Category Archives: Stories

A paradigm shift in thinking about “books for boys.”

I’ve been paying attention to what it means when we say “books for boys.” As authors and conference attendees we hear the following:

  • There is a shortage of books for boys.
  • Boys are more reluctant readers than girls.
  • Due to number 2 above, publishers lean towards “books for girls” for better sales.
  • If we don’t capture a boy’s attention within the first 5 pages, they’ll put the book down. Girls will read to the end, hoping the book gets better.

What makes a book a “boy” book?

statue-1641760_1280I came up with an answer recently that really bothered me A LOT – adults. Parents, teachers, librarians place judgement and the first and foremost reason for a selecting a book is the main character. Is our protagonist a boy or a girl? And this is the determination of who should read a book. . .  really? Is that where most (not all, but most) of the weight is put on determining what we feed our kids to read?

For the most part a girl will read both “boy” and “girl” books, girls are considered more open minded. Or, is it that boys are considered un-boylike if they read a book with a female protagonist?

My son, age 19, read my book, Empty Cup, for his grade 12 choice reading project last year. Empty Cup would be considered a “girl book” due to the protagonist being a girl. But when I consider the social issues addressed in the book, shouldn’t boys be enlightened also? Anyway, at the time when he read it, my son said that he liked my book . . .yes, I realize I’m his mom. . .

Recently, I chatted with him about how he felt reading Empty Cup. Excluding the fact that I’m his mom, is it a book he’d read or recommend to his male friends. He said sure. Kids today read whatever they want, it doesn’t matter who the main character is. Basically, kids aren’t judged for exercising their individuality, because it’s cool to be different. So his answer confirmed my thinking that adults place too much judgement on what would be appropriate for boys.

Gabe Red Stone CoverConsidered my friend Gabriele Goldstone’s historical novel series. Red Stone and Broken Stone are set during Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany and tell the story of Katya, the main character based on her mother and the true events that happened to her during that time. These books should absolutely be read by both girls and boys as they tell an important story from history in Gabe’s beautiful prose.

Image result for chanda's secretsWhat about Allan Stratton’s books? Several of his stories have a female protagonist – Chanda’s Secrets and Leslie’s Journal for example. Both books very appropriate for boy readers.

Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series – each book has a main female lead character, but the series is appropriate for both boys and girls.

Also consider the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, loved by many girls and boys.

Image result for night gardenerThe Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier has a female protagonist, the best middle grade horror… sorry, let’s go with “thriller,” I have ever read! Totally recommend for both boys and girls.

And of course the list goes on…

I’d like to ask you to really think about your book recommendations and consider the pre-judgements you make when you recommend them. What are you basing your opinion on? Is it a valid judgement? Could you make the recommendation differently? Scrutinize why you feel the way you do about the recommendation with regard to boy readers.

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I was recently participating in a reading with a teen writers workshop and a boy in the class said he read “anything but romance.” I don’t think boys are as picky as we adults: parents, teachers, librarians — make them out to be. We haven’t given them a chance. We’ve been too quick to judge. Our boys are more open-minded than we give them credit for, and we need to take this into account with our book recommendations. Its time for a shift!

 

photo credits: pixabay.com

A Minute of Time with Jodi Carmichael

jodi author pic

Award-winning author, Jodi Carmichael, is a fellow founding member of the Anita Factor writing group. She was the first of our group (with the members at the time) to be published with her middle grade novel, Spaghetti is Not a Finger Food (and other life lessons). We were all so excited for her!

Jodi is a spunky bundle of energy who is always excited about something writerly. She works hard at her craft (especially plotting cartoon-1817570_640) and writes wonderful stories with her natural brand of humour. I rarely see Jodi without a smile, so contagious.

I asked Jodi the following two questions:

What was the last book you finished? Would you recommend it?Image result for a monster calls book cover

The last book I read was, A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. It had me with the first line. “The Monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.” How could anyone not love this opening. I highly recommend it and don’t forget to read the note the author included about writing the novel. To me, this made this story all the more special.

Do you base your fictional characters on real people?

I don’t typically base my characters on real people, except when I do! What an answer. Until my most recent novel, my characters and their stories were complete fiction. The book I am now working on is loosely based on my Grandfather’s mysterious World War 2 years. His war records keep getting resealed, which made me wonder, why? What did he do that is still so top secret? From there, my imagination took flight.

