Plan B PillsMarch 25th marked the eighth annual Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action, a day to “raise awareness about and increase access to emergency contraception (EC).” You can find a fact sheet about EC (also known as Plan B ® or the 'morning after pill') on the Back Up Your Birth Control website, which includes info like:
• EC is designed to help prevent pregnancy AFTER unprotected sex or the failure of other birth control methods.

• EC is a higher dosage of the same hormones found in many types of regular birth control pills.

• It can be taken within 5 days of unprotected sex or birth control failure but EC is most effective when taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex or the failure of other birth control methods. In the first 24 hours after intercourse, Plan B can prevent 95% of expected pregnancies.

• EC is NOT the “abortion pill” and will not terminate an existing pregnancy or cause birth defects if a woman takes it when she is already pregnant.
In the United States women eighteen and over can currently purchase Plan B pills without a prescription but earlier this week a federal judge ordered the Food and Drug Administration make EC available over the counter to women as young as 17.

The judge ruled that the FDA had “improperly bowed to political pressure from the Bush administration in 2006 when it set 18 as the age limit...The agency has 30 days to comply with the order, in which the judge also urged the agency to consider removing all restrictions on over-the-counter sales of Plan B.”

Back in 2006 the FDA had also ordered that Plan B be stocked behind pharmacy counters, in contrast to other over-the-counter contraceptives like condoms, in order to enforce the age restriction.

So this current ruling is excellent news for young American women! If you find yourself in need of emergency contraception, timing is crucial and women of any age shouldn't have to jump through hoops to prevent pregnancy when there's a product that will safely help them do that on the market.

In theory, over the counter access to Plan B is something that Canadians of all ages already have. Last May the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities accepted a recommendation that Plan B be made available on drugstore shelves rather than behind the pharmacy counter, making Canada (with the exception of Quebec) the fifth country to allow emergency contraceptive pills to be sold as an over-the-counter product.

Unfortunately, the reality of EC access is different. Seven pharmacists I contacted within my Ontario town this past November all told me they kept Plan B pills behind the counter. This was also the case in drugstores I contacted in Brampton and Scarborough. In further researching this situation I found that while the Ontario College of Pharmacists follows the NAPRA policy, the College doesn't regulate the placement of products within a pharmacy. So while a pharmacist is now permitted to put Plan B on the general shelves along with Tylenol or mouthwash, they aren't obligated to. Which pretty much leaves us with the 2004 status quo here—which was when Plan B became available without a doctor's prescription and changed to behind the counter status.

Some Ontario pharmacists cite fear of theft as the big reason Plan B remains a behind the counter drug in all but name but I'm more concerned about people (especially young or vulnerable people) who may feel daunted at the thought of requesting emergency contraception from their pharmacist and therefore risk going without. I'm hoping that this new U.S. federal court ruling will inspire the States to get it right and do a better job of removing hoops to EC access than we've done up here so far.

I know that if, when writing I Know It's Over, buying Plan B pills had been as simple as dropping by Shoppers Drug Mart and tossing the pills into a basket along with a tube of toothpaste, the intelligent but frightened sixteen year old characters at the centre of my story would have done just that and I would've had to pen a very different novel.
It's been four years since the last new Our Lady Peace album but at last the release of Burn Burn is right around the corner and I know Finn (One Lonely Degree) would be psyched. The exact release date of Burn Burn is to still be announced but Our Lady Peace played some of the new songs at the CHUM FM FanFest in Toronto two weeks ago and I'm posting their performance of upcoming single All You Did Was Save My Life here for Finn:

Truthfully, since writing One Lonely Degree I think about her pretty much every time I hear Our Lady Peace. Yeah, real life music reminds me of a fictional character. It's a weird life, being a writer!

Anyway, if you want to hear more from Burn Burn:

Waiting For Something To Happen 

* White Flags 

* Monkey Brains

And here's an older OLP tune to enjoy while you're at it. Do You Like It:

A couple of weeks ago I posted the news that I Know It's Over had been named to the New York Public Library's “Stuff for the Teen Age” list. The entire list has now been posted online so you can have a look at it yourself if you like:

* NYPL Stuff For The Teen Age 2009

This year's list consists of a total of one hundred books, movies, music and games so not only is I Know It's Over up there with fantastic novels including The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Kendra, The Hunger Games and My Life as a Rhombus, it's also in the company of movies like The Dark Knight and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, the videogame Guitar Hero and Beyoncé's I am... Sasha Fierce album.

I'm absolutely stunned that I Know It's Over is on a list with all this amazing stuff! Huge thanks to the New York Public Library and the NY teens who helped them design their 2009 list!

