The Long Reach of an Influencer

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 About Julian.

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.

Overheard This Week

“I hope you guys are in school because this really isn’t the kind of career type job I like to see people in.”

So said a customer at the local bottle depot where my son, now known as the Graduate (AKA Teen Freud or The Basement Dweller), has worked part-time sorting and stacking bottles since he was in high school. Amazingly (and I use that word deliberately because he’s not known at home for his diplomacy) the Graduate  smiled, nodded politely and waited for the woman to take her bejewelled self back to her Mercedes before letting loose with a rant to his co-workers about judgement and expectations and class systems.

With his undergrad degree freshly in hand, the Graduate will likely make a job switch at some point over the coming months. But so what if he doesn’t? What if he decides he wants to stay where he is or open a bottle depot of his own? What if he was like a former co-worker who chose the job because he was a photographer (his passion) during off hours but the bottle depot provided a steady salary? Or his single mother co-workers who find the work, though dirty and often unpleasant, reliable and well-paying, especially for a job that doesn’t require post-secondary education.

Why do the jobs we do, the Graduate asked, inspire so much judgement? Why indeed.

That got me thinking about some of the jobs I assign my fictional characters. The mother character in In Plain Sight is an artist and predictably absentminded when she’s lost in her painting. The father is a terrorist and in jail so I went out of the box there. But in The Art of Getting Stared At, the main character’s parents are a doctor, an airline pilot, and a model respectively. In Girls Who Dish, my latest Laura Tobias title, the main characters are a restaurant owner and a lawyer, though I do throw in an accountant with a Shirley Temple obsession.

Sometimes characters and plot reveal the best choice of career or job to further our stories. You need a detective in a whodunit, for example. But Agatha Christie’s  Miss Marple was an elderly spinster and a most unlikely detective, something Christie used to her advantage.

So the next time I’m considering character careers, I’m going to forget the doctor or the teacher or the artist or the politician (especially the politician). I’m going to look for something fresh. How about a timeshare seller or a spider researcher or a cello maker or an otter technician for the Department of Conservation? Or  a chimney sweep . . . letter carrier  . . . judo instructor . . . dialysis tech . . . FAA tower controller . . . exterminator . . . glass blower . . . Christmas Around the World salesperson . . . preschool dance teacher?

So many jobs . . . I’d better get writing.

But first I’m heading out to get a t-shirt printed for the Graduate and his co-workers. I want it to read: Recycling Equipment Engineer . . . and proud of it.

Congratulations White Pine Winners!


The Ontario White Pine awards ceremony was held earlier today in Toronto. Congratulations to Jeyn Roberts who won for her title The Bodies We Wear. Honour book status was awarded to Don Aker for Delusion Road and Nick Cutter for The Troop. I was privileged to be nominated for The Art of Getting Stared At. The Ontario Library Association does a tremendous job of running the program which encourages thousands of students to read the nominated titles.

Here are the three winning titles:

bodies-We-Wear-2-e1414534497262The Bodies We Wear by Jeyn Roberts. Faye was eleven when a powerful new drug named Heam was forced on her and her best friend, Christian. Faye saw hell and vowed retribution. After years spent training,Faye is ready to take revenge on the men who destroyed her future and killed her best friend.But vengeance has its price and a mysterious young man doesn’t want Faye to pay up.





delusionroadDelusion Road by Don Aker. Willa Jaffrey is beautiful, rich, dating the perfect guy and determined to have a fabulous senior year. Enter Keegan Fraser, a handsome new student who wants no part of the games everyone plays at Willa’s school. Despite a rocky start, Keegan and Willa gradually become closer, even as Willa’s carefully constructed universe begins to fall apart. But little does Willa know that Keegan’s past holds the darkest of secrets – and it’s about to catch up to him.




troop-NickCutterThe Troop by Nick Cutter.  Scoutmaster Tim takes five boys for a weekend camping trip to Falstaff Island. He thinks the worst he’ll have to deal with is the boys’ different personalities clashing, or perhaps the leader of the pack challenging his authority, but the truth is much worse. A disturbing stranger stumbles onto their island campground and their camping weekend turns into a fight for survival as they find themselves with a monster in their midst.