Please connect with Jodi:

Website: www.jodicarmichael.com
Twitter: @Jodi_Carmichael
Facebook: Jodi Carmichael
Instagram: Jodi Carmichael

Bio:
Image result for forever julia book cover
Jodi writes for kids and teens of all ages and is the award-winning author of young adult novel, Forever Julia and chapter book, Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food. She is currently working on an action packed middle grade novel that is full of mystery, clairvoyance, and double agents.

 

February is “I Love to Read” Month

Annually, February celebrates reading with I Love to Read events in schools across the country.

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I’m sharing my own love of reading with you by showcasing 28 great books that I’ve read and recommend, one for each day of the month.

However, I won’t be posting them on my blog as I think that will become cumbersome with the other posts that I have coming up. So, I’m inviting you to follow me on Instagram @suzanne_costigan for some great reading recommendations. I read everything from adult, young adult and middle grade, and even picture books!

An Intro to Empty Cup

If you haven’t had a chance to read my novel yet, here’s a sneak peek at Chapter 1. 🙂

Empty Cup
Chapter 1

ec-chapter-1I SMUDGE A PENCIL LINE with my finger, creating a shadow under the horse’s mane. He’s white. Pure. Exactly the kind of horse—

“Raven! Supper—NOW!”

Mom. I sigh.

I roll onto my back and hug the sketchbook to my chest. I study the stippled ceiling for the pictures I found in it yesterday: the Man in the Moon, a brave knight’s sword. My bedroom isn’t anything exciting with its yellow, wood-panelled walls and shabby decor, but when I close the door, I leave the rest of the world behind. This is the one place where I can just breathe.

My stomach growls.

“Raven!”

When I finally set down my drawing pad, the pencil rolls off my bed and bumps across the cold tile floor. I pick it up and inspect the lead, hoping it isn’t broken.

Mom and Trevor are already at the table when I sit down to a plate with four fish sticks and a lump of mushy fries. Mom’s eyes don’t leave her food. She uses the side of her fork to cut a piece of fish. Then she shoves it into her mouth, clenching her jaw as she chews.
Trevor sits right across from me, watching. I look back at the food and poke at the fries with my fork.

“Don’t be so picky. Show some appreciation,” Mom says.

I swallow a tough, overcooked mouthful of fish, while Mom scrapes her plate with her fork and Trevor chomps. I gingerly cut my fish and chew slowly, trying to be silent. Unseen.
My runners are on the floor beside me, next to the front door. I’d like to charge through that door and disappear from this place forever.

Trevor’s food mashing gets on my nerves. I glance up. His eyes are still boring into me. I drop my head and steal a glance at Mom out of the corner of my eye. She’s glaring at Trevor. Then me. I pretend not to notice as her lips tighten into a thin line.

She drops her fork on her plate with a loud clatter and pushes her unfinished food towards me. “Make yourself useful, Raven. Clear the dishes.”

I put my fork down and stand.

“Be nice, Heather,” Trevor says. “It’s her birthday.” Then he looks back at me. “Sit. Finish eating,” he says softly.

I sit down.

Trevor picks up his own plate and holds his hand out for Mom’s.

Mom hesitates for a moment and then snatches the plate from Trevor’s hands. She picks up her own plate and marches around him to drop the dishes into the sink with a loud clatter. Her shoulders stiffen.

Trevor wheels around in his chair. “Heather, what’s the problem?”

Mom’s elbow pumps back and forth as she scrubs the dishes. With all the clanking and water-sloshing, she must want to throw them.

I shovel in another fish stick to satisfy the rumbling in my stomach and ignore Trevor. He’s staring at me again. While I focus on the brown bouquet of flowers stamped in the middle of my plate, wondering what seventies store Mom got them from, Trevor pushes his chair away from the table. I push mine away too, ready to escape, but he’s too fast. He’s behind my chair, pressing me against the table. I’m stuck.

“You finished?” he asks, stroking my hair with his spidery fingers.

“Yeah.” I cringe.

He leans in to pick up my plate and whispers in my ear. “Happy Birthday.”

Then he kisses my cheek and rubs my shoulders. I push down a wave of nausea and sit very still, willing myself to be invisible. Like I did last week when he touched my knee as he reached for the TV remote. Or when he pressed me up against the wall in the hallway yesterday as he passed by with his arms full of laundry. He’ll be gone in a second.

