Finding the Pony in the Pile

 

After four years during which my muse found the pen too heavy to lift,  in the past two months it seems she’s stretched and yawned and decided she was too young to retire.

So “we” opened my file labelled “edit new work” wherein rest stories that never made it to completion for one reason or another. Some of them, when I read them now, are not and clearly never will be worth the candle.

But I came upon one that I felt had “good legs” and so I found the flaws, asked a friend to read and offer her criticism and ended up with a story that pleased me.  I went to my list of past submissions and publications for some hint as to where this story might find a friendly editorial eye. To my surprise, “You Must Remember That” had already found such an eye. It was published in 2010 in the Antigonish Review.

Lessons learned: keep files up to date; and (I believe the essence of the quote is from Aritha van Herk) “We never really finish a story. We just abandon it.”

A second surprise on this sifting of stories—there were two (one fiction and a personal essay)  that I had no memory of writing. Only the memory of churning them in my mind years ago, and telling myself that one day, when the time was right, I’d find a way to put them on the page. Completion and editing now done, stories kicked on to magazine slush piles. Mission accomplished.

Rather than give “the muse” full credit for this return to story, partial credit is due to  Queen Elisabeth II. Netflix series “The Crown”, numerous newspaper and magazine articles on HRH’s long reign, and Theatre Calgary’s beautiful staging of “The Audience”  reminded me that I too have a QEII story and it has nothing to do with highways.

I wrote “The Queen is Coming” in response to a call for submissions from CBC’s Alberta Anthology, a program that was a gift to Alberta writers.

The theme was “Alberta’s Centennial.” I normally avoid writing to “themes” because most often the result is a heavy-handed story written without real inspiration or passion. But when several friends who are dyed-in-the-wool royalists began to go gaga over the upcoming royal visit, I decide to translate my eye-rolling into a story.

A helpful CPL librarian helped me dig through archived news of HRH’s visit in 1951for background, and in particular to find out what Her Majesty was wearing. It was the hat I was after. I even stood on the corner of 9th and Macleod and drank in the spectacle.

“The Queen is Coming” had the honour of a CBC broadcast, and was also included in a lovely collection titled The Best of Alberta Anthology for 2005.

Because it’s been gathering dust now for 12 years, it’s time for an airing:

 

The Queen is Coming

 

My mother phones at eight o’clock in the morning on March 27. “Charlie! The Queen is coming for the Centennial. I want to go to the party,” she says. “You sound sleepy, dear.”

I’ve given up reminding her that I work nights. I do data entry at a bank. Suits me well, and I’m free to ferry Ma to medical appointments and funerals – pretty much her only outings these days.

I’d cruelly hoped, when I heard about the pending royal visit on CBC radio this morning, that Ma would be having one of her bad days. That the news wouldn’t penetrate the fog.

“You know I hate crowds,” I tell her.

“You’re fifty-seven years old,” she says. “You should get over these little fears of yours.” She sighs. “This will be my last chance to see her.”

My mother’s obsession with the royal family began in 1948 when she and Princess Elizabeth were both pregnant. I was born two days after the little prince. If the royal had been a girl, I would have been named Ernest, for my father.

“The tickets are free,” she says. “All you have to do is get in line.” I imagine her head trembling as she speaks. “I hope I can find my hat.”

In Ma’s royal album, there is a picture from 1951. The two of us standing on Ninth Avenue, Ma in a dark wool coat, matching felt hat with a brim and feather. Me, buttoned into a heavy brown coat cut down from Ernest’s overcoat just a few months after he died in a streetcar accident. I’m clutching a small Union Jack in my chubby fist.

The Princess was wearing a mink coat that day, and a matching hat that hugged her head.  Ma had a milliner fashion a replica of that mink cloche hat out of a piece of fur no has ever identified. My sister, Annie, swears it’s cat. The hat has only ever been worn for royal viewings.  Four in all.

I grudgingly agree to get tickets to the Saddledome reception. But I oversleep on the morning they go up.

