The Perfect Parent

by Mary W. Walters

Polly Prewitt was a perfect parent, or as close to one as any human being can reasonably expect to get considering the materials parents have to work with. She’d suspected this for many years, although she was careful not to speak of it to anyone, including her husband, for she was also sensitive to other people’s feelings. But it gave her a certain satisfaction to know that her children would be far-better-adjusted adults for having been raised by as conscientious a parent as she.

When friends discussed their children’s bed-wetting problems, she gave little clicks of sympathy and quietly savoured the fact that her boys had both been trained before their second birthdays, and without a single tear or relapse. When other people mentioned the abysmal eating habits of their offspring, Polly gently let it be known that her boys ate what she gave them or did not eat at all. She made no fuss about it with them, she said, and they ate: spinach, tofu, the whole works.

Polly nurtured her pride by reading covers of magazines in stores. “Are you passing on gender stereotypes to your children?” Nope, she mentally responded. Her husband William did the dishes every other night and made dinner for them all on Sundays.  Polly had taken a course in automotive mechanics specifically so the boys would never get the idea that Mothers Cooked and Fathers Fixed Cars. And she had not said a single word against it when Ricky demanded a doll last summer. She wrote it down on her list and bought it for him at Christmas; that way he learned he did not get everything he wanted at the moment he asked for it. It was a cuddly doll, a male baby doll, anatomically correct. The fact that by Christmastime Ricky was in kindergarten and refused to play with it – the other little boys had told him that dolls were for girls – was beside the point.

Jamie had learned that One Takes Responsibility for One’s Actions when he kicked the front wheel of his bicycle off centre in a fit of temper and could not ride it until he’d saved enough from his allowance to pay for the repair.

Her boys were in good shape, she thought cheerfully. And so was she.

And then one day she was standing in the checkout line at Safeway, frowning to herself at the boxes of sugar-coated cereal in the cart of the woman ahead of her, when a brightly coloured magazine caught her eye. She looked up. There, in bold red letters on the cover, was a question that stopped her cold.

“Has your child learned to deal with loss?” it said.

Loss? Loss? She’d never even thought of that, and here was Jamie almost nine and Ricky already past his sixth birthday. She snatched a copy of the magazine and tossed it, front cover down, into her cart.

She read the article covertly before the boys came home from school. She read it twice. The writer urged her to allow her children grief in little ways, so they would be better able later to handle major loss. A pet, the author said, is a perfect medium for teaching such a lesson.

“Do not ever attempt to replace a pet until the grief has been worked through,” the article advised. It went on to point out the identifiable stages of grief: denial, anger, finally acceptance.

Polly’s boys had missed all that, and she would certainly need to set the matter right. What if something terrible happened to her or William or, God forbid, to any of their school friends, and she had not prepared them for it?

All right. A pet, she thought, as she watched Ricky and Jamie brush their teeth that night, before she read them their story. Jamie preferred to read to himself, but she insisted. She knew that reading aloud fostered closeness between parent and child.

A dog would be too much trouble, she decided, and by the time it was ready to teach its lesson in grief, the boys would probably be living elsewhere, attending university or sweeping streets. (Whatever life course they chose was fine with her.) A dog, or a cat, would simply take too long.

Polly couldn’t stand rodents, so mice were out, and birds could live for years.

“Fish!” she said, firmly closing the book in the middle of a chapter.

“What?” said Ricky.

“Nothing” said Polly, opening the book again.

Next day, when their father had taken them to swimming lessons, she went to Sears and bought a big glass fishbowl and a guppy that looked suspiciously pregnant. She bought fish food and received instructions in the care and feeding of fish. She did not admit to the salesclerk that her intention was for the fish to die. In fact, she knew she wouldn’t be able to help sustaining its little life for as long as possible. Polly was an honourable woman.

The boys were delighted with her offering. The bowl was given a position of prominence on the coffee table in the living room. Ricky and Jamie watched the little brown being swim around for hours on end. Ricky asked at one point if he could take it out and play with it, but Jamie told him that fishes can’t live outside the water. Ricky didn’t want the fish to die, did he? Ricky solemnly said, “No.”

Polly looked on, approving.

She did not tell William of her plan because he’d only ask her at breakfast how her “ghoulish death experiment” was coming along, or words to that effect. He was capable of ruining everything when he didn’t understand her motives, and she had suspicions he would not understand them this time. There are things a parent has to do alone.

Polly changed the water regularly and fed her little charge, and it thrived. After a week or so, the boys lost interest in it, and so she gave it a name to foster their feelings of warmth and attachment toward it. “Jean,” she called it, a suitably androgynous name. The guppy had not yet produced any little guppies (which would have been a bonus: two lessons for the price of one), and William said all fish were rounder in the middle than they were towards the ends. She let the boys feed it, but even that bored them rather quickly, and they told her that since she’d bought it, she could feed it. Responsibility for one’s actions coming back at her.

______

Polly had almost decided that Jean would become a permanent part of the household, and a permanent addition to her daily routine, when she went downstairs and found him/her belly up.

Polly sighed and, her expression appropriately mournful, went up to tell the boys.

“I have some bad news for you,’’ she said when she went into their room. “Our little Jean is dead.” (“Tell them the truth!” the article admonished. “Do not tell them the creature has gone to sleep or gone to heaven. Be honest!”)

“No kidding,” said Ricky, and he began to hum the Oscar Mayer song as he pulled his pyjamas off.

“Can I see it?” Jamie asked.

That was better. “Let them see the body of the pet,” the article went on. “Let them confront their grief, hug the pet and cry.” Hugging was out, but the principle remained.

“Of course. You both can.”

She led them down to the living room and stood back to observe their reactions.

“Hm,” said Jamie. “What’ll we do with it?”

