Shawn L. Bird

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

The Fisher Queen December 11, 2012

Filed under: book reviews — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:35 am

The summer I was 23, I was nursing a new baby in an apartment in Calgary’s Hillhurst-Sunnyside while my husband studied at U of C. I battled sleeplessness, waves of people on the LRT, and high prices at the Safeway across the street. It was a joy filled adventure, where beauty was in baby’s smile.

The summer Sylvia Taylor was 23 she nursed drunken fisher folk, studied the ways of the ocean, battled sleeplessness, ill-fortune,  killer waves, the high prices of goods at the fish camps and the low stocks of fish that were to pay those bills. It was a joy and terror filled adventure, where beauty was in sea creatures and unexpected kindnesses.

Sylvia’s story of determination and survival, hard-work and discipline, failure and success as one of the few female deckhands in BC’s commercial salmon fleet is likely a fascinating read for anyone who’s ever spent time on a fishing boat, but it’s both intriguing and astonishing for someone like me, who dislikes everything associated with ocean. I am astounded by Sylvia’s pluck and wild adventures. You wouldn’t have caught me on that boat for love nor money (and she got neither for her efforts).

I don’t envy her the experience, but I was glad she shared it with me.

.

Here’s Sylvia herself, reading an excerpt.  You’ve got to love that sultry voice! 🙂

.

.

PS. Well, okay, I do kind of envy the experience with the dolphins.   😉

.

 

Interview with Brian Katcher, Part two September 18, 2012

Here is the rest of my interview with author Brian Katcher:

In my experience, there is a germ of truth from our own lives in every book we write, and each character we craft.  Where are the germs of truth in Playing with Matches and Almost Perfect?  What were the geneses of the stories?

Leon from Playing With Matches is me at seventeen. I was funny, smart, and terrified of girls. Actually, Melody is the only purely fictitious character in that book, everyone else (even the crazy twins and the mad chemistry teacher) were people from my teenage years. While writing Matches, I kept having to remind myself that this wasn’t my autobiography.

 

As for Almost Perfect, I simply wanted to tell a boy meets girl story that hadn’t been told a hundred times. I hit on the idea of a boy who meets the girl of his dreams, except she wasn’t born a girl. Would a purely heterosexual guy be able to swallow his fears or would he simply be too scared of where such feelings would lead him? I first tried writing this as a short story. When I showed it to my writers’ group they said it was an interesting concept, but there was no way I could pull it off in fifty pages. So I wrote it as a novel.

  How do you write?  i.e. Are you a linear writer?  Do you use outlines to pre-plan?  Do you write in scenes and integrate them later in the process?  Do you have a regular writing routine?  If so, what it is?  If not, why not?

I’m chaotic to the nth degree. When I start a novel I usually know how it’s going to end and then go from there. My plot trajectories are all over the place. This allows my characters to surprise me with the new an unexpected things they do, but I have to resign myself to an additional rewrite to fix all the plot inconsistencies I write into my story. I rarely use outlines. Sometimes I write specific scenes long before I conceive of a plot. The grave that Logan discovers in Perfect (remember friend as you pass by/you are now as once was I) is a real one, for instance. I knew I had to use it in a story some day. I actually included it in Matches, but it was edited out. As for writing, I’m blessed with a job that gives me summers off and an understanding wife who takes our daughter to grandma’s on Sundays. I also don’t need a lot of sleep, so I write after everyone goes to bed. Of course, not all my writing takes place at the keyboard. My wife quickly learned that when I’m frantically pacing in the basement, I’m not upset, I’m just writing scenes in my head.

 

You also work as a school librarian.  We have seen our government cut funding to libraries and non-enrolling teachers in the names of austerity and progress.  In their minds, libraries are outmoded and unnecessary.  In your experience, how important is the library to students?  How are libraries changing to continue to be relevant?  What do you as a librarian contribute to kids’ growth and development?

 Unfortunately, there is a big move in education to judge everything based on test scores. If you’re not doing something that directly teaches reading or math (and possibly science), then a lot of officials see it as unimportant. Librarians, along with teachers of music, art, and PE are often viewed as not real teachers, and are more valued for giving breaks to the classroom teachers than for any lessons they impart. A lot of administrators envision some vague future where libraries are paperless, but have cut the library funding long before any plan is in place for a digital facility.

