Monthly Archives: April 2017

“Mom was a single parent in the 1950s — easily the bravest, strongest, most resourceful person I’ve ever met — and her unconditional love for me inspired the bond between Granny and Zoe” | Q&A with Author Allan Stratton on his new book ‘The Way Back Home’

It is almost a sin to muddle my thoughts with the words of Allan Stratton. He is truly a writer that crafts his work about the human condition, and his latest book is certainly one that deals with a reality that many of us are familiar with. Allan was kind enough to enlighten me about his new work The Way Back Home by answering a few questions for me here. The book is being released on May 9, 2017.

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1) First off, could you give me a bit of an outline for “The Way Back Home” and news about its release?

THE WAY BACK HOME is about Zoe Bird, a troubled girl whose one true friend is her Granny, now suffering from Alzheimers’. When Zoe’s parents place Granny in a nursing home against her will, Zoe springs her and together they set off on a road trip to find Zoe’s missing uncle —  an uncle whom Zoe had thought was dead, but who is alive and Granny’s last hope.

It’s out the first of May in Canada and the UK. New year it’ll be out in translation in Italy, Poland and France, with a separate French translation for Quebec. Arrangements in other countries are in the works.

2) How long did it take you to write “The Way Back Home?”

The first draft took nine months, which is appropriate as I consider my books my ‘brain babies.’ It went through a couple of significant draft revisions over eight months. That’s longer than usual but I was distracted by a lot of travel for foreign editions of “The Dogs”: Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, Rimini, Mantua, Krakow, Prague, New York and San Francisco. I wish all my problems were so much fun.

3) Was there anything specific that inspired you want to write this book?

Yes. My mom. She had Alzheimer’s and is very much the inspiration for Granny. Mom was a single parent in the 1950s — easily the bravest, strongest, most resourceful person I’ve ever met — and her unconditional love for me inspired the bond between Granny and Zoe.

This précis of Mom’s life may give you some idea of her achievements. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, she broke a lot of glass ceilings for women: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/thestar/obituary.aspx?n=dorothy-annabelle-stratton-mcphedran-avis&pid=155313009

4) No doubt you are busy with the release of this book, but I would be severely “chewed out” by my followers and your fans if I didn’t ask you if you are doing any public readings or events of any of your works. If yes, are there any specific dates you are looking forward to attending?

I’m doing the “Junction Reads” reading series in Toronto end of April (Link Here) and will be in Saskatchewan in May. In September, I’m going to be at the Thin Air Festival in Winnipeg. (Link Here) I’ll know if there are other fall festivals in the next few weeks. School and library visits come up as they come up. These days, blogs like yours, social media and Skype visits are the major way to get the word out.

5) So I think I have miscounted so I will ask you directly – How many novels have you had published now? Has your writing changed with “The Way Back Home” since your first novel? If yes, how so?

I’ve written ten novels, two of which were specifically for adults, two specifically for ages 9 – 13, and the others, like this “The Way Back Home”, from Middle Grade through adult. In the 1980s I wrote plays; that’s what I was originally known for; one of them, “Nurse Jane Goes to Hawaii” has been running in rep in Warsaw, Poland for just over a year now. I also wrote two stage adaptations and a couple of one-act radio plays.

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“My only time in a tux, imagining myself in a Cole Porter musical”  – Allan Stratton

 

6) Many of my followers always look for a way to interact with the authors they read. You have launched a new website and have an active presence on Facebook. Is interacting on the internet with fans something you enjoy?

Absolutely. I make it a point to answer every email I get. Anyone can reach me at http://www.allanstratton.com

7) You seem to be an avid traveler and your fans seem to enjoy hearing about your journeys. Are you planning any new and exciting personal trips in the near future?

I am an avid traveler. You can see a slideshow of shots of some of my travels at my website, under “About Allan”, but this year I’m planning to stay in Canada, aside from a couple of trips this winter to favourite haunts in Cuba (Sol Cayo Largo for being Robinson Crusoe-esque – you can walk the shore for hours without seeing anyone — and Paradisus de Oro for its terrific from-shore snorkel reefs).

