Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

interview with children’s author Ann Walsh September 17, 2013

  •  Let me introduce you to the amazing Ann Walsh, a prolific BC writer of nine novels for kids and young adults. An has also co-written a non-fiction book about forestry, and was editor of two short story anthologies. Her most recent novel is Whatever.

What inspired you to begin writing?

I always wanted to be a writer. Then one day I found myself fast approaching 40 and realized it was time to get on with my dream. So I took a 6 day writing course in Wells, just outside the restored gold rush town of Barkerville, with a wonderful teacher, Robin Skelton. Wells forms the setting for much of my first book, and I still carry a picture of Robin in my wallet, with the photos of the grandkids.

The first book you published was a lovely teen novel called Your Time, My Time that was set in the historical town of Barkerville. Having read the book, I’ve never been able to go past the old Barkerville cemetery without getting goosebumps. You’ve written four stories set in Barkerville. Can you discuss the importance of special places in inspiring story?

Thank you for those kind words. Barkerville still gives me goosebumps, the whole town, not just the cemetery. The first time I ever saw it, in the early l960s before the road in was paved or even more or less straight, I knew that it was a special place, one where the past and present nearly touched. In YTMT my protagonist, Elizabeth, expresses that feeling. She says “It’s as if the old times are jealous of the new and want to be, not the past, but the here and now.” Or words similar to that. That feeling of the past ‘looking over your shoulder’ still haunts me in Barkerville, and in some other historic places.

In your own books, who is your favourite character? Why?

Percival Theodore MacIntosh and Moses (from Moses, Me and Murder) and I have travelled together a lot, and done many, many school presentations together. They are my most entertaining characters. But my favourites change. Right it is Janie Johnson, an elderly (that means older than me) woman who is a central character in my new YA, Whatever.

What author do you read over and over again?

Arthur Conan Doyle; Shakespeare

You’ve recently been studying in Victoria. Why do you feel continuing education is important for an author?

Books need fertile ground in which to grow. A stagnant brain isn’t receptive to the seeds of ideas. I loved re-discovering Shakespeare’s words and themes and had an introduction to Women’s Studies. My brain woke up and a book was finished.

Do you have a favourite writing quotation to share?

“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

`Gene Fowler

What do you like about writing for children and teens?

Recently I met a young mother and her two small children. She had been searching for a copy of Your Time, My Time to re-read because it had made such an impact on her when she was a teen. I signed a new copy of the book to her young daughter, even though it will be many years before the toddler can read it. When you write for young people your audience is always new and always changing. One day a teacher contacts you, one day a grown-up fan, one day an Indo-Canadian boy translating for his father who has limited English but who wants to know if a certain part of Shabash! is true. It’s a wonderful audience to write for, and young people are generous in their praise. My favourite quote, make by a young girl who must be in her 20s by now, is “Ann Walsh, do you know you’re world famous in Kamloops?”

What has been the most interesting thing that has happened to you because you are an author?

A difficult question. I’ve driven all over BC usually by myself, met people I’d only heard of like Margaret Atwood, Ann-Marie MacDonald and Farley Mowatt. I’ve danced with Pierre Berton, and eaten breakfast with Robert Munsch. I’ve learned so much, about writing, about people and about myself. It’s been a wonderful career, and I wish I’d started when I was younger so I’d have longer to write. However, I’m not done yet!

Which of your books was the easiest to write? Why? (or if you prefer, What is the easiest part of the writing process for you?)

Moses, Me and Murder! was easy and fast to write (after all, most of the story is true, there wasn’t an decision to be made about the ending for me to wrestle with.) However, it took over 5 years to sell to a publisher and got scathing reviews from ‘literary’ reviewers. It was first published in 1984 and, much to my delight, has just been re-issued as a new edition with a different publisher.

Which of your books was the most challenging to write? Why?

Whatever was difficult for me because in it I deal with the issue of aging as well as the Restorative Justice process.

What is the most asked question when you’re doing author visits in schools?

In every session someone asks at least one of the following three questions: “How old are you, how much money do you make, where do you get your ideas?” I now answer them before the question period begins—seventy one, not very much and anywhere I can, in case anyone else wants to know.

Thanks, Shawn. This was fun!

(Note from Shawn:  I am SO JEALOUS that you danced with Pierre Berton and had breakfast with Robert Munsch!)


The truth about history May 8, 2013

Filed under: Literature,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 1:35 pm

A post from last November…

Shawn L. Bird

“A story can be new and yet tell about olden times.  The past comes into existence with the story…  Beginning at the moment when you gave it its name…it has existed forever.”

Michael Ende.  The Neverending Story (Large print edition, p. 305).

I’ve been reading The Neverending Story for the last few days.  I came across this quote today, and it struck me as being rather profound within the context of the historical fiction workshops I attended at SIWC.

The history described may be factual, but its interpretation is imagined.  Scenarios are created.  Some may have happened ‘sort of’ like the author imagined, or maybe not. However, once the reader has that account in his head, it becomes the story of the history.  It becomes the reader’s experience and it colours his/her understanding of history.

