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Christina Kilbourne
Profile by Dave Jenkinson.

Christina Kilbourne While references sources may say that Christina Kilbourne was born in Petrolia, ON, on May 13, 1967, Christian clarifies that “I was only born there because it was the nearest hospital. We actually lived in another little nearby town called Forest in southwestern Ontario. I have an older brother and sister. My dad remarried, and so I have two half-brothers, but I was 18 or 19 when they were born. When I was about six, we moved to Gravenhurst, ON, one of the three main towns in Muskoka. My dad was a high school shop teacher and a big outdoors person, hunting, fishing, that sort of thing. He was looking for a job somewhere more north because we were always going up there for odd holidays anyway, and so he got a teaching job in Gravenhurst.”

“Not only was my dad a teacher, but so were my mother and my stepmother. All my parents’ friends were teachers, and when I was a kid, I thought you finished school and then you became a teacher. My mom taught my sister for two years in about grade six and seven, and then my sister went to a bigger school in town. When I got to the place where I was going to be in my mom’s class, she said, ‘I’m not teaching another one of my kids,’ and she quit and got a different job.”

“I thought my childhood was fantastic. I can remember being eight and thinking, ‘Life does not get any better than this.’ We lived out in the country on a bit of a hobby farm where we had about a hundred acres. My dad was always trying to find new ways to make extra money. He was frugal and entrepreneurial at the same time. At one point, his scheme was to make and sell fence posts from our cedar forest. For many years, we were always loading up the pickup truck with firewood and selling the wood to his teacher friends in town. When I was about 10, my dad saw a documentary on Christmas tree farms, and the next day we were in the bush digging out saplings and putting them in the field.”

“I don’t know that we ever made much money, but I guess we saved money because we heated our house with a wood furnace. A century home, it didn’t have great windows or insulation, and so we were forever cutting and piling wood. We’d cut it in the bush, pile it up, go get it in the summer, bring it to the house, pile it up again, and then all winter you had to take it from outside to inside to dry it out by the furnace. My dad raised cows for beef, and we made our own hay and oats, plus we had our own garden. My dad didn’t like to sit still very long, and he’s in his seventies and still doesn’t like to sit still very long.”

“My mom, while she was teaching and helping out on the farm and doing the canning and the pickling and everything like that, was also finishing her degree. My dad had done his degree when we were babies, but my mom had never finished. She’d gone to teachers college, but, in those days, you didn’t have to have had your degree first. Since saws didn’t change much over the years, my dad’s lesson plans didn’t have to change much either, but my mom was teaching four grades, and things were constantly changing. Also, my dad didn’t have to mark every day, and when he did, it was marking like a coffee table, but my mom was always marking or studying.”

“I just always wanted to be an author. Because our little school didn’t have a librarian, a librarian used to come out to our school. Once she brought a collection of poems that kids had written, and I was just dumbfounded. I remember going home and saying to my mom and my grandfather, ‘Kids can get books published. I’m going to get a book published one day.’ And they were both like, ‘Well, you write one that’s good enough, and, yes, you can get it published.’ That was it, and from that day forward, being an author was always one of the things I was going to do, and I was always going to dedicate my first book to my mom, which I did.”

Not surprisingly, Christina’s practical father didn’t think that her wanting to be an author was a great career choice, but Christina understands his concern..”I think like anything in the arts, people are like, ‘OK, that’s great. You want to be a musician or a writer or a painter, but what are you going to do to make money?’ As a parent, that’s a fairly real concern as you don’t want to support your kids forever. But my dad’s reaction is funny though because he’s a huge storyteller with great comedic timing. A hunter-fisher guy, he tells the same stories every year, and they get better every time as the deer’s antlers have extra points or the fight to land the fish takes 20 minutes longer. He’s proud though, and now likes the fact that I write, but we don’t really talk about it at home. When you’re together, you don’t talk about your day jobs. You just get on with doing the family stuff.”

“I was a reader as a child, but, in hindsight, I’m a little surprised, seeing that my parents were both teachers, that we had so few books in the house. Partly that can be explained by the fact that we lived out in the country and there wasn’t a book store in our town. There was a public library, but we only went there once every other week. I didn’t get into town a lot, but when I did, my mom did take me to a library. However, there were never enough books, and I can remember one time that the church had a box of books and I brought them home that summer. Every night, after I was told to go to bed, I stayed up with a flashlight just to read. Today, I probably wouldn’t like those books, but they were just books to read. I went through the few books that we had, and I was trying to read adult books. They were way beyond me, but I would try to read them just because it was a book.”