“We can bury it out in the garden, if you like. Together. The three of us.”

“Great!” Ricky said, and he ran off, half-clad, to get his shovel from the sandbox.

“Naw. I’ll be late for school and I promised I’d bring the soccer ball. Let’s just flush it.”

So Ricky and Polly buried the little bit of fish, and Jamie left for school. (Denial, Polly thought. He’s not confronting this issue. It takes time to come to terms with loss.) Ricky seemed more interested in a worm his shovel had unearthed than in the farewell to Jean, but Polly was satisfied. At least he had been present.

She waited for the boys’ reactions, but they never once mentioned the death of the fish. At last she took the fishbowl, clean and polished and very empty-looking, and she put it on the kitchen table to emphasize their loss. It was cruel, but it had to be done.

“Can I have it for an ant house?” Jamie asked.

“No! I want to collect bugs to keep in it,” Ricky said. “How come he always gets everything?”

Ants. Polly turned the possibility over in her mind. At least Jamie would have a commitment to his ants. He’d wanted them, and the loss would be greater for his having been the instigator. Ants it would be.

“Well, Ricky,” she said. “Jamie spoke first this time, and I’ve told you often enough before that life’s not necessarily fair.” She looked at Jamie. “Go ahead and start your ant colony, but I’m going to carry this out on the sun deck. I won’t have them in the house.”

It took less than a week for all the ants to escape, and they did not seem to have set up any domestic arrangements in the bowl at all during their brief stay. Polly found Jamie on the sun deck after school one day, staring glumly at the pile of dirt he had poured from the fishbowl onto the indoor/outdoor carpet. She did not mention the mess. He had enough to deal with, poor little tyke, having to confront all of this so early on in life. But it was good, she thought, as she saw a tear roll down his cheek.

She went out and sat beside him. “Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.

“I feel sick,” he said.

“That’s the sadness, dear. Nothing lasts forever, you know. All things must go away or die at some time or another.”

“No, Mom. That’s not it. My stomach hurts,” Jamie said, and then he threw up on the lifeless anthill.

It turned out to be chicken pox, and he was home for a week.

_______

“Now, bugs!” Ricky clapped his hands when he saw the fishbowl sitting clean and once again empty on the kitchen table.

“All right. But this is your last chance.”

“Last chance for what?” asked William, looking up from a forkful of shepherd’s pie.

“Oh, nothing. I’m just tired of pets, that’s all.”

Ricky collected a ladybug and two little green things and a fly before he, too, was stricken with chicken pox. He’d covered the top of the jar with a piece of plastic wrap with holes poked in it and thrown in a leaf or two for food. He’d given each bug a name and spent a long time watching his captives in the bowl. He’d left them on the sun deck when he began to feel unwell.

One morning, spotted but recovering, he recalled his menagerie and went downstairs to find them dead.

“Humph,” he said and went back to bed, leaving Polly to rinse the bowl once more.

In the afternoon, she found a piece of paper on which Ricky had written his name backward. Reversed writing was, she knew, a sign of deeper problems. Ricky was reacting. She leaned the paper against the empty fish/ant/bug bowl.

“Tell me why you did this” she asked him gently when he came down to supper.

“Did what?”

“Wrote your name backwards. Did you notice you had done it?” Ricky shrugged. “Jamie bet me a nickel that I couldn’t.”

“That’s it! I’ve had it!!” Polly, the almost-perfect parent shouted. She ran downstairs and wrote a caustic note to the perpetrator of the nonsense in the magazine.

“Loss” she noted in conclusion, “is not a big problem for well-adjusted kids. If everything else is going smoothly, they do not react to it at all.”

She felt better then, almost restored, and she went back to the dinner table.

“You’ve been awfully tense lately,” William said as she carried her plate to the sink and submerged it in the soapy water.

“I just got a little carried away with something,” she said. “It was no big deal. As I’d suspected, everything around here is just fine. And I,” she said, lifting the empty glass bowl into the air, “am turning this into a terrarium.”

“What’s a… ” Jamie said, as the bowl slipped from her hands and smashed to smithereens on the kitchen floor.

There was a stunned silence as the four of them studied the remains of the bowl.

Then, tumult.

“What d’ja do that for?” Jamie shouted. “I wanted that bowl to keep my rock collection in.”

Ricky started to cry. “I wanted to get a turtle.”

Polly stared at them in astonishment. “Keep your voices down, you crazy kids,” she said. “It’s just a bowl. I can get another one tomorrow.”

She stopped and watched their shuddering shoulders and listened to their sobs.

Then she said quietly, “No, I guess I can’t,” and went to get the broom.

(c) Mary W. Walters. Originally published in Chatelaine magazine. Also published in Cool, a collection of short stories by Mary W. Walters, River Books (2000).

A Settler Reads the Report of the National Inquiry into MMIWG (2)

Note to Readers: I am a fifth-generation white European settler. My predecessors included many clergy and others who certainly must have contributed extensively to the colonization of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. The least I can do is to read this report with an utterly open mind and to learn from it, and to share what I am learning with my children and my grandchildren and you. This series of posts will highlight some passages that stood out as I was reading each chapter, as well as noting things I have learned and what I have thought about while I was reading. I am in no rush and it will probably take me months to complete this challenge. Your comments are welcome, although they will be filtered to ensure there is no racist or inflammatory language, but only thoughtful discussion. If you don’t like my publication standards re: your comments, please complain to someone besides me.

Introduction to the Final Report: Understanding Violence against Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA1 People (Part 1)

While the “Introduction to the Final Report” is included in the Preface, it is a very important (and lengthy) section on its own – which is why I am devoting two full posts to it, separately from the one I have written about the Preface.

