My first picture book launches in 2019!

I am absolutely thrilled to announce that Alis the Aviator: An ABC Aviation Adventure is coming out with Tundra Books in July 2019 (and is now available for pre-order)!

I first drafted the main text in the summer of 2014 after a friend gave me an ABC airplane book for my (then) two-year-old son. It was lovely in a lot of ways, but just didn’t have the bounce, wit and rhyme I love in picture books. And it certainly couldn’t hold the attention of my very active little boy. So I sat on my back porch in Edmonton one day when my son was taking his nap, and started scribbling out ideas by hand, letter by letter.

By then I’d been immersed in the world of airplanes and aviation officially since 2007, when I started work on my first book for adults, For the Love of Flying. But really, I grew up surrounded by plane nuts from day one. So even though I’m not a pilot myself, the aircraft types, their stories, and their quirks, flowed surprisingly easily. There were some letters I just knew right away: A is for Arrow, for example. And B is for Beaver. Those were such important airplanes for the people I’ve interviewed and family members. Others took a bit of research. But as a trained historian and research-addict, that was all part of the fun.

From there it was the usual rollercoaster of rewrites, critiques, convincing my agent at the time that I was a children’s writer too, and shopping the manuscript around.  But no one was ready to publish the book and my son was getting older, so I decided to self publish with an incredible artist/illustrator colleague, Jason Blower, and got my father (a pilot, francophone, and professional translator) to create a French-language version. That was also when Jason wisely suggested a through-line character for the book. I have always tried to highlight hidden stories in aviation, so I knew I wanted that ‘character’ to be a female pioneer (who was less known than, say, Amelia Earhart). I’ve also been dedicated to spotlighting Indigenous voices and reconciliation, so when I learned about Dr. Alis Kennedy and we started chatting, it felt right on so many levels.

Even though all these wonderful pieces came together, Jason and I were incredibly busy with life and work and decided to send Alis the Aviator around on submission once more with my agent. In early 2016, the wonderful Sam Swenson at Tundra Books expressed interest in the text, but had a different vision for the art. Kalpna Patel, whom I’d read about in Chatelaine magazine just a few months earlier, was brought in as the illustrator. I have baseline craft and drawing skills, so I had no idea how her cut-art designs might translate into a picture book, but I knew enough to trust the experts.

I’m so glad I did. When I saw the first proofs, I knew she was on to something special. When I got to look over the final PDF, I was gobsmacked. Tears sprang to my eyes as I saw my text magically brought to life through her vivid scenes, primary colours, and intricate creations. She really ‘got’ the sense of inclusivity and fun and adventure that I yearned for in this book – and for all the readers who come to it. And the scrapbook design at the back of the book where I tell Alis’s story – illustrated by her own photographs – is just gorgeous.

I love that all my son’s friends will see themselves in this book. That the young girls in my life can picture themselves flying, maintaining, and controlling aircraft from the past and present in these pages. It has been a long time coming, but good things come to those who wait. And this is something truly special that I can’t wait to share with my son, with my friends and family, and will all of you!

Q&A with Darrel McLeod for Hamilton Review of Books

Darrel J. McLeod is Cree from treaty eight territory in Northern Alberta. After a varied career, including the position of chief negotiator of land claims for the federal government and executive director of education and international affairs with the Assembly of First Nations, he now devotes himself to writing and music in Sooke, B.C. Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018), a memoir, is his first book. It won the 2018 Governor General’s Award in Nonfiction.

Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail: This book has been described as a series of linked vignettes, and you’ve said they started out as short stories in your course with Betsy Warland at Simon Fraser University. How did you access all those memories?

Darrel McLeod: One of the things I do when I’m writing is I put on music: I put on a song or two from that era, and floods of memories come. The time I spent at my great grandfather’s cabin in the bush. My cousins. My early childhood. That wasn’t difficult at all.

The childhood songs were just there in my memory from listening to them over and over again, and singing them too. Other ones that I didn’t know as well, I’d research. Then one song would lead to all these others. I’d listen to those songs over and over again. It turned on a lot of emotions – so evocative.

To read the full interview, please click here.

Review: Mamaskatch

Mamaskatch was an utterly mesmerizing book told in a series of linked vignettes, like the stories the author grew up hearing from his mother. McLeod is honest about the incredibly complex life experiences he had growing up Cree in Alberta in small towns and big cities. He does not shy away from the difficulties he had in his relationships with family members – especially his mother and siblings – or other people around him, and he is raw and explicit about the abuse he suffered and its aftereffects.

