The books behind Alis the Aviator

I joke that I didn’t have to do too much research for Alis the Aviator – at least not specifically for it. What I did instead was immerse myself in aviation history for seven years leading up to it.

I started that journey in 2007 when I first sat down with John Bogie, former president of Laurentian Air Services (and Air Schefferville). The days and weeks I spent with him at his Ottawa office talking while digging through photos and documents, became the foundation for my first book.

(You’ll notice the Otter in Alis the Aviator has a distinctive paint scheme…)
I knew “G” had to be for Goose, like CF-BXR in that book. But also because my grandfather, Andre “Andy” Chenail, flew a Goose back in the 1950s.
And “W” would be for Waco – not for the city in Texas, but for this bi-plane that I’d first learned about during my Laurentian research.
My second book, Polar Winds: A Century of Flying the North, had me in the Western Arctic for months – which was my plan all along! I love it so much up there. So quite a few of the aircraft featured in Alis the Aviator appeared in that book (like this York).
One of my favourite things to research for Polar Winds was the airships, blimps and Zeppelin. And guess what starts with ‘Z’ in Alis the Aviator? You got it!
The story of Professor Leonard and his aerobatic feats above the skies of Dawson City, Yukon in the early 1900s filled the first chapter of Polar Winds. What a fascinating character!

And growing up near Gatineau, Quebec, I remember the sky filled with hot air balloons for the annual festival.

Reminiscing Over First Drafts

I was cleaning up my files and came across this – the first draft of what became Alis the Aviator! Looking at these pages brought up the memory of sitting on my little backyard patio in Edmonton in June 2014. My son, Andre, was about two years old at the time. I had finally gotten him down for his afternoon nap and I brought my favourite notepad out with these blank scrap pages (I like doing rough drafts or outlines this way. It feels way less precious. These pages were literally destined for the recycling bin anyway, so who cared if I made a mess!)

I had just finished my second aviation history book and I had so many random aviation facts in my brain. Like the poetry I wrote in my teens and twenties, I had been carrying around words and lines for days in my head. So when I sat down to write, it all came pouring out. Many of the aircraft and even the words are exactly the same now as they were in this draft!
I had fun playing around with rhyming words, trying to figure out how to fill the blank spots in the alphabet. All those years spent writing poetry and song lyrics really came into the process. It came down to rhythm, rhyme and a whole lot of fun!

Featured in VoyageHouston!

Today we’d like to introduce you to Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail.

Danielle, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I just love the written word, and I have devoured books since I was little, so it makes sense that I devote my life to writing stories – my own and other people’s. I started freelance writing and editing with my middle school newspaper back in Canada and wrote angsty poetry and songs when I was a teenager. In university, I studied History and thought I’d become a professor, but the stories called me back. I published my first adult nonfiction book, For the Love of Flying, in 2009 and since then I’ve published two more: Polar Winds and In This Together (a collection of essays I edited). I’m now working on everything from kid’s books to novels and memoir, and in 2019, my first picture book – Alis the Aviator: An ABC Aviation Adventure – comes out.

To read full interview, please click here.

Alis the Aviator Available for Pre Order!

Only one month to go until my first picture book flies out into the world!

Some of you have been wondering how to get ahold of copies (thanks so much for asking!). Here are a few ways to track ’em down online and in person.

You can pre-order now for delivery or pickup, or you can wait until July 2nd – Alis’s official book birthday!

  • Indiebound (US) – do a search to find your closest independent bookstore. Then contact them to see if they have it in stock or get them to order it in!
  • Barnes & Noble (US)
  • Amazon
  • Chapters-Indigo (Canada)
  • Target is also carrying it, at least online.
  • And don’t forget your local library can always bring in a copy. You just have to request it through their website or a staff member!

And of course you can also come see me in person at launch events around North America. I’d love to say ‘hi’ and sign your book!

Finalist in Writers’ League of Texas contest!

I am thrilled to announce that one of my works in progress – HURTS – was a finalist for this year’s manuscript contest in the general nonfiction and memoir category.

I’m still pinching myself! In fact, it’s been about a month since I heard the news and I think it’s just sunk in.

After all, this is a book about Canada’s largest Indian Hospital written by a Canadian transplant living in Houston. Knowing that the topic and writing could connect with the judges despite the big geographic distance is a huge boost for when I dig back into the revisions later this year.

Congrats to all the winners and finalists!


