A delightful unexpected surprise

I went out to put some new books in the little free library I keep in front of my house, and guess what I found?

IMG_2839   IMG_2840

A lovely little card,

a pretty flower, IMG_2842

and some hand made book marks…

I love my neighborhood 🙂

Barbie Dolls; a story

A while back, when Barbie turned fifty, I contemplated putting together a “Blow off Barbie” fiftieth birthday bash collection of YA short fiction,  non-fiction and poetry, but I never quite got my act together.  I recently came across these handy comparions between Barbie dolls and real women and I  found myself remembering the complex mix of feelings Barbie churned up inside of me.

You might think I had it in for Barbie. Not so. I loved my two Barbie dolls when I was growing up.  They were among my prize  possessions. But, I recall one summer day one when I was about nine or ten and one of my friends flippantly commenting on extremely un-Barbie like physique.  Although these barbs (excuse the pun) were flung without intention to hurt, my friend had unknowingly hit the nail on the head. I was nothing like the ideal, and never would be. When puberty hit, I still didn’t measure up to the Barbie ideal. My figure was way out of style. Barbie’s was in. Back then, we didn’t know much about anorexia, but dieting was the new norm for most teenage girls in my social circle.  I was less than thrilled that my waist refused shrink to Barbiesque proportions and that my legs stopped growing.  The more Barbie like girls in my social circle were the ideal I could never reach. My waist was a whopping 24 inches back then; a number I’d be thrilled to measure down to now. My legs were muscular and nowhere near as long as some of my friends. And, my feet were anything but dainty. Unlike Barbie’s hair smooth sleek hair, mine was thick, prone to frizz, and decidedly not blond!  Since  my mother was against young girls wearing make-up, I was limited in my ability to emulate Barbie’s perfect eyes. To top it off, my “back to school wardrobe” consisted of Salvation Army thrift store purchases that also allowed my working-class parents to feed and house their large family. That was long before it became cool to shop for  “second hand treasure”  and “vintage” equaled old. My inability to come close to my childhood idol of perfection led me to turn my back on Barbie. Some of my friends were  not so fortunate, remaining trapped in the struggle to be attain the impossible.

I became an unintentional anti-Barbie champion and I harbored a deep seeded resentment of all that she stood for. It led me to reject the shallow message at the heart of Barbie; beauty buys happiness  This life -changing attitude shift  threw me into the arms the feminist and social justice movements.  The goal was to make the world a place of equality for all people; not just the pretty or rich ones. I am, in an odd way, grateful to Barbie for these life-altering changes.

Meanwhile, Barbie dolls grew in popularity with world wide sales that were the envy of the corporate world.  Then career Barbies began making an appearance: Astronaut Barbie, Doctor Barbie, and Pilot Barbie. The role model for little girls had upped her game.  Not only was she impossibly slender and beautiful, she was also super-human in her accomplishments.  Girls had even more to live up to. As a young mother, I was  hypersensitive to the pressures my young daughters might be under to conform to the unattainable.  I refused to purchase Barbies for my daughters.

Matel’s margeting strategy worked. Barbies were all my daughters wanted.  They begged me to buy them the dolls, the clothes, and the paraphernalia that went with them.  The parents of my children’s friends reported that my daughters played with the dolls obsessively when visiting.  But I was determined.  My children would not suffer the same burdens of inadequacy that I had had to bear. Anyone who knew me knew of my anti-Barbi feelings.

Then one Christmas morning, Barbie entered our home covertly. A large box wrapped in Christmas paper  arrived from one of my family members.  It was addressed to all three girls.  It never occurred to me that it would contain not one, or two, but three Barbie dolls. Once Pandora’s box had been opened, it was impossible to reseal. The girls were thrilled. I was worried.