But he doesn’t leave. I try to push my chair backwards, but I’m wedged in place. Why won’t he let me up?

I glance over my shoulder at him. He just stands there, staring at me.

“Excuse me,” I say quietly.

He doesn’t move. Just stares. I look back at my mushed up fries. Panic swells in my chest. I take a deep breath for courage and as I puff it out, I slam my hands down on the kitchen table. It squeals resistance. I stand and snap my knees back, ramming the chair into his hip.

“Hey! Watch it.” Trevor jumps back.

Mom slams a cupboard door, and the dishes rattle behind it. She turns, her face flaming. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she hisses, glaring at me.

Trevor digs his fingers into my elbow and spins me towards him. “You’re a little wild cat, aren’t you?” He laughs, but his nostrils flare and his eyes narrow. I yank away from his grip and bolt down the hall to my bedroom, closing the door behind me.

I flop on my bed, a futon mattress that Mom pulled out of a dumpster five years ago. One corner is chard to a crispy molten black. I keep that corner by my feet and pressed towards the wall to forget that it’s there. But it doesn’t work. That’s all I’m worth to Mom, scraps and castaways. So why does Trevor pay so much attention to me ? And why does she think it’s my fault?

I lose myself in the stippled ceiling again. There’s the sheep from yesterday, the daisy from last week and a strawberry. A few tired flecks of silver try to sparkle. Ah, there, a caterpillar.

“Happy Birthday, Raven,” I say. My voice bounces off stark walls and a tile floor.

I grab my sketchpad and pencil and lay on my side, facing the door. Propping my head up on my hand, I flick my pencil over the page and add a few more strands to the horse’s mane. I flip it around, using the eraser to lighten the shading on the knight’s shoulder and create highlights. Then I draw a line down the left side of the page to form the edge of his shield.

Two raps on the door, and Trevor pokes his head in.

My pencil freezes mid-stroke.

Trevor steps inside my bedroom. The stench of cigarette smoke clouds the air. He closes the door behind him, slowly muffling the light from the hallway and the sound of Mom smacking dishes together.

The latch clicks.

My heart hammers in my chest. “What are you doing in my room?” I say. “Get out of here.”

He grins and leans against the door, eyeing me up and down. “I’m sorry your mom was so mean to you, especially on your birthday.” He walks over to my bed. His knees crackle as sits next to me. “Come on, kiddo.” He pats my shoulder. “I know you didn’t mean to hit me with your chair.”

“I did, actually.” I force the words out of a dry mouth.

“I see,” he says. A smile plays on his lips.

I roll over to face the wall. With my back to him, I curl in, hugging my knees to my chest.
Trevor chuckles and a streak of goose bumps erupt along my arms. I focus on the dingy yellow wall. If I yell, Mom will blame me for letting him in.

If I don’t and she finds him here, she’ll think I like him.

Either way, I lose.

Trevor reaches over and tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. Then he picks up my sketchpad. “Nice drawing. You think some knight’s going to save you, Pretty One? I could save you.”

My cheeks burn. I glare at him. Maybe he’ll leave if I ask nicely. “Please leave.”

“I’m not going to hurt you. I’m your friend, Raven. Don’t be afraid.”

I hug my legs tighter. “I’ve got friends. Go hangout with Mom.” My voice is shaky but I meant to sound strong.

He laughs again.

I don’t see what’s so funny.

And then the bedroom doorknob clicks. “Raven, I thought I asked you to pick up the laundry from—”

The door opens and Mom steps into the room. She blinks, looking from Trevor to me. Her jaw clenches once…twice…and then she speaks in a low simmer. It’s the voice the comes just before she boils over. “What the hell is going on in here?”

I sit up, every muscle rigid.

“Aw. Heather. Nothing’s going on. Seriously. We’re just talking.” Trevor hustles to his feet and holds his hands up by his head as if he’s under arrest.

Mom ignores him and lunges at me. “You stay away from him.” She grabs my shirt, hauls me off the bed and smacks my right cheek, sending an explosion of pain to my eye. She lets go and I fall back onto the bed. “You take everything that’s mine!” she screams, grabbing Trevor by the arm and dragging him from my room.

The door slams closed behind them, but their voices echo in the hall.

“Heather,” Trevor says. “Raven was upset and I just wanted to make sure she was okay. She asked me to sit with her for a minute. Seriously, it’s nothing.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“C’mon, Babe.”

