Feedback Time

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I love giving workshops and seminars, especially to teens and children. Today I got an envelope full of thank you cards from a recent visit to a grade nine class. Here are some of the gems:

“I learned how hard and how much effort goes into making a book”

“Thank you for coming in and talking to our class about different types of poetry and sharing your book AUDACIOUS with us. I really enjoyed learning about found poetry and verse novels”

“Thank you extremely for presenting and helping inform us on finer more forgotten literature”

“You have made me realize poems can be very fun to write”

“Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us. I personally enjoyed your visit because I am currently working on a short novel myself.”

I really appreciate every comment, guys. Keep’m coming.

 

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop – AUDACIOUS

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It’s Banned Books Week again! I LOVE Banned Books Week! it’s better than Halloween!

Banned Books Week is the national book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. Hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events.

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. For more information on Banned Books Week, click here. According to the American Library Association, there were 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, and many more go unreported.

I live in hope that my book AUDACIOUS will one day make the list of most challenged books so in that spirit I’m giving it away! If you’re wondering why this YA verse novel might be banned, I’ll give you a hint. It starts with C.

This is a US/Canada only giveaway for physical books but the good news is that I am giving away an eBook if an international entrant wins!

audaciouslg1.jpgHere’s a bit about AUDACIOUS:

Sixteen year old Raphaelle is that girl who says the wrong thing, who crosses the wrong person, who has the wrong hair, the wrong body, the wrong attitude, the totally wrong clothes. She can’t do anything right, except draw, but she draws the wrong pictures. When her father moves the family to a small prairie city, Raphaelle wants to leave behind the misfit rebel, the outcast, the vengeful trouble-maker she was. Reborn as “Ella,” she plans fit in at her new school, while her perfect younger sister goes to the Catholic girls’ school and her emotionally fragile mother looks for a job. But Ella might just be a different kind of misfit. She’s drawn to a brooding boy in her art class, Samir, and expresses her confused feelings in an explicit artwork. When a classmate texts a photo of Ella’s art to a younger friend, the horrendous fallout spreads though Ella’s life like an uncontrollable disease. Ella is expelled from school and faces pornography charges, her mother is hospitalized, her sister fails all her classes, and her distant father finally notices something is wrong.cover

AUDACIOUS was a CLA Award finalist and won the Westchester Award for Best YA Fiction.

See some AUDACIOUS reviews here.

And to make it even more fun, I’ll be giving away the sequel, CAPRICIOUS too.

To enter all you have to do is follow the blog and let me know in the comments if you have added the book on Goodreads, Tweeted or Facebooked the giveaway and I will give you an extra entry. Good Luck. Don’t forget to visit the rest of the blogs participating in the Giveaway Hop (there are a lot of them!). You can find the list here.

Meet Gabrielle this September

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Readers, my fifteen minutes is here. No less than TWO newspaper features (no more, either. It was just the two) this last month have launched me into the public imagination (probably not, but it sounds good). Anyway, my duties as writer in residence for Vancouver Public Library include three public readings this September.  If you’d like to come and here me read from my latest book, I’d be delighted to see you.

Here are the details:

The inaugural  Writer in Residence reading will be on September 17th at Vancouver Public Library Central Branch.

Wednesday, Sept. 17; 7 p.m.
Alice MacKay Room, lower level
Central Library, 350 W. Georgia St.
Admission is free. All are welcome!

I will also  be doing TWO readings at The Word Festival in Vancouver. These will be at 1:45 as part of the Canada Writes program and at 4pm on the Poetry on the Bus bus.

There will be books for sale at both events and I would be happy to sign them for you.

I hope to see you all there!

Also, don’t forget, if you live in the Vancouver area and would like a private consultation with me about your writing, you need only apply through the VPL Writer in Residence page.

What Color is Your Caterpillar?

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This Tumblr post resonated with me particularly strongly with me today, given the week I’ve had. The general gist of it was Malinda Lo responding to comments expressing a wish that “*bestselling author*” would include POC/LGBT characters in their books, by suggesting to the commenters that they read other authors who do. On the face of it she could mean any NON bestselling authors (which would be great for me, since I’m a non-bestselling author who includes POC and LGBT characters in my books) but actually I think she means POC and/or LGBT authors like herself.

Which is good advice, only slightly marred by the fact that Malinda Lo’s latest books feature a white character on the cover (though she is bisexual).

