Friday, January 13, 2012

Shameless self promotion

I'd like to share my Kirkus review of Invisible by yours truly. Sorry for the self-indulgence. I don't do this often but the review means a lot to me.

A young girl just shy of graduating high school acquires a new gift and a way to literally hide from the world. “Sometimes I disappear,” she explains.

Lola, self-described as “fat” and “freakishly tall,” lives a lowly existence. Her parents, desperately clinging to their youth, barely acknowledge her; her sister belittles her; and she’s a target for bullies. She finds solace in her love of writing, her BFF Charlie (short for Charlene) and her maternal grandmother, affectionately called Gran. Any wish she had to become invisible in the eyes of cruel teenagers is suddenly a reality, as she vanishes from others’ sight and is neither seen nor heard. Lola soon realizes that she disappears during emotionally intense moments. Bannon’s debut novel adequately captures the life of a bullied teen: the dread of facing classmates at school, the self-loathing and the incessant anger that may be unleashed onto others. A standout scene features Lola disappearing at a clothing store, incensed at her mother’s resolve to buy her a dress. She calmly sits and watches as her mother and a salesgirl frantically search for her, and the fact that she easily explains away her vanishing speaks volumes about her mother’s lack of interest in her daughter. Lola’s object of affection is Jon, but her relationship with Charlie is more complex, particularly considering that Charlie’s sexual preferences are teasingly ambiguous throughout most of the story. The novel, which touches upon mature themes and showcases some colorful language, seems to be aimed at a young adult audience.

Absorbing, warm and occasionally playful—the story of a young woman whose invisibility helps her to better see herself, and helps others to see who she really is.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1466368750
Page count: 185pp
Publisher: Solstice
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online: Jan. 13th, 2012
Invisible is available on Amazon

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Author, Sheila Dalton excerpt and guest blog

Today, it is my honour to welcome Sheila Dalton, author of The Girl in the Box to my blog.

Talking with My Characters

Sheila Dalton

A big part of writing a novel is imagining your characters and bringing them to life. Part of the process, for me, is talking to them in my head, and I thought I would share with you a “conversation” I had with Caitlin Shaughnessy, the journalist in my latest novel, The Girl in the Box. Caitlin’s lover, Dr. Jeremy Simpson, was killed by a traumatized young Mayan woman, Inez, whom he rescued from a hut in the Guatemalan jungle where she had been kept chained by her parents.

Caitlin, how did you feel when Jerry told you about Inez?

He phoned me from Guatemala, out of the blue, and told me he had discovered this young girl whose parents had chained her up and locked her in a dark shed. He told me he wanted to bring her back to Canada with him. My first reaction was shock, utter shock, and horror. I asked him why the girl was kept this way, and he told me he didn’t know for sure, but that she was strange and he suspected her behaviour made it impossible for her parents to keep her with them in their house.

He also told me about the Civil War between the guerrillas in the hills, who were fighting for the rights of the Mayan Indians, and the government, who didn’t want to give up any of the privileges of the Spanish-descended elite. He told me that he was almost sure the girl, Inez, and the family, too, had suffered some kind of trauma or violence because of the conflict.

What I most remember though, is fear. Fear that something wasn’t right, that if he brought Inez to Canada, something bad would happen.

Bad? In what way?

I’m not sure, exactly. Of course, I knew she would disrupt our lives. Jerry and I didn’t live together, but we’d been lovers for ten years. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if this damaged girl came to live in his house.

Did you ask him about that?

Yes. He explained that he had no choice, he’d have to apply to be her ward, and that meant having her live with him. But he also said he intended to find a place in a group home for her, where she could get proper treatment. Jerry was a psychoanalyst, a practitioner of “the talking cure”. Inez was mute. There was no way he could give her the care she needed himself.

Did your fear stem from any intuition that Inez would kill Jerry?

No. Not at all. It never occurred to me. Which is why it was so terribly hard to cope with when it happened.  I loved Inez! She was a beautiful, shy, gentle, moving girl. She had her tempers and disturbances, of course, but I spent a lot of time with her, and she touched me deeply.

I had conversations like this with Caitlin all through the writing of the book, and with the other characters, too. It made them seem real to me, and I hope it helped me make them seem real to the reader.

To buy a copy of The Girl in the Box and read reviews, go to Amazon:

To learn more about me and the The Girl in the Box, and to read a chapter of the book, visit my website at

Excerpt from The Girl in the Box



Guatemala, Feb., 1983

          The smell was thick as sludge, and rancid. It forced an intake of breath when Jerry wanted to pinch his nostrils shut and run out of the hut.
          He struggled to ignore it, but the stench dropped into his throat and lodged there. When he tried to swallow, he coughed instead.

Agua?” He turned to the Mayan behind him. “Por favor?”

The man nodded while continuing to talk to his wife.

Jerry leaned into his arms on the rough-hewn table and stared at the crucifixes on the wall.