The Introduction opens by explaining that 2,380 people participated in the National Inquiry, in many different ways: some in public hearings, some privately, some with spoken or written statements, some by creating works of art, and in many other ways.

Then it says,”The truths shared in these National Inquiry hearings tell the story – or more accurately thousands of stories – of acts of genocide against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. The violence the National Inquiry heard amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis, which especially targets women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools and breaches of human and Indigenous rights, leading to the current increased rates of violence, death and suicide in Indigenous populations” (p. 50).

The Introduction then goes on to define the word “genocide,” which it explains has been in use since 1933 and originally dealt with the actions of the Germans “within the context of the buildup to the the Second World War. [….] ‘Genocide,’ in its original construction, is defined as coordinated actions aimed at the destruction of a group, committed against individual members belonging to that group” (p. 50).

There follows an exploration of the two phases of ‘genocide’ as defined by Raphael Lemkin (“destruction of the national pattern of the group” and “imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor”) and the eight fields across which Lemkin wrote that genocide could occur (political, cultural, economic, etc), and what he stated as its objectives (p. 50).

The Introduction recounts the subsequent history of the use of the word genocide – when and why it was incorporated into international law and how, with Lemkin’s approval, the definition was modified by lawmakers before it was written into statute. It sets out the relevant articles of the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, a document which Canada signed in 1948 and ratified in 1952.

The Introduction to the Final Report explores ongoing international debates over the question of “intent” as it relates to genocide, the nature of groups that can be said to be the targets of genocide, and what qualifies as actual evidence of acts of genocide having been committed. Part of this ongoing discussion is occurring because the original definitions were set out more than half a century ago, the Report says, adding that “Today fields other than the law also examine genocide in different terms.” (p. 51)

The Introduction quotes informed writers in the field – including Daniel Feierstein, Director of the Centre of Genocide Studies at the National University of Tres de Febrero in Argentina, Canadian writer and filmmaker Larry Krotz, and genocide scholar Andrew Woolford – on the historic application of the word “genocide” and the difficulties involved in applying the term, given the extremity of the circumstances to which it has been previously applied. It also sets out in general the reasons why the Report has invoked this word to describe the acts that have historically been – and continue to be – visited upon Canada’s Indigenous people.

In addition to the background information included in the Introduction — and the evidence contained in the report itself – the National Inquiry is preparing “a supplementary report on the Canadian genocide of Indigenous Peoples according to the legal definition of ‘genocide’,” which will be available on the Inquiry’s website (p. 54).

No Time to Start Arguing

Despite two words that might have been taken as instructive – “Listening Deeply” – that are included in a subhead near the beginning of the Introduction, many readers, including a few writers of editorials and opinion pieces who happen to be white settlers (yet again giving us a bad name), seem to have stopped “listening” (reading) at this point in order to argue about the document’s use of the word “genocide.”

As an editor, I cannot count the number of times I have told authors of books and articles that the only way to write an effective introduction is to write it after they have written the rest of their books or articles. I am fairly certain that this must have been the approach that was taken by the authors of the Final Report. Since these individuals have lived experience as members of Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, and have “listened deeply” at the hearings and done a monumental amount of related research before writing this report and its Introduction, I will give them credit for having far more knowledge on the subject than I have at this point in my reading – or will likely ever have. I will therefore hold off on delivering my opinion on their use of the word “genocide” at least until I have read the whole Report. In the meantime, however, the definitions of “genocide” that they provide certainly seem appropriate to the treatment these people have received.

I encourage you to read at least this section of the Report.

The Statistics Are Stunning

I also encourage you to read the statistics contained on pages 54 to 57 of the Introduction to the Final Report. They are beyond comprehension, and they underscore the importance of the work done by this Inquiry and of the Report itself. Here are just a few:

  • An RCMP report confirmed 1,181 cases of police-recorded incidents of Aboriginal female homicides and unresolved missing Aboriginal females between 1980 and 2012 (p. 54).
  • The same RCMP report found that “Indigenous women made up roughly 16% of all female homicides between 1980 and 2012, despite making up only 4% of the female population.” Today, estimates place the percentage of female homicides who are Indigenous at 25% (p. 55)
  • Indigenous women are 16 times more likely to be murdered or missing than Caucasian women (p. 55)
  • Indigenous women are sexually assaulted three times more often than non-Indigenous women (p. 55)
  • One Ontario study of gender-diverse and Two Spirit Indigenous people found that 73% had experienced some form of violence due to transphobia (p. 56)

Framework for the Inquiry

One section of the Introduction to the Final Report addresses framework areas that the National Inquiry considered before undertaking its work.

Its mandate was very broad: “(1) to report on all forms of violence against (2) Indigenous women and girls” (p. 58), and it is clear that a great deal of effort went in to the important work of interpreting that mandate. The words “all forms of violence,” for example, gave the Inquiry an almost overwhelming purview and taxed it with a monumental amount of work, especially given its time limits, but it also offered necessary and desirable latitude in terms of how it was able to proceed.

Specific terms that formed part of the mandate also needed to be defined, such as “Indigenous,” which the Inquiry interpreted as including First Nations, Inuit and Métis. Further, the Commission felt it was essential to include Two Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual (2SLGBTQQIA) people in their inquiry for reasons that are both inclusive and historically relevant.

One section of the Introduction is devoted to exploring the “powers and limitations of the National Inquiry,” explaining that the mandate of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was unusual in that it came not only from the Federal government but from each province and territory as well — and that the rules and regulations for the work varied by jurisdiction, adding to the complexity of the undertaking.

As far as limitations, the authors explain that the National Inquiry has no ability to do anything but make recommendations, although it hopes that its conclusions will speak loudly enough to create the kind of pressure that effects legislative change, and that it is unable to deal with individual cases.

