Braiding Sweetgrass

“Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.” 
― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

I just finished reading the beautiful book, Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall-Kimmerer and feel the need to articulate how it affected me. There are many good reviews out there so I’m not going to attempt more of the same. I simply need to say that it left me with a sense of hope for the possibility of a collective shift in the way we think – away from our current economic models with their doctrine of scarcity and desire for more, toward gratitude for the plenty we already have.

A further joy in the book was the thoughtful look at how immigrants (generations old or more recent) might learn to know and value the ecology of plants that are native to this land. I was a prairie kid transplanted to the coastal rainforest of British Columbia, and while that happened many years ago, for a long time I felt displaced. I think part of this came from not having elders who knew the land; many of the plants, insects, and animals were unfamiliar strangers, “things” kept at a distance, and my later efforts to get acquainted haven’t always been sustained.

Wall-Kimmerer proposes that for those of us who came like plantain (aka White Man’s Footprint) to this continent, and rooted ourselves here, the path to respect for our shared home is to come to know it as intimately as the indigenous people who revered the land as a place that belonged to itself. The wisdom of cultivating this inclusion for all resonates with deep truth.    

This book is a profound invitation to consciously connect with our earth—and I am delighted to accept.  ~ K.L. Denman

https://milkweed.org/book/braiding-sweetgrass

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Creating and “The News”

What if the news simply stopped? Was done. Finished.

I’m talking about the news reported by professional journalists, the sort of news that’s produced by organizations that exist for that purpose, the sort that is sometimes scorned as fake. News outlets around the world are shrinking and that has me worried. Because love it or loathe it, we need it, and our youth need us to protect their future freedom to be informed. I wonder whether they know that, whether we’ve taught them that journalists are arguably the gatekeepers of democracy and the informers of social change?

I recently began a Google search with “is journalism…” Through its predictive algorithm,  it was auto-completed with the word “dying.” As disturbing as that is, it wasn’t my question—although it is at the root of what I wanted to know: Is journalism still taught in secondary school? That seems to depend upon where you live but, in many places, the answer is no. I also went looking for high schools that still publish school newspapers and they’re disappearing too. I did discover this blog post  https://www.taje.org/1893/articles/importantjournalismclass/ by Texas high school journalism teacher, Leland Mallett, who makes an eloquent case for including this subject in schools. The goal of scholastic journalism is not to create journalists, but rather it is to develop capable employees and engaged citizens…. I know they (students) will be more informed, more empathetic, well-rounded, strong communicators and more engaged as a result of their time in this elective course.

There are several reasons for these recent searches, but at heart, it’s my concern about the future of journalism. As a writer of contemporary young adult fiction, I feel a responsibility to be informed so that the fictional world I create reflects reality. Fiction writers of all genres have always drawn from the troubling societal issues of their time for the genesis of their stories, and the range of problems tackled by novelists is impressive. There are stories for youth about pregnancy, addiction, abuse, illness, gang violence, grief, cyber-bullying, discrimination, homelessness… In short, virtually every difficult experience young people may encounter has been tackled by writers of fiction. And yet most of those authors don’t have first-hand experience of the situations faced by their characters. Rather, authors are touched by current reports and are compelled to write about them, to immerse a character—and hopefully the reader—in a struggle that necessitates understanding. Even fantasy works draw from past or current forces shaping this world to create one that strikes a chord of recognition in readers.

While writers of fiction depend on reports of fact, therein lies another problem for all of us; how to distinguish fact from spin? Today’s media landscape is a shifting, slippery creature with Hydra heads of misinformation sprouting daily. Many teachers and parents of youth guide them on ways to be media savvy, but despite available information to help us avoid online predators, there are still victims. Since most youth find their news online, how well are we teaching kids to navigate that realm, not only for personal safety, but also accuracy? Scott Simon, writing for National Public Radio, posted: When a tornado strikes or a bomb goes off, we look for social media messages as soon as they flash, too. Facebook posts and Tweets have become the means by which politicians, celebrities, citizens — and reporters, for that matter — can confirm, deny, pass on stories and register opinion …That’s just how we talk to each other in these times.

But truly good journalism is a craft, not just a blog post. It requires not only seeing something close-up, but also reporting it with perspective. It uses an eye for detail to help illuminate a larger view. And even journalism that conveys an opinion strives to be fair. If school newspapers begin to disappear, I hope there are other ways for students to learn that. https://www.npr.org/2013/06/01/187534165/are-high-school-newspapers-an-endangered-species

I suspect some young people are savvier than many adults in vetting their sources, but if those trusted sources aren’t supported, will they cease to exist? Will we see our press go with whimper instead of a bang? So far, it looks like journalism will continue to diminish rather than die, as media outlets shrink to adjust to consumer habits. Will they be able to afford the staff to spend months on in-depth investigative reports? I don’t know. Should we look at supporting more publicly funded media? Maybe, provided there is a way to ensure that source will remain independent of whoever currently holds power. I don’t have the answers to these larger questions, but I need to ask them. As a citizen, I look to journalists for answers and hope the profession will be given the respect and protection it deserves. As a fiction writer, I channelled my concerns into a novel about an aspiring teen journalist wrestling with the spread of lies, how the news affects us, and the ethics of journalism. Faster Than Truth tells the story of a passionate kid who makes mistakes, but in writing his story, I was able to clarify many of my own perceptions about “news”. I hope everyone will take this same long look at our collective need to cherish the freedom of the press. Because in the end, it’s also our freedom that’s at stake.

