Category Archives: Local Authors

The Light Keeper’s Daughter by Jean E. Pendziwol

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You can’t beat a local story by a local author and this novel excels in all departments. I literally could not put this book down as it drew me into the story of the lighthouse keeper on Porphyry Island and his two daughters Elizabeth and Emily. It is not possible to say much about the plot without giving away too many spoilers, but suffice it to say that there are enough twists and turns to keep you fully engaged right up to the last page.

The story is also told by another key character, Morgan, whose urban life in Thunder Bay is intimately connected (but unknown to her) with the light keepers daughters. I have noted that while English literature is shaped by history, Canadian literature is dominated by the natural environment, and the point is well proven in this novel. The real star of the show is the landscape, dominated by Porphyry Island, which is almost magical in its appeal. Silver Islet, the Sleeping Giant and Lake Superior also feature strongly.

Jean E. Pendziwol pulls you into her compelling narrative which contrasts the slow pace of an idyllic life growing up on Porphyry Island, to the fast pace and perils of modern city life. Porphyry was the second lighthouse constructed on the Canadian side of Lake Superior, and first lit the waters near Black Bay in 1873. Andrew Dick, the keeper on Porphyry Island from 1880 to 1910, left behind several personal journals that recorded his time at the light with his Indigenous wife Caroline and their ten children. These journals were the inspiration for The Lightkeeper’s Daughters which is a testament to the Canadian men and women who served as Great Lakes lighthouse keepers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

John Pateman is CEO/Chief Librarian at the Thunder Bay Public Library.

Check Out the New Artwork at Waverley’s Vinyl Listening Station by Duncan Weller!

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Duncan Weller in his art

Duncan Weller is a very complex person; chatting about his art, he exudes a nervous energy, yet is simultaneously very soft-spoken and unassuming. “I love to draw and paint all sorts of subjects,” he says when asked about the complexity that is in many of his pictures. “I love assembling a number of images together.”

Along with being a visual artist, Weller is a writer, designer, publisher, promoter, and salesperson who lives here in Thunder Bay. He has written and illustrated several children’s books, a book of short stories for adults, and a book of poetry. One of his children’s books, The Boy From the Sun, won the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2007 for Illustration in Children’s Literature. The way his artwork and writing go together to tell his stories is deliberately planned: “I’ve actually thought quite hard about what I want to say and work hard to get ideas across. Some ideas are clearly in the text, but there can be an entirely different story created in the visuals that run in tandem with the story line.”

You can often find Weller at the Country Market, where he rents a booth and sells his books. The Country Market is where he met Bobbi, the model in the painting Weller created for the Thunder Bay Public Library. He was really inspired by her great attitude and wanted to capture her beaming face. Weller spent more time than he had planned to on the painting; it ended up taking two weeks to finish. He used acrylic to paint her pants and the purple background, while her upper torso, blouse and hair were painted in oil. Her natural hair is braided; she liked the idea of being painted with an afro.

Weller also rents a gallery on North Cumberland Street. “The gallery is fun,” he says. “It’s nice to see my work up on the walls. If I don’t have enough wall space, they’re in boxes.”  The gallery takes a lot of time, so he has created a work space inside of it. That was where the painting was created – he nailed the masonite up onto a wall and started painting. At the gallery, his eventual plan is to have other people’s work shown as well as his own.

While some artists mainly worry about creating artwork that sells, that is not Weller’s primary concern. “The whole idea of being an artist is to do your best work, to challenge yourself and see what you can do,” he says. “Too many artists hold back or rely on an ideology that makes it too easy to be an artist. I see nothing wrong with blowing people away, creating a sense of awe and mystery and wonder and excitement. If it’s fun for me, it’s got to be fun for the viewer.”

art work at the Waverley Vinyl Listening Station

Interview with Duncan Weller

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Duncan Weller in his art

Duncan Weller is a writer of children’s books, adult fiction and poetry.  He is also a visual artist who shows his work regularly.  He lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and travels often to get ideas and images for his books.  He won two of Canada’s top awards (Governor General’s, Schwartz) for his picture book, The Boy from the Sun.  You can find him online at duncanweller.com. And check out his artwork at the Vinyl Listening Station at Waverley Library!

