Patricia McCowan

Writer, reader, walker.

Authors for Indies

ella minnow

One of the places where I feel most at home (aside from, uh, my home) is in a bookstore. More specifically, an independent bookstore. The beauty of independent bookstores is that no two are alike; they all have their specific quirks and charms, their unique categories for organizing their shelves, their varied (but invariably knowledgeable) staff. There’s no better place for book-buyers. So I’m happy to do my small part to help independent bookstores stay in business. I indulge my book-buying habit at indies. And on Saturday, April 30, I get to take part in Authors for Indies at the beautiful Ella Minnow Books in my Toronto neighbourhood! I’ll be there from 12:00 to 2:00 that day, recommending some of my fave books for young readers. Join me. Buy some books. Be part of a passionate community of book writers, book readers and book sellers!

Upstaged!

upstaged cover

“Another Op’nin’, Another Show … ” *

It’s been decades since I set foot on a stage as an actor, but the excitement and nerves that an opening night can trigger are still alive in my blood. Launching a new book may not carry the same sense of immediacy as a first entrance onstage—I can’t hear my readers waiting out there just beyond the edge of the stage, chatting and rustling programs—but it’s still exciting. And, yes, a little nerve-wracking.

Today is like opening night for my novel Upstaged. It’s publication day! After all the preparation (also known as “writing the book”) and backstage work (here’s to you, writing group, editor Robin Stevenson, and the designers, production editors and marketing people at Orca Book Publishers), my characters Ellie, Gregor, Marissa, Shantel and others are ready to sing and dance their way across the stages of your imaginations. I hope you enjoy the show. I certainly enjoyed channeling all my old emotions about what it’s like to be in a play into this story. And I don’t miss worrying about whether I’ll make it through a lightning-fast costume change in time for my next cue! Writers are lucky that way.

Upstaged is available directly from Orca; online in both print and e-book formats at Indigo.ca and Amazon.com; and at wonderful independent bookstores such as Ella Minnow Books (where I’ll be for Authors for Indies on April 30).

* Title of the opening number to the Cole Porter musical, Kiss Me Kate

Winter Afternoons at the Library

It’s a cold January afternoon, and I’m just back from the library. I went looking for a particular book and, after browsing nearby shelves, came away with that book and two others that looked interesting. Browsing is the best! And there’s something deliciously cozy about leaving the library with a small stack of books on a winter’s afternoon. The anticipation of getting back home to a warm cup of tea and some time spent paging through my reading stash – that’s a feeling that never gets old.

What that feeling reminds me of most are the countless winter afternoons I spent with my daughters when they were small and I needed to find ways to keep them entertained when things got too cold outside. We’d trek to our local library branch (side note: pushing a stroller over snowy, un-shoveled sidewalks is a huge workout!) and spend an hour or so pulling picture books off the shelves, reading some there, setting some aside to take home. It was wonderful to know we had such easy access to a pretty much endless supply of books – all for free! The library made a long winter a little more bearable.

Now my daughters are 20 and 16. The oldest one texted me yesterday from her art-school university library about some research she was doing. The youngest mentioned working over the lunch hour on a project at her high school library. I’d like to think that as they work their way towards their futures, they remember those old, warm feelings that come from spending an hour or two with their mom, surrounded by books.

Time to put the kettle on; I’ve got some library books to explore!

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New Year, New Book

I’m going to go out on a limb here and declare that, for a writer, knowing you have a new book coming out soon is the best way to start the new year. Okay, I suppose the best, best way for a writer to start the new year (or day, or week, or month) is to WRITE. But having a finished book is a very close second-best. As Dorothy Parker said, or wrote, “I hate writing; I love having written.”

So what have I written? Upstaged, for Orca Book Publishers’ Limelights series. Like my first book, Honeycomb, it looks at what it takes for a young person to immerse herself in a particular performing art. Upstaged puts readers front and center in the world of a youth musical theater company. Here’s how Orca’s Spring 2016 catalogue describes the story:

 Ellie is used to getting leading roles in her small-town school’s musicals, but her place at center stage disappears when her dad becomes the host of a breakfast TV show and they have to move to the big city. When Ellie auditions for – and lands – a spot with the Youth Works Theater Company, she comes up against a tight-knit group of talented, experienced and competitive triple-threat performers.

Upstaged officially launches April 12, 2016. I can’t wait – so it’s a good thing I get to sign some pre-release copies of the book at the OLA (Ontario Library Association) Super Conference this month! I’ll be at the Orca booth with my favorite pen on Friday, January 29 at 10:00 am, signing books for librarians. I can’t think of a better way to start the new year.

