The good, the bad & the just confused
Tanya Lloyd Kyi revisits “the good and the bad that comes with small town life” for “Anywhere But Here,” her YA novel published from New York, based on Creston, B.C.
January 28th, 2014
Lots of authors are discreetly prolific—for lots of reasons. Maybe they’re shy, maybe they’re naïve. Or maybe they’re nostalgic for the days when publishers did the job of making a book public. Or maybe they just prefer to stay home and become better writers by reading a lot of books—like Tanya Lloyd Kyi, who read 65 books for pleasure in 2013, and hopes to raise that number to 75 in 2014.
These days writers are increasingly expected to be go-getters who enjoy Facebooking and Twitting. There is no particular virtue in being unknown, so we can hardly blame those who opt to form power couples or write reviews that bestow lavish praise on writers who are inclined to return the favour.
Self-merchandizing is the way of the world these days. But it’s not the only game in town; Tanya Lloyd Kyi got ahead the old fashioned way—by paying her dues.
Now, after 22 books with three Canadian publishers, and almost thirty years of gruntwork, Tanya Lloyd Kyi has a new YA novel with Simon & Schuster, Anywhere But Here, about sixteen-year-old Cole Owens who wants to escape his small-town life and pursue his passion for filmmaking.
Instead of spending time behind the lens, Cole finds himself cooking for his drunken dad, giving the local stripper a safe ride home, and acting as a dating service for his best friend. Then there’s the wounded deer, the wacky ex-girlfriend, and the pushy school counsellor.
Everything seems to be conspiring to hold Cole in his hometown forever. He tries to decide if his relationships are a spider web, waiting to trap him, or a net, ready to save him. He might need saving sooner than he thinks.
BCBW: How much has Crawford Bay got to do with Anywhere But Here?
TLK: The town of Webster in Anywhere But Here is a thinly veiled stand-in for Creston, the town where I grew up. My book is about both the good and the bad that comes with small town life. I loved getting to re-experience all the warmth as well as the more embarrassing moments of my youth as I wrote. It’s interesting that you mention Crawford Bay though, because the book I’m writing at this moment is set in the mountains near there. And for this new book, I get to re-experience all my bear encounters.
BCBW: How did the book get published in New York?
TLK: As I was preparing to send my youngest child to kindergarten a couple years ago, I knew I wanted to spend more time writing fiction. So, I shipped a draft of Anywhere But Here off to Patricia Ocampo at TLA in Toronto. She was my cross-my-fingers-and-pray-hard agent choice because she had great publishing know-how, experience in marketing and editing, and she just looked so darned friendly in her photo. She is as nice and brilliant as her profile promised, and she’s the one who arranged to have Anywhere But Here published by Simon Pulse, which has been a thoroughly exciting experience.
BCBW: And how much has Colleen Macmillan of Whitecap and Annick Books had to do with your writing career?
TLK: Colleen’s been a friend and mentor ever since she hired me as a co-op student in 1996. She’s endlessly encouraging, and one of the few people in the world who laughs at my jokes.
BCBW: What kind of restaurant was it that your parents ran?
TLK: It was a family restaurant, similar to a White Spot. There was a big sign on the side of the building that said, “Ask the Locals. They’ll say, eat here!” And that sign was true! My sister and I spent several years roller skating in the basement while my parents worked upstairs. Then we graduated to dishwashing, bussing, and eventually waitressing. It was excellent training for people watching and future character developing!
BCBW: Was it difficult to adopt the voice of a male narrator?
TLK: Cole’s voice isn’t necessarily unique because he’s a guy, though he does talk in guy language and call his friends “bud” and thinks about sex fairly often. Instead of trying to make him “male,” I tried to make him both loveable and flawed. He’s a smart but self-centered guy who discovers that he needs his friends a lot more than he thinks.
BCBW: Have you lost touch with Whitecap Books, where you once worked, now that they have moved into CookBookLand and you’re in TeenNovelLand?
TLK: Yes! Entirely! But working at Whitecap was a great introduction to the publishing world. Every writer who wants to learn about queries and proposals should be in charge of a publisher’s slush pile for a while.
Born in Vancouver in 1973, Tanya Lloyd Kyi was raised mainly in Creston in eastern British Columbia after her parents opted to escape from the big city. They also lived in a nearby community on the eastern shore of Kootenay Lake called Crawford Bay (pop. 350).
Her parents taught her how to find her away around a vegetable garden and a restaurant that was opened when she was ten. “I can balance a lot of cokes on a tray,” she says, “and translate 2 e s/s, wh into two eggs, sunny-side up, white toast.”
The limitations of small town life led her to skedaddle to Vancouver where, by age 21, she became one of the province’s bestselling authors by ghostwriting and assembling travel and photography books for Whitecap Books, “raving about the beauty of places that I had never actually visited.” Her main uncredited accomplishment was Canada: A Visual Journey.
After a stint as a staff writer for the Commonwealth Games in 1994, she attended the University of Victoria. Her first book not dominated by photographs was an inspirational anthology entitled Canadian Girls Who Rocked the World (Whitecap, 2001), illustrated by Joanna Clark. It profiles more than 25 unusual, creative and courageous women born in Canada.
Promotional material notes she was an avid Ultimate player who married “the world’s only Burmese occupational therapist.” In the 21st century she bumped her pronounceable surname Lloyd in favour of her Burmese married when she published her first young adult novel, Truth (Orca, 2003) as Tanya Lloyd Kyi.
