Months back a writer friend sent me a link to Margaret Atwood's insightful TED talk on the future of publishing, "The Publishing Pie: An Author's View." The part that resonated the most deeply with me begins at the 2:16 mark where Atwood, reflecting on acute changes to the industry remarks, "We have heard a certain amount of panic and my first message to you is, don't panic because if you do panic and run away they will think you're prey."

To me, this seems to be solid advice in any number of situations: Don't panic because you'll look like prey.

When my first book was accepted for publication in 2006 the publishing environment was very different than it is today, only a few short years later. The rise in popularity of e-books has significantly changed the publishing landscape. For one thing, there's tons more piracy (and most writers make very little money to begin with so that's extremely bad news). A 2011 poll of French readers found that 27% of ebook readers reported that they got their content from pirate sites. Another 2011 Digital Entertainment Survey showed the "advent of eBook readers has increased illegal downloading activity across the board: 29 per cent of eReader and 36 per cent of tablet owners of all ages, both male and female, admit piracy."

To be honest, I have trouble understanding some readers' willingness to download (and even post) pirated copy of books. It doesn't take much insight to realize that if you don't financially support books there'll be less choice in reading materials in the future. Worried publishers, seeing diminishing returns for many, many books, will award less contracts and writers that aren't perceived to be writing the next Hunger Games or The Help will be out of luck. Some may self-publish (with varying degrees of success and still facing piracy in that arena) and some, in time, may be forced to stop writing almost entirely, bruised by financial realities—the need to feed themselves and their families. Surely if you're a reader, you'd want a certain diversity and depth of reading material to be available to you in the future. You'd think, right? But it seems that a significant percentage of readers are woefully short-sighted on this point.

Piracy aside, this is the year that Borders disappeared from the United States, leaving a single big national bookstore chain in place, Barnes and Noble. Even before Borders went bankrupt Barnes and Noble had way too much power— influencing book covers, titles and sometimes even the content of books. But now if Barnes and Noble decide not to stock your book it's a bigger concern for writers than ever. There may not be an indie store around for miles and they just don't get the traffic that Barnes and Noble do (if you have the chance, please give indie bookstores all the traffic you can!). At times it may in fact be easier for readers to find pirated copies of your book online than physical copies of your novel on bookstore shelves (head slap!).

Too, when my first book, I Know It's Over, was released contemporary young adult books were in much greater demand than they are now. These days, while there are still some contemporary YA books kicking around at Barnes and Noble, their shelf and table space is puny compared to that awarded to more escapist fare—paranormal, fantasy and dystopian fiction for teens. Not that I have anything against books that offer an escape from reality but I do have a problem with those books being supported by publishers and chain booksellers to the exclusion of almost anything else.

And this is the place I find myself at the end of 2011, a writer who wants to continue to pen books for young people (realistic contemporary books mainly but other things too. A little of this, a little of that, whatever inspires me at a particular time) despite not having any hit novels to my name at a time when the industry feels like it's standing at the edge of a hill, beginning to cascade down the side like a runny egg.

A writer could get very nervous thinking about it all and then there's the shaky state of the economy in general and the fear that every year we delay getting serious about combatting climate change puts our collective future in greater jeopardy. There's alot to worry about for all of us, no question, but the act of worrying isn't actually helpful in the least so in 2012 I'm adopting a WWII slogan Britain's Ministry of Information came up with way back in 1939. Given the anxiety of the current times it's easy to see why it's become popular again.

Keep Calm and Carry On

I don't normally make New Year's resolutions and I'm not even sure this is one exactly but in 2012 I plan to take Margaret Atwood's and the British Ministry of Information's advice. I'm not sure what the publishing industry has in store for me, or any of my fellow writers this year—or what the slippery global economy has in store for any of us either—but soldier on with me, folks. We'll have to get more creative in working around our problems than we've had to be in the recent past. Much more, I imagine. But we can do that. Our species happens to be quite talented at adapting once we put our minds to it.

Keep calm and carry on.
The Christmas holidays may be a great time for turkey, plum pudding and sledding (if you have the weather for it), but one of the other things I love about the season is the feeling, after the main festivities are over with, that it's okay to slow down and smell the roses or, er, the snowflakes. I haven't been doing any writing during the past few days but I've been doing a heck of a lot of movie watching (including the adventures of my childhood hero Tintin!) and reading. One of the novels I devoured over the holidays is Amplified by Tara Kelly, which I'd been especially looking forward to tackling because I have a big ol' crush on rock fiction. Now I can officially say I have a big ol' crush on Amplified too. Main character Jasmine Kiss is an awesome guitarist, one hell of a strong girl and one hell of a mess too. Delicious drama with a hard rock edge.