“As I mentioned earlier, the librarian from the larger school in town would come out to our two-room school. I don’t recall exactly how often she would come, likely every other week. She would read us a story, tell us about some new books, and then she would leave a few books with us. It wouldn’t take me very long to get through all those books, and then I’d have to wait two weeks until the next batch of books.. By the time I was in about grade five, the librarian didn’t come out any more, and I don’t know why. But I can remember her reading us ‘Alligator Pie,’ and I was, ‘Wow, this poem was so much fun.’ Her visits were our window into all things literary.”

“Beverly Cleary was one of my favourite authors. I think what I liked about her books were her characters. I loved Ramona. Maybe I was a little Ramona-like when I was young. I was a pest. My older brother and sister certainly saw me as nothing but a pain in their sides, and then finally there’s this book about this kid who’s just like me.”

“Though I always wanted to be a writer, I think I let people discourage me because everyone was like, ‘You want to be a writer? You’re never going to make any money as a writer.’ I never do that to kids. If they want to be a writer, I’m like, ‘Yah! Go be a writer!’ At a certain point, I decided I wanted to be an archeologist, and I followed through with that notion for a few years until I tried it and got a summer job while I was in university. The University of Western Ontario is affiliated with an Indian Museum of Archeology that offers summer jobs. My first summer I spent cross-checking their catalogue.”

“I was given a long printout of all the items that they had catalogued in a storage room. My task was to go through this printout and make sure that I found everything in the storage room. Now, when they showed me the job, it was like arrowheads and all this really cool stuff. Well, the cool stuff took about the first hour to locate, and then it was boxes of charcoal and burnt corn and things like that. The list was five inches high, and I spent two months before going into my supervisor and asking, ‘Do you think I’m going to get through this whole collection this summer?’ When he replied, ‘I don’t know,’ I went back and started writing short stories instead because nobody really cared if I got through.”

“The next year I got a job actually excavating. I was so excited. I had been dreaming about this since I was a kid. However, because it was a very wet summer, we spent a lot of time in Tim Horton’s waiting for it to stop raining, which is just not me. I‘d rather have been out digging. I liked being outside, but we spent so much time just shaking dirt and going, ‘Here’s a piece of charcoal,’ and putting it inside a bag and writing a number and plotting it on the graph. ‘Here’s another piece of charcoal.’ Just doing it was so repetitive. I’m really bad with repetitive tasks, and at the end of that summer, I went, ‘I need something different.’ But I still love archeology and all things old.”

“I don’t know what initiated this interest in archeology. It may have been that, when I was in about grade five, a traveling exhibit on King Tut came to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. One kid from every school got to go. In our school, if you were interested in being chosen, you had to stand up in front of the class and make a case for why it should be you. As I recall, there were only two or three of us that were interested, but I just had to go that trip,. The kids all voted for me, and so I did get to go. I’ve always been interested in Egypt and excavating, and I still find it fascinating.”

“When I finished high school, I wanted to do a degree in archeology, but I really wanted to go to the University of Western Ontario in London, ON. By this point, my parents were separated, and I was living with my dad and my mom was living in London. I wanted to be near my mom, and UWO was a sort of a family school in that my brother had also gone there. As well, my grandmother lived there, and I had some ties to London. The problem was that UWO didn’t have an archeology program. You had to major in anthropology and could take archeology courses along the way. Given my later cataloguing and excavating experiences, it’s just as well I didn’t actually do a degree in archeology. I ultimately did a double major honours degree in Anthropology and English.”

“In my second or third year at UWO, I had a friend ask, “What are you going to do after you finish your degree?’ and she added, ‘I’m going to take a Master’s degree in creative writing.’ I was just like, ‘They have such a thing?’ It was like I was destined to meet this person who could give me this piece of information so that I could get on with my life. That was it. I knew that was what I really wanted to go and do. Plus, by then, I’d had my summer of sifting dirt.”

