Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Shaughnessy Elementary School Visit

Yesterday I had a wonderful opportunity to visit with five classes of grades 6 and 7 students at Shaughnessy Elementary School in Vancouver, both to contextualize and read from Caravaggio: Signed in Blood, and to conduct a short fiction-editing workshop. Little known fact: as a high school student I delivered newspapers in the Shaughnessy neighbourhood kitty-corner from the elementary school, on the other side of Granville and the other side of King Edward. I hadn't had occasion to return to the neighbourhood until now.

The students were keen writers, and during the workshop it was rewarding for me to see them catching some of the common weaknesses in their stories and make improvements to them. As the librarian, Ms. Hapton, said, the students had been taught many of these writing techniques in the past, but sometimes it just seems to "stick" more when it comes from a special guest. If so, I was happy to provide the glue.

From the pictures below, you'd think all we did was play with swords. The cameras always seem to come out at this point in the presentation! WE WORKED ON WRITING! HONEST!

And lest you think my size was an advantage in the little contest above, note how well the student is parrying. I never had a chance!

If you'd be interested in having me visit your students, send me a message via the contact form in the right-hand sidebar and we can work out the details. I'm even available to conduct a Skype visit if your school is outside of Metro Vancouver.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Chapters Strawberry Hill--Book Signing

Signing books can be a lonely business sometimes--thank goodness Chapters Strawberry Hill is in my parents' neighbourhood! My mother was the first to stop at the table.

Actually, the event went quite well. From about 1:30 until 3 pm there was a steady flow of traffic, giving me the opportunity to chat with people as they paused at the table, some of whom told me they'd heard me on the CBC. (My small bowl of Almonds Florentine was less of a draw than I thought. I ended up eating more than was good for me afterward.)

I also enjoyed meeting the neices of Dr. Shimi Kang, author of The Dolphin Way, who enjoyed an impromptu sword fight in the front of the store. I bet that was a first for everyone!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Interview with CBC's Stephen Quinn

Here is my interview with the CBC's On the Coast host Stephen Quinn. The interview is about 7 minutes long.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Teachers Guide presentation at BCSSTA

I was fortunate enough to be able to present the recently completed Teachers' Guide for Caravaggio: Signed in Blood at the BC Social Studies Teachers Association Conference yesterday. The guide is now downloadable in .pdf form on the "Teacher Resources" page of my website.

My workshop wasn't until the afternoon, which meant I spent the morning selling books at a table kindly shared with Rosia Godoma and Nicola Jurinovic, who volunteer for the Educate Girls Network, an important non-profit agency. Check out their website and the good work they do!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Some photos from Word Vancouver

Here's a post that should have come out a month ago! Ugh.

Word Vancouver: What an excellent way to spend a sunny Sunday in Vancouver.

I happened to run into Aleesah Darlinson, children's writer from Australia, quite by accident. She was in line at the presenters' booth where I was getting my name tag. I heard the unmistakable accent, and guessing that she was one of my fellow panelists, risked the introduction. (I know. I'm quite a sleuth!)

We were early and had a nice opportunity to get acquainted before the rest of the crew arrived.

L to R: Aleesah Darlinson, Janet Whyte, D.R. Graham, Lori Sherritt-Fleming, et moi. Notice the prominent product placement to the lower right. :)

Before the panel began, I learned from Danielle that Nina Matsumoto, penciller for Simpson's comics, was doing "Simpsonized" portraits for $10 next door. I managed to get one done in a mere five minutes!

After the talk, I sat down with Stan Persky to sign a few books for 32 Books, the official bookseller for the Festival.

I like the epithet.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Review by Buzz Words Magazine (Australia)

 Buzz Words

Buzz Words Magazine (Australia) just came out with its latest bi-weekly issue with a review of Caravaggio: Signed in Blood. The reviewer said of the description that
Such detail adds layers of richness to the bones of the narrative
and that this is
 a swashbuckling novel that is sure to win the imaginations of teen readers.
This is the first review I've seen for the novel out of Australia. You can read the full review here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Secret Meaning of "Riding"

The Election is coming up soon here in Canada, and all the fuss in the media is about the leaders of the various political parties and who among them would do the best job as Prime Minister. But in fact very few Canadians get to vote for the Prime Minister; for each of us votes for a member of Parliament to represent our riding.

Our riding?

Why "riding"? Why not electoral district, like they use in the United States?

A definition from
In Canada, a riding is a place or geographical area that is represented in the House of Commons by a member of parliament, or in provincial and territory elections an area represented by a member of the provincial or territory legislative assembly.

So? That still doesn't answer the question. I asked why, not what.

To find out why, we have to travel back, say 1000 years, to the age of Viking invasions along the Eastern coast of England. In between all their raping and pillaging, they managed to leave behind some vocabulary that worked its way into the common spoken vocabulary of the Britons.

