Christmas is a time when you get homesick - even when you're home.
— Carol Nelson

Yuletide decorations and festive lights are going up everywhere, the air's turned cold, Charlie Brown, Frosty the Snowman and the Grinch are popping up on the TV, and Santa Claus is back patiently posing for pictures in shopping malls. There's no turning back now, Christmas is on the way! Personally, I never get through the month of December without thinking intermittently of Nick Severson, the main character of my first published book, I Know It's Over. It's not just that the novel begins on Christmas Eve but that I was actually writing the opening chapters of I Know It's Over during the Christmas/New Year's Eve season. Nick's point of view felt so raw and intense that it's never fully left me.

Two of my other novels also either begin or end around the Christmas season. Just Like You Said It Would Be starts on New Year's Eve before jumping back to the previous summer in Chapter Two. Two-thirds of the way into the novel we return, along with main character Amira, to New Year's Day. The last few chapters of my adult book, Come See About Me, occur around Christmas with the final action occurring just before New Year's. 

During the month of December you can pick up e-copies of any of these books for $1.99 (or equivalent foreign currencies) at Amazon outlets, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple Books. Click on the book titles to learn more about the novels.

Wishing you peace, health, happiness and snowflakes that feel like kisses!

“Every election is determined by the people who show up.”
Larry Sabato

So see you at the polls tomorrow, fellow Canadians! This has been one tough & stressful election. My plan is to follow my vote with a piece of sugar pie from St. Hubert tomorrow to sweeten the process.

On September 23, 2008 my first book, a contemporary YA novel called I Know It’s Over was released in the U.S.A. and Canada. Today, eleven books, eleven years and one day later, my first horror novel (and twelfth book) comes out in the United States. You’ll find it under my new horror pen name, Cara Martin. Shantallow is very dark and exceedingly creepy. If it keeps you awake at night, don't say I didn't warn you! Shantallow's on blog tour this week so if you want to check out what people are saying about the book you can drop in here during the week:

Shantallow's heavy on atmosphere and full of many things that scare me personally including an old abandoned house in the process of being swallowed by the forest that surrounds it, inanimate objects moving, whispering when there’s no one there, creatures scurrying around in the darkness, possession, not knowing if you'll make it through the night alive . . .

But you don’t have to take my word that it’s scary, Booklist calls Shantallow “serious, literary and very scary” and Kirkus says it’s “gut-wrenching on various levels.” One of my favourite things about this novel is the sinister looking black and white images you find within that up the ante on the eeriness.

You can enter to win a copy of Shantallow during this week's tour with Xpresso Reads. 

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While waiting to see a doctor at the U of Ottawa walk-in clinic early yesterday afternoon an older woman with a Caribbean accent touched my shoulder, leaned over me and said, "It's an excellent thing you're doing." Having no idea what she meant I nevertheless smiled back (she was grinning and full of good vibes), then asked, "What am I doing?" She pointed to my paperback and said that everybody else in the room was on their electronic toys.

Honestly, I do a lot of reading on my tablet too, but I still think there's something very special about a paper book. I like to have physical copies of my favourites, when possible. They'll outlast any of the current e-book file formats out there.

I seldom reread novels as there are so many new books I want to experience. But for the record, I was rereading Thea Lim's An Ocean of Minutes at the walk-in today. It's a stunner.

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim

Yes, I borrowed the title of this post from the great Leonard Cohen. I miss him terribly but we were so lucky to have him among us for a time. If you want to read more about my Leonard Cohen awe, here are two of my short blog posts on the topic from 2008: Leonard Cohen  and The Lord of Song.

But mainly this blog entry is to say, psst, I write horror too.You'll find it under the name Cara Martin and my first horror novel, Shantallow, is out in Canada now and will be released in the U.S. next month. If any of my contemporary YA readers also happen to be fans of malevolent abandoned houses, creepy dark shadows, eerie whispering when there's no one around and other goosebump-inducing things, Shantallow might be up your alley. I'm excited to report that Booklist and Kirkus liked it!

