The "Secrets" Panel

Thursday, September 17, 2015 2:55 PM | Lena Coakley

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015
by Sylvia McNicoll

Raucous laughter and animated conversation delayed the start of CANSCAIP’s first Toronto get together since last June. Finally Kevin Sylvester shouted out, “Hey, we’re trying to start a meeting here!”

At that point our president, Sharon Jennings, jumped in, welcoming everyone with a dictionary definition of society, reminding us that CANSCAIP is a society of children’s authors, illustrators and performers.

The meeting enjoyed a full house, lots of society, and several new people introduced themselves:

Saumiya Balasubramanian, who is looking for a start in the writing industry
Anita Rotenda, a teacher, who writes poetry and illustrates
Geena Grant, who is working on YA
Anitha Robinson, a children’s author with a published YA novel
Patricia Faithful, who is writing MG fiction
Linda Browne, a YA author
James Blackstone, a picture book writer
Ann Peacock (Oshawa), who is writes poetry and short stories.
Mike Vance, a writer, cartoonist, and singer-songwriter

On a sadder note, Sharon also shared details of Past President Paul Kropp’s recent death, speaking about his many years of service to CANSCAIP, his love of teaching and children, and his lifelong work to encourage the reluctant to read. Sharon told an anecdote about him butting heads with the minister of his local church. They ended up best friends and Paul ended up on the board of directors.  We will miss his deep commitment, his energy and his humour.

Flipping back to a celebratory mood, Vice President Lena Coakley talked about how most of the work of a CANSCAIP president is behind the scenes, thanking Bill Swan for his outstanding work both on the scene and behind as our Past President. Some of Bill’s most notable achievements were his creation of new CANSCAIP bylaws and his development of a strategic plan to lead CANSCAIP through the years to come.

(PAUL KROPP pictured on left)

CANSCAIP celebrates its own

Congratulations to these members who have been nominated for the 2016 Rocky Mountain Book Awards. This is the Alberta equivalent to the tree awards, where students will vote for the ultimate winner.

Beck Citra, Finding Grace; Charis Cotter, The Swallow; David Smith, If; Elizabeth Macleod, Secrets Underground: North America’s Buried Past; Kathy Kacer, The Magician of Auschwitz; Kenneth Opel, The Boundless; Margriet Ruurs, A Brush Full of Colour; Sylvia McNicoll, Revenge on the Fly


Helena Aalto, CANSCAIP’s administrative director, asked for volunteers to serve in one-hour stints at our Word on the Street booth September 27th at the Harbourfront. Email

Also, September 30 is the registration deadline for CANSCAIP’s Children’s Writing Competition. Member Lisa Dalyrimple won this competition with her first book Skink on the Brink, and Jennifer Mook-Sang of newly released Speechless, is also a past winner.

Packaging Your Imagination, our conference on writing and illustrating for children, has an amazing lineup this year! Check it out. Humber College, Saturday November 14, 2015A welcome reception the evening before will showcase our illustrators’ work to enjoy and buy.  A new item at the Saturday conference will be a One-to-One for published authors with industry experts critiquing your author website and social media skills.

Karen Krossing spoke about a BC authors’ fundraising campaign initiated by Robin Stevenson and Sarah Harvey (inspired by author Patrick Ness’s project which raised over a million pounds) called Canadian Children’s Authors Illustrators support refugees. At the time of the meeting, over $16,000 had been raised with generous donations by Kenneth Oppel, Susin Nielsen, Orca Book Publishers and many other writers and illustrators. Anyone can donate to Doctors without Borders at this link to the fundraiser.

Past President Nancy Hartry stepped up to announce her election to the Canadian Children’s Book Centre Board of Directors.  The hottest event of the year is their gala on November 18. Join the CCBC to guarantee yourself of an invite.  Only $35 for professional creators.

New Creations

Patricia Storms, illustrator of The Ghosts Go Spooking written by Chrissie Bozik, sang and played the ukulele to introduce this picture book published by Scholastic Canada. Available for $7.99 She will be presenting at the Telling Tales Festival, Sunday, September 20 hosting TD Children’s Literature Table at Word on the Street, and presenting from 5:20 to 5:40 on September 27, 2015.