“I applied to a whole bunch of schools, basically looking for anything in Ontario. I wasn’t picky - whoever would take me. I had two stumbling blocks, one being that I had a lousy portfolio. The other was that I really only had a half a degree in English. Consequently, while the University of Windsor finally accepted me, they made me take a whole makeup year since their Master’s degree is actually Creative Writing and English literature. As a result, it took me two years to do the degree. Of course, I’d never done a creative writing course, and I had to do the fourth year creative writing course before I could do the Master’s creative writing course.”

“Both creative writing courses went the whole year, but with the master’s level course, at its conclusion, you had to come up with a thesis. Throughout the year then, you were basically writing what was your thesis - a collection of poetry, a collection of short stories, or a novel - and every week you got the feedback. I did a collection of short stories that also hung together as a short novel. The weekly critiques were painful at first, but invaluable. Maybe that was an intentional part of the process, just to toughen you up. But there was really no coddling. Nobody was sitting there saying,’ Yah, you’re awesome.’ No one ever said things like that.”

“I had two years of that constant feedback process, and what it got me to do was to be able to self-edit. At first, every sentence you write is brilliant, and you can’t imagine that you would ever cut even a single one of those brilliant ‘little pearls.’ Then eventually you realize that, ‘Ok, I’m probably going to cut out a third of this,’ and you just get ruthless. Now I’ve finally got to the place where I can sort of edit it before I even get it on the paper, and so I find I have to do a lot less cutting later. This learning to self-edit was such a valuable experience. That’s something that you can’t read theoretically. It just takes practice.”

Christina says that she one of the places she had always wanted to visit was South America. “When I was finishing up my degree, I said to my dad, ‘I’m going to South America.’ And he replied, ‘You’re not going to South America. It’s way too dangerous. If you go to Africa and do one of those organized trips, I’ll help pay for your trip.’ Now, I had actually wanted to go to Africa, but I thought it was a little too intimidating for my first big trip given that I’d never been past Hawaii or Florida. It was the best unintended reverse psychology ever.”

“I signed up with a British company that was based out of London, England, and did various length trips. Mine was a four-month trip, and we left by truck from London and essentially drove down to Tanzania. We had a lot of truck breakdowns and border problems so that we ended up taking five months. They were 20 of us from all over the world in the truck. We left London in January, and it was really cold because you were sitting outside essentially, driving along. The good thing is that you’ve picked a trip based on a general itinerary. You know what the highlights are, but, in between, the groups are to decide, with the driver ultimately being in charge. For me, I really wanted to see the culture. A lot of the other people came for the game parks.”

“We drove all the way down the west coast of Africa before we got to the game parks. which were the last two weeks of the trip. You have all your camping gear in this big truck so that, when you get to the safari parks, you roll up the vinyl sides and can see the animals. We camped and hit towns or cities every five to ten days. At night, we’d pull off the road and camp in the bush or a field. We shopped at local markets and were grouped into cooking teams. The expedition leader would give cooking teams money and say, ‘You have to do the cooking tomorrow.’ You’d get to the market and find meat and hope it’s the kind of meat that you like because it doesn’t say it’s chicken or beef. It could be monkey. You don’t know what it is. There was suspicious tasting meat on that trip.”

“It was on that trip I met my husband-to-be. He was the expedition leader, and this was his last trip. He’d been doing it for about eight years by then, and I think he was like, ‘OK. You can only do this for so long.’ Leading’s tiring and exhausting, and there were a lot of problems on that trip - medical emergencies, and all sorts of things that happened. After the trip was over, he said, ‘Do you want to go to South America? And I’m like ‘Hey, what a coincidence.’ He’d led a number of those expeditions trips through South America, and so I had my own personal expedition guide, but we took public transport - buses , boats, planes and trains - and did about a six month expedition. We did it all backpacking and went down right to the tip of Chile.”

“Between trips, I had to come back to Canada and make money, but he already had money so he would just come and hang out and wait for me to save enough money for the next trip. We thought we’d go and set up life in New Zealand, and so we went for a year. I think after about the 325th day of me crying, he said, ‘OK, let’s go back to Canada.’ I was homesick and had left family, a network of friends, a decent job. I had belongings back in Canada, but he’d been traveling for nine years. For him, going to New Zealand was going home, but he brought with him a backpack with three pairs of socks and a change of underwear. In Canada, I had my nest and everything. We decided to come back, and he went to an adult college and did a computer networking diploma. I had a good enough a job that I could support us awhile he did a fast track one year thing. That also was a bit of an incentive because I got offered a job that could support us for the year.”

