Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 - A Year of Writerly Firsts

I don't usually spend a lot of time looking into the past - I'm definitely a go forward girl myself. But this past year has been so personally eventful for me and so filled with firsts that as 2010 looms ahead I do feel the need to look back. I feel very much like I'm approaching a cliff after running at full speed for many, many miles. So before I take the big leap into 2010 (more like fall into the great unknown) I want to pay homage to the year that was and see the past year (and decade) that was the big lead up to what I hope will be even more interesting writerly first experiences.

Of course, the biggest and most monumental 'First' was getting an offer on ILLEGALLY BLONDE. That happened in February. Kind of hard to beat that! But even though the next 'firsts' I'm going to list aren't as climactic as that one they are still very personally important to me on a number of levels.

2nd 'First' - I started this blog. Seriously, that was a biggie for me. I'd never really put myself out there 'publicly' and making a commitment to write about my writing journey was very scary. It's helped me connect with writers I would never have had the chance to meet and made me really think about my writing process and what I've learned - and still have to learn - about writing novels, the book publishing industry and being 'out there' for people to read. For a fairly private person like me this was a very big first.

3rd 'First' - having my name appear in Publisher's Marketplace. I dreamed about this as I learned the craft over the last seven years. Seeing my name and the name of my novel appear in the publishing industry's main source of information made my heart race and my palms sweaty. The dream made real.

4th 'First' - Working through edits with my first real editor! Hi Anita!! I had no idea what to expect and was so relieved to have Anita to guide me and support me through this very big first.

5th 'First' - Meeting so many amazing writers in Toronto who I've learned from and admire so much.

The Torkidlit authors group: Helene Boudreau, Cheryl Rainfield, Debbie Ohi, Claudia Osmond, Deborah Kerbel, Adrienne Kress, Marina Cohen, Mahtab Narsimhan, Megan Crewe, Maureen McGowan, Bev Katz Rosenbaum are all amazing writers and wonderful people.

Anthony De Sa: a Toronto born and bred Portuguese-Canadian author who wrote Barnacle Love about the Portuguese immigrant experience with such compassion, honesty and beauty. I was thrilled to meet him and even more thrilled to discover how lovely, supportive and encouraging he is in person.

6th 'First' - Joining Twitter. I would never have done this if not for Debbie Ohi and her positive encouragement. It's turned out to be a wealth of information and a place where writers have created a wonderful community.

I'm sure there are a whole slew of other firsts that I can put down but those are the biggies for me. As 2010 - the Year of the Tiger and I'm a Tiger! - approaches I know there will be other firsts to experience. All will be equally scary and exciting, I'm sure. The first decade of the new millenium was a big one for me once I discovered my passion for writing. I really hope the next ten years will be filled with as many wonderful firsts as I've had the priviledge to experience over the last few years.

I wish for all of you only one thing as the new year and the new decade approaches: Discover what you love to do. Then proceed to nurture it with the intensity of a first love. Only good things - and remarkable firsts - can follow.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Birthdays

It's that time of year again. Yep. The birthdays keep piling on. Thank goodness! So even though it's kind of irritating to see the numbers grow what I have finally come to terms with is having a birthday around the Christmas season.

As a kid it was a bit of a bummer to have a birthday so close to the holidays. Friends were out of school and busy with their own family events or out of town so there were never too many opportunities to do a birthday party. There were a few 'combined birthday/Christmas presents' that always left me feeling a bit ripped off. Whatever. Time passes and now, I rather enjoy having a birthday so close to the biggest holiday of the season. Seriously, I'm too darn busy to notice half the time that I'm getting older because I'm running around doing last minute holiday shopping myself. I tell you the best way to deal with getting older is to forget about it! But you know what the very best part of having a birthday this close to Christmas is? I force my kids to go get a picture with Santa even though they are way too old and because it's my birthday they can't say no!! *insert maniacal mommy laughter here*

But what I really look forward to every year is my birthday horoscope - since my birthday is so close to the end of the year it's like a peak into the New Year and what's in store. So here's some of my 2010 projections:

It's all about you, dear Capricorn. Once again, the Sun is back in your sign recharging your batteries for the rest of the year. Furthermore, it will attract opportunities and people to you. Enjoy these good times. Retrograde Mercury will also attract ex-partners and old friends.

If you want to start something new or if you want to change your life in some way now is the time to stop thinking about it and to start taking the decisions and actions that will make it happen. Anything is possible if you believe it is possible.

Ah, I love the possibilities of a new year. Happy birthday all you Christmas babies!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's Not Always About the Quantity

I've been stressing a little bit about how I'm not building up the wordcount as fast as I'd like with this WIP. I had some major time over the weekend to write on the hockey bus road trip (a bus full of active ten year old boys is not that dissimilar from a crowded subway train where I manage to do lots of writing) but I only did about ten pages or so. Not a huge amount but not bad since prior to that I'd been squeaking out maybe a page or two every couple of days. Seriously below my usual writing rate.

But something interesting happened a few days ago. I wrote two short paragraphs. That's all. And then I stopped to re-read them. Why? Because in those two simple paragraphs I'd found the essence of my heroine. The 'why' of her existence and discovered the intrigue of wanting to get to know her even more. I was finally hooked by her when before I'd wondered if she was going to be this bland stereotype throughout the book. If she was, why would I want my hero to spend any time with her? That was what was causing me to write so slowly. I was still figuring her out.

You see, I hadn't truly gotten a handle on her until I'd written that measly bit of wordcount - about 100 words in total. Once I'd written those two paragraphs the writing became easier - faster. Sometimes it only takes a sentence or two that will release the torrent of words later.

So what's the moral of all this?

Don't worry if your words are squeaking out at a snail's pace. Quantity is certainly nice and definitely important in finishing that dreaded first draft but even in the driest of deserts you can find some moisture that will keep you going. Keep writing, even when you're in a dry patch, even if it's just a few hundred words at a time. Because you never know which words will be the ones to release the floodgates.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Road Trip

Just a short post today because I'm about to head off this afternoon on a bus trip with 16 ten year old boys to a hockey tournament in Sudbury for four days. Yes. You heard that correctly. Hockey trip. Sudbury. In DECEMBER. Me. What's wrong (besides everything) with this description?

I checked the weather and, of course there's snow squalls over much of central Ontario with all the wind and snow we've been having the last couple of days. And Sudbury's going to have the balmy temperature of - wait for it - minus 11 degrees Celcius.

Lovely.

So I'll be away from the blog, twitter, email, the blueboards, my comfy bed. Ack. Think of me when I'll be sitting at a freezing hockey arena at 7 am tomorrow morning cheering my baby boy on. The only positive? I hope to pile on some words in the WIP on that 4 1/2 hour bus ride. If there isn't a game of mini-sticks going on in the aisle, that is.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Holiday 2009 Must See Movie List

I've gone months without going to my second favourite place to spend time outside the bookstore - the movie theatre. So, in anticipation of having a little more time around Christmas and New Year's I have my Must See Movie list all ready to go (some of these came out in November but, hey, they're still in the theatres so they count)

The Blind Side - Love movies based on true sports stories. Sandra Bullock looks like she's finally playing to her age and away from her tried and true rom coms. Love her, love the story and I can see it with my kids. Sold.

Sherlock Holmes - Robert Downey Jr. is an Acting God. 'Nuff said.

Up in the Air - Heard this will be the movie to sweep the Oscars. Even if it didn't star George Clooney, the fact that Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking) wrote and directed it would be enough to get me to fork over the bucks to see it.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox - I have to have one animated movie on the list for the youngest. This one has gotten terrific reviews.

Everybody's Fine - A father trying to reconnect with his adult children. Robert DeNiro playing a sympathetic, lonely man. Must see.

A Single Man - Hello? Colin Firth? Automatic Must See.

So there it is. My holiday movie must see list. About twelve hours of time I must spend in a movie theatre. Quite happily!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why Waiting is Sometimes A Good Thing

First of all, let me be quite clear - I hate waiting. Hated it since I was a kid and my mom would be puttering around the house doing God knows what while the rest of us waited in the car knowing we'd be inevitably late for whatever event we were headed to. I despised walking in after something started with all eyes on us and everybody thinking, "Finally. Now we can eat." (Note: My Portuguese family didn't like waiting to get started in on the food.)

I think that's what made me become the chronic early arriver I am now. I am always at least 15 minutes early to doctor's appointments, meet ups with friends, etc. My clocks at home are set five minutes fast just to get my chronically late family out the door just a little bit faster (and, just as an aside, what giant cosmic joke has been played on me that not only was I raised by a chronically late arriver I am now surrounded by two out of three offspring and one husband with the same disease? /rant ). Yes, all in all, I'd say one of the great beliefs of my life has always been that faster is better, waiting sucks and life's too short to spend twiddling your thumbs waiting for stuff to happen.

You know where this is leading, don't you? Yup. That kind of blanket belief is ripe for a challenge. Through my writing journey I've learned that early is not necessarily better all the time. And taking your time can be a very good thing sometimes.