So what is a riding? Is that the distance a person could "ride" in day? Is that it?

No. Wait for it.

The Vikings left us a word in old Norse:

Say that really fast ten times. No, don't. I don't want to be responsible for the oral surgery later.

Thridjungr means "a third part".

In 866 CE, the Vikings captured York and established a kingdom there, adopting the traditional county divisions of North, East and West.*


North thridjungr, East thridjungr, and West thridjungr

Pardon my mix of languages, but that's how English goes sometimes.

By the time people were speaking what we call Middle English, the words had become

North thriding, East thriding, and West thriding.

Well, English speakers are notoriously unsentimental about old usages and pronunciations, and soon they stopped going to the trouble of pronouncing all those "th" and "t" sounds. The "th"s became "t"s. So

North triding, East triding, and West triding.

Then with the assimilation of the final t or th sounds in North, East and West with the initial t sounds in triding, we got

North triding, East triding, and West triding


North riding, East riding, and West riding.

And no riding of animals or vehicles was involved.

Future administrative divisions were also called "ridings," and this term came with the English colonial government in Canada. On ships. That's sailing, not riding.

And here riding remains, not riding anywhere, not related to a division of thirds, but resting in the etymological sediment of English History.

* The map depicted above is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England and Wales License. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Now appearing at WORD Vancouver...


I'm really looking forward to joining D.R. Graham, Janet Whyte, Aleesah Darlinson, and Lori Sherritt-Fleming for one of two CWILL panels at WORD Vancouver. Next Sunday, September 27 at 11 am, we'll be hosting a panel discussion called "Getting Started and Staying Motivated as a Published Children's Book Author." I'll be at the Tradewind Books tent beforehand, and afterward I'll be heading over to the 32 Books booth to sign books. If you are at the festival, please come by and say hello!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Book Signing at Brewsters

Special thanks to Richard and Sandra Procter and their staff at Brewsters Fine Foods, who hosted a lively and well-attended Wine and Cheese night featuring a bevy of trade- and self-published Pt. Roberts writers. 

I sold a dozen books, and someone even bought me a glass of wine! 

Thanks also to the supportive Pt. Roberts community who came out to the event, and to Arthur Reber for planning and organizing. 

Here are the websites of the other authors at the event. Take a look!

Arthur Reber, whose recent novel complements his how-to book on poker.
Ann Crew, who has created a series of mysteries set in different parts of the world.
Margot Griffiths, whose debut novel is set in 1950s Victoria, BC: 
Patricia McCairen, who has chronicled her solo rafting of the Colorado River (the first woman ever to do so).
Janet Pavlik, whose book is the definitive history of the Seymour area of North Vancouver.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Morse Code and Caravaggio

When you think of Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the Morse Code, you might imagine hawk-nosed old men in sleeve garters and green visors bent over dusty brass telegraph keys, tapping out passionless messages.

Brother dead. Stop. Farm destroyed. Stop.

That sort of thing.

But did you know that before Samuel Morse developed his code, he was an accomplished painter? About four or five years before developing and patenting his Code, he painted his "Gallery of the Louvre," in which he imagines all the greatest paintings of the Louvre assembled in one room for artists to study.

Go ahead. Click on the picture and open it up. How many masterpieces can you recognize? You should be able to see the Mona Lisa in the bottom row, centered. Can you spot the Caravaggio?

Here it is:

Do you recognize it? No? How about now?

The Fortune Teller (1595) has been part of the Louvre's collection since the 17th century, when it was acquired for Louis XIV of France. The painting was originally commissioned by Caravaggio's patron, Cardinal Francesco Maria Borbone del Monte, and is Caravaggio's second version of the work (and the better of the two, in my opinion). The first, painted the year before, was acquired by the wealthy banker Vincenzo Giustiniani for a mere eight scudi. (To give you an idea of the relative value, Caravaggio was paying 12 scudi per month in rent ten years later.)

What really struck me about Samuel Morse's work is that he recognizes the mastery of Caravaggio's work at a time when Caravaggio had, in the minds of many critics, become an obscure if not irrelevant Baroque artist.

To give you an idea, I quote an LA Times article from 1985:
An 18th-Century ranking of 57 leading artists topped by Peter Paul Rubens put Caravaggio fifth from the last. Even 19th-Century romantics who should have been attracted to his energy and individualism were put off by his apparent lack of ethical goodness. The critic John Ruskin put Caravaggio among "the worshipers of the depraved."
It is only since the 1950s, really, that Caravaggio has been restored to his rightful eminence as one of the greatest painters of all time.

So it is satisfying for me to imagine Samuel Morse choosing this painting of Caravaggio's from all of the best works of the Louvre for his "dream" gallery, despite Caravaggio's critics.