Reading Amplified prompted me to put together this list of my favourite rock fiction. It was originally intended to be a top ten list but I couldn't decide which of the Superchick trilogy novels should make the list and even if I just named one, that would've left me with a top eleven list. Most of the below descriptions are the publisher's (because I'm lazy at this time of year and have a bad memory at the best of times) but they're all fantastic, highly enjoyable books, some of them YA and some of them adult. I consider them all perfect examples of crossover books, ones that would appeal equally to older teen and adult readers.

TOP 13
* Amplified (by Tara Kelly, 2011)
When privileged 17-year-old Jasmine gets kicked out of her house, she takes what is left of her savings and flees to Santa Cruz to pursue her dream of becoming a musician. Jasmine finds the ideal room in an oceanfront house, but she needs to convince the three guys living there that she's the perfect roommate and lead guitarist for their band, C-Side. Too bad she has major stage fright and the cute bassist doesn't think a spoiled girl from over the hill can hack it. . . .

* Chartbreak (also known as Chartbreaker, by Gillian Cross, 1987)
When Janis Finch storms out of a family row, it starts a chain of events which transforms her whole life. For it's in the motorway cafe, minutes later, that she meets the unknown rock band, Kelp, who talk her into coming to their gig that night. Janis goes along for the ride and finds herself increasingly provoked by Christie, Kelp's arrogant lead singer. He pushes her into singing with them, and winds her up into a fever of rage, awe, and attraction. So when Christie asks her to join the band, Janis feels powerless to refuse—and her life explodes.

* The Commitments (by Roddy Doyle, 1987)
Barrytown, Dublin, has something to sing about. The Commitments are spreading the gospel of the soul. Ably managed by Jimmy Rabitte, brilliantly coached by Joel 'The Lips' Fagan, their twin assault on Motown and Barrytown takes them by leaps and bounds from Paris Hall to immortality on vinyl. But can The Commitments live up to their name?

* The Exes (by Pagan Kennedy, 1998)
A hip and hilarious tour of the world of rock 'n' roll. The Exes, an up-and-coming indie band, is made up of people who used to be lovers. Progressing from jam sessions in a basement to second-rate clubs to a cross-country tour that requires them to share seedy hotel rooms—with their exes—the four band members reveal their quirks, their problems, and their fantasies in alternating narratives.

fav rock fiction
* Girl (by Blake Nelson, 1994) Meet Andrea Marr, straight-A high school student, thrift-store addict, and princess of the downtown music scene. Andrea is about to experience her first love, first time, and first step outside the comfort zone of high school, with the help of indie rock band The Color Green. *There's also a sequel called Dream School which came out on December 6th.

* Guitar Girl (by Sarra Manning, 2003)
Seventeen-year-old Molly Montgomery never planned on becoming famous. Molly's band, The Hormones, was just supposed to be about mucking around with her best mates, Jane and Tara, and having fun. But when the deliciously dangerous Dean and his friend T join the band, things start happening fast. Soon The Hormones are front-page news, and their debut album is rocketing up the charts. Molly is the force behind the band, but the hazards of fame, first love, screaming fans, and sleazy managers are forcing the newly crowned teen queen of grrl angst close to the edge. Fame never comes for free, and Molly's about to find out what it costs.

* High Fidelity (by Nick Hornby, 1995)
Pop music junkie and record store owner Rob finds that his myriad diversions after the breakup with his longtime girlfriend are not as entertaining as he thought they would be. This international bestseller was Nick Hornby's first novel.

* Live By Request (by Rob Payne, 2002)
On paper, Jay Thompson is a 26-year-old bartender going nowhere. But his burning desire is to be a working musician, or failing that, a working songwriter. Together in pursuit of the dream is his band, Archangel: Tyler, headstrong composer of the experimental rock opera "Space Oddity"; Jan, the sassy bass guitar smashingplayer and object of Jay's affection; and Noel, the Gap-wearing, scissor-kicking guitar player, who spends his days labouring in the corporate world. Set on the Canada-US border, Live By Request follows the exploits of a band on the run from bscurity, boredom, and sometimes, even themselves.

