Renaissance writer has many projects on the go.
Some days are boring, some are thrilling, but none are ever typical for Nova Scotia Renaissance man Lesley Choyce. He has penned over 65 books for teens, children and adults. When he's not wearing his YA novelist hat or picture book author hat, he dons those of poet, publisher, educator (he's taught at Dalhousie University for 25 years), surfer and musician.
In writing his YA books, Choyce writes the kind of novels he wishes he had had as a teenager. During his adolescence, he says, he needed more difficult, realistic and challenging stories than those that were available to him.
He states that writing for teens is more unrestrained and more emotionally charged than writing for adults. Kids aren't tricked by fancy words, allusions, literary traditions or critics. "You either get it right or you fail miserably. I just try to make sure I get it right." Teens take good books more seriously than adults do, fitting them into their lives, notes the author. He says it's "a challenge to connect with young readers without being preachy or seeming irrelevant."
The two-time Dartmouth Book Award winner has personal favourites among the 24 young adult novels he's written. One is his recent book The End of the World As We Know It, which opens with Carson saying, "I hate the world and everything in it" which includes himself. "This is a tough, nasty beginning to a book--but Carson is likeable, funny and highly intelligent so his cynicism and anger fuels a story about hurt, loss and finding one's way in a very imperfect world." The End of the World As We Know It has been nominated for a 2008 White Pine Award and the 2009 Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Award.
His other favourite is Shoulder the Sky which earned the Ann Connor Brimer Award for Children's Literature and was shortlisted for the CLA Young Adult Canadian Book Award in 2003. Choyce says it was "a breakthrough for me as in that I was trying to deal with a very complex character and tell a fairly sophisticated story that at first didn't make sense to me but then my protagonist, Martin, took over and saved me (as well as him). Readers and reviewers were quite aware that there was something 'different' about this book, so I knew I was on the right track."
The author was a lead guitarist in a 1960s rock band called The Wipeouts and is also an avid surfer. He drew on both these experiences to write two titles in the Orca Currents series (high interest, low vocabulary)--Thunderbowl and Wave Warrior. He says, "Thunderbowl tapped into what it felt like being in a band including all the stupidity, glory and fun that went along with it.
"Wave Warrior captures what it is like to learn to surf along with the thrill and fears that accompany it. The story is set very close to home and there are threads in it that come from real people and real problems here in this surf community. I also built into Wave Warrior some personal lessons of life that I learned as a surfer: what the waves taught me."
Choyce's newest book is The Book of Michael, about a teen wrongfully convicted of his girlfriend's murder. He says he "wanted to take a chance ... to explore a fairly dark story and try to understand what it must feel like to be wrongfully convicted of the murder of someone you truly love, to have almost everyone think you are a murderer and then to go to prison for it. It's about multiple losses and pain but mostly about recovery--if such a thing is possible. Michael is just sixteen but has lost just about everything that matters to him. His life is shattered and then, after six months, he is given his freedom again. How could someone recover from that? I wanted to know so I wrote this book."
Choyce is currently working on two YA novels, neither of which has been submitted to a publisher yet. In Random, his protagonist Joseph is definitely convinced that the world doesn't make any sense. "I'm giving myself a really long leash to follow [his] digital diary wherever it takes him. So far he's taken me into nihilism, foco theory, the history of language and the Versailles Treaty and I think he's only scratched the surface."
The author is in the process of rewriting another manuscript--Living Outside the Lines--which focuses on a future world run by 16- to 21-year-olds. "Adults came to the conclusion that they had done such a poor job of running everything and that teens were not given the privilege of living up to their full capacity. So, in this brave new and somewhat imperfect world, you get to be a kid up to age 12 at which time you begin training for your profession and then you take charge at 16--everything from education, to business to politics. You retire at 21. There are a lot of ideas and research about adolescence and history wrapped up in this book but a compelling story too, I like to think."
