Wednesday, 30 January 2019

A Writer's Life

The writing life can be a lot of fun.

For example--this month, I've attended a book club meeting, where SILENCES: A NOVEL OF THE 1918 FINNISH CIVIL WAR was discussed. It was interesting to hear local readers compare notes: "Did you know about that?" "No, not until later." "I had no idea." "We walked back there often." "We went to the circus ever summer!" "My husband's grandmother refused to talk about her life before immigration." Et cetera. 

The books have been disappearing from the local chain bookstores, which means people are buying them. (Or they're lost in a back room somewhere--we are coming out of the busy season for all retailers, so that's possible.)

I've been chatting with many other writers working on books of history--fiction and otherwise. Having a book out there for people to read helps give me gravitas, though who knows whether I have earned it. 

Although "having written" and "having published" is fun, so is working on another project. 

For my companion novel to SILENCES, I've researched symptoms of lung disease, medical terminology from 1955 and earlier, the differences between psychopaths and sociopaths, and phases of the moon. 

My publisher and I are looking ahead to 2019 events. FinnFest, the celebration of Finnish culture, is in Thunder Bay this year--stay tuned to hear about our plans. 

Writing is a lot of fun--but it wouldn't be possible without readers. Thank you to everyone who reads, especially those who read the work of your friends and neighbours! 

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Readers and Writers

Since publishing SILENCES: A NOVEL OF THE 1918 FINNISH CIVIL WAR, I've been involved in a lot of discussions. At the two signings this summer, some readers were surprised (and, I hope, interested) to learn that there even WAS a civil war in Finland. Others remembered summer in 1955 in Port Arthur (or Fort William or anywhere else, really) and enjoyed reminiscing.

A few reviews of SILENCES have appeared on Amazon. I've had generous, thoughtful email from readers and friends-of-friends who recognize places or attitudes or events.

I appreciate all of it. I have come to see how readers can help keep writers going.

Although researching and writing about war for SILENCES was no treat, my interest in the characters and how they responded to their choices forced me to keep wrestling with the material until I found out what happened.

Fitting together the pieces of my next novel, a companion to SILENCES, is requiring me to learn about corruption in business and government--what, in a crime novel, might be called the "seedy underbelly" of life in Canada in the early 20th century. It's more than a little sobering to see how easily people could move through the world without much regard for others. As with SILENCES, I'm writing to find out what happens.

I also think about how generous readers have been with their time and attention. I hope to exceed their expectations.

Thank you to you all.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Signing this Saturday at the Thunder Bay Chapters!

This Saturday, August 18! From noon until 4!

I'll be at Chapters in Thunder Bay to sign copies of SILENCES: A NOVEL OF THE 1918 FINNISH CIVIL WAR and otherwise represent my publisher, Shuniah House Books.

Many other writers from the region will also be there--why not come see what's happening in the Northwestern Ontario literary world? (Psst: it's air-conditioned in there!)

The most up-to-date list of other participating authors: Sandi Boucher, Sam Convey, H. Leighton Dickson, Roma Fisher, Makenzi Fisk, Deanna Ford, Eva Kakepetum, Rob Kozak, Michelle Krys, Kyle Lees, Terrence McParland, Merk, John Pringle, Shannon Robertson, Evan Sills, and the Friends of the (Thunder Bay) Library.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 11 July 2018


I thoroughly enjoyed boring chatting with readers about all things Finnish Civil War at Saturday's signing at Coles. Here's the evidence:

Thanks to all who stopped by or cheered me on from your seats at the BluesFest! I very much appreciate all the support local readers show to local writers.

Stay tuned for information about an Author Extravaganza of some sort in August, sponsored by Chapters.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

See You Saturday!

A reminder: I'll be signing copies of SILENCES: A NOVEL OF THE 1918 FINNISH CIVIL WAR this coming Saturday in Thunder Bay at the Coles at Intercity Mall, from noon until 4 p.m.

Come by to say hello, reminisce about Port Arthur in 1955, or share your parents'  or grandparents' emigration/immigration stories.

Many thanks to Coles for arranging this event.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

More Good News and a Signing!

Previously, I mentioned that SILENCES appeared on the longlist for the Northern Lit Award. We recently learned that it was shortlisted!

Again, thank you to Ontario Library Service-North for this honour.

Also, I'll be signing copies of SILENCES: A NOVEL OF THE 1918 FINNISH CIVIL WAR at the Coles at the Thunder Bay Intercity Mall on Saturday, July 7, 2018, from noon until 4 p.m. Stop by to say hi!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Good News!

SILENCES: A NOVEL OF THE 1918 CIVIL WAR appears on the longlist for the 2018 Northern Lit Awards!

This award recognizes the contribution that books make to the literature of the north. Be sure to check out the full longlist at this link.

It's a sincere honour for my work to appear in such sterling company!  Thank you, Ontario Library Service--North and all the libraries in northern Ontario!

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Literary Events in Thunder Bay This Weekend

The Write NOWW LitFest is being held this weekend, May 4 and 5.


Friday night includes a FREE reading and conversation between Sandi Boucher and Angie Abdou, which is open to the public and for which registration is not required.

I'll be at the Saturday evening Gala Dinner and Awards--if you're there, look for me or check out the Celebration Table and flip through a copy of SILENCES: A NOVEL OF THE 1918 FINNISH CIVIL WAR.

