I hope everybody's been enjoying their holidays! We had some flurries on Christmas Eve but Christmas itself was rain, rain and more rain. With none of the fluffy white stuff available I had to make a rainman instead of a snowman and as you can imagine, that's just not the same. You can't rest a woolly hat on a rainman's head, for instance. If you try, your hat just splashes to the ground and languishes in a puddle along with the rainman's twig arms and carrot nose. A rain man isn't jolly like a snowman either; he's actually pretty melancholy. I guess I'd be melancholy too if I was essentially a puddle so I can't say that I blame him.

But anyway, Christmas was wonderful despite the soggy weather and I'm listening to one of my Christmas pressies as I type this—The Swell Season's new album, Strict Joy. Also, turkey is roasting because we were out for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals but still wanted to make a turkey for ourselves (don't want to miss out on all those turkey leftovers). So the smell of turkey is tickling my nostrils, making it very difficult not to dig into the homemade cookies and coffee cake that various people (my mom, my aunt and my friend) have passed on. But I really don't want to spoil my appetite so I'm exercising an admirable amount of restraint (so far!).

In the new year I'll be starting revisions on my fourth book, Delicate. This means I'll have to cut back on reading, which is difficult to do when you're surrounded by books. Lately my hold list at the local library has spun out of control so I've decided to suspend all of the hold books currently on my list until near the end of March and concentrate on reading books already (or about to be) in my possession. Here's what I'll be reading in early 2010:

Fall (by Colin McAdam)

Hush, Hush (by Becca Fitzpatrick)

Break (by Hannah Moskowitz)

* Last Night in Twisted River (by John Irving)

Love is the Higher Law (by David Levithan)

Lemon (by Cordelia Strube)

Catch (by Will Leitch)

Nobody's Girl (by Sarra Manning, February 4th, pre-ordered)

Noughts & Crosses (by Malorie Blackman)

Some Girls Are (by Courtney Summers, January 5th, pre-ordered)

The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance (by Catherine Ryan Hyde)

Struts & Frets (by Jon Skovron)

The Year of the Flood (by Margaret Atwood)

This World We Live In (by Susan Beth Pfeffer, February 17th but luckily I have an ARC and don't have to wait!)

Zot!: The Complete Black And White Collection: 1987-1991 (by Scott McCloud)

It's too early to start talking about Delicate much but I can't bring it up without mentioning the Damien Rice tune, can I? That just wouldn't be right. Especially seeing as I'm crazy for the song.

Finally, here's a mock cover I made up for Delicate, to relieve some of my own suspense in waiting to see what coolness Nicole at Random House will come up with.

Delicate by C.K. Kelly Martin
Today I'm over at Juiciliciousss Reviews talking about my upcoming book, The Lighter Side of Life and Death, the trilogy I'm obsessed with and fighting social beliefs that make sexual assault more likely to occur. Thanks, Stephanie, for having me over to visit!

I don't want Christmas to go by without people hearing Laura Marling's wonderful new Christmas single—Goodbye England (Covered in Snow) which you can now pick up at iTunes in the USA (although I haven't been able to find it at iTunes.ca yet). Here she is singing it in Mumbai:

Snow does have a certain romance attached to it, which I tend to burn out on due to Canadian overexposure, but talk about England or Ireland in the snow and I instantly find myself getting whimsical about it. One day I hope to see England covered in snow with my own eyes! Incidentally, every time I hear Laura's song Night Terror, creepy as it is, I want to lie down on a bench in Shepherd's Bush Green. Her voice and musical style is so hypnotic!
There's been something missing on my blog lately. Have you felt it?

That's right— it's the absence of Billy Bragg material. There was that giddy spike of Braggomania in November:

The Blog's Gone Bragg

More Billy Bragg Goodness: Billy in Hamilton & Ottawa

Billy Bragg @ The Phoenix

and then it kind of faded away. Until now. Behold, the Christmas cover I would've wished for but didn't need to because somehow Santa just knew. Billy Bragg & Florence (of The Machines) play The Pogues' Fairytale of New York on The BBC's Radio One Rob Da Bank Campfire Christmas Special, December 19th:

And here's Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl (God, I miss her voice!) singing it on Top of the Pops in 1992:

Today I'm one of the guests celebrating the season over at Reading is Bliss (Thanks, Jill!):

Christmas 1993: Faraway & So Close

I flash back to a Christmas I spent in Dublin in 1993 and you can enter to win a prize pack consisting of a signed paperback of I Know It's Over, a signed hardcover of One Lonely Degree and a Lighter Side of Life and Death journal.

FlygirlI also want to say a big congrats to Sherri L. Smith whose fabulous YA book Flygirl, about a young African American girl training to be a WWII pilot, was named one of the six best books for teens by The Washington Post. Would make a terrific Christmas present and while you're at it, pick up Sparrow by Sherri too. I liked Kendall so much that I keep hoping there'll be a Sparrow sequel!
Christmas is coming up fast and inevitably I'll be spending less time blogging (and more time watching Christmas movies, listening to my favourite holiday music, eating the chocolate and cinnamon chip cookies I plan to bake today and hopefully figuring out how to kill yet more angry giant insects in Wii game Escape From Bug Island).