It turns out I was a typically overprotective mom.  My girls were not overly  influenced by the Barbie mystique.  They incorporated Barbie into their play like any other toy. Barbie sand castles were built at the beach, complete with driftwood beds and seaweed blankets.  One of my girls proudly announced that she and her Barbie were twins after hacking off her doll’s hair to match the haircut her sister had given her the previous day. Barbies  sailed out of the playhouse in an effort to see which could fly farther. And they became the scary giants attacking Playmobile World. Years later, when I was about to sell the family home and downsize, I discovered the three dolls in a box with other toys.  One had had  her leg amputated due to a dog chewing incident.  Another sported a stubble haircut and blue ink tattoos.  Only one of the dolls had gone relatively unscathed.  I washed the sand from her hair and seaweed, dropped her, Tattoo Barbie, Amputee Barbie and some other toys and household items at a thrift store. I suspect they found new homes, and I hope that their experiences were more eclectic than their manufacturers had planned for them.

Barbie sales are down.  She’s losing her cache. It’s about time.

Now that I have a new grand daughter, I hope Barbies will be relegated to museums where they belong. If she asks me why the dolls have such long legs and such tiny feet, I’m not sure how I’ll reply.  Perhaps I’ll answer that it helps them fly farther.

I have other Barbie stories, which I may getting around to telling one  day…maybe for Barbie’s 60th, or maybe just for my little grand daughter’s amusement when she’s old enough to understand.

Writing is a process not an event

Rejections are a part of every writer’s life. Even some of the most famous writers have been rejected. And, more than one famous writer has been rejected many times over. Writers Write has a list of  50 Iconic Writers Who Were Repeatedly Rejected which is worth checking out. Thanks to friend and colleague  Margriet Ruurs for the link.

Basically it means that if you want to be a writer, you have to have thick skin.  I was lucky that my first book was accepted immediately, but I’ve had plenty of rejections since.  Some who are new to the writing field figure that once they’ve had one book published, they’re home free. Not so! Even if you’ve “made it,” there are many reasons for a publisher to reject your second book.  It may not be right for them. They may have published something similar recently. They may not feel there’s a strong enough market to sell it. Or, they may feel it simply isn’t good enough.

Even if you’re lucky enough to get that first manuscript accepted, you’ll likely have a round or two of editorial revisions to deal with. Again, you’ll need a thick skin.  Remember, your editor wants to help you produce a great book. Acceptance and revision go hand in hand.

And, for those of you who haven’t been accepted, you’ll need to be prepared to revise and resubmit. Yep.  Rejection and revision also go hand in hand.

Having a writing group  can be helpful during the revision process.  This is not your husband or your mom or your best friend.  It’s a few people who know something about writing or who are willing to learn.  It’s a group who can give you honest and constructive criticism on what is and isn’t working in your manuscript.  It can be a local group that you meet with weekly or monthly. Or it can be an online group.  it doesn’t really matter.  What does matter is that the tone of the group  is constructive, honest, and supportive. But that’s only the start.  You will need to have the ability to listen to your group’s criticism, evaluate it and apply what is helpful to your writing.  Not all criticism is going to be useful to you.  But, enough of it will be that you can revisit your text and improve it.

The thing to keep in mind is that writing is a process, not an event.  Rejection is part of that process, and so is revision. If you work hard and you’re lucky, and you spend the time it takes to ensure that your work goes to appropriate publishers, eventually, celebration will also be a part of the process.  The bottom line is, keep writing.

Here are a few highlights from my wonderful week in Hawaii with women friends…

Calgary Young Writers Conference

Tomorrow I head out for Calgary where I’ll spend the better part of Saturday working with two separate groups of very keen young people who are excited about becoming better writers.  I love the Calgary Young Writers Conference, and obviously I’m not the only one.  The program is in it’s 30 year (yup, I did say 30th) and it’s still wildly popular.  It’s super well organized by a wonderful group of volunteers, has great key note speakers (this year it’s Kenneth Oppel), an awesome team of presenters from across the country, tons of workshop options for kids, and a fabulous book book sales team.  And did I mention the fresh strawberry short cake with real whip cream? So, see you soon soon Calgary.