The Process

In carrying out its work of “truth-gathering” (what a lovely way to say it), the National Inquiry “sought to be families-first (putting the family members of lost loved ones and survivors of violence ahead of others who usually hold the power, including politicians, governments and the media), trauma-informed (supporting healing in a way that does no further harm) and decolonizing (centring Indigenous ways of being, knowing and doing),” based on the guiding principle that “our women and girls are sacred.” (p. 60)

There were four parts to the truth-gathering process. Part 1 was to listen to the lived experiences of family members and survivors, and the report explains that there were various means of collecting and witnessing these stories. Parts 2 and 3 involved “Institutional Hearings” and “Expert and Knowledge-Keeper Hearings.” Part 4 was made up of “Parties with Standing,” such as non-governmental groups and Indigenous women’s organizations that had “substantial or direct interest in the subject” (p. 61). This section of the introduction explains how prospective presenters were contacted, and how the stories were gathered. It also explains such procedural issues as who were qualified to speak as Experts and Knowledge-Keepers and who was permitted to ask questions of the Institutional and Expert witnesses.

(To be continued….)

1 Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual

A Settler Reads the Report of the National Inquiry into MMIWG (1)

Note to Readers: I am a fifth-generation white European settler. My predecessors included many clergy and others who certainly must have contributed extensively to the colonization of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. The least I can do is to read this report with an utterly open mind and to learn from it, and to share what I am learning with my children and my grandchildren and you. This series of posts will highlight some passages that stood out as I was reading each chapter, as well as noting things I have learned and what I have thought about while I was reading. I am in no rush and it will probably take me months to complete this challenge. Your comments are welcome, although they will be filtered to ensure there is no racist or inflammatory language, but only thoughtful discussion. If you don’t like my publication standards re: your comments, please complain to someone besides me.

The Preface

The Preface of The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls includes forewords from the Commissioners of the Inquiry, messages from the Directors, reflections from members of the National Family Advisory Circle and from the National Inquiry Elders and Grandmothers Circle. The Introduction to the Report, “Understanding Violence Against Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA1 people,” is also included in the Preface, but I will discuss it separately.

This post includes a few of the statements and comments from the Preface that I found meaningful, and my explanations for why they stood out to me.

Jeremiah Bosse, who is the widower of Daleen Bosse, was one of the members of the National Family Advisory Circle (NFAC) – an advisory group to the National Inquiry that was made up of families and survivors.

Bosse said, “At first my thoughts about a National Inquiry were, ‘Will this actually work or help?’ Doubt wandered around my brain, knowing how many First Nations issues have been swept under the rug.

“I now hope this National Inquiry touches the hearts of the people of Canada, helping non-Indigenous people understand the need for reconciliation. 

“Today I feel hopeful for the first time that as victims of violence our words will be heard. The words of our lost ones are spoken! We will be there to represent them; they may be lost but they are not forgotten.” (p. 18)

Bosse’s words made me glad that I had made the decision to read the Report, but it also made me concerned and sad because I am sure that most people will not have the time or opportunity or willingness to read it. Comments by many other individuals from the NFAC elicited the same response in me.

Statements like Bosse’s made me decide that, rather than just reading the Report, I would write down my responses to what I had read — thereby, I hoped, attracting the interest of others in the words so carefully put down in the Report.

As well as raising many, many issues, the Preface reinforced my awareness of the common concerns that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada share at this time in history regarding the future of our land. I considered that we can learn ways of doing from the people who were here first, and was reminded that in Indigenous cultures, very often it is the women in whom this knowledge has been invested.

Rebecca Moore said, “As an l’nu woman, I have been taught by my Elders that it is our inherent duty, as l’nu women, to take care of the water and protect the land for the future seven generations. I feel this is imperative for Canadians to understand. I take my inherent duty very seriously, which requires much of my time, effort, care and attention.” (30)

“Our Women and Girls Are Sacred”

In the Preface, the authors of the Report talked about how the structure of the Inquiry had evolved. They discussed the need they had felt to incorporate ceremony and spirituality in their work.

The Elders and Grandmothers Circle was an important advisory council to the commissioners and in a sweatlodge early in the process, they and the commissioners discussed “How the national Inquiry will proceed. For the Grandmothers (and Elders), for the Commissioners. What will our work be?” (Pénélope Guay, p. 33)

They realized that an important component would be the need to have “something that showed our Indigeneity and that blanket idea came out of that. Those blankets that are hung up around the rooms [at the hearings]. Those blankets that identify people, identify their Nations, their names, their land masses, the things that they use for their cultures…. That helped to shape us and to make sure that we never forget about ceremony, to incorporate ceremony into everything that we do.” – Elder Laureen “Blu” Waters, p. 34.

The Report states, “One of the most unique ways that the Grandmothers have guided the National Inquiry is by helping us understand what ‘sacred’ looks like in everyday life and in the context of this work. What does ‘sacred mean? and if women and girls are sacred, how does that affect what we do? From the Grandmothers, we can see that the idea of women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people being ‘sacred’ is as multi-faceted as people themselves” (p. 39)

With the guidance of the Grandmothers, the National Inquiry “did its best to incorporate the local traditions and cultures into its hearings whenever possible. [….] This includes the way the rooms were arranged and the opportunity for families to access both Indigenous and Western healing supports.” (p. 38)

“As Pénélope points out, making spirituality so visible in the National Inquiry is one of the things that makes it unique: “That’s still important. It’s an inquiry, there are Commissioners. Witnesses, lawyers. Putting spirituality at the centre of this National Inquiry allows us to work in a calmer atmosphere, rooted in cultural values that are thousands of years old’.” (p. 38)

Learning from One Another

It had not occurred to me that for participants, contributing to the Inquiry would not only help to inform institutions and non-Indigenous people of the many factors that have led to the murder and disappearance of Indigenous women and girls, but would also allow Indigenous people from different regions to learn about one another’s experiences. As time went on (it seemed to me), this outcome took on increasing importance as shared experiences among Indigenous groups built their sense of community and confidence in what they were doing.

