Category Archives: News

The Wind in the Willows vs. Bob the Builder

As a writer and environmentalist, I take this subject to heart.

Growing up, my favourite stories were always the ones about adventure, wild creatures in jungles and forests, and explorations in nature. But many books today are set in urban environments. Take a look at the titles on your children’s book shelves. Are they reading classics like The Wind in the Willows? Or are they into more modern tales about characters like Bob the Builder?

According to a new study, depictions of nature have been gradually disappearing from award-winning illustrated children’s books over the past few decades, sparking concerns about a growing disassociation from the natural world. This is also referred to as nature deficit disorder. This is not a medical condition; instead it describes our lack of a relationship with the environment.

Nature deficit disorder is a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, which refers to this trend and the fact that children are spending less time outdoors, resulting in a wide range of behavioural problems. We don’t have to guess at what is keeping children separated from nature. The lure of the screen. Television. Video games. And a culture of fear. Parents favour “safe” regimented sports over imaginative play. Is this lack of outdoor playtime the reason our kids are depressed, distracted and overweight?

A team of researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently examined the top books honoured by the prestigious Caldecott Medal, judged by the American Library Association, between 2008 and 1938 when the award was created. The study reviewed close to 8,100 illustrations from 300 children’s books, in total. The researchers found a steady decline in images that showed a natural environment, like a forest or jungle, compared with images of built environments, like a school or house, and in-between environments, like a manicured lawn. The number of wild animals, compared with domesticated animals, was also found to have dropped. In the mid-1970s, depictions of urban settings rose dramatically, taking the place of natural environments, to the point where nature has all but disappeared, the researchers said.

Of course, some of this is not surprising since many of us now live in urban settings. And although children may be learning about the natural world through other media, they’re not being socialized, at least through illustrated books, to understand and appreciate nature and our place in it. This lack of contact may result in children caring less about the natural world and less about the many significant environmental problems we face.

Richard Louv says it best, “The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”

How will nature make a come-back on your child’s book shelf?

BJas

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Coming soon to an Ontario town near you: IFOA

Autumn roadThe line-up at this year’s International Festival of Authors (IFOA) is an astonishing alphabet of some of the best writers of our time. In the Bs alone, we’ve got Anita Rau Badami, Russell Banks, Linwood Barclay, Peter Behrens, David Bezmozgis, and Joseph Boyden.

For readers who want to rub shoulders with the stars of the writing world–Andrew Pyper! Kathy Reichs! Peter Robinson! Johanna Skibsrud! Jane Urquhart!–the Harbourfront Centre from October 19 to 30 is the place to be.

For some people (read: me) getting to downtown Toronto during the week can be a hassle. It involves taking time off work, navigating the particulars of the GO transit system or dealing with a nerve-wracking drive and parking costs equivalent to a car payment, and spending precious time stuck behind pedestrians who walk slower than I do (grr!).

Thanks to Lit On Tour, some IFOA authors are heading out on a road show, and will be visiting Ontario towns throughout the festival. My IFOA treat this year will be IFOA Burlington.

IFOA Burlington is being presented by A Different Drummer Books and Bryan Prince Bookseller to bring Anne Enright (“The Gathering,” “The Forgotten Waltz”), Tom Perrotta (“The Leftovers,” “Little Children”) and John Burnham Schwartz (“Northwest Corner,” “Reservation Road”) to town for a lively discussion about the depiction of the family in literature. The discussion will be moderated by editor and journalist Rachel Giese, and Thom Ernst, author, critic and broadcaster (TVOntario’s “Saturday Night at the Movies”), will host the evening.

The event takes place at 7:30 pm, October 26, in the Shoreline Room at the Burlington Art Centre, 1333 Lakeshore Road, Burlington. More details, and more information about the evening’s guests, can be found here: http://www.litontour.com/events/ifoa-burlington

For those of you in other parts of Ontario, check out when IFOA authors will be dropping by: http://www.litontour.com/events-by-location

Maria

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House of the rising prose

A story lives here

What differs slightly from the short story, a folk song, flash fiction, and say, microfiction? Short prose.

I am doing this post to remind restless Maria to enter her work(s), because she happens to be a prosalicious genius. The kind of genius that pulls you into another world, teases your every sense, then punches you in the stomach (in a good way, of course). This contest is for Maria, and writers like Maria. So, listen up!