Girl Guides do it again

IMG_2383The Girls Guides have done it again.  I’m their victim year after year after year…

They’ve turned me into a crazed, cookie eating monster and now I just feel sick.

Not only that, I’m going to Hawaii in a few days and I’m going to have to fit into a swim suite.  Ugh. How am I supposed to sit down to write totally awesome teen novels and  perfect picture books when I’m feeling like an afternoon nap is the only thing I’m capable of?  I hope you girls are happy now!

And for those of you who live south, think Girl Scouts and their evil evil cookies.  Yeah…temptation in  chocolate, vanilla, and sometimes mint!  Don’t pretend that you don’t know what I’m talking about!


New beginnings






It’s hard to believe that 2012 has come and gone.  Having all my girls home over the holidays was a wonderful treat, but I’m going to learn to tweak the whole baking thing given the tins of cookies and tarts I was left with!  Like everyone else, I have a few new years resolutions that I firmly plan to keep:

*spend more time writing

*rework my website

*write more poetry (it feeds the soul, even it it doesn’t sell)

*get out to more local literary events

*renovate my mini-library so that it’s more storm-proof

*exercise regularly

*be more patient and tolerant in my relationships.

*I’m also hoping to do a little garden renovation since my front yard has become a bit of a tangle.

*and since this year will be a milestone in my life as I’m about to become a grandma; something I’m super excited about, start a book collection for my coming grand baby.

But for now, I have 66 books to finish reading for  literary jury duty, so I won’t be digging into my resolution list in a serious way until March…

Still, I want to wish all of you well in tackling your own 2013 resolutions and of course, wish you a year of  wonderful reading.

Canada Writes

I love Canada Writes,  wonderful book program put out by CBC . They’re doing a whole series on kid’s book writers which they’re calling Seusstivus in honor of Dr. Seuss.  There are some bits with Helaine Becker, Marty Chan, and Bob Heidbreder among others.  Most recently, they spoke with Karen Crossing, the president of the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers that is right on.  Karen summed my feeling exactly when she said “Writing for children is not about teaching a lesson or sending a message.”

The reason we write and the reason kids read is for the story. If you’re trying to break into publishing, keep this in mind, and you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache…and you’ll save publishers a lot of headaches.


One day I’d love to go to the Edinburgh Book Festival. Such a great city and so many fabulous authors.  In an impromptu interview with the  Guardian, Patrick Ness, the author of A Monster Calls, was asked:

“What do you do when you’re struggling for ideas?”

Ness’s reply:

“Go for a run. I’m a long distance runner and I get my best ideas when I’m out running. It also helps that I can’t write it down immediately – if you hold onto an idea other things will stick on it.”

In this case, Ness didn’t have to run far for the idea.  The story is based on an idea from the late Siobhan Dowd.  And the story was beautifully and hauntingly illustrated by Jim Kay.  It was one of my favorites books from last year.

Where do you get your ideas from? is probably the question I’m asked more than any other. I think the real question is “How do you transform an idea into a story that resonates with readers?”  And that folks is where the art of writing comes in.  And so, I’d better get back to transforming ideas into something you will want to read!

Armchair travel

I love to travel, but I can’t always get away.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll enjoy this virtual Google Maps Tour of Famous Authors’ Homes that I happened to come across on Flavorwire. The tour starts out with Ernest Hemingway’s digs at 113 Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs — Paris France, includes the apartment building where Jack Kerouac crashed (his girlfriend’s place) while he was revising On the Road, and ends with Fyodor Dostoevsky’s apartment at 5/2 Kuznechny Lane — St. Petersburg, Russia where he  wrote The Brothers Karamazov which he finished shortly before his death in 1881.

It’s not the same as an actual real live visit, but it may give you something to dream about while you save your pennies.

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