Elder Louise Haulli, from Iglooluk Nunavet, “emphasiz[ed] how much she has learned from hearing the stories of so many other Indigenous women in Canada, and how important it is not to feel that we know it all, but to really pause, listen to the families and survivors, and learn from what they have to share.” (p. 36)

The Need to Pay Attention with Hearts as Well as Heads

Not everything I read produced an immediately positive response in me. Some statements made me react defensively. For example, when I read that Lisa Semmler, a member of the National Family Advisory Circle, had said, “I hope that all people in Canada will sit down and read everything that has been done to Indigenous people before they just say it’s our own fault. Without a shift in that thinking, nothing Is going to change” (p. 26), a voice inside my head protested, “I never said it was your fault. I have never believed that you have brought all this horror on yourselves.” But then I reminded myself that part of my purpose in reading this report is to learn how we white people are seen by Indigenous Canadians, and how Indigenous people perceive that we view others.

In relation to that reminder, here are other statements from the Preface that I highlighted so that later I would be able to reread them:

  • “Assimilation is still how the dominant culture approaches Indigenous Peoples. Somehow, we need to become them to be okay. We need to have their values. We need to have their world views. If we don’t, then there’s something psychologically wrong, deficient in us.” (Grandmother Leslie Spillett, p. 41)
  • “Ultimately it comes down to listening to Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIIA people. We have to value their voices, and fight against the stereotypes and centuries of colonization that have de-valued and dismissed the many gifts they have to offer.” (p. 43)
  • “For many non-Indigenous people, it’s important to be ready to ‘unlearn’ some learned behaviours. Blu points out, ‘There’s still a lot of others out there that don’t really think that this is that important. [….} They think these things happened 300 years ago and why are we still talking about it? If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. This is every Canadian’s responsibility not to turn a blind eye’.” (p. 45)
  • “…. whether it be water, whether it be land, whether it be suicides, whether it be missing persons, whether it be housing, whether it be lack of resources. The government has to start listening.” (Blu, p. 45)
  • “… it’s not just for Aboriginal people. Canadian society’s going to learn from what we write and what we do and what we say. They may not like some of the stuff they hear. That’s part of the healing process.” (Kathy Louis, p. 52)

Here is just one of thousands of reasons why we need to pay close attention to The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls: “Between January and September 2018, [Grandmother] Bernie lost a staggering 88 friends or family members to violence in the Downtown East Side. Children are experiencing a terrible psychosis, she says ‘and everyone just kind of turns a blind eye’.” (p. 43)

I will not turn a blind eye.


1 Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual

Want Booksellers to Stock Your Books?

A To-Do list for Authors Who Want Booksellers to Consider their Self-Published (and Traditionally Published) Books

  • Invest time and money in editing and design before your book is published. Booksellers are in business to attract customers and to keep them coming back. “Books absolutely need to be professionally produced, from editing to design and binding,” says Jessica Paul at Munro’s Books in Vancouver.
  • Price your book reasonably: check out similar books to yours and set the cover price within the range of comparable titles. Deborah Hines at Audreys Books in Edmonton says many authors price their books too high.
  • Learn about the bookstore before you approach the staff about stocking your book. Make yourself familiar with its particular “personality,” and be ready to explain how your book is going to fit with it. Best of all, become a regular customer long before your book is published, and get to know the staff.
  • Some bookstores do not want to talk to self-published authors until after the author has read the store’s information guide about consignment sales. Ask if such information is available. If you do approach a bookseller in person, avoid times when they are busy with customers.
  • Do not ask your aunts and cousins to call the store to request your book before you offer it to the bookseller. It is also very bad form to have your friends and relatives pre-order books and then cancel their orders when the books arrive at the store, thereby leaving those books available for sale. Booksellers are not stupid, and they have long memories.
  • Know that your book will be taken on consignment. Expect that the bookstore will receive 40 percent of the cover price of any book it sells.
  • Don’t pester the staff with questions about how many copies of your book have sold, and don’t expect to be paid every time a copy sells. Like publishers, booksellers do accounts and cut cheques on pre-determined schedules: they will tell you what their terms are, and you need to conform to them.
  • Develop a marketing plan that will bring local buyers to the store – to find your book and to buy books by others. Try to get local media interviews and reviews. Arrange talks and readings in your area. Become a guest on podcasts. Encourage your real-life and social-media friends to buy your book from the independent bookseller rather than online. Present your marketing plan and a brief bio to the bookseller along with the book.
  • Expect that if no copies of your book have sold within a specified time period (e.g., three to six months), you will be asked to collect your stock or see it donated or recycled. Don’t whine or argue. Just act like the professional you are, and hope for a better result the next time. If you have built a positive, professional relationship, when your next book becomes a bestseller, the bookseller may be interested in stocking this same book again. If you have offended them, you may be out of luck.
  • Keep in mind that the bookseller is doing you a favour, not the other way around. Your book may be your baby while you are writing it, but you need a business-like approach to every aspect of marketing it. Placing it in bookstores is no exception to this rule.
This list is Part Two (click here for Part I) of an article originally published in a slightly different format in the Fall, 2018 issue of Write! Magazine, the newsletter of The Writers’ Union of Canada. Booksellers wishing to print and distribute copies of this article to give to authors are welcome to contact me for permission.

How to Win Over Your Local Independent Bookseller

Strategies for Writers Shared by Bookstore Owners Themselves

This article was originally published in a slightly different format in the Fall, 2018 issue of Write! Magazine, the newsletter of The Writers’ Union of Canada. Booksellers wishing to print and distribute copies of this article to give to authors are welcome to contact me for permission.