Shauna Kosoris: So what came first for you: art or writing?

Duncan Weller: Children are quite happy to draw until they learn to write. The interest in writing supersedes drawing because words more easily express ideas and feelings than pictures. I kept drawing as I learned to write to satisfy an itch that I can’t explain. According to my mother, my first spoken word as a one year old child occurred when looking at a sundown over the Ottawa River. I said, “Pretty,” and not another word for three months. In my twenties I thought of myself as a visual artist. I was getting paid for my art long before my writing, but today I don’t distinguish between the two as powerful twins.

In university, you were originally in Fine Arts. Why did you decide to switch to English?

I wanted to learn about the history and methods of creating children’s books and other forms of literature. And at the time the Fine Arts Departments across North America emphasized modern art, which has value for some, but wasn’t my thing. The philosophical underpinnings of modernism was too subjective for my taste and Fine Arts departments completely ignored the potential of popular culture.There’s nothing wrong with the traditional functions of art when those traditional functions are used progressively to dramatically enrich a democratic society. And humanism is at the core of English literature which applies not only to visual art, but to cultures the world over. That emphasis, of art with a mission beyond aesthetics, ideology and the self struck me as more meaningful and useful.

Do you normally write or illustrate your books first? A Starship by Duncan Weller

Stories are movies in my mind, complete with settings, plot and characters long before they are organized into a format using words and images. In order for others to enjoy my books, movies on paper, I have to make the computer keyboard come atonally alive with the laborious part of organizing words and sentences into a meaningful story enhancing and being enhanced by the illustrations. It’s a complicated balancing act, so I make notes, a good outline and/or a story board. So again, the writing and illustrations come together. Hundreds of stories were memorized by griots or bards who passed down stories orally for thousands of years. I’m not that clever, but I have entire plots and ideas for novels worked out in my head where not a sentence has been formed, not a drawing made.

What is your favourite artistic medium to work with and why?

Watercolour is amazingly versatile and perfectly suited for illustrating children’s books. With the right paper and techniques, watercolour effects can mimic the texture of skin, bark, cloth, steel, clouds, water, etc. in wonderful ways. Oils are my second favourite. A story I completed called Lara Wood, yet to be printed/published was done in oils and alkyds. I used a crackle medium to imitate tree bark. It looks awesome. Painting faces with oils is the best way to go if you want to take your time and blend skin tones nicely, along with creating setting effects, like skies and atmospheres. For the books I’ve used all sorts of different mediums and plan to use more in the future.

In your books, you’ve written both prose and poetry. Do you have a preference for one or the other?

Prose. It’s so much easier. And safer. Poetry is hard to write and dangerous. An incredible number of poets commit suicide. This is because poets often look deeply inwards, searching for bigger truths in the well, reaching beyond the rejuvenating properties of the drinking water and heading straight for the rocky bottom. Also, the subjective nature of poetry and lack of financial support makes the life of a poet pretty hard. At its best poetry can be the most perfect form of human expression so I look forward to writing poetry for future children’s books. I look deeply, but I don’t plumb the depths of my own being for the rocky bottom. I’m not all that interested in ultimate truths. I believe there is some kind of order to the universe, and I have a few ideas about how it works, but I wouldn’t dare to take myself too seriously. I leave these depths to scientists and philosophers and try to look at the outside world as an observer with a heart. And because I’m sensitive I like to keep the poetic impulses to a minimum. I’ll live longer this way.

That’s fair. I know you’ve made videos of some of your children’s books; are you still working with film at all?

Occasionally I work on painting backdrops that may one day be green screened into a short film I want to make. And I’d love to make animated shorts and short films, leading up to making a feature film one day, but films get made by teams and require lots of management and money. So I’m sure I’ll do a few more small projects, maybe one next year.

The Ugg and the DripAs both a writer and illustrator, you must get pulled in so many different directions artistically.  How do you decide on the project you will focus your attention on?