If you'd like to see Morse's "Gallery of the Louvre" up close, the Seattle Art Museum will be exhibiting the painting from September 16, 2015 – Jan 10, 2016.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

BC Renaissance Festival

A beautiful, sunny day for reading to the "Lords and Ladies" of the BC Renaissance Festival. 

Archery for the kids.

Firing the carbide cannon.

Petting Zoo

An intimate reading in the shade!


Acting troupe in the middle of a scene.

Lady on a litter.

Lil' jouster.

Jousting poles had explosive tips that shattered the wood if they made solid contact!


Special thanks to Martin Hunger and the cast and crew for being so welcoming!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Paolo Bacigalupi's Advice for Writers of Action and Adventure

A Tutorial Assistant in university once told our class that good writing is always, on some level, about the craft of writing. The context was poetry, but I wonder if the sentiment could be applied to fiction as well.

I'm reading The Drowned Cities, by Paolo Bacigalupi, and came across this sentence yesterday.

Now, what struck me about this sentence is that Mr. Bacigalupi, in the context of the narrative, is also revealing his own technique--thus writing about writing--and this technique is something every writer should take to heart when it comes to conflict.

Whether we are talking about the minor conflicts in which a character is engaged at the level of the chapter, or the major conflict governing the whole novel, the protagonist must have a problem for which the reader cannot devise a solution. If the reader can see the solution, then what point is there in reading on? It must be an impossible trap, not simply a difficult one. Of course, the difficulty is that the writer has to be clever enough to figure a way out. I didn't say it was easy; that's just the job.

In an early version of Caravaggio: Signed in Blood, I wanted Beppo to escape from Kheir Pasha, the leader of the Pirates. To accomplish this, I had him hide a pistola in the captain's cabin for some unrelated reason, just so he could find it when he needed it. 

I can hear your eyes rolling in their sockets from here.

Of course that was just a little too tidy, wasn't it? What if, I thought, Beppo only believed he had a weapon at his disposal? What if Kheir Pasha himself had discovered it and possessed it? Now I had Beppo in an "impossible trap." This gave the scene drama and the character a chance to grow.

I'll sum it up this way: if your character has a solution to her problem, take it away. Drop it into the sea. Blow it up. 

And if that frightens you, then you have some small inkling of what your character is feeling, and that should make for an interesting and satisfying moment in your story.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Historical Novel Society reviews Caravaggio: Signed in Blood

Historical Novels Review (Issue 72), the magazine of the Historical Novel Society, came out today, and includes a review of Caravaggio: Signed in Blood. The reviewer said that 
"the story is told . . . with plenty of humour and energy. It is full of details that bring the period to life, from the scraping of wine barrels to the operation of a camera obscura in Caravaggio’s studio." 
Most exciting for me: this is my first review out of the UK. You can read the full review here.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Caravaggio's Violence and Passion

A detailed and insightful lecture yesterday by Dr. Efrat El-Hanany called "The Art of Caravaggio: Violence and Passion in the Age of Baroque." I presented Dr. El-Hanany a copy of Caravaggio: Signed in Blood, which she has promised to read . . . just as soon as she finishes marking 100 student papers! (Sound familiar, teachers?)

Dr. Efrat El-Hanany teaches Art History at Capilano University.

My takeaway highlight: Dr. Hanany showed us how the criticism by Caravaggio's contemporaries, like Baglione, that he had no appreciation for the masters of painting was clearly false. He not only studied them, but incorporated their motifs and symbols and molded them according to his own style and purpose. In other words, he did what all great artists do.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Caravaggio Meme #1

So I've created this poster/meme featuring a quote from my novel, along with what I would consider a relevant, thematically connected painting by Caravaggio. This painting does not actually appear in the book, but the mixture of Bacchus' mischief, his disdain for the opinions of others, and the pallor of illness make for a disturbingly inviting portrait, and give you a sense of Caravaggio's character as I have imagined him. This painting, known as Young Sick Bacchus, is dated 1593, about a year after Caravaggio first arrived in Rome.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Two new reviews this week

Caravaggio was recently featured as Book of the Month for March at Professor Owl's Book Corner, and received a review in BC BookWorld in its Spring 2015 issue (p. 28). Take a look!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Nice Review in Sal's Fiction Addiction

Sally Bender has been "a kindergarten teacher, a primary teacher, a teacher-librarian, a book reviewer and a workshop presenter for more than 30 years," and recently reviewed Caravaggio: Signed in Blood for her blog, Sal's Fiction Addiction. Here's an excerpt:

[Mark David Smith] has much to share, and does it in a way that allows us a clear look at a complex artist and his work, while never overpowering his story with too much information. We come away from the reading with knowledge of a life very different from our own, knowing a great deal more about the customs of Italy so long ago, and with elegant quotations we might add to our own gathering list.
Please visit her blog, and read the full review. While you're there, check out her other reviews as well. She reviews books for children of all ages.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

BC Book Prizes: Shortlists announced!

