Season of Symbols

I posted the following message years ago but I think it bears repeating…
I’ve never been much of a ‘Christmas’ person. There are just too many expectations at this time of year and most of these things I’m not good at. If I had my way, I’d ‘unplug the Christmas machine’ and create simple, family-centered traditions that wouldn’t include shopping malls or racing from one event to another. However, when it comes to Christmas, I don’t have my way.
A couple of years ago I came across a list of Seasonal Strategies written by Harold Rosen who was then the minister of the North Shore Unitarian Church. With this list, Harold invites us to “look behind the all-too-familiar things, and see the Larger Reality they represent.” I review this list at the start of each Christmas season and I’m now far more successful at keeping my “mental and spiritual health intact.”
I offer Harold’s list here, an early Yuletide gift for anyone who takes the time to read my blog.
May your ramp-up to Christmas be only as frantic as you wish it to be.
Season Of Symbols
Gifts – they are more than stuffed boxes covered with shiny paper and ribbons; they are tangible tokens of all those thoughtful things we wanted to ‘do’ for our loved ones and friends, all year long, but never got around to it.
Cards – the are more than donations to Hallmark and overtime pay for the postal service; they are humble hints of the much we’d like to say if only time, emotional strength and eloquence abounded.
Lights – they are more than electrical fire hazards and jobs for the handy-person in our midst; they conquer the darkness of season and soul with a glimpse of celestial spendour.
Carols – they are more than memory-markers and excuses for extra choir rehearsals; they are auditory proof that heaven is nigh, and that the layers of tradition can heal the layers of our pain.
Angels – they are more than plastic ornaments on trees… they are those whispers we hear just in time, saying “you have what it takes.’ ‘Good deeds can be fun.’ ‘Things pass, but Love abides’ and ‘all will turn out well, despite appearances.’
Happy Holidays!

A Fifteen Year Gestation Period (but worth the wait!)

Rainbow Reunion celebrates cultural diversity – within one family!

I wrote the story fifteen years ago. The basic idea was told to me by a very dear aunt who has grandchildren from  various cultural backgrounds. She was reflecting on how lovely it was that  each family had a different name for her, for ‘Grandmother’.

I took her story and combined it with a quote from a Unitarian minister: “The rainbow symbol celebrates the many distinctive colours of humanity, and the beauty of bridging cultural and faith barriers.”

(The rainbow has symbolized many things over time, the most recent being LGBT Pride. It is always a beautiful symbol no matter what it stands for.)

I threw in a child-like lifeguard (Levi), six culturally mixed families looking for their grandmother at the beach and, finally, the reunion with the creation of the rainbow crescent by the families  (each family is wearing  t-shirts depicting one colour of the rainbow). The family even adopts a new member, Levi, who is wearing violet – the final colour of the rainbow – to make it complete. The book ends with a glossary of grandmother names in other languages and the family tree of the characters in the story.

I sent this manuscript off to a contest that was looking for stories for children that celebrated cultural diversity within Canada.  To my utter amazement (I don’t usually write picture book stories) I won the contest and received a nice cash prize.

From there I began the oh-so-slow process of submitting my story to publishing houses. After a bunch of rejections I decided to take matters into my own hands. I contacted an artist acquaintance whose work I loved and asked if she’d be interested in illustrating my story. She agreed. This wonderful artist is Julie Fox.

Julie took my story to a whole new level with her illustrations. They far exceeded my expectations. Rainbow Reunion is now one of those picture books that is multi-layered. Each time a parent and child read it they will discover more of the rich details that represent the culture of the families depicted. These details are shown through sand-castles, beach toys and many beautiful details in the sand and sky. The colours are vibrant and warm at the same time.

This has been a labour of love, especially for Julie who, after completing the art began to  grapple with the layout, the format and so many other book-producing decisions.

Fifteen years. You can practically raise a child in that time, and I’m relieved that human pregnancies don’t last that long.  But as the award committee said, books like these “help young children everywhere” so I’m glad I persevered.

The book should be out in December. Please contact me for a signed copy.