Although you won't see me around here as often I'll be making appearances on other blogs during the holiday season. You can catch up with me here:

December 18: Reading is Bliss - Guest Blog
December 23: Juiciliciousss Reviews - Interview
TBA: Books Obsession - Interview

And now I have to get back to listening to that magical Pretenders tune. It's true, it's colder day by day. And listening to Chrissie Hynde sing about diamonds in the snow makes me love that.

Diamonds in the snow
Canadian Our Lady Peace fans probably already know that they're doing an extremely cool Canadian tour this coming March through May where they'll play the Clumsy and Spiritual Machines albums in their entirety on 2 separate nights. The second set will be a selection of songs from their other albums.
Clumsy Spiritual Machines

As if that's not exciting enough their Toronto dates are at my favourite T.O. venue, Massey Hall. The only trouble is, how to choose between such two amazing albums. And so I pored over the albums and what it came down to is, I can't miss the chance to see OLP sing the song Clumsy live. Maybe they'll play it on the Spiritual Machines night anyway, but well, if I have to choose I've gotta go with the sure thing.

And what about 4 AM for that matter? Can't miss that either. Automatic Flowers. Superman's Dead...But hey, how about Life, In Repair and Right Behind You from Spirtual Machines. Do you see the torture I've been dealing with this morning!

I was an OLP fan before One Lonely Degree but writing about main character Finn and her feelings about Our Lady Peace actually made me an even bigger one and now I can't really hear the band without thinking about her. I almost wouldn't be surprised to see her at the Massey Hall gig in March and, you know, I bet she has better tickets than me and is going both nights. One of the big questions this gives rise to is, who would Finn be at the concert with? I'm going to scope out the first few rows in front of the stage and take a close look at the redheads to see if I can figure out the answer. If anyone catches sight of her on the Spiritual Machines night let me know!

* Read more about OLP's Canadian tour and next album on Chart Attack

* Finn Kavanagh of One Lonely Degree writes about Our Lady Peace on Shooting Stars Mag before the release of Burn, Burn last May.
I'm sad to hear the news that seventy-six year old American review journal Kirkus is closing. On a personal level I feel very grateful to Kirkus for putting I Know It's Over on people's radar. On a general level I think this is bad for every single author out there.

The announcement was in Publishers Lunch today:
The publishing world's concerns about declining review space will only become more severe with this morning's news that Nielsen Business Media has "made the decision to cease operations" at Kirkus Reviews (as well as Editor & Publisher.) The news came as the company announced the sale of the Hollywood Reporter, Billboard, and six other media brands to Guggenheim Partners and Pluribus Capital Management. Nielsen is retaining ownership of The Bookseller in the UK.

The memo from Nielsen Business Media president Greg Farrar does not indicate what will become of the Kirkus archives, and whether there will be any effort to sell the operation. As Ron Charles at the Washington Post Book World tweeted: "Worst news in a long time: Kirkus shutting down. For me, they were the last reliable source of negative reviews."
That same edition of Publishers Lunch notes that, “Amazon has quietly pushed the [ebook] discounting envelope even further, at least on a small set of delayed big releases. The new books from Sarah Palin and Steven King, both of which release in Kindle format right around Christmas, can now be pre-ordered for the lower-still price of $7.99. That's also the pre-order price for Ted Kennedy's True Compass, which Twelve has apparently decided to release in ebook form after all, also on Christmas.”

I think if life were like a blockbuster movie these things would be some of those (not so) early signs that an enormous meteor (or other cataclysmic life-destroying event) is about to hit the publishing world. And, like in the movie 2012, we sort of knew it was coming but thought we had more time. I'm looking around for John Cusack as I type this, to see if he has any ideas for surviving the upcoming calamity or whether I should just, like, go back to school and become an accountant or something because, you know, once the ebook format takes over (hello bargain basement prices and mass piracy!) it's looking as though authors won't be able to make a living (not that most of us ever really could but there goes the lunch money even!).
John Cusack in 2012
This was in the Toronto Star yesterday:
I'm sure Emperor Harper is still beaming with pride today, as all the rest of the Tories punch the air and rave about how they're not going to get suckered into helping save the environment because damnit that costs $ and we should be able to trash our own backyard if we want to, leave shamelessly heavy carbon footprints, exhaust natural resources etc. And who cares about polar bears, seals and other species anyway, they don't even pay taxes!

Yes, indeed we should be so very proud that our country, unlike more rational nations which would like the planet to continue housing us for a few more years, just doesn't give a sweet damn about anyone or anything except money (which will be used to construct Emperor Harper's future Death Star).

Emperor Harper and one of his minions supervise the destuction of the environment and the creation of dirty fossil fuel at the Alberta Tar Sands.