Lucy Falcone, aka LM Falcone, talked about her detective mystery series in which young Max Monroe solves crimes with the help of his dead grandpa. She then introduced her third book in the series. The Ghost and Max Monroe-Case #3 The Dirty Trick, Kids Can Press, illustrated by Kim Smith.  Max helps his favourite writer in this one.  Lucy will be presenting at Word on the Street, Sunday, September 27th Harbourfront, at 3:00 p.m.

Trudee Romanek introduced her YA in the Orca Book Publishers, Limelights performing arts series. Raising the Stakes follows Chloe and her high-school improv team as they struggle to get the national level of competition in the Cross-Country Improv Games. This is Trudee Romanek’s first full-length work of fiction. Priced at $9.95 for ages 11-14, it will be available October 13, but is being launched November 8 at an improv celebration and launch in Barrie, ON. Details will be up soon on

Frieda Wishinsky introduced two new books:

Avalanche, Scholastic $6.99

In matter of seconds, Alex's world is turned upside down. What started out as an epic day to build a snow fort turns into his worse nightmare. He's caught in an avalanche! A fast-paced read for kids in grades 3 and up and the first in the "Survival" series.

Avis Dolphin, Groundwood, illustrated by Willow Dawson

$16.99. 12-year-old Avis sails on the ill-fated Lusitania at the start of World War 1. The power of friendship and stories help her survive the harrowing ordeal. Beautiful graphic art tells a "story within a story" in this historical fiction based on true events.

(PATRICIA STORMS pictured on right.)


In addition to being a published author, Anitha Robinson is also a Chartered Accountant. She will be giving a tax talk for writers on Wednesday September 30th at 6:30 at the Hamilton Public Library, Sherwood Branch at 467 Upper Ottawa Street in Hamilton. Anyone interested in attending should contact the library at 905 546-3249.

Anitha is also available to put on a tax talk for any interested group. Fees are similar to rates charged by authors of CANSCAIP to speak at events. Specifically, $250 for a 60-minute session. Participants are welcome to bring along questions and a copy of last year's income tax return.


The "Secrets" Panel: Five authors with moderator Kevin Sylvester  

Sharon Jennings introduced Kevin Sylvester, broadcaster and writer/illustrator of the Neil Flambé books, which include murder and poison right from the first pages.

Kevin said as long as he didn’t include detailed recipes he was safe from legal action.

Kevin in turn introduced five of The Secrets author/panelists: the award-winning and bestselling authors Kelley Armstrong who wrote The Unquiet Past, Vicki Grant, Small Bones, Marthe Jocelyn, A Big Dose of Lucky, Norah McClintock, My Life Before Me, and Teresa Toten, Shattered Glass. The other two writers were unavailable. Kathy Kacer, Stones of Grace, was presenting in other countries and Eric Walters, Innocent, was in a plane over Amsterdam.  The Secrets is Orca’s new series of linked YA novels set in 1964. In it an orphanage burns down and seven girls are sent out on personal journeys involving racism, homosexuality, birth control, and mental illness.

Kevin asked the panelists to tell us about their characters.

Teresa Toten described Tony, who has nightmares about fire. The backdrop of the story is Yorkville in 1964, and the book includes a drug and café scene, where the reader will discover Toronto-the-not-good. While none of the girls have family, they are all on a journey to discover who they are and what makes family.

Kelley Armstrong’s character Tess sees people who are not there and believes there is mental illness in her family. She must follow the sole clue of a phone number and address, which turns out to be an abandoned house in Quebec.

Martha Jocelyn’s Malou is the only brown-skinned girl at the orphanage, and she receives a child’s hospital bracelet that takes her to Parry Sound, Ontario.

Vicki Grant’s Dorothy, aka Dot, was a premature baby who wasn’t expected to make it through the first night. She was wrapped in a man’s grey coat with a tiny mustard spoon with a family crest.  Her clues lead her to a fictionalized cottage country where she encounters class distinction--and a boy. Her story has a World War II connection.