All three sound like edge-of-the-seat reads! Congratulations again to the winners!

And Now for Something a Little Different

pileofpapersI’m deep into revisions on In Plain Sight and I have two more manuscripts waiting, waiting, IMPATIENTLY waiting for their turn to be polished and cleaned. So this week, I’d like to suggest you pop on over to Adriyanna Zimmermann’s blog where she posts author interviews and reviews. She interviewed me about The Art of Getting Stared At and followed that with a lovely review. I hope you like it as much as I did!



Enjoy the rest of your week!

Just One?

favoriteIt’s always fun to be interviewed or contacted on Twitter. Because Stepping Out will be released in mid-February, and because The Art of Getting Stared At is up for a couple of reader’s choice awards, I’m receiving lots of tweets and emails. I’ve even been interviewed for a couple of blogs which is both cool and a little weird (as a former journalist, I’m used to asking the questions, not answering them).

Last week, a theme of sorts emerged.

I was asked to identify my favorite color, my favorite meal, and the book that had changed my life. In other words, a kind of favorite too.

The last question was posed on Twitter and I wasn’t the only writer asked. There was also a deadline. A book club wanted to know as they were discussing our latest releases the next day. I read tweets from the other authors offering up their single life changing book. I mulled and fretted and walked Team Sheltie and got my daily writing done and mulled and fretted and went to the gym and mulled and fretted some more. Eventually, I responded with several tweets saying I couldn’t pick a single book because different books had impacted and changed my life at different times. I picked a couple: Charlotte’s Web, Mrs. Mike, Karen, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Alchemist, The Lovely Bones. But there were so many I left off: Green Eggs & Ham changed my life because it taught me to read; Jonathan Livingstone Seagull changed my life at thirteen because it affirmed for me that there’s more to life than meets the eye; every single Junie. B. Jones book I read to my daughter changed my life because I saw the importance of humor in storytelling. Interview with a Vampire changed my life because it opened my eyes to a completely different style of writing and a new genre. Lady of Hay changed my life because I read it and said, “I want to write a past life novel too.” And I did.

I can’t pick a favorite color either. I adore the pale green of a seedling bursting through the soil. The blazing orange of a sunset. The black of my velvet throw. The rich purple of an amethyst cluster. The voluptuous white of summer clouds. The shocking red of fireworks. Even gray, which I never really thought much of before, has become a favorite. I’m letting my gray hair shine and, to me, the color speaks of authenticity and courage. Because in our culture, it is still far more acceptable for men than women to embrace their gray hair.

Don’t get me started on food. How can people pick a favorite food? Or even a favorite meal? A last meal? Faced with that challenge, I’d be starting my last meal several weeks in advance. I’d feast on crepes and smoked salmon . . . avocado and shrimp on a ciabatta bun . . . baby greens with my homemade raspberry vinegar . . . juicy peaches with wedges of brie. . . dim sum . . . curried scallops and biriyani rice . . . scones with clotted cream and chunky strawberry jam . . .spicy basil tofu . . . and steamed crab and mushroom risotto and a fatty rib eye and baked potatoes loaded with everything and French press coffee and popcorn with lots of butter. Lots and lots and lots of butter. Oh, and halloumi cheese. Maybe not with the popcorn but crispy fried halloumi would be in there somewhere too.

I can’t pick a single favorite anything. Except when it comes to love. I do have a favorite man. I married him. I also have a favorite son and a favorite daughter but someday, when they commit to their ‘one and only,’ my list will surely expand. I hope it does. For their sake and for mine. For them because we all deserve a life filled with love. And for me because I like my favorites multiplied.