The Sunday Painter by Antonia Angress


Orientation by Daniel Carlson
Possum Fields, A Novel by Pamela Diamond
Coalition by Katrina Murphy
Take My Life by Rachel Ballenger 
A Bark of Baser Kind by Sophia Veltfort
Lost by Charlotte Wyatt


WINNER (General Nonfiction)
Sleeping in a Sunset by Laurie Paternoster

WINNER (Memoir)
House, Mississippi by Ursula Pike


Closure: How Solving My Sister’s Murder Broke Me Open by Theresa Bastian
Gifts from Damascus by Susan McDonald
Hurts: Searching for the True Story of Canada’s Largest Indian Hospital by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail
Every New Beginning by Tiffany Parcher



Far Away Bird by Douglas Burton


The Invisible Prisoner by Erica Hairston
Feevah by Brenda Hummel
Revolutionary Spirits by Matthew LaWall-Shane
Valadon: A Girl From Montmartre by Terri Taylor


When Marisol Goes Home by Susan San Miguel


Star Crossed by Dwayne Goetzel
Mind’s Construction by Matthew LaWall-Shane
Pharmacide by Elizabeth Steiner
The Ballad Panacea by Marcus Tyler


Cue the Corpse by Karen Duxbury

Grave Promise by Lisanne Davidson
An Instant Out of Time by Lori Roberts Herbst
Hollywood Down Low by Leigh Paulk


Love Fronts by Connie Estes Beale

Cartel Cover by Risa Leigh 
Flirty Romancing by Mary Ann Loesch
What Remains Behind by Rodney Walther


Not for Sale by James Peyton


Malt U.S. Cola by Dwayne Goetzel
Pharmacide by Elizabeth Steiner
Helpers by Rick Treon
Shine Your Eye by Rodney Walther 


Sleep Leap by Jennifer Voigt Kaplan


Lockjaw by Robin Cox
The Blue Hour by Erin Liles
A Night Without Light by Cathey Nickell
Enchanted Gulf by Noah Weisz


Icarus Flight School by Krissi Dallas


Off Edge by Carol Barreyre
The Ascenditure by R.S. Dabney
Revolutionary Spirits by Matthew LaWall-Shane
Sugarcoated by Melody Robinette

Tips on getting back to your writing

Last night I went to Brazos Bookstore here in Houston to hear four local authors chat about how to start or restart a writing project. It’s perfect timing, right? Everyone is burning with inspiration and motivation around New Year’s Day and then come late January we’re all struggling just a little bit (or a lot).

Here is one favourite quote from each of the authors last night. Then keep reading below to see what I’ve found useful over the past decade of being a published author, and what two of my creative nonfiction critique partners do to get themselves back on track – or headed in a new direction!

  1. Bryan Washington (journalist and short story writer): “With a short story, the question bubbles up as I’m writing. Then I figure out what emotion I want to end on, and what emotions need to be in other spots. I write an outline at the beginning, but that outline changes frequently.”
  2. Mimi Swartz (journalist and author): “Accept what you start with will probably be horrible. And there’s a part of a story that’s always a slog – so set up rewards.”
  3. Jessica Wilbanks (essayist and author): “I do not write in a linear way. I write images and scenes in a document on the computer constantly. Then when I go back and look, I see the stuff I’m meant to work with keeps coming to the surface.”
  4. Varsha Bajaj (picture book and middle grade author): “I walk before I sit down to write in the morning and then I have a 500-word per day limit. If I have more ideas, I jot them down on a yellow legal pad with a sharp pencil and go back to them the next day.”

Ceal Klinger (biologist, long-distance runner, and writer):

“When I’m rooting around for misplaced thoughts, I pull my walking/running logbook out of the refrigerator. The logbook is a small notebook where I spend about 5 seconds a day—or maybe every other day, or maybe every few days–scribbling down the date, where I walked the dog or ran, and anything unusual about the day or what I saw. (I leave the notebook in the refrigerator on long trips in the event our home burns down when I’m traveling.) The notebook doesn’t have much in it, but sometimes it jogs my memory. 

After that, I round up other mysterious notes to myself (scraps of paper stowed in the refrigerator, in the trash can, on the floor or stuck to the dog), grab a stack of blank 3” x 5” index cards, and make a separate card for each category of disorganized ideas floating around my head. After about half an hour, I usually have a lot of short, chunked worry lists (e.g., the “call these people back” card, the “errands in town” card, the “procrastinated on this task so long it’s been on several cards” card), but some of the cards are relevant to writing (the “to read” card, the “research” card), and sometimes I wind up with several “to write” cards, each one with a few notes about one particular piece. 

(*Then* I take a deep breath, start up the computer, and open Scrivener and all the most recent documents in my word processing program.) 