As a writer, painter, designer, publisher, promoter, and salesperson I have to balance too many jobs with paying for rent and food like anyone else. So I take on commissions occasionally to earn some quick money. My book projects are eventually more profitable, and more so if I can find an agent and a good publisher this year. It’s expensive to print a book on my own, and will put me in debt for a while, but will eventually earn me good money. Despite the complications, choosing a project or starting a new project comes from feeling inspired or just getting bored with painting in one medium. Sometimes it’s a sudden rush of emotions that are connected with a story I love that I just can’t wait to work on. It’s also about timing and situations, some just too hard to explain.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’ve got three visual art commissions that will pay the rent. In my spare time I’m working on three different novels with lots of interesting characters and situations: We Play You (for adults) is about an artist who has his work stolen by a gallery owner. He discovers that the gallery owner is connected to an investment company that steals art from artists the world over. Punch-Out and The Search for the Ugg are two middle readers for kids. The Ugg story will have over 80 small illustrations. I hope to have Tiger Dream, a new picture book, completed this year.

So what book or author inspired you to write?

As a teenager I read nearly a novel a day, everything from Farley Mowat to dozens of science fiction authors, along with all the required books in high school, enjoying the Russian authors, Shakespeare and George Orwell. In University I was a big fan of the English Romantic Poets, Roald Dahl and the political writings of many American journalists, especially Tom Wolfe who blew up the writing world decades ago with his dramatic writing style. These days I read Ian Rankin and lots of political articles. I am looking to get back into reading a greater variety of novels by joining a book group.

What books influenced your children’s books?A picture from Girl from the Moon

For children’s books I had a few favourites like Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, books featuring Mr. Ben Red Knight, Graham Oakley’s church mice, a couple books by Dr. Suess, Jack Ezra Keats (Goggles! was my favourite), and a few oddball books from Europe including the strange imagery in Eastern European books of folktales. Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was my absolute favourite because the allegory applied to all sorts of strange adult behaviours. Most often I was disappointed as a child with children’s picture books. I felt the authors and illustrators had very little imagination, playing it safe, especially when compared to the amazing imagery in movies and television which also had a big influence on me. The Tom and Jane series that my mother got me as a young child made me feel ill. These books and many others were so bad I thought adults were robots who had no idea that children had feelings. I didn’t want to grow up to be an adult. For a while I thought adults were another kind of animal. At the age of nine a school librarian recommended we read the picture books with gold stickers on their covers. After I read over twenty books with gold stickers I told my classmates that books with gold stickers were the worst. It was about this time that I gave up on picture books and began reading comic books. I recall how disappointed I was when I made this as a conscious decision. At seventeen I thought I could make a ton of money writing good books for children because so many of them were terrible. In my early twenties I discovered Roald Dahl which later had a big influence.

Is there a book you think everyone should read?

For anyone interested in the visual arts I would recommend Learning to See by Alan Gowans. It’s out of print, but old copies can be ordered from Amazon and found in secondhand book shops in British Columbia. Gowans was an art historian who taught at the University of Victoria. He offered an alternate history of art that is amazingly coherent, practical and useful for artists if they ever feel confused about what art is for – about the amazing things that art can do for people.

And what are you currently reading?

I’m reading a book by Keli Goff called Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence. It’s one of many books I’m reading about race relations in order to improve the allegory for a story called Tiger Dream. I want to show children that it’s okay for us to eat, dress, talk and express ourselves differently because underneath the human dress (culture) we are all biologically the same. Our variety of cultures make the world an amazing place. I have to do a lot of reading for this story to better develop the allegory and ensure I’m representing other cultures accurately and positively. My research for Tiger Dream began with a trip to Ghana, which was made possible by a Chalmers’ Art Fellowship Award through the Ontario Arts Council.

Duncan Weller's books

Interview with Paul Gooding

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picture of Paul GoodingPaul Gooding enjoys poetry from the Victorian to the modern age, especially Tennyson, Frost, and Andrea Cohen. He’s the contact person for the Writers’ Circle, who meet on the last Wednesday of the month in the Waverley Auditorium. For more information on Writers’ Circle, please call him at 807-345-8513.

