Lisa See Visits Kitchener

Yesterday, I attended “An Evening with Lisa See” at the central branch of the Kitchener Public Library. This 85 Queen Event was well attended by fans of the best-selling author of On Cold Mountain, Flower Net, The Interior, Dragon Bones, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, and The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane.

Lisa See’s latest novel, The Island of Sea Women, was released earlier this month.

Kitchener reader, blogger, and dedicated volunteer Lizz DiCesare joined Lisa for an armchair conversation.

After announcing that she didn’t plan to read aloud, Lisa launched into the back story behind The Island of Sea Women.

Ten years ago, Lisa was sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office when she came across a short article about the haenyeo, female divers on Jeju Island off the South Korean coast. She ripped the page from the magazine and took it home.

After eight years of thinking about a possible story, she experienced a sense of urgency. Realizing that the work tradition would die within fifteen years, she decided to spend two years researching and writing the book.

While visiting Jeju Island, Lisa had a “full senses immersion” into the culture. She interviewed women in their 70s, 80s, and 90s and collected anecdotes about the matrifocal society of the island.

For generations, women divers supported their families by free-diving deep into the ocean to harvest its bounty. They possessed the abilities to hold their breaths for prolonged periods and withstand cold temperatures. Their husbands stayed home to raise the children and do menial chores.

Having read several of Lisa’s novels, I am familiar with her extraordinary attention to detail and focus on female relationships. She has always been intrigued by stories that have been lost, forgotten, or deliberately covered up.

The Island of Sea Women is sitting on my nightstand…I can’t wait to start reading!


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An Inspiring #85Event with Lisa LaFlamme and Michelle Shephard

Friday evening, I drove to the central branch of the Kitchener Public Library to hear two trailblazers—Lisa LaFlamme and Michelle Shephard–speak about their careers and the challenges of women in the media.

As Chief News Anchor and Senior Editor of CTV National News since 2011, Lisa LaFlamme is well-known throughout the country. She received a very warm welcome in Kitchener, which happens to be her hometown.

An award-winning journalist, best-selling author, and filmmaker, Michelle Shephard is an investigative reporter with the Toronto Star.

Rosie Del Campo, co-host and producer of CTV Kitchener News at 5, moderated the inspirational and informative conversation that kept all of us well entertained.

L-R: Michelle Shephard, Lisa LaFlamme, Rosie Del Campo

Both women enjoyed writing during their childhood and teen years.

In Grade 9, Lisa made an appointment with her guidance counselor to discuss a possible career in writing. The woman advised her to take physics, a subject she has never had to fall back upon during her 30+ career. She enrolled in the Communications program at the University of Ottawa and obtained a job at CTV Kitchener (then named CKCO). Prior to obtaining the Anchor chair, Lisa spent a decade on the road as National Affairs Correspondent, covering everything from elections to natural disasters to wars.

After Michelle received her Bachelor of Arts degree, she considered law school, even applying to write LSAT, but ended up in journalism school. Upon graduation, she obtained a position at the Toronto Star. 9/11 was the turning point in her career. The previous day, she had covered a story about a purse snatcher in Scarborough. As soon as she heard the news, she set out for Ground Zero. Covering 9/11 began her career as a national security reporter.

Both women possess that rare combination of curiosity, passion, and fearlessness that has enabled them to survive and thrive in war zones and their workplaces. They believe that gender works to their advantage in other countries, allowing them to access other women and share their stories. Something that male journalists cannot do.

I was shocked by some of the experiences shared. The most memorable: Women in some parts of the world must take their children into their hospital beds or prison cells if they become ill or incarcerated. Childcare is not a husband’s responsibility.

In spite of the many dangers, Lisa describes the war zone as a very simple life. You have to stay alive and tell a story. You don’t have to worry about doing housework, picking up children, running errands, or any of the many daily activities of “normal” life.

Looking back at their professional lives, both women spoke about the many changes, in particular, the increase in full-time female reporters. But men still dominate in the boardroom.

When an audience member asked about sources for news items, Lisa noted that most of the experts are male. She has made concerted efforts to find female doctors, lawyers, and other experts but has encountered resistance. While many women will express their opinions in the print media, they are reluctant to appear on television. Lisa cites concern with their appearance as a factor.

Both women addressed the dark side of social media. After receiving daily threats during the 2015 election, Lisa curtailed her use of Twitter. She uses it primarily as a news feed. Michelle believes that social media is bad for all women but far worse for women of color.