We all know publishing is a slow business - g-l-a-c-i-a-l-l-y sloooooooow. I wonder how I've stuck it out for as long as I have knowing my little personality quirk. But I have learned to appreciate the time it takes to get things done in this industry. Take, for example, the fact that once a book is acquired it takes about a year to have it released (let's not get into how long it takes to get a book acquired - that's a whole other level of waiting). Sometimes less, sometimes more but on average you've got about a year if you're lucky. Some writers have to wait almost two years to get a slot on the publishers list. Yes, that year or two can be excrutiating wait for that final step in the journey. Especially when you've got friends and family members regularly asking you: "When's you're book coming out?" (insert Nelsa grinding teeth here)

I've got about five months to go until Illegally Blonde is released and now I can say I'm really glad it took this amount of time. I'm waiting for the last final proof to arrive from the publisher and I'm not going to rush going over those pages (well, if I'm given a day to look over them then I'll rush! :). But now, more than ever, it is a time to savour the book - before it's released. It is, in a weird kind of way, my last time to 'own' it. This year long wait has been my opportunity to get used to the idea of being published. It's been a time to prepare myself for the book being out there - for me being out there to promote it as best I can. People are starting to ask what I'm going to do about the book launch and I tell them I'm not sure yet. I'm taking time to sort ideas out in my head. There's nothing concrete yet but, for once, I'm taking my time to figure it out. I'm sure when the release comes everything will seem super speeded up so I'm not complaining about the wait now. I kind of appreciate it.

I've definitely learned that slow isn't necessarily always bad, that rushing to or through something can lead to mistakes (especially speeding tickets), that taking the time to savour the moment - to really think about where you are now and where you want to be - is something everyone should learn to appreciate. For me, this year long wait for the book to come out has been a good thing.

Now, if I could just learn to appreciate how long it takes my son to get himself dressed in the morning...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Keeping Your Writing Mojo Alive When Christmas is Around the Corner

So I had a slight freak out this morning when I looked at the calendar and saw those dreaded words - December 1st.

December?? Already???

Don't get me wrong - l love me my Christmas time. Love the decorations, the music, the friends and family get togethers, the food, even the snow (about the only time of the year I love the snow). I even have a birthday thrown in there just before the holidays for an extra dab of something special. Although, if I'm being honest, I'm not too keen on celebrating that particular event these days. But, as with anything worthwhile, the holidays come with a price - more stuff to plan and do within an already packed schedule. So with spare time at a premium what's a conscientious little writer to do?

Weirdly enough, I tend to get a lot of my writing done in the month of December. Sure, I'm off for a few days here and there but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm sitting at home all day tapping or scribbling away. I think it has more to do with the fact that in 31 days it will be the end of the year. To me, that creates a huge deadline in my mind. What do I want to have accomplished by the end of 2009? Do I only want to have 50 pages written in the new WIP? Or can I get to the halfway mark - get over that dreaded middle hump so that the new year will start off with one of my goals already halfway accomplished?

I also think about all of the extra things I do during this month and convince myself if I can find time to decorate a house, buy the gifts, attend the parties why can't I find the time to write? Really, in a way, that's almost the easiest thing to do compared with all the other stuff I have to get done. Writing is something I LOVE to do. I love to make up stories. How can it be hard to find the time to do something I love?

Yet there's that old saying - we always hurt the ones we love so I know it's quite easy to neglect the writing. But during this busy month, it is critical to keep that love alive - that mojo for writing - because it's so much harder to get back onto a track once you've derailed. Yes, a new year has so much hope and possibility that it's easy to say 'I'll start writing again in the New Year' but the real test comes at the end of a long, hard year. If you can finish off the year knowing you've continued to write during one of the most distracting months of the calendar then you know you can handle the easier months. Besides, at the beginning of the new year you'll be that much farther ahead!

So don't let December distract you! Keep on writing!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Positivity

One of the things I like about Twitter is getting to know new people and links to their blogs. One of the people I follow on Twitter shared a blog post from this site

www.positivityblog.com

(sorry I can't seem to make the link work yet. I'll keep trying)

A blog on how to be positive! I so needed to find this resource. I struggle on a daily basis to try and curb my natural tendency towards cynicism. Looking on the bright side is one of the harder things to achieve in my life but when I do succeed it makes a total difference in my life and my family's life.

So that's why I'm highly recommending this blog and sending positive vibes to all who strive for seeing the up side in life! Besides, any blogger who has a post on What Bruce Springsteen Can Teach You About Life has definite cred with me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Choosing Your Life Path

Daughter One has been checking out universities for the last little while in anticipation of one of the biggest decisions of her life - where will she spend the next four years and what will she study? In essence, what will be the launch pad to the rest of her life?

Pretty scary intimidating stuff and not something to undertake with little to no thought. But as I try to mellow her anxiety out a little I do think back and consider what if? What if I'd studied somewhere else, something else all those years ago, what path would my life have taken? And even though I think I might have turned to writing earlier or, perhaps, not at all, or I might have become an actress or gone into behind the scenes television production or, or, or, ... I always come back to the thought "It doesn't matter what choice you made. It matters that you had a choice."

All the wrong turns, the right turns, the turns you didn't even know you were making at the time, eventually, I believe,lead you to the path that is calling the strongest to you. I want to reassure One that no decision is completely irreversible. Mistakes happen but you learn and grow from those too. At the best the mistaken paths show you where you don't want to go!

In the end, all I can tell her is that this big decision is one of many, many more in her life. But it is not the be all and end all. It will take her on one path of many to come and whatever happens on it she will learn and grow from it.

While having choices is confusing and making a choice is hard having no choices at all is the worst thing in the world. Embrace the possibilities that life offers and your life path will eventually reveal itself.

And the best thing of all? You make the decisions.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Struggle to Write

So, it must be part and parcel of what I'm going through with respect to the WIP - even coming up with an idea and writing a blog post is a struggle for me these days.

I don't want to give up on my commitment of writing two blog posts a week because once that happens it's a slippery slope to writing nothing at all. Which will make it all the harder to get back into the swing of things once I finally get the ideas back or the urge or whatever it is that propels us to write. I've noticed a few writers have mentioned their own struggles either with their works in progress or the blog or just keeping up with all of the various communities we both love to be a part of yet take an inordinate amount of time to maintain the proper involvement.

Maybe it's because it is November and NaNoWriMo is going on. The energy to commit to drafting an entire novel in one month is huge and I'm in awe of those who can do it. But a lot of writers, me included, did not put that pressure on ourselves. So what's up with this difficulty in finding words? November is a particularly hellish month for me personally with many family and work commitments that make it very hard to carve out some writing time. But I wonder if it is that or am I going forward slowly because I just finished the revision of my last book (which, hopefully, will find a publishing home as well)after finishing the edits of Illegally Blonde after finishing a book that my agent did not like after finishing a book that she did like but did not sell and that needs another revision. In the last two years I figure I've written over 500,000 words - whether new or revised. That's a lot of writing.

So, while I know marathon runners can do two or three (or however many) runs in one year, they also need to take breaks or do shorter, less intense races because their bodies can take only so much. But what they always do - always - is run almost every day. They have to because they love it and because it's good for them in the long run (ha! pun). Once it's time for that big race they are prepared. Their muscles are not rusty.

Writing is no different. I may not be doing the Boston Marathon right now, but I'm still forcing myself to go for a shorter run through the neighbourhood - it may not be as intense but it keeps things loose. So I'm ready for the big race.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Writer's Crawl

We've all heard of writer's block, right? That blank, empty page that seems impossible to fill. Well, I may not have writer's block but I think I've developed writer's crawl. Where I seem to only have a few paragraphs of writing that comes out of me lately. And those seep out at an agonizingly slow pace.

I'm not sure if it's because I'm still feeling out this story or if I'm just not feeling the story. Those are two very different things.

Feeling out the story is like walking through a dark room where you can vaguely sort out the furniture but nothing is sharply defined and you have to bump into somethings before you can find your way out. That necessitates going slowly.

Feeling the story is something else entirely. It's that burning need to tell the story. You understand the characters, the motivations, the idea and the story seeps inside your head and when the words come out its a flow because you just get it. The room is completely lit and you see everything clearly. You can walk through it without bumping into one darn thing.

So when I've got writer's crawl I'm trying to figure out if I'm just figuring out the story or if I'm not into the story. I really hope it's the former because I love this idea and I think I'll love these characters. If I could just write more than a few sentences at a time on it!

Well, I'll have some uninterrupted train travel time tomorrow and Tuesday. If I can't move from crawling to a brisk walk then I'll really start worrying.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Generosity of Writers

I started writing seven years ago and it was a lonely little biz for the first couple of years. Just me and my imagination and dreams. And that was okay for awhile. But soon I knew I needed to take courses, learn more, get critiques, talk to others who knew more and who were going through the same things. I got support and encouragement from my family, sure, but they didn't know what I was so passionate about. I needed others who understood. I needed a writing family.

I joined the Toronto Romance Writers group about five years ago because, at the start of this journey I thought that was what I wanted to write. An awesome, supportive and knowledgeable organization (chapter of the Romance Writers of America)whose members are a variety of people at various stages in the writing journey from first time "I think I'd like to write a book" newbies to seasoned, prolific NY Times Bestseller professionals. They gave support encouragement and, most importantly, chocolate for successes and set backs. And they run a great contest too. I will always be a member of this group. First love, ya know.

Then, when writing for teens became my focus and passion I joined the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)as well as an online community of YA and children's writers called the Blueboarder's at Verla Kay's Children's and Illustrators website. Again, so much support and experience and wisdom to be found there. People share their down times, their frustrations and their successes. It kept my sanity many a time as Illegally Blonde was on submission.

And now I've found a group of Canadian authors of YA/MG fiction, members of CANSCAIP (which I've just joined)who are enthusiastic, supportive, and funny in the Toronto area. I'm looking forward to getting to know more of these great local writers. I've also been incredibly lucky to have recently gotten a chance to get to talk to an author whose work I admire even though it is not in the same genre as mine yet he's been so generous as to speak about me and my book to others and share his enthusiasm about it just because he's that kind of writer.