Even while Christina was travelling, she was still writing. “I did write some great letters home. That was before email, and they would photocopy the letters and mail them on to everybody else. It was like a travel blog, only it was on paper, and we did it by fax and snail mail. In between all those trips, I was always working on writing and getting feedback. The writer-in-residence that I’d met at the University of Windsor, Peter Robinson, is a crime writer. I was contacting him and getting feedback and continuing on with the process. I started to send queries and was getting rejections, but some of them were really nice rejections where they were giving me some extra feedback, not just the form letter, and that encouraged me. I was submitting what I thought was a novel, but then I realized it wasn’t quite a novel and needed to be worked on more. In the beginning, you think it’s perfect but it really isn’t.”

“I think the first success I had was when I sent out some sample chapters and had Arsenal or somebody send something back saying they wanted to see the rest of it. It was like, ‘Yahoo! Eureka.’ I thought I was on my way. I quit my job. In the end, they didn’t publish it, but they had given me some really valuable advice and encouragement. Somewhere along the line, just looking for publishers to send something to, I figured I would target the small Canadian presses because I thought I was going to have a better chance of having anyone even read my manuscript.”

“I found this contest that was for writers who had never been published. It was sponsored by Broken Jaw Press in Fredericton, NB. I submitted my manuscript, and like a year later, I got the call, ‘Oh, you won, and we’re going to publish the book as a trade paperback.’ That was fantastic because that suddenly gave me the foot in the door to be able to apply for grants and join the Writer’s Union and say. ‘I have a published book.’”

“The book, an adult novel entitled Day of the Dog-tooth Violets came out three weeks after my son was born, so it wasn’t the ideal time. In the meantime, I was still always writing, and shortly after that, I started trying to hit literary agents. I had a literary agent pick up one of the manuscripts, and again I was ready to quit my job. Unfortunately, this was just around the time of 9/11 and everybody stopped taking chances on new writers. Doubleday in Canada was ready to publish the book if the agent could find somebody in the States to co-publish it so that it would have more exposure. She couldn’t find anyone, and that was the end of that. That was in 2001, and that manuscript was never published, and I finally posted it on my website as a free download. Then I stumbled on BookLand Press, and they published The Roads of Go Home Lake, a sequel to my Broken Jaw winner.”

“I have good luck in at least getting agents to engage in a conversation with me. I had contacted an agent who had left an agency and was just starting his own business. He really loved Dear Jo and said, ‘This has to be a series. Can you write a second and a third book?’ And I responded, ‘Oh yes, and really quickly. Here you go.’ He tried really, really hard, but he never did sell it. Very apologetically, he said, ‘I’ve tried everybody I can try.’ The reality is that agents aren’t interested in the smaller presses because they want to make money, and they’re not going to make money because there’s no big advance from the smaller presses. They’re looking for the $20,000.00 advances, not $1,500.00”

“I then went on-line and looked for publishers that were publishing for that age group and were accepting manuscripts, and I stumbled on Lobster. I sent it to them, and very quickly they got back to me. I think they were just expanding into the young adult area , having just done picture books up until then. I had originally thought I was targeting Dear Jo at 15-16-year-olds, but Lobster said, ‘No, we’re going to target it at 10-year-olds.’ I was like, ‘You can’t do that!’but it’s turned out really well. Lobster’s argument was, ‘What’s the point of giving it to a 15-year-old. Something bad could have already have happened by then. You need to get them when they are 10, before they have discovered the Internet so they know what’s happening.’ After we had that discussion, I was still really nervous, but it made sense and Lobster seemed to know what they were doing. And so I agreed , plus it was the best offer I had.’

