All Good Children go to Heaven (or at least to paperback and Booktrack editions)

A couple of cool things have happened this fall with my 2011 teen novel, All Good Children.

First, All Good Children is now available in paperback! Orca Book Publishers has produced a gorgeous paperback version of the book. It’s blue, it’s ominous, it’s a keeper. Check it out in their Fall 2016 catalogue:



So now you can buy the book in hard cover or paperback from the Orca website. Awesome.

While you’re on the Orca website, check out the whole Fall 2016 catalogue. (Then check out the Spring 2017 catalogue.) As they do every season, Orca has a great selection of books for kids, teens, and reluctant readers of all ages. (I’m partial to picture books and since I just learned how to take screen shots–seriously, I just looked it up five minutes ago–I’ll show you a few new gorgeous titles here:


If you prefer to read on a screen, All Good Children is available as an ebook from Amazon or a dozen other ebook vendors.

If you like an ebook with a little something extra, then my second bit of news is for you:

All Good Children is now available from Booktrack! Booktrack is a very cool electronic publisher that offers ebooks with a synchronized movie-­style soundtrack. Music and ambient audio are perfectly synched to the story and to the reader’s pace. Now that’s immersive. Check it out and try a free preview.


What a lovely 5th birthday for this book!

Have a great weekend. 🙂


Oh my Goodreads!

goodreads logoThe Goodreads folk are awfully good at keeping in touch. They send me monthly updates, alert me when a favourite author publishes a new book, advise me on how to generate reader interest in my own books, and notify me whenever someone likes one of my reviews.

Alas, I cannot reciprocate in good time! Even their notices reminding me, “You started Confessions 127 days ago; why not post an update?” rarely get me signing in. (I finished that book in two days. It took a while to update its status.)

I’ve developed a rhythm of adding reviews to my Goodreads account every, oh, six months. (A tad slower than adagio.) It goes on the to-do list at around 3 months, and then takes another 3 to cross off. By that time, I’ve forgotten half of what I’ve read, which significantly lessens the burden.

I only post ratings of books I really like, having been told once by an editor at The Malahat Review that bad books should be allowed to die quietly and there is no need to murder them–what fine advice! My Goodreads account thus makes me look easy to please. (But I’m not. Sometimes I yearn to mock a bad book in a biting review, but instead I bite my tongue because (a) not connecting with a book is hardly newsworthy; (b) nobody really cares about my opinion; and (c) the website is not called Badreads, is it?)

I may be slow, but I do love sharing good reads with good readers. So today I added a couple of dozen novels, picture books, and non-fiction titles to my online shelf.

One of today's 5-star reviews.
One of today’s 5-star reviews.
And another, which happens to have the same title.
And another, which happens to have the same title.

Online activity does not come naturally to me. (I don’t often read blogs or watch YouTube videos or even check websites except to find a phone number. I go online mostly to scour the library catalogue and place books on hold.) So I’m doubling my return on today’s online investment by blogging here about my Goodreads additions. Hah! What social media savvy! Who knows? Maybe next week I’ll update my website and scan the thousand posts I’ve missed on Facebook and come up with something else to blog about. For now, I’m signing out.

Have a great weekend. (Yes, I know it’s Sunday afternoon.)




Satan Makes Lemonade

devilFor the eighth time in my life, I’m trying to finish Milton’s Paradise Lost. (So far, I’ve reread Book I, the bit about the fallen angels landing in hell. It’s fun to read aloud when you get to lines like, “Awake, arise, or be for ever fallen!”—which does not work on sleeping teenagers, BTW).

I happened to read Book I of Paradise Lost just after reading a book about depression, and I was struck by the parallels. Satan may have lost the war with God but he’s not going to lose any battles with the blues. If he wasn’t dedicated to the downfall of humankind, he could write a self-help book for us. (Just on this one topic. He’s not the go-to guy for mental health issues in general, being an evil self-deluded egoist and all.)

