Blog Archives

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.


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:

Consent… why is this a difficult concept?

In my young adult novel, Empty Cup, main character, Raven, is sexually assaulted by her mom’s boyfriend. Raven didn’t consent and clearly says “no” several times. Regardless, her mother blames her for the attack and kicks Raven out of the house. The story continues from there, how Raven deals with post-traumatic stress and homelessness.

I’m following a news story from Halifax right now about a woman who was allegedly raped by a taxi driver while she was drunk and getting a ride home. The taxi driver was found innocent with the judge making the comment “clearly, a drunk can consent.” The woman was three times over the legal limit. And taking a taxi home after drinking should be completely safe. Currently, many people are rallying in support of the woman and calling for an inquiry into the judge.

Why is the concept of consent difficult to understand? This is my soap-box! This story and stories like it wear on my mind.

If someone is not sure what the definition of consent is, the Thames Valley Police put together a short video that uses humour, but sends a clear message. Please watch.

A Page Out of Empty Cup

In October, 2016, my friend and fellow author, Gabriele Goldstone, handed me a clipping from the Winnipeg Free Press, Miss Lonelyhearts advice column. Sometimes fiction is close to truth. My main character, Raven, can’t defend herself against her mom’s creepy boyfriend. I hope this girl took Maureen Scurfield’s advice to move in with her dad before it was too late.


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.


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.

Shut up, Cole!

EC Twitter meme

Last winter, I participated in a book blog tour just after Empty Cup was released. I wrote this interview between my main character, seventeen-year-old Raven, and her friend, Cole. It was originally published on Lisa T. Cresswell’s book review blog.

I hope it gives you a little insight to the characters and maybe even peak some curiousity about the story!


Interview with Raven and Cole – one week before the story begins:

Raven: Are you stoned and we’re being interviewed?

Cole: Uh, yeah.

Raven: You’re going to embarrass me on this blog.

Cole: Come on Raaavenn. I’d never do that. *LOL*

Interviewer: Did you just say that you’re stoned?

Raven: *points her finger* He is. He always is.

Interviewer: Do you have a drug problem, Cole?

Cole: I’ll take the fifth. Thanks.

Interviewer: The fifth? As in you’re not talking about it?

Cole: Coorrrect.

Raven: He’s dealing with some stuff… uh, his parents, umm–

Cole: Not talking about it. Neither are you.

Interviewer: Okay. Well, we were here to discuss your plans for after high school. Should we talk about that?

Cole: I plan to watch TV.

Raven: *rolls eyes* I’m not sure what I want to do yet. I’ll need to work and save up. I’ll still be working at The Funky Bean and I’m hoping for full time so I can get my own place. Live with a friend maybe. Lyla.

Cole: Hee hee, yeah, you need your own place. You could live with me you know.

Raven: Like hell. No way.

Cole: What? Why not?

Raven: Well for one – you’re stoned all the time.

Cole: Maybe I won’t be when you move in.

Raven: I’m not moving in!

Interviewer: All right… so, Raven, you want to move out on your own. Do you plan to go to college or university?

Cole: You should, you’re smart.

Raven: I’d like to. But I don’t know what I want to do yet. I’d need to pay for it, so part-time maybe. Ideally, I won’t be here in Winnipeg . . . I would go to school somewhere else.

Interviewer: You just said you wanted to work full time at the Funky Bean.

Raven: Yeah, I do. I mean. I will work there, as long as I’m living here. But one day, I don’t want to live here. I want to go away, you know, with someone.

Cole: Someone? Who?

Raven: I don’t know yet.

Cole: One of those knights in shining armour you always draw? Going to whisk you off into the sunset? *LOL*

Interviewer: You’d like to leave Winnipeg?

Raven: Yes.

Interviewer: If you left Winnipeg, where would you go?

Raven: Anywhere my mom is not.

Interviewer: Interesting. You don’t get along with your mother?

Cole: She’s a high strung biatch! Raven shouldn’t live with her now.

Raven: Cole, leave it. I’ll umm… take the fifth.

Interviewer: I see. Ok, well… you like to draw?

Raven: Yeah, I love to draw. I have a sketchbook in my room.

Cole: She’s a good drawer.

Raven: Shut up, Cole.

Cole: What? She is! You are!

Interviewer: Well, I do wish you both all the best with your last semester of grade 12. Cole, I hope your TV watching dreams come true. And Raven, you never know, maybe your knight in shining armour will find you and you both live happily ever after.

Cole: Ahem… I’m that knight.

Raven: Shut up, Cole…


I’ve been ecstatic to receive all four and five star reviews for my first book. Empty Cup is available worldwide. Here’s a link to and


Summer Reading Blast – Book Signing!

2015 06 26 Anita signing poster FINAL


In a prior post I mentioned my writers’ group The Anita Factor, well — I re-posted a post from another member of the group, MaryLou Driedger, I cannot take credit for writing the post. 🙂

Anyway, if you are in the Winnipeg area and would like to meet the members of the Anita Factor please join us on Saturday, July 18th at The Forks, inside the Forks Market Building from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., where we are celebrating a fabulous year of publishing success with a group book signing. (Click the poster for a larger image.) Come and pick a summer read – it would be great to meet you!

You can listen here: AM 680 CJOB to our radio interview with Dahlia Kurtz that took place on Thursday July 16th.