There were five hand-carved wooden Messiahs in front of him, each more lurid than the last. One strained so far outwards from his cross that Jerry thought he looked like he could tear himself off and change religious history. Painted blood ran from the hands, feet and sides of all five, and hung in gobs from a number of wounded knees. It cascaded over one Christ’s body in vermilion stripes, ending in a single dangling blob at the bottom of the cross.

The murmur behind Jerry grew louder. He swivelled around. The couple dropped their eyes and lowered their voices simultaneously, as though  performing a duet.

Agua?” he pleaded, a hand to his throat.

Si, Senor.” This time, the man shooed his wife behind a ragged curtain then followed her out of sight.

Jerry concentrated on the pictures on the wall,. colourful renditions of what he thought must be Mayan deities, interspersed with rumpled copies of paintings of Catholic saints. An abundance of spiritualities, where he himself had none.

He frowned at the uplifted eyes and sweet secretive smiles of the saints. Multicoloured woollen frames bordered each blissful face—red, orange, bright yellow, the kind of blues and greens that oceans radiate and skies sometimes faintly reflect—colours out of a child’s fantasy, woven together with tufts and tassels and thick, knotted fringes that infused the pictures with the kind of robust good cheer he’d come to admire in Latin Americans themselves.

His spirits lifted. But there was that unhealthy smell, and a filthy blanket hanging heavily over the doorway, blocking air and light.

He'd  met the couple while riding the bus to the village of Panajachel, on the way back from the market in Chichicastenanga.

Baskets were everywhere, and lunches wrapped in banana leaves, redolent with spices. Chickens clucked on the seats beside their owners. The women's feet were bare and dusty, the ribbons in their thick braids vibrant against the dark coils of their hair.

As Jerry admired both ribbons and braids, the woman in the seat directly across the aisle from him leaned forward and vomited in a thin stream onto the floor, then moaned and nestled back against her male companion.

The macho  drivers and the hair-raising roads made travel sickness so common here that no one except Jerry reacted . He sat forward in his seat,frowning at the ashen grey of the woman's face, a stark contrast to her blue, red and orange huipil, and the vivid rebozo clutched tightly to her mouth.

She groaned again, loudly, and Jerry’s frown deepened. The man who, despite his healthy brown face, looked dull and pedestrian beside her in his faded T-shirt and polyester pants tied with string, pressed a hand to her forehead.

Jerry leaned across the narrow aisle, and spoke haltingly. “The Senora is…ill? Sick?

"Yo soy…doctor," he added when he saw the fear in the couple's eyes. He hoped to reassure them; his Spanish was limited, and it was the best he could do. “From Canada. Don’t be afraid.”

He addressed the woman, punctuating his speech with hand gestures and smiles. "Do you have stomach pain? A headache? Where do you hurt?"

Sheila's next blog stop is

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Author, Jeni Decker tells is like it is

I'm excited to welcome Jeni Decker, author, mom and all 'round great lady to my blog today. Her latest book is a memoir, I Wish I were Engulfed in Flames: My Insane Life Raising Two Boys with Autism is truly a fabulous read.

Please tell us a little about your memoir I Wish I were Engulfed in Flames: My Insane Life Raising Two Boys with Autism and why you wrote it.

Well, the whole thing snuck up on me like the swine flu, the symptoms fairly banal until suddenly it felt like I was hooked up to life support with a priest administering last rites in the form of a cattle-prod shoved up my…         
…okay, so that lasted about fifteen minutes, relatively speaking. A friend once told me that I was lucky to have my life. “While you’re enjoying an eight course meal, most people are sitting down with a frozen dinner.”