I was on London’s Tower Hill last spring, and saw a plaque commemorating the…

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Fictional truths March 3, 2013

March is Literacy Month in the world of Rotary, and there is an interesting article in this month’s  The Rotarian magazine.  It quotes cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley saying,

…reading more fiction enables you to understand other people better.  Fiction is about exploring a range of circumstances and interactions and characters you’re likely to meet.  Fiction is not a description of ordinary life; it’s a simulation.

Well, duh.  Any writer could tell you that.  My husband, who has a psychology degree, vets my characters and makes sure I am keeping consistent psychological profiles and responses.  I write teen fantasy, mind you.  Even those of us crafting fictional worlds do so with care.

Our worlds are crafted to give our readers an opportunity to explore another life, other responses, other realities.

I find it vaguely amusing that the professional business world may not have realised that there is a reason literature is in the curriculum.  It would behove more of our leaders to pay close attention to the lessons of Orwell’s 1984, for example.  A more well-read population should also be quicker to recognise the danger signs they’ve seen in literature.  That’s why I’m a high school English teacher.  Along side the history teachers, I aim to provide warnings and inspiration.  To raise the next generation to see with clear eyes and communicate their vision with well-chosen words.

Later in the article they quote Oatley quoting Aristotle, “History…tells us only what has happened, whereas fiction tells us what can happen, which can stretch our moral imaginations and give us insights into ourselves and other people.”  He adds that fiction “measurably enhances our abilities to empathize with other people and connect with something larger than ourselves.”

Hear. Hear.


Work cited:

Bures, Frank.  “The Truth about Fiction.” The Rotarian.  Vol 191 No. 9  March 2013.  pp.29-30.

PS. It behoves me to mention that ‘behove’ is the British spelling of ‘behoove.’


literary strip tease? November 1, 2012

Filed under: Literature — Shawn L. Bird @ 9:51 pm
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 “…what is it about literary endeavour that strips a man of all dignity?

Ian Weir in Daniel O’Thunder  (p. 73)


NaNoWriMo update: 1670 down, 48,330 words to go


What’s the point of fashion, anyway? October 13, 2012

Fashion matters because every day people get up in the morning and, with the palette of clothes they find in their closets and dressers, they attempt to create a visual poem about a part of themselves they wish to share with the world. 

J.J. Lee.  Measure of a Man. p. 53

I was raised by a mother who loved fashion and filled her basement with fabric, patterns and notions.  She crafted beautiful garments, and rarely threw anything out.  Which meant when we moved her from Kelowna here to Salmon Arm, we moved eight closets full of her clothes, and a hundred or so pairs of shoes.  It also meant that Vogue magazine was a staple in our house, and that I grew up with a keen eye on clothes.

J. J. Lee wrote his biography of his father within the context of his time as an apprentice tailor.  His father’s suit provided an exploration of the suit as symbol and metaphor in his own life, but also in the life of all men.  Clothing makes the man, and he was trying to figure out the man the clothing made.

I love his expression of fashion as a visual poem.  It’s very accurate.  Our clothes give the message we wish to send to the world on any particular day.  Whether it’s laid back casual with jeans and a Tshirt or cute and quirky with a hat, bright tunic and leggings, we say something about ourselves.  But we don’t wear the same thing every day, just as we wouldn’t write the same poem every day.

Every day we adorn ourselves to be a visual poem.

I like that.


Interview with Brian Katcher part one September 17, 2012

In July, I discovered author Brian Katcher’s work while browsing the stacks of my local library’s YA section.  I enjoyed his  Almost Perfect so much that I ordered Playing with Matches.  I really enjoyed it, too.  I was pleased when I posted reviews here, that Brian stopped into the blog to say hello, and he was willing to do an interview with me.  Of course, I managed to procrastinate for a month or two, but at long last, here are the fruits of that serendipitous discovery in the stacks.   

Part two will appear tomorrow!

Interview with Brian Katcher:

Your protagonists are very realistic young men with very unexpected challenges to their romantic theories.  In some ways they have similar attitudes and expectations.  How are Leon (from Playing with Matches) and Logan (from Almost Perfect) similar to and distinct from each other?

Thank you for interviewing me. You know, the problems of Leon and Logan are both so similar, sometimes I feel like I’ve written the same story twice. They’re two young men who want nothing more than to meet a girl who could be both their girlfriend and their friend. And when they find her, they end up losing her because of an issue that, in retrospect, should not have been a deal breaker. As for their distinctiveness, I think Logan was the slightly more mature of the two. He’s had a rough home life and is more worldly and less trusting.

In Playing with Matches, Leon has to sort out the privilege of dating the cheerleader against the honour of having a true friend with physical imperfections.  Part of his dilemma relates to the pressure of ‘what everyone else will think.’  How do his choices reflect what you see in the boys at the school where you work?

Actually, I work at an elementary school, but I remember those feelings well from when I was a teen. I don’t think there’s a man alive who didn’t once see a girl they’d really have liked to have asked out, but then thought ‘but she’s overweight/plain/dresses funny/isn’t cool. What will the guys think?’ And we’ve all lived to regret it. And nine times out of ten, the same guys who’d make fun of you for having an imperfect girlfriend are the same ones staying home watching TV weekend after weekend. The older you get, the more you realize that you want to date someone who you enjoy hanging out with. And by then, all you can do is look back and the wasted opportunities and try to learn from them.

