The Story of Youtube

In 2012, after OWEN was written and sold, a video was posted to Youtube. It was a cover of a popular song, and what made the video interesting was that it featured five people playing the song on guitar. On one guitar.

I hadn’t even heard the original when I first saw the video (not uncommon for me), but I was hooked. This, I knew, was how Siobhan made her mark on the world. More accurately, this was how EMILY made Siobhan’s mark on the world.

I remember when American Idol first came out, and a bunch of my friends who are, uh, shall we say “choosy” in their music habits were all “UGH, this is terrible”. I was fascinated, though, because I felt like I finally got to see how music packaging works*.

(Side note: my dad’s favourite bands include ABBA and The Mama’s and The Papa’s, so from the time I was small, I was no stranger to music that was arranged rather deliberately.)

And this is Emily’s world. She is very good at the internet, and she’s the one who talks Siobhan into actually putting the music up for wider consumption. It never would have occurred to Hannah and Lottie (or Owen, for that matter), which is one of the reasons I like Emily so much, even though her scenes are a pain to write.

This was a bit of a shift for me, though, because the musician I had originally modelled Siobhan on was slightly different. Her name is Heather Dale, and she is a true bard. Heather started off writing for Renaissance Faires, and eventually recorded CDs and sold them, and travels a lot to perform. I really cannot understate how beautiful her music is. Every time I play it for someone new, they ask me who she is and comment on her words and voice and diction. She might be the best I have ever heard.

Heather has also made really great use of Youtube, as Siobhan eventually does, but the fact that they both got their start “off camera” gives them a slightly different style. It was a lot of fun to play around with. Heather’s music is intrinsically part of my concept of Siobhan herself and of Siobhan’s musical leanings (in particular THE ROAD TO SANTIAGO in The Story of Owen, and JOAN in Prairie Fire).

I think the BEST thing about music on Youtube, though, is that if you are talented, people will find you. It’s the “if you build it, they will come” mentality, only with music instead of baseball. Siobhan is very talented, and her music catches on because it is familiar…with a twist. My current Youtube infatuation is a duo that I think really captures every part of that.

(Also, check out their cover of TAKE ME TO CHURCH because: my heart.)

The Brooklyn Duo is a thing I never would have heard of, were it not for Youtube. And yet, because they recorded a video and put it on the site, and then someone brought it to Taylor Swift’s attention and she tweeted about it, and because I follow Taylor Swift on Twitter, I have heard of them, and I absolutely adore them.

This is how Siobhan’s music works. She doesn’t have to go town to town, singing for her supper (though she would if she did). Her music reaches farther than she imagined, farther than Lottie ever hoped, because it travels at the speed of WiFi, all around the world.

PRAIRIE FIRE is a bigger stage, and Siobhan’s not entirely ready for it yet, but she will be. She will be.


Prairie Fire comes out on March 1st, and is available for pre-order.


*So it’s not entirely a Youtube thing. Or even a CURRENT thing. Ed Sullivan was really good at finding niche acts to round out his show (my favourite is Gayla Peevey’s I WANT A HIPPOPOTAMUS FOR CHRISTMAS), but my father had to go to someone else’s house to watch that show. Youtube is much more accessible, and much more difficult to control.



And then, a sequel

There are usually some pretty good reasons to write a sequel. Here are some terrible reasons I had:

  • I had promised Tessa Gratton that I would burn down Kansas.
  • I had a vague desire to sic a dragon on the town of Hinton, because one time I was working a contract there in December, and I fell in a creek and had to cut myself out of my snow pants.
  • A song I really liked was exactly the wrong shape for OWEN, but I thought might be okay for PRAIRIE FIRE.
  • I had already come up with the title.

But here is the real reason I ended up writing it:

  • I always knew this part of the story.

In May of 2011, before I sat down to write THE STORY OF OWEN properly, I stood on a bluff overlooking the Athabasca River just outside of Whitecourt, Alberta, and I knew that someday, Owen and Siobhan would go there. It was sunny and windy – too windy, we would learn – and not too cold. Everything about the day was perfect, until we got back to our hotel. “Oh, thank goodness!” the hotel owner said. “You’re the last field crew to come in. I’m so glad you’re safe.” Alberta, it turned out, was on fire. The flames were jumping fire-breaks and highways.  For the next week, the woods were full of noise; there were helicopters and smoke in the air. And that was how PRAIRIE FIRE started.