The reason for staying is that my husband and I bought a cottage in northern Quebec which we renovated last summer. I never thought I’d be into that, but hey. We’ll be there for five months: loons swim by the deck; there are rabbits and bears; Northern Lights; and moose mating calls in the fall.

For readers interested in travel tips beyond Europe and the Caribbean: In South America, I’d suggest Argentina (Iguazu Falls, Buenos Aires and Salta especially) and Chile (from the Andes through the lake district and down to the penguins in Patagonia). Peru has some obvious highlights (Machu Picchu and Colca Canyon), but I’d see it after those.

Of the five countries I’ve visited in subSahara, I’d recommend Botswana hands down. It’s by far the safest and Chobe and Linyata National Parks are astonishing.

In Asia, I’d recommend China over Vietnam or Thailand, but Cambodia’s Siem Reap area over all of them: Angor Watt is truly out of this world.

I loved travelling in north Africa and the Middle East (Jordan’s Petra is up there with Angor Watt, and snorkeling in the Red Sea at Aqaba is a must). I also loved loved loved Egypt, but I don’t think I’d go now. Jerusalem is wonderful for the richness of its history, but it has a hard, unfriendly feel – Tel Aviv, on the other hand, is totally relaxed and welcoming.

One country I haven’t spent any time in is Portugal. So I want to get there and also back to southern Spain. I would have loved to go to St. Petersburg, but with Russia’s leadership in global anti-LGBTQ attacks, there’s just no way.

Gosh, I could go on and on, but… yes, travel is a passion.

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Allan Stratton signing copies of “Chanda’s Secrets” at the Vietnam Book Fair in Ho Chi Minh City

Hey, thanks for the interview! It’s been fun.

Thanks for answering these questions Allan!

*****

Link to Scholastic Canada’s website for “The Way Back Home”

Link to Allan Stratton’s website

When Embellishment becomes Enlightenment | Review of “Men Walking on Water” by Emily Schultz (2017) Alfred A. Knopf Canada

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‘Embellishment’ is not totally the nasty term that it is stereotypically made out to be. When a talented writer adds bits and pieces to historical facts in a well-crafted fashion, a great story is born. Then, if that writer adds a few interesting characters and some perfect dialog, that story turns into a great read. That is what proper ’embellishment’ does and that is exactly what Emily Schultz has done with her book Men Walking on Water.

Page 3

The man who connected them wasn’t a man anymore, but a body, hidden deep beneath the green ice of the Detroit River. The group of rumrunners huddled on the shore, consulting on what had just happened. All knew the doors of the old Ford had been removed for ease of exit in exactly this circumstance, yet apparently Alfred Moss still sat inside. The Doctor claimed to have seen the car go under and no one had seen the driver since.

Moss was dead: to begin with. “There is no doubt whatever about that,” the Doctor said.

For many of us who grew up in either Michigan or Ontario, we have heard certain long tales over and over agin. Yes, there was a prohibition of sale of alcohol at one point and the there was a flurry of all sorts of colourful characters who dealt in the distribution and selling of ‘booze.’ But Schultz has added a bit of flavour to those stories here. We start out with the story of a man and a loaded car filled with illegal whiskey and money crashing through the ice of a river. Out of that incident, a cast of characters emerge that are drastically affected by incident.

Pages 30-31

There was a light on in the back, and although the drive was empty, a blue Packard parked on the street two doors over let Ernest Krim know what he would find: Elsie Moss was awake, but not alone. Moss had intimated as much – several times, in colorful language – but Krim hated to believe the worst of anyone, especially, a woman.