* Rock Star Superstar (by Blake Nelson, 2004)
Music is Pete’s life. He’s happiest when playing his Fender P-Bass. He doesn’t care about prestige or getting girls; it’s the quality of the music that matters. Then he meets the Carlisle brothers. They can’t sing and they can barely play, but somehow they have a following. Pete can’t resist, and he joins The Tiny Masters of Today. When the band gets a chance at real stardom, Pete wonders if he’s ready. He knows the music should come first . . . but who knew selling out could be so much fun?

* Superchick (2004), Rock and a Hard Place (2006), Ride On (by Stephen J. Martin, 2008)
The Superchick trilogy follows Jimmy Collins' journey from Dublin middle manager to full-blown rockstar along with his perpetually randy bandmate Aesop. All three novels absolutely bleed Irish sensibility which is a big part of their charm. I keep hoping some talented filmmaker will get them onto the screen and give these books the exposure they deserve.

* Vinyl Princess (by Yvonne Prinz, 2009)
Summer's here, and 16-year-old Allie, a self-professed music geek, is exactly where she wants to be: working full-time at Berkeley’s ultra-cool Bob and Bob Records. There, Allie can spend her days bantering with the street people, talking the talk with the staff, shepherding the uncool bridge-and-tunnel shoppers, all the while blissfully surrounded by music, music, music. It’s the perfect setup for her to develop her secret identity as The Vinyl Princess, author of both a brand-new zine and blog. From the safety of her favourite place on earth, Allie is poised to have it all: love, music and blogging . . .or is she?

Rock on!
I'm an absolute sucker for those miniature Christmas villages people set up on their mantelpieces at this time of year. If I had boundless room my own village would no doubt expand to the point where it would, in fact, be so large you'd have to call it a town.

Recently my dad told me about a fantastic Christmas display in Campbellville that features a collection of these Christmas villages as well as lights, animated boxes and more. So this past Sunday Paddy and I drove up to The Stonehouse in Campbellville to visit the Singleton family's Christmas lights display. It's open to the public free of charge from mid-November to the end of December and donations made on sight go to Halton Women's Place for its Children's programs.

Christmas bakery goods 2011The display is totally charming and I swear I've never heard a kid filled with such excitement as the young girl who, during our visit, squealed with uncontainable glee from behind us. "I love this!"

I've posted a selection of photos from our visit below, starting with the fuel we ingested before our visit — a sugar cookie (mine) and mince pie (Paddy's) from our local bakery here. In one of the snaps you can even see me doing an amazing skating stunt!

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

C.K., The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

The Singleton's Christmas Lights Display 2011

into the future, just like the song says. Sometimes I feel like the Doctor must be messing with the fabric of time because, for instance, how can it already be two weeks since I last updated my blog? What has happened during all that time (aside from my trips to the cinema to watch Arthur Christmas, Hugo and Breaking Dawn)?? Shouldn't I have more to show for it?

Hugo, Breaking Dawn, Arthur Christmas

Now, if the Doctor is fooling around with time I'm sure it's in the service of good and that the earth has just been saved from maleovalent aliens but for our own sake we haven't been allowed to remember it. If this is the case I heartily thank the Doctor for once again rescuing humanity (and humbly request that he consider doing something about getting us Canadians a half decent Prime Minister). Either way I'm hoping to get much more writing done next week because I'm falling behind in my new book and have left the main character alone in the middle of a very precarious situation for far too long. Let me tell you, she's not happy about this. I'm probably going to hear alot of crap from her when I get back to the book!

Meanwhile in real life I've acquired a case of shopping mall sickness which comes from having been in four shopping malls (five if you count the Atrium on Bay) within the last three days. Not that I've bought alot mind you, but I've spent hour upon hour there just the same. I think shopping mall air must be similar in quality to airplane air because I feel generally lacklustre and am exhibiting the symptoms of a head cold. Today the Santa Claus in Dixie Value Mall wished me a Merry Christmas as I passed him, without me having to sit on his knee or anything. Hopefully the good vibes will set me right again soon but while I'm on the subject how ridiculous is it that while even a discount shopping mall has a real-life Santa to visit Toronto's Eaton Centre has nixed this longtime tradition in favour of offering Skype visits with Santa? That's a big bah humbug of an idea to me. So much of daily life now is already divorced from reality and spent interacting with electronic devices. The cool thing about being able to meet a mythological figure like Santa live in the flesh is the fact that, well, he's live in the flesh.