Choyce's recent works of adult poetry, Revenge of the Optimist, Beautiful Sadness and Caution to the Wind, are published by Ekstatis Editions. Much of his poetry, which he reads often during school visits, works well with teens. He's not sure, though, that anyone has discovered how to market poetry books for teens yet.
To expose younger audiences to poetry, he's recorded two spoken word CDs--Long Lost Planet and Sea Level (available from Nimbus Publishing) and created five poetry-music videos (available on YouTube) that he's shown to over 1,000 classes. He says that kids who say they hate poetry enjoy the videos and music.
Choyce has written several titles for the under-12 crowd, including Go for it, Carrie; Carrie's Crowd; and Carrie's Camping Adventure. Describing his experience of writing this three-book series for elementary school readers, he says, "The Carrie books were quite different from anything I'd written--with simpler plot and language--but I found that working with basic human emotion, I could stay focussed on where the story needed to go."
He built plenty of Nova Scotian elements into Far Enough Island, a novel for middle readers, which was his attempt at a book that possessed a "classic" feel. And his sources of inspiration for two of his books geared for younger audiences stemmed from the workplace and homefront. The comic Famous at Last reflected his work in television over the years. "More recently, Skunks for Breakfast was based on the real life story of me trying to gently evict 16 skunks who lived under my house, told from the point of view of my youngest daughter. I didn't have to make anything up. The whole saga was outrageous and hilarious (as long as you weren't the person responsible for evicting the skunks which was me)."
An upcoming picture book, These Old Boots, was written with a classic feel, like Far Enough Island, is also intended to have a classic feel and Choyce is currently looking for a home for a picture book manuscript entitled The Snowman Who Refused to Melt.
In Lawrencetown Beach, Nova Scotia, Choyce resides in a 200-year-old farmhouse overlooking the ocean. One might consider the North Atlantic his second home since he surfs there year round. Explaining how surfing helps him to reflect on or work out issues he's dealing with in his writing, he notes: "I do some of my best brainstorming while sitting on my board in the North Atlantic between waves. The adrenalin rush from surfing recharges me for writing tasks as well."
The author runs Pottersfield Press with the help of three employees who perform design, editing and typesetting tasks. He was inspired to found the company in 1978 for multiple reasons. Firstly, he wished to be "in a position to make things happen." Secondly, as a writer, he comprehended how dependent writers are on publishers. And thirdly, he wanted to help writers find their audience, particularly those who have significant things to say but whom might be ignored. His company publishes fiction, non-fiction, poetry and Maritime interest titles distributed by Nimbus Publishing. Its initial two to four books published per year has increased to eight. A few years ago, Choyce stepped away from publishing children's books and opted to focus his company's efforts on adult titles. He had published authors such as Sheree Fitch, Budge Wilson, Sylvia Gunnery and Maxine Tynes, but he thought that other publishers did a much better job of promoting children's books.
Choyce, who maintains a blog (http://lesleychoyce.blogspot.com), has great visibility on the Internet. When asked how valuable and effective it is for children's and young adult authors to promote themselves online, he replies: "I was reluctant to do this for a long time and then Mary Ann Archibald helped me to have a real presence on the Net and now I think it is important. My poems, and even pirate videos made of them, end up on other people's websites and that is very cool."
These Old Boots (Red Deer Press, 2009) The Book of Michael (Red Deer Press, 2008) The End of the World As We Know It (Red Deer Press, 2007) Wave Warrior (Orca Book Publishers, 2007) Skunks for Breakfast (Nimbus Publishing, 2006) Thunderbowl (Orca Book Publishers, 2004) Shoulder the Sky (Dundurn Press, 2002) Carrie's Camping Adventure (Formac Publishing, 2001) Far Enough Island (Nimbus Publishing, 2000) Carrie's Crowd (Formac Publishing, 1998) Famous at Last (Pottersfield Press, 1998) Go for it, Carrie (Formac Publishing, 1997)