Ma is surprisingly cheerful. “Never mind. I’m not sure I could have endured the program. They say it will be hours long.”

“Right!” I say in jovial response.  I’ve had nightmares about chasing her runaway wheelchair down ramps. About the accidents to which this proud woman is now prone and the mortification of both of us.

“We’ll just go down to the public viewing,” Ma says. “Maybe she’ll do a walk-about.” She’s getting excited now. “Wouldn’t it wonderful if Charles was coming?”

“Don’t know why he isn’t,” I say. “He’s fifty-seven. He probably loves riding around with his mother.”

“He’s busy,” she snaps. “He’s getting married again, you know.”

Ma loved Diana, is sour on Camilla, but says at least Charlie Windsor isn’t going to remain an old bachelor for the rest of his life. And he has those two fine sons. I, on the other hand, allowed a childless marriage wash up on the rocks ten years ago.

The weather in the week leading up to the Queen’s arrival in Calgary was cold, grey, fiercely windy. Not the sort of climate to which a responsible man would expose his frail eighty-two year old mother.

But she insists.  My sister, Annie, insists. “For gawd sake, Chuck!” she snarls over the phone, “I offered to take her myself, but she wants you.”

I slump in my chair, thinking about the hat I retrieved from the top of the closet. . Even after my heroic attempts to fluff it up, the old relic looked like road kill. I winced when Ma settled it over her scant curls and peered into the mirror. “Oh, Charlie,” she whispered, “I look so old.”  But I, standing behind her chair, was staring at my own reflection. A fat, balding, man who would never be mistaken for a prince.

Even though it’s a morning in May, Ma is bundled into her black winter coat, feet encased in fur-lined boots, hat perched over her freshly-permed hair. A policeman stands in the middle of Ninth Avenue, diverting traffic. Despite his shouts, I creep forward, waving my “handicapped parking” sticker. He shakes his head, but points to a loading zone around the corner.

I push Ma’s wheelchair to a curbside spot in front of the Palliser Hotel. Huddled into my windbreaker, I wish I’d worn my own winter jacket. But then, just minutes before the entourage is due, the sun breaks through. Ma twists in the chair to look up at me, her face tiny beneath the fur. “They say she never wears a hat twice.”

Suddenly there’s a limo approaching, and as it glides by, a smattering of applause from the crowd. A blur of face, a wave. Finished in seconds. Ma doesn’t blink. “That’s not her,” she says. “It’s that Clarkson woman.”

The Governor General, Ma tells me, is going ahead to stage the receiving line for the Queen and Prince Philip. It’s the way things work.

I’m eyeing the corner of Ninth and Macleod a block away, thinking that this is where the cars will slow. This is why the crowd is thickest there. For the better view.  I hope my mother doesn’t notice that I haven’t chosen the best vantage point. Haven’t even tried.

She turns again, and motions for me to listen. I crouch beside the chair. “You look at her face, Charlie. She’s so… serene. How can that be possible with all the stress the poor woman has been through?”

I choke back a snort. “She has a bit of hired help, Ma.”

“Oh, not that,” she says. “It’s the children. The way they live their lives. What a disappointment that must be.”

I feel heavy, leaning there on my haunches, the weight of my own dull life hovering over Ma and me. “I guess that’s just something that comes with being a mother,” I say.

“No dear,” she tells me softly, without taking her eyes off the street. “Elizabeth has had bad luck with her Charles. Aren’t I a lucky old woman to have raised a decent man like you?” She turns now and the smile takes twenty years from her face.

I can see cars approaching, people waving and cheering in the next block.  Too fast. They’ll be past us in a flash. I crank Ma’s chair around, bounce it off the curb and race down the street, Ma gasping and waving her arms.

“Make way!” I shout. “The Queen is coming!”  At the corner, the crowd parts to let us pop up onto the sidewalk just before the second limo in the procession slows, and glides past.  Under a big-brimmed white hat, a smiling face turns to Ma, a gloved hand makes an elegant salute.

