Q&A with Author Curtis Campbell

Q&A with Author Curtis Campbell

Ahead of the upcoming Author Talk and LGBTQ2S+ Youth Gab Session with Curtis Campbell, Huron County Library branch assistant Shannon O’Connor connects with the author to discuss his recently published book, Dragging Mason County, the challenges of writing about where you grew up, shadow banning LGBTQ2S+ books, and more! 

What inspired you to make the switch from theatre and try your hand at writing a Young Adult fiction novel about a group of openly queer teenagers trying to stage their town’s first ever Drag show?

I’ve thought of it as less of a switch from theatre than just finally getting around to writing a book, which I’d always intended to. I’d wanted to be a novelist before I ever knew I could create theatre. The book is about a group of scrappy young artists putting on a show with nothing but some ideas and a lot of nerve, which is how I’ve spent my life since I was the age of the people in this book. When Covid shut down the live arts, I wasn’t able to do that anymore. So it was pretty natural that it became what the book was about.

Dragging Mason County is both meant to represent any rural small town community but also has clear Huron County references. Did you find it challenging to write about where you grew up?

I can’t imagine what you mean by that, my genius is entirely original. I’ve been building an extended Mason lore for quite a while, actually. So by the time I was ready to do it in YA novel form, the majority of the work had already been done in that regard. Mason County is intended as an every-town, for sure. I think the difficult thing was to not get too lost in the specifics of the world, and to find a way to let readers into the world even if you don’t have the shorthand of growing up in a rural area. Universality lives in specifics, but you still have to tune them enough to land.

Your book does such a great job balancing heavier topics like homophobia, queer violence and self-hate with humour through its cast of flawed but relatable characters. Peter Thompkins in particular was an unlikeable character for much of the book but was able to redeem himself by showing up for his friends when it counted. What was your thought process behind writing Peter that way? Did you get any push back to try to tone him down or make him more likable at all?

That’s really just how Peter appeared on the page when the writing started. Peter’s voice came before any real plot specifics, and the fact is that I was just as guarded and barbed as Peter when I was in high school. People have really went off on Peter and how dislikeable he is, but I wasn’t a likeable teenager. I think we’re often asking queer characters to be moral and likeable in an effort to make the queer experience more palatable and user-friendly for straight people. While that is understandable, it is also telling me that I don’t get to be honest about who I was or what I felt at that time of my life.

Annick pushed me to go further with the tone, actually. The first draft that my editor read was much lighter, and he pushed me to go further. The thing that Peter says at the end of the first chapter was initially quite softer, and my editor pushed me to make him say something even worse to get the stakes where they needed to be.

How does it make you feel seeing fellow LGBTQIA2S+ themed Forest of Reading books being targeted for shadow banning?

Deeply unshocking. Canada has a long history of polite oppression, which the character of Jenna Wilbur represents. We often achieve our oppression through quiet acts of bureaucracy. I’d encourage anyone and everyone to read The Canadian War On Queers by Gary Kinsman and Patrizia Gentile, who write on it far better than I ever could.

Dragging Mason County ends on such a hopeful note with Peter discovering his community has more allies and queer members than he realized. What message do you ultimately want queer youth to take away after reading your book?

You’re stronger united, even if you don’t agree on every last thing.

What are you currently working on and do you have any plans to write more fiction in the future? Perhaps even a return to Mason County?

I’m back in the theatre/comedy world of Toronto. I’m writing a new play and a new novel. If I have my way this is far from the last trip to Mason County.

Q&A with author Heather Dixon

Q&A with author Heather Dixon

Ahead of the upcoming Author Talk with author Heather Dixon, Huron County Library branch assistant Shannon O’Connor connects with the author to discuss her writing journey, the challenges of writing, advice for aspiring writers, and more! And mark your calendars for Tuesday, Nov. 14, to join Heather in person at the Clinton Branch.

What inspired you to start writing and what was your journey to publication like?

I’m a lifelong book lover and have always been writing–from as far back as I can remember. I used to write silly stories when I was a little kid, and then it turned into writing for my school English classes, which then became essays for my English Literature degree at University. After school, I became a writer in advertising, and then when I had my children, I started writing editorial-style personal essays for parenting websites. It was only after I had done all those things that I thought to myself that I should finally try writing the novel I’ve always wanted to write.

I guess you could say my kids inspired me to finally take novel-writing seriously because they gave me a passion for writing again (which is probably why all of my books tend to have themes of motherhood in them!)