Her second young adult novel, My Time As Caz Hazard (Orca 2004), concerns guilt after a high school classmate’s suicide. It follows the troubles of Caz, a girl who is suspended for punching out her cheating hockey player boyfriend. Kyi got the idea for the storyline from a real incident in Creston when a girl punched out a hockey player. Caz’s parents are splitting up and she’s being sent to a new “supportive” school where she’s diagnosed as dyslexic. As a “sped” —special education student—she endures perky Ms. Samuels’ morning classes with Psycho Boy, shoplifting Amanda, non-verbal Rob and Dodie Doorknob. Bored with reviewing “dge” sounds, Caz pens a note, “Time to jump off a ledge.” Dodie’s suicide soon afterwards sends Caz reeling.
Her Fire: True Stories from the Edge (Annick 2004) offered ten stories of the most destructive fires in human history, from the 1666 fire in London that destroyed most of the city to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; to Halifax Explosion of 1917 to the 1991 Kuwait oil well fires.
Burn: The Life Story of Fire (Annick 2007) later explored the role of fire in civilization, religious belief, industry, communications, emotions, war, and nature. Whereas Egyptians worshipped the immortality of a phoenix born out of flames, seventh-century Koreans developed a system of huge signal fires to help protect their border.
Increasingly combining humour with education, Kyi hit her stride with The Blue Jean Book: The Story Behind the Seams (Annick Press, 2005), winner of the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize in 2006. Written while Lloyd Kyi was in the advanced stages of pregnancy, the history of the blue jeans was a project suggested to her by Colleen MacMillan of Annick Press. This research resurfaced for The Lowdown on Denim (Annick 2011)
Rescues: True Stories from the Edge (Annick 2006) includes the Frank Slide of 1903 and an account of how German commandos stormed a plane hijacked by Palestinian terrorists to save 79 tourists in 1977. Following re-issued versions of picture books from Whitecap, Kyi’s humorous collection called 50 Poisonous Questions: A Book With Bite (Annick, 2011) included cartoon drawings and questions such as, “Should you pee on a jelly-fish sting?” (No, douse it with vinegar.)
In a similar vein… Seeing Red: The True Story of Blood (Annick 2012) again showed how she could put herself in the background as a non-performance artist. Each chapter is introduced in a comic-book style by young Harker, a goth narrator with a worrisome relish for all things bloody. A new version has been published in Korean.
With her trademark humour, she’s done a follow up in the Fifty Questions series on anatomy, 50 Body Questions: A Book That Spills Its Guts (Annick 2013), in which young readers can learn how people avoided epidemics in ancient Pakistan and why goldfish can see things that we can’t.
Canadian Boys Who Rocked the World (Whitecap) outlines the lives of thirty young men who became famous prior to age twenty, such as Louis Cyr, who bested the reigning Canadian strongman by lifting a 180 kg granite boulder at age 17; and Wayne Gretzky who was breaking NHL records by the time he was 18. It was followed by Canadian Girls Who Rocked the World (Whitecap) with 27 portraits that include singer Avril Lavigne and Marilyn Bell who became the first person to swim continuously across Lake Ontario.
Kyi’s book launch for Anywhere But Here at Vancouver Kidsbooks was shared with Gabrielle Prendergast for her second novel, Capricious (Orca 2014), a follow-up to Audacious (Orca 2013), and was attended by author friends Rachelle Delany and Lori Sheritt-Fleming. Not exactly a billboard in Times Square perhaps, but another affirmation of progress.
Slowly, steadily, Tanya Lloyd Kyi from Creston has arrived at where she wants to be, living in Kitsilano, publishing from New York.
By Alan Twigg, BCBookLook, 2014,
Truth (Whitecap, 2001)
Police Line: Do Not Cross (Orca, 2003) 155143265X
My Time as Caz Hazard (Orca, 2004) 1551433192
The Blue Jean Book: The Story Behind the Seams (Annick Press, 2005)
Fires: True Stories from the Edge (Annick 2004) $9.95 9781550378764
Rescues: True Stories from the Edge (Annick 2006) $9.95 9781554510337
Canada: A Visual Journey (Whitecap 2006)
The Okanagan (Whitecap 2006). 2nd edition.
Banff National Park (Whitecap 2006)
Nova Scotia (Whitecap 2006)
The Canadian Rockies (Whitecap 2006)
Whistler (Whitecap 2006)
Canadian Boys Who Rocked the World (Whitecap 2006) $12.95
Burn: The Life Story of Fire (Whitecap 2007)
Fire (Annick 2007)
Canadian Girls Who Rocked the World(Whitecap 2009) $12.95 9781552859865
50 Burning Questions (Annick 2010) $12.95 9781554512201
50 Poisonous Questions: A Book With Bite (Annick, 2011) 9781554512812 $12.95
50 Underwear Questions (Annick 2011) $21.95 9781554513536
The Lowdown on Denim (Annick 2011) $12.95 9781554513543
Seeing Red: The True Story of Blood (Annick 2012) $14.95 9781554513840
50 Body Questions: A Book That Spills Its Guts (Annick 2014) $14.95 9781554516124
Anywhere But Here (New York: Simon Pulse) $11.95 9781442480696