Cursed Dishes by Jennifer Lott

I recently enjoyed interviewing Jennifer Lott about her first chapter book. As an early childhood educator, she had insights into writing for children and teaching as well. Cursed Dishes is based on a ‘revenge’ story Lott wrote when she was sixteen about her uncooperative younger sisters. Ten years later this completely reworked version is volume one in the Family Magic series, published by Reality Skimming Press. Told with humour and with illustrations by Doriano Strologo, the story dramatizes conflict between three sisters entangled in a messy little curse.

I hope you find Jennifer’s story inspiring. This was my first Skype author interview and hers as well. Using Skype to connect your classes with authors is free and simple and requires only that you and the author both have a Skype account, and that you ‘add’ each other to your Skype address books. I used a H2N Zoom microphone but most newer computers and laptops come with built-in microphones and cameras that make the process easy. Read Kate Messner’s article in School Library Journal for more information about setting up Skype for author visits. You can also read up about it on the Skype website.

Urban Green Man Online Book Launch, Can-Con Readings and NaNoWriMo Panel

I will be reading a published story “Wild Caving” and my poem “Fallow God” from the Urban Green Man Anthology at Can-Con (Spec Fic Convention) in Ottawa, Canada on Oct 5-6. If you plan to attend, I will also be involved in the NaNoWriMo panel. I hope to see you there!

 EDGE is holding an online book launch for the Urban Green Man Anthology starting October 2 at noon (CST). Go to Oct. 2-3 and interact with the authors online. I’m going to try to log in around 3 pm CST each day. What time is that in your city? Here is a link to a time and date converter

This should be great fun for readers who can interact with authors from all over. If you have always wanted to try an online book launch, I think it would be interesting to drop in and see how it’s done. 

Take care and happy reading,


Lena Coakley’s Witchlanders & WCDR Contest update

I attended the WCDR breakfast meeting this morning. Speaker Lena Coakley was excellent, laying out the seven things she wished she had known about story, before she published her first novel. Lena is the author of Witchlanders, a high fantasy YA novel.
Some of her tips were:
  1. Learn about plot from screenwriters
  2. Know what your protagonist wants before you start to write
  3. Yearning must escalate in the protagonist as the story progresses
  4. Stories need to have different but linked character arcs and plot arcs
  5. Have your protagonist ‘save the bunny’ early in the story (perform some action to make readers like him or her)
  6. Mind the gap, ensuring reader expectations and character challenges are always worse and more interesting than they originally appear
  7. Use the objective correlative like a screen writer (the environment mirrors inner feelings)
This list is just a glimpse of Lena’s ideas which were supported by anecdotes and examples from authors as varied as Charlotte Bronte, Garth Nix, Aristotle and Terry Pratchett. If you get a chance to hear Lena speak, you won’t regret it.

Breakfast, with a side of suspense

While waiting for Lena to speak, we were served smoked salmon eggs Benedict, a delicious combination I could not eat. Why? They started naming finalists in the WCDR Amprosia contest. As my breakfast cooled, they called the final eight names, very slowly. I was sure I was ‘out’ when they said one last name, at the end of the alphabet: Maaja Wentz.
My story, “Wild Caving,” moves on to the final round, judged by acclaimed novelist Terry Fallis. Honourable mentions as well as prize winners will be announced at the March 16 breakfast meeting. I wonder if I can stand the suspense?

Ditch by Hal Niedzviecki

Last week I finished reading Ditch, by Hal Niedzviecki. There is an excellent review of it (“The harrowing of Hal,” by Kevin Bolger, The Globe and Mail, September 8, 2001) on Niedzviecki’s own home page: Smell I have to agree with much that is said here.

  • The matieral (Debs a porn queen and her “Daddy’s” internet porn oufit) are sensational
  • Niedzviecki’s prose is literary and his treatment of the material not especially titillating
  • The main character is a dead-end, delivery truck driving virgin who lives with his mother
  • The mild back cover copy is misleading. This is a book some will find offensive.
  • This book works as a thriller, with a rush to the climax that begins when the porn queen convinces 23-year-old Ditch to cash in his savings, steal a delivery van and take her home over the U.S. border
  • There is a lot of ambiguity as to whether “Daddy,” is a murderer or whether Debs is

I was much less impressed by this novel than Bolger, perhaps because of the characters. Neither of the viewpoint characters has a vivid emotional life. Ditch and Debs seem dead to the emotions of others. I found it difficult to enjoy living in Ditch’s head, because he manoeuvres so clumsily in human society. Debs is emotionally damaged yet too predatory to elicit sympathy.

To enjoy a well-written novel, I don’t need to like the characters or to identify with them. What I do need is to enjoy seeing things from their point-of-view. In this case, the point-of-view was so limiting as to be suffocating. In a way this is a tour de force — but I had to force myself to finish the book.