C. K. & Santa, Eaton CentreAnd it's doubly a shame because the Eaton Centre used to have some of the best Santas around (I was so entranced by a particular one that I felt compelled to go have a chat with him myself a few years ago, picture at right). Great job with the cool illuminated giant deer decorations, Eaton Centre, but thumbs down on the too cool for school Santa Skype idea.

During my time in downtown Toronto yesterday I had a chance to check out G for Gelato at the corner of Adelaide and Jarvis. I'm a total sucker for gelato and after reading the Toronto Star review I was all excited to stop by. Trust me, if you're as big a fan of gelato as I am you should go too. So yummy (I had the pistachio)! And my husband really enjoyed their espresso too.

Anyway, I hope you'll forgive me if I stay away from the blog a little longer to try to make progress on my current book. By the way, the other day I noticed that my next book, Yesterday, has been posted on Goodreads. It doesn't hit shelves until next September so there's no finalized cover yet but I'm excited to see it just dipping its toe into the pool of existence at this stage and when I can, I'll definitely say more!

Christmas decorations at Eaton Centre
The following post is inspired by one I read on YA author Jill Murray's blog last year about gender and reading. In it she did some very cool unisex cover designs for her books Break On Through and Rhythm and Blues. I've been meaning, ever since I read her post, to create my own more unisex covers.

Personally, I bristle at the idea that people are drawn to certain design types based on their gender but advertisers and marketers make a living out of trying to hem people in and shrink them down to size. They attempt to define us with their visions of masculinity and femininity because if they can convince us who we are, they can also convince us what we need to buy in order to be that guy or girl.

There's a common belief in YA publishing (pretty much the same one we see at play in Hollywood movie making) that guys don't want to read about girls. It's insulting, to say the least and who's to say how true it really is or how true it would be if entertainment wasn't so often designed and packaged with that sexist belief in mind? The ideas constantly put across by advertisers and mass media are that guys like fast cars, team sports, tech gadgets, shoot-em up action in their entertainment, hate shopping (except for fast cars, tech gadgets and shoot-em up entertainment), love beer, are sex obsessed but mostly uninterested in intimacy and are emotionally one-dimensional. Girls, on the other hand are portrayed as innately nurturing and communicative, ruled by their emotions, obsessed with romantic love, shopping, fashion, 'pretty' things in general and anything related to the home and cooking.

And so L'Oreal Vive for Men and Axe put their products in a black bottle they think exudes a masculine look while chocolate bar Yorkie even goes so far as to proclaim on the package 'It's not for girls'. Meanwhile practically anything marketed to woman and girls (we're talking telescopes to frying pans to the game of Monopoly) is released in a pink edition as though anyone with ovaries has a deep and natural affinity for the colour. Pink's become a sort of marketing shorthand — girls, this is for you.

The publishing industry, having figured out teenage boys don't read much (though again, who knows why? Is it because it's ingrained in them by society that this activity isn't for them? How can we ever say what they or anyone would naturally be drawn to when we're bombarded by gender pressure messages from the moment we're born?) chiefly focuses their marketing efforts on girls. Publishers (with added pressure from chain Booksellers) don't rely on pink to gender code their products the way many other industries do but they definitely do gender code YA covers and more often than not those covers are designed to appeal to girls (more on that here) in a monolithic way.

No doubt this coding does sell a certain numbers of books but the problem is that in aiming for a certain kind of reader, a cover can alienate others. Like guys and girls who feel that coding has marked that book as being not for them, albeit in a subtler way than the Yorkie bar!

I like to think of my books as potentially appealing to readers of any gender yet I've read, not infrequently, reviews or Internet commenters mention that while they believe boys would enjoy I Know It's Over or My Beating Teenage Heart, for example, they probably wouldn't pick them up in the first place because of their covers. In the case of I Know It's Over a writer friend passed on direct comments from a sixteen-year-old boy she knew who, after reading the book, said it was awesome and that he had several friends who should read it but that he knew they'd be worried about being seen with the cover.