My journey to publication hasn’t been easy, however. I started writing in 2018 and I wrote three manuscripts and had over 200 rejections from agents and editors before I got an offer on my book that would become my debut novel, Burlington. After that, I sent the second manuscript I had written back in 2019 to a new publisher, and it was accepted and became Last Summer at the Lake House.

Why was writing a book about motherhood and female friendship in suburbia so important for you?

I think it’s because I’ve had some very strong female relationships in my life. I’m very close with my mother, I have three daughters, I have some amazingly supportive friends in my life–and they’ve all inspired me to want to write about them. At the same time, I think those relationships can also be quite complex. I love being a mother even though it can be incredibly challenging and it’s not always all sunshine and roses, and making friends as you get older can also be a bit of a challenge at times. I was at a new stage in my life–with my daughter starting to get a little bit older and going to school, so she wasn’t reliant on me for everything like she was when she was a baby and a toddler–and I found it hard to know where I fit.

When do you find time to write and what are some of the most challenging things about writing for you?

I’ve always been a morning person. Even when I was in University, I couldn’t pull all-nighters to study because I did my best thinking in the morning, so I get up at five in the morning when everyone else is sound asleep in my house. I usually have about an hour and a half to myself to focus then.

There are so many things I find challenging about writing, actually! I find it tough to come up with new ideas that will be different and unique enough but also have legs to sustain an entire novel. I find plot to be tough at times. I also find the post-publication stage hard. It’s really hard to not be too sensitive and to not get hurt by what some people say about your writing or your book.

What advice would you give to aspiring first time novelists?

I would say that it’s important to do whatever you can to finish that first draft. Get all the way through it, even if it’s not perfect, because the magic is truly in the revisions and editing. And I would also say don’t give up. I once heard an author say that talent is not as important as persistence. If you keep writing, keep improving your craft, keep trying new ideas, you’ll get there. Basically, if you want to become a published author, you have to be willing to not give up.

Do you have a favorite book or genre to read for pleasure and is there a recent favorite you can’t stop recommending this year?

My most recent favourite book was Hello, Beautiful by Ann Napolitano. I loved the characters and how real and developed they felt. I loved the author’s writing. It was just a beautiful story.

What can we look forward to next from you?

I have a third book coming out in January called The Summerville Sisters. After that, I’m eventually going to get myself back to the laptop to start drafting something new!

Summer Beach Reads

Summer Beach Reads

Grab one of these new releases and soak up some sunshine outdoors. Whether it’s at the beach, cottage, boat or fun road trip – all these books are a guaranteed good time.

A staff-created list with even more of our recent recommendations can be found on our online catalogue.

Book cover image of Cassandra in Reverse<br />

General Fiction – Cassandra in Reverse by Holly Smale

This Resse Witherspoon Book Club pick is a moving family drama featuring an unforgettable autistic heroine who can time travel. A great read-alike for fans of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore, and The Boys by Katie Hafner.

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Book cover image of The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise

General Fiction – The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise by Colleen Oakley

A heartfelt summer road trip adventure featuring a not-to-be-underestimated elderly woman and an aimless young woman who—if they can outrun the mistakes of their past—might just have the greatest adventure of their lives.

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Book cover image of California Golden

Historical Fiction – California Golden by Melanie Benjamin

Two sisters navigate the turbulent, euphoric early days of California surf culture in this dazzling saga of ambition, sacrifice, and longing for a family they never had, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator’s Wife.

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Book cover image of Silent Came the Monster

Historical Fiction – Silent Came the Monster by Amy Hill Hearth

A chilling historical fiction account of the real life 1916 shark attacks along the Jersey Shore. Perfect for Shark Week lovers and fans of authors like Erik Larson.

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Book cover image of The Seven Year Slip

Romance – The Seven-Year Slip written by Ashley Poston

An overworked book publicist with a perfectly planned future hits a snag when she falls in love with her temporary roommate…only to discover he lives seven years in the past, in this witty and wise new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Dead Romantics.

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Book cover image of Meet Me at the Lake

Romance – Meet Me at the Lake by Carley Fortune

This follow up to last summer’s bestselling hit, Every Summer After, sees two former flames trying to reunite years after they first fell in love. Set in Muskoka’s cottage country and the perfect beach read.