Emperor Harper and one of his minions supervise the destuction of the environment and the creation of dirty fossil fuel at the Alberta Tar Sands.
I've been saying for some time now that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is actually an evil Sith Lord:

Say Yes to Carbon

What Canadian Voters (Inexplicably) Want

Stephen Harper: Ordinary People Don't Care about Arts Funding

Tories Slipping From Majority

Stephen Harper says, “These Aren't The Droids You're Looking For”

Easter Greetings From Our PM

Funny how that fact seems to be more widely recognized abroad than it does in Canada. I'm not sure whether that means we're not too bright in this part of the world (brain freeze?) or whether we're just too apathetic. Either way, there's no denying that we royally suck.

As one close observer of of international climate change talks said leading up to Copenhagen, “Canada has become the Darth Vader of the G8 in particular. The marks they now get regularly from the environmental groups are last place.

Yep, not only is Stephen Harper really Darth Harper underneath the suit, tie and wind-resistant hairstyle, if we keep letting Harper get away with steering Canada in the direction of doing as little as humanly possible to fight climate change we're all acting in support of the destructive Empire.

Do we need the Ewoks to come over here and kick our asses in order for us to realize what we're allowing to happen here?

Darth Canada vs. the Ewoks
Twenty years ago today 14 young women were slaughtered at L'Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal by a gunman on a rampage ranting about "feminists."

Top Row L to R: Anne-Marie Edward, Anne-Marie Lemay, Annie St Arneault, Annie Turcotte, Barbara Daigneault, Barbara Maria Klucznik, Genevieve Bergeron
Bottom Row L to R: Helene Colgan, Maryse LeClaire, Maryse Leganiere, Maud Haviernier, Michele Richard, Nathalie Croteau, Sonia Pelletier

Sadly, we're nowhere near a place where we can say this couldn't happen again.
Read the rest here: *  Twenty years on, little has changed

On this side of the pond it'd be hard not to notice that lots of people are big into the musical show Glee, but I wonder how many folks may have missed out on the quality BBC singing series, All the Small Things (which is being shown as Heart and Soul in Canada and Australia).

A couple of months ago I stumbled across the below scene from the show on BBC Canada:

That fabulous rendition of Swing, Swing (my favourite All American Rejects song) was more than enough to make me curious and I've subsequently become hooked on this lovable and eminently listenable show about the cast off local choir members of a small northern English town banding together to form their own kick ass choir which tackles music by Blink 182 and All American Rejects amongst others.

But the show isn't just about music. Main character Esther's choir conductor husband (Michael) drops a bomb on her in the first episode—he wants out of their marriage. Meanwhile there's a younger new guy with a mysterious past in town (Jake) who seems interested but Esther's not exactly overflowing with trust. One of Esther's teen sons, Kyle, is also at the heart of the show. Although All the Small Things never names Kyle's condition he appears to suffer from Asperger's and has trouble with social interactions but is musically gifted.

One of the many things I love about the series is that it doesn't feature the standard cast of beautiful people we're used to seeing in North American television. Instead the majority of the characters are diverse, down to earth and three-dimensional with their own unique (yet universal) issues. All the Small Things is the warmest, least cynical show I've seen on TV this year. If you stumble across it in TV land trust me and give it a shot.

* Read the BBC press release for All the Small Things

* Sarah Lancashire (who plays Esther) talks about All the Small Things in an interview for The Manchest Evening news

And, BBC, we need a second season of All the Small Things so get cracking!
This World We Live InThe odds must be against this (so you better believe I'm feeling lucky!) but yesterday afternoon both Susan Beth Pfeffer and Catherine Ryan Hyde emailed me to let me know I'd won copies of their YA books.

The Year of My Miraculous ReappearanceActually, it's *two* copies of Catherine Ryan Hyde's book, The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance—one for me and one for my mom—and an ARC of Susan Beth Pfeffer's latest meteor novel, This World We Live In. I'm a huge fan of Susan's other meteor books (Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone) and I loved The Day I Killed James and Chasing Windmills by Catherine Ryan Hyde so I'm super excited.

Thank you, book gods!

I was also extremely happy to hear, just the other day, that Mare's War (by Tanita S. Davis) has been included on the Kirkus Reviews "Best Young Adult Books of 2009." And I'm keeping everything I can crossed for 2010 White Pine nominee Cracked Up to Be (by Courtney Summers) in the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading awards. It's great to see such terrific books get the recognition they deserve!
I've been busy with non-writing stuff lately and not able to post as often I'd like. But before busy times sweep in again I want to link to some recent Internet coolness, like the below video I saw discussed on the About-Face blog.

* Little Sophie, with the help of her mother, criticizes the intense pressure women face to be beautiful. “Why do you want to look like someone else?” she asks. “Do you want me to grow up wanting to look like someone else?” In fact, that's what alot of businesses want. It makes it easier to sell women (and men too) stuff they don't actually need and we should all be doing what we can to fight those negative influences. Good going, Sophie! You and your mom rock.

