The RPL Readers Summit – some thoughts – April 10, 2014

First, by any criteria the event was a success. The weather was gorgeous –warm, sunny and still, and over the four days, 239 patrons participated in events. The RPL wanted to celebrate our community’s love of reading and writing, and the enthusiastic involvement of the participants made it clear that the summit had reached its goal.  My event was the last one, and when it was over,  one writer/reader said that what she loved about the Summit was that there was something there for everyone and that she had learned something different and valuable from every session. 

        I attended all the events and I’d read all the books our presenters were going to talk about.  I, too, learned something different and valuable from every session, but I have a few memories that I’d like to share.

      Thursday night, Dr. Jim Daschuk (who used to toss a Frisbee with our son,  Nathaniel) discussed his critically acclaimed book, Clearing the Plains.  The subject of Dr. Daschuk’s disseration was the decimation of the Aboriginal people when the prairies were settled, and his reading was both sobering and enlightening. I was very pleased to see that there were a number of First Nations people in the audience.  They brought questions and insights to the discussion and Dr. Daschuk’s discussion was enriched by their presence. 

        Friday night Yann Martel discussed his book What is Stephen Harper Reading,  and his talk and the response it engendered was wide-ranging and brain-stretching.  Martel’s theory that you can tell a great deal about a person by what that person does (or does not) read is a provocative one, and when the theory is applied to the leaders who decide what we as a nation, a province or a city will be, it can be both provocative and more than a little frightening.  Again, audience participation was lively and we all had a chance afterwards to have a drink, enjoy some of the excellent appetizers and talk to Yann Martel, a man who is as approachable as he is thoughtful.

          Our first Saturday morning session was led by Dianne Warren, my around-the-corner neighbour and the winner of the 2010 Governor-General’s award for fiction for her novel Cool Water—somehow I suspect she mind find the GG a tad more thrilling than the proximity to me.  Dianne’s novel is a gentle, absorbing and humane novel about how contemporary life in Juliet Saskatchewan feels to some of its (barely over 1,000) residents.

         It’s a lovely book, and Dianne was open about sharing some of the sources behind this extraordinary novel.  Among other influences, Dianne cited her father’s collection of Zane Grey novels and her father’s treasured recording of the Sons of the Pioneers’ Cool Water, a classic about his man and his mule.   Dianne’s  lesson about how writers spin many strands into story was one of the most sensible explanations of the relationship between sources and the creative process that I’ve heard.

         Alice Kuipers made an indelible impression on us all as she sat cross-legged on the table, wearing the most beautiful pair of hand-tooled western boots I’ve ever seen, talking about her determination to become a writer despite a daunting onslaught of rejections.  Her account of how she finally found the literary form that best suited what she wanted to say was riveting.  April 5th (the day Ali spoke) was my grand-daughter, Madeleine’s 16th birthday and Alice wrote a lovely whimsical inscription on the copy of 40 Things I Want to Tell you that I’d bought for Madeleine (having first read and enjoyed it myself, of course.) Ali’s partner Yann Martel brought their three very young children to the reading to see their mother in action.  All are under the age of five, blonde, handsome and very well behaved.  It was good for us all to see two very successful partners balancing work and family.

           Our son Nathaniel came with us to hear Yann Martel talk about his novel, Beatrice and Virgil.    Nat is a great fan of Life of Pi, but he hadn’t read Beatrice and Virgil. As Yann talked about the difficulties of writing about the holocaust from a fresh perspective, the audience was rapt.  Nat had taken a class in the literature of the holocaust, so during the Q and A, he and Yann had a lively interchange about the subject at hand, during which Nathaniel mentioned a book about the holocaust that had flown beneath Yann’s radar.  That evening Nat and Yann had a very nice email exchange.  You can imagine how pleased Nat was that Yann Martel took the time to write. I’ve already ordered Beatrice and Virgil for our younger son.  