Congratulations to fellow CWILL members Elizabeth Stewart, Maggie DeVries, Eileen Kernaghan, Becky Citra, Chieri Uegaki, Ashley Spires, Caroline Adderson, Heather Tekavec, and fellow Tradewind Books authors Roy and Slavia Miki on being shortlisted for the BC Book Prizes. Winners will be announced on April 25, 2015.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Caravaggio and the Counter-Reformation

Here's some insight into Caravaggio's importance to the Counter-Reformation. His style wasn't simply new, it was timely.
The Taking of Christ, by Caravaggio, 1602
"The Jesuits, founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1534, were central to the Counter- Reformation, and Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, with its emphasis on achieving a mystical, personal relationship with God through a meditative immersion in the life of Christ, was important in indicating an appropriate artistic approach. In particular, the mystical was grounded in the corporeal, as experienced through the five senses. Hence the heightened, dramatised realism of the baroque, and its close attention to vivid, immediate detail. Caravaggio was a key figure in devising this revolutionary style.

While the Reformation had reacted to the “idolatrous” depictions of the saints and downgraded their role – triggering not just the removal of paintings and statuary from public display but in many cases their physical destruction – the Counter-Reformation took a different corrective approach. So long as the painting reflected the documented life of the subject, and kept within certain bounds of correctness, artists were free to represent the saints as exemplary champions of the faith. And the more convincingly, physically real it was the better, a road that may have led eventually to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. The Catholic Church, in other words, had a sound grasp of the importance of images."
See the whole article in the Irish Times.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Burnaby Grade 7 Public Speaking Challenge

I had the honour of hosting the Burnaby School District's Public Speaking Competition this evening. Wow. The talent and maturity of these 8 seventh-grade finalists was astonishing. Zuzanna Liniewski, pictured below, won with a speech about being different (the theme was "Let's Think Differently") which was as candid as it was lyrical. An absolute pleasure to listen to. Each of the finalists and judges received a copy of my book, courtesy of the District.

Congratulations to you, Zuzanna, and to all the other finalists.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

CWILL panel at the VPL last night

I had a great time meeting with some of my fellow CWILL authors at the VPL's panel discussion on Writing and Illustrating Children's Books. We shared our experiences on entering the world of writing and publishing for children, and it was educational for me to learn from the diverse expertise among the panel members. Want to read some fine books? Check out each author's website below.
Ellen Schwartz, Sheri Radford, Kallie George, Claire Eamer, Me, Sara Leach, and Silvana Goldemberg

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Speaking to the Men's Group at Coquitlam Alliance Church

I had an opportunity Saturday, January 31, to speak to a group of over 60 men at the monthly Men's Breakfast at Coquitlam Alliance Church. Not my usual audience--definitely more attentive and focused than my high-school classes! The focus of my talk was how the novel writing process can apply metaphorically to our lives. Principle #1: The story of our lives is not a history, but an adventure!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lovely review in Canlit for Little Canadians blog

Canlit for Little Canadians is a widely read and respected blog featuring reviews of books by Canadian authors and illustrators, and today published a review of my book. Here's a snippet:

Caravaggio Signed in Blood provides a convincing story about a specific period of Caravaggio's life but enhances that tale by incorporating the swashbuckling and romantic adventure of an indentured teen boy.  Though not a long read, Caravaggio Signed in Blood will definitely grab readers and carry them along on the run with the two passionate Italians as they navigate the treacherous power hierarchy of the time.

Here's a link to the whole review. While you're there, check out reviews of other great Canadian literature for kids!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

School visit at Morley Elementary, Burnaby

It was a real pleasure to visit the students at Morley Elementary School in Burnaby as part of their literacy week. A little reading, some Q&A--and an awesome impromptu staring contest with a young man seated up front, won by yours truly! (Oh yeah. I've still got it.) Looking forward to seeing some of these Grade Sevens again when they arrive next year at Byrne Creek. Special thanks to Principal Hal Wall for the invitation, and Ms. Chu for hosting in her room.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Great review in CM: Canadian Review of Materials Magazine

Canadian Review of Materials (U of Manitoba) came out with its review of my book today:
Mark David Smith, too, displays considerable artistry in his smooth blending of the politics, technology and customs of 17th century Italia to make a compelling tale. The quotations from such luminaries as Dante Alighieri, Horace, Machiavelli and Petrarch, which set off each chapter, elevate the novel and add to its ring of authenticity. Caravaggio: Signed in Blood quietly educates while keeping readers on the edges of their chairs.
Very Pleased! Read the entire review here.