Shauna Kosoris: How did you get involved with Writers’ Circle?

Paul Gooding: Through a library ad. I was put in touch with Irene Warmenhoven, who edited the first anthology, Voice of Thunder, in 1998. I believe that they had existed prior to the first anthology.

For new members, it doesn’t matter if you’ve written a little or a lot, you can bring what you have and we’ll celebrate and read it. Everyone is welcome. There are no authorities. Everyone has their own thoughts on the piece. Everyone is welcome.

It’s wonderful that Writers’ Circle is so supportive. Other than that support, what is the most positive thing you have gotten out of being a member?

I think it’s the experience of seeing my work in print to a wider audience. To more than just fellow writers. The Writers’ Circle books were placed in the Thunder Bay depot of local works. That was instigated by Ken Boschcoff. I don’t know where it is located but it is the mayor’s collection of books.

That’s very exciting! You were on the editing team for Thunder on the Bay, the Writers’ Circle’s 4th anthology. Who else worked on that with you?

Thunder on the Bay was edited by Joan Baril, Michele Tuomi, and I. Martin Hicks assisted in editing as well (he’s since passed on). L. Keith Johnson was the guiding light to that one. Each time we met he kept a record of who came to the meeting. He was a massive contributor to everything.back cover picture of Thundering

The last anthology, Thundering, has a picture of all our contributors. Keith is third from the right.

Your bio in Thunder on the Bay and Thundering says you started writing after taking a course in Victorian Prose & Poetry. Why did that course inspire you?

It was an era of poetry that appealed to my mother. She got me several Tennyson books. I find the music of the poetry very enticing. I had to imitate it. The professor of that course was Dr. S.R. MacGillvary.

Was that here at Lakehead?

Yes. There’s another teacher, Claude Liman, who also inspired me. He’s since left town.

Have you always written poetry, or have you tried prose, too?

I tried prose in high school. I’ve written several academic papers. But poetry really. I’ve been in several poetry groups besides Writers Circle. My friends and I test each other. It’s lots of fun.

What is your favourite poem form to write and why?

I think variations on sonnet form, 14 lines. But the order of the lines isn’t given much prominence. Whatever I can fit into 14 lines. I’m not a strict follower. It takes a lot of skill. A sonnet is 14 lines, 3 quatrains, and a couplet. I don’t adhere to it strictly.

In terms of interests, I think also in terms of influences: Robert Frost. Andrea Cohen.

Why those poets?

I like their voice. I can feel them speaking to me directly and enjoy sharing their poetry. Sharing common interests.

How long does it take you to write a typical poem?

Probably no more than 30 minutes. I don’t write a lot. I write when I feel like it. Not interrupted. 30-40 minutes generally.

What was your first published poem?

I think the poems in Voice of Thunder. That was back in 1998.

So what are you working on now?

Right now, I’ll be giving a presentation to Writers’ Circle on William Wordsworth sonnets. That will be the last week at Waverley in May.

Good luck with that! Let’s finish up with a few questions about reading. What poet first inspired you to write?

I’d say Tennyson. Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He represents an isolated individual speaking for his age. An isolated individual who can remain true to his individual self.

Is there a book you think everyone should read?

Just read anything, really. If you get a copy of Victorian Poetry and Prose, it has major poems and essays.

Stuart Mill -essays
Carlyle -essays
John Henry Newman – essays

Victorian poetry still satisfies. I’ve been writing poetry since 1998 and it still provides challenges, examples, flights of fancy. It’s an escape from the mundane world to a higher reality. It lifts everything up to a higher dimension.

And what are you currently reading?

A book called The Crimes of Paris. It’s about the theft of the Mona Lisa and the criminal underworld of Paris. It’s got larger than life characters. From before Sherlock Holmes.