Fear of heights? What the…?

Because I’d viewed this photo before we hiked up to the cliffs it never occurred to me that there’d be a problem. I knew what I was getting into. Our competent Irish guide, Gerry Greensmyth, led the way. It was Day One of our hiking adventure and we were on Achill Island on the west coast of Ireland. Spirits were high.

As we crested the ridge I caught a glimpse of the sheer drop-off down to the wild coast below. It hit without warning, a physical response, a dizzy light-headedness as all my blood seemed to rush to my  heart which just might have stopped beating for a moment. Next came a floating sensation and I hoped I wasn’t mid-faint. I think it was a panic attack, but I don’t know if that’s the correct label. All I knew then was that I absolutely could not stand there on that cliff-top with my friends to admire the view. I felt sure I would pass out and fall over, or worse, hurl myself over. Then, to further increase my anxiety, one of my dearest friends stepped oh-so-close to the edge to peer down. And it was a LONG way straight down. And did I mention that the wind was blowing hard? That really stirred up the strange physical sensations I was experiencing.

“C’mon, Shelley, come a little closer,” Gerry urged, wanting me to experience the full magnitude of the vista. After all, we had climbed this steep mountain for that very reason

I tried to cover up my embarrassing reaction by making light of the situation. “Did we sign any waivers before we took this hike?” It was supposed to be a joke, but my face likely conveyed my fear.

“Waivers are meaningless. C’mon, hold my hand,” he said and grabbed it without waiting for a response. He tugged me closer to the edge. That’s when I lost it.

“We don’t know anything about you!” I cried out, trying to put on the brakes. “For all I know you are a crazy man, luring naive tourists up here and then pushing them over the edge.” (Novelists have vivid imaginations.)

He may have experienced hysterical women before, I don’t know, but he remained calm and did manage to drag me close enough to the edge that the full beauty of the coastline unfolded before us. I am grateful for that. But as quickly as I could I took a mental photo and scrambled back to relative safety on the other side of the clifftop.

Admittedly, this was not the first time this has happened, so I should have been better prepared. It happened in the wind turbine on Grouse Mountain. When I stepped out of the elevator into  the observatory at the top, it hit me equally as hard and as unexpected.  I had to turn around and step directly back onto that elevator that returned me to the ground instead of walking around to enjoy the 360 degrees of  magnificent views.  Suspension bridges are another trigger. I won’t be crossing those anymore.

I didn’t have this fear of heights until fairly recently,  I don’t know where it came from but I would really like it to go away. Does anyone know any strategies?

Anchll Island photo credit: Gerry Greensmyth.

Eye of the Wind Photo Credit: Grouse Mountain Resort

Tsundoku: The practice of buying more books than you can read


Doku: reading

Tsun: to pile up

Tsundoku: the piling up of reading things

I know people who have wardrobes full of beautiful clothes, kitchens stocked with polished cookware, living rooms decked out in elegant, matching furniture and artwork. In their tidy closets they have racks lined with rows of exquisite shoes, just the right ones for every occasion. As much as I might like to have these things, that’s not what’s in my home. Nope. In my home I have bookshelves groaning under stacks of books. More books than I’ll ever get around to reading. Dusty books.  New books. Old books. Children’s books. Novels. Non-fiction. Memoir. Classics. Textbooks.

Many of these books are library books.  They will have to be returned before they’re read even though I renew them as often as I’m allowed. The problem is,  as well as being a master of tsundoku, I’m also a voracious reader of book reviews. I keep a journal of titles that I MUST someday read, so when I see them at  bookstores or at the library I ‘acquire’ them and add them to the stacks.

And I do read – as much as I can. But there is never going to be enough time to read all the books I’ve accumulated.

There are worse things to practice than tsundoku. I could be hoarding  a collection of troll dolls or dead house plants. But I may have found a solution for my unruly collection: the Little Free Library.

Little Free Library.

Slowly I’ve been weeding through the stacks of books that I own and finding ones that I feel I can part with. I keep a bag of them in my car and whenever I pass a Little Free Library I drop a few off. (The hard part is resisting the urge to also bring a few more home.) Maybe someday I’ll  have  tidy, book free coffee and bedside tables  and organized, uncluttered shelves. And nice shoes.