I’ve read that Milton’s Satan is like an unreliable narrator whose prideful magnificence of Book I (he gets all the best lines) is exposed as lowliness by Book XII. But I’ve never made it past Book II. So I find him quite quotable. Here are

Satan’s Top Ten Tips for Fighting Depression.

1. Reach out to others.

Satan could drag himself to a lonely corner of Chaos and ruminate for eternity. When the other fallen angels invited him to play cards or go for coffee, he could make up a story about being too busy and then sit in his corner and eat worms. But no, Satan knows it’s bad to isolate himself. The first thing he does is reach out to Beelzebub and “break the horrid silence.” So what if you hate everyone and you’re pretty sure everyone hates you? If you are depressed, find better company.

2. Accept your emotions…

Satan is tormented, no doubt. He had it all and he blew it. He thought he was better than God and, man, was he wrong. And everybody knows it. Up in Heaven they’re all thinking, “What a maroon.” Lost happiness and lasting pain is what’s left in Hell. Does Satan deny all the sadness, anger, and frustration? Does he say, “No really I’m fine?” Well, actually, he claims to be better than ever. But first he vents a great deal, and he even has a little cry. Because you’ve got to let it out.

3. …But don’t wallow.

Satan can’t help thinking about how badly God whupped his ass, but whenever he catches himself ruminating, he immediately stops and finds a silver lining. It’s like he had cognitive behavioural therapy training back in Heaven. He doesn’t go over and over that idiotic war he waged that cost him eternal happiness. He doesn’t shudder and repeat, “I’ve been blotted from the Books of Life, oh my god, I’ve been blotted from the Books of Life.” Nope, he’s all, “Be it so.” Move on.

lemonade4. Focus on the positive.

Satan must have listened to that old Cat Stevens song, Moonshadow (If I ever lose my legs, I won’t have to walk no more, etc.). He repeatedly sings, “If I ever lose my place in Heaven, I’ll get to reign in Hell, and that’s even better.” (No one believes it, but the other fallen angels just shrug and sing along because what can they do? They’re not getting back into Heaven, are they?) “What though the field be lost?” Satan asks. “All is not lost—the unconquerable will, and study of revenge, immortal hate… we still got all that” (paraphrasing at the end there). Satan always finds an upside: at least God isn’t here. Like a human might say, “Yes, I lost my family, but now I can stretch out in the bed and watch whatever I want on the TV.” Take note of the good stuff.

5. Get some exercise.

Does Satan just lie there, groveling and prostrate on the lake of fire, binging on Netflix and drinking too much wine? No. He’s barely awake when he calls the fallen angels to their feet and gets them to move from one part of the fiery landscape to another part of the fiery landscape. He knows that exercise cures what ails you. Get moving.

6. Help others.

Though his motives are suspect, Satan does his bit for his fellow fallen angels. He sees them wallowing in fire and depression, and he raises their failing courage and dispels their fears with a few white lies and some self-congratulatory motivational speeches. He fakes it till they all make it. The fallen hordes have a glimpse of joy to find their chief not in despair. There’s always something we can do to help those worse off.

paradise lost7. Make plans.

Satan could while away eternity in the fire and ice and darkness visible, but he’s got drive. He immediately comes up with a new goal. Sure, Heaven was aiming too high. They know that now. But there’s another goal within reach: “to wage by force or guile eternal war, irreconcilable to our grand Foe.” Satan could even try a regular evening reflection and ask himself, “Did I piss off God today?” to see if he’s moving toward his goal. Plans invest life with meaning, so muster up a sense of purpose.

8. Take concrete action. 

Satan talks a lot, but he’s really a devil of action. Today’s to-do list: wake the legions; build pandemonium; find out if God has built any new worlds we could ruin; etc. Satan does not procrastinate. If it takes less than five minutes to disturb God’s inmost counsels, then he does it now. He doesn’t file that one. It feels good to get something done.