Firstly, I hate the fact that teenage boys feel their gender is so strictly policed, by each other as well as by much of the rest of society, (if you want to know more about that read Dude, You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School) that it stops them from picking up certain books. Hate it.I hate gender policing in general because it limits all of us.

Secondly, although I'm fond of my book covers I can also see that while they may attract some readers, likewise they'll discourage others. So I've run with Jill Murray's idea (before I was published I used to regularly design mock covers for my stuff) and have re-imagined the covers of all my books to appeal to a different audience, chiefly, a more unisex one but also perhaps more literary in nature (maybe I'm having delusions of grandeur?). You'll notice I've avoided faces (faces on covers are a pet peeve of mine) and people in general and have instead concentrated on mood. Have a look and see what you think. Do these alternate covers make the books feel like different entities than the current covers suggest? Do they make you more interested in the books or less?

Driving back from The Airborne Toxic Event's show at The Phoenix last night I was extremely relieved to see the Occupied protesters' tents still in St. James Park. I'd heard about the eviction notices issued earlier in the day but hadn't yet heard the later news of the injunction granting them a temporary reprieve.

Too many people have too little to get by on and it's getting worse by the day as numerous western governments push austerity agendas crippling our societies. Like millions of other people, I don't want to live in a society where the rich grow richer while the poor and dwindling middle class struggle to land and keep the ever fewer decent jobs on offer and stress over health care bills and skyrocketing third level education costs. How is it that austerity seems to be prescribed for everyone but the rich? In a truly democratic society this would not be the way of things.

For most of us and our families there's not a happy future in store if the wealthiest force us to continue to tread down this path. The Occupy protesters are saying, very vocally, that this must stop, that the status quo is poision and they want democracy back. For all our sakes.

Thank you, Canadian Occupy protesters for standing on guard for this country. Thank you, Occupy protesters everywhere for refusing to give in to economic tyranny.

Halloween skullI just finished the final book in Australian author John Marsden's amazing Tomorrow series. I've become very attached to main character Ellie and so immersed in the harrowing situations she and her friends have had to deal with since Australia was invaded in book one that I'm experiencing a good bit of withdrawal now.

This series is something I should've read ages back but somehow it slipped under my radar until YA author Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson recommended it to me months ago. So, thank you, Kathleen, and thanks, Marshal Zeringue, for having me over to Campaign for the American Reader where you can read some more of my thoughts on this mesmirizing series from the nineties.

Happy Halloween!
My Beating Teenage Heart
Years ago I used to have a bunch of movie review guides and in one of them (I can't remember who the reviews were written by in the specific book I'm thinking of but it definitely wasn't Roger Ebert and I don't believe it was Leonard Maltin either) the worst reviews earned a turkey rating so instead of any stars next to the movie title there was just a tiny turkey image.

turkeyAnyway, it happens that the Kirkus review of My Beating Teenage Heart is essentially a turkey review. Kirkus didn't go so far as to include a turkey icon but I'll do them the favour of adding it here. I'm guessing it's the same Kirkus reviewer who didn't like The Lighter Side of Life and Death because they both have an obvious fondness for ending on zingers.

Here's the last sentence of The Lighter Side of Life and Death review by Kirkus:

“For a summer novel focusing on love and lust, this barely causes the temperature to rise.”

And here are the closing words of their My Beating Teenage Heart review:

“Beats only with a dull pulse.”

BAM! KAPOW! ZOWIE! Take that hapless YA writer!

Now, we're all aware that it's par for the course that you'll be subjected to negative reviews sometimes if you're writing or performing so, although I would've much preferred a positive review, it's not the thumbs down in itself that particularly bothers me about the Kirkus review. No, it's that reviewer refers to one of the main characters, seventeen-year-old Breckon who feels responsible for the death of his little sister, as sulking and moping.

To me, moping suggests something like the following scenario — a kid who breaks his father's camera (an expensive piece of equipment that he was forbidden to use) is grounded and therefore not allowed to go to the local amusement park with his friends the next day. He's sure they're having an amazing time on the scrambler and tilt-a-whirl while he shuffles around the house, looking bored and feeling sorry for himself for missing out. Personally I'd consider that moping and sulking. What I don't feel qualifies as 'sulking' and 'moping' are grieving, suicidal thoughts and clinical depression, you know? There's a crucial distinction to be made there and while we're talking about fiction here, what does this review say to someone who is genuinely experiencing deep grief and/or suffering from depression? That real people don't ever feel this way and if they do their emotions are overwrought? And so those references to moping and sulking in the Kirkus review, they bother me a great deal.