I also read a book called The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson.

thundering cover

Interview with Michelle Krys

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author picture of Michelle KrysMichelle Krys is the author of Dead Girls Society, Hexed, and Charmed. When she’s not writing books for teens, she moonlights as a NICU nurse. She lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, with her family. You can visit her online at michellekrys.com.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write your newest book, Dead Girls Society?

Michelle Krys: Ideas rarely come to me organically. I often have to go after them with a club, which is what happened in this case. I knew I wanted to write a book with the mystery and intrigue of Pretty Little Liars, but with a fun competition element à la Panic by Lauren Oliver, so I sat down and brainstormed ideas until I landed on something I liked. Not very romantic, but if I waited around for ideas to strike me I would probably write a book a decade.

Hope, your heroine with cystic fibrosis from Dead Girls Society, seems very different from Indigo, the cheerleader heroine of your first series.  Where did you get the ideas for these very different characters?

Indigo’s personality is one of the first things I knew about Hexed. I wanted to subvert the gothic witch stereotype, and having the protagonist be a popular, sarcastic cheerleader felt like the natural first step.

With Dead Girls Society, I really wanted to explore what it would be like to be a normal teenager in a lot of ways, experiencing all the normal teenager things, like love and angst and a desire to push boundaries and rebel, while also living with an incurable illness that really limits your experiences.

Dead Girls Society takes place in New Orleans, while Hexed is in LA. What’s the appeal of using big American cities for your novel settings?

I mentioned that one of my goals with Hexed was to subvert the gothic witch stereotype. Besides making the protagonist a popular cheerleader, I thought it would be fun to use a setting that most readers wouldn’t normally associate with witchcraft. Sunny L.A. seemed like a great fit for that. As for Dead Girls Society, I got the idea for the setting while roaming the French Quarter in New Orleans while attending a writing festival. I just fell in love with the rich, vibrant culture of the city.  

You wrote your first book while on maternity leave.  Was it difficult fitting in writing during that time?

Not at all! My son slept 12 hours through the night and took 3-4 hour naps during the day. His incredible sleeping habits are actually what prompted me to try my hand at writing. I found myself with all this free time, and I figured there would be no better opportunity to write that book I’d always been thinking about.

Wow, that’s incredibly lucky! Did your writing routine change once your maternity leave was over?

Definitely. Fitting in time to write became much more of a challenge. After coming home from an exhausting 12-hour shift and then putting my baby to sleep, all I wanted to do was collapse on the couch. This meant that all my writing was restricted to nap times on my days off, which were few and far between as I was working full-time then. One thing I will say is that, though challenging, the rigid schedule did force me to be very focused and driven. Now that I’m part-time at work and enjoy long stretches of days off between shifts, I find myself procrastinating a lot.

Why do you like writing YA books?

I could say something very noble about using artwork to provide teens with the tools to tackle a time of great upheaval (and that would also be true), but mostly? It’s fun, and it’s what I like to read.

That’s totally fair. I read in an interview with you in the Walleye that your first book was rejected.  Have you ever reused or reworked elements of that book into something new?

I’ve brought it out from time to time, but it’s very much a first novel. No redeeming features whatsoever. The book was great for a learning experience, and that’s it. It’s pretty humiliating to look at!

That’s too bad. But at least it led you to better stories! What are you working on now?

I have a few different projects on the go. A middle grade set in the east coast of Canada, a YA psychological thriller, and an adult contemporary romance. I like to dabble on a few different projects before I decide which one I want to spend my time on.

Good luck with whichever one you choose to develop! So what book or author inspired you to write?

The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. Say what you will about the problematic elements of the book, but the series completely swept me away. I can’t remember another time I connected with a book as deeply. It perfectly captured the thrill and innocence of falling in love for the first time. When Edward brushed Bella’s arm, I felt the drop in my own stomach.

It’s amazing how different books can speak to us so strongly! Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

The first book that comes to mind is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which is a graphic novel about a boy whose mother is dying of cancer. It’s utterly brilliant and heartbreaking and beautiful, all the more so when you discover that the original concept was created by the author Siobban Daud, who died of cancer before she had a chance to write the book.  

That sounds amazing; I’ll have to check it out. Finally, what are you currently reading?