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Faster Than Truth ~ notes

For a time, I contemplated a career as a news reporter, even though my popular contribution to our middle-school newspaper was a monthly series entitled “The Purple People Eaters.” Clearly neither journalistic reporting nor even an original title. (You can check out the inspirational old song for that effort here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9H_cI_WCnE  )

That fun mini-series eventually caused a surprising amount of pressure since after about three episodes, I was running out of ideas for my alien characters and classmates frequently asked what was going to happen next. I didn’t know but felt compelled to keep going—and kept wondering if reporting straight-up news was an easier avenue for my writing aspirations. Time and experience have shown that neither is easy.

I stuck with fiction, maybe because I get to do what journalists don’t—write a fitting ending. The world can be a messy place with troublesome loose ends and generations can pass before some chronicles conclude. Often, the best journalists can do is give us an account of “what happened”. At other times, they may be able to produce deeper reports that link past influences with present forces and provide us with context to gain broader understanding. And while I recognize that reports of current events (like all recorded history) are to varying degrees filtered accounts, I continue to hold good journalism in high regard. Because despite the very human imperfections of journalists, we need them. We need people with the fire and will and integrity to get out there, ask questions, and report the facts they find to us.

Which is why it’s deeply troubling to see the prevalence of misinformation and blatant attempts by some in powerful places to control the narrative of journalists or denigrate their work with accusations of “Fake News”. Even more horrifying are the increasing incidences of journalists being imprisoned or even murdered for doing their jobs. Time Magazine honored them beautifully by naming “Person of the Year” for 2018 “The Guardians of the Truth”. http://time.com/person-of-the-year-2018-the-guardians/

Long before that article appeared, I knew I needed to look at some aspects of this disturbing trend and Faster Than Truth is the fictional result of my exploration. The story’s teen narrator, Declan, is an aspiring journalist struggling to discover what it means for him to become a contemporary newsperson. I believe he’s in the company of real people who’ve gone before and continue now to strive to inform us. His story will be published May 15, 2019 https://www.crwth.ca/faster-than-truth/

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Faster Than Truth ~ New Book!

To celebrate the upcoming publication of my newest book, Faster Than Truth, the publisher, Crwth Press, is holding a contest for teens who would like to “Think Like a Journalist”. The contest runs from now until May 2, 2019. All the details for entry and prizes can be found here:
https://www.crwth.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/FasterThanTruthMediaPackage.pdf

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Read Local Event

I hope you can join me and other local authors at the White Rock Public Library on April 7, 2019.

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Writing

Bonavista, Newfoundland

Last June, I was lucky enough to travel from the West coast of Canada to the East coast, to the stunningly beautiful province of Newfoundland. I was even luckier to see this spectacular iceberg off the coast of Bonavista. In this shot, it looks like two bergs, but it actually had three peaks and naturally, the bulk of this amazing travelling island of ice was beneath the surface.

Maybe the chilly weather covering much of the continent at present reminded me of this icy image, or maybe it’s simply the need to update my blog from time to time, something I’m inconsistent with because like a berg, I prefer to be deeply immersed in my current work in progress. Work that I hope will be much like this iceberg, shining on the surface while it conveys hidden depths. It’s early days for this new novel, and I’m loving my job. Here’s to the cold making sitting at the keys a cosy, happy enterprise.

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Questions about writing or illustrating books for children and youth?

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Companions on the Journey

I am blessed to share the journey of growing my writing craft with two wise and dear women. One of them has expressed this most exquisitely here: https://www.shelleyhrdlitschka.ca/blog/

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Book Reading ~ Arts4All Festival

The city of Surrey, BC, is hosting a wonderful arts festival on September 28, 29 and 30th. There will be music, dance, arts and literary readings by some talented authors. Many events are free, including the one I’m participating in. I will be reading from my latest book, Quiz Queens at 2 pm on September 29th at 2 pm.

http://arts4allfestival.com/ocean-park-library/

You can check out the full calendar of Arts4All events here: http://arts4allfestival.com/events/

Hope to see you there!

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“Best Books” and a New Year

 It was a pleasure to see my latest book, Quiz Queens, included in the Canadian Children’s Book Centre list of Best Books for 2017 – a lovely recognition to end the year.

There has been a lull in my writing of late, but two new stories are clamouring to be written and I can’t wait to get back to work. Wishing all a new year abundant in the joy of creating!

~ K. L. Denman

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