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Cozy Mystery – Smile Beach Murder by Alicia Bessette

The first book in an all-new cozy mystery series featuring Callie Padget, a former reporter turned bookshop clerk in the Outer Banks who is pulled into a deadly web of secrets when a mysterious fall at a lighthouse echoes a tragedy from her past. Don’t miss the sequel: Murder on Mustang Beach.

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Book cover image of The Melancholy of Summer

Young Adult Fiction – The Melancholy of Summer by Kalila Fuller

After her parents go on the run, a teenage girl placed in the care of a cousin she barely knows learns to trust and open up in The Melancholy of Summer, a lyrical YA contemporary coming-of-age story by Nigerian Canadian author Louisa Onomé.  ​

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Middle Grade Fiction – Camp Sylvania by Julie Murphy

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dumplin’ and Dear Sweet Pea comes a hilarious and spooky middle grade summer-camp story that takes a bite out of fat camp.

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Book cover image of Sari-Sari Summers

Picture Book – Sari-Sari Summers written and illustrated by Lynn Bontigao

In this love letter to the Philippines (and to grandmothers), a young girl comes up with a brilliantly delicious way to attract customers after a heat wave leaves her Lola’s store empty.

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National Indigenous History Month

National Indigenous History Month

June is National Indigenous History Month and staff have compiled a great list of recent releases by First Nations, Inuit and Métis authors from across North America that highlight the diversity of experiences and the common need for continued acts of reconciliation.

For more recommendations check out the list curated by Library staff here or ask us in the branches for more ideas.

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Memoir – True North Rising: My 50-year Journey with the Inuit and Dene Leaders who Transformed Canada’s North by Whit Fraser

In this captivating memoir, Whit Fraser weaves scenes from more than fifty years of reporting and living in the North with fascinating portraits of the Dene and Inuit activists who successfully overturned the colonial order and politically reshaped Canada—including his wife, Mary Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General.

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Cover image of Truth Telling

Non-Fiction – Truth Telling: Seven Conversations About Indigenous Life in Canada by Michelle Good

A bold, provocative collection of essays exploring the historical and contemporary Indigenous experience in Canada that reveals facts about Indigenous life that are both devastating and enlightening. Essential reading for those looking to acknowledge the past and understand the way forward.

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Cover image of Unbroken

Non-Fiction – Unbroken: My Fight for Survival, Hope and Justice for Indigenous Women and Girls by Angela Sterritt

A remarkable work of memoir and investigative journalism focusing on missing and murdered Indigenous women, written by an award-winning Gitxsan journalist who survived life on the streets against all odds.

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Cover image of The Berry Pickers

Fiction – The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters

A stunning debut by a vibrant new voice in fiction, The Berry Pickers is a riveting novel about the search for truth, the shadow of trauma and the persistence of love across time. This story follows one Mi’kmaq family from Nova Scotia that is haunted for decades after their youngest child mysteriously disappears one summer in 1962 when they’re visiting Maine to pick blueberries.

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Cover image of Grandmother Begins the Story

Fiction – Grandmother Begins the Story written by Michelle Porter

Award-winning author Michelle Porter makes her fiction debut with an enchanting and original story of the unrivaled desire for healing and the power of familial bonds across five generations of Métis women and the land and bison that surround them.

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Cover image of Funeral Songs for Dying Girls

Young Adult Fiction – Funeral Songs for Dying Girls by Cherie Dimaline

After inadvertently starting rumors of a haunted cemetery, a teen befriends a ghost in this brand-new young adult novel exploring Indigenous identity from the critically acclaimed and bestselling author of The Marrow Thieves series.

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Cover image of Indigenous Ingenuity

Juvenile Non-Fiction – Indigenous Ingenuity by Deidre Havrelock and Edward Kay; illustrated by Kalila Fuller

Spanning topics from transportation to civil engineering, hunting technologies, astronomy, brain surgery, architecture, and agriculture, Indigenous Ingenuity is a beautifully designed, interactive nonfiction work that celebrates North American Indigenous thinkers and inventions. Perfect for fans of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  ​

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Cover image of Rabbit Chase

Juvenile Graphic Novel – Rabbit Chase by Elizabeth LaPensée; illustrated by KC Oster

Anishinaabe culture and storytelling meet Alice in Wonderland in this coming-of-age graphic novel that explores Indigenous and gender issues through a fresh yet familiar looking glass. This tale tells the story of Aimée, a non-binary Anishinaabe middle-schooler, who helps Trickster Rabbit track down dark water spirits and save the land from the Evil Queen.