Sharing, caring and support. No matter who I've met in the various writing communities I've joined, this is what I've found. I've been lucky, I know, but I really think that 99 per cent of writers are like this.

And really.What more can the perfect family give you?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Inspiration vs. Perspiration

So, the question circling my mind over the weekend after leaving a very inspiring CANSCAIP Packaging Your Imagination conference in Toronto on Saturday was: What would I rather have as a partner in writing: inspiration or perspiration?

At first blush, I thought 'Give me inspiration any day!' Those flashes of, "Oh, wow, what an awesome idea!" or "Oh, wow! Why didn't I think of that before? That's the perfect solution to my plot problem!" Yeah, those moments - those flashes - is the drug of choice for writers. We keep looking for that next flash fix. The next moment when all the hard slog will be worth it.

But what about disliked, mostly avoided and underappreciated Perspiration? After all, who likes to sweat, right? It's stinky, uncomfortable, unpleasant and feels, for the most part, unproductive. Perspiration is a long, hard slog. No flash of sparkly brightness there. No great rush of adrenaline and excitement that keeps your spirits up. Perspiration is just long, dark tunnels that have to be dug out by hand, one hard, rocky shovel-full at a time. Not very glamorous, is it?

So guess which one I'd choose?

Yup. I'm a masochist. I'd rather have Perspiration in my corner any day. Flashes of inspiration are unpredictable. Flashes leave you a little starry-eyed and breathless but when they eventually leave (and Inspiration is a real fickle beast - she leaves a lot more than she comes) you feel more lost than ever. Perspiration, on the other hand, makes you work. But you are the one in control. You are the one digging day after day, mining that story. Perspiration helps you to make that thing work. You aren't letting something else control you or the outcome of your story. You aren't constantly waiting for something to make that story happen.

So, that's me and my Capricorn work ethic and control-freakiness talking. Don't get me wrong - I don't mind the occasional visit from flashy and breath-taking Inspiration once in a while. But give me old workhorse Perspiration for the long haul. That's what gets the book written. It ain't pretty but it's faithful.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Query Letter for Illegally Blonde

Way back in the summer of 2006 I began writing what would eventually become Illegally Blonde. By November of that year I had a complete draft. In December I spent about three weeks crafting the query letter that would, I hoped, generate some interest from agents for them to request the manuscript. I spent a lot of time writing that letter. I thought it was a good letter. Still do. That letter generated quite a bit of agent interest in the manuscript. By February 2007 I had an agent offer. I was signed by the end of that month. All this to say: Take the time to craft your letter with the same care you take with your novel. It's like putting on a snazzy to-die-for party dress and then covering it up with a torn, ratty old shawl. You know the dress is beautiful but nobody can see it for the crappy shawl covering it.

So I'm sharing the letter here to give you an idea of what I thought was important about the book I was trying to sell. Do whatever works for you but make sure you think of the second paragraph (the one describing the book) as the back cover blurb you'd actually want to see on your published work. I'd probably write a little less on the third paragraph (the 'bio' piece)now but for this book it seemed to work well.

Here it is. And happy query writing.

Dear Agent:

I’m seeking representation for my completed 55,000 word contemporary young adult novel Illegally Blonde.

Sometimes discovering your roots is about a lot more than watching your real hair color grow in ...

When seventeen-year-old Lucy de Amaral comes home with newly bleached blonde hair all she expects is a major lecture and another grounding from her strict, immigrant Portuguese parents. What she doesn’t expect is the shocking news that her family are illegal aliens who’ve just been told they’re being deported in less than a week. Lucy’s furious at her parents and has no intention of leaving her boyfriend and missing Prom and Grad to go live in some backwater village with no cable, no movie theatre and no life in some country she knows nothing about. But, as Lucy discovers, intentions and reality are sometimes worlds apart - or, in Lucy’s case, at least an ocean away. Lucy’s desperation to return to her ‘real’ home results in a reckless plan to buy a fake passport which further ensnares her in a web of illegal activity that threatens more than her journey home. But it’s when she unexpectedly falls for a guy whose connection to his home is centuries old and who can’t understand Lucy’s disinterest in the past or lack of plans for the future where she finally realizes you can never run away from your roots – not even if you bleach them.

I was inspired to write Illegally Blonde after a March 2006 Canadian immigration crackdown on illegal Portuguese workers in Toronto. Most YA books deal with the experience of illegal immigrant teens from the perspective of their living in North America. Not many describe what might happen if they’re sent back. As a second-generation Portuguese-Canadian, I’m very familiar with the juxtaposition of old world values vs. new and the tough choices immigrant teenagers face today. Any teenager can identify with Lucy’s confusion, anger and desperation if they found themselves in a similar situation. But it is Lucy’s sarcastic humour and ultimate acceptance of who she is, where she comes from, and most importantly, where she wants to go, that would appeal to a wide teen market – both legal and illegal.

If the premise of Illegally Blonde intrigues you I would be happy to send you a partial or full manuscript upon your request. Thanks very much for your time and consideration.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Here it is! The Cover for ILLEGALLY BLONDE!




I've been waiting patiently and, I admit, with a little bit of nervousness for my cover from my publisher. I shouldn't have been nervous. The wait was so worth it! I love the cover and think it captures the feeling of the book wonderfully. There might be some more minor adjustments but this seems to be it. Yay!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What's the Scariest Movie You've Ever Seen?

Okay, I may not be the biggest fan of Halloween - trying to figure out costumes, do make-up, make sure I have enough candy, decorate with skeletons and carve pumpkins exhaust me beyond my already epic exhaustion levels (a Monster-loving Mom I am not). But I do love me a good, scary movie. Well, at least I did. I'm not so sure I want to be scared anymore and I don't know why that is.

See, I'm trying to decide whether to go see Paranormal Activity. It's getting some really good word of mouth and reviews. Even the ads are slightly freaking me out. Sounds like a sure scary deal, right? So why am I hesitating?

Well, for one thing, hubby thinks scary movies are kinda dumb so he wouldn't waste his time. None of my girlfriends are really that into fright fests and my oldest daughter hasn't indicated an interest. But beyond not having a date for the movie I think the reason I'm hesitating is that I don’t really want to be scared.

I used to love movies like Friday the 13th (the original, people!), Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween (the original, people!) etc. Ahh, those wonderful, wacky scary films of my youth. But as I got older and I saw movies less and less, the scary ones started to freak me out more and more. I remember seeing The Blair Witch Project when I was about 8 months pregnant with my second child. I had no prior knowledge of what the movie was about so went in with an open mind. I remember being kind of creeped out watching it but nothing huge in terms of big frights. I went home that night and I was home alone - both hubby and first child were gone for the weekend - and as I walked upstairs to bed I started feeling this kind of creepy, crawly sensation down my back. I called the dog upstairs, figuring I was just overreacting to being alone in the house and being so hugely preggers. But as I lay in bed, I couldn't stop thinking about that last scene in Blair Witch. Remember? The one in the deserted house, in the basement, when you catch a quick glimpse of someone facing a wall? Like you expected that person to turn around and give you a severe fright but the camera just blanked out? Man, I don't know if it was the pregnancy hormones or what but I got up, locked the bedroom door, let my dog jump into bed with me and tried to go to my happy place.

Since that movie the only other scary one I've seen is The Descent - which I will never want to watch again after having a major heart attack when I first glimpsed the creatures that lived in those caves. Yick.

Have I lost all courage? Am I a complete wuss? What happened to my fearless - almost gleeful - anticipation of being scared? I mean, I used to watch Rod Serling's Night Gallery when I was ten for pete's sake! If I can handle creepy dolls coming to life when I'm that young why am I hesitant about watching a ghost story like Paranormal Activity? Is it because maybe I really do believe ghosts exist? And the idea of something unseen, seeing me, is the ultimate creep out of all?

Sigh. I really do miss my old, fearless self.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blogging on Borrowed Time

I just lost the post I was writing about blogging on borrowed time. Figures. Our computers at home are going haywire and I'm never sure when I'm going to lose the chance to twitter or blog or even visit my favourite writer's boards - Verla Kay's.
So all this has caused me massive anxiety as I think, "Oh, no! I haven't blogged in five days!" or "Ack! I haven't tweeted in over 24 hours!"

Seriously, Nelsa, who cares?

I'm thinking I should blog. Should tweet. Well, who says I should? All this talk about networking, getting your name out there, becoming part of a writer's community, yes it's all important but, honestly, when did I start to worry more about these things than the writing?

I'm starting a new book on November 1st (no, not Nanowrimo but coinciding with many who are doing that challenge). My challenge isn't a book in a month. I'm giving myself 3 months to complete a first draft. So if I don't blog as much over the next 3 months is it a crime? No. And while I do recognize that all of these things are important I also acknowledge that these blogs and tweets and interactions on writer's boards are not the most important thing. The writing's the thing. I need to write and write well. Whatever happens beyond that is out of my control to a certain extent. I'm not the best blogger, never will be. I'm never going to be a full convert to twitter. But trying to become the best writer I can personally be? Now that is something I can commit to.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

When a New Idea Percolates

So I'm supposedly taking a break after handing in my revised wip to the agent. Taking a break means no writing for two weeks while the new idea percolates. I've heard that term used quite a lot with writers. Percolate. Great word. But what does it mean? I mean, I know what it means, but it's so different for every writer, ya' know?

My version of Webster's Dictionary explains that Percolate is derived from the Latin percolare, fr. per - through + colare - to sieve. It defines it as follows:
A) to cause to pass through a permeable substance (as a powdered drug) especially for extracting a soluble constituent
B) to prepare in a perculator
C) to be diffused through
D) to ooze or trickle through a permeable substance
E) to become lively or effervescent
F) to spread gradually

Yes. To all those things.