Some pundit commented back to Malinda’s Advice in a, I think rather hostile way. Then Holly Black pointedly and entertainingly got Malinda’s back. The most striking phrase of Holly’s reply was:

“…reading a book with a diverse cast written by JK Rowling or myself or any other white straight cisgendered writer isn’t the same as reading a book written by a person of color or a LGBTQ+ writer.”

I think she’s referring to diverse books by diverse authors as opposed to any old books by diverse authors. (As an illustration, Oscar Wilde was famously gay. Reading The Importance of Being Earnest does little to further the LGBT awareness in the reader).

Holly is right too, though. Holly and Malinda both speak the truth.

But the more I think about it, the more I think the original commenter also has a good point. If we passively accept bestselling “mainstream” (I’m going to use this term to mean white, cisgendered etc) authors continuing to produce monochrome/mono-gendered etc. books, we are failing in a catastrophic way to address the sources of the problem that began this discussion in the first place – the ubiquity of what I like to call Super-Cardboard-Character.

And what does that failure mean? This week I found out.

I taught at a five day long camp for teen writers at the Vancouver Public Library. As an invited author I can conduct a workshop on a topic of my choosing. Last year I had a blast with the kids talking about poetry, verse and verse novels. This year I wanted to try something different. Perhaps foolishly, for a mainstream white writer, I wanted to talk about diversity. I wanted these kids to leave the workshop with their minds wide open. Over the course of the week I saw 48 kids. 48 – remember that number.

Before I go on I should say something about the racial/cultural diversity amongst teens in Vancouver, Canada. I don’t have exact figures but according to the public school board about 60% of Vancouver students speak a language other than English at home. While some of these would be white Europeans it’s worth pointing out that in Canada Francophone kids have their own school board and schools if they choose. Most of these kids who speak languages other than English at home would be non-white. This does not count those who speak English at home but still identify as non-white (Aboriginal Canadians for example, make up about 4% of public school kids in Vancouver. Mostly they speak English at home).

Long story short – about half of the kids in my workshop were visibly NOT white.

I began the workshop by getting the kids to fill out a questionnaire about what they were writing. The first question was “what is the race/culture/ethnicity of your protagonist?”

On Monday ALL TWELVE kids answered “white”.

On Tuesday eleven out of twelve answered “white”

On Wednesday ten out of twelve answered “white”

On Thursday I had a group, about half of which had been in my workshop last year. Seven of them answered “white”

In all just eight kids out of forty eight were writing about someone who was not white. About 16%. Looking at my classes I could see that between 40-60% of them were not white.

The rest of my questions, which concerned gender identity, body type, disabilities or visible differences, beauty and economic class didn’t fare much better. These kids represented all cultures and races, language groups, economic classes and body types. A few of them were certainly LGBT (they admitted as much in class, a not unusual thing in Vancouver these days) and likely at least a few had disabilities. They were all gorgeous vibrant young people, but some in less Hollywood ways than others.

Almost all of them were writing about “Super Cardboard Character” who was white, straight, able bodied, conventionally attractive with a fit, average height physique and an economically privileged existence.

Most of them were not developed enough as writers to have been making these choices for the tired “books about POC characters don’t sell” excuse. Most of them had not even thought about it.

Most of them had neglected to assign a race or other diverse criteria to their character, thinking instead about plot, world building etc. In other words they had, for the time being, slotted in a “neutral” character. The only thing is that “white” is not a neutral cultural designation. “Straight” is not a neutral gender orientation. I don’t need to go on. You get the picture.

Here’s the saddest part. When my students had this revealed to them, I could tell they were horrified. Even a little ashamed. I spent the rest of the workshop explaining to them why it’s not their fault. Superheroes, Disney Princesses, Shakespeare, Fairy Tales and MANY classic children’s books that we all grew up with have inculcated them with the idea that “stories are for white people”.

Let me demonstrate. Here is The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Tell me, what is the ethnicity/culture of this caterpillar?

“Come on,” some of you are saying. “It’s a caterpillar. It doesn’t have a ethnicity.”

Oh really? Look at what it eats:

No lychee or plantain, no wontons or tempura, no tacos, no naan, no sushi, no pork rolls, no okra, jalapenos, bok choy or yams. Not even a mango.

Now tell me again the culture of the Very Hungry Caterpillar.