And yet, he never overwhelms the reader, just as his spirit was never overtaken by those times of darkness and pain. He is searching and tender and empathetic, while never absolving anyone of their responsibility. And there is always a sense of humour. Sometimes McLeod delivers these punchlines at the ends of chapters, and they really do hit you with theiry wry poignance.

Author Darrel McLeod has also woven in his love of music and language, and captures accents and ways of speaking in a pitch-perfect way. His scenes are vivid and richly rendered, and his prose is as bracing as a cold Alberta stream. I am so glad I was able to spend time with this brave, optimistic and smart “young Darrel”, and to watch as he overcame life’s struggles with his trademark optimism – yet realism – to become a whole, caring man. I can’t wait to read the follow-up to this book, and anything else McLeod decides to share with the world.

Review: Thou Shalt Do No Murder

Thou Shalt Do No Murder
Inuit, Injustice, and the Canadian Arctic
Reviewed by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail

Thou Shalt Do No Murder: Inuit, Injustice, and the Canadian Arctic
by Kenn Harper
Nunavut Arctic College Media, 452 pages, $38.95

In 1923, three Inuit men were put on trial at Pond Inlet, on Baffin island, for the killing of qallunaat (white) trader Robert Janes. This story is not widely known outside the North, but it has fascinated me ever since I discovered Shelagh D. Grant’s book Arctic Justice over a decade ago.

Kenn Harper has been gripped by this history for much longer and has produced a hefty tome entitled Thou Shalt Do No Murder: Inuit, Injustice, and the Canadian Arctic.

Harper has lived in the Arctic for fifty years, working as a teacher, historian, linguist, and businessman. He speaks Inuktitut and is the author of the bestselling Give Me My Father’s Body (recently republished as Minik: The New York Eskimo and optioned for film).
He first heard of the Pond Inlet trial in the 1970s, shortly after he moved north. It is clear both from the text and from his bibliography that Harper has immersed himself in this history via many hours spent with Inuit elders and much time in archives.
One of those elders, Jimmy Etuk, was alive when the killing and the trial took place. It is Etuk who begins the book in gripping style. His “speech was volcanic,” Harper tells us, as Etuk launches into the tale of Robert Janes’ descent into apparent madness and the circumstances that apparently forced Nuqallaq and two other Inuit men to end his life.

 

To read the full review, as it appeared in the October-November 2018 issue of Canada’s History, please click here.

Review: Victoria’s Most Haunted

Victoria is often semi-jokingly referred to as a city of the newly wed and nearly dead. But as Ian Gibbs shows in Victoria’s Most Haunted, this Canadian coastal city is not just full of students and retirees – but also the not-so-recently departed.

Gibbs, a tour guide for Victoria’s popular Ghostly Walks, reproduces the experience of these nocturnal jaunts into the city in this attractive book from Touchwood Editions. Each section begins with an artful black and white photo of the building (many taken by Ray Shipka), and you get the feeling of pausing before each one, gathering around the site, while your tour guide spins tales of heartbreak, murder, madness, suicide, and accidental death.

Like the ghost tour leaders I’ve listened to in Edinburgh, New Orleans and Vancouver, the author shares his own encounters with the paranormal as well – often with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humour and snark. But, he assures his reader, he’s not out to convince you that ghosts exist. If you’re not in the believer camp, there is still plenty of local history here to tempt you (not to mention it’s a terrific tourism brochure, featuring several great-sounding hotels, pubs and chocolate shops. Although there are a few rooms and floors at the Empress I’ll avoid, thank you very much).

There were a couple of sections – “Cathedral Hall” and “The Deanery” – where I would have liked a little more research and background detail to go along with Gibbs’ personal experiences, but the author more than makes up for this in “Bishop’s Chapel” and (my favourite) “The Home on Fort Street.” I also noticed that Gibbs refers to “First Nations” in different tales, and I wanted him to dig further to find out specifically which First Nations group, village or settlement was involved – the same way he found out about the German family who lost a son to drowning, or the Second World War soldier who liked old hymns.

Despite these small missteps, Victoria’s Most Haunted will take you on a thoughtful walk around colleges, jails, brothels, saloons, alleyways and biker bars – and you’ll come away thinking maybe Victoria isn’t so staid and sleepy after all.

 

Full disclosure: my last book was published by Brindle & Glass, part of the Touchwood publishing family, and they provided me with review copies of this book as well as copies to give away to readers of my e-newsletter. All I promised was an honest review of the book in return!