Ma grabs my arm. “She smiled right into my face!”

I bend, press my cheek to hers. “Of course,” I say. “She recognized the hat.”

END

An afterword from the anthology: ” The Queen is Coming” is about the relativity of the child-parent relationship and explores how grace inspires grace.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Promotion; the key to selling books, and the pain and the shame

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I know I am not alone in my dread of promoting my own books. It’s not only the obviously shy or tongue-tied who cringe at the idea of sitting behind a table in a bookstore, trying to catch the attention of the people who pass by deliberately avoiding eye contact. Or reluctant to approach event coordinators with a bid to be on the schedule. Not alone, but there are also many authors who are comfortable with and aware of the necessity of self-promotion. I pretend to be one of those comfortable authors, but all the while my ears are burning and the voice inside my mind is my mother’s. Blame your mother? Why not?

I grew up in the days before building self-esteem became one of the cornerstones to raising successful children. Be polite, do not brag about anything, and generally avoid calling attention to yourself. Those were my mother’s tenets and while I raised my own children with the hope they’d be polite but not afraid to speak their minds, happy to talk about their achievements without being boastful (that’s this mother’s job), and comfortable in speaking out and promoting what they believe.  My librarian, fisheries biologist, and musician all live and work with a fine balance of humility and confidence. I sometimes take their strengths for granted and forget to tell them how proud I am, but that’s for another post.

So. I had a new book published in May of this year, a novel for young teens, Odd One Out. Another book produced with the artistry of my good friends at Oolichan Books.

There were a few glitches in the beginning—problems not uncommon or unfamiliar to my author friends. A rush to have copies of the book in time for the scheduled date of the launch resulted in a small print run, because there was a design flaw that needed to be addressed. In truth, this was not a “flaw” to my eyes, but my publisher has a finer sense of the aesthetics of book design. Then, once the “new” book was off to the printer, it seemed to take an inordinately long time for it to reappear and more unfortunately, to appear in bookstores and libraries.

But at last. at last, the library orders have been filled: Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, Camrose, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Vancouver libraries have copies waiting for your reading pleasure and more particularly the pleasure of young people in your lives from ages 11 – 15 and beyond as well from the feedback I’ve had. If your local library does not have the book, you could request that they order it. What harm in that?

And the bookstores. Our beautiful indie bookstores who’ve had copies albeit limited since the very first run. In Calgary Owl’s Nest, Pages, Shelf Life; in Edmonton, Audrey’s Books. Beyond the province, I haven’t been gathering stats. Available from Chapters/Indigo’s Signal Hill store in Calgary. And available online from Indigo Amazon.ca. as an ebook.

The one thing I don’t hesitate to tell people about any of my books is that this is work of which I’m proud. Odd One Out is a book that I hope will find its way into your hands.  I hope you will enjoy it, but if you don’t?  Then I rest on my strong belief that once a book is out of my hands, the story no longer belongs to me. Your experience, your taste, your perceptions will be your judge.

My mom is long gone, although she is so much a part of who I am, but she won’t hear me saying to you—

Hey, buy my book, give it to a young person for Christmas, or borrow it from our awesome libraries. Their circulation stats for the book are gratifying and nothing pleases me more when I visit the library than finding a copy of one of my books that’s dog-eared, well-thumbed, and has your fingerprints on it.

 

Gone to Grass

“Gone to Grass”

I learned this expression from the lovely Jean McKay when we were at Sage Hill in 2004, attending Robert Kroetsch’s novel colloquium. It is, in fact, the title of one of Jean’s elegant books which also include The page-turner’s sister and Dragonfly Fling whose cover bears the comment, “Jean McKay is one of North America’s finest writers” from no less than Annie Dillard.  This is all sidebar but important because if you have not read Jean’s book, do try to find them. It may be devilishly hard, but worth the effort.

“Gone to grass” is the phrase that comes to mind when I think of the back list of my books and those of many of my writing colleagues. It grieves me that while there are some literary comets that blaze for light years , too many of our books are more like shooting stars.