Of course, I remember similar behavior in girls, as well. My incredibly smart and talented sister used to act dumb around the popular kids so she wouldn’t be thought of as a nerd.

In Almost Perfect, the story explores Logan’s feelings when he discovers the new girl he’s wildly attracted to, is biologically male.  The story could have been about Sage’s journey to become herself.  Did you consider telling it from Sage’s point of  view?  Why did you choose to tell Sage’s story from Logan’s perspective? 

In my original draft, I punctuated the chapters with excerpts from Sage’s diary, detailing her feelings about Logan and their relationship. However, since I did not reveal that Sage was transgender until page 100, I had to deliberately not mention a lot, which was kind of jerking the reader around. In the end, I used Logan to tell Sage’s story. I felt more comfortable writing from the point of view of a young man who was meeting someone like Sage for the first time. I considered writing from Sage’s point of view, but I feared that I wouldn’t be able to accurately capture the first person feelings of a young transwoman. The last thing I wanted to do was make Sage an unrealistic character.

See the rest of the interview tomorrow!


Time takes care of all things September 8, 2012

“Time is a lot of the things people say that God is.  There’s the always pre-existing, and having no end.  There’s the notion of being all powerful–because nothing can stand against time, can it?  Not mountains, not armies.

And time is, of course, all-healing.  Give anything enough time, and everything is taken care of:  all pain encompassed, all hardship erased, all loss subsumed.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.

And if  Time is anything akin to God, I suppose that Memory must be the Devil.”

Diana Gabaldon in Breath of Snow and Ashes

I found this quote rather profound.  Memory being the Devil ascribes evil to our past.  Beyond haunting, it implies danger, cruelty and manipulation.  Do our memories really do that?

Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory shows up in Grace Awakening Myth.  She and Lethe, the goddess of forgetfulness, are working together on Ben to sculpt him just the right combination of memories to keep him optimistic.  They work together to keep him whole, because he would not be able to bear contemplating the possibilities opened up by his more painful memories.

I wonder if our own memories often work the same way?  If we are successful in burying the negative history, we are re-working our own memory.  I suppose it must also work in reverse.  We can ignore all our positive experiences and craft ourselves memories of a terrible childhood, and use that strange, inaccurate perspective to fuel our behaviour.  We can view ourselves as down trodden over-comers, and use that to force ourselves to deal with current challenges.

Gabaldon’s quote is from Claire’s perspective.  Claire has a lot of memories from life in the future and in the past.  She has a complex web of memories that she might like to escape.

What do you think?  Are your memories an inspiration to your future, or are they a challenge to overcome?


quote-not talking September 5, 2012

“It’s better not talking about some things.”

“Not talking isn’t better.  Just easier”

~Monique Polak in The Middle of Everywhere. p. 148

I hate that ‘hide it under the rug’ thing that happens with some people.  No one ever discusses issues, so nothing changes.  People who are terrified of conflict, never discover the satisfaction of resolving an issue.  Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.  A little healthy discourse can clear the air enough to bring people even closer.  Not talking keeps everyone in bubbles of isolation.

Talking is better.


Power September 4, 2012

Filed under: Commentary,Literature — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:14 pm
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Power will also end up with the sort of people who crave it.

Orson Scott Card.  Ender’s Game NY: Tor, 1991. p. 239

People who crave power, ensure they get it eventually, in one form or another. Be it business or politics, if they have the desire for it, they will make it happen.  One hopes that with the desire for power is an instinct or training for leadership as well.  Fair leaders with wise attitudes are rare, I think!  (Though I have come across many quite impressive leaders in schools over the years).  Benign dictatorships are the most effective governments for a reason.  Most people can’t be bothered with all those fine details.  I often wonder if the heinous voter turn out in the US elections relates to the sheer volume of things on their ballots?  How can Joe Everyman possibly make informed decisions when voting for everything from president to dog catcher, and complex referenda?  It would require far too much research! It makes me glad that we don’t have this system in Canada.  Sometimes excessive democratization of decision making is anathema to intelligent decisions!  Joe Everyman generally will not have enough facts to make a sensible choice, and if he’s voting based on looks, popularity, or the dollars spent on spin, he is unlikely to get the best leaders, is he?  One hopes power isn’t purchased, but is earned after demonstrating prudent wisdom.  But when you consider that “cream rises to the top,” remember cream is really just fat. What’s floating at the top isn’t necessarily what’s the best thing for your long term benefit.


July 18, 2012

Filed under: Literature — Shawn L. Bird @ 12:24 pm
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“Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain” – Elie Wiesel

I have have read Wiesel’s book Night, which is thin, and yet packs a far more powerful punch than many fat works.  For non-fiction, his quote is clearly true:  what you leave out is as significant as what’s left in.  For fiction, however, when everything has to be put in from the author’s imagination, a whole world must be created.  There is no rock to take away from.  There is only dirt, which must be formed into being, like men formed from clay.


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