Honeycomb Party

One of the earliest scenes in Honeycomb is a party. An after-party, really. It takes place after my protagonist, Nat, and her friends Jess and Harper perform together for the first time as a trio. In it, I try to capture the excitement, noise, conversation and fun that happen when a bunch of people get together to celebrate the start of something new.

I’m hoping to replicate that kind of fun at my launch party for Honeycomb – the after-party of its getting published! It’ll take place here in Toronto at Murphy’s Law, a fave local pub, in its cosy 3rd floor loft. The date, Thursday, October 23. The time, 6:00 to 9:00 pm. (Though, being a pub, they’re not likely to kick anyone out if you want to stay longer!) And speaking of local, my neighbourhood’s lovely bookstore for kids, Ella Minnow, will be on hand to sell copies of the book so I can sign them for you.

Hope you can help me celebrate!

Honeycomb Box Set

Okay, I know a “box set” actually means a collection of a well-established musician’s or band’s CDs, but that’s the term that popped into my head when I opened this particular box from my publisher, Orca, today.

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That’s because my novel Honeycomb is all about young musicians and the dreams and ambitions they have for their futures. Futures that might even include their own box sets (or whatever the technological equivalent of that might be years from now).

When I began writing I barely dared to imagine that I’d be receiving a box of my own books from a publisher. But today it happened. After a lot of work and a lot of support, I got my own box set!

Limelights Trailer! And Sample Chapters!

My publisher, Orca, has put together a lovely trailer for their Limelights series of books. You can check it out – and even read sample chapters, including one from Honeycombhere. Enjoy your sneak peek before the curtain officially rises September 1st!

A Space Apart

My wonderful publisher, Orca, invited me to write a guest post for their blog. It’s about creative spaces, fictional and real, including mine. And there are photos! Here’s the post. (By the way, see if you can spot the chocolate. All creative spaces should include chocolate.)

Libraries I Have Known and (Sometimes) Loved, circa 1970s

My first part-time job as a high school student was at Winnipeg’s Centennial Library. It’s now much expanded and called The Millennium Library. I’m really hoping it becomes The Sesquicentennial Library when Manitoba celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2020, just because it’s fun to say “sesquicentennial.” Try it. See?

Anyway, I had applied to be a page, one of those people who wheel book-laden carts through the stacks to put all the Danielle Steel books back where they belong. I had the whole Dewey Decimal system down cold, and I was always happy amidst books, so I thought the job would be a perfect fit for me.

I got hired, but not to shelve books. I was assigned to the audio-visual department. In the late ’70s, audio-visual – or AV, to be properly nerdy – meant books-on-tape, VHS videos, and vinyl record albums. Vinyl record albums in their square, skinny covers, tightly packed together on row after row of shelves. Instead of sliding novels, biographies, and weight-loss tomes back onto their ample perches, I was wrecking my cuticles wedging albums back into their little slivers of shelf space.

Then there was the wear and tear that happened to those album covers, what with all the jimmying out of or shoving back into the shelves. (Not to mention whatever mistreatment they were subjected to in the various record-borrowers’ backpacks or basement bedrooms!) When the records were at risk of slipping right out of the bottom of their damaged covers, I’d get stuck in the AV section’s tiny office, taping album covers back together with the guy who was super fond of talking about Chick Corea. Some albums were more popular than others, getting borrowed and returned on a weekly basis. These required more taping. I taped up a lot of Hall & Oates in my time at the Centennial. And Fleetwood Mac. Also Queen. Those covers are imprinted on my mind. So. Much. Hair.

When I wasn’t re-shelving or repairing, I was re-winding. Re-winding is now a lost skill, like butter-churning or repairing things. But books-on-tape and videos had to be re-wound, and because pretty much everyone ignored the “Please Rewind” notes affixed to those tapes and videos, it fell to the diligent pages of the AV section to do the rewinding. You’re welcome, people from the ’70s who couldn’t be bothered.

So, as with every good high school job, I learned a lot about human nature working in the AV section of the Winnipeg Centennial Library. We’re tough on the things we love. When we’re finished with something, there is no rewinding. And even if we don’t get exactly the job we want, we can still learn about Chick Corea.

HONEYCOMB has landed!

My baby arrived!

My baby arrived today!

All of those months of thinking, plotting, drafting, writing, scratching out, rewriting, editing, worrying, re-editing and proofing come down to this. An actual book I can hold in my hands. It’s an old process, book publishing, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it now.

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