I'm also very pleased to say that One Lonely Degree has received a starred review from Kirkus! The review will be in their April 1st issue.
One WeekEarly this afternoon I was walking down Front Street in Toronto with Paddy, talking about Canadian TV show Being Erica, when he told me that Margaret Atwood had just walked by. She'd seen him notice her and had smiled at him so he'd said hello. All this while I was obvliously chattering away about the great Toronto locations (the Distillery District, Yorkville, Centre Island, Front Street, Casa Loma etc.) being featured in Being Erica.

To top it off we were on our way to watch Canadian road movie One Week at the time. So quite the Canadiana moment all round!

Every second review of this movie I've read (possibly more) have described One Week as a love letter to Canada and, indeed, that's exactly what it is—with gorgeous scenery, references to national hero Terry Fox and Tim Hortons' roll up the rim contest, a musical soundtrack that includes tracks ranging from Sam Roberts Hard Road to French Canadian folk song Un Canadien Errant, a Stanley Cup encounter and a cameo by Gord Downie—Canadians, you gotta see One Week!

Not only is One Week beautiful and full to the brim with Canadiana, it manages to nicely sidestep the cheese factor that could've easily accompanied the material. Main character Ben (played by Joshua Jackson) is diagnosed with stage four cancer in Toronto as the film opens. He should be headed straight for treatment but with a diagnosis that says Ben may have a maximum of two years to live, he's adamant about stealing some time for himself before he becomes a patient. So Ben buys himself a motorcycle and drives west across the country, on his way to mile zero of the Trans-Canada Highway. It's a voyage of both internal and external discovery that I think Canadians will appreciate most but international viewers will also appreciate the film's charm, sincerity and breathtaking landscapes.

* Read the Toronto Star's review of One Week

* Visit One Week's official website

One Week Trailer:

George Stroumboulopoulos discusses One Week with Joshua Jackson on The Hour:

Broken Soup by Jenny ValentineOne of my favourite things to do whenever I'm in Ireland or the U.K. is pop into as many bookstores as possible and scour the shelves for books that aren't (yet) available in Canada. Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine was one of the YA novels I picked up in London in December.

I always have a backlog of reading material so just got around to starting it last night and finished it up first thing this morning. About a third of the way through I fell into a state of awe that never let up. No surprise, then, that author Jenny Valentine won the Guardian children's fiction prize with her debut novel, Finding Violet Park (which I have to get my hands on ASAP!).

What a shame, I thought after I'd read the final page of Broken Soup, that readers in North America are missing out on this breathtaking novel. But I'm very happy to say that just minutes later I read on Wondrous Reads that Broken Soup is being released in North America! In fact, having looked it up on Amazon, I can tell you that it's available on March 24th. I hope you'll ignore the new nondescript cover (which you can check out on Wondrous Reads) and trust me that there's a warm, original, intelligent book lurking underneath—a book about loss, friendship, family, memory, a book with three dimensional characters that you'll admire and care deeply about and be sorry to say goodbye to.

The year is young but I'm already betting this will be one of my favourites reads of 2009.

You can read more about Broken Soup and Jenny Valentine here:

* Times Online review of Broken Soup

* The Guardian review of Broken Soup

* BBC Interview with Jenny Valentine

*** March 23rd Update***

I spotted a copy of Broken Soup (complete with U.K. cover) at Chapters in Toronto on the weekend and it turns out the novel was published in Canada by Harpercollins in January 08. Come tomorrow U.S. readers will also be able to check out the book.
Lately I've realized that there are many, many questions about writing I'm not very good at answering. Most often I have no clue where my characters or plotlines spring from. When a character pops up (from who knows where!) I pretty much just try to follow along with the story they seem to be attached to as best I can.

I'm sure there are writers out there who are much more tuned in to their process, but to me the whole thing feels a little like being Allison Dubois, only the situations and people I happen to pick up on are fictional.

However, there is one writing question that I have a definitive answer for and that's something my editor asked the first time we spoke on the phone: What made you want to write YA?

When I discovered I wanted to write books about teenagers I hadn't, in fact, read any young adult novels in over a decade. It was watching The Salingers, five orphaned young people ranging in age from infancy to early twenties, try to deal with all the crap life had to throw at them in the TV show Party of Five that convinced me that I wanted to write about young people.