Dear Jo was actually an outcome of Christina’s second go at participating in a three-day writing marathon that’s a fundraiser to solicit money to help illiterate individuals learn how to read. “You get sponsors, and everyone is expected to raise a certain amount of money. We were allowed to take in one page of notes, and during the first one, I wrote the first third of The Roads of Go Home Lake novel. Going into the second writing marathon, I knew I needed to write something shorter. I didn’t have the stamina, the will power or whatever was necessary to get something written of adult novel length. So, just being practical, I decided I’d aim for a young person’s book because it would be shorter. As well, I’d always been told, ‘Oh, you’d make a great YA writer.’ I’d never thought of it myself. At the same time as I was trying to come up with what my outline was going to be. I knew I wanted it planned out, and I wanted to have my outline. A little 10-year-old girl, Holly Jones, went missing in Toronto, and she was later found murdered. Because I was a new mom, I had this new perspective on the amount of energy and love it takes to get a kid from zero to walking and taking, and her going missing and then being found murdered really hit home hard.”

Dear Jo cover

“When I decided I would have to probably use a missing child’s case for my novel, that’s about the time Max’s voice came to me. I had been wanting to do something in first person, and her voice came to me as a diary entry. I put together the missing kid’s case and the diary entry, and I started to do research on missing kids’ cases and issues facing young people and came up with the whole Internet predator angle. In my original manuscript, I didn’t have Max and Leah know each other. It wasn’t until I was working with the agent later and he said, ‘You know, you need to make the story more immediate. There has to be more in it for Max than just that she hears about this kid. They need to know each other,’ that I put them in the same circle of friends. It was later that I went, ‘That’s great because you know, when kids go missing, you hear from their parents, but you don’t hear from their friends. And when you’re 10, 12 and 14, your friends are everything to you, probably more than your siblings or your parents, and it would just be so hard to lose a friend.’”

Christina admits to crying while writing parts of Dear Jo and acknowledges still tearing up while doing public readings. “Reading the poem that Max writes about Leah gets me every single time as does the funeral scene. I also get quite emotional with the little sister, Molly, because it must have also been hard on her. Leah was her older sister’s friend, and I think we, as adults, underestimate that even a five-year-old can experience the same amount of loss. Those kind of aspects still choke me up. There’s this one scene I always used to pick to read. It’s the one where Max comes home from school and her mom is really freaked out and says, ‘Sweetie, Leah is missing.” I had to stop reading that one because I kept getting chocked up in front of all these kids.” Of They Called Me Red, Christina says, “I think I was just numb while writing this one. The only passage that really gets me is when Devon comes home and comes back to his foster family. He sees that they have taken his dad’s picture and his possessions out of storage and put them in his room. That kind of thing really gets me.”

“Max’s two siblings in Dear Jo are modeled after my own two children who were at that age at the time I went to the writing marathon. They looked the same, acted the same. My red-headed son doesn’t run around naked any more, but, until he got into grade one, he would still come home, and the first thing he would do is strip off his clothes. I’d come home from work, and there would be his clothes. I hope he’s never going to read this, but he liked to run around naked and to pick his nose all the time. My daughter was always like, ‘Oh, it’s so gross.’ And she really did ask, ‘Do I get to take my bones to Heaven?’ It seemed such an odd thing to say, and it happened right when I was editing, and so I had to stick it in the book. The dog Finn who appears in Dear Jo is really our dog. We still have him. He’s getting aged, but he’s very much the dog in the book.”

The photo of girl who appears on the cover of Dear Jo is Christina’s children’s daycare girl. Christina explains, “I was looking at Lisa and thought, ‘She could be Max. She looks exactly like how I described her.’ At the time, Lisa was taking a modeling course, and I said, ‘Oh, perfect, Lisa. Do you want to come and pose?’ She was thrilled. I have a friend, Jonathan Cliff, who is a professional photographer, and he came out, and we did a photo shoot, taking a whole series of shots throughout our house. He really likes to take these backlit natural light pictures. Jonathan took reams of pictures and sent me the top 100. It was hard to pick just one. Originally, I was going to self-publish it, but then I got the offer from Lobster. I told them, ‘Hey, I have some cover shots. Are you interested?’ And they were. I do love the cover, partly because my friend took it. and partly because I just it works.”

“When I first queried Lobster, I sent in three books. I had one called ‘Losing Leah’ and one called ‘Missing Molly’ because, in the second book, Molly goes missing. I sent out a synopsis of the three stories. I called the series ‘Dear Jo’ with the individual title being ‘Losing Leah.’ I did write the other two books, and they’re sitting on my computer, but I have a contract that says that I would never publish anything with the same characters and in the same format with anybody else. Lobster thinks it would take away from the importance of Dear Jo to do a series. I kind of get that, but, at the same time, ....”