A new idea - for me - needs to pass through my brain (is that the permeable substance?) like a drug - I can't get enough of it at first - in order to extract the soluable (loosened or dissolved) constituent (the writing). But in order to loosen that constituent it first has to be prepared, diffused, before it can ooze and trickle through my brain onto the page becoming, hopefully, a lively and effervescent story that will spread gradually to many, many readers.

So now that I'm done revising the WIP the new idea which has sat in a corner of my permeable brain for awhile, percolating away, can now take over. There is room for it to really simmer now, for me to lie in bed at night and actually not be able to fall asleep very quickly because I'm thinking about the opening, the characters, the ending, the bits and pieces that will make it into the story, the others that I'm not sure about - everything that can make this new idea work. Percolating is absolutely essential for me to be able to write a good story.

But while percolating is a good and necessary thing, there is also a dark side. Percolating also involves thinking about the fears and the questions. Will I do the idea justice? The story should probably be in third person not first - hmm. haven't written in third for a while so how creaky will I be? POV will be primarily a teenage boy - will I screw that up?

As part of the percolating, I may write down a few things, may even outline the first part of the book in detail. Or I may decide to pants it with only the ideas rattling around in my head to guide me. More likely it will probably be a combination of both processess. But the trick is to start while the idea is still fresh enough to be fun (don't overthink it too much or the idea may get stale) and when anticipating the fears of failure haven't overtaken you to the point where you get too paralyzed to even start.

I've given myself two weeks before I put pen to paper again. But I can't be too prescriptive about it. It might be sooner. The urge to write the new story will build. Soon it won't be enough to just be thinking about it anymore. Only when I start it will I know if it will work. When I can see if my percolating idea can eventually become a 'lively" and "effervescent" story.

Until then, I don't think I'll be falling asleep very easily.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Best Part of Writing is Having Written

I don't know what famous author said that but, boy, do I completely agree.

I used to think that the best part of writing was getting caught up in a new story idea and then brainstorming/outlining/imagining/daydreaming/insert your favourite word for doodling out the next big concept that would consume you for three to six months here. Then I thought that the best part of writing was starting the first draft when everything was bright, shiny and new. Then I thought getting to the end of that first draft was nirvana. I must say that never once did I think slogging through the morass of the middle was the best. Still don't. But murky middle notwithstanding, those other things are pretty cool.

But now, I really believe that having gone through all those steps, the outlining, the beginning, the dreaded middle, the blissful end, the seemingly neverending revisions are simply teasers until you get to the very best part of the writing process - the knowledge that you have finished. It's kind of like licking through all that hard candy before getting to the soft, chewy centre of the Tootsie Roll pop. That feeling when you can sit back, read through the entire novel - my God, I've written an entire NOVEL - and bask in the thrill of creating something that you are (hopefully) proud of, something that (hopefully) hangs together, something that (hopefully) has the layers and the meaning and the subtext you wanted to convey to a reader, is like no other feeling when writing.

It is all that is good and satisfying and fulfilling.

Yes, I know that a book is never completely done. Yes, I know that should the book sell there will be still more to do. But, for now, it is enough to know that I have written. I have reached the soft, chewy centre of the Tootsie Roll. And, no matter the consequences I might have to face later, I'm sure as hell enjoying the decadent sugary high of it now.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Boys, Books and Diary of a Wimpy Kid

So I'm once again amazed at what the master of getting young boys to read, Mr. Jeff Kinney, has done with his latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid installment Dog Days. Especially my young boy. In fact, I'm going to be very upset when he finishes reading it because for the last couple of days it's the only thing we can use on The Boy for motivation that works. Okay,let's be honest here - when I say motivation I mean threats.

"If you don't get dressed and downstairs for breakfast in five minutes, you lose Diary of a Wimpy Kid for a week!"

"If you go upstairs for bed right NOW you can read Diary of a Wimpy Kid for an extra fifteen minutes."

"The bus ride isn't so bad. Remember, you have Diary of a Wimpy Kid to read!"

I swear, when I have the time I'm going to analyze every word and picture in those books and try to figure out what it is exactly about it that connects with boys (and I assume girls too since it is such a mega best seller it can't be just boys buying it). One of the things I've heard when others have been trying to figure the magic out is that the book doesn't preach to the reader. But neither do a lot of well written middle grade books. And the humour helps. Humour ALWAYS helps. But there are a lot of funny books out there. What's special about this one? Maybe it's the main character. I mean Greg is kind of a rude obnoxious kid. The way he treats his best friend Rawley borders on bullying sometimes. But the author shows all of his faults, doesn't apologize for them, he is what he is with no judgement about it. And maybe that's what every little boy (and girl) wants. To be accepted and loved for who they are even if they're not very nice sometimes or if they're doing something that a parent doesn't think is good for them. Does it really matter that my son gets obsessed with video games to the point where he could (if not ejected by his parents) spend the whole summer downstairs in the dark? The Boy cracked up at that in the opening pages of Dog Days. He IDENTIFIED. He's a kid. Kids get obsessed with things. Kids get lazy. Kids aren't nice to other kids sometimes. Kids are kids.

And that is what Mr. Kinney has created in the pages of his books. A real kid. Even if in cartoon form.

If there are any critics of these books still out there all I can say is: "Come over to my house. My son is reading. And loving it."

That is pure gold.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Juggling Act

I have a special affinity and sympathy for the struggles of working moms who also want to write. It is my sisterhood, after all. I also have an understanding of the working writer mom dealing with a guilt complex - a very special sisterhood indeed. Many of my friends and some of my fellow writers who are just beginning this journey ask me, "How do you do it? When do you get the time to write? How do you manage?" You're not going to like my answer.

I don't think I manage very well at all.

I don't have the answer on how to find the time to be a mom, writer, wife, career person, friend, family member and every other hat you might be wearing. If I did I'd write a book about it and make a bazillion dollars. I don't even have a plan or a way to organize all those balls we're juggling. All I do is live with the guilt that I'm not keeping the balls in the air. Inevitably, something has to drop.

For example, this weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving. A whole 3 days at home. Surely, I could get to do all the things that have piled up over the last few weeks. Surely, I could finally finish the revision that I've given myself to the end of this month to complete. Surely, I could spend more quality time with hubby, the kids and my visiting family. Well, in some ways I did do all of that - but not everything was accomplished.

I could have spent more time with family, I could have written more, I could have done more laundry. But at least I did a little bit of each. And maybe that's my answer. It's not all or nothing, you see. It can't be. That way lies madness. I mean, I can't juggle at all so why do I think that if I put more than two or three things in the air I'll be a success at it? I won't. But I know I can juggle those two or three. So on any given day I pick those two or three and deal with them. The next day it might be two different things. By the end of the week I'll have juggled a grand total of fifteen to twenty things but on different days. Totally doable and quite impressive when you add them up.

So, bottom line, don't try and be a master juggler every single day of your life. All you'll end up with is a bunch of balls rolling around at your feet ready to make you trip and fall. So take it easy, one day at a time, one or two balls at a time and, most importantly, one guilt trip at a time.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Have You Written Down Your Writing Goals?

I know a lot of people make New Year's resolutions about what they want to accomplish in their life for the coming year. I've never been a big New Year's Resolution kind of gal myself. Honestly, I don't need to deal with the guilt if I don't lose those extra ten pounds or the worry that I will never be able to keep my house clean no matter how many times I say I'll do it. Those kinds of goals are, I guess, just not that important to me (Gee, I wonder why?? :). And always having to do the goals in January? Why then? What if you suddenly get the urge to learn sky diving in August?

No matter what I think about New Year's resolutions (and, hey, if they work for you all the power to you) I do still believe in the importance of having goals. And if something is truly important to me, when there's a goal I really want to achieve, I'm a big believer in WRITING THAT GOAL DOWN. For me, writing it down is like a promise. To me or the universe, whatever, if I see the words on paper I can't avoid the promise I made.

When I started writing seven years ago I realized that I wasn't just doing this thing for fun. I was writing with the intent of one day being published. I didn't know how tough it would be or how much I would have to learn but I knew that was the goal. That was what kept me writing at one a.m. when everybody else was asleep. It was what kept me going when the rejections piled in or when manuscripts weren't turning out the way I thought they should. And to remind me of that goal, I wrote - on a little yellow sticky note that's still in the top drawer of my desk - "I want to be published by the time I'm (insert age here). You see, I always allowed for what I would do if I didn't make that goal by the time I gave myself. If I didn't make it by a certain age, well, then, I'd put in the next age where I would work toward achieving that goal.

As you can tell, I'm also a big believer that there is no failure in not reaching your goals. I do believe there is failure if you have none.

So, because I'm going to be published next year, does this mean I have no more goals? Are you kidding me? There is always something to strive for, always something to achieve. I've written two new goals on a new sticky and I've given myself a time limit for that. One of the goals is more like a hope - because I'm not sure I can influence whether it happens or not - but the other one I can definitely work towards. And, no, I'm not sharing them with anyone. Until I achieve them they are private and personal to me. No one else is accountable to those written words except me. No one else has the right to ask me how I'm doing in getting closer to those goals. Only I know. And the universe. Because, as any writer knows, the written word is a very powerful thing.

So, have you written down your writing goals yet?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gone Over to the Dark Side - I'm on Twitter!

Funny how a group of cheerful, friendly and supportive kidlit author's can convince you by their sheer enthusiasm that Twitter will not turn one into a babbling, incoherent mess of mangled Internet chum! Of course I should join, they said. Did I know how many kidlit authors are out there in Twitterland? How many wonderful, helpful connections one could make? How, if I just gave it a chance, I'd see how great Twitter was? Besides - how could I keep up with what the kidlit authors in and around Toronto were up to? What was I afraid of?

