Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book Review The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

Front cover blurb:  The Orenda opens with the kidnapping of Snow Falls, a spirited Iroquois girl with a special gift. Her captor, Bird, is an elder and one of the Huron Nation's great warriors and statesmen. Although it's been years since the murder of his family members, they're never far from his mind. In Snow Falls, Bird recognizes the ghost of his lost daughter; he sees that the girl possesses powerful magic, something useful to him and his people on the troubled road ahead. The Huron Nation has battled the Iroquois for as long as Bird can remember, but both tribes now face a new, more dangerous peril from afar.

Christophe does not see himself as a threat, however. A charismatic Jesuit missionary, he has found his calling amongst the Huron, devoting himself to learning and understanding their customs and language in order to lead them to Christ. As an emissary from distant lands, he brings much more, though, than his faith to the new world.

As these three souls dance one another through intricately woven acts of duplicity, small battles erupt into bigger wars, and a nation emerges from worlds in flux. Powerful and deeply moving, The Orenda traces a story of blood and hope, suspicion and trust, hatred and love. A saga nearly four hundred years old, it is at its roots timeless and eternal.

Tons of people have warned me that this book is very violent. (I don't know, I guess I look particularly fragile.) But I decided to disregard these warnings.
Well... I'm a fan of Joseph Boyden. In fact Three Day Road got me through a bout of shingles. So you see, I owe him.
And also... The Orenda is a winner Canada Reads 2014 Selection
So you see, I had to read this book...

I took notes as I read...

Snow Falls:  'Wolves can't live on berries and twigs, after all, and their viciousness is what allows them to keep going, and will allow those who will one day follow to do the same....
It's a big decision, isn't it? I can hear your voice asking it, Father. Do I grow up to become a deer? Or do I grow up to become a wolf?' (p. 50)

I love the humour contained in this book. Clearly Christophe means 'live' instead of 'die' but his limited knowledge of the Wendat (Huron) language forces him to make this mistake. Yet he arrogantly believes that he has a gift for languages.

It overwhelms me, the cruelty that man can inflicted on man, because of desire.

The chapter titled I Saw You, Lord ends on such a sad note because we, of course, know that Bird is right

I like how Boyden recounts a scene through the eyes of more than one character. I thought such a treatment would seem redundant, but it doesn't--not at all.

The French send young priests to 'civilize' the dwellers of the harsh land. But Iroquois greet them with arrows and sink their canoes. Are we meant to rejoice--the land remains out of their clutches? 
Yet more and more of the Huron are listening to the priests. Will they turn from the old ways?
Of course, we know they will. It's only a matter of time. 
I wonder how different things would be if they hadn't? Would I be here? Would there be a country called Canada? Would our Prime Minister be Huron (Wendat)? What version of history would be taught to our children?

Gosling:  ' "Your wampum [Bible] says that man is the master and that all the animals are born to serve him...I say that humans are the only ones in this world that need everything within it... But there is nothing in this world that needs us for its survival. We aren't the masters of the earth. We're the servants." ' (p. 163)

Magic is alive in Gosling.

I think Joseph Boyden is using a balanced approach to recount the days of first contact. Instead of painting the priests as bad and the native warriors as good, he rises above such pat conclusions to fairly represent both.

'his face is like the sun rising' (p. 219)

The secret power of the priest and the secret power of Gosling--they spring from such a sacred place, defying reason. Are they truly that different?

I'm touched by the simplicity and love expressed on pages 380 and 381.

Is He Finds Villages (Aaron) symbolic of the natives who were so willing to embrace the white ways that they lost their own way?

The present tense is especially effective during the battle scene. It heightens my tension, making me feel like I'm right there. And I read on...

I'm very impressed by Boyden's ability to tell this story using three narrators. I, the reader, never get lost. And Boyden doesn't use the technique I would employ--labeling the chapters using the character's name. There's no need, I know the characters so well that I easily identify who is speaking.

Christophe's strength and his devotion to his faith can be clearly seen in the chapter titled The Stolen Fruit.

Inspired by this story I write...