It was nearly three thirty. He approached the house slowly. The first lie had been harder than Krim had imagined. All eyes had been on him – Bunterbart’s and Zuckerwitz’s and Samuel’s and Bob Murphy’s as well as the others’. They all took it more personally than he’d anticipated, but especially the boy, Willie Lynch, who looked as though someone had put a shot right through his gut. Krim couldn’t recall the last time he’d lied – maybe during the war to his officer, or to his mother – but he hadn’t remembered it being so damn hard. The words had felt like little stones on his tongue. Three thousand, Moss had promised him, and he’d wire it. the idea of money moving like electricity made it seem hot and unreal, something only a fool would touch. Krim realized he should have asked for cash, that a part of him had hoped to find Moss at the train station for that reason. He ought to have haggled for five, or even the full ten Moss said he was taking. But he was a friend.

This book is an epic written in 1920s jargon. We slide in and out of characters’ thoughts and emotions while witnessing their actions with ease. Schultz does a great job of showing the duality of the nature of the character at times. We get a true understanding of a character’s intent even if their spoken words and actions appear sincere.

Page 68

“He must like you, reverend,” Elsie said, her tone more defeated than pleased, though she straightened up inside her coat and held the baby out to show a certain amount of pride.

It had been a long time since they’d seen each other. Prangley noticed Elsie’s face growing pink. Her hand inched up to check her hair and push the gold curls around. The reverend smiled, the divot in his upper lip pressing in, deepening into a flat gray dime shape. He could see she was recalling how she’d thrown herself at him, years ago. A floozy who’d turned afraid at the last minute – he couldn’t think of a worse type. She would do fine without her husband; he’d wager hard cash on the fact that she would find another within the year. Prangley reached out and poked at the baby’s blankets, feigning interest. the tiny boy caught his finger in its fist.

“What’s his name? Are you here to arrange the christening?” Prangley knew better than to glance at Elsie. Lies were easy to discern in a gaze but difficult to catch from the tone of voice. “Yeeesss, yeeesss,” he cooed at the homely thing. Its face was wrinkled and red as coral. “You’re a strong boy, aren’t you? Nice and strong.”

Emily Schultz has embellished strong elements into a history lesson with her book Men Walking on Water. Not only do readers get true understanding of the period but an glimpse into the natures of people. A true work of literature.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for Men Walking on Water

Link to Emily Schultz’s website

Link to my Q&A with Emily Schultz – “It’s funny how families sometimes repress their best tales. From there, I began to spin a yarn about a rumrunner.”

A Picture Book which truly Enlightens | Review of “Town Is by the Sea.” Written by Joanne Schwartz and Illustrated by Sydney Smith (2017) Groundwood Books

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The beauty of any book occurs when it documents a common theme to a reader while being set in an unique locale. A reader empathizes with the central character while learning about the location, which is simply why many of us enjoy reading and looking at books. And that is exactly what occurs when one looks at Town Is by the Sea written by Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Sydney Smith.

When I wake up, it goes like this –

first I hear the seagulls, then I hear a dog barking,

a car goes by on the shore road, someone slams a

door and yells good morning.

And along the road, lupine and Queen Anne’s lace

rustle in the wind.

First thing I see when I look

out the window is the sea.

And I know my father is already deep

down under that sea, digging for coal.

I love the feeling this perfect mix of illustrations and words give this book. The story deals with a young boy going through his busy day on a coastal village yet mindful of his father’s hard work digging for coal deep under the sea. Schwartz’s words are poetic and lyrical while Smith’s illustrations are profound yet simple. Flipping through this book is an enlightening experience for any reader of any age.

 

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“From my house, I can see the sea.” Illustration by Sydney Smith

This is a work that is simply well-crafted. It, no doubt, took time, care and planning to bring this volume together. And it works well. It enlightens while it simply engages a reader. Worthy of anybody’s few moments in a quiet corner to reflect over.

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“My father is a miner and he works under the sea, deep down in the coal mines.” Illustration by Sydney Smith

While this book may take place in a different time and place for many of us, it helps us understand a small section of the human condition a bit better. We relate to the little boy’s experience but we gain a simple understanding of what his father’s role was at that time. Enlightenment comes easy with this book.