As many of you know, I have had the benefit of former bookseller and publishers’ sales representative, Susan Toy, in the promotion of my last three books, and while she was promoting those, she always shone the light on the first two as well. Susan closed down her business, Alberta Books Canada, when she left Calgary but she continues to be a fierce supporter of her Alberta friends and a whole new community of authors she has gathered online.

As many of you also know, I am totally dismal when it comes to promoting my own work, and I miss Susan’s help. She is one of those people who rarely go through a whole day without that light bulb flicking on over her head. I can hear her say, “I have an idea!” as I write this.

I’ve asked Susan if she would please go back to work for me for a short while to help get Odd One Out into the world, which she has graciously agreed to do. But not without coming back within hours with, “How do you like this idea?!”

Do stay posted for the Go Read Me Campaign! she will blogging about sometime soon. Now, Susan, compares this project to Crowd Funding, but it will feel to me like begging and I will blush but will not apologize.

Meanwhile, go in search of Jean’s books. http://www.douglas-mcintyre.com/author/jean-mckay  I’ve found them listed on both Amazon and Chapters/Indigo, but you may need to buy a used copy. And if you find Gone to Grass please let me know because someone borrowed my copy about 10 years ago and didn’t return it. Which is why, if you ask to borrow my copy of the other two books, you’ll have to read them at my house.

Summer Stories

My garden is my sanctuary from the time blue buds on hepatica dare to appear under a dusting of snow and until the last trees finally begin to drop their leaves—the laurel leaf willow and the burr oak that seem to hold onto hope until late October or longer.

This time of summer, when every plant and tree has reached the peak of its perfection, has always been the best of all. In any corner of our garden, I can find a place for a chair and a bit of loveliness to contemplate.

I know that spring and summer are also the seasons of many of my stories. Rarely do I write winter and in particular the dark months.

Will there be a story from this summer? Or is this endless succession of warnings— “Weather Alert! Conditions are favourable for severe thunderstorms, heavy rain, hail, and funnel clouds” —about to become the cliché for prairie summer.

This summer, my garden has been less of a sanctuary and more the scene of mad dashes into periods of sunshine to weed and dead head and clean up the damage from the latest deluge of rain and hail.  And yet, I’ve been in awe of the mild spring that began in April and carried straight through to summer, the explosion of roses, day lilies of spectacular size, the early harvest of vegetables and a Calgary landscape more lush and green than any I can remember.

Here’s a pictorial of the Seasons in My Garden https://goo.gl/photos/SaoeyWT2rsQas8Rr9

Next summer may arrive even earlier and bring weather more extreme but even so, as I watch my garden mature into its late summer beauty, I hold tight to the hope that the cycle will remain essentially the same. I’m hoping too, that the fall garden will provide its own sanctuary.

As for story, I’ve written weather many times, and I suspect that will not change.

Here’s a short excerpt that seems fitting in this summer 2016.  “Storm Warning” was published in AlbertaViews 2002 July/August issue, the 15th anniversary of the Edmonton tornado, Jackie Flanagan reminded me the day she called to tell me that “Storm Warning” was a finalist in the AV Short Story contest. “Storm Warning” was also included in the collection A Crack in the Wall (Oolichan Books 2008)

Storm Warning

Always, when she smells a storm, Jess’s heart races and she’s whirled into the eye of the tornado. She was driving cab on the south edge of Edmonton the day piles of coal black clouds rolled toward the city, bulging and heaving, gathering an eerie jaundiced light. When the car began to buck in the rising wind, Jess turned it around, driving furiously toward the edge of the storm. She hesitated when she saw a man at the side of the road braced against a mileage sign, his hair, his jacket, the legs of his jeans plastered to him. A glance at the sky in the rear-view mirror and her foot hit the brake. She pulled onto the shoulder, backed to where he was standing and flung open the passenger door. Both man and door were almost ripped away by the wind before he pulled himself gasping into the car and heaved the door shut.