Silence. One…two…three—Are they kissing?

Mom giggles.

“See?” Trevor says. “You’re the one I want.”

“For real?”

“Yeah. For real, Babe.”

More silence. My stomach turns.

“Okay, come on, let’s have some us time before I go to work,” Mom says, and her bedroom door clicks closed across the hall from mine.

My hands shake.

Trevor came into my bedroom.

I pick up my drawing and stroke the horse’s mane. He’s proud. Fierce. And so’s his rider. Not like me. I haul myself off the bed and stare out the window, clutching my sketchpad to my chest. I try to imagine my knight coming to life, charging down the street to rescue me. But the street is empty. No white knight. Just streetlight-illuminated snow and black shadows.

****
Empty Cup is available where you buy books, including online at Amazon Canada and Amazon US. Also available as an eBook in all formats.

An Evening of Victorian Dickens – A Christmas Carol

Dalnavert

Dalnavert is a house turned museum located in downtown Winnipeg. It has been restored to it’s original Victorian era condition including decor, furniture and even the wallpaper. It’s a popular spot to check out, especially at Christmas time as the house is all decked out in decorations. Another cool point is that there is only one paid staff member at Dalnavert, everyone else who works there is a volunteer.

Dalnavert townJames and I went for the first time just before Christmas. After a tour through the house, everyone gathered in the conference room (an addition off the back of the house) for a reading of Charles Dicken’s, A Christmas Carol. What we didn’t know was what to expect at the reading. Is someone going to sit at the front of the room and read the story?

Much to our delight the reading took place as a shadow puppet show!

Dalnavert second ghostDalnavert third ghost

As seen here, it was a person show with the puppeteer reading the story as she acted it out with the shadows. Absolutely magical!

Dalnavert marley's ghost

 

Here is the puppet used for Jacob Marley’s ghost. The beads formed his chains.

Dalnavert backstage And this is the “backstage” set-up.

During intermission a wonderful smelling apple cider and dainties were served. And we especially enjoyed the rich smooth hot chocolate.

Overall the evening was fantastic and I would highly recommend checking out a Dalnavert tour or the Christmas special event next year.

I will post more of Dalnavert, next up – a peek at a Victorian formal dinner.

 

 

 

Bob’s Road (a zombie story)

Happy Halloween everyone! Today, I’m sharing with you a rather extended writer’s prompt I wrote for this Halloween occasion.

bobs road

My truck bumped it’s way down “Bob’s Road.”

I knew Gabby was scared. Her gaze darted around – out the windshield, the passenger window, the driver’s window – repeat. It was all I could do to stifle my grin. My “cheesy-ass grin” she called it. She’d know I was up to something if I gave away that smile.

“It’s so dark.” Gabby tucked her hair behind her ear.

“There’s no moon tonight. It’s perfect for seeing the Milky Way.”

“I know, but. . . still. You have a flashlight right?”

“Actually, I forgot it. I didn’t mean to, I set it on the counter and, well, it stayed there. Sorry.”

She glances out the windows again.

bobs road2“This looks like a good spot,” I say. I park the truck and climb out.

I open the back door and collect the blanket. Then pat my pocket, feel the hard little bump, it’s there safe and sound. Satisfied, I walk around the truck. “Come on.”

“I can barely see you.”

“I know, but look up.”

She pauses. “Wow, Danny, I’ve never seen so many stars.”

I glance up at the sparkling sky. Then spread out the blanket. “Here. Lie down.” I take Gabby’s hand and guide her to lie beside me. She rests her head on my shoulder, turns slightly inward so her hand is on my chest, her fingers intertwined through the buttons of my shirt, she strokes my chest hair. How I wish I could purr. I wrap my arm around her shoulders and hug her close.

Tonight’s the night. I’ve made sure it’s a night she’ll never forget.

bobs road3“This was a great idea. Can you believe how many stars there are?”

I love her approval. “That’s a crazy number of stars.”

Gabby’s body stiffens. “Did you hear that?”

I grin. “Hear what?”

“Shh.” She sits up.

“What?” I whisper, sitting up beside her.

“There it is again!”

“What?” Although, I can hear it.

“It sounds like scraping on the road. There it is again. Again.” She grips my bicep. “It’s getting closer. Let’s get in the truck.”

