t May 2011 | sh C. K. Kelly Martin o

This past Saturday marked my first time taking part in Doors Open Toronto, an annual event that takes place during one weekend a year. City-wide well over a hundred buildings of “architectural, historic, cultural and social significance open their doors to the public” allowing visitors free access to properties that are either not usually open to the public or would normally charge an entrance fee. Some of the locations offer guided tours and other special activities at this time. It’s a terrific (and free!) way to explore the city. My friends and I were able to have a look at seven locations: Osgoode Hall, Campbell House Museum, Canada Life, King Edward Hotel (Crystal Ballroom), Flatiron Building, St. James’ Cathedral and Toronto’s first post office. I’ve posted some of the day’s photos below and hope to explore more buildings in next year’s Doors Open!

Osgoode Hall opened in 1832 and houses the Ontario Court of Appeal, the Divisional Court of the Superior Court of Justice, and the Law Society of Upper Canada. The Great Library is one of the most amazing rooms I’ve ever laid eyes on.

The Great Library, Osgoode Hall

The Great Library, Osgoode Hall

But the rest of it was wonderfully picturesque too.

Osgoode Hall

Osgoode Hall

Osgoode Hall

Built in 1822, the Campell House Museum is one of the few surviving examples of Georgian architecture left in Toronto.

Campbell House bedroom

Campbell House withdrawing room

Canada Life was the tallest building on University Ave when completed in March, 1931.

Canada Life foyer

Canada Life foyer with gold leaf ceiling

Various views from the 17th floor tower room.

Canada Life tower room view

Canada Life tower room view

The King Edward Hotel opened in 1903 but the once magnificent Crystal Ballroom was added in 1921. Unfortunately, unlike the rest of the hotel the 17th floor Crystal Ballroom hasn’t been restored yet, although one of the tour guides assured us the current owners have plans to do so.

Crystal Ballroom, King Edward Hotel

Crystal Ballroom, King Edward Hotel

St. James’ Cathedral and the surrounding streets from one of the Crystal Ballroom windows.


Inside the iconic Flatiron Building which was completed in 1892 as the offices of the Gooderham & Worts brewing company. It contained the first manually-operated Otis elevator in Toronto, which has been restored and is still in operation today. Apparently there was also a tunnel linking the building to the bank across the street so Gooderham & Worts employees wouldn't have to walk outside with large bags of cash.


The former Cathedral that stood on this site was destroyed in a 1849 fire. Erected in 1859, St. James’ Cathedral is actually the fourth church to be built on this land and features the highest church tower in Canada.

St James’ Cathedral

St James’ Cathedral

St James’ Cathedral

St James’ Cathedral

This Adelaide Street East post office dates back to 1833 and is Toronto’s first post office. You can still rent a post office box there.

Torontos first post office

Torontos first post office
There's a very nice new review of The Lighter Side of Life and Death up on the Fragments of Life blog. Not only that but you can find an interview with me there where I talk about gender, writing sex scenes for YA and more. Plus, Fragments of Life are hosting a cool summer contest where you can win signed copies of my most summery books, The Lighter Side of Life and Death and One Lonely Degree! The grand prize winner will also score an Amazon giftcard and additionally, I'll send them a copy of My Beating Teenage Heart when it's released at the end of September.

 * Visit the Fragments of Life interview and contest

I believe the contest closes July 1st and hope you'll stop by to enter. Many thanks to Precious for chatting to me about The Lighter Side of Life and Death and for hosting this great summer contest!

summer contest: C.K. Kelly Martin books at  Fragments of Life blog

A few weeks ago I was over at my local shopping mall and dropped into the Coles to look for a book as a Mother's Day gift. The display I spied near the front entrance was just like a thousand other teen books displays you'd currently see in bookstores across Canada and the United Stations, which is to say that the novels gathered there looked almost indistinguishable from each other. Most of them had some pretty young white girl (or part of her anyway, a big enough part that we could recognize her as an attractive young white woman), usually not doing much of anything, on the front.

bookstore covers
Covers like this seem to very nearly be a default in YA publishing these days and in some ways I'm a little hesitant to be critical of aspects of this trend because we live in a culture where female stories generally don't get put on the big screen, for example. Hollywood doesn't believe young men (who they feel are their main ticket buyers - erroneously I may add because MPAA stats from 2010 show that women and men go to see movies in equal numbers) want to see movies about girls and women and consequently are very reluctant to produce many. Women can be eye candy in films, sure. They can be girlfriends, wives or peripheral characters but movies that feature a woman in the lead role are few and far between. A 2008 study that tracked women on screen and behind the scenes in the top 100 grossing films from that year found that males vastly outnumber females in speaking roles. Of 4,370 speaking roles, only 1,435 ( 32.8%) of those roles were female. Girls aged 13-20 were also hypersexualized in films at a rate of 39.8% vs. only 6.7% for boys.