Below are some real life stats and info about suicide, depression and complicated grief that I think it's extremely important to be aware of and take seriously.

Click any of the below to be taken to the original source of the information.

The American Academy of Pediatrics describes the following signs that may signal that a depressed teen may be considering suicide:
If you suspect your teenage son or daughter is suicidal, get them professional help immediately. If you're a young person who is experiencing these feelings themselves or know someone who is please tell someone —a parent, teacher, counselor, someone who will be able to get help.

In Canada young people can call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. Other Canadian suicide hotline numbers are available here.
I'm having my own personal eighties week up here in Southern Ontario with a Howard Jones gig this past Tuesday and Duran Duran show tonight and believe me, the air around me is rife with nostalgia and excitement. I was an enormous fan of both musical acts when I was a teenager and that music still totally gets to me. I mean, I still feel wistful when I hear Duran Duran's Save A Prayer, charged up when I listen to New Moon on Monday and like I want to make peace with the whole world when Howard Jones sings Like to Get to Know You Well. My Simon Le Bon crush is recorded in my old school yearbook (in the form of a French poem) for everyone to see and Howard Jones has to be one of the most positive performers I've ever seen play live. That's as true now as it was when I saw him at the Kingswood Music Theatre and Maple Leaf Gardens in the mid-eighties. He's infectiously warm, endearing and hopeful. How could you not love someone who sings about throwing off your mental chains?

Anyway, the funniest thing about the Howard Jones show (which was superb!) is that I've never seen so many people from a single demographic gathered in one place. Never. Literally ninety-nine percent of the people there were men and women I could've gone to high school with. The age range looked like it stretched from about three years younger than me to three years older and that—well it was kind of a shock. How did I get to be this old? Like, I must have fallen through a time portal or something because it doesn't seem possible. I know it's been a long time since high school (so long that it's highly possible I did go to high school with some of those folks at the show and just didn't recognize them) but I feel basically like the same person I was in university.

I guess maybe you always do because I could tell Howard Jones felt like the same person too. That's one of the things I love about seeing these fabulous acts that debuted in the eighties; they show those of us who grew up in the 80s and the bands/artists that played the songs that were the soundtrack to our lives that we're all still around doing our thing. So, hey, if in another twenty-plus years these guys are still touring I intend to still be in the audience, singing along to the songs I know by heart (even all those years later because, like Depeche Mode sang, I Just Can't Get Enough) and I'm guessing many of the people who I could've gone to high school with will be there too.

Eighties forever!

Update (October 28)

Now I can say I sang Happy Birthday to Simon Le Bon! Loved Duran Duran's mix of Wild Boys and Relax at the ACC last night. So great to see the band and audience having so much fun throughout the night.

I want to thank Marshal Zeringue for having me over to the My Book, the Movie blog where I got to assemble my dream cast (and director!) for a movie version of My Beating Teenage Heart. Thanks for indulging my Hollywood dreams, Marshal! The only cast hint I'm offering is the below photo (guess who?) so you'll have to jump over there to check out the list in its entirety.

My Beating Teenage Heart movie casring

I also want to thank Monica Kulling,creator of one of my favourite fictional pooches (the dapper Mister Dash of Merci, Mister Dash) for pointing me towards a fantastic new review of My Beating Teenage Heart in CM Magazine. I'm positively glowing after reading this review. I bet I'll still be lighting up the room when I switch off my bedside lamp to go to sleep later tonight.
Jamie Hubley and Mitchell WilsonWhen I saw the text and photo at the top of yesterday's Toronto Star something inside me broke. It's happened again. We lost a young person that should've had years and years left to shine and we lost them not to accident or disease, not to something that couldn't have been helped. We lost fifteen-year-old Jamie Hubley, just like we lost eleven-year-old Mitchell Wilson and countless others before him, because he was relentlessly tormented by his peers to the degree that not living another day seemed like a better option.

There's a Japanese proverb that goes, “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” This seems to be truer in our schools than it is almost anywhere else in our society. Schools should not be something that have to be survived, places where our young people have to twist themselves out of shape to avoid standing out.

