Summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest, bringing sunshine, warmer temperatures and garden happiness. Our veggies have stopped pouting and are galloping to catch up to where they normally would be at this time of year. It’s been an odd gardening year though. Summer started out cool and wet; we’ve been dealing with Covid restrictions and stock limitations at many garden centres; and we’ve been in observation mode in our new garden – watching what flowers when, checking out the light levels and exposure patterns, and planning for next year. It’s left me more time to read . . . and I have a lovely patio where I can enjoy a good book. Here’s what I’m reading this month.
The word influencer is used these days to describe a
person with the ability to influence public buying habits by promoting or
recommending products or services on social media. People make entire careers out
of being influencers.
In truth, we’re all influencers in one way or another. Life is an interactive gig. We can’t help but be touched and impacted by people, often for as long as a relationship lasts and sometimes even after. But occasionally, a single brief encounter can influence a life. Or a career.
Decades ago, when I was starting out as a journalist,
I was lucky enough to interview Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. This was probably
fifteen years after she published her classic book ‘On Death and Dying’, but before
she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She was in the prime of her career at the time
and landing the interview was something of a coup. I can’t remember how it came
about but I remember the interview itself quite clearly.
She was humble and unassuming, but strongly committed to erasing the taboos around death, and more than willing to deviate from the traditional questions I was expected to ask. I had a deep personal interest in the spiritual side of death, and while that was covered in many of her books, she was also becoming known for exploring more mystical elements like near-death and out-of-body experiences, even mediumship, all elements that didn’t go over well in the traditional medical sphere she operated in.
We spoke for several hours, much longer than she’d originally agreed to. I remember the passion she had for her subject, and how engaged she was with me, a young newbie journalist starting out. She was intensely encouraging, suggesting other books I could read, places I could go to explore further (this was pre-internet) my interest in the spiritual side of death and dying.
Her influence has stayed with me, both in my personal life
as I’ve witnessed people I love passing on, and also in my work. I relied on
Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief when Cate, the heroine in No Right Thing,
had to say goodbye to someone she loved. I turned to Kubler-Ross’s work when I
wrote The Art of Getting Stared At, utilizing the five stages of grief
when Sloane loses all her hair because of alopecia. And I’m using the mystical,
spiritual side of Kubler Ross’s research in my work-in-progress, Something
A brief encounter in my life but an influential one. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross would have been 93 today. I leave you with one of her many wonderful quotes.
I had an interesting lesson in perspective last week
when I received my second review for No Right Thing.
Perspective is all about our individual reality. A luscious, triple decker ice cream cone
viewed through the eyes of a hungry five-year-old will elicit a far different
reaction than the same ice cream cone viewed through the eyes of a diabetic adult
who also has a heart condition.
On an intellectual level I understand that my taste in
movies, restaurants, shoes, art, politicians or books may not be your taste.
That’s a good thing. Diversity is healthy.
Intellectually, I also understand that reviewers have different
tastes too. The key word in that sentence is intellectually. Because even
with over 20 books published, I still have the ability to be emotionally impacted
by a less than stellar review.
Same book, two different readers. One found the plot
predictable and the main character one dimensional. The other found the plot richly
layered and the main character fascinating.
The Kirkus review upset me. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.
I had a few rough days wondering if I’d failed in what I set out to achieve in
the novel. Kirkus and CM reviews are read by the bookstore owners, librarians and
educators who are trying to decide where to allocate their book buying funds. A
bad review in that kind of publication can make a major difference to a writer’s
I had to remind myself that reviews are, as one writer
friend used to say, out of my sphere of influence. There is nothing I can do to
influence them. All I can do is write the books, send them out into the world,
and hope they are well-received.
My lesson for the week was the reminder that
perspective is subjective. Perspective comes from personal taste, life experiences
and expectations, among other things. It varies from moment to moment, day to day,
mood to mood. And it certainly varies from person to person.
Not only should I remember that but I should celebrate
it too. Because what kind of world would it be if we all thought and believed
the same thing?