I’ve been in our local paper chatting about the signing, see the article here: The Lance


Seeing Bea in the Roaring 20’s

I attended the Manitoba Book Awards on Saturday night, for the first time. My novel, Empty Cup, was shortlisted in the McNally Robinson Book for Young People, older category. I didn’t win, but having my first novel shortlisted is a true honour. I congratulate the winner, Eva Wiseman for her book The World Outside.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my publisher, Rebelight Publishing, had two of their inaugural novels in the same category. Empty Cup was nominated along side Larry Verstraete’s Missing in Paradise. An incredible feat for a new small publisher.

The theme of the night was the roaring 20’s!

MBA Mel headpiece MBA Christina and Gabe

Here is my writers’ group, The Anita Factor, all dressed up with some place to go.

Melanie, Me, Jodi, Christina, Gabriele Melinda, Deborah

Anitas: back: Melanie, Me, Jodi, Christina, Gabriele
front: Melinda, Deborah (missing MaryLou and Patricia)

It’s pretty incredible really – seven Anita’s have been published in the last twelve months. It’s been a wild year.


And the winner is!

Fellow Anita and Rebelight Publishing owner, Melanie Matheson, won in the McNally Robinson Best Book for Young People, younger category, for her picture book, Hokey Dowa Gerda and the Snowflake Girl. Congrats again my dear friend!hokey cover

MBA Mel wins

An absolute highlight for me was seeing Beatrice Mosionier, author of The Search for April Raintree. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the best picture, but I was stoked just the same. This is one of those books that everyone should read.I was hoping to meet her afterwards, but I couldnMBA bea‘t find her in the crowd. Still, this is the author of the highest selling book of any Manitoba author. An new award recognizing aboriginal writers was named after her. I could go on and on, I was starstruck.

The Manitoba Book Awards was a truly wonderful experience and one that I look forward to taking in annually.

I would highly encourage people to check out different awards programs in their areas. You may be surprised what or who you discover!

Talk About Being in Good Company !

I was going to blog about what an amazing year the members of my writing group, The Anita Factor, is having, however, one of my fellow members, MaryLou, who blogs at What Next? beat me to the punch. So, I’ll piggy back on her wonderful post. Thanks, MaryLou! It really has been a year of one fantastic story after another – literally and figuratively!

What Next?

The nominees for the Manitoba Book Awards have been announced and three members of my writing group The Anitas have made the short lists. suzanne costigan empty cupSuzanne Costigan is nominated in the fiction for older children category for her book Empty Cup. Suzanne’s novel has also been selected as a featured book in the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Spring 2015 edition of Best Books for Kids & Teens. 

deborah froeseDeborah Froese is among the nominees in the fiction for younger children category for her picture book Mr. Jacobson’s Window.

melanie mathesonMelanie Matheson is nominated in the same category as Deborah, for her picture book Hokey Dowa Gerda and the Snowflake Girl.

jodiSome other good news for The Anitas recently was the announcement that Jodi Carmichael’s novel Forever Julia was featured in an article in Quill and Quire.  Jodi launches her book April 16th at McNally Robinson.

enslavement melinda friesenHighlights for our writing group this past…

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A Pretty Damned Exciting Day!

EMPTY_COVER_COVER_FINALI don’t like to toot-my-own-horn so to speak, but yesterday, was a pretty damned exciting day!

Here’s how it panned out:

In the morning, I was sent an email telling me that Empty Cup has been shortlisted (nominated) for the Manitoba Book Awards, McNally Robinsons Best Book for Young People (Older Category)!!! I can’t tell you what an honour this is. I’m SO excited!

Not only that, but my fellow author from Rebelight Publishing, Larry Verstraete, was also shortlisted for his novel, Missing in Paradise, for the same category. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be sharing the spotlight with my good friend. Congratulations, Larry! MIP cover

Mr Jacobson's WindowNot only that, but the editorial director of Rebelight Publishing, Deborah Froese, was also nominated for her picture book, Mr. Jacobson’s Window in the same category except for younger readers. Congratulations, Deb!

AND not only that, but the creative director of Rebelight Publishing, Melanie Matheson, was shortlisted for her picture book, Hokey Dowa Gerda and the Snowflake Girl in the same younger category. Congrats to Mel too! hokey cover

So, there was much to be celebrated yesterday morning and there was much congratulations and cheer flying around on Facebook and Twitter and even through phone lines!

In the afternoon I took my boys to a matinee, Home. I normally leave my phone in my purse, however, I forgot and left it in my pocket. All through the movie I could feel vibration after vibration… which is why I leave it in my purse, so to not be distracted. However… I did ignore it until the end credits. To which I checked  my text messages, and from (the afore mentioned) Deborah – “Check your email!!!!”

I checked my email and my jaw dropped. Again, Empty Cup and Missing in Paradise have been selected to be listed in the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s (CCBC) Spring 2015 edition of Best Books for Kids & Teens (BBKT) magazine! This is national recognition across Canada aimed at teachers and librarians and authors. Congratulations again to my friend, Larry.

To receive such recognition in one day is astounding and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

We find out the winners at the Manitoba Book Awards on April 25th at the Awards Gala. Personally, I’m just so happy to be shortlisted that I’ll be ecstatic for whoever wins. Congratulations to all of the nominees and to all those recognized in the CCBC, BBKT!

Photography 101 – Smokey, the Sneaky

smokey 72

I love this photo. Smokey has this uncanny way of sneaking onto an unsuspecting person to curl up and sleep. He moves so slowly that you actually don’t notice his arrival – it’s rather unsettling really. One moment your lap is empty, the next you look down and it’s like, “Oh, hello. Where did you come from?”