Ah. And there's the million dollar question. What was I afraid of? Something new? My continued anxiety about being 'out there'? I'm a soon to be published author, for pete's sake. I have to be out there. I've always said the worst fears are the ones you don't face.

So tonight I took the plunge. I joined Twitter. May God have mercy on my soul. Come on and twitter me. I'm at http://twitter.com/nelsaroberto

Sigh. And I'm still getting used to blogging...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

When Do You Feel Like a Writer?

I was getting new glasses the other day and through my near-sighted squinting into the mirror trying on pair after pair of equally nice but invevitably expensive frames nothing seemed quite right. But then I put on a pair of dark frames a bit funkier in style than what I'd been used to and I exclaimed out of nowhere, "Oh, wow! I look like a writer!"

Sold.

Now why did I instinctively gravitate to glasses that I felt made me look more 'writerly' - whatever that looks like? Did I need to look like a writer because I didn't feel enough like one already? Only recently have I actually started to admit to people (outside of close friends and family) that I am a writer. But do I really believe it or is it something like that old saying "Fake it till you make it". If I say I'm a writer more often maybe one day I'll really believe it?

Maybe I'll feel like a writer after my first book is published but, in my deepest heart of hearts, I think I'll always feel like I'm a bit of an imposter. No matter how many words I've written, no matter how many courses I take, conferences I attend, I always feel like the other people who are writing are more like writers than I am. I'm not sure why I have this insecurity about calling myself a writer. I mean, I write. It should be simple. Yet, it's not.

It's not that I can't label myself. I'm a lot of things. I'm a mother, a wife, a bad cook, a good friend, a proud Canadian - there are any number of roles I inhabit. But I have to remember that I felt weird calling myself a wife at first. But I got used to it. It was weird being a mother at first - kind of frightening actually. But I can't imagine not being a mother now. So, like any significant aspect of your life, a new label just needs a little getting used to I guess.

So, after several million words and almost seven years of writing I just need to say it more often. So, here goes: "I. Am. A. Writer."

Wow. It still feels weird. But good. :)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

10 Reasons Why October's My Favourite Month

1. September is always crazy, awful busy and I'm pretty much glad to see the end of it.
2. No humidity! My hair always looks better ;).
3. The changing colour of the leaves - the best part of the month!
4. My wedding anniversary. At least once in a year the hubby and I actually go out for dinner as a couple not a family.
5. Indian summer - the most wonderful sun, warm days and cool nights. Perfect weather - except it only lasts a week or two.
6. Canadian Thanksgiving. Turkey, gravy, stuffing, pumpkin pie. Bliss.
7. Cutting the grass for the last time until spring.
8. Warm sweaters and leather boots.
9. Fall TV shows are all back.
10. Only two months left till Christmas!!!!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Writing without Fear

So I was not disappointed with Word on the Street. The rain held off. The authors were fascinating, the books plentiful and it was wonderful to see so many people there to listen to authors talk about writing and the worlds they created. It really gives a writer a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, books are not dead.

The best part of the day, for me, was listening to a workshop offered by the Humber School for Writers where Anthony De Sa and Anar Ali were discussing the challenges when writing about people or communities who may see themselves in their fictional work. The actual title was "Do I Have to Hide the Truth When I Write about People I Love?" They were both so honest about how they approached their writing and some of the fear they had to work through to get to their books "spiritual truth". In a nutshell, what I took away from the workshop was that if you approach your writing from a place of love and respect even if some of the truths aren't very nice, the writing is inherently honest and, as a result, so much more powerful. To the writer. To the reader. To the story. And, really, as a writer that's all you can do. You can't worry about what the reaction to your writing will be - well, you can but that way lies paralysis. Honesty to the story is the most important thing.

The workshop helped me understand that my story is my story.It is my 'fictional' truth and I have to accept that however it is received it is its own thing now created as honestly as could be by me. Even if I get slammed for not getting something right or someone taking it the wrong way or, God forbid, somebody in my family thinking one of the characters is based on them. Whatever. I'm proud of my story - not scared of it.

Oh, and can I just say that it's a real thrill when you meet an author whose work you admire and who turns out to be super-nice too? I learned something and got to be a fan girl too. It was great day.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Excited About Word on the Street

So the 20th Annual Word on the Street festival is happening in Toronto tomorrow. Book publishers, magazines, libraries, authors, agents, booksellers, workshops, signings, readings! What more could a book fan want? A writer could OD on the cornucopia of delights available.

I have been trying to get to this festival for years and have never been able to but I booked it weeks ago into our crowded September schedule, informed hubby and the kids (a couple of them may join me in the wanderings down at Queen's Park Crescent) and no matter what I will be there. I expect a surprised "huh??" from hubby who most likely has forgotten that I've booked the time but I'm not about to miss seeing Margaret Atwood, Anthony de Sa, Austin Clarke, Cordelia Strube, Nino Ricci and more.

But even more importantly I just want to be surrounded by other people who love books as much as I do. I better remember to take a big bag because I know I won't be leaving without picking up a few irrisistable reads.

If you're in T.O. this weekend - go to Word on the Street!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Burnt Out and It's Not Even October Yet!

I knew September would be busy. I knew Mercury would be in retrograde making all travel screwed up and all work re-done. I knew that the few, blissful days of being bored in August would seem like a hazy, vaguely remembered dream told to me by someone else. So why am I so surprised that I'm feeling like a wet dishcloth that's slowly sliding down a kitchen wall? But I know if I'm feeling wrung out my poor son must feel like he's hanging on a clothesline trying to dry out.

In the last seven days he's played 6 hockey games and two Baseball games. He's had a couple of hockey and baseball practices thrown in there for good measure too. Not to mention the return of the dreaded homework monster to which his battle plan is a combination of avoid, ignore and forget it at school. I feel like I've barely been home myself so have been seriously neglecting Daughters One and Two. I think they know enough to avoid stressed out mom and I'm hoping that whatever they're up to is all legal and won't require my attendance at any hearings or anything.

Tonight is the first game of the Baseball playoffs. Is it awful if I'm not too upset if his team loses? Tomorrow night is another hockey practice. Thursday night is Open House/Meet the Teacher night at the school. Friday night is another Hockey game. Saturday morning hockey practice. Followed by a jam packed weekend with a birthday party for a friend, Word on the Street on Sunday (yay!), hair appointment (roots are now almost two inches long and even The Boy has asked me when I'm getting my hair done)and the Ontario University Fair which I wanted to attend with Daughter One is happening at the Metro Convention Centre this weekend. Not to mention the book signing by Megan Crewe I wanted to attend for her Book Giving Up the Ghost. Sigh. I may just have to get a signed copy another time.

And I know there was one more thing I'm forgetting. What was it? What was it? Oh! Of course. Working on the Revision. Right. <>

Maybe when I've finished sliding down the wall.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Revision Zone

I've learned many things about my writing process since I began seriously persuing publication. I've learned that I can - for the most part -write anywhere, any time with any number of distractions. I write my first draft long-hand because it prevents me from going into editing mode. I can write on the subway for a half-hour, in a waiting room, at baseball and figure skating practices - but only if the arena has a heated lounge!Which means I can only write at one particular arena my daughter attends. For some reason my sons hockey arenas do not have this wonderful perk. Hence no writing is done while at hockey practices :).

I can write late in the evening, on lunch hours, in front of the TV (although less and less lately since I only ever watch my very favourite TV shows). I am definitely not an early morning writer. I edit first, second and third drafts on the computer. I print out and edit them on paper too - in any variety of coloured pens. I have become very flexible in how I achieve the drafts that I send to my CP and my agent. I have had to be given my hectic lifestyle.

But one thing I've discovered is that I am not flexible about how I do my revisions. Once I get those comments in - if they resonate with me and involve another tackle at the manuscript that is more than just a quick pass over for grammar and tightening up - I need a long, solid stretch of time to fully immerse myself in the book and the revisions. I need to consider what the revisions are doing or going to do to the rest of the story. Are any changes I make consistent with the established themes, will the changes alter motivations? Is that new scene I'm adding written in the same tone as what's gone before? And if I haven't looked at the book for a few weeks I need to read through it again so that any additional layering in of character thoughts or actions provide a build up to what will eventually happen at the end of the story. Since the book is now complete it is more important than ever to ensure that what I layer or thread through the plot and character motivations at the beginning of the story match with whatever happens at the end. If I'm deleting scenes, or descriptions or other information am I leaving plot holes? If I'm adding scenes, descriptions or other information am I killing the pace? Because there are so many questions and because there are so many potential pit falls when doing revisions, I prefer to immerse myself completely in them. No snatches of time like when I do the first few drafts. I need to be in the Zone. And to be in the Zone I need a long, solid stretch of time. Which brings me to my current problem: I don't have that this month!

I did about three quarters of those revisions to the WIP back at the end of August/early September when I was on vacation. But now, with school starting, back to work, and hockey season starting I'm back to my snatches of time. Which, if I was working on a first draft would be perfectly fine. But I'm not. So, not sure when I'll be in the Zone again but I can't wait too much longer - because if I do I'll forget what I was doing revision-wise a few weeks ago and have to start from scratch.

I don't know about you but I find revisions way harder than first drafts sometimes. Maybe because I know that finishing touches need a concentrated, steady hand - with nothing rushed about them.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Return of Super Hockey Mom/Van Driver

My respite in the sun is over.