More information about NOWW and the LitFest is here.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018


I recently had an email from Lea (Waske) Springer, letting me know about CROSSING BORDERS, her father's memoir.

Subtitled "From Refugee to Freedom Fighter," the memoir is available from at this link. Toivo Waske began writing his memoirs in the 1980s. He was born in 1918 in Finland, where his family had fled from Russia to avoid the Revolution. In 1924, his family returned to Russia. In later years, he lived in Finland and Sweden before emigrating to Canada.

The book includes an account of Toivo's involvement in the Winter War and Continuation War. Described as "the ordinary patrol member's view," the memoir provides a fascinating account of everyday events during wartime.

I appreciate reading this first-hand account of turbulent times--which could describe all of  Europe in the 20th century. Kudos to the family for making this memoir available!

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

SILENCES: Questions to Consider

Shuniah House Books asked me to come up with questions for readers to consider after reading SILENCES. The list of questions is linked here and on their website.

It's always interesting to know what a reader sees, as opposed to what the writer sees. In interviews, you often see writers talk about "being immersed" in the books they're writing, or "living with" their characters.

Historical fiction is a little different. I can get in a car and go 20 kilometres to town without much forethought, where the same trip for Jussi, with Viola or Perho pulling his cart, would take far more time and require preparation.

Even the Port Arthur of 1955 is gone--subsumed into Thunder Bay, its streets renamed and re-routed, the bush where Jimmy plays developed into parks.

For those reasons, I don't quite "live with" my characters, though I still think of Jimmy when I make toast.

Nevertheless, characters speak in my ear. I can look out my window in the early 21st century, and while my physical eyes see snow-covered birches, my mind's eye sees again the destruction of Tampere or a box holding shoes and boots.

So I hope the questions help you consider some of the questions I lived with while writing SILENCES. And if you have other questions, please be in touch!

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

An Opera about the Finnish Civil War!

Thanks to Dr. Raija Warkentin, author and professor emeritus of Anthropology at Lakehead University, I learned about the premiere of an opera about the Finnish Civil War this coming Friday, in Finland.

Entitled VELJENI VARTIJA, which translates as "My Brother's Keeper," the opera is about a brother and sister who end up on opposite sides of the war. The title, of course, refers to the story of Cain and Able in Genesis.

There's a little more about the opera, composer, and librettist at the Shuniah House Books website.  The website of the concert hall, Tampere-Talo, has even more.

Stories, whether in books or operas or any other art form, are helpful for talking about difficult subjects--and this is a good year to tell this story it in.

Best wishes to the company on the premiere of this work!

Wednesday, 31 January 2018


It's the season of snow in our part of North America. In fact, I have another date with our snowblower this morning.

As I put on my hat with ear flaps, my face warmer, my heavy coat, my thick and lined gloves, and multi-layered, extremely warm boots, I can't help but think of conditions in Finland 100 years ago.

At this time in the winter of 1918, neighbours and friends were sorting themselves into sides. Red vs. White. Labourers vs. landowners/independent farmers/white-collar workers.

People had begun to talk about Finland in terms of "us" and "them." Helsinki had become the capital for the Reds. Vasa was the de facto capital of the White side.

And they'd begun to talk about fighting--how many, where, when. It had become apparent that young men would be conscripted to fight for the Whites.

In SILENCES, a group gathers in the basement of a church after a funeral. They share news. And they know that soon, they and their friends will be on a battlefield.

Without the kinds of cold-weather gear I put on this morning.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Why Write SILENCES--and Why Write About Silences?

At the launch for SILENCES: A NOVEL OF THE 1918 FINNISH CIVIL WAR, I mentioned my father and my mother. Here's part of the story I told then, which also explains, in part, why I wrote the novel.

One day--probably on a Sunday afternoon in the summer, in what could have been 1955 but may have been a couple of years before that--my father and I were sitting on the front steps of the house. I had been playing war with my friends. Some of their fathers had served in World War II, and I wondered if my father had, too.

So I asked: "Were you ever in a war?"

To understand the significance of the question, you have to know that my parents never lied to me. To them, if a child asked a question, the parent must give a truthful answer. No lies, no dissembling, no "ask me later."

My father hesitated, then he said, "Yes, but it was not the Second World War. It was another war." He seemed tense.

I tried again. "What war was it?"

He said, "It was in Finland. The same time as World War I, but it was not that war."

"You were a soldier?"

"I was in the artillery."

"Who were you fighting?"

"The Russians."

"Did you kill anyone?"

"I don't know."


"We didn't see where the shells landed."

This is where my recollection of the incident ends. I know that at some point I was back in our house, and my mother was telling me that I shouldn't ask my father about the war because it upset him.

My father would have been 18 when the Finnish Civil War began. He likely fought in it on the White side. His younger brother, Elmer, would have been about 15. I have a picture of Elmer in a military uniform, wearing a white armband. He might have been in the war as well--or maybe not. I may have been told by my mother that Elmer had to be cared for by his mother because after the war "his mind was not right."

When I began looking into the Finnish Civil War, I discovered that an artillery school had been organized in Jacobstad early in the war, just a few kilometres from my father's home. Pictures of the school are available online, with men milling about, in the snow. Whenever I look at it, I try to see if one of them looks like my father. But I can't see him.

And, of course, my father is no longer around to ask.

I wrote this book, in part, because of that conversation with my father. Because he didn't want to talk about the war--understandably. But it was part of his experience, and it was important in his life, and that made it important to me.