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Cover image of Smile so Big

Picture Book – Smile so Big by Sunshine Quem Tenasco; illustrated by Chief Lady Bird

This special story, from award-winning Anishinabe activist Sunshine Quem Tenasco and artist Chief Lady Bird, introduces readers to concepts of self-acceptance, self-empowerment, and recognition of the unique beauty that comes from within as a magical mirror helps a young girl understand her true beauty.

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Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and staff have compiled a great list of recent reads that highlight ways to check in on your mental health or read about other people who are also struggling. Above all remember it’s okay to not be okay and there’s no shame in asking for help!

A staff-created list with even more of our recent recommendations can be found on our online catalogue.

Cover image of Radical Love

Memoir – Radical Love: Learning to Accept Yourself and Others by Zachary Levi

Radical Love combines witty, touching, and powerful commentary with relatable illustrations to help you on your own path toward mental wellness. With vulnerability and humor, Zac relates the valuable lessons and insights he’s learned so that you can rise from the ashes of trauma and pursue a meaningful life of gratitude.

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Cover image of Tell Me What You Want

Non-Fiction – Tell Me What You Want by Charlotte Fox Weber

Written with warmth and compassion, full of dramatic, intimate, and moving personal stories, and based on careful research as well as firsthand observations. For fans of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone and Group, this inspiring and moving exploration of the twelve fundamental psychological needs we all share goes behind the closed doors of therapy to guide us in navigating our deepest longings.

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cover image of Generation Dread<br />

Non-Fiction – Generation Dread by Britt Wray

Climate and environment-related fears and anxieties are on the rise everywhere. As with any type of stress, eco-anxiety can lead to lead to burnout, avoidance, or a disturbance of daily functioning. In Generation Dread, the author seamlessly merges scientific knowledge with emotional insight to show how these intense feelings are a healthy response to the troubled state of the world.

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Cover image of Feelings: a story in seasons<br />

Graphic Novel/Memoir – Feelings: A Story in Seasons by Manjit Thapp

Articulating and validating the range of feelings we all experience, this is a book that allows us to feel connected and comforted by the experiences that make us human. Told over the course of a year, the author shares the ups and downs of her feelings across all four seasons, from the highs of spring and summer to the lows of winter.

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Cover image of Adelaide

Fiction – Adelaide by Genevieve Wheeler

With unflinching honesty and heart, this relatable debut from a fresh new voice explores grief and mental health while capturing the timeless nature of what it’s like to be young and in love—with your friends, with your city, and with a person who cannot, will not, love you back.

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Cover image of Forever is Now

Young Adult Novel-inVerse – Forever is Now by Mariama J. Lockington

A poignant and lyrical young adult novel-in-verse about a Black teen coming of age in an anxiety-inducing world that tackles teen activism, agoraphobia and the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Cover image of Chaos Theory

Young Adult Fiction – Chaos Theory by Nic Stone

A gripping romance about two BIPOC teens: a certified genius living with bipolar disorder and a politician’s son who is running from his alcoholism and grief. This is a gut punch of a novel about about living with grief, prioritizing mental health, and finding love amid the chaos.

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Cover image of Living with Viola<br />

Middle Grade Graphic Novel – Living with Viola by Rosena Fung

Forest of Reading nominated debut author, Rosena Fung draws on her own early experiences with anxiety and the pressures of growing up as the child of Chinese immigrant parents to craft a personal story that explores mental health, cultural differences, and the trials of middle school.

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Cover image of Iveliz Explains it All

Middle Grade Novel-in-Verse – Iveliz Explains it All by Andrea Beatriz Arango; illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez

A powerful and compassionate, novel-in-verse debut that navigates mental health, finding your voice, and discovering that those who really love you will stay by your side. The author does an excellent job exploring PTSD, grief, therapy, medication and suicidal ideation in a young child in this incredible #ownvoices story.

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Cover image of Dark Cloud

Picture Book – Dark Cloud by Anna Lazowski; illustrated by Penny Neville-Lee

In this sensitive picture book, symbolic imagery perfectly captures how depression can look and feel as a little girl visualizes her depression as a way of learning to cope. The lyrical text and expressive drawings provide young children with a way to understand and talk about their own feelings. The repetition in the text and the visual narrative pull readers in, making this an excellent read-aloud pick to spark discussions about feelings.

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