As a library junkie, I know how important libraries can be for kids. It gives me great pleasure to show children the simple joys in a book. However, a lot of people believe this is only for small children and that older kids don’t read. Actually, young adult literature is in its golden age. For the first time, people are writing books with a literate teenage audience in mind, and teenagers are among the most difficult readers to please. A well-funded media center with an enthused staff can do more for a child’s education than a thousand standardized tests.

 

Thank you very much for your interest.Brian Katcher
http://www.briankatcher.com

Thanks Brian for letting us get a look into your world!  It was fun ‘meeting’ you!
 
 

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!

 

Reviewing Playing with Matches July 17, 2012

Filed under: book reviews — Shawn L. Bird @ 4:50 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Playing with Matches by Brian KatcherPlaying with Matches by Brian Katcher

Another winner by author Brian Katcher, whose male narrators ring so true.  Katcher has dealt with the complexities of relationships as he examines lust and friendship amid dreams and realities.  In this book, while lusting over the cheer-leader he’s adored since elementary, the main character makes friends with the burn victim who has been the butt of jokes and ignored for years.  Of course, just when their relationship amps up, the cheerleader takes an interest at last.  Confusion, hurt, and angst are common ingredients in fiction for teens, just as it is in their real lives.  Katcher handles it all expertly, revealing the sad truth that there are no easy solutions.

It occurs to me, that aside from Diana Gabaldon, I haven’t been this impressed with an author in a long time.  I think I should get in touch with Katcher and see if we can arrange an interview for this blog.  I want to know more about him.

Hey Brian, if you see this, send me a note on shawn (dot) bird (at) ymail (dot) com and let’s set something up!  🙂

 

An Almost Perfect Review July 14, 2012

I realise that I am posting more book reviews this week than I’ve posted all year, but that has something to do with it being summer.  🙂  I can get through two books a day during the summer time  (or a read of someone else, and some work on my own writing projects).  Here’s a great one for you!

Almost Perfect

.


Almost Perfect
by Brian Katcher  

ISBN 978-0-385-73665-7

New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.  361 p.

This is a brilliant book. Katcher created fully drawn, believable characters dealing in confusion and sincerity with complex issues. Logan, a kid in a red necked town in Missouri falls for the new cute girl at his school. Much to his shock, she turns out to be transgendered. Issues are explored. Love. Sexuality. Violence. Acceptance. Families. Friendship. Katcher has it all, and it is absolutely wonderful.

A great read for anyone willing to walk a mile in other shoes, straight, or LBGTQ. The courage it takes for Sage to be who she is, makes a profound statement about what a hero is.

Cheers to Brian Katcher. I couldn’t put this book down. Great read.

All 5 stars.

 

Review- Lost in Spaaaaaaain July 11, 2012

Filed under: book reviews — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:52 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Lost in Spain.

.

LOST IN SPAIN by John Wilson

Markham: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2000.  174 p.

YA historical novel

It is a fast read, so it’s not deep, but it did give me a real sense of the Spanish Civil War that fit with what I experienced and heard when I was in Spain earlier this year. Lots of action to keep you flipping pages. I was stunned when I started reading and discovered the book opened in my small BC town! Not what you expect about a book set in Spain, you can imagine. I was irritated by how Ted refers to his father as Will throughout the book. Why doesn’t he call him dad? or father? It’s so strange, it seemed there should be a reason for it. He calls his mother, Mom, after all. An interesting read that seemed to give a good glimpse at the character of the country and the context for the history.
 

Review- A Perfect Gentle Knight July 9, 2012

A Perfect Gentle KnightA Perfect Gentle Knight by Kit Pearson seemed to have an identity crisis. The main character is 11, and it read a lot like a children’s book, but it was set up as a baby boomer memoir, casually referring to events and objects that would be foreign to 11 year olds without any context or explanation. The themes are big: loss, mental illness, coming of age. I think perhaps they are too big for this 164 page format, and too big for 11 year old Corrie to do justice to on her own. I would have loved to see this story twice as long so the characters could have been more finely drawn, the dialogue used more to advance the plot, and to create more of an immersion experience. It felt like the story moved in thick chunks, rather than flowing. I think 60 year olds who grew up in Vancouver would find this a lovely nostalgic book, but I think it misses the mark as a kids’ book, which is a shame, because it could have been fantastic if 1950’s Vancouver could have become as real as, say 1900’s PEI is in the Anne of Green Gables books