More than ten years after the popularity and viability of self-publishing took off, most post-publication options available to conventionally published authors remain almost inaccessible to those to choose to publish their own books.

Very few self-published books are reviewed in traditional media, and with the exception of an agency or two, their authors remain ineligible for grants and conventional awards. But the literary world is changing. In 2015, The Writers Union of Canada – long the bastion of authors of traditionally published books – voted to admit to membership self-published writers who have “successfully demonstrate[d] commercial intent and professionalism”. Libraries in at least two Canadian cities – Vancouver and Victoria – are taking active roles in helping local self-published authors to find their audiences.

Times are changing in the bookstore sector, too. I recently contacted five independent booksellers from Nova Scotia to British Columbia to discover their current thinking about self-published books, and I found that most have at least developed some kind of store policy to help them manage the increasingly frequent requests from self-published authors to stock their books. Their responses to such requests vary widely – from reluctant to warm-hearted – but none is outright banning all self-published books, as many were doing even a few years ago.

However, the accommodation these booksellers extend to self-published books and authors remains exactly that: accommodation. When it comes to ordering, billing, and returning books, it is much easier for them to deal with traditional distribution outlets than with individual authors: the former require less “paperwork,” and involve fewer egos. In the vast majority of cases, when booksellers stock self-published books, they are doing so out of kindness more than from any anticipation of significant profit. And yet, many of them told me, far too many self-published writers approach bookstores with expectations and attitudes that range from presumptuous to rude.

Booksellers say that most authors, whether traditionally or self-published, have very little knowledge about how independent booksellers operate. Much of what I learned will be of use not only to self-published authors, but to any writer who finds they are expected to contributed significantly to the promotion of their books – which, today, is almost all of us.

Bookselling Basics for Writers

The following basics are among those of use to would-be petitioners:

  • Booksellers love books. Some of them are also writers, but all of them are avid readers. Often they have actually read most of the books they stock, and they know many of their authors. They also know the likes and dislikes of their customers. Over time, their bookstores have developed a particular character that is unlike that of any other. Curation, care and attention are what distinguish independent booksellers from the mass-market outlets that treat books with the same level of affection they accord to refrigerators.
  • Bookstores do not have unlimited space, which means that of all the books they would like to carry, booksellers can only stock a fraction. Since it is almost as hard to make a living from selling books as it is from writing, bookstore owners also need to consider which books will actually sell – rather than merely stocking books to make the authors happy.
  • Authors whose books are considered to be of sufficient merit to be stocked by an independent bookseller are privileged to bask in the reflection of the store’s reputation. That same reputation is undermined if the authors’ books are poorly written, edited and produced.
  • Booksellers who deal with self-published authors will sell their books on a consignment basis. They will typically retain 40% of the cover price of books sold, which is the same percentage they retain with traditional publishers and distributors, and the balance will go to the author. Books that do not sell are returned to the author.
  • Booksellers are extraordinarily busy, and it is always of more value to them to use their time to talk to prospective customers than to prospective vendors – whether publishers’ representatives or individual self-published authors.
  • Booksellers are human. If you exhibit no interest in them or their bookstore until the day you stop by, plunk down a stack of books, and explain that your title is going to sell like crazy and they’d be fools not to take it, their response may be less warm than you might like.

Booksellers’ Perspectives: A Range of Responses

Some highly curated bookstores continue to refuse approaches from self-published authors almost every time. Ben McNally at Ben McNally Books in Toronto says, “We basically say ‘No’ to self-published authors, but then we usually say ‘No’ to Simon & Schuster and Random House as well. We are in the business of selling books, not displaying them.” Any exceptions McNally makes are going to be for books that fit their very particular niche.

Michelle Berry, herself an author and also the owner of Hunter Street Books in Peterborough, ON and a widely published fiction writer herself, explains that she has set up a bookshelf specifically dedicated to the display of self-published books, and she provides their authors’ contact information to customers who are interested. She has found this a viable approach since she is the store’s sole employee and her time is so limited.

Lexicon Books in Lunenburg, N.S. – where two out of the three owners are also published writers – does stock a significant number of self-published books, mostly non-fiction, some children’s literature, primarily local. They do not accept books that have been published by Amazon’s self-publishing arm, due to Amazon’s business practices.

Co-owner and author Jo Treggiari says that Lexicon Books sees itself as a community centre, and welcomes group activities on its premises, like book discussions and readings. Staff members as a group review and select self-published books carefully, typically accepting only those by authors from the area, or ones on subjects that are so specific to the region that traditional publishers would be unlikely to accept them (e.g., a book on Nova Scotia mosses, or a memoir by a local fisherman).

Similarly, Audreys Books, a large independent bookstore in Edmonton that has been championing Canadian books and authors since 1975, also describes itself as a “cultural community centre,” and has now assigned a staff person to acquire and manage its inventory of self-published books. Deborah Hines says that half a dozen self-published authors approach the store each week, and she estimates that there are between 40 and 60 self-published books on their shelves at any given time. Authors must drop their books off along with an information sheet, and give Hines and her colleagues time to examine the book and make a decision on whether or not they will stock it. Like other bookstores, they prefer to stock self-published books by local authors, or those with a particular local slant.

“Authors should have a marketing plan,” Hines says, “so that people will come in and buy the books we stock. Otherwise, no one is going to notice them.” Audreys will also host a book launch, for a modest fee to cover costs.

Munro’s Books in Victoria, arguably Canada’s best-known independent bookstore, has also developed a list of guidelines and a questionnaire for its Consignment Program. Jessica Paul, assistant manager at Munro’s, recommends that authors not approach the store in person, but that they request the guidelines, complete the form, and then wait for a decision.