Now please give your soul a treat and enjoy Leonard Cohen singing 'Take This Waltz':

While I was in Dublin with minimal Internet access I happened to notice an interesting tweet from YA author Brent Hartinger (Geography Club, Three Truths and a Lie) that I filed away in the back of my head to ponder further when I got home: “I'm not sure all YA writers (and *especially* teen movie writers) fully appreciate that 56% of teenagers today are virgins (and the numbers are rising).”

Indeed, according to a 2017 CDC Report only 42% of teen girls 15 to 19 reported ever having had sex. The teen boys 15 to 19 figure was 44%. By age 18, 55% of both males and females have had sex. A 2018 health survey of 500 Europeans and 500 Americans found that the average age of virginity loss is 17.4. Because I write chiefly about Canadians in Canadian settings I went in search of Canadian data and found the figures to be much the same. A 2013-2014 Canadian Community Health Survey revealed the average age of first sexual intercourse in Canada as 17.8. A couple of years later a 2016 Durex report gave a breakdown of average age of first sex across 44 countries. That particular study cited the average age when Canadians first have sex as 18.1, almost identical to the U.S. age of 18 and U.K. age of 18.3.

In fiction and film I understand, to a degree, why writers would skew a bit more in favour of teenagers being sexually active than the average numbers suggest. Books and movies centre on people undergoing dramatic events and YA writers are drawn to firsts of all stripes. The momentous times in young people's lives. Things they'll never forget. Or sometimes, things they wish they could forget. On the other hand, we're not doing real teenage readers any favours if we're continually defaulting to portraying unrealistic behaviour in our writing.

I don’t write as much contemporary realistic YA fiction these days (my most recent book is a teen horror and a couple of years before that my publisher DCB released my middle grade sci-fi) but Hartinger's comment made me wonder about my own catalogue of young adult writing and how closely or not it aligns to the above stats. Out of curiosity, I decided to take a closer look at my ten young adult books. From here on out there are spoilers so if you don’t want to know who has sex and who doesn’t in my books stop reading right here. Anyway, here we go . . .

I Know It's Over, 2008: the sixteen-year-old main character (male) loses his virginity.

One Lonely Degree, 2009: the fifteen-year-old main character (female) is a virgin.

The Lighter Side of Life and Death, 2010: the sixteen-year-old main character (male) loses his virginity during the course of the book.

My Beating Teenage Heart, 2011: the seventeen-year-old male main character is sexually active; the fifteen-year-old female main character is a virgin.

Yesterday, 2012: *Set in 1985 when the above data would’ve been different. The sixteen-year-old main character (female) is a virgin.

Tomorrow, 2013: *Set in 1986/87. The nineteen-year-old main character (male) is sexually active.

The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing, 2014: the fifteen-year-old main character (female) who turns sixteen during the course of the book is a virgin.

Delicate, 2015: the seventeen-year-old female main character is sexually active; the sixteen-year-old male main character is a virgin.

Just Like You Said It Would Be, 2017: the sixteen-year-old main character (female) who turns seventeen during the course of the book is a virgin. The character loses her virginity a couple of weeks before her eighteenth birthday.

Shantallow, 2019 (released under the pen name Cara Martin): the sixteen-year-old main character (male) who turns seventeen during the course of the book loses his virginity at sixteen.

Then there’s Come See About Me (2012), which isn’t a teen book but whose main character (female) loses her virginity during her first year at university, when she’s eighteen, a fact I'll throw in because it's very relevant to the book, and to this conversation. 

Summing up, in my ten young adult books featuring twelve main characters, seven of the characters 15 to 19 had had sex (many of them for the first time during the course of the book) and five of them hadn’t. Of course, with some of these books I'm looking back in time a decade with today's numbers in mind. The average age young people first have sex in North America seem to be continually rising and is something I wholeheartedly agree we should be mindful of and try to represent faithfully, particularly when writing realistic contemporary YA. The next time I write about sex and teenagers in a current day setting I'm going to check and recheck my assumptions. The sexual activity that happens, or doesn't, might be different than what I would've written when I started writing YA back in 1999. 

*As a footnote, it's worth highlighting that according to CDC researchers, although the proportion of teens who reported ever having sex fell 8% between 2007 and 2017, "there was also an approximately equal drop in reported condom use during a last sexual experience -- down from a little over 60% of teens in 2007 to 53% in 2017."

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