I keep the cards in my pocket or leave them next to my computer and flip through them when I have a chance. Eventually, the stuff written on each card gets crossed off, works its way onto my computer with the relevant piece, or gets procrastinated on long enough to be stuffed into the refrigerator with my logbook and other cards from previous roundups.

It’s more primitive than Scrivener, but a small packet of index cards seems somewhat more portable and less intimidating on that first day back. (Also, it’s very pleasant to retire a “worry” card.)

Elizabeth Barbour (life/spiritual coach and writer): “When I’m trying to dive back into a project, I take it and leave my office! I need the fresh energy of an empty dining room table or a cubbie at the library to help me get reconnected. I read through all of my thoughts and notes and then create a “to do” list and chunk things down. It’s so easy with a big project to get overwhelmed and do nothing but if I can make a list of 5-7 small action items I can take, I find it gets me back into the flow.”

In my case, I usually juggle multiple projects at multiple stages of completion, so I’m always starting and restarting something. I find the following help (in no particular order):

1. Bailey’s in my coffee or a special treat to make working on the project feel pleasurable. And/or have a reward lined up afterward.

2. Do a write-in with friends or a short retreat.

3. Set a timer and do word sprints so I shut off my critical brain and just dive back into drafting. My friend (and YA author) Laura Mitzner taught me this one!

4. Migrate all my text from Word into Scrivener. This really jump-started a couple of projects because I could ‘see’ things from a bird’s eye view. I’ve realized I work much better on chunks of text that are 2000 words or less.

5. Print off what I have so far and re-read it (with no critical eye) just to reacquaint myself with the material. Maybe use sticky notes or write in the margin to indicate what the scene or chunk of manuscript is about, write out a quick outline of what I’ve done and where I need to go

6. Do some kind of accountability check-in system with writing friends to get back into the habit.

What works for you? Please add it in the comments!

Book review countdown #1: Rebel Women

Over the last couple of years, with a baby and book-in-progress, I found I largely lost the ability to read whole books. Sure, I pillaged for research, I browsed magazines, and I frantically devoured books and blog posts about how to get your baby to sleep/eat/stop crying, but I didn’t just read for pleasure. So now that the latest book is completed and toured, I decided I wanted to just read for fun for a bit. Whatever I happened to find on my shelf (or someone else’s), or at a used book sale or library. So for the last ten days of the year, I will do short reviews of this eclectic mix of titles that have helped me remember the simple joy of reading. #1. I found this sitting on the shelf of a vacation property on Gabriola Island a couple of weeks ago. One morning I woke up at 4:30am and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I read it snuggled on the couch cover-to-cover before anyone else woke up!   Rebel Women: Achievements Beyond the Ordinary (Heritage House) By Linda Kupacek A title in the Amazing Stories series of books, this collection of portraits of ‘rebel women’ fits right in with its clear prose, funny anecdotes, and, yes, amazing stories lifted from the lives of some pretty incredible ladies. I particularly appreciated the mentions of silent film actress and writer/director Nell Shipman, as well as Katherine Stinson, who was responsible for the first air mail delivery here in Edmonton. Isobel Gunn was also a fascinating figure and kudos to the author, Linda Kupacek, for the historical digging that went into uncovering her story (as well as the stories of the other women). This is a great way to inspire new generations of women growing up in Canada’s West – and around the world – and an enjoyable way to learn some history while you’re at it!

New Models of Journalism


Zakiya Kassam (@zakkasam on Twitter) is a 22-year-old graduate of the Ryerson University Journalism Program. Recently, she interviewed me for an article she was writing on new models of Journalism like and we thought we’d share the Q&A here!


Z: Tell me about your own personal story with How did you hear about it? How did you become a writer for it?

D: Warren Perley sent me an email a couple of years ago after he’d come across some of my work. I was intrigued by the concept, impressed by his credentials, and we stayed in touch. Because I’m primarily a book writer, and generally can’t afford to write articles until I have a contract in hand, it was some time before I had a piece to submit.

Z: What is your experience working with Warren Perley, the founder?

D: My experience has been very positive working with Warren. He’s an excellent editor and was quite patient working with someone who’s been trained as a historian and creative writer but not as a journalist. I did a significant rewrite to incorporate his suggestions, and it strengthened the piece and my skills overall.

Z: Have you experienced any setbacks or limitations when writing for the site?

D: I’ve heard from some people that they find the idea of paying for articles on a one-off basis frustrating, and are lamenting that a lot of the big (and not-so-big) dailies are going this route. My writer colleagues also question the wisdom of writing “on spec”: doing all that work without the guarantee of revenue. It has certainly been a calculated risk on my part, but I see it as being one more tool in my “bookonomics” kit.