The Land of ‘What If?’

what-ifI spend half my life playing in the imaginary land of ‘what if?’ What if a girl who doesn’t care about her looks suddenly loses all her hair and becomes obsessed with her appearance (The Art of Getting Stared At)? What if a woman who doesn’t trust her intuition must rely on it to save the life of a child (What Lainey Sees)? What if a girl who doesn’t like being the centre of attention must go on stage in front of thousands to have a shot at achieving her wildest dream (Stepping Out)?

‘What if’ is story oxygen. But the phrase is also part of my DNA. I probably came out of the womb crying ‘what if.’ You might say this is catastrophizing. I prefer to think of it as exercising my writing muscles while preparing for all eventualities.

Case in point:  while gardening several weeks ago, a small twig (about the size of a paper clip) made its way into my boot. When I discovered it, I tossed it away. Later that night, the bottom of my foot began to hurt. The skin wasn’t punctured, but to be safe I put on some Polysporin before bed. The pain was back the next day, sporadically coming and going, and increasing as night fell. I checked my foot again; there was nothing. The same thing happened on day three: sporadic pain when I walked, especially if I was in bare feet or going uphill. By the end of that day, I’d started my trek through the land of ‘what if?’ What if that twig had minutely punctured the skin releasing some kind of invisible spore that was infecting my blood stream? What if some kind of deadly pathogen was coursing through my veins and heading straight for my heart? Or my head? What if I lingered in a coma and died right before Christmas, thereby ruining future Christmases for my children. Scratch the lingering coma and ruined future holidays. What if had some kind of muscle damage on the bottom of my foot? What if I had to get rid of my treadmill desk? Write sitting down? What if it got so bad that, eventually, I couldn’t walk? What if we had to sell the house because of all the stairs? What if Mr. Petrol Head decided we should move to Mexico and live in one- level hacienda and what if we met a doctor who specialised in treating rare and unusual afflictions and he cured me and what if I wrote the whole thing into a book which was made into a screenplay starring Jamie Lee Curtis Julianne Moore and what if it was nominated for an Academy Award. For the screenplay that I wrote.

I wish I could say this didn’t happen. I really do. I wish I could say that I took an oversized, extra- strength magnifying glass to the bottom of my foot immediately after it began to hurt to see if, perhaps, there was something I’d missed. Because that’s what practical, down-to-earth, clear-thinking adults do (to give myself credit, I would have done it had it been one of my kids). Instead I detoured to ‘what if’ land because that’s where I live most of the time.

I don’t know if it was intuition or my embarrassment at the thought of going to the doctor with an invisible foot boo-boo but on day four I pulled out my grandmother’s old magnifying glass, turned on a spotlight and took an up-close-and-personal look at the bottom of my foot. I discovered a tiny, microscopic, flit-of-a-thing (the size of a child’s eyelash) lodged into the pad of my foot. It was white-blonde, nearly invisible, and had probably been part of the twig before it claimed part of my foot.

Along with claiming several days of my creative ‘what if’ energy.

To give myself credit, the ‘what if’ factor works the other way too. I stumbled down the basement stairs the other day while carrying a basket of dirty laundry. I ended up with a bad sprain. My ‘what if’ litany afterwards was largely one of gratitude: what if I’d broken my ankle? My leg? Hit my head? Blah, blah, coma . . . blah, blah ruined Christmases forever. I was incredibly lucky and I knew it. Mixed in with my gratitude was a trace of self-reproach: that basket was too full and too heavy and you knew it.

I find it interesting that it’s my right foot that’s badly sprained – the same one that had the boo-boo that could have totally ruined my life. Symbolic, don’t you think? So I won’t be visiting the land of ‘what if’ for a while. I’m taking a side trip to the town of ‘making meaning out of the mundane.’

Because writers are good meaning makers.

More Happy News

forest logo framedI’m delighted to have The Art of Getting Stared At included on the White Pine list for this year’s Forest of Reading in Ontario. Established and administered by the  Ontario Library Association, the program encourages children from kindergarten to grade 12 to pick up a book.