The Writers’ Union of Canada is accepting submissions until November 3, 2011 for the 19th Annual Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers. The winning entry will be the best Canadian work of up to 2,500 words in the English language, fiction or non-fiction, written by an unpublished author.

The prize is $2,500 for the winning entry, and the entries of the winner and finalists will be submitted to three Canadian magazines.

Writers Kevin Chong, Anne Emery, and Sylvia Fraser will serve as the jury. This competition is open to all Canadians who have not had a book published in any genre and who do not currently have a contract with a book publisher. Original and unpublished (English language) fiction or non-fiction is eligible.

HOW TO SUBMIT.

Time to let go of that manuscript. Good luck, Maria (you in?) and to all!

BJ

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Filed under Awards and contests, Getting published, Motivation, News, Writing Contests

Doing a NYC Writing Conference on Eighty Dollars a Day

For three days in November I will be attending the Backspace Writers Conference in New York [insert squee’ing sound here]. This is my first conference and I am determined to do it as affordably as possible without sleeping at a bus terminal.

I lucked out getting a fantastically cheap flight as well as the early bird registration price for the conference. This leaves me with just under three hundred dollars for two nights in a hotel if I’m going to keep to my self-imposed budget.

Unfortunately, I have formed (thanks to Beckie and her wealth of information) a minor bed bug phobia. She linked me to a registry that lists all hotels with reported bed bugs and a quick glance confirmed that those little critters are swarming the Big Apple.

The conference organizers suggested looking at various accommodation options because their hotel was offering a “special” rate of over three hundred dollars per night. Paying so much to get gnawed on did not appeal to me, so I started searching online for alternatives.

Enter airbnb.com, where people who have space to spare connect with those who are looking for a place to stay. People can rent space on a couch in someone’s studio apartment on the Lower East Side for thirty dollars a night or spend four thousand dollars for an entire mansion in the Hamptons.

I was intrigued, yet skeptical. I liked the idea of staying in someone’s personal space because I assume it will be cleaner and less…used…than a hotel room that serves hundreds of guests a year. I didn’t like the idea of being in someone’s home in case s/he was waiting for me in a closet with a meat cleaver.

At Airbnb, hosts must post a profile of themselves and their space, as well as an availability calendar and guest reviews, but I still needed to confirm that it wasn’t a scam for potential Craigslist killers looking for fresh hunting grounds. I contacted a few of the reviewers to ask about their experiences and they assured me that they’d also felt a bit weird at first, but the operation was completely legit.

I booked a sweet little (i.e. standing with my arms outstretched I’m sure I’ll be touching either wall) studio for seventy-five dollars a night. The owner is a young girl who has another apartment in the building and she’s been a resource on everything from airport transportation (twelve dollars to take a twenty-minute train ride from Newark instead of seventy dollars for an hour-long cab ride) to great restaurants (a Cuban place around the corner).

After speaking to the owner I felt great about my booking, but my husband was still suspicious. Then he used Airbnb himself on a recent trip to Germany and apparently we’ll now be using them for all future holiday rentals. He stayed in a beautiful two-bedroom apartment for only eighty-five dollars a night and loved it. It turns out, the home-share concept is much more commonplace and popular in Europe. Until it catches on here it’ll be our little secret, okay?

LD

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Burlington Public Library presents Publishing Boot Camp – Starting soon!

Military boots with camouflage pantsWriters in southern Ontario, take note! Burlington Public Library still has a few seats available for its Publishing Boot Camp, a six-week intensive program that will give you the momentum to finish—and publish—your first book.

The program is geared towards writers of all kinds: writers with a manuscript tucked away in the bottom drawer or an idea for a proposal; wordsmiths with an interest in writing and publishing as a career; and professionals who would benefit from publication. It’s for writers who are serious about taking steps towards publishing.

Each week’s session offers information, tools, guests speakers who are insiders to the publishing industry. The sessions cover a range of topics: from helping participants understand what type of writer they are, to an introduction to the publishing process, to deciding whether self-publishing is for you. Guest speakers include: a self-published author, a freelance editor, a published adult fiction author, a bookstore owner.

The instructors are:

  • Sharon McKay, a multi-award winning author of 25 books and a veteran of the newspaper, magazine, television and film industries.
  • Linda Pruessen, a publishing professional with 20 years of editing experience, most recently as editor-in-chief at Key Porter Books.