There's more coolness over at the ever-awesome Scarleteen sex ed site where fabulous Scarleteen founder Heather Corinna has penned an article called:

* Love the Glove: 10 Reasons to Use Condoms You Might Not Have Heard Yet. Teenagers aren't the only ones who should read this! There are plenty of young people who are smart about safe sex and plenty of adults who are dumb about it. Here's a peek at the article:
#2. Because barebacking isn't as cool as you think. I've been having a sense of déjà vu lately when hearing some hetero girls say they're "not into condoms" with a wink and a grin, or that they, unlike those other girls who use condoms and who they tend to frame as killjoys, are willing to go without condoms, in this way that rings of trying to aim for a certain social status by being the one willing to risk health and life... From my point of view, what I see in these cases is a young woman having some big esteem issues and who seems to feel it's worth it to risk her life and health for a temporarily increased sexual appeal. While our sexuality and our sexual relationships can support our self-esteem, they tend to be poor places to try and get self-esteem, especially if our sex lives involve a habit or precedent of not caring for ourselves and inviting or allowing others to treat us without real care.
And how about that #5: Because it feels good! Yep, check out the article if you want to find out why...

* You know how when people trot out that ol' adage “sex sells” they're more often than not talking about sexualized images of women being used to hawk everything under the sun? Yeah, well, it turns out that when it comes to movies, at least, that saying is BS. Melissa Silverstein over at Women & Hollywood has written about a new report that refutes the “sex sells” myth. The study, which was recently published in the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts journal, analyzed 914 mainstream Hollywood films released from 2001 - 2005 and found that “sex and nudity do not, on the average, boost box office performance, earn critical acclaim, or win major awards.”

If anything, too much hard-core action could actually hurt a film's performance. On average, the less sex and nudity, the higher the gross. The more sex and nudity, the lower the gross — by approximately 31 per cent.

"All in all, it appears that sex may neither sell nor impress. This null effect might suggest most cinematic sex is in fact gratuitous," write the authors.

"It is manifest that anyone who argues that sex sells or impresses must be put on notice. At present, no filmmaker should introduce such content under the assumption that it guarantees a big box office, earns critical acclaim, or wins movie awards. On the contrary, other forms of strong film content appear far more
potent, either commercially or aesthetically.
 * Finally, you might well already know that Somalia-born, Toronto-raised hip-hop artist K'naan has the official World Cup 2010 tune (speaking of the World Cup, I'm still pissed that Ireland was robbed of a spot!) with a remixed version of Wavin' Flag. This song is an instant classic. One of those songs that get better every time you listen to it. Let's take a few minutes to soak up the inspiration...

Yes, indeed, I'm such a diehard Billy Bragg fan that eight days after his Toronto gig I'm still celebrating the show. Hooray for the person who posted Billy's rendition of John Cooper Clarke's Evidently Chicken Town in Toronto on YouTube! We've all had days/weeks/months/years that felt like this, I think:

I must admit I'm tempted to send a link of this to the blog reviewer who mentioned that One Lonely Degree had "forty swears" up to page 68 but I don't know, they might go into a state of shock or break out in a rash. I totally understand when people take issue with language (or images or jokes etc.) that spread(s) hate of any sort (racism, sexism, homophobia). It really should come as no surprise that (and there's actually a 2007 study on this), for example, “exposure to sexist humor can create conditions that allow men – especially those who have antagonistic attitudes toward women – to express those attitudes in their behavior...The acceptance of sexist humor leads men to believe that sexist behavior falls within the bounds of social acceptability.”

But, for me, it doesn't compute when folks get antsy about stuff like, “I fucking love you, man” or “I'm having a shitty day.”

I guess people like that don't really enjoy stuff like The Trailer Park Boys or The Commitments, huh?
Still no Billy Bragg video from the recent Toronto gig but handily there are fantastic Ottawa and Hamilton clips to be seen. How I wish I'd been at the Hamilton show too! Alas, there were no tickets to be had.

Jeane, Hamilton Place, November 18, 2009:

The Milkman of Human Kindness, Hamilton Place, November 18, 2009:

Like Soldiers Do, Hamilton Place, November 18, 2009:

Old Clash Fan Fight Song and Billy talks about how The Clash initially inspired his activism, Bronson Centre, Ottawa, November 19, 2009:

On activitism continued, I Keep Faith, and There is Power in a Union,
Bronson Centre, Ottawa, November 19, 2009:

A New England singalong, Bronson Centre, Ottawa, November 19, 2009:

Finally, you can download Billy's hilarious musical rendition of John Cooper Clarke's Evidently Chicken Town at Krewechief's Live Music Blog and read Krewe Chief's comparison of the Toronto and Hamilton shows. A warning for those with sensitive ears—I don't have an f-word count for the song but it's exceptionally f@#*ing high!
I haven't seen any clips for last night's Billy Bragg Toronto show appear on YouTube yet but if they surface I'll post them later (please tell me someone captured the brilliance of Evidently Chickentown on video!). There's a review up on Canoe if you want to hear more concert details.

It's actually been awhile since I caught a full length Billy Bragg concert in Toronto—my last two Bragg gigs were in London last year and Dublin in 06—but it's cool indeed to share the experience with some of my fellow countrymen and see what Billy Bragg fans they still are. And always, always, wonderful to see Billy—who is hilarious, insightful, inspiring and really knows how to rock a guitar—play live.