Speaking on Panel about Reconciliation and Public History in Vegas This Month!

I am very pleased to be joining a distinguished panel of public historians, community activators and scholars next month at the annual meeting of the National Council of Public Historians. Our topic, Sharing Power: Reconciling Indigenous-Settler Narratives is near and dear to my heart, as is long-time collaborator and friend Miranda Jimmy, who will be making the trek from Edmonton.

In addition to Miranda and I, there’s the panel convener, Jean-Pierre Morin, and a bunch of other Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks from both sides of the 49th Parallel: Krista McCracken,
Brittani Orona, Morgen Young, James Grant, Patrick Moore, Aaron Roth, and Manuelito Wheeler.

SKY GIRL takes third place at RWA’s Emily Awards!

Really honoured to have my first (unpublished) young adult book, Sky Girl, place in this contest. I know it’s a tough competition with entries from talented emerging voices from around the world. Thanks to the West Houston chapter of the Romance Writers of America for coordinating all the submissions and judges, and to the first- and second-round judges in my category who provided such useful feedback – and much-needed encouragement!

Off to work on my ninth(!) rewrite of this novel, which I’ve been researching and writing since 2009. The process has been tough but it’s taught me so much about how to merge my love of history with storytelling. And I have loved every minute of deep research into the amazing female bush pilots and ferry pilots from the Second World War. Hopefully version 9.0 will see all those parts click into place and I’ll be able to share this story with all of you soon.

Oh – and before I forget! A big congratulations to my friend and fellow writer, Laura Mitzner, who snagged second place with her darkly funny contemporary YA novel, Because Heaven is Just Hearsay.

Demons and Better Angels: Writing Talk in Houston on April 2

Demons and Better Angels: Finding the Path to Our Truest Stories (and a Little Bit of Peace of Mind)

In this session, I will share my breakdowns and breakthroughs, and offer some of the best wisdom and tools I’ve discovered for getting past blocks and continuing to tell the stories that matter most to me. This will include the heartbreak of rejection and critique, dealing with mental health, and struggling with writing and researching stories outside my experience.

And I promise to do it all with lots of dark humour (and dark chocolate)!

 

Monday, April 2nd at 7 p.m.

FREE and open to the public.

Houston Chapter of the Society for Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
Tracey Gee Community Center
3599 Westcenter Drive
Houston, TX 77042

Want to Be a Writer? Come Learn More on March 24 in Fort Bend!

I’m very pleased to be part of this event at the Sienna Plantation Public Library in Missouri City, Texas. It’s FREE and open to the public. While it’s especially geared toward students in grades 9 through 12, there will also be lots of great information for adults who are considering new education or career possibilities.

Come with your burning questions and your curiosity! I have had a random, adventure-filled career so far and am excited to share the good, the bad, and the ugly with you!

 

Careers in Focus: The Arts
3/24/2018 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM

Are you considering a career in the arts? Join us as a panel of professionals shares their experiences working in different areas of the artistic field. This program will include brief presentations by professionals with arts-related careers, a Q&A session, and time for break out sessions.

No registration required.

Women in Aviation History Talk on March 22nd in Richmond, Texas

In recognition of Women’s History Month in March, George Memorial Library in Richmond will present a special program, “The History of Women in Aviation,” on Thursday, March 22, beginning at 7:00 pm, in the Meeting Room of the library.

In her presentation, local author and aviation historian Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail will showcase some of the famous (and not-so-famous) women from around the world who have made an impact in the aviation industry in times of peace and of war.

“From the earliest days of aviation, there have been women who have wanted to walk on wings, soar in balloons, tinker with engines, and – of course – fly,” says Metcalfe-Chenail, who shares her love for aviation history in her books For the Love of Flying, Polar Winds, and the forthcoming picture book, Alis the Aviator: The ABCs of Flight.

As the former Historian Laureate of Edmonton, Alberta, and the former president of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, Metcalfe-Chenail was able to combine her graduate degree in history with her passion for writing and aviation history.

This program is made possible by the generous support of the Friends of the George Memorial Library. Proceeds from the Friends of the Library book sales and annual membership dues help to underwrite the costs of special programming and various cultural events at the library.

The program is free and open to the public. For more information, call George Memorial Library at 281-342-4455 or the library system’s Communications Office at 281-633-4734. Richmond is in Fort Bend County outside of Houston, Texas.

If you can’t make it, but you’d like to learn more about women in the history of military aviation in Canada, check out this article I wrote for Legion Magazine last year called “The Job for Me”!

 

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.