Author’s Note

If you were a boy in the mining towns of Cape Breton – or, indeed, a child in any mining town in the world – during the late 1800s and early 1900s, you might well have faced the prospect of going to work in the mines at the young age of nine or ten, enduring twelve-hour days in the harsh, dangerous and dark reality underground. Decades later, the life of these towns still revolved around the mines. Even into the 1950s, around the time when this story takes place, boys of high-school age, carrying on the traditions of their fathers and grandfathers, continued to see their future working in the mines.

This was the legacy of a mining town.

Town Is by the Sea is a great example of a great piece of literature, even though it is a ‘picture book.’ Joanne Schwartz’s words blend well together with Sydney Smith’s illustration to tell a unique story.

*****

Link to Groundwood Books/House of Anansi’s website for Town Is by the Sea.

Link to Sydney Smith’s tumblr “Sketchbook”

Going Beyond Reading about Reading | Review of “Gutenberg’s Fingerprint: Paper, Pixels and the Lasting Impression of Books” by Merilyn Simonds (2017) ECW Press

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We have all ponder over the fact that the way we read has changed in the past number of years. The arguments ranging from the “feel of the printed pages” to “the speed of which content comes to me digitally” has bombarded numerous discourses for the last little while causing more confusion among us. But it has taken a writer like Merilyn Simonds to thoughtfully and personally investigate the way books are published and consumed to give us readers some personal points into the craft to help us understand better the activity many of us enjoy so much. Hence, Gutenberg’s Fingerprint: Paper, Pixels and the Lasting Impression of Books is one of those reads that is worth not only reading but pondering over.

A Paper World Pages 17, 18

My sons and I belong to the last two generations to grow up in an entirely paper world. The first words we read were pressed into paper. By the time I was thirty, I was writing on a computer; by the time my sons were adolescents, most of what they read was onscreen. But our first books, both theirs and mine, were printed much as Johannes Gutenburg printed books six centuries before.

*****

We’re caught in a paradigm shift. Words are the constant, with paper on one shore, pixels on the other. My sons and I stand in the middle, a foot balanced on either side. My parents would never have believed that a world without paper was possible. My grandchildren will never fully grasp the extent to which paper served us all we wanted and needed to know. I have walled every room in my house with books; my granddaughter can hold more books than that in just one hand.

Simonds has mixed a perfect book together here no matter what format a reader uses to absorb this work. In it, she talks about the process of producing one of her works in both print format (in collaboration with Kingston, Canada printer Hugh Barclay) and a digital edition (with her son Erik). This book documents not only her honest observations with working with both people on this book but also adds historical facts on the history of reading habits and publishing.

A Puzzling of Pixels Page 57-58

I wonder if the intangibility of onscreen text plays a role, too in the paper/pixel preference game. I’ve suffered enough computer crises to know that digital storage is not to be trusted. I now keep backups of my backups. Paper may be fragile, subject to tearing and rot and spilled coffee, but printing words on paper is like carving them in stone compared to the ephemeral world of pixels, where words can disappear from epaper as if written in invisible ink.

For whatever reason, after almost fifty years of digital innovation, physical paper remains the gold standard. Engineers, designers, and user-interface experts are engaged not in invention but in technological mimicry, working hard to make reading on an ereader or tablet as close to reading on paper as possible. The Kindle screen looks like a page in a paperback. iBooks includes fairly realistic page-turning. Both of thew will seem like square wheels if South Korea’s KAIST Institute of Information Technology Convergence perfects its interface that will allow a reader to see already-read pages on the left and unread pages on the right, exactly like a paper book.

But the question remains: why are scientists working so hard to make plastic screens exactly like paper? Can’t we have both – eat our cake and pie, too? Paper is lovely to touch; screens are workhorses at scrolling and searching and ferrying volumes across oceans and continents.

I want both.

Simonds’ thoughts here go off into wonderful tangents at times, which truly reflect the thoughts and wants of true book fans. This book is a reflection of what many of us think and want from our reading materials right now without being too scientific or deeply philosophical.