As you can see below, my spot against the stage wasn't actually an ideal one for snapping photos. My old point and shoot camera wasn't up to the challenge of the concert lighting and made portions of the show appear like a bit of a psychedelic experience.

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

Or like a potential bootleg album cover—case in point:

Billy Bragg Live @ The Phoenix

However, I did manage to get a few snaps that were more representative of the gig.

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

When you're just one guy on stage with a guitar regular tea breaks are essential for refueling!

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

Billy Bragg, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 17, 2009

So, because there aren't any T.O. clips up yet I'm attaching a few from the Bragg show in St. John's, Newfoundland on November 14th.
Must I Paint You a Picture:

Greetings to the New Brunette:

The Warmest Room:

And here's some bonus classic Billy: An Accident Waiting to Happen, live in 1992

Thanks, Billy, for an amazing show and for keeping the faith all these years and helping your fans keep ours!

And for Canadians with tickets to the upcoming Bragg shows in Hamilton, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg—you guys are in for a fantastic time!

Book blogger Thao of Serene Hours has created stunning mock covers for I Know It's Over, One Lonely Degree and The Lighter Side of Life and Death.

* Check them out in all their glory

Thanks so much, Thao! You rock. Please accept this virtual cupcake with my thanks:
mmmm cupcake!

I adore the covers. I've been trying to make up my mind which one I like the best but I just can't do it—they're all so beautiful. Staring at them I can almost believe warm weather is on the way. May's just around the corner, right?
A few days ago I was sifting through files on my clunky super-slow desktop computer, deciding what needed to be saved to DVD, and discovered some mysterious stuff in the folder for The Lighter Side of Life and Death. I create a folder for every book I write and save different drafts of the manuscript to it along with various research files and photos. For instance, in The Lighter Side of Life and Death folder there are a bunch of files on the Arthur Miller play, All My Sons, which main character Mason stars in as Chris Keller for his school's production.

I don't want to give too much away by saying what else is in there but...I did find a couple of things that have me scratching my head because they have nothing to do with novel.

1). Articles explaining how to break into a car.
Car break in

2. Four separate files on counterculture figure Abbie Hoffman.

Abbie Hoffman

Now while it's conceivable (though I have absolutely no recollection of this) that at one point I could've thought someone would have to break into a car during the course of the book I can't for the life of me work out what role Abbie Hoffman could play in the novel.


Anyway, I can confidently say The Lighter Side of Life and Death doesn't feature any car break-ins. Also, Abbie Hoffman does not appear (nor is he referenced) during the pages of this book. I hope this news doesn't disappoint anyone.

Here are some other things that don't appear in the novel:

* zombies

* Elizabeth Bennet (of Pride and Prejudice fame)

* Time Lords, talking apes and evil aliens

* alternative rocker and political activist Billy Bragg (although I really should work him into a book)

* chocolate bunnies (however, there is one reference to chocolate and two references to rabbits)

But here's what I consider to be some Lighter Side of Life and Death related music (song #16 on my Lighter Side playlist) to end this blog entry on:

TV depictions of violence against women have risen dramatically in just the past five years (while violence that occurred irrespective of gender only increased 2%.) Depictions of violence against teenage girls increased by an alarming 400% in that same period. Those findings, by a Parents Television Council report, note that the portrayals of violence against women, especially young women, "with increasing frequency, or as a trivial, even humorous matter, the networks may be contributing to an atmosphere in which young people view aggression and violence against women as normative, even acceptable."

Recently a public pro-rape Facebook group composed of students from a university in Sydney was uncovered (and subsequently shut down) in the sports and recreation section. The commander of the NSW Police sex crimes squad, Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec, said when operational, the Facebook page - tagged ''pro-rape, anti-consent'' - was ''inciting people to sexual violence''. In Richmond, California last month a fifteen year old girl was gang raped and beaten for more than two hours while twenty men and boys looked on, laughing and snapping photos. In the province of Ontario studies have shown that sexual assault against girls at school is so common that it's seen as the status quo.

This is the kind of atmosphere our young girls are growing up in. Hostile. With so much violence (or threats of violence) directed at them and shown to them in the form of entertainment that it's become an unhappy normal. Is it any wonder then, that a survey of Boston teenagers last winter reported that 46% felt Rihanna was responsible for the violent attack Chris Brown committed against her and 52% said both were responsible, despite knowing that Rihanna's injuries required hospital treatment?

As well, young women today are relentlessly bombarded with media messages that tell them their worth is rooted in being attractive, that their life's ambition should be to exist in a state of hotness twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Much of the music industry glories in showing women purely as sex objects—and flawless ones at that. If you're unaware of the airbrushing that goes on in video, this article in Uplift Magazine is an eye-opener.

New Moon magazineObviously we need a hell of a lot more media out there ready to take girls' wellbeing into account and counter the overwhelming negativity (hooray for organizations like PinkStinks and About-Face!). And we need to fight to hold on to the good stuff like seven year old New Moon Magazine (100% advertising free) which is dedicated to lifting tween girls' aspirations, increasing their power, and giving them an outlet for their unique perspectives and voices. Unfortunately, New Moon has been hit very hard by the current recession and will have to close at the end of December if we can't help them out financially. I know it's a challenge for many of us to find extra money to donate to worthy causes during this economy, but take a look around a quick look around at the toxic media universe and you'll realize how important this is.