Jess put her foot to the floor, instinctively heading for home. They were silent except for Brian’s ragged breath until a tight black funnel came spiralling out of the clouds.

“Jaysus! Is that what I think it is?” His voice was muffled in the thick heat.

Brian’s family loves to tell the story of how Jess saved him

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://goo.gl/photos/SaoeyWT2rsQas8Rr9

reunion: who are you? Who was I?

reunion;  (OED)   the act or instance of reuniting; the condition of being reunited; a social gathering especially of people formerly associated.

Google “school reunion” for more advice than I hope you will ever need:  6 Reasons High School Reunions should not exist; 5 Reasons to attend your high school reunion;  school reunion ideas, quotes, songs, invitation wording. Apparently high school reunions thrive in spite of the “6 Reasons” and in spite of reunion horror stories. Mine is not a horror story; simply the story of a woman who, for the most part, stays afloat by living in the Now.

I had an email today from a woman I haven’t seen in more than fifty years. As soon as I began to read the message I had a clear visual of my kind, funny, red-headed, preacher’s kid, best friend.  I met Joyce when we were ten years old. We’d moved to Camrose from a small town where I didn’t really have a best friend because I was a townie and all my “friends” arrived in yellow busses that rolled into town in the morning and departed at 3:00 in the afternoon.

I lost track of Joyce and other best friends when we moved to Edmonton six years later. So many different schools, so many partings with best friends, one would think I’d embrace the idea of “reunion.” Ten, twenty, thirty years of catch-up just might rekindle friendships and stir the pot of precious memory.

The invitation to the 50th anniversary of the class of 1966 at Camrose Composite High School arrived in February of this year. I was puzzled to receive it, because I’d only attended the first half of grade ten in Camrose. In 1966 I’d graduated from Bonnie Doon Composite High in Edmonton. When I questioned the enthusiastic woman who was head of the organizing committee, she said it mattered not. They were including everyone who had spent any length of time in grades 10, 11, 12 even if they’d moved away before graduation. A friendly inclusive gesture.  I left the invitation simmering in my Inbox; when the reminder came in May, I put off replying. The closing paragraph of the reminder: Don’t forget to pack yearbooks and conversation starter memorabilia and items that scream the 50’s, and 60’s. I didn’t have a yearbook nor do I keep memorabilia.  I let the date slip away.

I attended one high school reunion and it dispelled any notion I had of fun and renewed friendships. At this point in my life, connecting with people I haven’t seen in ten years is a  pleasure but in the context of a long life, not a reason to make of it a huge celebration. In 1976, high school graduation felt like the distant past and I allowed an Edmonton best friend to talk me into attending the ten year reunion of graduates from Bonnie Doon. Compared with Camrose Composite High School, Bonnie Doon was huge. For reasons too ill-conceived to ponder, home room classes were determined by academic achievement. I attended all the core subject classes with the academic bright lights. Many of them were also athletic bright lights and on the school council and beautiful. The combination of brains, beauty and success in every possible activity struck me as unfair in 1963 and still strikes me as an unfortunate glitch in evolution.

I was bright, but an ordinary looking teenage girl, totally lacking in athletic ability and morbidly shy. I suspected that it would be the most successful and happiest ex-Dooners who would attend the reunion, but never validated that prediction because there were few people I recognized and even fewer who remembered me. Apart from a half dozen people with whom Carolyn and I chatted, I felt as personally connected as I would have at a play or concert or wandering through the grocery store.  To be expected—name tags.  I was asked not once or twice, but far too many times — What was your name before you were married? Having morphed from the shy kid to the introverted adult with a sharp tongue, my answer to the question?  My name before I married is the same as it is now—Betty.  I convinced Carolyn that we (I) had stayed long enough to have made our understated appearance. She had her infant daughter with her and baby had definitely had enough. That, I told myself, was the last school reunion I would ever attend.