I walk with respect, thoughtfulness, and kindness 
on Turtle Island, my mother Earth

Guest post Friday:  Who Me Idle? by Joel Harvey

Sharing my author journey...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Who Me Idle? (part 1) by Joel Harvey

photos by Leanne Dyck

Last January (2013) I joined a small Mayne Island IdleNoMore support gathering at the Welcoming Figure on Felix Jack road. We did a circle and talking-feather go-round.  At my turn, memories of my "previous-life" activism arose, and I told about a native rights lawyer I had admired.

But then, as now, I felt uneasy at one strand of the implied criticism - especially promoted in the media - suggesting past supporters of native rights had been "idle", or worse. Touching into this unease, I wondered at how apt my own small part had been:

·        Did I play at wannabe native, seeking earth-spirit roots I lacked?
·        Did I really care about long standing oppression of unknown others, or just enjoy indulging in a feisty, airy stance?
·        Did I work from a sense of enlightened world-saving noblesse oblige; sure my hat in the ring would make all the difference? 

Joel Harvey

I know I am in good company with such doubts. But to be an 'ally'', supporter, helper, neighbour, or friend across the long-time settler / oppressee line in this our 'glorious and free' Canada can still raise squirm-inducing, enshadowed questions. It helps me to recall, to squeeze some closure from my own little story, and might interest you, so I'm glad for your attention should you follow along here.

Way back, as an all-Canadian kid in a plush Montreal suburb, the state-imposed oppression of native folks ground on around me - without my awareness, or permission. All I knew about such things was from weekend cowboy movies with Roy Rogers messing round on fancy horses with Hollywood injuns. Once, a friend and I bike adventured way over the Jaques Cartier Bridge to the mysterious "Cogna-Waaga" reserve (Kahnawake Mohawk Territory). We were stopped at the entrance by a rough frowny guy who wanted $10 admission, or else. In five seconds we were back at the highway; peddling home, we wondered what the heck a Mafia guy was doing there.

When a young Pierre Trudeau was campaigning for MP, I recall his saying in some speech how the "Indian Problem" was vexing to him. He added something like "These people cannot expect to be treated different from every other conquered people - what would you have us do? (shrug)  Give the British Isles back to Druids"? Later, as Prime Minister, he softened, having improved his sharp federalist mind with some good reading, learning a bit of actual history, having had his perfect solution "White" paper harshly rejected by the native community, and having to honour the first of many legal decisions that insisted past governments' promises to native peoples were .. well .. still real promises.

As a young dad working in Victoria BC, my adventuring continued in July 1990: after a week's kayaking sun sparkled waves on wild West Coast Van. Island, past treed islets, rocky bays, salal-ed shores, our homeward group settled into a white sandy beach at the entrance to Clayquot Sound. Just as evening campfires smoked, and tents went up, the fishing fleet from Ahousat Village putted by. One little boat peeled off, right up to the beach; the guy yelled "you better get outta here by sunset or the warriors will be around!"

Needless to say, no one slept well that night, sitting upright at every rustle in the beach grass. But we stayed, believing the radioed RCMP assurance that below hiwater mark was public Crown land. Waking thankfully next morning, we paddled into Ahousat, wandered among depressing 3rd world shacks and junkyard landscaping, played with some kids and dogs, asked an adult about what`s up with the warrior thing. First, he said ``O that`s just old Ernie - he`s always like that. Most of the guys are at the Alberni games.`

Then he told us the other news young urban kayakers had missed: it was the 3rd day of the Oka crisis, and much of the country, especially Indian country, was really worked up, angry, scared.

During 1990-1991 the BC press was alive with stories and editorials about the ongoing Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en land claims case in BC Supreme Court (Delgamuukw v. British Columbia). It had gone on for 4 years, bringing in archeological experts plus ancient elders to court, to strengthen claims around occupancy, lineage and cultural usage. The judgment - later quashed - came as a rude shock. The headlines reported the claim dismissed ("at the pleasure of the Crown") as the Justice asserted the northern natives to be barely civilized, leading lives that had been and were "Nasty, Brutish & Short".