Also, I love that the site works great on tablets, phones, and “phablets,” like the Galaxy Note, but I would like for readers to be able to download copies of the articles they’ve purchased onto their computers and other devices. At the moment, they can only read them when they have an internet connection. This is one area where Warren and I have different opinions: I don’t believe in digital locks. While copyright protection and the fair compensation for content creators is very important to me, I think digital locks end up frustrating the consumer/reader more than anything, and if a pirate really wants something, he or she can easily circumvent them.

Z: What is your readership for the site like?

D: Very small at the moment. I don’t have any demographic breakdowns, but that would be interesting to know.

Z: How long have you been writing for the site?

D: I submitted my first (and so far my only) piece in June 2012. Now I’m back to work on other columns, articles, and a narrative history book called Polar Winds: A Century of Flying the North.

Z: Why did you choose to be a writer for

D: I thought the concept was neat and liked that Warren was trying to create a space for writers to do long-form journalism with lots of great photos. I had it in the back of my mind that I’d like to write for someday, and so when I found myself with a homeless article, I queried Warren. I’m not the most adventurous person technologically, but I think it’s smart to experiment with different means of delivering content.

Z: Given the current state of journalism, do you think that a site like can survive in the long-run? Why/Why not?

D: Journalism, book publishing – it’s all in a state of flux right now and I think having a multitude of connection points with readers is important. I don’t know what the long-term viability of is, but I don’t think anyone really knows the long-term viability of anything at the moment: newspapers, book publishers, agents. Are we headed to a day when all writing will be self-published, crowd-funded, and open-source done by so-called citizen journalists? Who knows!


Nobody Cries At Bingo: Newest book on my wish list

Last year, fellow Edmonton writer Dawn Dumont was nominated for the Alberta’s Readers Choice Award. Her book, Nobody Cries at Bingo makes fun of her misadventures during her younger years on the Okanese First Nations reserve in Saskatchewan. For a province that has 31 bingo halls, locals can’t seem to get enough of the 75-ball bingo that is popular in Fantasyland Bingo,, and Lucky Horseshoe. Even churches in Saskatchewan use the game for charity fundraisers!

In her book, Dawn admits the game was a staple in their family gatherings. She was once quoted as saying: “Bingo was an understood rule in our family.”

Of course, the book goes far beyond bingo: Dawn apparently recounts, with much mirth, her various experiences as a typical Canadian teen who faced weight issues, bickered with siblings, and had boy problems. .

Dawn’s ability to make fun of herself apparently stems from years of being a stand-up comedian. She’s performed in Toronto and New York comedy spots like Laugh Resort, Yuk Yuk’s, Improv, New York Comedy Club, and Comic Strip. She now authors plays and currently writes for radio and television. She is also a story editor for the satirical cartoon series “By the Rapids.”
Some of the reviews from Goodreads have piqued my interest as well: “Gives us a new horizon against which to measure our experiences – inviting us into life on the reservation,” and “she paints a picture of rez life with great affection and understanding and humor.”


YEG Workshop: Finding the Unique in Your Family Story

 Finding the Unique in Your Family Story: a summer-time writing adventure.




How do you write a lively and fascinating family memoir?  How do you draw  and satisfy readers from in and outside the family?  What particular issues arise when writing family stories?

Both the instructors of this workshop, Caterina Edwards and Jean Crozier, faced  these questions and more in producing their own families’ stories. They came to understand the complexities of family story-telling: the benefits and anxieties, the need for accuracy and the need to handle certain materials with great sensitivity.

Through discussion and examples, this workshop will assist students in  identifying the unique characteristics of their own families. The  instructors will assist students in weaving family perspectives and  personalities – and their accompanying foibles, adventures, and challenges  – into an intriguing, readable narrative. Literary techniques such as voice, dialogue, evocation of time and place, as well as truth and viewpoint, will be considered as students practice bringing family members
to life right on the page.

Students will write short pieces in class with prompts from the instructors; class members will read their work and share their situations, challenges, and successes in a supportive environment.

Our students have told us that:

  •  “The two instructors complemented each other so well; they truly enhanced the  program with their individual and shared expertise.”
  • “I leave the course inspired and much further along in my project.?”

Maximum class size: 10 students

Date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 and Thursday, August 15, 2013

Time: 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM

Price: Early bird registration (registration and payment received by July
20, 2013) just

$225; regular price of $250 payable after August 1, 2013.


For further information, contact Caterina Edwards at 780-436-5867, email or Jean Crozier at 780-481-1899, email

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.