Apr. 26 | Toronto Public Library’s Book Bash

Come to the Book Bash and you could be having as much fun as this guy.

Come to the Book Bash and you could be having as much fun as this guy.

Are you a big reader or know some kids who are? And do you (or they) live in Toronto? Might I humbly suggest the Toronto Public Library’s upcoming Book Bash!

As part of the Keep Toronto Reading Festival, families are encouraged to celebrate with some of Canada’s most renowned children’s authors,illustrators, storytellers and musicians – which I guess includes me? Come on down (or more likely up) to the Northern District Branch (40 Orchard View Blvd.) on Saturday, April 26, for a fun-filled afternoon of storytelling, music, writing and illustrating workshops, puppet shows and crafts. I’ll be talking at 2:30 p.m. in the Urban Living Room, probably because I’m very urban.

But don’t come for me! There are so many other better authors and illustrators who will be there: Liam O’Donnell! Kyo Maclear! Marie-Louise Gay! John Martz! J. Torres! An embarrassment of children’s book riches.

Check out the full schedule right here.


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Apr. 14 | Coming to Waterloo for Indie Lit Night!

Poster for the April Indie Lit Night.

Poster for the April Indie Lit Night.

Next Monday, I’ll be heading back to my old stompin’ grounds – Waterloo, Ontario – to read as part of Indie Lit Night at the Starlight Social Club. (To be fair, I did very little stompin’ when I lived in Waterloo.)

Since 2007, some of Canada’s finest independent presses have been traveling to Waterloo to pair with The Starlight Social Club (47 King Street North), Words Worth Books (96 King Street South) and, now, The New Quarterly, to bring some of the newest authors from various indie publishers to the city. On Monday, April 14, independent presses Arsenal Pulp Press, Breakwater Books, Coach House Books, ECW Press and Goose Lane Editions are join super-forces to bring me, as well as great fellow authors … and … to Waterloo.

We’ll be reading stories of family tragedy on an ostrich farm, mathematical formulas and instruction manuals for grief, love separated by civil war, original and provocative essays on motherhood, homespun stories of squids, chainsaws and immaculate conceptions and much more! (I’ll probably be reading about dead kids again.)

Everyone is welcome! If you live in K-W, please join us (and bring your friends)! Here’s the official information from the publishers:

Indie Lit Night at the Starlight
Monday, April 14, 2014
Starlight Social Club, 47 King Street North
Waterloo, ON
Doors at 7:30 p.m., readings at 8 p.m.

Featuring readings by:

Jonathan BennettThe Colonial Hotel (novel, ECW Press)
Tamai KobayashiPrairie Ostrich (novel, Goose Lane Editions)
Evan MundayDial ‘M’ for Morna (young readers, ECW Press)
Sina QueyrasMxT (poetry, Coach House Books)
Nicholas Ruddock - How Loveta Got Her Baby (short stories, Breakwater Books)
Vivek ShrayaGod Loves Hair (short stories, Arsenal Pulp Press)
Suzannah ShowlerFailure to Thrive (poetry, ECW Press)
Carrie SnyderThe M Word (essays, Goose Lane Editions)

RSVP on Facebook, if you’d like!

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Northern Diary: Last Plane to Wekweeti

I woke up super-early the next morning (6 a.m.), so as to avoid being in my pyjamas when the teachers arrived. My Gameti talk took place in the school library (though it was open to the public) and the attendees consisted of nearly all the middle and high school students, which was about 15 kids in total, not counting the few adults also there. They were largely bored until I got to the illustration portion of the talk; things took off once we did some drawings together.

One girl, Janelle, was keen to get the illustration we did (of one of the character’s faces) correct, and asked for guidance on every single feature. She seemed really proud of the end result. Another student, David, was mute and looked really unhappy for most of my talk, but he broke into a pretty big smile when I remarked how good his drawing was. Forrest was a bear-like kid and a bit of an Artful Dodger type. He kept trying to convince me to bring him a coffee. He told me he was going to join the military once he finished school because of the money. Either that, or the RCMP.

The strange thing to me was how un-curious everyone was about my arrival in Gameti: the students, the townspeople, the teachers. Maybe it’s pure narcissism, but I thought a new arrival wandering around a town of 300 (where no one ever seemed to be in the streets) would bring some questions, but nobody seemed the slightest bit surprised by my appearance there. It’s terrible, but I couldn’t help thinking how perfect the setting was for a horror movie: totally isolated locale, two months of near-total darkness, only 300-plus residents.

One of our stray dog (we hoped) friends in Gameti.

One of our stray dog (we hoped) friends in Gameti.

Waiting for my return flight at the Gameti airport, I ran into a town elder. He was at the airport to greet a new arrival in the community: he wants to make sure he knows everyone who moves into Gameti. The pick-up truck delivered our bags to the plane, and once all the passengers had arrived, we were off. (That’s the great part about small planes; as soon as the passengers arrive, you take off!)

We flew to Wekweeti (formerly Snare Lake) to pick up some other passengers and deliver some food supplies before heading to Yellowknife. During our short stopover, the pilot and I got to chatting. (I had the same pilot going to and from Gameti, so by the second flight, we were old friends.) Apparently I wasn’t blending in as a local: he asked what I was doing in Gameti. So I explained the whole children’s author visit. ‘Do your books talk about those communities?’ he asked. I had to admit they didn’t in the least. The one Indigenous character in The Dead Kid Detective Agency is Mohawk, who have traditionally lived far from the Arctic Circle. ‘Then why did they bring you up here?’ he asked. All good questions, and ones I’d asked myself a few times. But I was just happy to get the chance to visit.