At the time I figured that was the name of his law firm, and wondered which one was him.

After this, I began to question - what the hey is going on in this land? I met some "church ladies" at a Victoria event, and learned about incredible support work for First Nations they were involved in. They had an understanding of 'not trespass against others' that they found to be 'lite' in too many Canadians. As part of this group, I learned much about fighting the good fight. And I learned respect for these, my own gracious elders. They knew in friendship so many active First Nations folks - and their kids - up and down the province. They had done effective advocacy, fund raising runs, providing places to stay and arranging public forums. Many evenings were spent in nearby cedar-smoked longhouses, as we were welcomed to watch decision making and storeytelling times.

At a meeting with the new Aboriginal Affairs Minister I listened - astounded -  as several of these ladies opened a grilling about the new (1993) BC Treaty Process with something like "I played bridge with your mom, and babysat you. Think your office's colonial decor is really appropriate to your new role?  So the courts are making you move: do you actually feel your novel process will do any good?"

Thru this group, I took part in interesting advocacy and support actions. At a Canada-wide meet of "allies"  in a big monastery north of Toronto, a polite 200 strong circle conversation about native rights progress was starting. Ignorant me - I had to ask one of the star guests if he knew of a certain renowned native rights activist: Lawyer Bruce. Chief Gary's explosive "Bruce ...!!!  that *&^%$"!!  ricocheted around the high-arched red-granite contemplative spaces.

Turns out lawyer Bruce had lost a lot of that (Anishinnabe) band's timber rights in a case using his foolproof legal approach. Namely: the Royal Proclamation of 1763 was a prime directive to all colonial authorities and subjects and their descendants who claimed to honour the Crown, and that without proper agreements, they were never, ever, to diddle with its meaning to suit their own land grab aspirations.

With Canadian Justice, what ever could go wrong?

(Part two of Joel Harvey's article will be published on this blog on
Friday, August 1st)

For more information regarding this article, please visit Joel's web site.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Tribute to Lou Allin by Leanne Dyck

On Friday, July 11th, I held my friend in my arms and spoke softly, “I have bad news. Lou Allin passed away.” It was hard news to share—hard for me to say; hard for her to hear.

A few minutes later, my friend found a magazine and flipped to an article she'd written. “Without Lou's gentle nudge I won't have submitted this; without her gentle nudge I won't have been published in this magazine.”

I wonder how many authors can credit Lou's gentle nudge for helping to develop their careers? My guess—many. I know I can. I know an entire organization can—Crime Writers of Canada.

How did I meet Lou?

Lou Allin was an award winning mystery author. And so, appropriately, how I met her is a mystery.

Back in 2009, I had newly self-published a mystery. I wanted to learn more about the publishing industry and thought finding a writers association would help. A search engine delivered me to the Mystery Writers of America website. I emailed them asking if I could join and explaining that I was Canadian. Their polite reply directed me to the Crime Writers of Canada. And I made a mental note to learn more about this association. A few months later, I received an email from Lou Allin (then membership chair) informing me that the Crime Writers of Canada was holding a free mini conference. How she found me will remain a mystery. But I'm very glad she did.

During that first conference, I participated in a one-on-one blue pencil session with Lou. (Learn more about how that went here.) And I invited her to visit me on Mayne Island. She accepted my offer and we became friends. Like a good friend, Lou was always there to offer me opportunities like sitting on panels, give me feedback on my writing and write articles for this blog.


Lou will live on not only in her writing but also in the authors she gently nudged.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Guest Post: Author Sally Cooper

How/why did you start to write? I wrote as a child and through my teens and had some success with poetry in student contests and fall fairs. It started from a love of words then became about self expression and eventually about telling a story.

How did you become an author? With a group of writers I met in a creative writing course, I formed a critiquing group. As we gained confidence, some of us began submitting our work and reading at open mic nights. Within ten years, three of us had published our first novels.

What was your first published piece? A poem about unicorns that won a national contest.

How long ago? When I was sixteen.