Lisa feels very strongly about the escalating poison of social media. “We need to find ways to corral this poison and shut it down. We are in charge of what we read and watch. We give too much power to social media.”

When asked about their mentors, Lisa named her mother and sisters while Michelle gave the nod to a close friend in the audience. Their workplace mentors have been primarily males. Both women admitted they received a lot of help and support on their respective journeys. And they’re both actively mentoring younger generations of journalists.


Inspired by Rebecca Traister

Friday evening, I attended “Good and Mad with Rebecca Traister” at the central branch of the Kitchener Public Library.

This Premiere 85 Queen Event was well-attended by fans (predominantly women) of the award-winning journalist and best-selling author of Big Girls Don’t Cry, All the Single Ladies, and Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.

After a brief introduction, an animated armchair conversation with Associate Professor Aimée Morrison followed.

Aimée began with the question: “Why are women afraid to get angry?”

Without missing a beat, Rebecca answered, “We fear the expression of anger.” She then went on to explain that feeling anger is a response to all sorts of unfairness—from the familial to the political—and is entirely rational.

This runs contrary to what many women have experienced throughout their lives. The message—If you are nice and polite, things will change—is reinforced while female expressions of anger are labeled emotional and hysterical. Women often put their relationships, careers, and lives at risk when showing anger.

On the other hand, powerful white men are granted rationality. Their anger is considered legitimate.

Later, this prompted the following question from an audience member: “How can we express anger in a world that wasn’t built to accept it?”

Rebecca admitted that we can’t change the world, but we can connect with others who are angry. Major social movements have occurred because people came together and organized.

Building community was the advice repeated throughout the evening. At no point did Rebecca suggest individual women let the anger loose. She did, however, allude to her own unique situation, joking that she lives in a biodome. She is literally being paid and rewarded professionally to be angry.

Rebecca is also reaping the health benefits of expressing that anger. During the four months she wrote Good and Mad, she experienced one of the physically healthiest periods of her adult life. She ate and slept well, exercised more than usual, and had great sex.

Quotable quotes from Rebecca Traister…

I’m deeply suspicious of all calls for civility.

If you keep your anger inside, you are isolated.

When you voice your anger, you become audible and visible. Others listen and join in the conversation.


Kate Morton Visits Kitchener

Yesterday evening, I attended “An Evening with Kate Morton” at the central branch of the Kitchener Public Library.

A packed auditorium and overflow room greeted the international best-selling author of The House of Riverton, The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper, and The Lake House. Her latest release, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, is one of the Top 10 books of 2018 (Indigo).

After reading a short excerpt from The Clockmaker’s Daughter, Kate participated in an armchair conversation with Kitchener writer, Kayleigh Platz. The time flew quickly as Kate shared her writing journey and details about her novels.

One of three daughters, Kate was born and raised in Australia. A voracious reader, Kate lived inside her books but didn’t even consider writing as a career. In fact, it never occurred to her that real people wrote books.

At age twenty, Kate was inspired by a visit from her fourteen-year-old sister, who had written a sexy romance. The sisters bought notebooks and started brainstorming ideas for future novels.

As soon as Kate put pen to paper, she realized she had to write. She wrote two manuscripts that will never see the light of day. After the second manuscript was rejected, Kate researched what was selling and then made a list of what she wanted to see in her own books.

Two-thirds of the way through Book 3—The House of Riverton—she sent the manuscript to an agent who passed it on to a publisher. Intrigued, the publisher asked Kate how long it would take to complete the novel. The House of Riverton was one of the most successful UK debuts of all time.

Kate’s Writing Process

The first three to five months is a scribbling period, Kate’s favorite part of the process. Using pen and paper, she sorts through fragments of ideas and thoughts. A picture starts to form as Kate outlines the plot and becomes more acquainted with the characters.

As soon as the characters feel real, Kate starts writing on the computer. It takes nine to twelve months to complete the first draft which is really like an eighth draft. As Kate finishes writing each scene, she stops to make changes. Final editing takes another five to six months.

Asked about a sequel, Kate explained that each book is complete on its own. When it’s finished and shared with the reader, she is ready to focus on the next book.

A long-time fan of Kate Morton, I’m reading and thoroughly enjoying The Clockmaker’s Daughter. It is her most intricate book with multiple storylines alternating between the past and present.