9. Assess your situation realistically (ish).

Satan takes a good look at his dismal situation, waste and wild, and he accepts that it’s not temporary. He doesn’t nurse the false hope of getting back into Heaven. That dream is gone, that window has closed, that train has left the station. A giant dark furnace is the new normal. And what does Satan do when he sees this clearly? He deals. “Farewell happy fields where joy forever dwells. Hail horrors.” Like a psychopath in prison, he looks around and thinks, “This is workable.” Deal with reality.

10. Don’t lose hope.

Not only does Satan say (paraphrasing), “At least we have this awesome Hell to rule in, and we can still annoy God even if we can’t defeat him,” but he adds, “Space may produce new worlds, you never know. We could get out of Hell one day and have some real fun.” Which seems like optimism verging on insanity—but then he really does leave Hell (it’s coming up in a later Book) and he finds Earth and has lots of fun there. Never give up. You just don’t know what life might bring you.

tasmanian-devilSo there you have Satan’s depression-fighting tips, which are surprisingly the same as everyone else’s. Try them out. And have a happy weekend.

(Sorry to disappoint anyone who came to this blog hoping to see a video of an actual devil making lemonade. That doesn’t exist. Here is a Tasmanian Devil for you instead.)

The Willow Awards

willowlogoIt is an honour to have my latest middle-grade comedy, 28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6, selected as a 2016 Diamond Willow Nominee!

For those who may not know, Willows are not just gorgeous trees. They are also Saskatchewan Young Readers’ Choice Awards (SYRCA). Every year, the Willow Awards offer Saskatchewan students an opportunity to vote for their favourite book among ten nominated titles in each age category. Books nominated for a Willow are thus introduced to thousands of students in the province.

My book is in excellent company as one of these ten 2016 Diamond Willow nominees, selected for readers in grades 4-6:

audreyAudrey by Dan Bar-el


 Finding Grace by Becky Citra


Friend or Foe by Etta Kaner


Frostbite Hotel by Karin Adams


Lost in the Backyard by Alison Hughes


Masterminds by Gordan Korman


Rain Shadow by Valerie Sherrard


Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey


Speechless by Jennifer Mook-Sang


28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6 by Catherine Austen (me)

winniegospelYounger readers have a beautiful selection of ten titles (including Lindsay Mattick’s Finding Winnie, at left) nominated for the Shining Willow Award.

Older readers have an excellent selection of titles (including Caroline Pignat’s Gospel Truth, at right) nominated for the Snow Willow Award.

This year’s nominated titles will be read by students throughout the summer, fall and winter months, with student votes being tallied in April, 2017.

Last year’s Willow Awards have just ended and the winners are being announced today. You can check out today’s award ceremony online via the “Gala 2016 Live Event Video” on the SYRCA website. And check out all the nominated titles from 2015 on the CanLit for LittleCanadians blog.

willowtreeFor more information on SYRCA and the nominated titles from this year or earlier years, visit the Willow Awards website. If you’re a student or teacher in Saskatchewan, be sure to get involved in this children’s choice contest. I and the other authors will soon be adding suggested activities to supplement our books on the SYRCA website. (Because it’s not all about reading. It’s also about writing and drama and arts and crafts.)

A big congratulations to all of this year’s and last year’s nominated titles. And a big thanks to the teachers and students of Saskatchewan, and the volunteers at SYRCA, who keep this reading program going strong.

SCBWI Spring Conference in Ottawa

There are still a few spaces left for Ottawa’s SCBWI Art of Story Conference scheduled for the end of the month. For two days, guest speakers will offer workshops and presentations to everyone interested in writing or illustrating children’s books, from aspiring picture book illustrators to established YA novelists. There’s something for every level of experience.

Art-of-Story-2016-Poster copy
I love this poster! (The illustration is by Julien Chung; check out more of his work at

The conference will offer presentations, workshops, one-on-one critique sessions, first-page critique panels, as well as networking and catching up opportunities. There’s even a steampunk costume party. Check out the full conference schedule on the SCBWI Canada East website.