What did you do before embarking on your writing career? Was it an asset to your writing? How? I earned two degrees in English Literature. Devoting five years to reading and analyzing literature humbled me and fed me as well. Having come from a place where writing books was not a valued way to spend one’s time, I gained strength from being in a place where books held power. Reading widely and deeply has been essential to my growth as a writer. Certain books became touchstones and signposts.  University changed how I read and how I write.

What inspires you? Other artists (and I include writers) inspire me, especially those for whom making art (or writing) is a part of living. Activists inspire me, too, as do trees and my children.

Please share one of your successful author platform building technique. This question is tricky. By success, do you mean sales? Recognition? Both are hard to gauge. Publishing articles is one way I’ve invited readers to engage with my work. In the wake of my second novel, Tell Everything, I wrote an article about women writers of “true crime fiction” that tapped into what was going on in my own book. I love when other authors write or speak about their research or the obsessions that led them into their novels.

Parting words: I’ve never felt as if there was a time when I became a writer, as if I crossed a line that meant “now I am this thing known as writer.”  I’ve always wanted be one, even during years that I wasn’t actively writing. That said, I struggled as a young person to call myself a writer. It seemed such an important, worthy moniker, one I’d have to prove myself with time and publication to earn. I used to post index cards that read “I am a writer” on my mirror so the name would stick. Though I get now how little that label matters, at the time, owning that self-definition felt huge. If I could tell my younger self anything (not that I’d have listened), I’d say, get out of your own way because it’s not about you. It’s about the work. 

Author website


Monday, July 14, 2014

How writing short stories can improve your writing by Leanne Dyck

(What is housed in this tent? And why is it good news for my writing?
For the answer, stroll down to the very end of this post.)

'An ordinary day--but with a suitcase it in. -Arleen Pare (Leaving Now)

'There is a story always ahead of you.' -Michael Ondaatje (The Cat's Table)

'They would always go home; they belonged to the place they came from. Other people were destined to keep leaving, over and over again.' -Alix Ohlin (Inside)

'She swung the thick, strong rope of her voice round the words, coming down hard on them, cinching them together. Then she flung the notes bold up in the air, high and hornlike.' -Esi Edugyan (Half Blood Blues)

'It was a wisp of a dream, like trying to catch wind in your hand.' -Will Ferguson (419)

'It was like walking into joy.' -Louise Penny (The Beautiful Mystery)

How do you learn to write like this?

Perhaps by learning how to pick the right word.

And how do you do that?

By chiseling away at your writing so that plot; character development--nothing matters but the words. By writing flash fiction... 

Flash fiction:  a self-contained short story (meaning the story has a beginning, middle, end) with a limited word count (usually under 1,000 words).

As you can imagine, such a reduced word count is extremely limiting. You are limited to one moment in time. Such writing relies on the author's ability to choose the correct word. You don't have the luxury of padding. It's challenging but very enjoyable. And many authors find it to be the perfect counterbalance for working on longer work.

'The challenge of flash fiction is to tell a complete story in which every word is absolutely essential.' -Jason Gurley

For sale:  baby shoes, never worn.
This six word story by Ernest Hemingway's is an extreme example of flash fiction.
More about this story

Here is one of my attempts at extreme flash fiction...

One sunny day a worm went for a wiggle. He meets a robin.

1,500...1,000...500...20...6? How low will you go?

More tips...

Stories in your pocket:  how to write flash fiction

Sharing my author journey...

What do you feed a writer?
Good books, of course.
Where do you get good books at a price a writer who is establishing 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Guest Post: Why I Write for Children by Darlene Foster

I began my love affair with books as a child. Some of my fondest memories are being read to by a family member, visiting the library for the first time, and discovering the ability to read by myself. I keep worn copies of favourite childhood books and revisit my old friends from time to time for comfort. Books and children go together like strawberries and ice cream.

Writing for children is important to me because I want children to develop the same love of books I had as a child. That love doesn’t go away. Children’s books create lifelong readers; readers who eventually buy adult books. Without children’s books there would be no market for adult books.