I have been called to service again. No longer can I hide from the cold, harsh world ruled by ice and infused with the pungent odor of damp, moldy socks and acrid zamboni fumes. I must prepare myself for battle. I must return to my duty.

My goal? Delivering my charge - the potential hero of the game. He must be prepared. He must be PACKED. He cannot forget his neck guard, shoulder pads, gloves, underarmour, jock strap, knee pads, elbow pads, helmet, jersey. Most of all, he cannot forget his SKATES. This is his armour. His stick his weapon. His mother is his pack mule.

Once again, I must forge through congested rush-hour streets to get to the arena on time. My steady steed - our Chrysler minivan. Only three years old and already nearing 100,000 kms. We have been to many arenas in our travels.

I must, once again, curb my desire to curse at those unsuspecting drivers that are in my way. My charge cannot be subjected to his pack mule's increasing frustration and stress. My charge must not arrive for his battle in a bad mood. His pack mule must remain calm.

If we are lucky, if we arrive on time, with all equipment ready, if my charge has had enough time to eat, if his pack mule has not flipped off more than one driver or run through too many yellow lights, if the minivan steed has not run out of gas, all will be well. My charge will be dressed and on time, waiting to face the enemy. Waiting to enter the cold, hard surface of the arena and conquer all foes.

But wait? What is this I hear? My now fully-armoured charge is whispering in my ear, his small, determined face barely visible through the helmet cage protecting him from the danger of flying pucks and attacking sticks.

Have we forgotten an important piece of equipment in his arsenal? Does he need advice or encouragement from his pack mule?

Nay. It is something much, much worse. He leans in closer to me.

"Mom. I need to go pee."

The pack mule collapses at his feet.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Glee - ful!



I'm sure I'm not the only one touting the TV show Glee today after its season premiere last night. But it truly does deserve the touting. I didn't want to get sucked into another TV show this fall. I'm too busy. I can't waste time in front of the T.V. I told myself. I have too many things to do!!!

Right.

I'm a sucker for musicals. I'm a sucker for comedy. I'm a sucker for any kind of theatre arts geek vs. clique satire. I was suckered in.

Loved the Glee Club leader - he is sooo talented, uber-cute, great dancer (do they do their own singing on the show? Must check it out). Loved the cover of the Kanye West Goldigger song they did. Stayed up late to watch the next showing just so I could see that one musical number again. Loved the Gym teacher Cheerios squad leader. Hilarious.

So, I'm hooked. Just write off my Wednesday nights now between So You Think You Can Dance and Glee. How about joining me in the Glee Club? If you're not convinced then just find a clip of the Goldigger number. You won't regret it - pinky swear.

Monday, September 7, 2009

End of Vacation, Getting Organized and Throwing out Old Novels

Yup. That's it, folks. We're done. School starts tomorrow for the kidlets and I'm back at work after two weeks away. It feels like ages so I guess I must have had a long enough break.

Why is it that when the school season begins I feel like I need to get organized? I spent my last day of vacation cleaning out the laundry room for pity's sake! But there's something quite fulfilling about bundling up junk that's been stuffed into cupboards and thrown haphazardly into corners and sending it to the trash or, if it's something still useful but not for us anymore, to the Goodwill. Maybe it's because I know that with the schedule from hell about to descend I won't have a long stretch of time where I can devote to that kind of project. Thank God I've learned to write in snatches of time because otherwise I'd never have finished a book.

One of the cool things about cleaning up is you get to see stuff that you've kept that you've forgotten about - most of it sentimental. Old baby plates and first utensils, childhood sweaters, old school papers and, in a writers case, the books that will never be published.

You know the ones. Those first efforts you once thought so brilliant but now, years later as you re-read them the strongest feeling you have is an overwhelming urge to cringe. Still, you see the flashes of the writer you now are. The voice that has become yours. And while you know you should probably trash the pages (and the contest entries, course exercises and critique remarks that helped you become a better writer) you just can't bring yourself to do it. It's a piece of your own personal history and while you know it will never see the publishing light of day, you also know that every once in a while, when you clean up and you think "What's in that box over there" you will flash back to when you started writing and you thought every word spilling out of you just might be brilliant, just might one day, be published. And the disappointment when you realized you're not good enough. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

So even though these pages haven't been published and you know that they're taking up space you don't have, you just can't get rid of them. You know they're still important enought to keep. They are evidence of how far you've come and how persistent you've been. They are the beginning. And we all know how important beginnings are.

So, while I cleaned up a lot there were a few things I did keep. One box in particular. Really, it doesn't take up that much space...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

September Starts and Line Edits Begin

Well they arrived - September and my line edits that is. I can't believe they're both here!

September is one of those months that just gets crammed full of stuff really quickly. But this year seems busier than most. Not only is it the Boy's birthday on Friday (with subsequent birthday party on the 12th) the pre-season hockey craziness has started with practices, exhibition games and a tournament all before the middle of the month. Don't even get me started on the back to school shopping and the doctor and dentist visits. I'm still on vacation this week so a lot of that stuff is being taken care of over the next few days but when school actually starts next week and I'm back to work that's when the busy schedule really kicks in. God forbid I don't look at my calendar for the week and forget about picking some kid up from somewhere or getting groceries in the one and a half hour of free time I might have on a Sunday.

So you'd think I'd be more stressed out about doing my line edits that arrived on Monday. Nope. I'm actually enjoying them. Hey, maybe that vow to be more optimistic is working! I'm looking on it as my opportunity to deal with some little bits and pieces of clean up now so I don't have to obsess over some silly, stupid error. Little things do matter and now that the larger story as a whole is pretty solidified we're getting to the little things. And it sure doesn't hurt that my editor has made it really easy for me either. Basically she suggests a small correction or change which is highlighted in the text and if I agree I accept the change and take out the highlight. If I have an alternate suggestion I write it in and highlight that in a different colour. Mostly I accept the changes (because my editor is just plain right most of the time) so that makes things way easier than if I was hunting and pecking through my words without her map already in place.

Going through revisions and line edits is very much like having to clean up a messy house. You feel overwhelmed at the thought of doing the revisions at first (the heavy duty mopping, vacuuming, dusting, putting things away) but you know you have to do that so you can get to the final touches of the clean up (the line edits): polishing that side table, straigtening those pillows, lighting a scented candle to make the whole house smell wonderful. I hate cleaning and don't know why I used that analogy but I do know that when my house is clean and straightened up I feel way better. And I know when I'm done with these edits I'll feel the same way about the book.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Return from Vacation = Towering Pile of Laundry

Spent a lovely week at the cottage (fewer bugs this time and better weather). Lots of hours sitting idling by the water or lazing in the hammock. Read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (first book of his I'd read and I'm definitely getting everything else he's written now!). I even did some revisions to the first half of the wip - go me. Of course the biggest revisions are to happen in the second half and I'm avoiding that. Just like I'm avoiding the towering pile of laundry currently sitting on the laundry room floor.

Which leads me to my profound blog question of the day:

Do dirty vacation clothes actually multiply when you get home?

Because I swear that I came back with way more clothes and linens than I took. And second question: why do clean socks disappear while dirty socks multiply? How is this fair, huh?

So, while I ostensibly still have one more week of vacation left, it will be spent chained to my washer/dryer feeding it the monster volume of clothes that has, in the last hour, grown in size to something now resembling Mount Aetna.

If there isn't a blog post by next Tuesday you'll know the mountain erupted.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Are you afraid of thunderstorms?

Yikes. What a night!

It's been a pretty thunderstormy month of August here but nothing like last night. Tornadoes?? In Toronto? Holy smokes. Luckily my section of the city wasn't hit too bad but woke up this morning to see the swath of destruction north of Toronto on the news. Miraculously only one death occurred in Durham a town just north of Toronto. My heart goes out to the parents of the boy that was killed. How can one ever imagine that a tornado will touch down in your town and wipe out your home or a loved one?

I always believed that tornadoes happened in open farm country (that's what repeat viewing of the The Wizard of Oz will do to you as a kid). I grew up on a farm in southern Ontario and while we had some wicked storms I never witnessed an actual tornado but I was always deathly afraid of them. As a small child I would huddle under the blankets of my bed trying to plug my ears to the rushing wind and thunder and close my eyes to the flashes of lightning I was sure were going to hit my Dad who would always stay out in the fields no matter what the weather. The only concession he would make would be sitting under the wagon until the storm passed. Drove my mother nuts.

I still remember one summer storm vividly. I think I was about sixteen because I'd just gotten my drivers license. It was a usual hot, humid southern Ontario afternoon out in the fields like always. I was picking tomatoes (or maybe it was peppers or eggplant - the vegetables have all run together for me.I hated them all equally). I was trying to keep my mind from withering in the heat and boredom and wondering what excuse I could make to take a break and go into the barn to try and cool off. When I looked up to see that the sky had turned a really sickly shade of green. Whoa. Not good. I didn't have to make any excuse to leave. Because the next thing I saw was my mother freaking out and running as fast as her little legs could carry her to the pick-up truck. I was driving and she was shrieking and crossing herself and praying as we bumped along the dirt road and onto the highway. My stomach was in knots as I took a quick look in the rear view mirror only to see this massive, now dark green, sky crawling up behind us like some kind of monster. It was the only time my mom let me drive like a bat out of hell from the farm to get home. We made it home before the rain crashed onto us but I still remember trying to outrace what was looming up behind us and thinking that we just might not make it.