SCBWI members get a price discount, but you don’t have to be a member to attend. You don’t even have to know that SCBWI stands for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, an international organization with 22,000 members in 70 regional chapters. All you have to know is that very talented writers, illustrators, editors, agents and art directors will  gather in Ottawa at the end of April to talk shop–and you can take part.

If you’ve never been to a writing conference, this might be a good one to try because this year’s conference faculty includes:
✓ Alex Arnold, Associate Editor, Katherine Tegen Books, Harper Collins
✓ Jennie Dunham, agent, Dunham Literary
✓ Grace Kendall, editor, Farrar Strauss Giroux
✓ Whitney Leader-Picone, art director, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Books for Young Readers
✓ Christian Trimmer, senior editor, Simon and Schuster
✓ Helaine Becker, author
✓ Tim Wynne-Jones, author
✓ Ruth Ohi, author and illustrator

So you know you’re going to learn a thing or two. Get the details on the conference faculty at the SCBWI Canada East website.

There are pre-conference feedback opportunities for both writers and illustrators to polish their work in advance of showing it off at the conference itself. It’s too late to sign up for a one-on-one manuscript critique, but it’s not too late to send in a book pitch or first page for critique at the panel session. So get on that. Check out the Conference Details for more info.

Some wonderful conference prep tips were created by the Maryland USA “Team SCBWI” in advance of their own local spring conference. The details are NOT for Ottawa’s Art of Story — don’t follow the directions to Maryland if you’ve signed up for Ottawa — but the general tips and links are useful for anyone heading to their first writing conference. Plus they made this fun meme:


So check out Ottawa’s Art of Story Conference details and sign up.

See you there.

Friday Fable: The Old Writer and Oblivion

skullYou may have heard the old story about The Old Man and Death:

An old man was out gathering a bundle of sticks for his fire. He cut a dozen thick pieces in the forest and began to carry them home. He had a long way to go, and he was tired before he was halfway there. Throwing his bundle on the ground, he called out to Death, “Release me from this life of toil! I’m sick of working so hard just to warm myself! I’ve seen it all and I have nothing to add. I’m ready to die. I’m too old to keep doing this when it’s so hard just to scrape by let alone enjoy myself.”

The words were barely out of his mouth when Death arrived in his path and said, “So nice to hear you’re giving up, old codger. I’m ready to take you any time.”

The old man stared at Death — cold, dark, ghastly, reeking of the void. The old man imagined letting himself be led to eternal nothingness — no more fires, no more birdsong, no more Netflix, no more complaining about how his kids never called. When Death reached out its hand, the old man had just enough wits intact to stammer, “Um, what I meant was, could you give me a hand picking up sticks? I’m planning to make a fire tonight.”

And the moral is: No one wants to leave before the end of the movie.

That is a good old tale. But if Aesop were a modern slave to the written word, he might have called his fable, The Old Writer and Oblivion:

An old writer was gathering a collection of stories for publication. He revised one of his dozen new pieces and began agonizing over its not-quite-right ending. He had a long way to go to get it right, and he was tired before he was halfway through the kazilionth revision. Throwing his laptop on the ground, he called to Oblivion, “Release me from this life of toil! I’m sick of working so hard just for one lousy story in a litmag! I’ve read it all and I have nothing to add. I’m ready to stop writing. I’m too old to keep doing this when it’s so hard just to get the setting right, let alone the point of view.”

The words were barely out of his mouth when Oblivion arrived in his office and said, “So nice to hear you’re giving up, old codger. I’m ready to silence you any time.”

The old writer stared at Oblivion — shadowy, vacant, reeking of buried secrets and silent screams. The writer imagined letting himself be led to eternal quiescence — no more flashes of fully-formed characters, no more plots to unfold, no more digging for the right words to evoke an exact mood, no more letters from readers saying how his fiction felt so real. When Oblivion reached out its hand, the old writer had just enough wits intact to stammer, “Um, what I meant was, could you pose for a character portrait? I’m planning to add a graphic element to my story tonight.”