          On Sunday, Annette Bower talked about writing her romance novel  Woman of Substance, a book that in addition to packing a very nice narrative punch explores the question of how body image affects how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. To support her Masters thesis that society treats large women treated differently because of their weight, the protagonist, Robbie Smith assumes the disguise of a very large woman.  Annette examined studies that had been done about body image and about the role advertising plays in making women believe that to be happy they must conform to a certain ideal body weight.  As a bonus, Annette took us inside the world of publishing romance novels. In all, it was a fascinating hour, and a very well-attended one.

       My presentation on the mystery was the last.  I read from my 15th Joanne Kilbourn novel, 12 Rose Street that will be published next year.  Among other subjects the novel deals with betrayal and forgiveness, and the discussion after the reading was thoughtful and often, very moving.

        Warren James says that next year’s Readers’ Summit will be even bigger and better than the 2014 event.  I can see the 2015 Summit being bigger but thanks to the writers and readers who participated in this year’s summit the bar for success has been set very high.    


Time to get thinking about the weekend.  The RPL Readers Summit will be taking place from Thursday, April 3rd to Sunday, April 6th.  Ted and I have read all the books that will be discussed and you won’t want to miss any of them.


       On Thursday, April 3rd,  Dr. James Daschuk will be discussing his critically acclaimed book, Clearing the Plains.   His account of how the First Peoples were decimated by disease, the politics of starvation and the loss of Aboriginal rights is a harrowing read, but it’s a book that tells us truths that will help us shape future policies that are fair and just. 

 2nd Level Mezzanine RPL 7:00-8:30. Registration required.


On Friday, April 4,  7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. (doors open at 7:00 p.m.)Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi and Beatrice and Virgil opens the Summit with an excerpt from his book, What is Stephen Harper Reading? Yann will also share a preview of his new novel, The High Mountains of Portugal and discuss the writing process. 

2nd Level Mezzanine RPL Registration not required.  Seating is limited and will be awarded on a first come, first serve basis.  Cash bar; must be 19 or older to attend.  ID may be requested 


On Saturday, April 5th, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Dianne Warren discusses her 2010 Governor General’s award winning novel Cool Water.  The language in Warren’s stories about the overlapping lives of the people of Juliet Saskatchewan (pop. 1,001) is as pellucid and evocative as the book’s title. Dianne will also give us a preview of her new book.

For teens and adults: Public Meeting Room 1 – Seating limited, registration required


On Saturday April 5th, 3:00-4:00 p.m. Yann Martel discusses his novel Beatrice and Virgil, an allegorical tale about representations of the Holocaust.  The story centres on Henry, a novelist who receives the manuscript of a play in a letter from a reader.  Intrigued, Henry traces the letter to a taxidermist who introduces him to the play’s protagonists, two taxidermy animals:  Beatrice, a donkey and Virgil a monkey. This thought provoking novel underscores the truth of Levi Strauss’s observation “Animals are good to think with.”

– for teens and adults – Public Meeting Room 1 – Seating limited.  Registration required.


On Sunday, April 6th,  1:00-2:00 p.m.  Annette Bower will read from her romance Woman of Substance, a page-turning novel about Robbie Smith, a young grad student who supports her thesis, the Fat-Like-Me project, by donning a fat suit to measure people’s reactions to the new her.  Her love affair with Professor Jake Proctor is rife with misunderstandings and miscommunications, but as the novel ends, the reader, like Robbie and Jake, has come to define the term ‘woman of substance’ in a wholly different way.

For teens and adults, Public Meeting Room 1 – Seating Limited, Registration Required.


On Sunday, April 6th, 3:00-4:00 p.m. RPL Writer in Residence, Gail Bowen will discuss her 14th Joanne Kilbourn Novel, The Gifted.  The Gifted has been long listed for the 2014 Libris award in fiction

The Libris Awards recognize the extraordinary professionals who deliver great books to Canadian readers. They are nominated and voted on by members of the Canadian bookselling community. The Libris Awards honour the outstanding achievements made by authors and editors, sales reps and distributors, booksellers and publishers.