The Geena Davis Institute has researched gender inequality in media aimed at young children and those same issues exist there too. “For every female character there are three male characters in G-rated films. In group scenes, fewer than one in five characters are female.” Their research also showed that when female characters do exist in media, "most are highly stereotyped and/or hyper-sexualized", with female characters in G-rated films wearing virtually the same amount of sexually revealing clothing as those in R-rated films.

So in that light the publishing notion that a young woman can sell a story without being a sex object seems positive. However, many of these covers feature young women that could be (and probably are) fashion models which is one problem (isn't even the fashion industry trying to veer away from the idea that a girl needs to be be a size two to represent them?). Another is that there's a marked lack of diversity on display. Where have all the teenage boys gone? Where are all the black and Asian girls? And does making novels look like carbon copies of each other really help sell them? Really? Really?

In my opinion ideally a book cover should give potential readers a hint about the story inside, not just offer a snapshot of a super idealized version of the main character or his girlfriend. When I say the 'story inside' I don't just mean the plot but the tone of the novel. Is it wistful? Funny? Tragic? Off the wall? A cover should illustrate what's unique about a book, rather than seeking to make it look generic.

Admittedly, I've heard my own publisher say that bookstores want girls on the covers of my books (seemingly even when they're actually as much, if not more, about boys!). But I have trouble understanding the big chain stores' dedication to this default. It seems a little like running a café where the manager has labelled every dessert as New York Cheesecake (because hey, cheesecake is popular!), although when a customer's order arrives at their table they may well find it tastes more like key lime pie or a banana split. Wouldn't this irritate the customers who were actually expecting cheesecake? And what about the people who were hoping for something other than cheesecake but don't realize key lime pie and banana splits are on offer because the manager has placed all their eggs in the cheesecake basket?

As an illustration of the cheesecake issue, here are two different covers of a warm, original young adult novel about loss, friendship, family and memory. It's a book with three dimensional characters that I greatly admired and was sorry to say goodbye to.

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine Broken Soup by Jenny Valetine

The first cover is the U.K. one and obviously takes its inspiration from an airmail envelope. It looks extremely creative and dynamic, like a story that we haven't read before. Something fresh and original. On the other hand, when Broken Soup was later released stateside it was with a cover that didn't reveal a thing about the book's feel or contents. Voila today's default cover. Is it an attractive cover? Yeah, sure. It looks just fine. But I'm not sure what would make someone pick up this book rather than the one next to it on the shelf unless they already knew something about Broken Soup (which, incidentally, everyone who is into YA should read because Jenny Valentine is an amazing writer).

Now of course I'm not saying there shouldn't be any attractive white girls on YA covers because there are some extremely creative, individualistic looking covers featuring just such people. But I am saying it doesn't make sense to have any one single default template for book covers because it does novels a disservice by suggesting they're telling the exact same story in the exact same way. It makes it seem that if you don't want to read that similar story again and again maybe there's just not that much out there for you read, which I don't happen to believe is true (although unfortunately some terrific YA books may not have made it into your nearest chain store if their covers or subject matter don't blend in well with the rest).

I realize there are trends in publishing and the popularity of the current default cover is bound to fade and be replaced with some other default in time but it would be tremendous if we could bulldoze the idea of putting together generic covers entirely and allow designers some room to, you know, be creative. This is supposed to be a creative industry, no?

Having said that, there are still teen books out there that have managed to avoid the current generic default cover trap and I want to show off some of my favourite such covers from the last couple of years. Each of the below covers links to the author's website or blog and at the briefest glance gives you a clue what it would feel like to read the stories contained within. Vive la différence!

How to Say Goodbye in Robot - Natalie Standiford The Mockingbirds - Daisy Whitney Gentlemen - Michael Northrop

Please Ignore Vera Dietz - A.S. King Marcelo in the Real World - Francisco X. Stork Freefall - Mindi Scott

How to Save a Life - Sara Zarr
 Destroy All Cars - Blake Nelson Bronxwood - Coe Booth


This World We Live In - Susan Beth Pfeffer

There are finally some video clips from last Friday's Airborne Toxic Event show at The Opera House in Toronto up so I thought I'd post them here for fellow (or future!) TATE fans. I'm already more than ready to see the band again so I hope it won't be so very long until they're back in town.

