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Once again, I have let time pass! I am writing this final entry on my news page from a lovely office at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George. I’ll be here for the next four months as Writer in Residence, and I’m very excited about spending some time in this part of my province. I’ve decided that this residency provides the perfect opportunity to take a step I have contemplated for some time.
I am going to start a blog.
Here is my commitment: By the end of the first week of September, my first blog entry will be posted, and after that I will post at least once a week for the duration of this residency. There. Now I’ve backed myself into a corner from which there is no escaping, which is one of my best strategies for getting things done, especially things of which I am a bit leery.
Check back on September 7 to see if I am as good as my word.
It’s kind of encouraging going back and reading where I was at a year-and-a-half ago, when I last wrote here, even though I wish I would keep this website more up to date. Fraser Bear: a Cub’s Life came out almost a year ago, and I have been having lots of fun with it. I drove from the mouth of the Fraser River to its headwaters last May, doing talks, dropping in on bookstores, exploring and promoting my new book.
Then, in the summer, my teen novel set in the last winter of the Second World War in the Netherlands, Hunger Journeys, was published. I was honoured to be invited to launch it at Joy Kogawa House, Joy Kogawa’s home here in Vancouver, which Joy and her family were forced to leave during the war when Japanese Canadians were interned. It is now a centre for residencies and literary events. (A few weeks ago, dozens of people gathered to festoon the cherry tree in the back lane in knitted cherry blossoms. Fire fighters draped blossoms high in the tree from atop the ladder on their truck. Joy Kogawa House is a very special place!)
And two weeks ago, I received author copies of my new book Somebody’s Girl, which I called Nobody’s Girl in my last entry here. I am very excited to be published by Orca Book Publishers again, and, along with Somebody’s Girl, they have brought Chance and the Butterfly back into print. Chance has a special place in my heart, which is why you will find him in Somebody’s Girl as well. Who knows? Maybe he’ll show up in another book down the road. Susin Nielsen gives characters cameos; perhaps I will follow her example.
I mentioned Rabbit Ears in my last entry here, the teen novel that I am now working on. I have written the beginning, but it has been slow going. I have set aside May to December of this year to complete a draft. The next time I report to you, it shall be done! I was pleased to discover one day when I sat down to write that the story starts out on Hornby Island, one of my favourite places. Maybe I’ll have to go on a research trip…
I have one new project to report: Big City Bees. Bees are disappearing around the world, and we depend on them for a large part of our food supply. Sobering news. As a result of growing awareness about bees, the bylaws in Vancouver were changed to allow beekeeping within the city limits. Big City Bees is a picture book—illustrated by Renné Benoit who illustrated my other two animal stories, and to be published by Greystone (Fall, 2012)—that tells the story of a hive of bees on the terrace of a downtown hotel and two children from Vancouver’s inner city who plant pumpkin seeds and wait, worried that bees will not come to pollinate the flowers. No bees: no pumpkins. I am happy to report that they are rewarded for their efforts and their patience!
Teaching has been a pleasure. I am just wrapping up my second year of teaching in the UBC’s Creative Writing Department’s optional residency program. Classes are small and last for two days each week to accommodate everyone’s time zones and schedules. The long classes create marvellous opportunities for discussion and sharing. I’ve also been enjoying teaching on campus, meeting students face to face. It’s almost a cliché to say how much one learns from one’s students, but that’s because it’s true. I turn fifty this year. I am blessed to spend time with emerging writers in their twenties and thirties (as well as those in my age range), to read the books they recommend, to watch the YouTube posts they share. Many of them already have well established writing careers in other genres. They are expanding into writing for children and young adults.
In a few weeks, I will be touring Prince Edward Island as part of TD Canadian Children’s Book Week. It’s the one province I have never visited (I also have not yet been to the territories). The province is small enough that I can have my home base in Charlottetown for the whole week, but visit every part of the island, speaking in nine schools and four libraries. Can’t wait! The week before that, I’m visiting my aunt and uncle in Cape Breton and I’m going to two schools there as well, one in Whycocomagh and one in Inverness. Very exciting!
Since I last wrote, I have been concentrating on writing and on teaching writing. I am now teaching online for the UBC Creative Writing Department, and enjoying it very much. In January, I will be back on campus as well, teaching “Writing, Publishing and the Book Trade for Children” in the Library School. I am still doing a little editing for several Canadian publishers, and I still get out into schools and to conferences when I can.
Most exciting, though, I have two books coming out!