The idea that stories are for white people is so pervasive and DEEPLY ingrained in young readers that when it comes time to write their own stories the characters that naturally come out neither reflect the community in which that kid lives nor, in many cases their own diverse designations. To suggest that the solution is for readers to buy books by writers of color is at best a band-aid solution, geared more towards, it seems to me, spreading the wealth of the publishing industry equitably than actually confronting the issue.

It is absolutely critical that we address this problem head on. And yes that includes saying “Yo, John Green. White much?” What if everyone stopped buying John Green’s books and purchased instead one of the below books, all written by authors of color (some of whom are bestsellers), would that help?

It would help those authors, certainly, but would it help young people of various diverse designations see themselves in books? On book covers? Would it help disabuse them of the notion that “stories are for white people”? No, because all the people on these covers are white.

What if, instead they purchased the below books by bestselling white authors?

Like the saying goes: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. I think it’s fair to want and expect “mainstream” bestselling writers to write diverse characters at least occasionally. I don’t think the writing of these characters in any way prevents writers of color from being successful at telling their own stories. Bestselling authors take shelf space away from ALL non-bestselling authors whether they are diverse authors or not, whether the stories are diverse or not.

We can maybe ask them to take a long holiday and give a few new people a chance, but somehow I don’t think they’ll go for it. Instead we could just keep asking them to diversify their writing. My first thought is for my diverse readers and students. It breaks my heart to see them feel so excluded from the adventures that they love to read.  And I want the books that reflect their identities to be bestsellers because only finding themselves in the nichy corners of the book world is almost worse in a way. The success of my diverse colleagues is secondary, though, of course, not entirely unconnected, especially if they actually write diversely. If a diverse book by a diverse author becomes a bestseller it is a double win. I’m all for it.

But in the meantime, would it have been so bad if the Harry Potter series had looked like this?

 

MY BIG NEWS

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I’ve been absent from this blog for some time. Busy with writing and working, I haven’t had much time to rant about the usual things that make me ranty. Also it seems these days that there are just SO MANY rant making things going on in the world. How is a ranter to choose?

So instead of a rant today I just want to let followers in on my two pieces of news in the slim chance that they didn’t catch them on Twitter or Facebook.

So…

It has just been announced that I am the Vancouver Public Library Writer in Residence for the rest of 2014. It’s a sixteen week placement and while the majority of my time will be spent working on my own writing projects I will also be teaching workshops and hosting panel discussions and consulting with individual writers who seek advice and encouragement. So if you live in the Vancouver area and would like to discuss your work with me, get in touch with VPL and let’s make it happen!

My second piece of news is that a poem from my latest verse novel, CAPRICIOUS, has been selected to be part of this year’s Poetry in Transit event in Vancouver.  What that means is that the poem will appear in a bus shelter! I’m not sure which one yet so watch out for it.

As part of my involvement in both these events I will be reading at the Word on The Street Festival , and the Writer in Residence Inaugural event at VPL (Wednesday, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m. at the central library’s Alice MacKay room. Admission is free) so I’d be thrilled if you all came out to see and hear me.

That’s it.

April New Release Giveaway Hop – AUDACIOUS AND CAPRICIOUS

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covernew-release-giveaway-hop_april2014_buttonIn case you haven’t heard, I have a new book out this month. CAPRICIOUS is the sequel to the verse novel AUDACIOUS, which came out last year to rave reviews (if I do say so myself!). To celebrate my verse novel duology I’m giving away three copies of CAPRICIOUS and one copy of AUDACIOUS as part of the April New Release Giveaway Hop hosted by Book Nerd.

Audacious is about Ella, a misfit girl who vows to try to fit in, and blows it in a spectacularly teenage way. Publisher’s Weekly called it a “rich, riveting story… with an honest teenage voice”.

In Capricious  Ella does for her heart what she did to her life in the previous book: throws it down and stomps on it. Kirkus called it “sensitive and compelling”.

To enter simply comment below that you follow this blog. Those who follow me on Twitter, tweet or Facebook about the giveaway or add both books to Goodreads will get extra entries. Let me know in your comment what you’ve done.

The lucky winner who enters here will win both books!  You can also enter to win CAPRICIOUS over at my verse novel site VerseNovels.com or at my design site Cover Your Dreams. You can also enter to win Capricious on Goodreads!

Book Birthday!