And then again, maybe not.

“Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity.” A. Edward Newton, author, publisher, and collector of 10,000 books.

Image credit :

A Love Letter to My Writing Critique Group

My dear, dear writing critique group,

How long have we been meeting like this? Twenty years? More? It’s time to reflect on our relationship.

It wasn’t love at first sight for us. Oh no.  We were wary of each other and had to build a certain level of trust. Sharing writing is like baring your soul, and you can’t do that when you don’t t know whether the other might reach in and rip out your heart. Your guts. Or worse! Your oh-so-perfectly crafted story.

But slowly the trust developed, we were gentle with each other, yet honest. We became each other’s sounding boards, first readers, and finally – (drum roll here) – the great aunties of each other’s new books. We’ve become dependent on the fresh perspective a second and third set of eyes can reveal.

We’ve helped each other fine-tune our stories by asking the questions that have shed light on plot holes and missing character motivation. We’ve spotted cliches and repeated words. I would never show my work to a publisher before first hearing back from you.

My dear writing critique group, you have been there for me when I needed propping up, when I needed a push to keep going and, most importantly, when I needed constructive feedback. You were there to celebrate book contracts and new releases. You understand this longing to write, to create fiction that we hope has meaning and will find an audience.

Our critique group has grown from being one of merely professional relationships to one of  close friendships. We share the highs and lows of our lives with each other, and watch how personal growth influences our work. We understand that our books are not memoirs but are shaped by the challenges and joys in our lives. Our writing critique group gives us the sense that what we do matters, that we are not alone.

Thank you, my beloved critique group, for being there with me through the twenty years of my writing career. I know I would never have been offered publishing contracts without you helping me mold my stories into something readable. Baring my soul, and my writing, has become so much easier.

With gratitude and love,


Little Free Library

“Take a book, share a book.”

I remember the day I stumbled across this Little Free Library. It was the first one I’d ever seen. It stands in a yard a few neighbourhoods away from my own, but one that I can easily walk to. I thought it was absolutely charming although, perhaps, poorly named. (Aren’t all libraries free?) Anyway, I immediately began ‘taking and sharing’. Often I leave copies of my own titles.

I learned this week that Todd Bol – founder of Little Free Library – has passed away. He started the trend in 2009 with the first Little Free Library in his own front yard. Before his death  last week there were 75,000 Little Free Libraries worldwide. I expect this number is modest as people are creating their own designs, with wonderful results.

Before his death, Bol said, “If I may be so bold, I’m the most successful person I know because I stimulate 54 million books to be read and neighbours to talk to each other. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the very definition of success.”

I absolutely agree!



Sneak Preview

This is the front cover of our soon-to-be published book. (Heritage House, Spring 2019) It’s the story of grizzly bears Coola and Grinder who live at the Refuge for Endangered Wildlife on Grouse Mountain. It explains how they came to be there and what we have learned from studying their behaviour. Linda Sharp’s illustrations, including this one, are breathtaking! I can’t wait to share this with all those locals and tourists who love these bears.


Lost Boy Metaphors

My very dear friend Sue Gordon always gives me a symbolic gift to celebrate the launch of each of my books. Here is the one she made for Lost Boy. It is metaphorical on 3 levels.

  1. The boy has no ‘face’ as he is lost.
  2. He hits ‘rock bottom’ in the story. (He is made of rocks)
  3. He’s in the shape of an inuksuk, which are featured in the story.

Isn’t she clever?

Here is the shelf in my office with many of the other ‘new book gifts’ she’s given to me.

She is the creative one! And I am blessed with her friendship.


It may have been a soggy Vancouver afternoon, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of my friends and family who turned out to help me launch Lost Boy.

Thank you to those who could make it and to Word Vancouver for inviting me to speak at this wonderful festival that celebrates reading and writing.

What the??? Is that man with the hat in the front row SLEEPING during my reading?? 🙂