One grandmother recently purchased my Amanda travel/adventure books and sent me this email:

My 12 year old granddaughter just finished your books. She loved them. We were camping and we kept telling her to put the books down and come and play. This is the first time I have seen her get so excited about a book. Your books have given her a love of reading. Thanks for the good reads.

While writing for children can be fun, it is not easy. You have to remove yourself from the adult world and think like a kid. I like to hang around kids, listen to the words they use, observe the gestures, the looks, the trends.  I also read current, middle reader books to see what today’s kids enjoy.  I revisit some of my old favourites like The Bobbsey Twins, Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, to remind myself what I liked about those books. Children notice things adults wouldn’t and could care less about things adults think are important. It’s important to get into their head space. And guess what? While I’m writing, I get to be a kid again - and I love it!

The main character in my first book, Amanda in Arabia-The Perfume Flask, is a Canadian girl who wishes for travel and adventure on her twelfth birthday. The next day she gets a ticket to fly to the United Arab Emirates to visit her aunt and uncle. There she has an adventure of a lifetime.  One young reader said, “I want to know where Amanda will travel to next.”  That motivated me to write Amanda in Spain-The Girl in The Painting.  I had so much fun writing about Amanda, her travels, and escapades that I continued by writing Amanda in England-The Missing Novel. Where will it end? I don’t know but I have many more ideas and am currently working on book number four.  I have to, my fans are expecting it. These very same fans will grow up and buy adult books soon.

When I hear someone say, “She or he only writes children’s books,” I remind them that writers of children’s books are creating readers for life. It’s an important job and one I am happy to take on.

Author links...

Darlene Foster's website

Darlene Foster's blogsite

Monday, July 7, 2014

A childless author of books for children by Leanne Willetts

(me, when I was in university)

I wrote this response to Rumer Godwin's article (A Little Tale That Anyone Could Write) on October 26, 1987 for a children's literature course I took through the University of Winnipeg. 

I did not read this article against the grain. Far from it. I felt Rumer Godwin was writing directly to me.

In class we have discussed how tales can mean different things to different people due to the different lessons experience teaches. Perhaps this is why when Godwin writes of his experiences as a non-father writer, he writes to me of my experience as a non-mother child care worker.

My closest friends in the class are mothers. They have personally gone through the perils and pleasures of parenthood. They earned their stripes on the battle lines. I can not claim this experience.

Sometimes in the deepest darkest depths of night I lie awake worrying:  how can I claim to be a child care worker without a child? Godwin addresses these worries. He says he came to the writing discipline out of love for it 'and not because I had acquired children of my own and started to tell them stories. I know this is a more common reason, but I don't believe it is a good one, nor is it one that often meets with success. This lack of success is puzzling, but perhaps it is because one's own children are not really a reliable measure. They speak the same, sometimes intimate, family language...
Being a parent, even a writer-parent, is no qualification for writing children's book; it needs a stronger spring, a greater impetus than that. Without that spring no one can become a children's writer.'

Ask a child care worker what makes a good child care worker and the answer is likely to closely reassemble the above. 

Having a child does not necessarily equip you to care for someone else's children. Non-mothers and mothers alike who enjoy children have something special to share.

Godwin continues with his article by saying:  'I believe, too, that there are musts for children's books. Please remember, it is only what I believe. Another writer will think quite differently, for each is a law unto himself, and when I write must, I mean must for me.' Godwin is able to see how others could disagree with him. He does not imply the inclusive all but rather allows for disagreement by stating I. Godwin's attitude makes it easier to learn. We are not irritated by his whitewashing but rather intrigued by his views. (Professors comment:  Good point. I think you're right that this is often the effect of a first-person pronoun.) His views are intriguing indeed. They helped me to come to a clearer understanding as to what I value in children's literature. He writes:  'I...believe a book for children should be unconsciously ethical. Not consciously so, because then it becomes something verging on propaganda or that horror of Victorian nurseries, "a book with a moral," or, of our own time, "a book with a message". But it should be freshly and clearly sure so what is right and wrong; cynicism should not touch children's books, as it so firmly governs our own.
Life, most people tell us, is cynical. I believe, rather, that is is paradoxical. Perhaps what is wrong with so many of our lives now is that they have lost the fairy-tale element:  that belief in life, in its transcendental quality; a belief in more than seems possible; a belief that holds good through rebuffs (there are always rebuffs in fairy tales)--because it is not bound by what we see and touch and hear.' Though I do wonder why a book with a message is black listed, I must state firmly that I strongly agree with the rest of his statement.