I just finished a wonderful YA novel about a female gladiator in the Roman Empire, called The Valiant by Lesley Livingstone, and now I’m reading Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones, which is a Labyrinth retelling by way of The Sound of Music. So far it’s dark and gritty and romantic and exactly up my alley.

book cover of Dead Girls Society

Interview with Amy Jones

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Amy Jones photoAmy Jones won the 2006 CBC Literary Prize for Short Fiction and was a finalist for the 2005 Bronwen Wallace Award.  She is a graduate of the Optional Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, and her fiction has appeared in Best Canadian Stories and The Journey Prize Stories.  Her debut collection of stories, What Boys Like, won the 2008 Metcalf-Rooke Award and was a finalist for the 2010 ReLit Award.  Originally from Halifax, she now lives in Thunder Bay, where she is associate editor of The Walleye.  Follow her on Twitter @AmyLauraJones.

Her debut novel, We’re All In This Together, has been chosen as the Thunder Bay Public Library’s first One Book: One Community title.  Be sure to check out tbpl.ca/onebook for more information,  and for details about our upcoming events and reading challenges!  She will also be participating in the International Festival of Authors‘ Lit on Tour event in Thunder Bay November 1st.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write We’re All In This Together?

Amy Jones: I always knew I wanted to write a novel set in Thunder Bay, ever since I moved here. I had been working on a few ideas, but nothing really stuck. We had visited Kakabeka Falls quite a few times, and every time I was there I would always wonder if anyone had ever gone over, either on purpose or accidentally. We would come up with scenarios, like, if you fell in here, would you be able to swim to shore? Do you think anyone could survive this? And one day it all just came together and I was like, this is it, this is what I need to write about. It just made sense, that this place that inspired me so much in life would provide me with the inspiration for my first novel.

You always knew you wanted to write a novel set in Thunder Bay – why is that?

For a couple of reasons. One, I really believe in the importance of representation, and I feel like the more books and movies and art that are set in Thunder Bay, or recreate the artist’s experience of Thunder Bay, the better understood Thunder Bay will be. It’s also important for people to see their own experience reflected back to them in art, and the number of people who have come up to me since the book has been published, so excited to read about a place they know, just proves that to me even further. Two, one of the themes I really wanted to explore in the novel is the idea of “home,” and that whole push-pull it exerts on all of us. One thing about Thunder Bay that stands out to me is how rooted people are here, how strongly they are connected to their families, and yet how many people have to leave in order to find work, or for school, or whatever. People want to go out and make their own way, but also the north always seems to draw people back. So it was the perfect place to explore those themes.

That’s very true! When reading We’re All In This Together, one of my colleagues noticed that you name some Thunder Bay restaurants (like Norma Jean’s and Nippers) but not others. Was there a reason for that?  Did you have to get permission to use the real names?

I use real names for places that don’t figure as prominently in the story, but I make up names for places that I don’t want to be beholden to reality when describing. For instance, Barkley’s is based on a specific bar but it’s not exactly that bar, and by naming it something else I can make it fictional, and therefore do what I want with it (no one can argue, for instance, about how “at the real bar, the bathrooms are on the OTHER side of the room!”)

I sure hope I didn’t have to get permission! I think my publisher would have told me.

I’m sure they would have! How many of the houses in your book are based on reality?

Most are based in some reality. I set the Parker’s house quite near my own for the same reason I made Finn and Nicki close to my age: laziness (it’s much easier to figure out years or distances that way!) But their house is not a specific house on Victor Street, it is more an amalgam of a few houses. Same with the house Katriina buys. I take elements I like from each house and put them together.

Remaining true to the way Thunder Bay people speak, your characters say things like “camp” instead of “cottage.”  Why did you decide to use this distinction, especially since your book is being read by people who may not be familiar with Thunder Bay colloquialisms?