The ferocity of thunderstorms makes me really appreciate how utterly powerless we are when faced with raging nature. No wonder people flock to see disaster movies! Maybe that's why I love living in a city. I know a lot of people consider cities more dangerous than the country but for me I feel like there are more safety nets here. Less random acts of nature (or maybe more contained? Fewer open spaces?. Although I do concede that there can be more random acts of violence. Still, being in a city, the power of nature has always seemed further away. Until last night. It proved to me that when Mother Nature strikes she doesn't care if you're on a vegetable farm in the Banana belt of Ontario or sitting in a car at an intersection in a busy city. When she wants to get you she will. So take cover people.

Anyway, I hope this is the end of the wild weather. Off to the cottage tomorrow and hopefully a week of warmth and sunshine. Can you believe September is only a little over a week away? Hope everyone has had a safe summer so far - with no thunderstorms!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Let's Try Optimism, Shall We?

I'm currently reading Michael J. Fox's autobiograpy "Always Looking Up" and, once again, I'm struck by the sheer power that a positive outlook has on a person and the people around them. I'm fascinated by optimists and I firmly believe that their attitude can create miracles. And if not miracles then at least some relatively happy, content, at peace people. So if I can see the value in a positive outlook why do I worry about things so much? Why can't I keep the promises to myself to look for the good, not the bad in life?

I mean, I've had a pretty blessed life. I'm not going to go into the count your blessings routine because we all know it. I know it but I seriously don't practice it enough. And when I do it only lasts for a few days and then a little niggle of something negative creeps in and then that's all I can think about. Part of it is genetic (if you know my mother you know she is the Queen of All Worries) part of it is just stupid habit. Just the other day a friend of mine commented on how great I looked that day. She tried to put her finger on it, wondering if it was the bright pink colour of my shirt (I don't do bright colours that often) or something else. Looking back on that lunch date I think it was because I wasn't freaking out with worry over something or other for once (usually the jist of our lunch conversations). For once I was feeling pretty zen about life. But, as you can see by my recent post I've been worrying about publishing a book and putting it out there for the world to see. Obviously my feeling of zen didn't last long. Instead of worrying about being published I should be counting my blessings that I even have this opportunity. (Here Nelsa smacks herself in the head to pound some sense into her brain)

So, let's make a pact, shall we? I'm going to look on this grand publishing adventure with a heck of a lot more optimism and a lot less worry than I've been doing lately. That goes for tackling the revisions to the WIP (yes, my agent got back to me and had some spot on comments and yes, I am taking them and making my WIP even better. Positively!)

So, I'm feeling pretty good right now. Plus, it doesn't hurt that in a few days, I'll be on vacation for two weeks. Like Michael J. Fox says, "Things are definitely looking up!" :)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Will Worries Never Cease?

Okay, so I've worked really hard for the last seven years learning the craft of writing. I've gone through the ups and downs of submitting my work, taking classes, going to workshops and conferences, getting form rejections, getting personalized rejections, getting really nice comments that gave me hope and the inspiration to continue, getting so close I could taste it offers, then finally getting an offer from an agent, and then finally -finally - getting a publishing contract. So, you'd think I'd be on a constant cloud nine of "Yes!! Now I can't sit back and enjoy the fruits of my hard labour! Bring on the wine and potato chips!"

Uh, not so much.

Instead of blithely skipping through the next few months in happy anticipation of seeing my book published what am I doing? I'm stressing about the fact that my book is going to be out there in less than a year. That people may (gasp!) actually, you know, READ it??? That my friends and family will see what I've been working on for years and think THIS is what she's spent so much time on? Or worse, have this polite little smile on their faces as they say, "Oh, it was very nice." Or even worse - what if they say nothing about it at all? Or, catastrophe of all catastrophes, what if my teenage daughters - voracious readers and not ones to mince words, and whose good opinion I seek -hate it? Ugh. I get nauseous at the thought.

But it seems I'm not alone in these insiduous, worrisome thoughts. There was a discussion about it on Verla Kay's blueboards and the thought of publication - of 'being out there' - is pretty scary for a lot of writers. It's not that I'm not excited and proud of my book. I very much am. But the worry that someone will find something wrong with it can really start to eat away at the pleasure and thrill of getting published. I hope that this is just another process in the publishing journey I have to go through - much like learning about something new in the writing craft. I'm discovering that publishing is a whole different beast than writing. They are two separate yet parallel roads I'm travelling on. I've been on the writing road for quite a while now so I'm very familiar with all the pot holes there. The publishing road?? I'm driving very slowly with the hazard lights on… All I can say is thank god for the calm support of my editor and agents. I'd be seriously lost without them.

So, even if I'm not enjoying the wine and chips at the moment I hope by the time Illegally Blonde is published I will have passed through this particular road safely so I can enjoy a drink once I reach the finish line. By then, I have a feeling I'll definitely need one.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

On Writing What You Know and Cultural Heritage


I just finished reading the Giller nominated Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa. Mr. De Sa is a fabulous Toronto author of Portuguese descent and since I haven't found many novels about the Portuguese-Canadian immigrant experience (and since my own book was inspired by the 2006 immigration crackdown on illegal Portuguese workers here in Canada) I was really looking forward to reading it.

I was not disappointed.

Barnacle Love is such a beautifully written book. I read it in one evening straight. Even though it's about a particular Portuguese-Canadian immigrant and second-generation family experience the book touches on so many universal themes of family obligation, love, entanglement, despair, hopes, dreams that make all families so uniquely screwed up that no matter your heritage there would be something there for any reader to connect with.

But because I am a second-generation Portuguese-Canadian I read so much in those pages that I intrinsically understood, so many characters that I recognized from my own childhood, so many experiences that I remember so vividly it enraptured me. Not many of my Canadian friends, for example, can identify with the fascination and horror when your Dad slaughters a pig in your garage. Ya, that experience is seared into my memory and Mr. De Sa captured the sights, smells and behaviours so vividly it felt like he'd been in my small, rural farm in southern Ontario instead of four hours away in big city Toronto. Suffice to say that the book really, really resonated with me.

And that's why writing about 'what you know' is about so much more than just making you as a writer feel comfortable about your story or your characters. As I was growing up - heck, even now still - it was so rare to find stories with characters that reflected my personal cultural background, my immigrant family experience. It made me feel like stories about people like us just weren't that interesting. Nobody was writing about us (that I'm aware of)twenty years ago. Mr. De Sa proved through Barnacle Love that's not the case anymore. Maybe it's because we have to wait a certain amount of time - the second-generation is now getting to the age where we can look back at the experience and see it more clearly. It's taken a while - for me, anyway - to recognize that Portuguese-Canadians have a unique, interesting history that should be shared. And we all, regardless of our background, have common human experience and feelings that we can understand regardless of where we come from.

And I really want more books with Portuguese-Canadian characters out there - especially for young adults. I guess that's one of the reasons I wrote Illegally Blonde. I hear so often that the children of Portuguese immigrants aren't moving into postsecondary education as fast or with as many numbers as other immigrant groups. Why?? I don't know why there aren't more Portuguese-Canadian authors (or Portuguese-American authors for that matter)out there right now. There is so much rich history and stories to be mined! It's not that I think all writers with a particular heritage need to write about that heritage. But, boy, if there's a story there why not?? Books reflect society and we have such a multicultural society here why isn't there more diversity in the books out there?? Yes, it's getting better but, boy, it can sure improve a lot more.

While I'm not only going to be writing about characters that come from the same cultural background as I do my whole life I do know that my heritage helped me with writing and selling Illegally Blonde. I'd written other books before this one but, for some reason, Illegally Blonde - about a young girl of Portuguese heritage who is forced to leave Canada and recognize that who she is and where she comes from plays a huge role in who she will eventually become - was the first book of mine that captured a lot of agent and editor interest. It will be the first book I have published (I certainly hope it won't be the last!) And while the story is certainly fiction (I've never been deported so I only hope I capture the feelings of my protagonist well enough to be believeable!)I hope there is enough there in terms of my understanding of the Portuguese setting, the protagonists family and the conflicting feelings that a second-generation daughter of immigrant parents continually has with her family to make it a little bit more believeable for the reader. I've experienced that weird mixture of love and respect mingled with anger and frustration for parents who have one foot planted in their old country and one in their new while both of yours are so firmly rooted in the new.

While there are many, many other stories I want to tell that may not touch on families and the immigrant experience, I have a feeling that I will always have a special connection with characters who inhabit that experience. And, if I've done a good enough job maybe, just maybe, that little bit of understanding and experience that I do have will make the story feel a little more real.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer Doldrums

I don't know what it is but the last couple of days seem to have slowed down to a crawl. My kids have been complaining of being bored, nothin' to do they whine, all their friends are away, the weather has been hot, humid and thunderstormy. Everybody seems to have taken this week as vacation or is prepping to take vacation next week. A lot of the people who are usually on the message boards at Verla Kay's have been at the SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles. I've sent off my WIP to my agent and it will be at least a few weeks until I have her comments and I'm reluctant to start the next project while I wait for the word from my editor about what she thought about the revisions to Illegally Blonde I did earlier this summer(which should come later this week).

Sigh. I'm bored too.

And you know what? That's a great thing. The luxury of being bored these days is so rare I should embrace it. Nothin' to do? And I'm complaining??? What the heck is wrong with me?

I should bookmark this post so that in September, when I'm drowning in day work, back to school craziness, revisions from agent, making my plans for how to help get the word out there about Illegally Blonde, hockey mom life, and just living my usual stressed out regular working mom life I'll read this and remember that for one time this year, for a few brief, blissful days I was actually bored.