Together The Salingers and their friends face Bailey's alcoholism, Charlie's cancer, the domestic violence committed against Julia, unplanned pregnancy, sexual assault, mental health issues and more. These are serious problems—ones their parents would've clearly found difficult to deal with but Charlie, Bailey, Julia and Claudia (Owen's too young during the course of the series to take any responsibility) must struggle with them without the benefit of experience. They're intelligent and sensitive people but without the life skills that years of living add.

Watching Party of Five I realized that's exactly what I wanted to write about—young people going through things that would be a challenge for anyone (whether that's family problems, addiction, career decisions, death, romantic relationship stuff etc.) but even more so for them because of their youth. I don't mean just the obviously heavy issues either. Something like being forced to move across the country away from your old network of friends and then having to take a science class with a bully of a science teacher (when you're not scientifically inclined in the first place!) while the guy/girl you can't stop thinking about steadily ignores you, can be a challenge. As a young person you usually have little control over where you live, your surroundings, the rules imposed upon you (sometimes lack of rules and guidance can be a problem too) and your circumstances in general. While you may be able to avoid science class later in life if you've discovered physics isn't your cup of tea, that's often not an option when you're sixteen. And dealing with your tyrannical teacher or unrequited crush may be a little easier if you've worked through a similar experience in the past.

I wanted to embed Bailey's intervention scene from season three here for people who may not have seen Party of Five. Lacey Chabert gives such a powerful performance as twelve year old Claudia in that scene (one of my favourite Party of Five moments), as she pleads with her brother to get help for his drinking. But it's no longer available on YouTube so I had to settle for a snippet of dialogue instead. The dialogue itself does a great job of showing what a wonderful, emotionally complex show Party of Five is:
Claudia: [sobbing] No, no, no, no! I can't take this, Bailey. I mean, you can't do this anymore.
Bailey: Claudia--
Bailey: No, Bailey, I mean it, that's it. That's it. I mean, if you don't...if you don't go and get help, then I don't want to see you. You can't come over here, and you can't see me, and you can't see Owen, and I'm not gonna come see you, and I'm not gonna call you, and...I'm not even gonna think about you.
Charlie: Claudia--
Claudia: No! [to Bailey, crying] I love you. More than anyone else. I love you the best. You know that. This is the only thing I have that I can take away from you. To make you stop. Either you get help right now, or get out of here.

[long pause, then Bailey exits the room without a word]

Intervention, Party of Five
And here's an earlier scene which shows Bailey's siblings and his girlfriend, Sarah, setting up the intervention:

It's interesting to note that Party of Five's ratings were very low its first season but Fox executives had faith in the show and kept it on the air anyway. The ratings picked up in subsequent seasons and PO5 ran for six seasons in total.

After being inspired by Party of Five I went on to read tons of young adult books and write several of my own. I hope I would've found my way to YA fiction eventually anyway, because it's impossible to imagine loving any other type of fiction in quite the same way, but if there's one thing that turned my attention to writing for and about young people, it's undeniably watching Charlie, Bailey, Julia, Claudia and their friends try to meet life's challenges with only each other to lean on.

The Salingers hang out at their late parents' restaurant in Party of Five
Sometime during my lingering zombie sickness (a sickness that's gone on so long now that it's basically been incorporated into my personality) I did an interview with Jill (thank you, Jill!) at Reading is Bliss that's now up. I talk about writing and publishing, The Lighter Side of Life and Death, which is the book I'm revising at the moment and things I couldn't live without. Jill's review of I Know It's Over is also up on her blog and she's having a contest this Friday to give away 3 copies of Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten so if you'd like to nab one check back then.
Yesterday afternoon I found out that I Know It's Over was named to The New York Public Library's Stuff for the Teen Age 2009, the multi-format, multimedia, targeted, and teen-tested update to their Books for the Teen Age annual list. I love that the list is multimedia this year and am so very happy to have been included!

I've seen a few articles and blog entries online that I've wanted to link to in the last while and am only now catching up on. Let's start off optimistically, with this BBC article: Optimism is the cure for the downturn. Now, I don't believe in the philosophy that The Secret espouses, that all we have to do to make our lives golden is think positively, but Sir David Tang's article which states, “Pessimism is the most serious cause for the global economic tsunami,” makes a lot of sense to me. The more we hear about how badly stocks are performing and how much various company profits are down, the less confident people are going to feel about hiring new employees (or even keeping the ones they already have) and making major purchases (or even minor ones!).

On one hand, it makes perfect sense to be frugal and keep ourselves up to date with news of the current economic crisis. On the other, submerging ourselves in negative financial info on a daily basis is bound to fill us with fear and uncertainty (which could be crippling). And if no one spends any money how will we ever get out of this mess? Read what Sir David Tang advises and do let your government know how important you feel it is that they invest in infrastructure.