I came home from Alberta and wrote THE STORY OF OWEN. Then I sold it*, and got an agent. “Is it a trilogy?” my agent asked. “No,” I said. “Can you pretend it is?” he asked. So I did. I pretended there was a second and third book, even though I had no idea what happened in Book 2 and didn’t really want to write Book 3. And everything was going swimmingly until we started editing, and Andrew kept asking questions like “How does the Oil Watch work?” and “No, really, what is up with Sadie?”, and I did my best not to think about it.

But I was. I was thinking about it a lot. I was thinking about it so much that I had come up with a dragon for them to fight and a couple of new characters, and a whole “new” city**. And then I got on a plane to fly to Texas, and listened to THE FIREBIRD SUITE on my iPod, and cried a bit, and wrote, quite fatefully After the Thorskards came to Trondheim, we always had a permanent dragon slayer.

I emailed Josh (“Remember that time you asked me if there was another book and I told you there wasn’t another book? I’m writing another book.”), and Josh talked to Andrew, and I wrote Chapter 1, and then we had a deal for it, and then I buckled down to write the rest.

I was terrified that I would experience Second Book Trauma, but I really didn’t. Instead I had regular old physical trauma, and was unable to sit in a chair (at Starbucks, or anywhere), and so had to mostly write in bed, which is not a lot of fun. Unlike my previous books, which I wrote mostly in one place, I never wrote PRAIRIE FIRE in the same place twice. It was very weird. Also, I had to send the last ten chapters to Emma while she was on her honeymoon, which will be funnier after YOU have read the last ten chapters, but then you’ll understand why John, her husband, gets a spot in the acknowledgements.

The thing I like about PRAIRIE FIRE is that it’s the third book in a trilogy. Sort of. Sarah Rees Brennan has famously said that the basic breakdown of a trilogy is: Meet Up, Make Out, Take Over The World, and I am following that model, but skipping Book 2 (it’s not even because of the kissing! It’s because the whole plot is about small town/rural Canadian politics and NO ONE ALIVE cares about that enough to read it in a book, even if the book has dragons). My apologies to Sadie Fletcher.

I really liked the bigger world, higher stakes, and [redacted for spoilers] that came with writing PRAIRIE FIRE. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

PRAIRIE FIRE comes out on March 1, and is available for pre-order now.



*Slightly more complicated than that.
**Blog posts to come, obviously.

Two Important Things

1. THE STORY OF OWEN is nominated for the 2015 Morris Award!

the story of owen

I am beyond thrilled about this, and very excited. Thank you to everyone for all of your support.

2. At a writing retreat in Tennessee in October, I made some Oreo truffles that were sort of epic.


They are quite appropriate for Christmas, and dead easy to make, so here is the recipe:

Step One – Buy two bags of oreos, one block of cream cheese (not low fat), some hard candy mints (or a couple of candy canes), a thing of baker’s melting chocolate.

Step Two – Crush oreos. Mix with cream cheese. Roll into balls 1″ in diameter. Put in fridge for 20 minutes.

Step Three – Crush mints.

Step Four – Melt chocolate. Drop oreo balls into chocolate, roll around for a bit, then pick up with a fork. Allow to drip for a second, then place on waxed paper. Sprinkle with crushed up mints.

Step Five – Put in fridge or freezer until hard.

Step Six – Become the hero of whatever small town it is you are from.

You can also decorate the tops with different colours of melty chocolate and mix the candy canes right in. It really depends on your aesthetic.

Cap salutes

The Bayfield Writers’ Festival

I spent most of Saturday in my old stomping grounds, Huron County, where THE STORY OF OWEN is set. I had been invited to speak at the Bayfield Writers’ Festival, put on by the Bayfield Bookshop, and saying “yes” to the invitation was very easy!

Bayfield (named for Admiral Bayfield who, amongst other things, mapped a lot of Canadian coast of Lake Huron), is a gorgeous town, and the weather was bright and sunny. The other writers were all from Toronto, and the comments that kept getting repeated were all to the tune of “This place is so NICE!”


For real. I didn’t put the actual town of Bayfield in my book because I didn’t want to light it on fire. That is how much I love it.

Anyway, the festival was lovely! The town hall was full, and the other writers all gave excellent readings. I was a bit worried, as the only YA writer in the crowd (the audience was mostly retirees), but they all laughed at the right places during my reading, and the Q&A was great.