Joyce caught up with me because she did attend the Camrose reunion. She was in the 1966 graduating class. She’d gathered a mini-history of what I’ve been up to for the past 50 years from a few Camrose people with whom I’ve visited when I’ve done readings in that city.  I had a ripple of regret as I read her email, because I wondered how many other long ago “best friends” I’d missed by staying home. I found the invitation and scanned through the long long list of recipients and recognized so few names (although I make allowance for those girls, who like me, hadn’t kept their surnames when they married) that I imagined myself drifting uncomfortably from one corner to another wondering why I was there. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so. Perhaps I would have reminisced and laughed and been saddened by the list of classmates who have died or suffered misfortunes. For all of them, I offer up a prayer of peace.  For all who are doing fine and are happy in their lives, I wish them well. I do this comfortably from a distance because age mellows memory, and what’s left in my memory of the time in which I knew these people makes me grateful that we survived those harrowing teenage years.

I’m delighted to have had this “reunion” with Joyce and I hope to hear from her again. I’m sure the weekend was a wonderful chance to feel eighteen years old again and to marvel over the distance all those who attended have traveled. Will I go to the 60th reunion? Or reunions of any other people with whom I was formerly associated? I suspect not.  Although imagine the fodder for writing?  Every former student a walking short story.

 

 

 

 

Promotion — from the klutz’s perspective

I had just finished reading from my third book, Delivery, when a woman came over to introduce herself as my sales representative, the person who had  traveled about selling the new books from that season’s catalogues of several publishers as well as my own, Oolichan Books. Susan Toy worked for the Kate Walker Agency at that point and had won awards as “top sales rep of the year.”  As I got to know Susan it became clear that her love of books, authors, audiences, and her enthusiasm and personality made her a worthy recipient of that distinction and many other accolades as well.

Susan asked if I would meet with her over coffee and surprised me by bringing along Randal McNair, my “new publisher.” As well as having less than a clue about what went into selling a book once it was out in the world, I had also been oblivious to the transfer of Oolichan from Ron Smith to Randal McNair and the physical move of the press from its long time home in Lantzville, to Fernie.  Susan had been busy arranging for as many Oolichan authors as were available to meet their new publisher.

At that meeting, Susan suggested another coffee date to discuss an “idea” she had. I was to learn that Susan’s creative mind never stopped spinning new ideas, some brilliant, others that were original but not quite where I was willing to go. The one we laugh about still was her plan to promote author readings at adult birthday parties and my reaction. Am I the sort of person who would even be comfortable, never mind enjoy, being the entertainment at a party?  Dress up in a clown suit?  Burst out of a cake with book in hand? Those were the images I conjured, not really what Susan had in mind. Nevertheless, that idea led to others that were both appealing and successful.

The idea over the next latté, went straight to the heart of my resistance at promoting my own writing. Some authors are comfortable with promotion and do a stellar job of reaching new audiences and creating a “platform” (a term I also learned from Susan) for their books and their identity as authors.  Susan had decided to leave her position as a sales representative and launch Alberta Books Canada whose services would involve seeking promotional opportunities for Alberta authors through Susan’s many contacts with libraries, booksellers, book clubs, writing groups and a long list of other connections.  I was ready to sign on before my coffee was cold.

Over the next five years, I traveled with Susan to bookstores, libraries, conferences, book clubs, wherever she saw an opportunity to sell my books and build that platform.  Surprisingly, I did so willingly, even enthusiastically, because I was always in the cheerful company of my promoter. I learned a vast amount about the industry from Susan and that knowledge still guides my decisions about choosing the most beneficial ways to reach new audiences, and reinforce my connection with readers I met in my Alberta Books Canada travels.

Susan is not only a tireless advocate for books and authors but also a fine writer. She and her partner, Dennis, have owned a home on the beautiful island of Bequia in the Caribbean for many years and divide their time between there and Canada. When she felt it was time to close shop on Alberta Books Canada, she retreated to the “Island in the Clouds” to write the mystery that would be given that title. I took out my author inscribed copy just a few days ago, because Susan has a new book that will available soon, and I wanted to immerse myself in “paradise” in prep for One Woman’s Island. In the interval between these two novels Suan published a novella, That Last Summer, and has gone online with her never ceasing promotion of authors and their books, new and backlist included.