(Professor comment:  It's always gratifying to read something you can second heartily, but I suspect you would have gotten more mileage out of this article had you started with your query above and spent some time thinking about it.)

But if, unlike my professor, you are actually interested in this topic here's more...

5 Childless Children's Book Authors

Dr. Seuss Didn't Have Kids

Sharing my author journey...

Friday, July 4, 2014

Guest Post Blogger Lynn A Davidson

I am honoured, Leanne, that you asked to interview me since I am not yet a published author. (I'm very pleased that you accepted my invitation, Lynn. And being a published author was never a requirement. I'm interested in learning more about you and your blog.) My showcase right now is my Polilla Writes blog on WordPress, where you found me.

My interest in writing began when I was about ten years old when our teacher asked the class to each write a story. When she read my little tale about a ticklish flower it made her laugh. Her positive comment was heart-warming, but since I was painfully shy, and there was no further encouragement for me, I didn't pursue writing at that time. I did love to read, though, and would seclude myself away with a book whenever I had the chance. Books are still my sweet escape.

When my children were small I began thinking about writing for
publishing. Being inexperienced and unknowledgeable in the market and how things operate I am embarrassed to even look at those submissions of articles and poems now. Some were returned with kind notes, for which I am grateful. Eventually, I became interested in writing children's books. I took an evening course in Children's Literature at Acadia University and was blessed to connect with the professor who became a friend and inspiration to me. She introduced me to authors (some in person) and opened the door wider to my imagination. Later, I furthered my writing education through a correspondence course - Writing Children's Literature - and completed with High Honours in 2002.

Years before that I sent a poem to the editor/publisher of a little
homespun newsletter here in Nova Scotia, and to my surprise my poem was published! Soon afterward a friend encouraged me to start up my own newsletter similar to that one, which I did on a quarterly schedule. In it I printed some of my poetry, and wrote articles of encouragement and Christian teaching. That publication, Valley Sunshine, operated for many years and was received into almost 600 homes in several countries. After my mother died I took a ten-year hiatus from VS, not continuing until a few years ago. Unfortunately, it is again on pause since I am one of my dad's caregivers due to Alzheimer's, and living part-time with him has proven to be an indefinitely long-time commitment, but I hope and plan to continue the newsletter as time and energy allow. My love of the written word has not waned, although finding uninterrupted time to focus on writing can be difficult.

What inspires me? Authors I have met in person and online are great inspiration to me. Since 2010 I have been nudged on and encouraged through participation in writing challenges. Through NaNoWriMo I have the very rough first draft of a novel almost completed. Through picture book challenges I have some drafts started and a couple of manuscripts ready for submission. Through a poetry challenge I get to see the world in a different way. Sometimes I visit a writers chat room for interaction with, and to learn from, other writers - published and pre-published. When stress piles on I enjoy being out in Nature, and since getting a puppy in Winter 2013 I get outside often - like it or not!

Since I am currently not making great progress with my own writing goals, it is my pleasure to help other writers when I can. On my blog I review books and sometimes interview the authors of those books, when I am organized enough to get it pulled together and scheduled. On my blog I have writers helps, and also I'm privileged that an accomplished author chose to post monthly installments of her writers workshop for my readers' benefit.

I admire writers who have the stamina and 'sticktoitiveness' to see it through. I’m working on that, and currently have a list of possibilities for a pen name for my future books. Anything is possible.

Lynn A. Davidson is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of one, living in beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada. She is a blogger, a pre-published author of children's books, and loves all things Nature-beautiful. Her delight is to encourage and help others through her blog, her faith, and her writings.