“The biggest piece of advice to self-published authors,” Paul says, “is to acknowledge and then treat their book as either a ‘vanity’ project (i.e., really of interest only to friends and family, which means that we are not likely to want to stock it), or to come at it like a publisher would, with a marketing and publicity plan. They should also keep in mind that getting a book on a bookstore shelf is not a publicity plan.”

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Coming Soon: “To-Do List for Authors Who Want Booksellers to Consider Their Books”
Thanks to Doyali Islam for editing this article pre-publication in Write.

Amazon Author Pages: Build Your Presence in the USA, the UK, Germany, India, and beyond

Let’s Get Visible (IV)
How to Sell Your Book No Matter Who Published It (7)
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Figure 1

Figure 1: Sample Link to my Author Page from Book Description page

Through its Author Central program, Amazon provides a great opportunity to expand your presence by linking information about you to all editions of all your books – not only on the amazon.com site in the U.S., but also on Amazon sites in other countries. It takes a bit of time to get yourself set up on these platforms, but maintaining your presence once the pages are set up requires very little effort.

While you are at Author Central, you can check out your sales figures through Nielsen BookScan and Amazon Sales and Author ranks, and read all of your Amazon reviews in one place. All of which can be depressing experiences, but there they are. (See Figure 2, below)

Start with your Amazon.com Author Page

Start by completing the Author Page on amazon.com (Amazon’s U.S. site). Once you have done that, readers who are looking at the “About the Author” section of your book’s title information on Amazon will be invited to check out your Page and to “follow” you (see Figure 1, above).

In order to set up your Author Page on Amazon, first go to Author Central. The page is user-friendly, and setting up your Author Page is the first thing it explains to you. Follow the link, follow the instructions, and you’re done. When you’re finished, your Amazon Author page will look like this (except, of course, that it will feature you instead of me).

A few things to note:

  • Anyone with a book listed in the Amazon “catalog” can have an Amazon Author Page.
  • You can set up links to your blog site on the Author Page, and intros to your newest posts will appear there after you post them on your blog.
  • If you have any videos you want to share, you can post links to them on your Author Page as well.
  • There is a section on the Author Page where you can add speaking engagements, readings and other events. I don’t use this section because since I am not Stephen King I don’t think that it would be worth my time to post in it, in terms of who would see the notices. Posting about my upcoming appearances on Facebook is more likely to attract the attention of people who might attend – i.e., those who live in my city and might even know my name. (I also have a section for events on my website which I don’t always remember to update either.)
  • You can post a link to your Amazon Author Page on Facebook, Twitter and anywhere else you want to: Amazon provides the url in the upper right corner of your Author Page. You cannot, however, post a clickable link to your website on your Author Page: at least as far as I’ve been able to determine. (If you have done it, let me know.)
  • You can link all of your books to your Amazon author profile, including those from different publishers, as long as the books are available on Amazon. If you have changed your name or your books are out of print, you may have trouble with the links, but I have found that in the past couple of years, Amazon has become increasingly helpful when I run into any problems. They have a specific page on which you can email them with any problems relating to Author Central here.

Increasing your World-Famousness, Amazon-style

Once you have completed your amazon.com Author Page, you can fill in the same information on the Amazon Author Central site in the UK. If you are multilingual, or want to try posting your bio in English in non-English-speaking countries (I haven’t done this… at least not yet), you can set up a page on the amazon sites in Germany, France and Japan through their Author Central pages:

For other countries that have Amazon sites (including India and Spain, for example. Hey! I just found out that my Rita book has a five-star review in India! I never would have noticed this if I hadn’t written this blog post!), the information from Author Central at Amazon.com should be available to readers automatically. The one exception I have discovered to this practice is on amazon.ca, the one located in my own home country. I find amazon.ca very aggravating for many reasons, not just this one, and prefer to deal with amazon.com

Figure 2

Figure 2: Recent Amazon Sales Rankings

Although having an Author Page in German would probably be of more use to someone whose book had been translated into German than to one whose book hadn’t, it doesn’t hurt to spread your name around. If you have the time and inclination and decide to set up an English page for yourself on the Japanese Amazon site, let us know how it goes. And it’s definitely fun to check out your sales figures from time to time – and watch them climb, we hope, in relation to your various marketing efforts.

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Next time, I’ll be talking about getting yourself an author profile on GoodReads. In the meantime, I apologize to all of those who have tried to contact me in the past few weeks when I was out of town and then side-tracked: I forgot for several weeks to check the email address to which comments on this blog are sent for approval. Argh. Particular apologies to Michael Lowecki who left wonderful messages all over the place and must think me very rude. I resolve to do better in future. :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building an Author Presence on Facebook

My Facebook Author Profile page

Let’s Get Visible (III)
How to Sell Your Book No Matter Who Published It (6)
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If you are not on Facebook, you probably have a lot of good reasons not to be there, maybe relating to privacy issues or concerns about wasting valuable (writing) time. However, if you are not on Facebook, you can’t build yourself an author platform on Facebook, so you might as well just skip this post and wait until the next one comes along.

Personal Facebook Pages: Friends and Followers

If you are one of the more than 1 billion people who are on Facebook, that means that you already have a personal Facebook page or “profile.” People can ask to “friend” you on your Facebook profile and you can agree by “friending” them in return.

Most of us have the privacy settings on our personal Facebook pages set so that only our Facebook friends can see our posts. However, if you set the privacy on your personal Facebook page to “Public” under Settings, you can be “followed” as well as “friended.”