Boy, was she ever right. Profundity; you can’t find it in the frozen food section.
I am the mother of two amazing autistic children who are on different ends of the autism spectrum. This book was born out of my need to understand them. To find out where we fit into the world around us, and to figure out how I could be the best parent I could be.
I’ve always written fiction and never considered writing a memoir. But at some point, in between working on another novel, I began posting short stories about my children on my writer’s workshop site. The response from readers was immediate. They wanted more. So I continued writing the stories; recounting things that had happened up to that point, and jotting down “scenes” as they happened in my life, real-time. Early readers seemed to connect with the stories, even if they didn’t have children with special needs.
I think there’s a universal need to see what we as individuals have in common with others. But also to look at the lives of others and say, “Yeah, I’ve got some issues, but look over there. It could be worse.” I also think that there’s something to be said for being able to laugh at the absurd; to look at something that could potentially break you and find the humor in it. It sure does make it easier to get through each day. Since that’s how I live my life, that’s how I wrote the book. It’s a no-holds barred, often sarcastic, slightly irreverent look at autism and dysfunction from someone in the trenches.
Was it easier to write about your own life than to write a novel?
Hmmm… easier, no. Different, yes. With my life, there’s always enough material on any given day to provide me with a chapter, a blog post, or at least 140 characters for a tweet!
Fiction is different, particularly because I never outline. There are times when I stall out and am forced to reassess where I’m going. I tried to outline once, but the story felt forced. Don’t get me wrong, I generally have an idea about where the story will begin and where I want to end up - though not always the latter. But everything between the two is up for grabs. I don’t like to shove my characters into any plotline or action. The writing feels contrived that way.
One of my favorite parts of the fiction writing process is research. I may research fifteen things for any given chapter, from something as small as a piece of furniture, to something as large as a particular setting in historical context. Research always leads to me to write something that I hadn’t earlier anticipated. Whether it’s to flesh out a character/ description/ setting or to add a deeper layer to what I’ve already constructed. Those little surprises I find while doing research often lead me on an unexpected tangent.
That’s the bliss of writing, for me; exploration.
How can you write an honest memoir without offending the people in your life?
You can’t worry about offending the people in your life. You must simply write the truth as you see it, fallout be damned. There are certainly quite a few moments in my book that make me cringe when I think about other people reading it, but I never thought about those things while writing the first draft.
Once I started editing and got closer to the publication date, I started to think about it. But every time I got a glimmer of concern and thought to myself, What will people say?, I forced myself to delve deeper into whatever it was that made me uncomfortable. I believe the finished book is better for it.
Honesty is never wrong. In life or in art. In life, since I’m the type of person who expects people to take me as I am - the good, the bad, and the ugly - it would have been disingenuous to write this book any other way.
You may ask: “Don’t you have any problems with exploiting your children for your own literary benefit? My answer: No - because it’s my life, too. And I don’t necessarily consider this exploitation, per se, so much as the preservation of their essence for posterity.
Yeah, that’s it…I’m an essence preservationist.
Do you ever censor your writing to avoid offending or displeasing people?
No, no, and NO!
You can’t write effectively if you’ve got your inner censor on all the time. When you begin to chip away at an “honest” scene, when you start excising layers of truth or softening them for a certain audience, the story suffers for it.
Whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction, my first priority is to the story and people (characters) within it. What is right for them, what is their truth. Once you edit that one sentence or scene with the specific intent to make it more palatable to a certain audience, you have instantly made the work something other than it was meant to be.
I am a voracious reader and there’s nothing that comes across as blatantly as censored and over-edited work. I think there’s an effort, when trying to ascertain what the “market” is looking for, to pander to the lowest common denominator. To write what will sell. While I understand the inclination, as a reader I resent it. I respect authors who are willing to saunter up to that line (whatever that line may be) and unapologetically try something different… something a bit scary.
Something raw and honest and… right.
What advice would you give parents raising an autistic child?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Take each day as it comes and for God’s sake, don’t try to judge yourself or your parenting against the people down the street. Each family is unique, like every journey in life. Only you can know, in your gut if your choices are right for your family.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Life is messy. We’re not always prepared for what’s coming our way. But a good rule of thumb is to laugh as much as possible. There’s humor to be found in just about every situation, and if you can’t laugh about it, you’ll probably find yourself crying.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Aspiring writers or aspiring published authors? Because they’re two different beasts. I’d say that if you write for the sheer joy of it, because you can’t imagine doing otherwise, you’re on the right track.
Write what appeals to you, what you want to invest your time in. Because the odds are against being published. So you better be enjoying the ride or you’re wasting your time. Life’s too short to be squandering even one minute.
How do you build or create an effective platform to reach your audience?
Platform, platform, platform! It’s all you hear agents/editors/publishers talking about, and as far as publication, there’s a reason. The more people that are interested in what you’re writing, the greater possibility for sales.
But, whether you choose to self-publish (I’ve done that, too) or you’re published traditionally, you’ll still have to do the same thing: sell yourself and your work. Any good agent or publisher will tell you that. When you’re traditionally published, you still have to build a following. Publishers have certain connections, but you still have to get out there and market yourself. Social media is invaluable in that regard. Twitter, Facebook, blogging - get out there and figure out what you have to offer that might appeal to others.
Then get out there to your community and do the same. Stop into bookstores, set up signings, do local radio and TV interviews if you can. Make friends with your librarians! They’re a great source of information about what’s going on locally.
If you’re not an established author with a built-in following, don’t expect things to happen overnight. Consider each book that you get into the hands of a reader another opportunity for word of mouth to spread. It’s the “pebble in the pond” effect. Those ripples don’t immediately appear, they feed off one another, getting larger and larger over time.
I don’t consider writing a job, but selling myself is. And it’s a full-time job.
Where can we find you and where can we purchase your book?

Thank you, Jeni, for taking the time to answer my questions. As you know, I was one of those readers in our writing group who kept coming back for more and can personally testify to the fact that your book is an excellent read. Best of luck with Engulfed and with all future endeavours....Jeanne