Into The Hellbox pages 147-148

I set a few more lines, but I am too slow for Hugh. He fires me, which is a relief. I can spend hours at the computer happily inserting a comma and taking it out, but to pick out the letters physically, whether for practical reasons of spacing or because Stupid Merilyn has been at it again, drives me to distraction.

Hugh carries on until all four chases are locked up, or down, I forget which. Every so often he sends me an email, complaining that I use too many commas, or have such an affection for H’s that he has been forced to buy more.

“What happens next?” I ask when I see the four chases lined up neatly on the glass. The studio has always struck me as dirty and disorganized, but the better I get to know Hugh, and the closer I look, the more I see a different kind of order, measured and controlled, exerted by the process itself.

“Now I print,” says Hugh. “I don’t have enough type to set more pages.”

Merilyn Simonds has truly given a collection of  thoughts to ponder over in her book Gutenberg’s Fingerprint: Paper, Pixels and the Last Impression of Books. This is one of those books I sincerely encourage readers to take their time with and reflect over while perusing the pages.

*****

Link to Merilyn Simonds’ website

Link to ECW Press’ website for Gutenberg’s Fingerprint

(I had the pleasure of purchasing this book at Ben McNally’s Books in Toronto recently)

(M)y books often explore how writing and creativity give my characters tools to deal with the world | Q&A with author Alice Kuipers on her novel “Me (and) Me”

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Alice Kuipers is a very popular author of Young Adult fiction and one of good merit.  Her newest book  –  Me (and) Me –  is already garnishing praises on from all manners of readers and bringing new fans to her works. Kuipers was kind enough to answer a few questions for me and include me in her blog tour of her new book.

*****

1) First off, could you give an outline of the plot of Me (and) Me?

Hi there. Thanks for interviewing me! The description of Me (and) Me from my website is this: It’s Lark’s seventeenth birthday, and although she’s hated to be reminded of the day ever since her mom’s death three years ago, it’s off to a great start. Lark has written a killer song to perform with her band, the weather is stunning and she’s got a date with gorgeous Alec. The two take a canoe out on the lake, and everything is perfect—until Lark hears the screams. Annabelle, a little girl she used to babysit, is drowning in the nearby reeds while Annabelle’s mom tries desperately to reach her. Lark and Alec are closer, and they both dive in. But Alec hits his head on a rock in the water and begins to flail.

Alec and Annabelle are drowning. And Lark can save only one of them.

Lark chooses, and in that moment her world splits into two distinct lives. She must live with the consequences of both choices. As Lark finds herself going down more than one path, she has to decide: Which life is the right one?

That gives the opening. After that the book is structured around both of Lark’s lives as she tries to figure out how to put her life back together again. Each choice has good things and bad things about it—but Lark spends the book encountering glimpses of the life she isn’t leading and that sends her into a tailspin. I’m not sure how much to say without spoiling the story!

2) Was there anything that inspired to write this book? (If yes, what was it?) Is there anything you are hoping the book will accomplish?

I started writing this book when I was eighteen, but I had a whole different set of characters and ideas at the time. Suddenly, about three years ago, the character of Lark came to me and from there, the ideas from the unpublished book I wrote when I was eighteen realigned. As to what I hope the book will accomplish, well, that’s an interesting question. I don’t really think while I’m writing the book about anything other than the story. And then when a book goes into the world, I let it go. A book is a co-creation between the author and the reader, so, if anything, I hope that I’ve given the reader a lot of room in the story to bring their own ideas and imagination. I hope the story becomes the living, breathing thing it was for me when I wrote it.

3) Your website lists this book as your seventh published book. Has your writing change since you began writing? If yes, how so?

My writing has changed because when I first started writing I had no idea what I was doing. I had to spend a lot of time reading books on grammar and studying writing to be able to write the ideas in my head—that’s why the first time I tried to write this book, it didn’t ever get read by anyone else. I just didn’t even know how to punctuate speech correctly (to be fair, that is hard!) My first published book was at least my sixth attempt at writing a completed novel. And then during the editorial process for each of my published books I learnt so much about writing that I felt like a beginner all over again. As a writer now, I am more confident sentence by sentence, but I find it very hard to create a whole book—and that’s what stimulates me as a writer too—the challenge.