While I was reading I kept wondering why Niedzviecki puts his readers into the heads of the emotionally disabled and emotionally damaged. If there is moral intent behind this book, perhaps this answers my question. Could it be that we are supposed to feel empathy for Ditch and Debs, who have never felt it themselves? Perhaps Niedzviecki wanted to explore the emptiness of porn? Maybe he wanted to impress us with his prose style and distress us with the content. I hope it was not just sensationalism for sensationalism’s sake. I get so bored of that, just as I get bored of a book in which the characters leave me cold.

Lest We Forget

Last week my students did an excellent series of tableaux to the tune of A Pittance of Time by Canadian singer Terry Kelly. It’s a touching video based on a true story which you can easily find on YouTube. Here’s a link: A Pittance of Time.

I continue to be impressed by the maturity and creativity of my grade 8 class this year. I really am very lucky and know I will miss them when they graduate.

Now Listening — The Secrets Podcast

Yesterday I got through 60 pages of editing. This includes some new writing and lots of rewriting so I am very pleased with myself. I’m just sorry so many shortbread cookies had to sacrifice themselves in support of my work…

Currently I am reading Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. It’s another of those slightly cheesy but also very useful writing books from Writers’ Digest. If there is something I need help with it’s structuring the plot of my novel.

I am also compulsively listening to The Secrets Podcast, done by Michael A. Stackpole. Stackpole is a genre writer, possibly most famous for his Star Wars novels. I haven’t read a thing by him so far but his advice on structuring novels and weaving subplots is specific and useful. If this sounds like your thing, check him out at

New Features

I have added a new feature to this blog called “This Day in History.” I have also moved the “Match Up” game onto the sidebar. I can’t help playing every time I log on. Now I can do so without scrolling to the bottom, and so can you.

Happy reading.

Giller Prize Short List

The Giller prize short list is out. There are ballots in Canadian public libraries so your can enter their annual “Guess the Giller” contest. Lotus gives you the rundown better than I could.

Writing Group

Tomorrow night I’m off to a new writers’ critique circle. The group is over a year old and comes highly recommended. I had to submit a piece and be chosen from a field of ??? In any case, it will be great to belong to a small writers’ circle again. I’ve belonged to some interesting groups over the years…

  • The ‘gay positive’ group that met in the Xtra offices. (How was I to know that ‘gay positive’ meant I’d be the only straight person in the room?)
  • The writing circle for novelists and short story writers lead by a young mom who edited for Harlequin but disparaged romance novels
  • I’ve also paid (well-spent) money on workshop courses in film writing and writing for children.

I get grumpy when I’m not writing so I might as well inflict my imagination on others who share my vice.

Happy reading.

lullibies for little criminals

Lullabies for Little Criminals is unique. For days I’ve been trying to decide how to approach this review. If I outlined the plot, you would think it’s depressing. It isn’t. It’s a charming, hopeful tale about a motherless thirteen-year-old with an immature, heroin-addicted dad. It’s also about childhood’s irrepressible happiness. I’ve never read a story about street kids this authentic, this unromantic.

Heather O’Neill’s brilliant, resilient little protagonist, Baby, is an oasis of hope and normality in Montreal’s underbelly, a dangerous underworld that exists, unseen and unnoticed, right beside the safe, child-centred world of the middle-class. This is nothing like “the street” as depicted by Hollywood. It’s too familiar and therefore much worse.

Baby tells her story with such a fresh voice that you are compelled to read on, though you dread each twist and turn. Hers is the inevitable tragedy when a young tween can only get love and shelter from the local pimp. Tawdry stuff, you think. I know how this will end, you think. You don’t.

I’ll be looking for more by Heather O’Neill. She has already won the 2007 CBC Radio Canada Reads award for this book. I’d nominate her for a Governor General’s Award as well.

Word on the Street – Favorite Book Clips

This year the weather was perfect for Word on the Street. The crowds were thronging, children were laughing, musicians were playing… My only complaint is I couldn’t do it all.

I bought magazines and books, met lots of nice people who publish literary journals and even wrote an impromptu poem. I also went book-buying bananas! Scholastic had lots of deals, including books in French at giveaway prices. I bought some books from big publishers but saved most of my money for lit journals. I can buy from big names any day.

I regret not spending more time meeting authors. This year I didn’t get even one autograph. There just wasn’t time once I discovered the Humber School for Writers was offering free workshops. I once took their nine-month novel-writing correspondence course with Sandra Birdsell. It was a fabulous experience, although the novel I was working on was too ambitious for my skill level at the time. It now lives in a drawer, many times rewritten but not yet to my satisfaction.

This week, watch for upcoming articles on two writing workshops I attended in the Wordshop Marquee. Richard Scrimger (author of The Nose From Jupiter) told us “Everything You Need to Know About Writing for Children and Young Adults,” while Kim Moritsugu (author of Looks Perfect) told us how she “Beat the Odds and Became a Published Author.” The content of their talks was even more amusing than the titles.

As last year, I asked people at Word on the Street to name their favorite book. I began by asking for modern authors this year, but a few reading recommendations prior to WWI found their way into the list. I hope you find a new favorite here…

I will post more interviews and news from Word on the Street soon. Tonight my mark book is calling me and I must work.

Happy reading.