grey. With a nod toward Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” the writer comes up with a title: “Black to Grey.”

Although $isi is on the way to recovery, it’s important to continue with our Thing, to keep giving it a positive spin. Everyone works hard to keep the tumour issue in the public eye.

I have many ideas.

Jowita Bydlowska has truly documented an element of the human condition with her novel Guy. She has given readers pause in their own actions and thoughts about their attitudes towards other people. It is a darkly funny read at times but one that is reflective as well.

*****

Link to Wolsak And Wynn’s webpage for Guy

Link to Jowita Bydlowska’s website

Link to my Q&A with Jowita Bydlowska -“A non-fiction writer reports (creatively or otherwise) from reality, and a fiction writer observes, filters, and interprets the same reality and reports from imagination.”

 

“I grew up in an old church and the windows in my room were green bubble glass. The light would change so dramatically throughout the day. I loved that. I guess that is why I work with light.” | Q&A with Illustrator Elly MacKay

I purchased a copy of Maya at the 2016 Toronto Word on the Street festival

maya

We tend to think of illustration as something involving lines drawn on a piece of paper. But in the case of Elly MacKay’s work, there is something a lot more. She works with light, paper and photography, which creates images that draws anyone in. MacKay recently illustrated the book Maya (which just has become one of a favourite item of people who visit my library) and answered a few questions for me – ‘illustrating’ how she creates her works.

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1) How long did it to create the images in “Maya?” How did you get involved with the book?

 

This book took a little longer than usual. I give myself 4 months for each book I work on. This one was a new way of working. I had to consider how to show 3 different worlds. There is the real world (rooftop with Mama), the story world (stories Mama tells), and the dream world where the two come together. Within the dream world, there are many animals… tigers, elephants, peacocks and monkeys. This was the trickiest of the worlds to create. It starts out scary but through reframing her thoughts, the world becomes peaceful and playful.
I met Karen Boserma at the American Library Association. Along with publishing books for kids, Owlkids publishes Chirp, Chickadee and Owl magazine. I was telling her that my brother was on the cover of Owl back in the 80s. We had a nice chat and when a book came up that needed shadows, Karen and her team thought of my work.

2) How did you get started in illustration?

I took a couple of illustration classes in university. My professor would sometimes give me his overflow work. It was great experience. I did some logo work, editorial illustrations and made an activity book for Nova Scotian kids. I also had a neat job going through the Nova Scotia Archives, picking old lithos that would become covers for historical romance novels.
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Sample page from Maya

3) Are there any illustrators that you admire? If yes, who are they and why do you admire them?

One of my favourites is Stéphane Jorisch . His use of line is so beautiful. Eunsil Chun is another favourite. Her work is at once delicate but also strong.  Her use of
negative space is really what I love, along with her characters. (Link to her website) Julie Morestad for her whimsy and wistfulness. (Link) Isabelle Arsenault for her unique compositions and I’m just in awe of the range she has. (Link) Jon Klassen for his subtle sense of humour and gorgeous, sparse landscapes. (Link) Sydney Smith for his loose linework and muted colours. (Link) Qin Leng for the complexity of her images. Also for her joyfulness. (Link)
Gosh, I could just go on and one with 20 or more names but since I have pretty much named all Canadians here with the exception of Ensil Chun, I’ll leave it.

4) You seem to have a complex technique to the creation of your images – starting with the use of paper to the lighting right up to the photography of the whole illustration. Did it take you long to learn all those skills and bring them all together? Do you have an all-time favourite illustration that you created?

I grew up in an old church and the windows in my room were green bubble glass. The light
would change so dramatically throughout the day. I loved that. I guess that is why I work with light. I’ve always been fascinated with how light changes atmosphere. I guess we are products of our environment… I came to work with paper because my Mom, Joan Irvine wrote books on how to make pop-ups. I was always working away with paper with her or making sculptures in the basement with my potter Dad, Steve Irvine. He is also a photographer. It seems like a strange job I guess, making little things out of light, paper and photographing them but it is just the result of growing up in that home I think. I’ve been making things this way since I was 14 or so.
A favourite one? I suppose From Shore to Shore. You know those places that exist in your dreams that you return to again and again. This, and Between Tides were both created based on a dreamscape of sorts.
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From shore to shore by Elly MacKay. Illustration is a diptych (Two images that work side by side.) Images are linked from Etsy.com

5) How does the public react to your illustrations? Is there any memorable reaction to something you have created you care to share?

I always love showing the process I use to children. We make a little world together and turn out the lights. When I light the theatre, they all get so excited. I love that.

6) Do you get a chance to travel and speak about your work? If yes, is it something you enjoy doing?

Yes, I really love doing school visits and writers festivals. I have a bachelor of education that I don’t get to use, so getting a chance to work with kids is always something I really enjoy.

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The Builders by Elly MacKay. Image linked from her website

7) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I am working on a book called Waltz of the Snowflakes for Running Press right now. It is a wordless picture book that celebrates the colour and life that music and dance can bring to a dreary day. It will be out in Fall 2017. (Link to Running Press’ webpage for Waltz of the Snowflakes) I am also working on one for Tundra that is built from old weather sayings. It is called Red Sky at Night.

8) You seem to have an avid presence on both Facebook and Twitter. How do you like being on those platforms in relation to you work?

I like seeing what others are working on through Twitter and Facebook. Facebook has been great for sharing and getting some feedback too.

9) Your online biography has you listed as living in Owen Sound, Ontario. How do you like living there? Are there any aspects to the Owen Sound region that particularly inspire you in your work?

It is a great place to live. We have rocky beaches, sandy beaches, hiking trails/ski trails, and waterfalls all nearby and a great community of like-minded people here. It has a concert hall that brings in bands, an art gallery, wonderful library, artist co-op and a forest school that just opened. It is also affordable to buy a home here. I feel like the spokesperson for this town… But I really do love it. And yes… This place, especially the land half an hour north of Owen Sound, where I grew up is my constant source of inspiration.

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Leaves Leave by Elly MacKay. Image linked from her website

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Link to Elly MacKay’s WordPress blog

Link to Elly MacKay’s website

Link to OwlKids’ webpage for “Maya”

Link to my Q&A with Maya’s author Mahak Jain -“I wanted to write about a world where animals as different as the peacock, monkey, elephant, tiger, and snake would find themselves gathered around a banyan tree. Maya’s story emerged from that dream.”