James Frey Visits Kitchener

Friday evening, I attended “An Evening with James Frey” at the central branch of the Kitchener Public Library.

This Premiere Series event was well-attended by fans of the best-selling author of A Million Little Pieces, My Friend Leonard, Bright Shiny Morning, and The Final Testament of the Holy Bible.

His latest book, Katerina, was released last week.

Before starting to read, James warned us that parts of Katerina were extremely dirty and the book contained tons of profanity. In an interesting twist, he asked members of the audience, to suggest excerpts.

Afterward, Michael Patterson, Drugs Strategy Specialist for Waterloo Region, engaged James in conversation. It didn’t take too long before the conversation veered toward the controversy that had surrounded (and still surrounds) A Million Little Pieces.

A bit of history…

2003 – Random House released A Million Little Pieces, a memoir of drug abuse and redemption.

2005 – Oprah selected the book for her monthly book club. Over two million copies were sold within months of the announcement.

January 2006The Smoking Gun released a report discrediting James Frey and the book. The investigative website reported that much of the book had been fabricated, including critical details about Frey’s criminal record and rehab experiences.

At first, Frey defended the book, but as the accusations mounted, he was forced to make a televised apology on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Nan Talese of Random House admitted that the company failed to fact-check the manuscript. You can watch the entire show here.

February 2006 – Random House published and included a note from James Frey, apologizing for fabricating portions of the book, in later editions.

September 2006 – James Frey and Random House reached a tentative legal settlement. Readers who felt they had been defrauded by the book would be offered a refund.

Friday evening, James admitted that a brief unpleasant period followed the telecast of the Oprah show. He faced 17 class action suits and five lawsuits. After receiving death threats and dealing with constant harassment from the media, he left the country with his wife and one-year-old daughter.

In spite of the controversy and scandal, James has no regrets and wouldn’t do anything differently. A Million Little Pieces has changed many lives and given hope to addicts. Two audience members publically thanked James for writing the book.

During the Q & A period…

• James was inspired by Henry Miller’s controversial novel, Tropic of Cancer. After reading, James set himself the goal of becoming the most notorious author on the planet.

A Million Little Pieces was not an overnight success story. It took twelve years to write.

• James doesn’t fear failure. If something doesn’t work, he tries a different approach.

• While he finds much of contemporary literature boring, he did enjoy reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. He also reads thrillers.

• He believes that authors don’t take enough risks. Too many of them attend writing school (something that didn’t happen thirty years ago) and write what he calls “homogenized literature.”

• James advice to writers (and all creatives): “If you work hard and believe deeply enough, you can pull it off.”

• He gave the following advice to an audience member struggling with her memoir: “Call it a novel or hire a lawyer.”

• While James wasn’t involved in the filming of A Million Little Pieces, he thought it was awesome when he saw it last week at TIFF. The film stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, and Odessa Young.


At the DIY Festival in Kitchener

Yesterday, I attended the DIY Festival at Kitchener Public Library. Already in its third year of operation, this annual event showcases the passions and businesses of local creatives.

Here’s what captured my interest…

In operation for 42 years, Kitchener Kicks offers martial arts–Kung Fu, Karate, Kickboxing, Aikido–to fit everyone’s lifestyle. I’m considering taking advantage of their “Two Weeks Free” program.



Musicians Elsa Jayne and Jesse Maranger of Evergreen Arts believe the future of music is DIY. It is now easier than ever to create beautiful records at home.



Cabin + Cove offers modern knitting workshops, monthly socials, cozy knitwear, and instant downloading patterns. They are also the home of the CozyRiot Project, a group of knitters and crocheters who make items for those in need.



In operation since 2008, Tri-City Roller Derby is Waterloo Region’s premier not-for-profit contact roller derby organization. While visiting the booth, I met with the coach and one of the young athletes. Their goal: “We teach girls aged 9 to 17 to roller skate and play the sport of roller derby in a safe and nurturing environment.”



I could feel Alayne Kleser’s passion and commitment as she chatted about her hens and her business, Kitchener Urban Hens. She hopes to foster a feeling of community among current and future barnyard hen owners.



At the Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre booth, I chatted with an enthusiastic Sarah Spry, who demonstrated the following compact drone. Priced at $1500, it can fold and easily fit into a backpack. You can learn all about the do’s and don’ts of drones in their four-hour course ($49 + HST).