As I write
this, summer is only four days away. It’s been a different spring. We’ve had
wetter, cooler weather than normal for this time of year; we’re still spending more
time at home because of Covid precautions; and we’re dealing with more wildlife
than we’re used to in our new garden too. Specifically, rabbits. Mom and Dad are
regular visitors to the front lawn, and we’re (mildly) content to let them nibble
on the grass. It’s less for us to cut. However, Mom and Dad are clearly using
our back garden, where we grow vegetables, as a day care. And an all-you-can-eat
buffet. We’ve chased four babies out so far and Mr. Petrol Head continues to
string chicken wire to prevent access. But those little guys are smaller than a
pound of butter and can squeeze through the tiniest of holes. We’ve seeded
beans three times, zucchini twice and lettuce more times than I can count. Between
the rabbits and their partners in crime, the slugs, we aren’t faring all that
well in the food growing department.
The neighbors are properly sympathetic. They loaned us their live catch rabbit trap, so we baited and waited. But before we could catch a single rabbit, they needed their trap back. They had a hungry critter in their back yard too. We called the hardware store. There’d been a run on live traps; they were out. We bought more chicken wire and continued with our patch job until chicken wire became scarce. Another neighbor has suggested we borrow his leaf blower to tackle the problem. “Herd them out with fear,” he suggested.
We aren’t that desperate. At least not yet. But it might come to that. We’re seeding more beans and zucchini tonight. We’ll see how it goes. Meantime, to lower my blood pressure and keep me sane, I’m doing a lot of reading. Here’s what I’m reading this month.
When we Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal
Boy Giant: Son of Gulliver by Michael Morpurgo
Renewal: How Nature Awakens Our
Creativity, Compassion and Joy by Andres R. Edward
Until authors Pam Withers and Arooj Hayat used parkour as the springboard for their new novel, The Parkour Club, I’d never heard of the sport. Parkour, in its truest sense, is quite literally moving from one point to another using the obstacles in your path to increase your efficiency. Think leaping, vaulting, climbing or rolling in the style of James Bond or your favorite superhero. Although parkour grew out of French military obstacle course training, it has evolved into a discipline of its own. In fact, it’s due to make its World Games debut in 2021.
The Parkour Club by Withers and Hayat is a compelling young
adult novel. Here’s a summary:
Not everyone in the Parkour Club is who they seem. And for some, the question is: How fast do you have to run to escape the past?
Parkour enthusiast Bronte Miller is back from a year in Alexandria, Egypt, where her father was a war correspondent. Missing her secret Egyptian boyfriend, she’s bored in her Washington State hometown. Or she is until Yemeni refugee Karam Saif shows up, trying awkwardly to fit into American high school life.
“I can help him with that,” Bronte thinks. Handsome, attentive and an ace parkour athlete, Karam seems the perfect antidote to her impossible home situation and not-happening readjustment to American life. Together, they and the Parkour Club party-it-up around town and revel in learning challenging new parkour moves. But both have Middle Eastern secrets that draw them ever closer to danger, and someone they can’t identify is meddling with their lives. Can they outrun the past, or join forces and save each other?
What are you doing next Tuesday, May 19th? Can you spare an hour? If so, plan to catch this Facebook live event (find it under events on your Facebook page) at 4 pm, Pacific time. That’s when a group of us will be talking about writing and illustrating and all things children’s books. I’ll be answering questions about my latest YA, No Right Thing. Thanks to Crwth Press for setting everything up. We’re looking forward to it, and we hope you can join us!
Thing is out in the
world! A big thank you to Crwth Press for loving the story and shepherding it
through to publication.
a profound sense of satisfaction on book release day. There’s joy – a job well done! – and a touch
of trepidation too. Will it find a home? Readers? Will people love it as much
as I do?
of course, Covid-19 has changed the book release dynamic. Book store signings,
author talks and school visits are out of the question. Thankfully, people are
still reading. Some indicators suggest they’re reading more than they were
Thing is a young
adult novel about 16-year-old Cate Sheridan who believes in always doing the right
thing. So, when Cate sees a homeless man about to be hit by a truck, she does the
only right thing: she pulls him to safety. Cate quickly realizes that one good deed
can have catastrophic consequences. Eventually, after heartache, tragedy and a
devastating betrayal, Cate learns that sometimes people have all the right
reasons for doing a very wrong thing.
purchase links to Crwth Press and some of the larger chain stores on my books
page. I’d also like to give a huge shout-out to smaller independent bookstores who
work hard to provide us with books. Many will take phone orders deliver. For an
independent bookstore near you, please check out this map:
I’m dealing with a debilitating and hopefully temporary back problem, so I’ve been spending more time resting and less time doing. That means relaxing and staring at the clouds . . . watching the swallows swoop and dart through the air . . . and reading. Lots and lots of reading. As the month opened, I reached for the comfort and reassurance of a classic I’ve read before. And now, as we creep closer to the end of the month, I need a break from reality, some laughs, and the promise of a happily ever after. I know I can count on Kristan Higgins for that. Here’s what I’m reading this month.