My favourite part was during the public Q&A part. When the moderator asked if there were any audience questions, there was the traditional 20 seconds of dead silence, and then a woman in the audience said:

“My question is for Kate. What is the Oxford Comma?”

(I mention the Oxford Comma in the jacket of my book, as part of my about the author. Because I am that kind of nerd.)

So I got to nerd out about grammar, and make everyone laugh a couple of times, and we all learned a valuable life lesson about the difference between peanut butter and jam and tuna sandwiches, and peanut butter and jam, and tuna sandwiches.


After that it was off to the Lion’s Club Chicken BBQ dinner in Seaforth. It’s an elimination draw, along with your food. Once upon a time, the prize was a tractor. The only people I know who ever won it weren’t farmers, so they sold the tractor and basically built another house on top of their existing house. Now it’s money, but it’s a pretty big deal.

Anyway, while we were eating (the largest piece of chicken I have ever seen), and they were drawing (number after number after number), I got to catch up with all kind of people I haven’t seen in a long time, and then a funny thing happened.

One of the women I used to work with at the Nursing Home came over and asked to buy a book (I had brought a couple with me for just this purpose), and while we were talking, she mentioned that she had tried to buy the copy I donated to a charity auction a few weeks ago, except someone kept outbidding her.

I never donated a copy to a charity auction! But someone did! And there was a bidding war, because my co-worker wanted a copy (it was signed), and the owner of the family hardware store in town wanted it too (because his store is in the book, as Archie’s bookstore in Saltrock).

I signed the book, and we both went back to attempting to eat our chicken (thank goodness people kept interrupting and giving me a chance to digest, or I might still be there), and then there was lemon cake, and then we began the two hour process of trying to actually get out of the building.

Fun times, basically.


Now that I’ve done a couple of school visits in Huron County, I’ve had more than one student be INCREDIBLY surprised that I could write a fun book about the place. I certainly would not have believed it myself, and didn’t, back when I was their age. And yet: a woman with a walker shook my hand and told me she was “mad for dragons”, and at dinner, there was hilarity and excellent food. They might not all be great stories to tell or hear, but they all have the seeds of them, I think, and that is how I do it. I find what’s there. And then I make a dragon attack it.

(Except in Bayfield. Bayfield is too pretty to die.)

Some Exciting News

*blows dust off of blog*

Sorry, wordpress. Tumblr’s just so pretty.

ANYWAY, there is some GREAT NEWS for Kate fans! I got to do my cover reveal on an in-universe tumblr the week before last, and I’m still not really tired of looking at it, so HERE IT IS AGAIN:

OWEN - Front Cover

But that’s not all!

CarolrhodaLab has put up their spring book list, so you can see my book, and all the books that will be released around the same time.

If you click here and scroll down a bit, there’s a link on the right hand side where you can download THE STORY OF LOTTIE, the first chapter of my book.

You can also pre-order it at the Lerner website, or at Barnes and Noble. If you want to tweet me about it, @ek_johnston, you will pretty much make my day.

Hopefully, I will have a Chapters link for you soon.

That’s all for now! But I am starting to get super excited, so I’m sure I’ll have something to blog about soon.

Tear The Curtain!

Reviewing a play about a theatre critic is a bit existential for me, but what the heck? I have thoughts. And also feelings. Mostly feelings.

Anyway, once upon a time, I started watching a little Canadian show called SANCTUARY, which from time to time co-starred as Nikola Tesla (vampire), a Canadian actor named Jonathon Young. Young is one of those Canadian actors who has been in almost everything (as opposed to one of those actors who has been in EVERYTHING), so I recognized him from Stargate Atlantis, but not from anything else. He has a very distinct presence, though, and when I couldn’t find too many other shows he’d been in, I went looking a little further afield.

This brought me to the Electric Company Theatre, and to Tear The Curtain!

Some advice? The trailer is not really all that helpful. I can understand why people who went to this show not knowing anything about the ECT were a bit…thrown. Because it’s very and profoundly (and unapologetically) weird.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Anyway, I saw the trailer back when I was living in Alberta, and was immediately very sad that I had missed the company when they toured another play in Edmonton, three days before I found out who they were. I had resigned myself to maybe never seeing them except in the few clips available on their website (which I recommend, btw. Both THE FLANNIGAN AFFAIR and AT HOME WITH DICK AND JANE are available. Both are also COMPLETELY BIZARRE), unless I was very lucky and happened to someday be in Vancouver when they were doing a show.

