Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Los Angeles!

I'm leaving tomorrow morning for a book conference in LA, hosted by SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). I'm excited! I'll be meeting up with some other children's nonfiction writers and we will be discussing current directions and trends in nonfiction books today. If you're interested in finding out about the conference or the organization, check out the website (click on summer conference) at:

 I'll post again when I get back. Happy Long Weekend, everyone!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Little Bit of History

Train tunnels, rock ovens and tent sites of railway workers from the early 1900s were some of the historic items I had the privilege to see last week. My daughter, her partner and I hiked through the forest (huffing and puffing up the mountainside) around Okanagan Lake, high above the town of Naramata. We wandered along trails trod by those long-ago railway builders of 1915. It was fascinating to see where the men had slept and how they cooked their bread (in rock ovens). We stood inside one of the huge tunnels and marvelled at the black soot on the rock overhead — a marker of the early steam trains that had chugged through the area. We could feel the history.

The Kettle Valley Railway was one of the last railroads to be built in North America without big machines, using only the hard labour and muscles of men and horses. It was built through some of the toughest terrain in Canada. I'd seen archival photos of tunnels and rock ovens when I wrote The Kids Book of Canada's Railway, but this was the first time I'd viewed the actual artifacts. Touching these rock remnants gave me a strong sense of our past and of the enormous challenges the railway workers must have faced. Truly inspiring!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sunny Okanagan

Here's a photo of me in lovely Naramata, BC, where the sun shines hot and the flowers grow tall. If you look carefully, you can see Okanagan Lake in the background. The water was perfect for swimming! Okay, it was a little *refreshing*, but wonderful, nonetheless. More about my trip to come soon.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Naramata Bound

I'm off to Naramata for a few days of sun and sand. (Did I mention it's a wine-growing region?) I'll post a note when I get back. Cheers!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Going Green

I've been without my car for a couple of weeks and have been walking and bussing around the city. It's been a great way to see the sights, get some exercise and lessen my carbon footprint. A few things have occurred to me as I've gone (temporarily) green. If the weather was always as sunny and warm as it is now in our lovely Vancouver summer, I could give up my car for good. But, trying to get myself to and from the library with great armloads of books on a November day when the rain is pelting down, might be an entirely different experience. 

Secondly, travelling on foot and bus allows me to see the city in the way I see other cities when I travel. I always walk to get a sense of the place I'm visiting. I've learned lots about Vancouver lately: where the urban gardens are, where the international students congregate, the best ways to get from Point A to B on the bus, what a wonderful multicultural mix of people we have, and much more. 

Finally, instead of taking a walk for exercise, I simply walk to do whatever I need to do in a day. What a concept! I'm loving it! So, for a few more weeks while I'm car-less, I'm going to think hard about what it means to go green, at least in terms of transportation. Maybe I'll be making a big shift. I'll keep you posted. Meanwhile, it's time to walk to the grocery store to buy something for supper... 

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Author Photo

I think the toughest part of my job may be having to get a professional photograph to use for promotional purposes. I always put this task off for much longer than I should. However, this month, I summoned up my courage and headed down to the studio of Vancouver photographer, Douglas Buchan, for a photo shoot. Doug always does a fantastic job and manages to put me at ease (or as much at ease as is possible with me) and is patient enough to take a lot of shots in order to get one that's just right. I managed to smile and he got some lovely shots. Here's one of my new photos. If you need a professional photo, I highly recommend Doug. Check out his website at:

Doug also likes to photograph bright, beautiful flowers and is having a show of his work at the Port Moody Public Library for the month of August. If you're interested in seeing some amazing flowers, here's the library link: Thanks, Doug!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Big Sky Country

I'm just back from a family trip to Lethbridge, Alberta, where the whole gang of us went to celebrate our nephew's wedding. Congratulations, Jeff and Jen! We flew from Vancouver to Calgary, then rented a vehicle – The Family Bus! – and drove three hours south to Lethbridge. In my mind, this trip had all the makings of National Lampoon's Family Vacation (grandmother included) but it turned out to be a lot more fun and a lot less trouble than the movie. The high point was spending time with all the cousins, aunts and uncles, and having good food and many laughs.


Some wonderful things about Alberta included: the friendliness of the people; giant hailstones the size of golfballs; cowboy hats and bales of hay at the airport (it was Stampede Week); and most of all: The Big Sky. I was thrilled to see the horizon in every direction. Pillowy, white clouds in a circular blue sky rising over brilliant, yellow fields of canola. Amazing!


My good friend and fellow author, Linda Bailey (, says that whenever I travel to a new place, I always want to move there. It may be true. Imagine being able to see The Big Sky every single day...

Chocolate and Chat Road Trip

Congratulations to fellow BC authors, kc Dyer and James McCann, who have set off this week on an entirely author-initiated tour across BC and Alberta. They plan to podcast and blog along the way, while serving up book bites and morsels of chocolate at all every bookstore they visit. If you'd like to follow these brave and clever wanderers, check out their blogs (see addresses below). Happy travels, Karen and James! 

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Why a Writer Needs a Dog...

This is my dog, Blaze, my loyal and faithful companion. The photo shows him at Long Beach, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, waiting for me to throw his ball into the surf. Chasing a ball through the waves is his very favourite activity (other than eating).

Blaze set off with my son on a roadtrip today, and was very excited. When the two of them left, I began to think about why a writer (me especially) needs a dog. Writing is a solitary activity, often done in the seclusion of a writer's home. If there wasn't a dog to curl up under the desk, the writer might get lonely. Secondly, a dog needs to go for several energetic walks, every day, in all kinds of weather. This gets the writer up, off her chair, away from the computer and out into the world.

Beyond the benefits of exercise and sociability, walking allows the writer an excellent opportunity to let her mind wander. I came up with the final sentence in my story, Lily and the Mixed-up Letters, on a dog walk. The wording had eluded me for months, and then one day, out on a walk with Blaze, the words appeared like magic in my head: "Feeling as light as a kite on the wind, Lily skips all the way home."

I owed Blaze a big dog cookie that day!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

New York Tenement Museum

In May, I had the good fortune of being in New York for a few days. While there, I visited the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. The museum features restored apartments that depict the lives of newly arrived immigrants — people who travelled by ship to New York's Ellis Island from Europe in the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. In the room I visited, a family of 10 people had squeezed together in a tiny two-room apartment, sleeping on the floor, chairs and a shared bed. I was struck by by the tenacity of this family and the hardship they must have endured, leaving the familiarity of their home country and coming to America to build a new life in a new land. 

Canada has its own version of Ellis Island, called Pier 21, located in Halifax. Today, it is a museum that honours the lives and experiences of newcomers to Canada. I visited both Pier 21 and Ellis Island to help me get a sense of what it must have been like for the many thousands of people who emigrated to North America over the last century. The museums were inspirational in the writing of my book, The Kids Book of Canadian Immigration. I plan to return to the Tenement Museum (soon, I hope) to further explore what life was like for the brave families who lived there.

Amazing Yukon Wilderness!

When I was in the Yukon a few weeks ago, I saw some of the most beautiful wilderness I have ever experienced. Majestic snow-capped mountains, pristine blue lakes and bright beautiful sunshine combined to make this corner of the Earth a wilderness-lover's paradise. Here's a photo of my roommates and I at Kathleen Lake, about 2 hours north of Whitehorse. As a writer of wildlife books for kids, it's always important for me to get outdoors and be in nature. And what incredible nature this was!