If you read my blog you'll notice I don't spend much time talking about celebrities but so many people have been discussing Chris Brown's recent assault on Rihanna lately, some of them judging her for supposedly getting back together with him or offering excuses for Chris' violent behaviour, that I want to point people in the direction of this fantastic entry on the topic from the Yes means Yes! blog: What it doesn't mean. The entry breaks open some of the myths surrounding abusive situations—e.g. getting back together with someone who abuses you doesn't mean you're stupid and deserve what you get next time or that what your abuser did wasn't so terrible in the first place.

While we're on the subject of romantic relationships I wish everyone who has a teenager, or writes for teenagers, or is concerned about what's happening in their lives would take a few minutes to read Heather Corinna's Scarleteen post on young women and sex: How Easy It Isn't. Heather's done such an amazing job of bringing enlightened, inclusive, nonjudgmental sex-ed to the Internet with Scarleteen that I truly can't say enough good things about her. I think some people, if they don't look at the present state of our culture too closely, may assume that young women today have it easier when it comes to sex.

Heather points out that while many young American women today grow up aware that no means no, “they don't always have an easy time saying it or feel the permission to. Too, many young women are more frequently, and at earlier ages -- which for some is due to sexual development happening earlier historically than it ever has for women before -- finding themselves in the position of responding to sexual invitations and situations.”

She has this to say on pornography: “ -- like every other media -- has also continued to more frequently broadcast from and for the lowest common denominator and {girls} are inundated with an even greater volume of homogeneous and sexist sexual messages, beauty and sexual ideals and representations of sex from men and/or for men but dripping over with women in whatever mold they imagine into being for themselves. The feeling that sex needs to be about performance and one-upwomanship -- and one young women often express feeling sex-as-competition is not merely between they and friends but they and professional sex performers -- rather than personal expression seems to be growing...”

For an exploration of a fairly new type of body image problem young women are faced with you can read this F Word blog entry on a British TV show where doctors performed a labiaplasty on a nineteen year old girl.

Finally,  The Republic of T blogged about the murder of fourteen-year-old Larry King and how reading about Larry's experiences reminded him of some of his own experiences at that age. He highlights the astonishing spin some media have put on Larry's murder. Example from The Advocate:

Guided by a welcoming support system at the group home where he lived, the teenager was encouraged to dress as he pleased and live as the person he wanted to be. What King and others didn’t recognize was that this encouragement—and his response to it—placed him on a collision course with a culture that found him repulsive.
Even before his death, Larry King was notorious. He was the sassy gay kid who bragged about his flashy attire and laughed off bullying, which for him included everything from name-calling to wet paper towels hurled in his direction. King was an easy target—he stood 5 foot 4 and was all of 100 pounds.

…As wonderful as this encouragement sounds, did it put Larry in harm’s way by sending him out in a world not ready for him? It may be beyond the capacity of kids to reconcile a tolerant atmosphere like Casa Pacifica with the xenophobic, conformist nature of school. Children like Brandon McInerney are products of their society, one that simply does not know what to do with a boy in heels.
As The The Republic of T surmises: “The consensus seemed to be that Larry “brought this on himself” and that someone allowed him to do so or failed to stop him from doing so — instead of that harassment (let alone death) shouldn’t have been the consequence for being Larry.” He discusses “the time-honored schoolyard tradition {Larry's classmates} will go on to uphold as adults: that of policing gender.” And asks how, as one person against a group, you deal with the onslaught of harassment.

Looking at how long my post here is, considering it's basically a collection of links, you can probably see why it took me so long to get around to writing it! So I'll sign off now, closing with Billy Bragg singing Lovers Town Revisited way back when so we can all enjoy the flashback and get energized!

Stephen HarperWith Harper threatening an election if the opposition don't let the Conservatives have their way with a shadowy 3 billion $ slush fund it's time to start dreaming about all the Canadian citizens (and some folks who could hopefully be persuaded to take out citizenship) that could be a better Prime Minister than current leader Stephen Harper. Let's face it, it would be difficult to do a worse job. At present the country has virtually no idea what to do to earn a buck other than sell off every last remaining natural resource within its borders (Canada, I love you dearly but the truth is harsh and oil, water, minerals etc. are finite!). So here's my list of suggested candidates for Prime Minister, in no particular order:

* Ronald McDonald

Ronald McDonald I'm not certain if Ronald McDonald is actually a Canadian citizen but surely that's a technicality we could iron out by slipping him a passport (we should also get him a decent suit). McDonald's, unlike so many companies located in Canada, is still showing a very healthy profit. McDonald's is one of only two companies in the Dow Jones industrial average whose share price rose in 2008 (the other was Walmart). Also, McDonald's, unlike our Conservative federal government, don't appear to take issue with paying their female employees equal wages.