The White Pine is a teen reader’s choice award and thousands of teens in grades 9 – 12 read the books and vote for their favorites. And they have ten wonderful titles to choose from. To check out the shortlisted books, go here:

On another note, I had a great time at last night’s Victoria Book Prize Society gala even though The Art of Getting Stared At didn’t win in the children’s category. That honor went to Chris Tougas who won for his delightful picture book Dojo Daycare. Chris had the audience laughing as he read his text. If you have preschoolers in your life, do pick up a copy of his funny story. They’ll love it! dojodaycare framed


It’s Nomination Season

langston_ArtofGettingStared_pb‘Tis the season for book award nominations and The Art of Getting Stared At has garnered two this month!

The novel has been shortlisted for the inaugural Amy Mathers Teen Book Award, a national award honoring excellence in teen/young adult fiction. Only five books are chosen annually and The Art of Getting Stared At made it this year. Nominated in the same category are Blues for Zoey by Robert Paul Weston,  The Bodies We Wear by Jeyn Roberts, The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat, and What We Hide by Marthe Jocelyn. The winner will be announced at a gala in Toronto November 18th. For more information on the award, which is part of a series of awards distributed by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, go here:

And locally, The Art of Getting Stared At is a finalist for the Bolen Books Children’s Book Prize which is under the umbrella of the Victoria Book Prize Society. Also nominated in the same category are Shack Island Summer by Penny Chamberlain and Dojo Daycare by Chris Tougas. The winner will be announced at a gala in Victoria October 14th. For more information on this award, go here:

It’s Nomination Season

The Willow Award Lists are up and I’m happy to say The Art of Getting Stared At has been nominated in the Snow Willow category. It’s a lovely honor and I’m in terrific company. Check out the entire list of nominees here:

The Saskatchewan-based Willow Awards were established in 2001to promote reading by granting an annual “Willow Award” to a Canadian or Saskatchewan book.  Students vote on the nominated titles in three categories: the Shining Willow for young readers; the Diamond Willow for upper elementary students; and the Snow Willow for readers in grades 7 – 9.

Voting will take place over the coming year with the winners announced around this time next year.

Happy reading, students. You have lots of good books to choose from!

A Bit of Lovely News

langston_ArtofGettingStared_pb I figured I needed more coffee when I opened up Facebook one morning last week to find a friend congratulating me for making the CLA YA book of the year short list.  I was stunned.  But sure enough, The Art of Getting Stared At has been shortlisted for the Canadian Library Association’s YA Book of the Year along with 9 other terrific titles.

It’s a huge honour.  I’m sure you’ve heard that same line from other award nominees. You’ve probably thought, ‘yeah, riiiight. Can’t they think of something more original to say?’

Actually no. Because it is an honour and a thrill and it’s wonderful to think a book you worked hard on for many months will quite possibly reach more readers because of the publicity.

The Canadian Library Association has been recognizing the work of young adult authors since 1980. They also hand out awards in two other categories: to an outstanding illustrator of a children’s book, and to the author of an outstanding children’s book for readers 12 years and younger.

The winner of the YA Book of the Year, and the Honour Books, will be announced during the week of April 20th. The award itself will be presented at the CLA’s annual conference in Ottawa in early June.  Like I said, I’m in wonderful company. Here are the other nine nominated titles. There’s some great reading on this list:

The Death of Us, by Alice Kuipers (Harper Collins)

The Gospel Truth, by Caroline Pignat (Red Deer Press)

Moon at Nine, by Deborah Ellis (Pajama Press)

Rabbit Ears, by Maggie DeVries (Harper Collins)

This One Summer, by Mariko & Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood)

Twisted, by Lisa Harrington (DCB)

Unspeakable, by Caroline Pignat (Penguin Random House)

The Voice Inside My Head, by S.J. Laidlaw (Tundra)

What We Hide, by Marthe Jocelyn (Tundra)