“Early on, the Toronto, Globe and Mail reviewed Dear Jo, and the reviewer said, ‘It’s too scary for kids. You shouldn’t let them read it.’ There was quite a bit of backlash to that review saying, ‘Would you rather you didn’t tell your kids that it could happen to them and then let it happen to them?’ I’m a parent, and I’m hesitant to want to have to tell my kids the ugly truth, but I’m the first one that’s going to tell them the information they need to protect themselves. I guess there’s a balance: tell them enough to make them aware without scaring them.”

After writing Dear Jo,/i>, Christina says that it was her intent to rework a fairy tale. “I love Shrek, and I love the way they used the whole fairy tale convention in Shrek and all the fairy tale creatures. So, with the greatest of respect, I wanted to do something as wonderful and monumental as Shrek. I picked Cinderella because who doesn’t love Cinderella? Who hasn’t felt being misunderstood and misaligned in their lives? But then I thought, ‘I’m going to turn it all upside down. Cinderella will be a boy, and instead of having stepsisters, there will a stepbrother, and there’s going to be an evil stepmother.’ Somehow I went from that to human trafficking.”

“I really enjoyed writing the first section of They Called Me Red and getting all the characters set up and establishing things. With the middle section where Devon’s being sexually abused, I just persevered. I knew I needed to write it, and I basically made myself sit down and write so many words a night. I had mapped out the middle section, and I just did it. It was very hard and was really draining. It took me a long time to start writing again after that book as it took a lot out of me, and I hadn’t anticipated that. I was pretty beat up by the time I’d finished writing that one.”

They Called Me Red cover“My intent with They Called Me Red was not to scare people, but trafficking in humans does happen. While I made up the character, I’m not making up the situation. Part of me wanted to say, ‘This isn’t happening only in other countries.,’ It’s so easy for us to say, ‘Whatever. It’s not happening here, and so I don’t have to worry about it.’ I really wanted to put a North American face on an issue that’s happening somewhere else to make people pay attention. When I write, I want to make people aware of something they might not otherwise be aware of. I really want people to people pull out their empathy, and I wanted to hit them emotionally so that they can’t turn their backs on it, and they have to acknowledge that it’s happening. I didn’t expect that there would be adults who wouldn’t be able to finish reading it, and I guess that was because I know that, in the end, things are OK. There were some things that I did in the book that I didn’t anticipated doing . For instance, when Devon’s almost rescued, I had to make him wait to help rescue the other kids. I couldn’t let him go alone because that wouldn’t have been right. In the end, I think there is a hopeful feeling about.

They Called Me Red. It’s not just all sadness. I couldn’t end on sadness.” “They Called Me Red was my quickest from draft to publishing experience. I basically started writing in May, and by August I sent Lobster my first draft, and they right away said, ‘We’ll publish it.’ I was happy, a little bit surprised. I think I was naive in that I didn’t realize how much the book would affect some people. I had one reviewer on an on-line blog saying, ‘I don’t even know how to review this book. I don’t even know how I feel about this book.’ which to some people is like, ‘Cool, now I want to read it,’ and then other people who are like, ‘Oh, I never want to read that then.’ At the same time, you’ve got people going, ‘Bravo! You’ve taken on a taboo subject.’ I didn’t go out intending to do any one thing with the story. It came to me, and I wrote it. I’m glad that the book brings attention to a terrible situation, and through the process of writing it, I came to understand what I wanted to do, but I didn’t set out to do any one thing.”

“With They Called Me Red, I plotted more than I usually plot. I plotted it out in terms of good proper novel structure and having the three sections. I knew the geographical location of each section and what I wanted to deal with in each section. I didn’t want the ending to just be ‘He comes home and lives happily ever after’ because that’s really only part of the journey. So, Devon gets home at the end of the second section, and then the whole third section is his dealing with being home.”