Publishing Boot Camp takes place every Tuesday, October 4 to November 8, 2011, from 7:00 to 8:30 pm at Burlington Central Library, 2331 New Street, Builders Room. The program costs $200/person (plus $35 optional materials kit), payable in advance at the library. Call 905-639-3611 ext. 1321 for more information or check out www.bpl.on.ca.

Can’t get to Burlington? Check out the resources and events for writers available at your local library.

Maria

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New online community for Canadian writers: Canada Writes

Portrait of a woman using her laptopThe Restless Writers have been tipped off to a brand-spanking-new online community for writers. Canada Writes, which was launched by the CBC at the end of August, promises to be a useful kick in the pants for those of us who could use a little motivation.

Some features of Canada Writes include:

Literary Prizes: Formerly the CBC Literary Awards, the CBC Literary Prizes, in partnership with Canada Council for the Arts and enRoute magazine, are now made up of three separate competitions that take place throughout the year. The CBC Literary Prizes are now three separate competitions with three different deadlines:

  • Now open! Short Story (open September 1 – November 1)
  • Poetry (open December 1 – February 1)
  • Creative Nonfiction (open March 1 – May 1)

The First Prize winner in each category will win $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and publication in AirCanada’s enRoute magazine, as well as on the Canada Writes website. Four runner-ups will also be chosen and receive $1,000 each.

Challenges: I just missed the Autobiography Challenge (thereby missing the chance to win an iPad 2—boo). This challenge asked writers to come up with the title and back blurb of their autobiography. I loved the entry by Alexander McKinnon, DAMNED BAD BASTARD.

Features: Some of Canada’s top literary names will pen tips, essays and insights for Canada Writes’ readers. I loved Andrew Pyper’s article on why there is no such thing as writer’s block—great advice!

I’m looking forward to exploring more features to come, which I understand will include more challenges with prizes, online writing workshops, and interviews with writers from all genres. I hope you’ll check it out too.

Maria

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A love letter to my library

*We interrupt this regularly scheduled post about writing and the writing life to express incredulity about the proposed cuts to public libraries in Toronto.*

As part of the city’s business planning process, Etobicoke Councillor Doug Ford is proposing cuts to public libraries across the city, including the closure of branches in neighbourhoods that need them the most. And it’s not going to win him too many votes.

Canadian literary legend Margaret Atwood is raising no small hell about this on Twitter—despite Councillor Ford’s assertion that he doesn’t know who she is. She’s urging Torontonians to sign an online petition to save public libraries: http://ourpubliclibrary.to/

As a writer, reader and lover of the written word, I can’t say enough about public libraries. (I wish I could say that I met my husband at the library, but no, he picked me up at a bar.)

I thought I’d share the top ten reasons why I love my local library:

1)      Free books! Where else can I browse, sample, devour, and skim through as many books as I like, for as long as I like, and even take some of them home with me. Yes, I know our taxes pay for this privilege. I will subsidize libraries, gladly.

2)      Free magazines! I am a magazine junkie. It just doesn’t make sense to pay for subscriptions to dozens of print copies of magazines when I can read them at my leisure at the library. Makes more sense financially and environmentally to read them at the library too.

3)      Free Wi-Fi! While I may not have trouble accessing the Internet at home or work, not everyone is as connected as I am.

4)      Infinite research resources! Not only does the library hold pretty much any reference book I would ever need, it can also help me access online resources (through databases and indexes) and access to books at other libraries through interlibrary loan.

5)      There’s coffee! Yes, many libraries have gone the Chapters route and brought beverage and snack vendors into their branches. And even if your local branch doesn’t have an on-site coffee house, most libraries are located in areas with easy access to fast food and drink.

6)      No judgment! Libraries are long-time champions of freedom of speech. Hearing librarians speak out against censorship brings out my feisty activist side.

7)      Events for writers! My library hosts writing contests, programs for young writers, book signings and readings, and connections to the literary community, all in one spot.

8)      The next generation of readers and writers! That little huddle of toddlers listening to a book being read aloud or planning their Stuffie Sleepover (so cute!)? They’re going to be the readers, writers and reviewers of the future.

9)      It’s not just about the books! Get all your culture in one spot with CDs, DVDs and even movie screenings at the library.

10)  It’s all about community! My local library is a meeting spot, a quiet place to study, a living room, a neighbourhood hub, and the literary and cultural soul of my city.

Chime in, writers—why do you heart your local library?

Maria

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