Fraser Bear: a cub’s life. Picture Book. March 2010. This spring, I was asked to write a picture book about a black bear named Fraser. It is set at the headwaters of the Fraser River near Mount Robson, the tallest of the Rockies, and it tells the story of the first two years of a cub’s life, and also tells the story of the chinook salmon that spawn there, swimming all the way to the Aleutian Islands and back during their life cycle. The intersection between bears and salmon and the link with the whole ecosystem fascinates me. I’m looking forward to getting out into schools and talking about bears and salmon as well as sturgeon!
Hunger Journeys. Teen Novel. Fall 2010. I have mentioned this book here before, since it has been a long journey for me as well as for my characters… I began work on Hunger Journeys back in the fall of 2005 when I was Writer in Residence at the Vancouver Public Library. It took a long time, a great deal of research, and a trip to the Netherlands to complete the book, and I was thrilled a year ago to learn that HarperCollins was interested in publishing it. My editor, Lynne Missen, has given me amazing feedback, and I have now completed two major revisions. The book keeps growing. Now I’m waiting for them to tell me that it needs to shrink a bit! This story is set in the Netherlands during the last winter of WWII and is rooted in stories that my mother-in-law has told over the years. Over time, as I listened, my fascination with these stories began to shift and I found myself wanting to write.
I have also completed another short novel, a companion of sorts to Chance and the Butterfly. It is called Nobody’s Girl and has only just begun its search for a home. And I am in the process of beginning a new teen novel. It is called Rabbit Ears and it brings together some family history (one of the characters is based on my younger sister, Sarah) and magic. I am not sure yet exactly how it will all fit, but I have been practicing palming a quarter, which I understand is an essential skill for any magician. Based on my success, I do not have magic in my blood. One nice thing about writing, though, is that my character—not the one based on Sarah, but her older sister—can have different talents from mine.
A year has passed since I last wrote here. And I meant to write at the start of each season! I must mend my ways…
The last year had been busy and full of change. I have withdrawn almost fully from editing, with only one project for this year. This has allowed me to focus almost entirely on my writing, with a fair bit of speaking, both to children and adults, thrown in.
I am working on several projects.
First, I finally finished the historical novel for teens, set in the Netherlands in the last winter of WWII. It is called Hunger Journeys and I am doing some revisions based on suggestions from an editor. Then I will send it out and keep my fingers crossed.
Second, an editor from Penguin contacted me several months ago to suggest that I write a new epilogue for Missing Sarah. I readily agreed and have now written a draft. It is substantial, covering the five years since the book was first published. Penguin is giving the book a new look and a new subtitle. It will now be called Missing Sarah: a Memoir of Loss. I like that. I haven’t seen the new cover yet, but I understand that they are using the same image but giving it a new treatment.
Sadly, Chance and the Butterfly went out of print last year. I am seeking a new publisher for it, since I can’t bear its being unavailable (what author can?) and I have an idea for a sort of sequel/companion book that might help to give Chance a new life.
Since January, I have added something wonderful to my life. I contacted a woman I know in Prince George, a poet and a fascinating person, and asked her if she would like to be mutual mentors. She agreed and ever since we have been writing to each other morning and evening on weekdays, talking about our working lives, and other aspects of our journeys. Mutual mentorship has been nourishing beyond anything I predicted. Related to that, I am one of the millions caught up in Eckhart Tolle’s writings, and I am also reading Pema Chödrön and Jon Kabat-Zinn. I am working hard at incorporating meditation into my life and at living in the moment as much as I can.
This last year, I have also taken a break from the work I was doing on Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Beyond Words, the downtown eastside women’s book club is in hiatus, and I have resigned from the PACE Board. I am still connected, but I had grown exhausted and needed to withdraw for a bit. At the same time, I have found myself once again attending the Unitarian Church of Vancouver. Roland and I got married there in 1995, and I attended regularly in 1999, but had not been back since. Now, I am almost a regular.
The hardest part of 2007 was the Robert Pickton trial, which I have written about in the new epilogue to Missing Sarah. I did not attend the trial proper, but did attend the closing arguments and the judge’s instructions to the jury. I am relieved that it is over now and that Robert Pickton was convicted on all six counts. Now, we await the appeal, but I give little thought to that.
In mid-May, I will travel to Ontario for the Silver Birch Awards,
Tale of a Great White Fish being a nominee. Then, in mid-July, I am
giving a workshop and speaking at the Denman Island Writers’ Festival.
In October, I will travel to Hamilton, Ontario, to take part in the
International Day for the Eradication of Poverty for Wesley Urban
Ministries, and I will participate once again in the Surrey
International Writers’ Conference. Last year, I was astonished at what
an enormous and fascinating conference it was!
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