And the moral is: Old writers have lots of new stories to create.

old hands

I’d been searching for an appropriate fable to commemmorate my 50th birthday, and this was the best I could find.

(No, I’m not old. I’m middle-aged. I run with the modern demarcations of:

  • Youth age 0 to 35;
  • Middle age 36 to, oh, 70;
  • Old age 71 and up.

I’ve got decades before I’m old!)

I searched for a fable that might be called, say, The Old Woman and her Muses:

Once there was a woman who’d done lots of creative work in her youth and early middle age. Then when she turned 50 things really took off. Her mind sharpened, her discipline hardened, her drive went into overdrive, and she came up with mind-blowing interdisciplinary works of art that set the world on fire.

And the moral is: Older is better.

But nope, I couldn’t find that fable among Aesop’s leavings. (Because older isn’t better. It’s worse. But still good.)

If I’d found such a fable, I’d have written this post on awesome older writers. But no need — there are numerous posts out there on writers who succeeded in later years. (Laura Ingalls Wilder features strong in these: having published her first novel at 65, she went on to write 12 books in the Little House on the Prairie series.) So if you aspire to be a writer and you’ve yet to be published, there are precedents for making your way quite well in later years.

You might find that most of those “Writers and artists who thrived after 40 or 50” posts just recycle the same few authors who came late to authorship. But don’t fret over that. Such lists are nothing more than statistics based on the age of someone’s first book. Once you leave out the stats and look at the arts themselves, many more inspiring stories appear:

  • Emily Carr's 1929 Indian Church (painted when she was 57)
    Emily Carr’s 1929 Indian Church (painted when she was 57)

    Emily Carr‘s best work was in her later years — if she’d stopped painting at 50, we’d never know what she was capable of.

  • By age 50, Anne Carson was receiving the MacArthur Fellowship for creative genius — but she’s no less a genius now at 65.
  • Anne Tyler is 74, people, and still writing Booker Prize-listed novels.
  • David Ferry will turn 92 tomorrow! (He’s one of my all-time favourite poets.) He won the National Book Award for Bewilderment in 2012, when he was 88.

Age did not slow any of those creative souls down. It doesn’t slow most writers down. (Not their writing, I mean. Everything else gets a little creaky.)

So celebrate every new decade, as I plan to do. Turn your back on Oblivion and let your voice be heard, no matter your age. (Unless you’re under 10, in which case, please keep it down. Old writers are trying to concentrate here.)

Ottawa’s Awesome Authors Contest

‘Tis the season for the Ottawa Public Library’s Awesome Author Contest! Local writers aged 9-17 have a couple of months to shine up their best poems and stories for the 2016 competition.


If your work is already shiny, you can enter it right now. If you want some professional help in polishing your words — or digging up words to polish — sign up for one of these Awesome Authors Youth Writing Workshops hosted by the library:

The Awesome Authors Writing Contest runs from December 1st 2015 through February 15th 2016. You can submit your entry in person at your local library branch or enter online from the comfort of home — but, either way, please pay attention to the contest rules. You must have an Ottawa Public Library card to enter — so dig around to find yours or get a new card.

The four authors leading the writing workshops just happen to be the judges of the competition. We’ll be reading every entry in our age and genre category and choosing the winning pieces in February next year. (So if you enter in December, don’t ask me if I read your story before February, because the answer’s no.) I’ll be reading the English short stories submitted by writers aged 9-12 — a very popular category judging by previous years’ submissions. I’ll have a lot of fun reading come February.

Each category will have a first, second and third place winner and up to three honourable mentions. An award ceremony to honour the winning writers will be held in March. And it’ll be a blast. So if you are a young writer in the Ottawa area, sign up for a workshop or pick up your pen right now and start writing something awesome.




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