KBKL Spotlight on Canadians: Regan McDonell

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A big Kick-butt Kidlit welcome to author, Regan McDonell!

Regan McDonell studied poetry and print making at the University of Victoria, Canada, and has since pursued a career in textile and graphic design, while also writing literary fiction for teens. Her White Pine Award nominated novel, Black Chuck, is a dark, gritty, small-town YA novel that Booklist called “a superb debut,” School Library Journal says is “a read that sticks in the gut,” and Kirkus Reviews noted for “dynamically complex characterization and storytelling.”

Regan lives in Toronto with her partner, Guy, where she leaves love letters on subways for strangers to find.


Tell us a bit about your latest/upcoming project?

My first book, Black Chuck, came out with Orca Book Publishers in April 2018, and has been nominated for the Forest of Reading’s White Pine award, which I’m completely thrilled about!

I’m also about 1/3 of the way into a new YA about a small town, a missing girl, and her heavy metal brother who is unwittingly enlisted to find her. It’s based on a road trip I took with my partner a couple of years ago down to Sleepy Hollow, New York. We stayed in all these picture-perfect little towns, listening to Halloweeny jazz and telling each other ghost stories the whole way. It was one of the best trips I’ve been on, and really seeped into the foundation of this spooky new book.

What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn. I was blown away by her first book Charm and Strange, and couldn’t wait to dig into her next effort. I’m also reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids,  and just finished Vicki Grant’s 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You. Stiff White Pine competition!!

Who is a Canadian author or illustrator that you’d like to see more people discover?

Wow, what a hard question! Ummm…. All of them?? Matt James has been a friend for many years and he’s always been one of my favourite artists, so I’m so glad to see his books getting attention. He is supremely talented.

One of my favourite young adult books of last year was Adam Garnett Jones’s Fire Song, which is the novel he wrote based on his 2015 film of the same name, and it is so, so beautiful. I can’t wait to see what he does next!

Another super talented illustrator is Jacob Dewey, based in Victoria, BC. Someone needs to give him a book deal fast!

What’s been the most surprising part of your publishing journey so far?

Getting published is completely surreal. You spend so much time making this heartfelt thing, living in this imaginary world with people you created, and it’s so so personal, and then it goes out into the world and people make it their own—either loving it passionately or reviewing it ruthlessly—and you no longer have any control over those characters or that world. Seeing the book pop up in places you never expected, like a library guide in Texas, or video book reviews from New Jersey, is just the weirdest feeling ever!

But one thing I’ve really enjoyed about my publishing journey is meeting so many new people. I have online friends I never would have met without this book, and I’ve met so many incredible writers who are all so friendly and willing to sit for hours gabbing about the ins and outs of book writing. I definitely feel like I’m part of a pretty cool club these days!

When a reader picks up your books, they can always expect to find…

Darkness! Monsters (human and otherwise)! Grit, gore, unconventional love stories, deep dark human emotions, issues of class, addiction, poverty… Sounds like a light, fun read, huh?

I also see a lot of YA characters living pretty privileged lives, and not so many books about kids who don’t have basic security. In my last book, and the new one, I’ve tried to show just how hard it is to be a normal kid when, for whatever reason, you don’t have your basic needs met by the adults in your life.

What’s the most Canadian thing you’ve put in a book?

Secret Rheostatics lyrics. Indigenous characters and stories. Clifton Hill. Carey Price’s haircut. The Canadianness in my books isn’t obvious, but it is there. I haven’t specifically said “this place is Canada”, but I feel like if you know the places I’m writing about you’ll recognize them.

Cold Water, in Black Chuck, is very similar to the town I went to high school in, and friends from that area can see the landmarks right away. My high school Writer’s Craft teacher, who lives in Italy now, said he could see the stars painted in the band shell from his window in Florence. That feels like I did my job pretty well! (Thanks Joe!)

What would you like to see more of in the world of Canadian children’s literature?

One thing I really like about Canadian literature is our commitment to diversity. I look at lists of “authors to watch for” in Canada and am thrilled to see so many people from different backgrounds, telling stories that are both universal and totally personal. I have friends writing in other countries who say they don’t have those lists, or if they do exist they are separate from the “mainstream norm” of white writers / publishers / gatekeepers etc. I’m very lucky to be publishing in Canada (*waves at Orca Book Publishers*), and would love to see even more diversity in our children’s literature!

If you could spend a day inside of any book, which one would you choose?

Oh man… there are so many good books out there I honestly don’t think I could choose just one. Sometimes in bookstores I get sad because I know I’ll never be able to read EVERYTHING. But if I absolutely have to pick just one book to live in… maybe it would be Pride and Prejudice? I mean, who wouldn’t want to have the brilliant, quick wit of Lizzie Bennet, and to wind up happily ever after at Pemberly??

Lastly, we always end with: what’s your best piece of kick-butt advice?

Many people will have opinions about what you can achieve and how you should feel about yourself—including people who know you very very well. They’ll say “Oh, you’re no good at this,” or “You can’t try that.” Don’t listen to them! You are capable of anything you want to achieve, and no one can tell you who you are or how to feel about yourself but YOU. So go do the thing, and do it with all your might!

Yes! Thank you so much for joining us, Regan!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, add BLACK CHUCK on Goodreads!

Connect with Regan on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or through her website!

Click here to enter to the Spotlight on Canadians Giveaway! You could win one of 25 prize packs featuring books from all of our amazing creators!

Regan McDonell Prize Pack – a copy of BLACK CHUCK


Other available prizes:

Carmen Mok Prize Pack – a copy of GRANDMOTHER’S VISIT

Tom Ryan Prize Pack – the very first signed ARC of KEEP THIS TO YOURSELF

Naseem Hrab Prize Pack – a copy of IRA CRUMB FEELS THE FEELINGS

Joanne Robertson Prize Pack – a signed copy of THE WATER WALKER

Sarah Raughley Prize Pack – all three books in the EFFIGIES series

Join us on Friday, March 15th when we chat with author, Jennifer Mook-Sang!

19 thoughts on “KBKL Spotlight on Canadians: Regan McDonell

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