For teens and adults – Public Meeting Room 1 – Seating limited.  Registration Required.


It’s going to be a great weekend!  See you there!

The RPL Readers’ Summit – March 20, 2014

An easy blog for the WIR today.

We’re all very excited about the RPL Readers’ Summit, Thursday, April 3 – Sunday, April 6.  Please print this off and find a powerful magnet to attach it to your fridge door. It’s going to be a great weekend.

In next week’s blog, I’ll give some more information about our writers.

Happy first day of spring!

RPL READERS’ SUMMIT: A Showcase of Saskatchewan Authors
Thursday, April 3 – Sunday, April 6
Central Library
2311-12th Avenue
Created to encourage a culture of reading in Regina, this exciting
event offers enthusiastic readers a chance to share their love of
reading through lively discussion. All events take place at Central
Library. Seating is limited. Call 306.777.6120 to register. NOTE:
Registration opens Friday, March 21st.

Guess Who? A Mystery Reading in Honour of the Saskatchewan Book Awards
Thursday, April 3
7:00 – 8:30 pm
2nd Level Mezzanine
RPL’s first Readers’ Summit kicks off with a real mystery – a reading
by a Saskatchewan Book Award nominee – identity unknown! Don’t miss
your chance to enjoy the first reading of the year by a SBA nominee!
Refreshments served. Seating Limited. Registration required. Watch for
the Mystery reader’s identity to be announced on March 12th! p.s.
Mystery reader will be Dr. James Daschuk, author of Clearing the

Yann Martel: What is Stephen Harper Reading?
Friday, April 4
7:30-8:30 pm
For ages 19 and over
2nd Level Mezzanine
Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi and Beatrice and Virgil, opens the
Summit with an excerpt from his book, What is Stephen Harper Reading?
Yann will also share a preview of his new novel, The High Mountains of
Portugal and discuss the writing process. Registration not required.
Seating is limited and will be awarded on a first come, first serve
basis. Cash bar; must be 19 or older to attend. ID may be requested.
Doors open at 7:00 pm.

Dianne Warren: Cool Water
Saturday, April 5
11:00 am – 12:00 pm
For teens and adults
Public Meeting Room 1
Regina author Dianne Warren discusses her novel Cool Water, and shares
a preview of her new book. Seating limited. Registration required.

Alice Kuipers: 40 Things I Want to Tell You
Saturday, April 5
1:00-2:00 pm
For teens and adults
Public Meeting Room 1
Saskatoon author Alice Kuipers discusses her novel, 40 Things I Want
To Tell You. Seating limited. Registration required.

Yann Martel: Beatrice and Virgil
Saturday, April 5
3:00 – 4:00 pm
For teens and adults
Public Meeting Room 1
Saskatoon author Yann Martel discusses his novel, Beatrice and Virgil.
Seating limited. Registration required.

Annette Bower: Woman of Substance
Sunday, April 6
1:00 – 2:00 pm
For teens and adults
Public Meeting Room 1
Regina author Annette Bower discusses her novel, Woman of Substance.
Seating limited. Registration required.

Gail Bowen: The Gifted
Sunday, April 6
3:00 – 4.00 pm
For teens and adults
Public Meeting Room 1
RPL Writer-in-Residence, Gail Bowen discusses her novel The Gifted.
Seating limited. Registration required.

GETTING PUBLISHED – March 12, 2014

Last night I did a workshop at Central library called (optimistically):  Getting Your Manuscript out of the Bottom Drawer and Onto the Best Seller List. There were, I think, 22 participants.  We had a great time and everybody (especially me) learned a great deal.

The workshop’s title may be over the top, but I do have some tips that I thought I could pass along for those of you who weren’t able to join us.
There are three distinct steps an emerging writer should go through before he/she sends off a manuscript.

1.  Get your manuscript in its best possible form.

Publishers no longer have the money or staff to ‘bring along’ a promising book. It’s up to you.  In today’s market, you have to be your own editor.