New Moon says you can help by:

" Sponsoring memberships for libraries, schools and programs serving low-income girls. It's quick and easy to sponsor one, ten or 100 girls - every dollar matters!

" Buying memberships for all girls 8-14 that you know. Our holiday special saves you 50% after the first order.

" Telling everyone what you value about New Moon. Link to us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter and share with your FB friends and Tweeps."
Here's their donation page. You might also want to read about the "safe, secure and advertisement-free social network" they've created for girls 8-12.

Truly, New Moon is awesome. Let's help keep it alive for all the amazing tween girls out there.

Lest we forget.
I saw, via Tanita S. Davis's blog, that 100 Scope Notes are repeating the fun they had with their Create Your Debut YA Cover concept. Normally I'm not a fan of memes but I love designing book covers and couldn't resist jumping into the fray with my YA own offering. This time I'm diving in to create a debut picture book cover by following the bellow instructions from 100 Scope Notes: 

* 1. Go to “The Name Generator” or click http://www.thenamegenerator.com/

Click GENERATE NEW NAME. The name that appears is your author name.

* 2. Go to “Picture Book Title Generator” or click


Click CREATE TITLE! This is the title of your picture book.

* 3. Go to “FlickrCC” or click http://flickrcc.bluemountains.net/index.php

Type the last word from your title into the search box followed by the word “drawing”.

Click FIND. The first suitable image is your cover.

* 4. Use Photoshop, Picnik, or similar to put it all together. Gettin’ creative is encouraged. {You can see a thumbnail of the original picture I had to work with on the right.}

* 5. Post it to your site along with this text and then let 100 Scope Notes know if you want your design up in their coming reader gallery.

Robert, The Blue Car by Thomas Coile

I'm not much of a car person (unless we're talking Mini Coopers) but I guess I'd give Robert a chance. Looks like a pretty snazzy book!

Before I go I want to send my congrats out to Courtney Summers for scoring a bright shiny star from Kirkus for her upcoming book Some Girls Are! Also, I'm not sure if there's still a chance to enter Susan Beth Pfeffer's ARC contest for This World We Live In but it doesn't hurt to try...although if you try it might hurt my chances so maybe I should just shut up about it.

We've reached that point in autumn when there are more leaves on the ground

GTA leaves, November 8, 2009

than there are on trees.

GTA trees, November 8, 2009

Folks' pumpkins don't look quite as impressive as they did at the end of October

GTA Pumpkins, Nov 8, 2009

GTA Pumpkins, Nov 8, 2009

GTA Pumpkins, Nov 8, 2009

and generally nature seems to be

Autumn leaves & pine cones Nov 8, 2009

Autumn leaves, November 8, 2009

various shades of rust.

Old lock, Nov 8, 2009

But there are still some vibrant colours out there,

Fall colours, Nov 8, 2009

Fall colours, Nov 9, 2009

things of beauty to gaze at

Gorgeous blue fall sky, November 8, 2009

Fall flowers, Nov 9, 2009

and fun to be had.

Fall leaves, November 8, 2009

Especially on lovely November days like yesterday when we hit 15 balmy and bright degrees (59 Fahrenheit for those of you who don't think in metric) in the Greater Toronto Area. Hope you had a chance to enjoy it but if not we're looking at a beautiful 18 degrees for today. Can you believe it? Ahhhhhhh.
I'm so excited to be able to share this! Introducing the cover for my third book, The Lighter Side of Life and Death:

The Lighter Side of Life and Death cover

I love the colours and I gotta say, that looks like one hot kiss. Big thanks to Nicole for the awesome work she's done on this cover. And once again somehow just looking at this is making me absolutely long for summer.

Check back tomorrow for the book trailer!
17 hour old baby

Recently Chris Spence, the Toronto District School Board's new education director, has been calling for an all-boys school to address male underachievement at school. “The real objective is to cast a critical eye on how we reach and teach our boys,” said Dr. Spence, whose 2008 book, The Joys of Teaching Boys , makes the case that boys learn differently from girls and have suffered under a “unisex model for child rearing and teaching.

But it sounds like Spence isn't being nearly objective enough because in fact neuroscientists say that, “Just as a boy's foot and a girl's foot work the same way, so do their brains. As the OECD report Understanding the Brain points out: "No study to date has shown gender-specific processes involved in building up neuronal networks during learning." So the way boys and girls create synaptic pathways – and therefore learn – is the same. When we see differences in the behaviour of boys and girls, that's because those differences are taught. They are social, not biological.”

Functional MRI studies show, "that there are no differences in the young male brain that would explain why boys might have more trouble reading."

According to StatsCan figures for 2006/7, a third of boys don't graduate from high school and a quarter of girls don't make it. Spence's vision, on top of being rooted in beliefs unsupported by evidence, does nothing to address that 25% figure, nor does it deal with the startling amount of sexual harassment and violence aimed at girls uncovered in Julian Falconer's report on school violence.