I look over my shoulder. “I hear it now.” Being in the dark, the scraping footsteps, suddenly feels like a bad idea. My stomach clenches. “In the truck. Yeah that’s good.”

We stand up, I grab the blanket and the dragging steps are closer. Great job guys, maybe a little too good. My heart is racing. I put my arm around Gabby and guide her the few steps to the truck. I open the door, the interior light blinks on, and she climbs in.

The light doesn’t reach down the road. I can’t see the guys from the glare. I slam the door closed and the light snuffs out.

“There’s shadows.” Her voice is muffled on the other side of the glass, but I can see her silhouetted fingers point out the front window.

I glance in the same direction. Yes, shadows, of three people dragging their feet, arms hanging limp by their sides–walking towards us.

“Danny!” She screams.

The shadows are in front of the truck, arms reaching out. I race around the box to the driver’s door. I grip the handle and a zombie hand clamps onto my forearm.

“DANNYYYYYY!” Gabby screams my name over and over inside the truck. “Get in the truck! Danny! Get in the truck!”

Thumping on metal, I hear the guys banging their arms on the hood.

I’m freaking out and I’m the one that set this up. These are my friends. I told them to do this!

The hand on my arm squeezes and I scream — high and loud. I yank the hand off and reach again for the driver’s door. A hand lands on my shoulder, a moaning growls in my ear. Then clacking of teeth rattling together.

Damn the movies and my imagination.

I swear, yank the handle and the door opens. Both Gabby’s screams and interior light escape into the blackness.

“Watch out!”

I turn around. The zombie, looking very much like Kevin, stretches his arms out for me.

“Get in!” Gabby grabs my shoulders and pulls on my jacket. My brain says it’s Kevin, but my adrenaline rushes and my heart pounds. I told him to dress up. Why am I scared? What is wrong with me?

Kevin charges me, reaching for my chest as I scramble backwards onto the driver’s seat.

Gabby yanking me in. “Close the door!”

“I can’t,” I yell.

Kevin is in the door, in the truck, gnashing his teeth, blood on his face. Lose skin. Missing flesh.

I’m shrieking. Gabby’s shrieking.

I push on his shoulders. He growls. Eyes playing straight into mine. It is Kevin. He is in there.

Gabby screams again and as I push the zombie out of the truck, I throw a glance over my shoulder. Chad and Wilson are up against her window, clawing at the glass. Biting their teeth together.

They look so real. I shove Kevin again, but he shoves back. He grabs my shirt, rips it open, and the buttons fly off.

“What the hell? What the hell?” I scramble back across the seat, but he lunges into the truck and lands on top of me. Gabby hammer punches his shoulders to get him off. Kevin buries his face into my chest. I scream and scream and — phffffffft.

Zombie Kevin gives me a sherbert.

For a few seconds everything freezes.

Dead silence.

Laughter starts outside Gabby’s window. Kevin looks up, his makeup smeared, my chest hair covered in fake blood and bits of fallen rubber flesh.

Kevin laughs. “This was awesome, man. You played along amazingly.”

My laugh comes out as a high pitched wheeze. Played along. “Yeah, you guys did, did, uh, great.”

My heart pounds, adrenaline courses, limbs vibrate.

Gabby looks from Kevin to me, out her window at Chad and Wilson. Then back at me. “You did this?” Mascara streaks her wet cheeks.

I give her my cheesy grin. “Surprise?”

“I hate you.” She crosses her arms. “Take me home.”

“Awe, honey—“

“Don’t you ‘honey’ me, Danny. I can’t believe you did this.”

Kevin backs out of the truck. “Operation Scare Tactic complete.”

I turn to Gabby. “In my head, at this point, we were all laughing right now.”

Kevin, Chad, and Wilson turn and walk back up the road, they disappear into the dark.bobs road4

Gabby turns her back to me. “Take me home. Now.”

“This was supposed to be a night you’ll remember forever.”

“Oh, I’ll never forget it. I nearly peed my pants! For what? A joke? Very funny, Danny.”

I smirk. “Really?”

“Danny!”

“Sorry.” I reach into my pocket, no longer sure this is the right time, but it was next on my agenda and I tend to run on auto-pilot. “Hey Gabby?”

“What?” Her chin tips up, I can imagine the eye roll that goes along with it.

“Look at me,” I say it as softly as I can, aiming for romantic.

She huffs out a breath, looks over her shoulder and glares at me.

I hold up the ring. “Will you marry me?”