It was really important to me to get things “right” about Thunder Bay, especially the feel of the place, the atmosphere, the certain culture. I don’t think any of the references I make are so obscure that people who are not from here wouldn’t understand what they were (or if they are, I make sure they are explained somehow). I remember during the editing process my editor asked me about a character saying that her friend moved “down south.” She thought it meant, like, Florida or the Caribbean (as I did, before I moved here!) But when I explained to her that this is how people from Thunder Bay refer to Southern Ontario, she was like, okay, it should stay.

We’re All In This Together has ten different characters who all get chapters as the narrator.  Why did you decide on so many narratives?

I didn’t really decide on it more than it just kind of happened. The novel began as two short stories, one featuring Finn and the other featuring Katriina. When I realized that there were similarities between the two, I thought, okay, this can be a longer narrative. Then as the story progressed, it became important to me for Kate to have a voice, because I didn’t want her story to be told only by others. Then London pretty much insisted on having a voice, too. After that, it became important to have the others in order to balance out the story, in order to show things from many perspectives. So much of the book is centred around perception, and how we all (especially within families) remember things differently, have different views of the same event. Having the multiple narrators allowed me to explore that further.

Did you have a particular character you identified with more than the others?

A lot of people tell me that they pictured me as Finn, maybe because she is the one who moved away from her family. And I definitely had a lot in common with London when I was younger. But if I were to pick a character I identified with the most, it would be Katriina—her constant over-thinking of things, of wanting to keep everything together for everyone. I find it hard to read over her scenes sometimes, because of that.

Okay, I have to ask – was the idea of the shark in Lake Superior based in reality at all?

Haha, no, it wasn’t! It’s just another of those things we always talked about, whether or not the possibility existed, if it had ever happened. I think I might have seen something on television about it once, probably on Shark Week. It became a joke between me and my boyfriend, because he is really afraid of sharks. And then, like everything else in my life, it just became fodder for fiction.

So what are you working on now?

A new novel! It’s in the very early stages right now, so I don’t want to jinx it, but I definitely feel like I want to keep up the momentum with the novel writing.

Good luck!  Let’s finish up with a little bit about what you read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I don’t think it was just one… when I was a kid I loved to read, and would often invent new endings for books that I felt didn’t end the way I wanted them to (in fact, until I was an adult I always thought the blank pages at the end of books were there so you could write your own endings). When I first decided to try to write as a profession, I read a lot of contemporary Canadian and American short fiction: Lisa Moore, Barbara Gowdy, Annabel Lyon, Lee Henderson, George Saunders, Lorrie Moore, Aimee Bender, Rick Moody, Amy Hempel, Grace Paley. All of them inspired me in different ways.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I don’t think so, actually. Reading is such a personal thing, and it really breaks my heart when I try to match up someone I love with a book that I love and it doesn’t work. I don’t think there is one book out there that will speak to everyone, but as long as there is one book that speaks to you, that’s what matters.

And what are you currently reading?

I’m on a huge mystery kick, so I’ve been reading a lot of Laura Lippman, Tana French, Megan Abbott. I’ve just started the new Megan Abbott, You Will Know Me. I’m also really looking forward to the new Louise Penny at the end of the month!

We're All In This Together cover photo

Interview with Jean E. Pendziwol

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Author Picture of Jean E. PendziwolJean E. Pendziwol is the award-winning author of eight published children’s books.  Her debut adult novel, The Light Keeper’s Daughters, will be published in 2017 by HarperCollins; her latest children’s book, Me and You and the Red Canoe, will also be published in 2017 by Groundwood Books. You can find her online at http://www.jeanependziwol.com/.

Shauna Kosoris: Your writing career began with the publication of the picture book No Dragons for Tea: Fire Safety for Kids (and Dragons), which was published in 1999.  What inspired you to write this book?