Are there major problems with Ontario's education system? You bet, the same problems we encounter elsewhere in society but magnified many-fold as young people soak up our constraining—often toxic messages—about what it means to be male, female, rich, poor, middle class, white, black, Asian, straight, gay, bisexual, yada, yada.

Apparently many scientists now believe that 20% of a person's outcome in life is the result of innate brain capacity (nature) and the other 80% is based on what happens after birth (nurture). Biology doesn't count for much. A newborn's brain doesn't know it's a future male problem child. It hasn't yet learned the faulty cultural idea that a girl isn't as mentally equipped for math or been exposed to Eurocentric teaching that devalues other cultures.

So sure, we can start up that Male Leadership Academy and pretend a one size fits all solution might work (as though all boys learn in the exact same way and face identical challenges...right) for some of the boys that attend it, but that would still mean doing a disservice to an entire generation of kids.

Or we could be ambitious and hopeful and aim for that less-traveled road where all young brains are treated like equal entities and given the nourishment and confidence they need to be their best selves. That would undoubtedly require more money being funneled into the education system (higher taxes!), a much bigger push to end child poverty and a concerted effort—as a society—to set aside our own learned biases, but imagine a generation of kids raised with that kind of care. Just imagine how glorious that would be.
I hope everybody had a fun Halloween. With these chilly, short days there's pretty much no denying that's it November but I'm trying not to dwell on it. Yes, I've moved on from denial mode to distraction, which means I'll be killing even more bugs, going to see Zombieland and counting down the days to the release of Blue Rodeo's new double album (aha, there's something good about November after all!).

As far as book stuff goes, I've added the first chapter of The Lighter Side of Life and Death to my website so you can now read it here:

* The Lighter Side of Life and Death - Chapter One

The cover and book trailer will follow shortly...

Don't call her!
We've all heard common advice for eluding the swine flu such as getting the vaccine and washing your hands a zillion times a day but now I'm going to share my secret tips with you in the hope that you remain well and happy.

chocolate * 1. Buy yourself some fun-size chocolate bars. It's Halloween and they're everywhere. Chocolate makes many, many people happy. You want to keep your immune system super happy during flu season, don't you? Sure you do. I recommend a 12 pack of Crispy Crunch (go on, they're tiny) but whatever the twelve pack of your choice is will work just as well.

*  2. From now until when the swine flu epidemic is over, only hang out with superheroes. With their superhuman immune systems you won't have to worry about them passing on germs to you. Unfortunately, this option didn't work out so well for me as one of the superheroes I was hanging out with was The Torch and there's now been some fire damage to my apartment. The Hulk was here at the time and got angry on my behalf and inadvertently destroyed my bathroom. Thank God Wonder Woman and Batman dropped by and helped get things back under control! But I have to say, it was annoying the way Batman kept staring out my window, searching the sky. I mean, hello, are we hanging out or do you have something better to do? Make up your mind, why don't you! Anyway, just be cautious about which superheroes you choose to spend your time with.

* 3. Get yourself down to your local Blockbuster Video while their current 30% off sale is on and treat yourself to a previously used copy of Wii game Escape From Bug island for a grand total of $6.88 (price may vary according to your regional taxes). Yes, it's a very early Wii game and kind of wooden and cheesy but you get to battle giant praying mantises, moths etc. Adrenaline, baby, it's good for you. What more could you want for $6.88?

Escape From Bug Island

* 4. Buy yourself a Tim Hortons donut. This tip works similarly to #1. I know it can be difficult to force yourself to eat a donut— especially if it's something like Boston Cream, chocolate glazed or kiwi lime but exercise some self-discipline—remember, this is your health we're talking about!

The Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day* 5. Watch The Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day. For the endorphins, which recent studies show enhance the immune system, relieve pain, reduce stress and increase well-being. It's impossible to watch this movie with a straight face—from Randy's markered head to the boys' home made security office uniforms when they try to rob a bank, the final TPB offering is a laugh riot. For increased flu-fighting potential eat a donut or several fun-size chocolate bars during your viewing.

* 6. Build/purchase a robot to pick things (which may be contaminated with flu germs) up for you, open doors (which may be contaminated with flu germs) and shake hands (which may be contaminated with flu germs) on your behalf. This is the twenty-first century and where are the flying cars already? But if we can't have the soaring cars, at least let's get going with the robots. If you're not very good with technical matters yourself, and are therefore unable to construct your own robot, contact your local community college and get one of the tech students to whip you up one on the cheap, right now before they graduate and their robot design prices go through the roof. Be sure not to buy a Terminator, though, particularly if you happen to be John Connor or someone close to him.

*7. Customize your dart board by covering it with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's face. The space between his eyes should serve as the bull's eye, of course. Again for the endorphins. We really want to keep that immune system bolstered!