But thematically, my books often explore how writing and creativity give my characters tools to deal with the world. Lark is a singer-songwriter and she uses her songs to help her deal with her new, crazy life. That part was really fun to write.

4) Are you planning a book tour or any public readings of Me (and) Me? If yes, are there any particular events or dates you are looking forward to? Are public readings something you enjoy participating in?

This blog tour is a great way for me to share the book with readers, along with public events and readings. I have four small children so I try to do a lot of publicity from my couch—but I’m looking forward to the Literacy For Life Conference in Saskatoon (Link here) on May 1st and 2nd, when I’ll share the book with 2000 local students. The Festival of Words in Moose Jaw (Link here) is going to be great fun too—me, plus the children, plus my partner (Yann Martel) who is a writer too, plus the spa in Moose Jaw, plus a lot of eager readers and writers! I do enjoy doing events but they make me a little nervous. Speaking to a big group of people can be intimidating, until I remember that I am not talking about me but about my books. And hopefully I’m giving the people I’m speaking to some ideas about writing that are useful for them, too.

5) You seem to be active on numerous social-media sites. How do you like using those sites in relation to your writing? Is there one platform (like Facebook or Twitter) you enjoy hearing from fans of your work?

I love hearing from readers and I think as an author for teens it’s a good way for them to reach out to me. I enjoy being active on social media—it’s a fun way to procrastinate and connect with a bigger world. (Link to Alice Kuipers’ Twitter account) (Link to Alice Kuipers’ Facebook account) Writing involves me tuning out of the world—I am alone with my thoughts and my books. Social media opens the world up so that I can hear from readers and writers about the books and stories that spark their worlds. I like all of the platforms that I use, but my current favourite is Instagram where I regularly post writing prompts for people.

6) You have a program on the internet called Freeflow: A Writing Journey in which you have had budding writers learn skills on how to write? How has that been working out?

That course is free for anyone who signs up to my newsletter and it has a lot of people working through it online. I also have a course with Children’s Book Insider (Link Here) called Chapter Book Blueprint that has been a lot of fun too. I love working on online courses as, again, I’m reaching out from my sofa. It means I can share my ideas about writing with other writers, but then turn to my bouncy children (who are all under the age of eight) and spend a lot of time with them too. I can work around their schedules.

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

Yes, I’m always working on something new. Right now, I’ve been working on a YA novel about a girl who claims to be from the future, and a YA memoir about travelling around the world with panic disorder when I was eighteen. I’ve also got a chapter book series upcoming with Chronicle Press, which is exciting. The first book comes out in 2018. It’s called Polly Diamond.

8) Your biography on your website lists you as living in Saskatoon. How do you like living there? Are there any cultural institutions or landmarks there that you enjoy that help you with your writing?

I’ve been living in Saskatoon for thirteen years now and we have a good life here. The children go to a great school, we have a close community of friends, and we enjoy everything the city has to offer. The winters are a bit long for me, but I’ve learned to cross-country ski, which helps. This year we did a lot of ice-skating too. Saskatoon influences my writing, absolutely. Walking by the river seems to come up for my characters in all of my books now, based on my walks along the Meewasin Valley Trails.  (Link here) I also enjoy Living Sky Café (Link here) in the old Mendel Art Gallery space, and The Children’s Discovery Museum (Link here) is a great place to hang out with the kids and get ideas for stories. I spend a lot of time at my children’s school at the moment—meeting with kids and talking about writing with them seems to help me with my own writing a lot too. And then I go to D’Lish regularly (Link here)—which is the name of the café in Me (and) Me.

*****

Link to Harper Collins Canada’s website for Me (And) Me

Link to Alice Kuipers’ website

 

 

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