Gasoline:


Papillon:


Does This Mean You're Moving On? (You won't actually see much later in the clip because it's one of the points during the night that lead singer Mikel Jollet disappeared into the crowd to sing):


All I Ever Wanted:


They also performed This Losing, one of the first tracks I heard from them back before their first album was released in 08. It's not on either of their albums but it's a testament to the band's talent that This Losing is every bit as good as the songs that do actually appear on their CDs. So far there's no live footage of this one from the Toronto show so the below clip is actually them playing it live at the El Ray Theatre in L.A. on April 27, 2011:


And last but not least Friday's (May 20th) appearance on David Letterman where they sang Changing:


Room by Emma DonoghueI was also lucky enough to see Irish writer Emma Donoghue speak about her enthralling 2010 novel Room this past Wednesday. The Oakville public library will be posting a podcast of her talk which I'll link to once it's up. Room's already gathered a mountain of accolades so it definitely doesn't need me to recommend it but the narration by five-year-old Jack completely blew me away. At one point in the novel I couldn't sleep for worrying what was going to become of Jack and his mother and had to get out of bed and continue reading until two in the morning!

In speaking about the novel Emma Donoghue herself was completely candid and effortlessly charming so if you enjoyed Room it's definitely worth your time to listen to the podcast.

If you haven't read it yet, you might want to watch the Room book trailer and think about picking up a copy. While the material is emotionally challenging it's not graphic and Jack himself is such a charismatic narrator that there are times the book even seems (unlikely as it seems considering the horrifying situation Jack and his mother are in) almost whimsical.

We went to see The Airborne Toxic Event at The Opera House in Toronto last night and if you've heard either of their albums or have ever seen them peform live you will probably be completely unsurprised to hear that they were amazing. Lyrically the band floor me by being so intelligent, honest, energetic and raw that sometimes it's hard to know whether to sob, punch the air or just dance because the Airborne Toxic Event are equally impressive musically. The title track from their second CD, All At Once, makes me want to grab tight to the moment and never let go. Innocence tears me to shreds. The first verse or so of Gasoline is like a YA novel I'd kill to read and their cover of Book of Love is a slice of heaven.

The Airborne Toxic Event's debut album is hands down the best album I've heard in a decade and I'm loving the hell out of their sophmore CD, All At Once, too. However, I have to admit that psychologically I'm now in the confusing state where I wish them all the success they deserve (aka world domination!) but am simultaneously dreading the time where I'll no longer be able to catch them at intimate venues like The Opera House.

Unfortunately, there aren't any videos of the Toronto gig up to share at the moment but here's a clip of them playing the title track from their new CD live in Washington last year:


The band singing Sometime Around Midnight on David Letterman in 2009 (incidentally they're going to be on the show again on the 20th and Gossip Girl on May 16th):


And playing Numb live in Manchester in 2010:


You can also read my previous ravings about the band here, September 5, 2008, where you'll find my two Airborne Toxic Event favourites, Innocence and Gasoline, embedded. Here's a link to the shows remaining on their current tour. Pick up tickets if you can, trust me.
My Beating Teenage Heart has sold to Chinese publisher Beijing Land of Wisdom Press and will be coming out in Simplified Chinese. How cool is that? I can't wait to see what the cover will look like!
I've mentioned before that May is my favourite month. This part of the world is never more beautiful than it is in May and so yesterday we took ourselves over to the Royal Botanical Gardens to revel in spring's sights. The Tulip Festival was on at the Rock Garden this weekend and will be continuing next weekend too but the blossoming trees there and in the Arboretum were just as gorgeous.












In case you can't quite read the above sign on the passionate nature of tulips, here's the bit that really caught my eye: “When a young man presents a tulip to his mistress he gives her to understand, by the general color of the flower, that he is on fire with her beauty; and by the black base of it, that his heart is burnt to a coal.”









Only Rain Down The Drain






Marauding squirrels, huh? I picture people arriving home from vacation to find their entire neighbourhood—maybe even their entire town—has been pillaged by pint-size furry marauders. Do you think I could shop the idea to an animation studio? I'm thinking Steve Carell could do the voice of the lead character, a reluctant marauding squirrel who isn't sure that the otherwise motley crew he belongs to is doing the right thing. And there's gotta be a part for Catherine Keener in there, mainly because I love her in everything but secondly, it'd be nice to reunite her with her 40 Year Old Virgin co-star.




I hope wherever you are that you're able to enjoy some of nature's beauty this May—and if marauding squirrels happen to swallow up some of your bulbs, consider that maybe they're not marauding at all but simply misunderstood. Hey, we all need a snack once in awhile.
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