Here are 7 Critical questions to ask yourself as YOU do the final edit of your book. The questions come from Three Genres:  The Writing of Poetry, Fiction , and Drama – Stephen Minot.

1.    Are the primary characters convincing, or in the case of satire, effective?

If the story develops characters fully, do you have the sense of having actually met them?  How much do you know about them?  Have you used secondary characters effectively? Keep the focus on characterization.  How is the character presented in the story?  How much do you find out about this character and how do you learn it?

2.    Is the viewpoint effective?

Is it consistent?  Would the work be improved if it were presented through the eyes of a different character?  E.g. WICKED, the wildly successful Broadway musical tells the story of the Wizard of Oz not from Dorothy’ perspective but from the perspective of the Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West.

3.    Is the structure effective?

Just how many scenes does it have?  Are additional scenes needed?  Or is it cluttered.  If so, can certain scenes be cut or combined.  Does every scene contribute SOMETHING TO PLOT, . CHARACTERIZATION OR THEME?  Are the transitions effective?  If there are flashbacks, is it clear where they begin and end?  Are there scenes that seem to drag?

4.    Is there enough tension to keep the story moving?

If not, is it because there is not enough interaction between characters?  Does it need more action?  If, on the other hand it is ‘action-packed’, does all that drama bury subtlety of theme and characterization?  Stephen Minot says that when writers create scenes, they should remember the old skating adage: “Push-glide-push-glide” – in other words alternate a scene that pushes the plot forward with one that allows for reflection.

5.    Is the setting effective?  

Is it interesting?  Does it contribute to the theme of the story.  If there is only one setting, would a second one help to provide variety and contrast.

6.  Is the theme fresh and insightful?  

What exactly is the story suggesting?  How would sum it up in a single, complete sentence?  Is it a truism or an insight you hadn’t considered in quite this way before?

7. Is the style effective? 

Is it too elaborate or formal for the material?  Or is it so sparse that it is tiresome to read?  Would variation in sentence length help?  Is there an effective balance of modes?   Is it either too talky or too packed with action?  Or does too much exposition or description slow it down?  Is it melodramatic or sentimental?  If so, is poor characterization at fault.  It is satire, is it clear what is being satirized?

Make a thoughtful, reasoned decision about whether you should go with a conventional publisher or self publish—I’ll read from Friesen Press’s “2014: Guide to Self-Publishing.” It’s available on-line ( or . The Guide is worth it’s worth its weight in gold.

(C)  Finding and Approaching the Right Conventional Publisher:

If you decide to go with a conventional publisher, research where your book has the best chance of being published.  Check the publishers of books like your own written by writers just starting out.  There are books in this library that will give you information about publishers – not just contact info but info about the kinds of books the publisher chooses for its list.

When you have decided on a publisher go to its website and check submission guidelines.  THESE MUST BE OBEYED TO THE LETTER OR YOUR MANUSCRIPT WILL END UP IN THE SLUSH-PILE.  Guidelines differ from publisher to publisher so check individually.

  3 (b) Choosing an agent – this can be time consuming and discouraging, but if you find the right agent, she’s worth her weight in gold.  There are lists in the library.  NO AGENT SHOULD ASK YOU TO PAY THEM UP FRONT.  – usual arrangement 15% of what you earn.
Avoid big companies.  


Shelagh and Peter – March 6, 2014

March is Mystery Month on CBC Radio’s “The Next Chapter”.  On Monday, March 3rd, Shelagh Rogers interviewed me.  If you missed it, the podcast is on the CBC website and will be replayed on Saturday at 4:00 p.m.  The program is well worth listening to.  Timothy Findley’s long-time companion, Bill Whitehead, talks about the book he has written about his fascination with words and about his extraordinary life with Timothy Findley.