Particularly now, with a new book and the knowledge that if I don’t do some promotion, it’s not going to be read, I’m missing Susan.  Not that I want to ride my skateboard to any teen birthday parties,  but her ideas are always welcome. But I know,  distance not withstanding — Susan is currently back at her “trailer” in Ontario– Susan is still on my small team of She and Me and there will be ideas.

Meanwhile, I owe her and want to give a well-deserved shout-out to her books.

Visit my good friend, Susan, via her books and through her websites — buy the books and consider providing her with reviews and interviews and anything else that she would like to offer on her blogs. She’s gone international with her recommendations and promotion, but I know that Alberta Books Canada is still alive.

https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/

https://readingrecommendations.wordpress.com/

https://readingrecommendationsreviewed.wordpress.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1316805.Susan_M_Toy/blog

https://islandeditions.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/18598024.jpg?w=720&quality=80&strip=info

iitc       onewomanisland-cover-draft-318598024

 

 

 

 

 

Books that Enchant

 

I have no memory of my mom or dad reading to me, but I know that my older sister entertained me well with books. In fact, I remember her telling my dad with great excitement, “Janie can read!” I was about four years old, and no young genius, but after many readings of the same book had the words down pat and always pointed to “the” which was one that I did recognize.

Even then, I chose the prettiest books. Illustrated copies of Beatrix Potter’s books and a tome of a collection of Bible stories for kids with illustrations that verged on the downright terrifying— Joseph sold into slavery, Jesus with a tear-stained face kneeling to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. Questionable imagery at best, but oh so beautiful on the page. I can still call up the painting of Elijah ascending into heaven in his fiery chariot.

Robert and I did read to our children. We maxed out our limit at the library on occasion, and our bookcases fairly bulged with the strain of the books our kids owned. We not only raised three readers, but can proudly claim a children’s librarian as our own. Among the books I keep hidden so they will not be kidnapped–Brian Wildsmith’s A Christmas Story, A Prairie Alphabet by Yvette Moore and Jo Bannatyne-Cugnet, and The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, this latter one with illustrations dark and almost frighteningly beautiful.

This long preamble to talk about a book that is currently enchanting me. I’ve had the good luck to reconnect with Glen Huser whose Writing for Children course at UBC was the hatchery for my YA book, Odd One Out, which I will be released this spring from Oolichan Books.

I knew of Glen’s books and the fine recognition they garnered before I me him at UBC. A former Edmontonian, Glen taught at the same school as one of my cousins, had been in a writing group with several authors I know, and highly respected in the Edmonton writing community. In fact, I read some of his YA books in preparation for the UBC course: Touch of the Clown; Stitches, which won the Governor General’s literary prize; Skinny Bones and the Wrinkle Queen, nominated for the GG; and the beautiful Grace Lake, written for an older audience.

Through this reunion via email and Glen’s website http://www.glenhuser.com/main/, I’ve found his more recent novels, Runaway, and The Elevator Ghost as well as two stunning works of art, Time for Flowers, Time for Snow, and The Golden Touch.

The book that has me so enchanted now is Time for Flowers, Time for Snow, a retelling of the myth of Demeter and Persephone. In Glen’s words, the book “was the brain child (children?) of a Montreal music director who works with a massed choir of about 200 schoolchildren for the chorus.” Glen has written the narrative and the lyrics to the opera. The music was composed by Giannis Georgantelis who directs the choir of over 180 school children accompanied by the Orchestra Symphonique Pop de Montreal. A CD with both narrative and music is included with the book. Illustrations by Philippe Beha complete this marvelous package. I am awaiting the arrival of the second book in this series, The Golden Touch, a retelling of the King Midas story.

Give your children and yourself these gifts of enchantment by one of Canada’s finest. Seek out Glen Huser’s books. Just a trip to the bookstore or library—they are so close at hand, and so worthy of the quest.