The Tin Box

by Holly Kennedy

Published by Forge Books

304 pages, 2005

Buy it online



Building Wings

Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen


A front cover blurb by author Susan Wiggs, acclaims The Tin Box as "feel-good fiction at its best." I'd go so far as to say author Holly Kennedy's writing career is feel-good non-fiction at its best. With no training or writing experience whatsoever, she took the plunge and landed on her feet.

"Sometimes you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down." This quote by Kobi Yamada was adopted by the author as her motto, assisting her in her decision to stop letting life get in the way and to try her hand at writing, something she had dreamed of doing since graduating from high school 20 years earlier. Realizing that dream took time. First she worked as a long distance operator, then she got into computer work, then somewhere in there she got married and had two children. But then, finally, she embraced Yamada's philosophy and leapt.

She landed in eiderdown. Her investment in herself began with registering in a creative writing class at her local university. She came away from that with a short story which won her a spot in a workshop led by a coveted writer and held in a coveted Eden. As she writes on her Web site:

Then I attended Francis Ford Coppola's Writers Workshop in Belize. Next, I went to the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference, where I pitched a story to a few agents to test its marketability. When one got goose bumps and another said, "This is the best story I've heard all weekend," I knew I was on the right track.

Being nominated for the Rupert Hughes Award probably enhanced that feeling. But the most amazing thing is yet to come. Kennedy, who calls Calgary her home, then attempted to get an agent in spite of a mentoring author advising her to put what was now a novel away for a while and to try getting more experience by writing short stories. The result of Kennedy's efforts: six agents phoned to ask for the manuscript. But wait, it gets better. In the author's own words:

Under her guidance, I made some changes to the book. Then, after taking it out and "almost" selling it a few times, she called me to regroup. It was being rejected because it was a first novel, and editors loved it, but their bosses felt it wasn't easily categorizable, given that it wasn't a genre book, so if it wasn't published as a "big book" with a substantial promotional budget and a big announced first printing, it would just get lost.

So then, the indefatigable agent tried a different approach.

Liza teamed up with foreign rights agent Chandler Crawford, and within weeks, it was sold in a six figure, two-book deal to Wilhelm Heyne in Germany. In Europe, editors were looking for emotionally driven women's fiction and The Tin Box seemed to be what those markets wanted. Chandler went on to sell rights in Greece, France, Italy and Denmark. Sub rights were then sold to book clubs in France, Italy and Germany...

With five countries under its belt, The Tin Box now had the kind of endorsement that "big books" get, and Liza had a different story to tell American editors who might be nervous that it was a first novel. A year after initially taking it out in New York, she tried again, and English rights were sold to Forge Books.

And that is how a first novel by a new Canadian author comes to first be published in five European countries.

I admit that this phenomenal publishing success story has riveted me far more than the book itself, but readers who enjoy secrets and books like The Bridges of Madison County will devour the sentiment, plot and characters of The Tin Box. The cliff hanger is the secret that lies in that tin box, safely stowed away in a tree house. Thirty-two year old Kenly Lowen has to decide whether she is going to share that secret with her husband and son after the death of her childhood friend, a youth stricken with the rare and terrible affliction, Proteus Syndrome (known to most of us as Elephant Man disease). If she does reveal it, it could cost her the life she loves. | January 2006


Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.