Jean E. Pendziwol: My writing career actually began a few years before that. Prior to having kids, and continuing on a casual basis after they were born, I worked as a freelance writer, mostly for trade publications. I researched, wrote, photographed and did editorial coordination. Having young children re-exposed me to children’s books, and in particular, picture books. I love the format – the partnering of images and text, the challenge of working within a limited number of words, and, especially at that time, the ability to hold a story completely in my head before I even put pen to paper.  No Dragons for Tea was inspired by my daughter.  At that time, she was extremely afraid of fires, and more so, by fire alarms. I was concerned that she didn’t have the necessary tools to respond in an emergency situation and searched out resources. What I found were a number of books about fire safety that were all either didactic or frightening. With the help of our local fire prevention officer, Brian Berringer, I came up with the idea for the book. I was thrilled when Kids Can Press wanted to publish it! I was fortunate in that it was timely, relevant, accessible and engaging and it carried an important message.

I love that it spawned a whole series of engaging safety stories for children, too!  Right now you’ve published eight picture books, with another one tentatively scheduled for release next year.  What is the appeal of writing for children?

I love the challenge of writing picture books. There is a misconception that because the stories are short and for children that writing them is a simple task. It’s actually one of the hardest genres to get published in, which I fortunately didn’t know at the time I headed down that path. Several of my picture books are poems, and while written for children, have a universal appeal. Once Upon a Northern Night in particular has touched many people.  I love that my stories speak to people in an intimate way. And because I value and respect children, I want to create something for them that is valuable and respectful.

What’s the hardest thing for you when writing a picture book?

There are so many audiences to keep in mind. The audience for the story is a child, but it also needs to speak to the adult who will be making the decision to buy or borrow the book. Picture books are most often read out loud, and read many times over, and as a writer, these are things I need to consider.

Your debut adult novel, The Light Keeper’s Daughters, is due out next summer.  What made you switch your focus from writing children’s books?

I haven’t. I love and will always love writing for children; this is just another branch of the same writing tree. When I first started working on The Light Keeper’s Daughters, I intended for it to be for middle grade or young adult readers.  But as the characters began to take shape on the page and the themes and plot evolved, it settled into a story more suited to an adult audience. I was also at a point in my life where I was able to devote time to a more involved, lengthy writing process necessary for a novel-length story.

Has it been hard switching from writing for children to writing for adults?

For me, writing is always a learning process. Skills applicable to children’s writing are also important for adult writing; keeping the audience in mind; respecting the reader; ensuring that the voice remains consistent; and keeping the pace appropriate. I think my tendency to be a concise writer has served me well in my work for children and that has carried over to my writing for adults as well.

What can you tell me about your new novel?

The Light Keeper’s Daughters features two fascinating women, Elizabeth, who is elderly, blind and living in a senior’s home, and Morgan, a teenager completing community service hours for spray-painting graffiti. They are drawn together after the discovery of journals penned by Elizabeth’s father when he served at Porphyry Island as lighthouse keeper nearly sixty years ago. As they decipher the musty words, they realize they are connected through Elizabeth’s enigmatic twin sister, Emily, their lives shaped by the harsh Lake Superior environment and the secrets kept by a family for a lifetime.

I look forward to reading it next year!  So what are you working on now?

I’ve got a few projects on the go, some for children and some for adults… This, that and another thing. 🙂

Fair enough.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I grew up sailing on Lake Superior, so had plenty of time for reading. Interestingly, I never envisioned myself being a novelist, although I always loved to write. Some of my favorite books included the Mary Stewart series about Merlin and King Arthur (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills), Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M Auel), Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Ken Follet. As a young child, I read Enid Blyton, and had A.A. Milne read to me.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I think that’s a difficult question – readers are so diverse, which is wonderful. Not everyone likes the same kind of book. Some of my favorites (other than the ones noted above) include To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield), Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Dai Sijie, Ina Rilke), All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr), Skellig (David Almond) and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls. Oh, and Because of Winn Dixie (Kate DiCamillo) – pure genius in my opinion.

And what are you currently reading?

I just finished The Illegal (Lawrence Hill), I’m reading Fifteen Dogs (Andre Alexis), and have Amy Jones’ We’re All in This Together on the list.  I’m also re-reading some of my favorite middle grade books, looking at them from the perspective of a writer, including The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis), Coraline (Neil Gaiman), Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls), and Holes (Louis Sachar). And, of course, Because of Winn Dixie.

Cover Picture of Once Upon a Northern Night