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Wow, I haven’t been on this blog in a while. I do have a good excuse. I’ve been writing  and editing another book for Orca’s new Limelights series and I’ve been doing a lot of design work. And of course I’ve been eagerly awaiting this week because CAPRICIOUS is released tomorrow! I realize I’m a total tool because I haven’t even done a proper cover reveal here. Well here it is – I love it!

coverEdit: enter the Goodreads Giveaway to win a copy of Capricious !!

My wardrobe is becoming more polka-dotted by the day to match how thrilled I am with Ella’s new look. Reviews so far have been great.  Kirkus called it “Sensitive and compelling”. CM Magazine rated it  4/4 stars and “highly recommended” . School Library Journal says its “candid approach to sex, lies, and friendship should attract a wide audience, especially readers who are drawn to deep and sometimes dark issues”.

Blogger Ashley from On Page 394 called it “one of the BEST Canadian novels I’ve read in a very long time” in her very insightful review which also compares me to William Carlos Williams! So…win!

Orca is giving away two copies of Capricious on Goodreads. That giveaway will go up early this week so keep a lookout for it! I will also be joining some giveway hops over the next month of two so stay tuned for those too.

In the meantime, you can visit my Pinterest page for a few little teasers from CAPRICIOUS.

Verse on.

 

 

Christmas Hate Translated

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bigstock-Bad-Christmas-Girl-Showing-Mid-8068519This time of year you hear and read a lot of anti-Christmas rhetoric. Most years I just ignore it, let it wash over me like so much floating glitter. But this year has been an introspective one for me, so I’ve been thinking about it more. And here’s the thing:

Christmas hate bugs me. It bugs me because it’s become so ubiquitous that people don’t even realize what they are saying. Sometimes I feel like maybe there needs to be a campaign like that R-word campaign or the “That’s So Gay” campaign – a way of educating people about what they are really saying around Christmas time.

Well, you know me. I’ve never one to back down from taking on a campaign, so I thought I would start with a little dictionary, as it were. A translation of some of the most common Christmas-hate phrases.

I’m going to start with one I hear every year, one that is widely accepted and one to me anyway that is the most WTF. It goes something like this:

Me: Thanks for that and Merry Christmas!

Christmas Hater:  I don’t celebrate Christmas.  I’m a _____ (note that I have heard this from various groups including Jews, atheists and Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as from a few undeclared. Never from a Buddhist, or any person of east Asian descent, nor from any Muslims. In fact it’s pretty safe to say I’ve mostly only heard white Westerners say this.)

Me:  *head-desk*

Look, I didn’t ask you to put up a tree, fill your living room with presents, carve a Nativity set out of old growth cedar, worship a naked baby, drink mulled wine to the point of belligerence, watch A Christmas Carol and cry piteously into your eggnog, stagger hungover to Christmas mass, and pass out for so long that the turkey burns. I just said “Merry Christmas”. The correct response is “thank you, and you too.”

The wish of Merry Christmas is simply an expression from an observer that on December 25th, instead of being a self-important party pooper, you consider being merry for change.  Christmas observers try to be merry on that day. We don’t wish misery on those who don’t observe. That would be stupid.

Still not convinced? Let’s switch it up and see how it flies.

Jewish Friend: Thanks for that and Happy Hanukkah!

Me: I don’t celebrate Hanukkah. I’m a lapsed Catholic atheist with a Jewish great-grandmother.

Jewish Friend: *backs slowly away*

Or

Chinese Friend: Thanks and Gung Hai Fat Choy!

Me: WTF? Is that Klingon?

Chinese friend: *punches my ignorant white face*

Listen, I get that this is a false comparison due to Christmas being the majority and non-Christmas being the minority. So in a sense what you might really be saying is this:

I hate Christmas = I hate being a minority where I live.

Well, I get that too, I really do. But it’s still no excuse to be rude. Allow me to demonstrate:

Chinese friend to my sister who lives in China: Thanks and gong xi  acai!

My sister who lives in China: I don’t believe your moronic superstitions about dragons and shit.

Chinese friend: *punches sister in  her smarmy white face*

There’s probably an argument somewhere that Christmas-hate is acceptable hate because the Christmas observers are most often privileged white people. As much as the latter is probably true, to the former I say this: privileged white people are not punching bags. If you want to punch something, go to a martial arts gym.

So, to summarize so far, I promised a translation of Christmas hate speak and here is it is:

I don’t celebrate Christmas = I don’t accept, tolerate or condone your practices because they are inferior to my own elevated and enlightened existence. Nor am I interested in your goodwill, during your “holiday season”, because who needs the goodwill of someone of inferior intellectual and/or spiritual status.