“I realized there were two things that I wanted to deal with in the last section. One was dealing with it. We’re quick to sympathize and say, ‘That’s terrible that happened to you,’ but we don’t see the person after that for just being a person. We just see the incident, and that’s what Devon deals with. He’s like, ‘I don’t want people, every time they look at me, to think only of what I’ve gone through.’ The other thing that I wanted to deal with is the media attention because, whenever there’s a missing kid that comes home, there’s all the media attention. These kids have had enough to deal with without the media bearing down on them and ruining any moment of normalcy they may have gained after the ordeal that’s happened to them. I wanted to deal with both of those things, and I wanted it to be a longer journey than ‘the bad thing happens, and then it’s over.’ The media attention essentially extends the abuse.”

Asked where she begins in writing a book, Christina replies, “I don’t think it has ever gone the same way twice. I guess it’s like a collection process. I might be thinking of an issue I want to deal with when a character comes to me, and so I mash them together. I wanted to write a fairy tale, and my father-in-law who’s a red head said, ‘You need to put a character who’s got red hair in your next story.’ I kind of just collect the details as I go along. I often have a very strong voice when I start. With Dear Jo’s Max, there was very well-established kid’s voice in my head already, and the same with Devon, too. At the same time, I’ll very roughly know that I want to get from Point A to Point B, and there’s going to be a couple of stops along the way. I definitely don’t want to plot it out too definitively because then the writing’s not fun and just becomes a rote exercise. You just never know what your character’s going to do or say that throws you right off your schedule, and, being the very organized person that I am, that would really bother me. Consequently, I try to only have a very loose idea of where I’m going. So, to answer the question, I’d say character most often and issue. They just end up combing at a certain time, and then I go from there.”

“With a job and family, my writing time is very restricted. If I have to have something back to an editor by a certain time, I’ll rely more on, ‘You guys all go to the zoo today’ or something like that. I actually hate doing that because I miss out on going to the zoo and other fun things. The older the kids get, the longer they are up at night and the less time I’m having to myself. My family is first, and anything else has to come second, and so until my children are a certain age, writing really has to fit around them. I’m really good at eking out little bits of time here and there though.”

“It’s night time, usually after the kids go to bed, which is about 9:30 these days, when I write. If I’m really on a roll, I’ll write until 11, and then I have to go to bed myself. I’m up at 6 a.m. as I work an early day. My husband gets the kids off to school. I get home early, just after 3 p.m., and get the kids off the bus so they don’t have to be in daycare. They have after-school activities, and I get until 5:30 to get things done. If I’m really working on something very intently, then I will work a little longer in the evening than if I’m just putting in a bit of time to get myself primed. A lot of the time, the writing is my unwinding time. It’s what I enjoy doing, and so, most of the time, I don’t mind that I’m doing it. A lot of times, I’m just waiting for the kids to go to bed because I want to get writing.” Christina’s daylight hours, however, are not completely lost to writing. “I take notes a lot, and I have a notebook and I’ll write something down that comes to me. Or I’ll be at work and think of something and email myself to my home account to remind me to do that in my book.”

While Christina says that she like the creative process, she really enjoys the rewriting, editing process. “It is pure work to get that first draft down. If you’re not writing a sequel, there’s so many decisions to be made. What does the house look like? What’s the kid wearing? What’s the school like? What are the friends like? Every time you go to write something, it’s a decision point, and that’s really exhausting and time-consuming. But when you go back to edit, that’s when you get to do all the fun stuff. You get to pull out all of the thematic threads and wind them all together. I really like to get the most succinct sentence that I can, and I like to make sure that I didn’t overuse a word. The editing process is where you get to put in all those fun little details and coincidences like, ‘Oh, look. They just saw that same person that they saw three pages ago.’”

“In doing the first draft, I just get it down in as best copy as I can. Sometimes I have to go back in my writing because, for example, I need to know what my character was wearing when I was writing last week. Or sometimes you catch inconsistencies on your next read-through, and you’re like, ‘Oh, wait, wait, wait. That’s not going to work.’ Or you’ll change one detail in one place, such as suddenly deciding the character needs to have short hair, and then you have to go back and be sure the character has short hair at every reference point. In that way, it’s good to flesh out your character ahead of time. I was lucky that way with Max in Dear Jo because she really came to me as a whole person, and Devon did too. Some of the secondary characters I have to go back and ask, ‘What was the parent’s name again?’”

