Saturday, July 19, 2008

Canada Calling: Anita Daher

Anita Daher is a Canadian author who writes exactly the kinds of stories she likes to read. At least, that is what she strives for.

You write for children in the 7 to 12 age group. How is constructing a thrilling adventure/mystery different for that age group than it is for adult readers?

I write for 7 to 12 year olds, and I also write for teens. The difference in writing these books, as compared to books for adult readers, is primarily in the age of the protagonist, and subject matter—themes. Just like adults, teen and juvenile readers want believable, sympathetic characters.  However, they also want an absorbing, engaging plot. They would turn up their noses at a “literary” novel, in much the same way some turn up their noses to crime fiction written for adults.

I was recently in Vancouver speaking at Simon Fraser University’s Symposium on the Book on the subject of YA crime novels next to literary novels in Canada. There is some common ground, but the difference, and it is a significant one, is in story. A YA novel can contain all the important themes, ideas, and character development that a literary novel can have, however it must also have a satisfying plot. In recent years, the importance of plot has been brushed to the side of plate in terms of adult literary novels. This is not so with YA and juvenile novels, and never will be. As Philip Pullman said in his 1996 Carnegie Medal acceptance speech, “Children have more important things on their mind than your dazzling skill with wordplay.  They want to know what happens next!”

Two Foot Punch, which came out last year, is described as being published by Orca for reluctant teen readers. There are two myths out there: one, that the Harry Potter has reengaged teen readers in reading for pleasure, and two, that it didn't. What's your take on teens and reading for pleasure?

We can’t lump all teens into the same bus, some enjoy quiet activities, such as reading, others prefer a skateboard park, some prefer both. There is no doubt that the Harry Potter series created an excitement among teen readers (and adult, and juvenile) that accelerated when readers had a chance to come together in person, or on-line, and share that excitement with each other. Others wanted to join the fun, even if they hadn’t been strong readers previously. Whether all or some of those former non-readers continued to make trips to libraries and bookstores following their heady Harry Potter experience, I don’t know. I do know that all teens love story, whether it be through gaming, big-or small screen, books, or something else entirely. All writers can do is make stories available. If we write it…they will come?  Well, they might, and that’s all we can ask. We also strive to write better stories always, and all ways. That is what it’s all about, truly.

What can other family members do to encourage teens to read?

Family members, educators, anyone in a position to set a good example for young people should do that very thing. Read! If kids see someone they respect reading, and enjoying themselves doing so, perhaps even sharing this or that worthy passage, they are more likely to develop the same sort of habits. Also...when opportunity arises comments like “Man, the book is WAY better than the movie because....” might be intriguing for them.

Your book covers and web site have photographs of bush planes, and your navigation bar on the website says, “Back to the hanger.” Would you care to talk about planes and what they bring to any northern story?Aviation is in my blood, and at the time my web site was built seemed a natural fit, especially given the themes of my first books. Once upon a time before I turned seriously to writing I worked for Canada’s air traffic services division. I married an air traffic controller. My father worked for Transport Canada’s air navigation service, and was in the air force before that, and was a private pilot. My grandfather was a navigator in the air force. And so it goes. I grew up living close to one airport or another, and the buzz of an aircraft engine powering up energizes me in some of the same ways a morning bowl of corn flakes does.
And of course bush planes opened up Canada’s north in the last century. Today aviation is still vital to communities that are fly-in only during times of the year that water passages or ice-roads aren’t viable, and there is no rail service. Besides people, they bring in food, groceries, and mail.  They also are used to conduct searches, and rescues, and fight forest fires. With so much of importance “up in the air” so to speak, they are a natural part of story.
You're the first writer-in-residence for the bookstore, Aqua Books in Winnipeg, Manitoba. How did a bookstore come to have a writer-in-residence, and what things are you doing as you write in residence?

This as a fun story, rooted in generosity.  Sometime around the middle of March 2007 I was giving a reading at the old location for Aqua Books in the Heart of Winnipeg’s Exchange District. I loved, loved, loved the stacks of books, and the antique fixtures. I told Kelly Hughes, the owner, that if he could find me a corner somewhere he should let me be his writer-in-residence. I told him that at home I was without office, and often feeling in the way, or torn in 567 pieces when trying to write. In a place like Aqua Books I would feel inspired, and with a dedicated space could be very productive. I believe I said please.  Or maybe it was “Please, please, pretty please, please, PLEASE!”
I was pretty much just joking (but with a smidge of truth and desperation), but Kelly said, “Hmm,” and that he had been looking to move his store to a new building with lots of space, and that just maybe a writer-in-residence was a good idea.
A year later, and here we are—in a fabulously renovated stand alone building still in the heart of downtown; a former Chinese food restaurant. The store is quite a bit bigger, with a bistro called EAT! at the back (Kelly’s wife Candace is an amazing chef), two dedicated literary event spaces upstairs, and three offices for writers—one of them set aside for the writer-in-residence, and two that are rented out. Kelly honoured me by asking me to be the store’s first writer-in-residence. In return for having a fabulous office to write in I…do nothing but write, and feel celebrated. As far as I can determine, this is an act of generosity, and that is it. However, during my time here I have had emerging writers approach me and ask if I will read their manuscripts and evaluate them. I have agreed to do this, with half the fee going to me, and half toward prizes and readings sponsored by the store. Aqua Books sponsors the Lansdowne Prize for Poetry/Prix Lansdowne de poésie, awarded each year at the Manitoba Book Awards.

You and I share a passion for dim-sum. What’s your favorite dish?
Anything with garlic and black-bean sauce-yum!
To learn more about Anita, visit her website at

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