* Elizabeth May

Elizabeth May The Green Party leader was the clear winner of the national election debates in October when she tore into Harper's utter lack of concern for the environment, his disdain for our socialist style healthcare system and the fact that he seemed completely oblivious to looming economic woes. Let's recall for a moment (and groan) how Harper, during those debates, stated that Canadians weren't worried about their jobs. Elizabeth May has a handle on what Canadians want and that's not handing along the festering open sore that is the Alberta tar sands for future generations to clean up. It's not clinging to our dependence on fossils fuels up until the very last second that life as we currently know it becomes unliveable. May wants innovation, new ways for the country to earn its living. Also, unlike Ronald McDonald, she already has an appropriate wardrobe ready to go.

* Rick Mercer

Rick MercerSpeaking of wardrobe, who looks better in a suit than Canadian comedian Rick Mercer? Mercer's wicked sharp wit would skewer his opponents during Parliamentary question periods. He knows the issues, the players and all the angles and with the economy going down in flames we may as well go down howling with laughter.
* Margaret Atwood

Margaret AtwoodCanadian novelist and environmentalist Margaret Atwood is passionate about wildlife conservation. Her eloquence and intelligence are unrivalled. In addition, Atwood's talent for envisioning dystopia scenarios (The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake) could help us detect and navigate our way around potential real life science gone wrong and fundamentalist threats. Following the motto Offred discovers scratched in her cupboard in The Handmaid's Tale alone could take us far: Don't let the bastards grind you down.

* Justin Trudeau

Justin TrudeauOur wonder boy of the future—Pierre Trudeau's eldest son—could be the wonder boy of today. Why wait? So what if he's still a little rough around the edges, it seems we could use a little raw dynamism at the moment. That soulless ultra bland I could beat a lie detector test before my morning coffee persona Harper wears isn't doing the nation any good. Get ready for your close-up, Justin!

* My Super

My SuperI realize not many of you know him so you'll have to take my word for it but the superintendent of the building I've lived in for the past eight years doesn't threaten to call an election whenever he receives a complaint (or make an equivalent super gripe which I suppose would be something along the lines of, "Well, you just see if you can find another super who would do half as good a job!"). Everyone's problems are his problems. He may not be happy about having to deal with them but he does the best he can, as amiably as possible. He's transparent (unlike our current PM) about the building's issues, even when they're unpleasant, and accessible (unlike our current PM who has done all he can to keep Canadians in the dark, including keeping the press at as great a distance as possible). If you left Stephen Harper the keys to your apartment when you got home from vacation you'd likely find he'd sold it to the highest bidder. When cornered he would blame said sale on the nearest member of the Liberal party and proceed to solicit a donation to the Conservative party. With my super, there are no such concerns and with my super in charge of the nation, we would all be able to rest easy.

* Barack Obama

Barack ObamaWe already know and love him and okay, I realize he already has a full-time gig as President of the United States but with just a tenth of their population how much tougher could it be for him to manage us too? If we could get him on our side we'd finally be able to stop fretting about the threat of American protectionism. Also, Barack is already pals with our Governor General Michaëlle Jean so heaven forbid (because we don't want to encourage this kind of behaviour!) he should ever need to prorogue Parliament MJ is bound to give him the thumbs up. One thing though, and this is a BIG one, Obama's support of same sex civil unions but not marriage would have to change. It's gotta be the full deal, Barack! If Stephen Harper (who is no ardent supporter of human rights) can be the PM for a country that recognizes the right of same-sex couples to marry, you should be able to get with the human rights program too.

* Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor (jointly)

These two Blue Rodeo frontmen have spent years travelling this great land of ours and have never shied away from social criticism. They've lent their musical talent to such causes as disarmament and the endangered West Coast rainforest and have spoken out in favour of native rights. They also know how to unload a couple albums (11 not including solo albums and greatest hits compilations!) and could help us figure out how to sell Canadian artists (and musicians, filmmakers, novelists etc.) and tourism to an international market. The country could use some clean $. Closing argument in their favour - the following lyrics from Love and Understanding:

Many have tried
In many ways
All I see are longer rows of crosses on the
Soldiers' graves
So do what you have to
And when it's all been said
Love and understanding are the best answers
I've heard yet

Yeah, me too, guys. Ever think of getting into politics? And if not could you give Rick or Margaret a call?
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