Friday, August 7, 2009

When You Know Your WIP Is Finished

1. When you want to clean out your refrigerator more than wanting to do another read-through of your WIP.

2. When you decide to suck it up and read through it just one more time anyway and realize, "Hey. It doesn't half-suck."

3. When your CP keeps telling you it's good. Don't worry. And you trust your CP.

4. When you start going through Google Images to envision what your book cover might look like.

5. When you are actually looking forward to sending it to your Agent, knowing it is the best you can make it and are actually hoping for some tough criticism so you can make it even better.

6. When you lay in bed at night thinking through the story and characters and seeing the book play out like a complete movie in your mind. And liking it.

7. When the "Other Idea" starts to push into your consciousness with more and more force and taking up more space because you are no longer working through plot problems with your current WIP.

8. When the only substantial revisions you seem to be doing involve changing an "And" to a "But". And then changing it back again.

9. When you can think of nothing more to make it better. And tinkering with it any more might make it worse.

10. When you realize that a book is not going to become a book unless you let others read it. Otherwise it's only a diary.


That's when you know.

It's finished.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Back to Work - The Revision

So,I'm back from vacation this week and have tons of stuff to do - with the day job and at home but, most importantly, with the revision.

I've spent the past week lazily reading in a hammock by the lake so I'm well rested for the hard work of the next few weeks. I spent lovely, timeless stretches of afternoons immersed in the wonderful, complex, heart-rending The Time Traveler's Wife. What a luxury it is to have hours to read at one sitting! To really become immersed in a novel as big and beautiful as Ms. Niffenenger's. It inspired me, it awed me and I'm so thankful I had the opportunity to read it in chunks of time and not the few minutes I get at the end of an exhausted, rushed day. It recharged the spent batteries for sure. This is what a good book should do. Thank you Ms. Niffenenger. Thank you.

In the meantime the WIP has been sitting for two weeks untouched and unread by me. My wonderful CP, Stephanie, has read it, though, and given me the most important thing - the seal of her approval. I trust her instincts and she told me the story works. Thank God. Actually, thank you, Steph! So now it is up to my critical, nitpicky self to go through it as a reader and see where I'm pulled out, where the language is awkward, where I need to add a little bit more depth, and in general, make things flow as best they can. It's at almost 54,000 words right now. I'd like to get it over 55,000. But it's not about the amount of words. If the story works it doesn't matter if I'm slightly short (which as a person of Portuguese heritage I inevitably am. End pun). Seriously, what I really hope to achieve is characters that come across as real. That the emotion of the story is true. That the pace of it works. That the ending is satisfying. That I am satisfied. Both as a writer and as a reader.

Then, and only then, will I send it to the agent. And wait for her impressions. And hope I've done it right. And worry I haven't. And assure myself I have. And worry I haven't ... sigh.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

No Writing Allowed

At least for the next two weeks that is.

I finished the second intense draft of my WIP and even though I know it needs another go through - another 'intense' go through - I am abstaining from the urge to take out the red pen. Instead, since I'll be headed up to the cottage for a week, I will read, read, read (as much as 3 kids and a hubby who will want to kayak, canoe, hike - you know active things? *shudders* will let me). I know that taking a break from my editing side and becoming a reader again will help the next draft. I will have removed myself from the euphoria of feeling finished and be able to see the warts on my my 'frog of a story waiting to turn into a prince of a novel' much easier.

It will be hard not to write especially since I have another story percolating in the back of my brain and another one already written that needs such an intense revision I might as well start it from scratch again. But these breaks are necessary for me. I need to read the story like a reader, not a writer. And it will help that my good bud/CP Stephanie will be reading it too since she hasn't seen a word of it. Two weeks will give me the distance I need to hear criticisms without falling into a puddle of "OMG. I just can't change that or add more! I'm sick of the story. Don't you know it's DONE??" Instead, I'll be able to apply solutions to any problems that are inevitable in a WIP. I'll be happy to tear into it again.

I guess there's something to be said for the old cliché "Absence makes the heart grow fonder". In a writer's case, the cliché can be re-written to say "Absence makes the story get better."

Monday, July 20, 2009

How Many Drafts? And I Don't Mean Beer.

I'm in the process of writing the second intense draft of my WIP in the hopes of sending it off to my agent say, oh, by the next millenium or something. In actuality I had hopes of firing it off by the end of this month. I'm thinking next millenium might be more realistic.

It's not that I'm not pleased with it. There are occasions when I'm busily transposing my long-hand scribbled first draft into clean, computer-literate, hopefully grammar-perfected second draft prose when I think, hmm, not bad. Or even, hey, I wrote that? Wow. There are more occasions when I think "Oh, crap. This is falling apart. Oh, double crap. That plot point just doesn't work anymore. I have to change that. Oh no!!! Beam me up, Scottie! The engine 'canna take no more' !"

But there's no brilliant Scottie to rescue me from disaster. Only me. And so I plow through hoping that by the time I have everything in nice, clean computer-screened impartiality I can step back from the completed second draft and not be so worried/emotionally invested in this story. Hopefully, I'll be able to see its strengths and, more importantly, its weaknesses with an objective readers eye and not a writer's paranoia. When I start reading it from the top - again - in what I call my 'Readers Intense Draft' stage I hope I'll be able to have fixed any major, glaring plot holes or added in some much needed character depth that will make the story more meaningful.

So, my hope is that by the end of this third draft it will be in good enough shape to send to the agent to get her impression, views and suggestions and then, once I get those, tackle the story again in the fourth intense draft. I call them 'intense' drafts because I don't consider the constant tweaking of language and nitpicking of dialogue or descriptions I do all along in every stage to be drafts. To me they are a constant part of the editing process. Intense, to me, is an in-depth, cohesive examination of all characters, motivations, plots and sub-plots to make sure the whole story works.

By about the fourth intense draft, if the story isn't working, if the characters don't seem real, if there is still some niggling problem that won't go away I'm in real trouble mister. I know some writers who write dozens of drafts until they feel the story is there. Some from scratch! Yikes! Like the incomparable Jack Nicholson said in Terms of Endearment "I'd rather stick needles in my eyes." But that's what works for them. If that gets the story out all power to them. For me if the story isn't gelling by at least the third draft and if it's definitely not there by the fifth, it's time to stick that baby under the bed for awhile.

What I'd really like to know is which novels made it to print after one draft. Like any? If so then those are gifts from a higher power and the writer should just bow down and thank their lucky stars. I wish it was that easy for me. But, hey, a book should have staying power right? If after four intense drafts and countless hours spent writing and re-writing the darn thing and I still think it’s a good story that's gotta say something.

Now, if you'll excuse me. I gotta get back to that second draft ...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Three Most Dreaded Words in the English Language

Double. Root. Canal.

Nuff Said.

Don't feel like blogging much this week. Hopefully back on track in a few days.

(P.S. Is it bad to consider chasing antibiotics with straight vodka?)
(P.S. P.S. If my kids are reading this I'm kidding.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

It Takes a Village to Build Self-Confidence

Writers know that self-confidence is a fragile thing. We're always one bad day of writing, one vague criticism, or one reject from an editor or agent away from declaring ourselves not worthy enough, not tough enough, or not good enough to handle this business. So where do we get the courage, the fortitude, the self-confidence to keep going in the face of all this? I always thought that self-confidence was something that was either inside you or not. I always thought that a belief in yourself meant that you didn't need others to believe in you. But this week I've seen someone very close to me struggle with their self-confidence, with their belief in their capabilities because of judgements from someone else. And I've come to realize that even if we might believe in ourselves sometimes we need to hear others say that they believe in you even when we might have stopped believing in ourselves. Especially when we've stopped believing in ourselves.

Friends and family are the most critical people in building - or re-building - the crumbling foundation of self-confidence. For writers, their critique partners, or their agents or editors are also key. If these people don't believe in you and tell you that you are good enough that your work is worthy, then you have to do the work of building your fragile self-esteem all by yourself. And some people can do that. Some people are very, very strong that way. Others need help. And there's something to be learned - for me at least - about how to support people when they're shaky. I've discovered that sometimes you need to back away from the struggle and re-trench. Sometimes you need to stop what you're doing for awhile altogether. And when someone you care about feels like quitting what is your job as a family member or friend or critique partner to do? Should you automatically say don't quit? Never give up? Nobody likes quitting after all but is it really quitting or taking another path? Who are we to say this is the way to go forward? No one has the right answers to these very personal questions.

All I know is that a person I care about is suffering and if that means they need to stop, re-group and try again later then that means I will support them. They are not quitters to me. They just need to find what the best building material is for their self-confidence and, once they figure that out, I'll be there helping to re-build that foundation.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

On Bugs, Books and Summer at the Cottage

Canadians love their summers. No question. I mean with the winters we have to deal with, why wouldn't we? So I guess that's why we ignore silly little inconveniences like biting black flies, vampiric mosquitoes, nasty-ass deer flies (I truly, truly hate those buggers), daily dumpages of rain and temperatures below 20 degrees Celcius and still call it the first week of summer at the cottage. And repeat the experience every year.

Sigh.

So, I guess you can tell that we didn't have the greatest week weather-wise to start off the summer. But when all else, especially weather fails, you still have the books. Thank God for the books.

I read Along for the Ride (classic Sarah Dessen and I loved it), Wake (Lisa McMann is a compelling writer and I loved her concept) and I began Little Brother (so far fascinating). Hunger Games is still waiting for me as are a slew of other books. Even The Boy spent time away from video games to read The Invention of Hugo Cabret (what a fabulously beautiful book but don't drop it on your foot) and he loved it.

So, even though the weather didn't quite co-operate, our first official week of Canadian cottage vacation was definitely not a write-off (ha! writing pun!). Somehow the bug bites don't seem quite as itchy when you get lost in a good story. Who needs Afterbite when you have Sarah Dessen??