Fast-forward to last spring, when I found out that TEAR THE CURTAIN would be part of CAN STAGE. I immediately decided I was going, even if I had to sell a kidney. I didn’t have to do that, and so on Friday night, I met up with my friend Trish, and we went to the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts…

And the magic happened.

It was, without question, weird. Parts of it were like being in English class the day your teacher got so angry he came to work and yelled at you for forty minutes about being mundane. Parts of it were like a dance. Parts of it were actually a dance. Parts of it were beautiful. Parts of it made complete and total sense. Parts of it were the opposite of that.

At its heart, for me, Tear the Curtain! is a play about stories, but also about the people who love stories, what that love can do. It was the story of a person who was paid to do something he loved, forgot that he loved it, found out that he loved it again, went a bit off the deep end, and then found that happy place where he can do both: love and live, and also be loved as a bonus.

I fully expected to love every moment Young was on stage, and I very much did. As I said, he has a presence that is…hard to describe (it’s in his fingers. The way he stands there, in front of everyone, and his EVEN HIS FINGERS are acting). But the surprise for me was Mavis. Dawn Petten, in a break with tradition, has NOT been in everything, so she was completely new for me, and Mavis, Mavis was just fabulous. At the end, when she hears Lillian Gish’s voice for the first time…that is a feeling I’ve had. It was gorgeous.

I can’t really go further without talking about how the play was presented. The ECT does a lot of mixed media work, and Tear the Curtain!, being about the clash of film and stage anyway, rather lends itself to that kind of mixing. But it wasn’t just “Hey, now we’re going to play a clip!” jumping back and forth between the stage and the screen (which was usually just projected on the stage itself). It was entirely blended. Sometimes the screen showed you another angle of the scene. Sometimes the screen showed you what the characters were themselves seeing. Sometimes it was kind of everything, acting back and forth. In every case, though, the actors’ movements were (almost perfectly) synced with the film.

This becomes particularly amazing when you realize that the film portions were shot in 2008, across the country, in another theatre altogether. All of the actors have done the play before, but a while before, and they had to adapt it to a new stage. It was pretty darn impressive, and even from our seats in the second row, it wasn’t overwhelming. I was worried at first that the film meant there would be less stage magic (which I love), but it soon became apparent that they were going to do a lot of the film on stage anyway, so it actually became even better.

SPEAKING OF BEING IN THE SECOND ROW! A portion of the play takes place from the floor, which meant there were several instances, including the ending of the play, where I was very close to both Young and Petten. When the lights came back on at the end, Trish was all “You did really well! You only kind of squeaked once!” and I was all “OMG, THEY WERE ACTING RIGHT THERE!”

There were a bunch of tiny moments I loved, aside from Mavis’s reaction to Lillian Gish. Young did a whole speech with a cigarette in his mouth, and I was all “OMG, THE DICTION!” When Tom McBeath took his bow at the end, there were several whoops from the crowd. Young did everything from jerk to cad to breakdown to sad to genuinely happy and it was beautiful. I may have seen Kim Collier’s hand, if she was the one waving in the box during the calls at the end.

I think one of the coolest things about Tear the Curtain! was listening to the audience talk about it afterwards. In the washroom at intermission, I overheard about eight variations of “I have no idea what is happening, but I like it!” and on the way out after the play was over, there was a lot of “So…how of that actually just happened?”. I’m pretty sure (pretty sure), that’s the point of the play. To make you realize that you watched a story, and that you loved it anyway, even though you weren’t entirely sure which parts of it were real.

To me, that’s what stories are about, and why I love them. Going out with friends and listening to Jonathon Young talk for two hours certainly doesn’t hurt, but, the stories, those things you love, forgot you loved, and then love again: that’s what I’m here for.

And then I took a hiatus…

Originally I had only planned to take the Olympics off from blogging, mostly to spare you all from two weeks of me doing this:

Well, except I didn’t make out with Charles Hamelin.

Anyway, then I decided to take the rest of the month off because I wasn’t writing anything, I was working, sleeping or rewatching old TV all the time, and then for the past week I’ve been packing to move into my new place. Today.

But! Next week we’ll be back to blogging! About things! And also stuff! And occasionally sundries!

I just have to, you know, come up with topics. What did YOU do on your summer vacation (or lack thereof)?