An aspect of being an author is promoting your books. Christina says, “I like to know that people read the books and enjoy them, and so I love to get a positive email or a good review. I don’t like public speaking. It’s not something I thrive on doing. Once I get there and do it, I enjoy it and afterwards I feel happy that I’ve done it. But it doesn’t come without me feeling nervous and anxious ahead of time. Small groups are OK.”

Christina is presently working on a manuscript tentatively called “Catia O”. “The story’s actually based on a family that I knew and grew up with. It’s about four sisters that one day showed up at that little school that I went to. Boom, four new schoolmates! In a school of a population of about 50, four new kids, that’s huge. They were adopted by a local family, and I just always found their story fascinating. Because I’m in touch with one of the girls, I know loosely what’s happened in their lives, but I don’t want to know too many details because I want to be able to make it my story, too.”

“Probably what it was that inspired me was this one girl’s personality, her strength and courage and just the way she dealt with everything. I’m kind of weaving my imaginary story around that. It’s basically about these four girls that get taken into foster care, and then their mother gives up custody and they become adopted into another family. So, again, it’s not just going to end up - get adopted, live happily-ever-after. There’s the settling in period, and it’s not always easy for an eight or a nine-year-old to just suddenly go,‘Wow, now I’ve got a new last name and new parents. I’ve got my sisters with me still.’ It’s not always easy to shed the past. At the beginning of the story, the four sisters range in age from two years of age to about seven, but by the end of the story, they are in high school. You get a little bit more of some of the different periods as the plot time-wise is not spread evenly.”

“The eldest sister, who runs away, has the hardest time severing the ties. She has the best memories and probably the closest bond with her birth mother. Of course, the youngest ones have the easiest time because they were so young that they don’t remember anyway. I really wanted to juxtapose the two oldest girls, and so to show the difference, you‘ve got the one girl who doesn’t really adjust so well to the new life versus the girl who does adjust really well. And it’s not just life circumstances that accounts for the differences. Personality plays a role, and so you can have two kids that grew up very similarly and one will handle it much differently than the other.”

“The title character is the second oldest. She’s the one that is able to say, ‘Yah. This is my new life, and I’m going to get on with it and make the most of it and be glad that I had this opportunity.’ The eldest girl, Jewel, is, in the end, very bitter toward her sister because she’s not more sentimental about their original mother and their first few years of life. There’s just the one voice. I show through the one person’s voice what the other experiences and goes through.”

“This one’s coming out very slowly, piece by piece, and I’m never quite sure what’s going to happen next. This a new experience. Books all come out different. It’s like kids. You never know what they are going to be. They just come out the way they come out, and you do your best with them.”

Christina is also working on a picture book that came out of an experience with her son. “My little guy loves books and stories, but the kind of books that he likes are so different from the kind of books that my daughter at the same age would have liked. He really likes funny things and potty humour, things that are irreverent. I’d always wanted to write a picture book, but I could never come up with a good idea, ever. I tried for years, and then one short conversation with my son, and I was like, ‘That’d be a good picture book.’ I plotted some stuff out and wrote it. It was initiated by the fact that he didn’t want to be kissed. I was always kissing and hugging him while he was playing his video games, and he’d try to get away.”

“I would have never thought of writing for these age groups as I wanted to be an adult writer. That’s what gets all the prestigious stuff like the Giller Prize, but I have to say, ‘What a stroke of luck that I did fall into it.’ To have eight school visits lined up in a week and to be able to see all those kids, how long would it take to get that many adults interested in actually coming out of their warm house on a cold night to come and see me? I love the kids because they are so fresh, wonderful and enthusiastic. I’m hoping I can sustain the writing enough until my kids are older and I can then do more of the publicity things. Right now, I don’t want to miss anything in my kids’ lives. I want to be there for them. I hate to say ‘No’ to any school, but, if a school calls, I have to look at my holiday time, my kids’ schedule and try to see if I can to fit it in. If there was a ton of demand, I would have to decide, ‘Do I try to really go for this and give up my job?’”.

Books by Christina Kilbourne:

Dear Jo: The Story of Losing Leah...and Searching for Hope.
Lobster Press, 2007. Grades 5-10.

They Called Me Red.
Lobster Press, 2008. Grades 8 and up.

This article is based on an interview conducted in Winnipeg, October 25, 2009 and revised September, 2010.

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