In other words, if I wish someone Merry Christmas and they reply “I don’t celebrate Christmas” I will hit them in the face with a figgy pudding.

Another irritating Christmas hate cliché goes something like this:

I hate Christmas. It’s so commercial. All the mindless shopping etc etc.

This one pops up on Twitter and Facebook with extraordinary reliability every year. The thing is, it often pops up on very feeds of women who also post throughout the year things like:

I must have these shoes *insert link to Louboutin shoes priced at $500*

Look what just arrived! *insert picture of tweep brandishing brand new handbag*

Or

I had a fabulous meal at *insert name-drop of uber expensive and trendy Manhattan bistro*

So, again, a simple translation:

I hate Christmas. It’s so commercial = I hate capitalism, although perhaps I am a hypocrite to say it.

Look, hate on capitalism all you want, lord knows I’m not going to stop you. But while you’re at it, check out of your overpriced apartment, step out of your designer shoes, drop out of your private university or school, and, oh yeah, log out of Twitter and Facebook. And if you happen to be of the true Christian inclination and you object to the commercialization of what should be a spiritual time – kudos to you and I hope to see your Christian self serving good will at the soup kitchen on Christmas morning.

Finally there’s this one:

I hate Christmas. So much pressure to socialize and be happy.

This one is an easy one to translate:

I hate Christmas. So much pressure to socialize and be happy = I hate my family, all my friends and myself. I probably should be medicated for depression but I don’t have health insurance because I spent all my money on my shoes.

I don’t ask that everyone celebrate Christmas. I don’t even ask that those who DO celebrate view the Christmas industrial complex as a good or even an acceptable thing. I only want people to stop and consider the truth underneath what they are really saying to people who DO celebrate this silliest of seasons.

Merry Freakin’ Christmas, haters.

Rant over.

October New Release Giveaway Hop – AUDACIOUS

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Audacious

I love new releases; and every writer loves their own new release best. So for this October New Release Giveaway Hop I’m giving away a three copies of AUDACIOUS – one here, one at VerseNovels.com and one at Cover Your Dreams.

This is a US/Canada only giveaway for physical books but the good news is that I am giving away eBooks for international entrants, should they be the winners!

Here’s a bit about AUDACIOUS:

Sixteen year old Raphaelle is that girl who says the wrong thing, who crosses the wrong person, who has the wrong hair, the wrong body, the wrong attitude, the totally wrong clothes. She can’t do anything right, except draw, but she draws the wrong pictures. When her father moves the family to a small prairie city, Raphaelle wants to leave behind the misfit rebel, the outcast, the vengeful trouble-maker she was. Reborn as “Ella,” she plans fit in at her new school, while her perfect younger sister goes to the Catholic girls’ school and her emotionally fragile mother looks for a job. But Ella might just be a different kind of misfit. She’s drawn to a brooding boy in her art class, Samir, and expresses her confused feelings in an explicit artwork. When a classmate texts a photo of Ella’s art to a younger friend, the horrendous fallout spreads though Ella’s life like an uncontrollable disease. Ella is expelled from school and faces pornography charges, her mother is hospitalized, her sister fails all her classes, and her distant father finally notices something is wrong.

To enter all you have to do is follow the blog or me on Twitter. Let me know if you have added the book on Goodreads, Tweeted or Facebooked the giveaway and I will give you an extra entry. Good Luck.

Don’t forget to visit the rest of the blogs participating in the Giveaway Hop (there are a lot of them!). You can find the list here.

AUDACIOUS BOOK BIRTHDAY! GIVEAWAY WINNER!

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AudaciousTechnically my book has been born. I say technically because I’m not sure exactly where it is available yet, but I have heard that readers have been receiving it in the mail. So exciting!

Speaking of exciting I just drew the winner of last weeks Banned Books Week Giveaway and it is MONA G!!!!

Send me your address, MONA and you will have your book delivered to you direct from the publisher. Congrats!

I’m also running a book mark promo this week – if you tweet, Facebook or email me a picture of AUDACIOUS on a bookstore or library shelf I will send you a bookmark. If you include a picture of your receipt I will send you a button too!

So head out on the hunt, peeps. I want to see what my baby looks like in the wild.

Happy Snapping!