Anyone on Facebook can “follow” you if your default privacy setting is “public”: they don’t need to ask you for permission first. If you decline friend requests, the people who sent them can still follow you – unless you block them.  Your friends are also automatically also your followers. Followers can see anything you post with a security setting of “Public,” but unless they are also friends, they can’t see any individual posts that you set for broadcast only to “Friends.” (You have the option of “Friends” only or “Public” publication for every post you create, no matter what your permanent/default setting is.)

Some authors have only a personal Facebook profile. They prefer to let anyone who wants to follow them see almost everything they post, and they use “Public” as their default setting. They do this as a favour to readers who want to know everything they can about their favourite authors. They think it feels more personal. And they also do it because more people are likely to follow your personal Facebook page than they are to “like” a professional or business page.

I, on the other hand, prefer to have a professional Facebook page in addition to my personal Facebook page. On my personal page, I have set my privacy so that only people I have “friended” can see my posts. Even  though I have 500 plus friends on Facebook, and I don’t actually know quite a few of them in real life, I have vetted every single person I have agreed to friend. (A lot of them are writers, from all over the world. I love it.) I’ve made sure they are a real person, and that if they don’t know me directly in real life, they have solid friendships with one or more of my other Facebook friends. I delete them – poof, they’re gone – if it turns out that I don’t like or trust them.

Professional Facebook Pages: Where you can get “Liked”

A professional Facebook page is the platform on Facebook that is used by businesses, public figures, organizations and other entities that are not individuals… including many writers, such as me. Facebook pages offer different options than do personal pages: e.g., templates, links to websites, selling platforms, etc. Facebook business/professional pages don’t acquire “friends”; they accumulate “likes” instead. When someone likes your Facebook writer page, you will be notified, and when you post something on your writer page, it will appear in the timelines/newsfeeds of all people who liked your page. (You can also “promote” your page or one of your posts by spending money. We’ll get into that later, when we’re talking about paid advertising.)

Note: If you don’t have a personal Facebook page, you won’t be able to set up a business/professional page.

My Mary W. Walters Writer page is public. Anyone can see it, and anyone can like it. This means that I’m careful of what I say on my writer page. I don’t talk politics or religion or (usually) sex. I don’t want to lose potential readers of my books just because our political opinions don’t mesh, nor do I want to attract sock puppets.

I do talk about politics, religion and many other things on my personal Facebook page, but I don’t push my writing there: I am there to exchange thoughts with friends, tell them news from my life, vent my spleen, or make them laugh. I always hope that my personal Facebook page is interesting enough that everyone who sees it will want to read my books as well, but I don’t use it as a deliberate sales vehicle.

I do repost items from my writer page to my personal page that I consider “objective” information rather than sales pitches: such as notices about readings and talks I am giving, and announcements of blog posts such as this one. But most of what I post on Facebook in any given week (which is way too much) goes out only to my “friends” via my personal Facebook page.

For me, this arrangement is easier than trying to remember to set every post I make to “friends” or “public” visibility. Also, when people have “liked” my professional writer Facebook page, they are essentially requesting information about Mary the Writer, so I don’t feel badly when I tell them what I’m doing with my writing, or about writing-related achievements, or any accolades my books have received.

How to Set Up An Author Page on Facebook 

On the right hand side of the blue bar across the top of your personal Facebook page, you will see a little arrow pointing down. Click on it, choose “Create Page,” and then follow the instructions. You will need to choose what kind of Page to have: whether a “business or company” page (probably the best choice if you want to sell books directly from Facebook, which I don’t), a “brand or product page” (might be good if you have only one book or series to sell), an “entertainment” page (I’d guess that spoken word poets looking for gigs might want to check this out, although I haven’t), or a “public profile” page. I chose the latter. I like the sound of it. :)

Once you’ve chosen your page category, you can indicate your particular area of focus. “Writer” is one of the options on the “public profile” page, and probably also on Entertainment and Company pages.

Facebook is very user-friendly when it comes to setting up a page, so just follow the directions. If you get stuck, type in your questions under “Help,” and for further guidance check out other writers’ Facebook pages to see what they are including and posting. There is an option under the three dots below your cover photo to see how the page looks to visitors, which I find handy.

Maintaining Your Facebook Writer’s Page

Facebook will send a friendly reminder to you when you haven’t posted on your author’s page for a while, but I try to remember to post something there at least once a week. It may be an article from elsewhere about writing or about one of my favourite writers, or it may be a notice about a new blog post I’ve done or a reading I’m about to do. I have my Goodreads profile set up to repost notices automatically to my writer’s page on Facebook about books I’ve read, etc.

I think of my Facebook writer’s page the way I do about my website: it is there if anyone is looking for me, and it is important to be there in case anyone does look for me. If they do, and if they “like” my page, they deserve to hear interesting things from me from time to time: about my writing, or about writing in general. They can find links to my books and my website and other online things they might want to check out about me from that page, and I let them know when there are special discounts happening on my books on Amazon or elsewhere.

However, I don’t think of my Facebook writer page as a page where I am likely to attract new buyers for my books. People don’t like being harangued about how they should buy my books, so I don’t harangue them, and haranguing doesn’t work anyway (as I have said before. Several times). So the page is just part of the wallpaper.

You should keep in mind when you are building your Facebook author page that it’s not likely to be much of a marketing vehicle. The wallpaper should be hung straight, and look nice and tidy, but don’t bother making it flash in the dark or animate it or do anything else that is going to waste your precious time unnecessarily.

P.S. If you like MY Facebook Writer’s Page and then ask me to like YOUR Facebook writer’s page, I will, and that will help us both. You can also add your Facebook author page link to the comments section below so other readers can follow your page and you can follow theirs, and so on….

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As always I encourage readers to share their experiences and knowledge about book promotion through the comments section below. If your comment isn’t posted immediately, be patient. I review them first, to avoid spammers, and (believe it or not) I’m not always online.

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