The hour reveals how very good Shelagh Rogers is at her job.  After “The Next Chapter” was broadcast, I had some very nice emails.  One of them, in particular, hit the nail on the head.  A friend in Toronto, commenting on Shelagh Rogers’ excellence as an interviewer said, “Shelagh does her homework, asks the right questions, then stands aside and lets her guests talk about their work and their lives.”

The job description sounds simple, but as someone who has been interviewed a lot, I know that not many interviewers get it right.  Shelagh is always prepared.  She’s generous; she’s sensitive and she’s funny.  Of course, she learned from the master.

Peter Gzowski’s support for the first Joanne Kilbourn novel, Deadly Appearances,  changed my professional life.  The publication of a first mystery novel by an unknown writer from Saskatchewan did not cause shock waves to reverberate across Canada. The book had garnered a few nice reviews and been nominated for the W.H. Smith Best First Novel in Canada award.  After that brief flurry of excitement, it seemed destined for the Remainders Table of fine bookstores everywhere.  Then Peter Gzowski invited me to appear on Morningside.  Deadly Appearances did not skyrocket to the top of the best-seller list, but its sales were respectable enough to get a second Joanne Kilbourn book published – and then a 3rd and then a 4th.  Now I am finishing Number 15 in the series, and I know I would not be here if it weren’t for that Deadly Appearances interview.

Over the years, Peter interviewed me many times.  The first time we were together in studio I was struck by the number of annotations he had made on my current novel.  He not only read the books his guests wrote, he made the kind of notes a serious reader makes when s/he is engaged with a piece of writing.  Peter Gzowski was a brilliant interviewer because he was a close and careful reader.  He took his job seriously.  So does Shelagh Rogers.

As a reader and as a writer, I am immensely grateful that they are both part of my life.

Freedom to Read Week – February 23-March 1, 2014

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Freedom to Read Week is organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council.


To show our commitment to Freedom to Read Week, the RPL is holding a Banned

Books Café on Wednesday, February 26th between 7:00—8:30 p.m. on the Mezzanine at Central Library.  Four well-known members of our community will read from books that have been banned or challenged and talk about the reasons individuals or groups felt the books should not be on the shelves.  I will be emceeing the event.

Our readers are Professor Kelly Handerek of the Drama Department who will read from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass; Stefani Langenegger CBC Legislative Reporter who will read from Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women; Dean Mike Sinclair of St. Paul’s Cathedral who will read from Huckleberry Finn and Jennifer Campeau, MLA who represents Saskatoon Fairview as a member of the Saskatchewan Party Caucus. Jennifer’s selection will be a surprise.

We’re hoping to have a spirited discussion about the questions raised when individuals or groups challenge the legitimacy of a book to be available to the public. Some of the books that have been challenged were not a surprise to me.  Like most readers I was aware of the controversy surrounding Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses; The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita; Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak; Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint and J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. 

    But the challenged books list contained surprises for me. Among many other books on the list, I have taught Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale; Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women; The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler; The Wars by Timonthy Findley and A Jest of God and The Diviners by Margaret Laurence.

Since I discovered these books were on the challenged list, I’ve thought long and hard about what people might find so objectionable about them that they felt the books should be banned. So far, I haven’t come up with anything.  I was interested to see that one of the reasons Timothy Findley’s The Wars was banned was because of its violence.  The Wars centres on Canadian soldiers’ experiences during World War I.  No writer could have dealt with the horror of that war without describing the inhuman violence of the trenches.

Other surprises were the London County Council’s banning the use of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny from all London schools because the books portrayed only ‘middle class rabbits’’; Ziggy Piggy and the Three Little Pigs because it featured a ‘free spirited’ pig, and Anna Sewell’s classic Black Beauty because the apartheid regime in South Africa objected to the word ‘black’ in the title.

There are so many questions.  Who decides what’s objectionable?  What about hate literature? How do we deal with books that are racist, sexist or homophobic?  There’s lots to talk about. Join us on the Mezzanine floor at 7:00 on February 26th and join the conversation.