Jamie Hubley was a kid I would've liked and one my fifteen-year-old self would've liked—a young man who loved music and singing, who preferred figure skating to hockey and who tried to make his school a better, more accepting place by starting a rainbow club. One of Jamie's friends had this to say about him, "It's hard to describe him in one sentence. I couldn't even describe him in a novel. He was so colourful. My favourite thing about him was how he would put his problems aside for others -- put everybody else first and then worry about himself later."

Jamie was the only open gay guy at his Ottawa high school. Imagine the kind of guts that takes, especially at just fifteen. By all accounts, Jamie had guts, heart and talent in spades. The world needs more of all of these things and I'm sad for Jamie and sad for all of us who are left in a place that is a dimmer in his absence.

It's hard for me not to hate the bullies who in seventh grade tried to stuff batteries down Jamie's throat on the school bus because he was a figure skater, hard for me not to hate the kids who tore down his rainbow alliance posters and the people who called him "fag." But I know hate isn't the answer. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

So if you see these horrible things happening at your school, or wherever you may be, don't let hate accumulate, unchallenged. I know there are situations where it may not feel safe to challenge the haters then and there. But you can tell someone afterwards. A teacher, a parent, a guidance counsellor, someone. And you can tell the person you saw or heard being bullied that you don't share the bullies' feelings. Anyone being bullied needs to know that they're not alone. Anyone bullying others (either emotionally or physically) needs to know it will not be tolerated. You need to stop. Right now. It's not funny and it's not okay. It doesn't make you a more powerful person. It diminishes you and when we let it continue it diminishes all of us.

None of us can afford to be bystanders. People's lives are at stake.

Meet Jamie Hubley. He was what one of his idols, Katy Perry, would've undoubtedly called a "firework". I won't let myself hate the people that made Jamie feel less than that but I will forever hate that we are without his light.

Late September/early October was a busy period as I tried to finish up line edits for book 5 but as you can see below I still took a little time out to read, wander and snap a few photos. This late September day at the beach spent reading Water Balloon was so gorgeous that I didn't want to go home.

Reading Water Balloon (by Audrey Vernick) on the beach in late September

Don't be fooled, these are inedible (though scrumptious looking!). In fact, they're soaps. It seems a bit unfair that something you can't eat would look this appetizing, doesn't it?

Flowers and sunny lake views seem especially precious in autumn.

Cupcakes, of course, are precious at any time of year. I had to go on the run from a wasp who wanted to steal this coconut iced one from me (and I fear wasps but I wasn't about to abandon my gorgeous cupcake on a rock by the lake).

Canadian Thanksgiving veggies courtesy of my aunt.

Thanksgiving veggies, October 9

A Thanksgiving decoration I stumbled on in town.

Thanksgiving decoration

Fudge galore in Niagara-on-the-lake.

Fudge in Niagara-on-the-lake

Me, hanging out with a polar bear in Niagara-on-the-lake's Christmas shop, October 11th.

C.K. and Polar Bear in Niagara-on-the-lake's Christmas shop

The temperature that day in Niagara-on-the-lake was a stunning 22 degrees Celsius and we made sure to stroll by the lake. Ahhhhh.

Gazebo view, Niagara-on-the-lake

I so wanted to take this little guy from the Christmas shop home with me if only my apartment weren't so small. I'm sure someone else will snap him up soon.

Cuteness in the Niagara-on-the-lake Christimas shop

And here are a few more photos from that day in Niagara-on-the-lake.

Wherever you're reading this from I hope the season has been as kind to you!
With line edits, Canadian Thanksgiving baking and feasting and a day trip to Niagara-on-the-lake all freshly behind me I feel like I have some big-time catching up to do on the blog. I want to start by thanking the fabulous Audrey Vernick (author of Water Balloon and Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten) for having me over to her bloggy home to talk about My Beating Teenage Heart and other bookish stuff. She's also giving away a copy of the book so if you think you'd like to read it, jog on over to her blog for a chance to win. Don't miss the photos of her adorable new puppy Hootie while you're there!

But that's not all, I'm giving away a copy of Audrey's exceptionally loveable new book, Water Balloon, along with My Beating Teenage Heart swag and Bronxwood (by Coe Booth) via The Secret Life blog and there's only one day left to enter. One day! Yikes.
water balloon, bronxwood, my beating teenage heart

Photos snapped during the last few weeks to follow!

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