When I asked the pilot if he was from Yellowknife, he answered, ‘No one’s from Yellowknife.’

Then the co-pilot sheepishly admitted that he was.


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Northern Diary: Gameti-Bound

Gameti is a small village in the Northwest Territories with a population of about 320 residents. Formerly known as Rae Lakes (there are a number of communities in the Territories that have returned to their traditional Indigenous titles), it’s a traditional trapping village located in the North Slave Region. Gameti was to be the last stop on my author tour of the Northwest Territories. My accommodations were going to be the very school where I’d be speaking: Jean Wetrade Gameti School.

The day I left for Gameti was also the first time it snowed since I’d been in the North. Despite the temperatures being sub-zero throughout the winter, snowstorms were rare. Most of the time I was there, it was so sunny I had to wear sunglasses. Deborah and Brian Bruser gave me a ride to Air Tindi, the small airline running the flight.

My chariot awaits.

My chariot awaits.

I’m not typically a nervous flyer, but to get to Gameti, you travel in a small plane (in this case, a Twin Otter that seats no more than a dozen). And when booking my ticket, my web search for their phone number might have revealed a number of news stories about Air Tindi flights where doors had ripped open or emergency landings had to be made. Others who had flown in the Northwest Territories recommended bringing Gravol for my trip, so I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy this flight. Brian was concerned about my weak winter gear – a frequent point of conversation during my trip – and worried they might not even let me on the plane. (Some of the smaller planes require passengers to have surival gear, in the event they have to make an emergency landing in the middle of nowhere.)

Waiting in the airport with me were the five other passengers on my Air Tindi flight: four young teachers and a mysterious bearded man (who later turned out to be the car service guy at the Gameti airport).  The teachers had just been in Edmonton for a conference. The acting principal, Jessica, was at least four years younger than me, and all the teachers were originally from Ontario. (Teaching in the North provides not only opportunity  but pretty good compensation, provided you can hack it in remote Gameti or similar communities.) In addition to their luggage, they were carrying boxes of Pizza Hut.

‘The first time we flew into Gameti,’ Shelagh, another teacher, remembered, ‘a bird flew into the airport and smashed against the glass door. It was lying on the ground, sputtering for a few minutes and no one did anything. They just laughed, brought their kids up to look at the dying bird. And I thought, what did we get ourselves into?

The  flight itself was loud and cold. I wore my coat and hat for the entire trip and earplugs were pretty much a necessity. If you’re afraid of heights, Air Tindi is definitely not the way to fly: you don’t rise above the cloud cover at any point. You really get a sense of how much nothing is out there when flying over the Northwest Territories. Well, not nothing, but uninhabited space: just pine and scrub brush and frozen lakes. The flight also provided a good view of the other transport option to Gameti: the ice road. The ice road was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. Six hours’ worth of driving across a roadway cleared along a frozen lake. No service stations, no cell service. Flying seemed like the better choice.

Rides from the airport to Gameti were a hot commodity, but luckily another teacher picked us up and Jessica settled me in my digs for the evening: the school library. I set up a cot and sleeping bag in the library stacks, and had free run of the gym, exercise equipment, kitchen. Jessica left to unpack as I set up my cot, but offered to show me around town later. Try as I might, I couldn’t pretend (a) it wasn’t really strange to stay overnight in a school alone, and (b) this wasn’t really a childhood dream coming true: sleepover in the school library!

When Jessica came back, we walked a loop around the small community of Gameti. At this point in March, it was almost entirely a town of women and children. The town is predominantly Tlicho, and most of the men are either on the trapline or working the mines for weeks at a time. Despite having fewer people than many Toronto apartment buildings, Gameti seemed to have a fair share of social problems. Two stray dogs started to stalk us during our walk, but they seemed friendly enough. Apparently there are a lot of stray dogs in town. The town is also dry (no alcohol is allowed), but many of Jessica’s stories about some of the Gameti residences ended with the phrase, ‘but then a drunk guy broke in and wouldn’t leave, so they had to move.’ The RCMP visits every once in a while.

The students at Jean Wetrade were pretty good shots.

The students at Jean Wetrade were pretty good shots.

The school itself is half Tlicho teachers, half Ontarians of European or Asian background. The school, Jean Wetrade, has a motto: ‘with the strength of two people.’ The idea is to teach the students both the traditional Tlicho ways, as well as the white man’s education. If, like me, you could sneak into the school’s gym, you’d see that in the archery targets that were foam beavers and foxes. (Just one example of that ‘strength of two people’ in action.)

In the evening, I ‘hacked’ into the school library’s computer. Sadly, the library’s DVDs were locked up somewhere. (I was really hoping to watch the first season of Blossom.) I dragged an exercise bike from the gym and tried to exercise while both listening to podcasts and becoming fully aware how much I felt like Desmond from Lost. After midnight, I snuck out (careful not to let any of the stray dogs into the school) to see if I could get a good look at the Northern Lights, but it was too cloudy. There were, however, a few trucks and cars circling the town, seemingly throughout the night, which more than weirded me out. Side-effect of sleeping alone in the school library.


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