Stephen Harper dartboard

* 8. Go trick or treating this Halloween, no matter your age. When you've been around for decades, like I have, you might not think you can go trick of treating any more. Won't the neighbours shun you or maybe even call the cops? No, see they won't have any clue it's you! Just get yourself some kind of goofy face mask. Kids are tall these days, I figure as long as you're not over six foot three, you're good to go. If you're taller than that, I do recommend you hunch over (maybe wear a costume that supports a hunched over personna). The money you spend on your costume will pay itself back in candy later in the evening and you can find out which of your neighbours give out the really good stuff and write yourself a reminder to drop by their house again next Halloween.

* 9. If you're a writer, spend your time inside your abode staring lovingly at your newest book instead of going out into the world where swine flu lurks everywhere. If you're in the middle of penning a new novel, you can just gaze loving at that on your laptop screen. If you're not a writer but are an avid reader, stare at your own favourite book(s) and/or reread them. If you don't enjoy reading quite possibly you already have H1N1—I mean, clearly something's wrong with you, how can you not enjoy reading!

Stephen Harper mask * 10. If you absolutely must leave the house to pick up supplies (like the Escape from Bug Island game and Tim Hortons donuts) Buy yourself a Stephen Harper mask this Halloween. People will stay away from you in droves (and therefore, so will the H1N1 germs), especially if you offer to sing Beatles tunes for them. Of course this only works within Canada. Outside our borders limited knowledge about our nation will render this defense useless. Also, in certain ridings, particularly those with a decidedly leftwing bent, people may feel compelled to throw rotting fruit and other assorted items at you but don't worry, they still won't want to get close and will be tossing from a distance, leaving you untainted by the swine flu microbe. In the United States, a possible substitute option is a Sarah Palin mask.

Happy Halloween! 

Happy Halloween!

Pink monopoly - that's how you know it's meant for you, girls!Between tackling some minor copy-editing on The Lighter Side of Life and Death and working obsessively on my current book I haven't been around much but there have definitely been things I've wanted to link to lately so I'm going to pass some of them on now.

First, RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is hosting a poster contest for their college campus campaign. “The winning poster will be used to promote sexual assault awareness on college campuses all over the U.S., reaching over 1 million people nationwide. The winning artist will be mentioned on our website (rainn.org) and have their design downloaded and printed for display by schools and crisis centers!” The deadline is Friday, November 13th so if you're an artist who wants to do some major good with your work, check out the details here.

Kate Townshend, a writer and teacher, has a very informative blog entry up at The F-Word about the gender bullying going on in primary school playgrounds. Kate writes, “it seems obvious in some of the schools I go into that the boys know things are weighted in their favour, at least in the short term. By 11, they have already learnt that calling a girl fat effectively finishes the argument. It doesn’t matter whether she is actually fat or not. It has become a code word which makes it clear that since female self worth is built upon looks, it is easily destroyed by male indifference or antagonism.”

The U.K. based Pink Stinks campaign believes, “that body image obsession, is starting younger and younger, and that the seeds are sown during the pink stage, as young girls are taught the boundaries within which they will grow up, as well as narrow and damaging messages about what it is to be a girl.” Pink Stinks aims to, “redress the balance by providing girls with positive female role models chosen because of their achievements, skills, accomplishments and successes.”

Be sure to have a look at their name & shame page, where they highlight some of the worst marketing aimed at girls.

The Washington CityPaper posted an article about the sex ed gender divide revealed by a survey of about 250 District high school students’ thoughts on sex ed. “According to the study, young women expressed a greater interest—and perhaps difficulty—in speaking openly about personal sexual issues” with sex partners and health educators. Young women also said they had a tough time talking about sex with their parents. “Male participants reported an easier time talking about sex with their parents than the female participants.” Heterosexual girls in the study expressed a greater acceptance of GLBTQ youth and “were more likely to desire an increased visibility for GLBTQ issues in the sex ed curriculum.” While locked drugstore condoms produced shame and frustration in both males and females, it was the girls in the study who expressed shame in carrying condoms. “Young women are afraid that they will be judged as promiscuous by others or misunderstood by their partner if they carry condoms. To avoid misperception, some female focus groups participants reported leaving the responsibility to their boyfriends.”

Finally, I saw the below clip on Broadsides (Antonia Zerbisias's Toronto Star blog) yesterday.

Jack Layton spoke about the incident the next day commenting that, “During question period we have been witnessing undeniably sexist heckling from members of the government side. This abuse is growing hotter, it is growing more frequent and there is more bullying. I can hear some of it now, except in this case it is not targeting women as it all too often does in this chamber. It targets women representing opposition parties, all the opposition parties in the House...I call on the government's leadership to really get a grip on its members and set a higher standard.

And so the gender bullying that begins on the school playground continues right into the House of Commons. Well, isn't this a far cry from Stephen Harper's attempt at playing a warm-blooded human, crooning With A Little Help From My Friends at the piano with Yo Yo Ma? Here we can see what Harper's party really think of female MPs and some of the citizens they're governing. Pregnant women concerned about H1N1 vaccinations...hardy har har. Isn't it hilarious, people thinking their little peasant lives matter? Where do the peons pick up these ludicrous ideas?

sith lord harper

Sure Prime Minister Harper gets by with a little help from his friends, we just shouldn't go getting confused that common citizens are of any concern to his government. It's all about the Death Star with him, same as it's always been.
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