The garden sent me a lesson the other day. It’s a lesson I’ve witnessed repeatedly in writing and gardening. But it’s a lesson I’ve yet to master. Everything happens when it’s meant to happen. The unfolding of life has its own rhythm. And as much as I’d like to think I’m in charge, I am not.
tomatoes and peppers and broccoli and basil. Sweet peas and eggplant and cilantro
too. The broccoli popped up first, quickly followed by basil, tomato and sweet
pea seedlings. The eggplant was slower, but it eventually germinated. The pepper
and the cilantro seeds languished under the starting soil. I hovered and
fretted and hovered some more.
Cocooned in their dark bed, the pepper and cilantro seeds paid no attention.
Meanwhile, the effects of the Covid-19 slowdown continued. I learned of more work cancellations and delays. I heard of more writer friends having their book releases postponed. Or having their books come out without the expected fanfare of a launch (if you’re a writer with a book releasing during the Time of Covid, email me and I’ll plug it on this blog).
going according to plan, one friend wailed after she’d been hit with a
particularly bad piece of cancellation news. Indeed.
In the big picture, she and I both know what matters is life and health and slaying the Covid dragon. We know it’s shallow to worry about book releases or cancelled tours when people are dying. We’re wearing our grown-up pants (yoga pants) these days. We have our priorities straight. But at the same time, we wish things were different. We wonder why things are the way they are. We worry that maybe if we’d made different choices or worked a little harder or taken a different route, things would be going according to plan. According to our plan.
finally germinated. In spite of my very best hand-wringing, the cilantro never did.
its own rhythm, my seedlings whispered. Maybe someday I’ll learn the lesson and
won’t need the reminder.
Life has been upside down for weeks now as all of us learn
to live with the restrictions brought about by Covid-19. Schedules have been upended;
cancellations abound. The news is grim, the future is uncertain and it’s easy
to get caught up in worry, sadness and fear.
However, just as the spring flowers are popping up to promise
us better days ahead, there have been promises of the future in other ways too.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from the daughter of a
friend of a friend of a friend. She’d written a book of children’s stories and
wanted to know how to get them published. She was excited and enthusiastic,
full of questions and optimism. It was a reminder that life continues, and there
will be things in our future to look forward to, including new books to read.
In fact, there are new books to read right now! Two children’s
authors have new releases worth checking out.
The Rise and Fall of Derek Cowell by Valerie Sherrard is already getting great reviews. This humorous novel (published by DCB and suitable for ages 9-12) tells the story of a middle-grade boy who becomes popular after unintentionally photobombing a group selfie of his sister and her friends. As a kid who is used to living under the radar, Derek struggles with his sudden fame and the inevitable crash that follows. Check out Valerie Sherrard’s website here: https://valeriesherrard.blogspot.com/ And the DCB website here: https://www.dcbyoungreaders.com/the-rise-and-fall-of-derek-cowell
Sophie Trophy Too by Eileen Holland is another humorous read but for younger readers, ages 7 – 9. Published by Crwth Press, this story follows Grade Three student Sophie as she befriends Hailey, the new girl in her class. Unfortunately, her efforts go hilariously wrong, but even as Sophie ends up feeling left out she is determined to find a way to make Hailey feel welcome. You can listen to Eileen read the first chapter here: https://youtu.be/hPqKLGLhPOM For purchase information, check out the Crwth website: https://www.crwth.ca/sophie-trophy-too/ And to visit Eileen’s website, go here: http://eileenhollandchildrensauthor.com/
Finally, you may remember me blogging about a mosaic class I took last year from Debra Hagan. (Here’s a link for those who missed it: https://lauralangston.com/filling-the-well-mosaic-style/). Debra regularly holds classes and workshops at her Nanoose Bay studio, and I booked one for March, only to see it cancelled because of the pandemic. Cancelling was the right thing to do and I know there will be other chances down the road. For now, though, we can get our mosaic fix through her new website: www.goldbugmosaics.com. The next time you want to take an uplifting break, check it out. And some of her mosaics are for sale!