Norah McClintock’s character Cady was twice adopted and has no interest in her past as a result of these abandonments. She was planning to leave the orphanage anyway when the fire happened.  She does have a “burning” ambition to be a reporter, though, and, in the course of a murder investigation, she closes in on the truth of her own origins.

 First question from Kevin: Why 1964?

The short answer was to incorporate orphanages—they disappeared after 1968 when foster parenting became the norm. But the writers enjoyed getting rid of cell phones (and parents through the orphanage theme!) and also enjoyed the retro feel.

Most of the panelists would have preferred 1968 for various reasons (Kelley said at least she was alive then) but Kathy Kacer needed 1964 for her storyline involving the last DP camp. Martha explained that her character needed to be 16 in 1964 because 1948 was the first year sperm was frozen.

On doing the research

Kelley spoke about digging up photos just to describe what her character would see coming out of the subway.  Kelley’s daughter, a master’s student in library science, fact checked the story, adding various interesting details that she discovered along the way.

Vicki had already done a lot of research for a novel set in wartime Halifax. “It was inspired by my dad's story. He was just 17 when he enlisted. He became a bomber pilot, meaning he had only a 50% chance of surviving his tour of duty.  I thought, there's a great situation to throw a teenage protagonist into. Researching THAT book led me to a bunch of ladies in their late 80s and early 90s who were in Halifax during the war. Their stories about love and dating all those gorgeous young men were so fabulous, I convinced CBC-TV to let me do a documentary on them called "Dancing Was My Duty." 

“All that turned out to be great background for the Secrets series. When I heard it was going to take place in 1964, I did the math and realized there was a very good chance my character’s father would have been in the war. My dad survived his tour of duty more or less intact, but I realized long after he died that he suffered from what we’d probably call PTSD today. My older brother told me our Dad woke up screaming all his life. I put a bit of Dad in all three veterans in my book.”

Norah McClintock picked up on the war theme in her book, too. During WWII, her dad trained for two years with the 761st tank battalion before the soldiers went overseas. Cady’s clue is a newspaper clipping of a tombstone. Thomas Jefferson, the man buried beneath it, turns out to be a black former soldier accused of murdering someone.

How did you coordinate?

Teresa and Eric did much of the organizing.  The group met a number of times to discuss the common characters in the novel. They downloaded pictures from the Internet for reference.

Teresa says she always wanted to write with a group of writers, and from time to time in meetings she would pinch herself at the amount of talent around the table, “Fighting, arguing, laughing (with them) is an absolute joyous thing.”

They had a “bible” on series details that they routinely disregarded. Kelley has co-written before, but this series involved even more meetings and emails going back and forth to discuss which characters were going to be in the orphanage, because, for example, Kelley did not want her character on site. Sara’s boyfriend bullies Malou (Marthe Jocelyn’s character), and while those two stories feature identical dialogue, the thought processes described are different. One discussion changed the race of the cook at the orphanage because Martha needed no brown people to be around for her character. 

And what about the authors not present? What did they write about?

Kathy’s character Sara discovers she is Jewish through a Star of David left at the orphanage, and this leads her to a DP camp.  The love of her life ends up being a jerk, and, as with all seven books, there are painful but ultimately joyous happenings.  Sara ends up in an okay place.

In Innocent, Eric’s character’s clue leads him to Kingston where her father is in prison for murder.

(MARTHE JOCELYN pictured on left.)

Questions from the audience

Sharon was interested to know if the trend of a multi-author series will be the wave of the future, but Teresa answered that such a project required enormous amount of effort by the publisher (in their case Orca). The corroboration efforts were largely based on good will, and good faith. No sequel is currently planned.

Mabel’s Fables Bookstore offered the book for advance sale. The actual publication date for the Secrets series is September 29.

We hope all meetings are this packed!

October is Illustrators’ Night with Sidney Smith and a guest appearance by IBBY’s new Artist in Residence, John Martz. See you there!

Social media friends: Would you kindly tag your photos on Twitter with @CANSCAIP using the hashtag #Canscaipmeets 

Or post them on our Facebook page: