This Morning’s Miracle

Fall Winter 2012 889

Snow Angels During Pep Talk

“Can I read you the rest of my story, Mom?”

It’s five-thirty and I’m waiting for the truck to warm up, defrost on high.  It’s a foggy morning and my blurry, pre-dawn thoughts are focused on staying awake more than tracking with a story.  But his chirpy enthusiasm is enough for both of us; he reads with fluency and expression in the strong voice of his character, filling in the back-story as necessary, probing me for research points, asking me how self-publishing works, ribbing me that his book will win two awards, unlike mine.  I wake up to this morning’s not-so-little miracle, brought to me by… technology.

My son has dyslexia and dysgraphia with a healthy dose of ADHD.  Over the years we’ve been faithful with tutoring, medication, and speech-language therapy but we haven’t yet been able to crack the C minus ceiling above his Language Arts mark. Last year in Grade 5, we both had access to iPads—his through a gift using my brother’s Save-On More points, mine through my principal—and we both began to explore the potential of this technology.  He used his at home as a toy; I became part of a pilot project committed to exploring ways, beyond content apps, that these devices could increase student engagement.  I was hopeful that, as a teacher, I’d eventually become the expert but have since surrendered to the fact that most six year-olds discover in five minutes what adults do in an hour. I also realized that we were both vastly under-using what we had been given.  So this September, we erased the games off his iPad and allowed him to purchase (with his summer reward money) the necessary keyboard attachment and Pages software to enable the iPad to be his substitutionary pencil.

The results are incredible!  He uses his iPad for every subject but PE and Math and manages his own homework daily, emailing his assignments to me when he wants help with editing, or to his teacher when it’s due. He keeps track of his schedule each morning, reminding us when his team—or mine—have games. His confidence has blossomed with his level of increased responsibility.  And he actually loves reading and writing, evidenced by this morning’s early commute.  As we pull up to the rink, I realize something wonderful: whatever the upcoming report card declares, his latest story says it all.

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Discovering the Productivity of Fallow

Mammoth Lakes

In search of fallow places

So, summers off?  Is that when you write?

That’s always the plan but by definition summer is becoming my least productive time.  For the last two years, I’ve averaged about a page per day while “working” (’cause you know Momma’s always working at home!) but in the summer my output equals zip divided by nada.

This summer it was going to be different.  In June, with all my extra classroom duties and reports, I’d somehow managed to squeak in a third edit of my 100,000 word book, all in hopes of starting a fresh, new project July 1.  And I did… sort of.  I read through notes and made a story plan; all very productive.  Then I clocked many hours this summer on wonderful reading trails: WW2 Biography, Endocrine & Stress, Nutrition and Health.  For my birthday, I was given a course on 19th Century literature and discovered Milosz, Dickinson, O’Connor, and Dostoevsky.  We vacationed in our home town, swam, gardened in our backyard, and enjoyed our newly adopted, rescued rabbits.

Several years back, after the birth of my third child, it became necessary for me to keep my home’s interior pristine and ultra-organized, as if the chaos of preschoolers and a new baby could somehow be better managed by OCD cleanliness! After I put the kids to bed, I’d complete a variety of home projects (painting, organizing, etc.).  [Proof, I think, that sleep-deprived parents suffer logic sinkholes.] At a workshop, I’d met up with two fellow writers.  To the question, “what are you working on now?” I’d answered truthfully: nothing.  The first author put on her disapproving face, as if I was letting myself down and should know better.  After all, writers are defined by one sole activity: they write and they actually have to clock time putting pen to paper.  Ouch.  But the second author, aged 80, gently touched my arm and reminded me, “you’re just filling up your well.”  These six words were therapy for me and when that bit of postpartum madness wore off, I set to work on another novel (in truth, not a very good one… still puts me to sleep!)

This summer I discovered that just as the practice of fallow is part of productive agriculture, seasons of apparent unproductivity are valuable and necessary. Even Oxford backs me up on this one.

fallow (adjective):

  • 1(of farmland) ploughed and harrowed but left for a period without being sown in order to restore its fertility or to avoid surplus production: incentives for farmers to let land lie fallow
  • (of a period of time) characterized by inaction; unproductive: long fallow periods when nothing seems to happen

FYI: I eventually kicked the postpartum insanity and discovered that a messy house, with the right priorities, can be a place of peace and happiness for children… and their parents.

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The Walking Read

Must polish before Friday...

Anne’s shoes?

I’m counting the nights until the CWILL gala on Friday, June 14.  I’ll be Anne of Green Gables in honor of my late grandmother, Katherine.  “You should try reading Lucy Maud Montgomery,” she’d told me, with a mischievous twinkle in her sightless eyes.  “I think you’ll like Anne.”  And I’ve been proud to be a Canadian reader since.  I’m just off to pick up my costume, assuming all the other Anne’s haven’t purged the shops!

The Walking Read Gala Event is a CWILL BC sponsored costume gala benefiting BC Children’s Hospital Foundation and features a Silent and Online Auction.  Tickets are $60 and include food, drinks, live entertainment, and a $40 swag bag.  For more details check out cwillbc.wordpress.com.  Hope to see you there!

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Hockey Fever

It's Playoff Time

It’s NOT Playoff Time

I will not get sucked into hockey fever even though I am surrounded with crazed hockey fans.  I will not discuss the merits of Luongo vs. Schneider with my goalie son.  I will not listen to Sports Radio in the car.  I will not wear a Canucks uniform to work on game days. I will not hang a Canucks flag from my patio.  I will not watch the pre-game, game, and post game to extend the drama.  I will not cry for my city when millionaire athletes lose Game 7.  I am not a hockey fan anymore, at least not until my son starts Pee-Wee in September.I’ve matured in great ways over the past year… and I have great plans this month to rewrite a book and start my yoga membership. Then I’ll map out a future book and be ultra-prepared for my June report cards.  I will.  It’ll be a great, productive month and if you just give me a minute to check the score, I’ll tell you all about it.

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Lessons I’ve Learned from NOT Writing a Trilogy

windmills san fran

My new book may or may not contain windmills.

In February, I finished the third draft of my non-Trilogy.  I was sure it was a three-part series but have been assured from very trustworthy sources that it’s not.  It’s a longish novel in three parts with three distinct narrative arcs.  Go figure.  It’s 425 pages, which pre-Harry Potter, would be a rule-breaker for length.

I wrote the “first book” in a feverish three months and then spent nine months bringing it through two successive drafts with Alison Acheson’s eyes (plug: editor alison@alisonacheson.com).  At this point, I believed it was safe to begin to shop it out.  Enter another editor and agent who patiently clarified my uninformed definition of a trilogy: each book has to completely stand alone so that if you pick up book 2, for example, nothing is lost.

So this Fall and Winter, I’ve ignored blog and friends to finish this entire project and am now workshopping it with a fellow author to find all the problems I can’t yet see.   Just give me time now to lose this self-satisfied feeling of accomplishment and I’ll find them myself.  Time is always a writer’s friend.

What’s unique about this book for me is that even though it is a stand alone, I could write my main character’s immediate future, even to nine months away.  Hinting at that without needing to overstate that chapter of her story was a fun way to end the book and it allows my readers to envision the character’s exciting and promise-filled future for themselves.  Maybe what I’m learning is that if you don’t spell the ending, the story lingers longer, even for the author.

It’s been the most creative and chaotic writing period of my life.  Since September 2011, in eighteen months, I have written this mammoth piece while juggling classroom and family life.  This story idea sparked from an unpublished book I wrote in 1999, one that was always my favourite project.  But I couldn’t make that book believable enough and the story frame was too flawed to fix so I had to cast on from the very beginning (to use knitting terms) and ignore almost every word I’d written before.

A weird thing happened as I was nearing the end of this project: I found I was shuffling my feet to finish.  I’d saved the hardest bit for last–researching a scene in Denmark–and I found I was avoiding this task primarily to avoid closing the last chapter.  Did I fear writer’s block or some kind of letdown?  Was that why I’d added in two other writing projects near the end to try to occupy the newly vacant space in my brain?  Yes, maybe, perhaps.  For this non-trilogy, it was a hard project to begin (see earlier entry about The First Sentence: Finding my Way In) tricky to end, but fun to print and see the whole stack for what it is: my favourite book, finally finished (again). Yippee!

mammoth

My new book may or may not contain horses.

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Puyallap Librarians are so Nice!

seattle1

When I climbed out of the Big House Boxing Ring (see previous entry) at the recent ALA Midwinter Conference in Seattle, I managed to walk in a woozy line to the nearest anonymous table.  There, I sat at a table with three unobtrusive women enjoying lunch.

I must have looked a sight, staring off at distant walls, face flushed hot, chin low to my collarbone.  I’m just thankful they didn’t alert security!

After a few minutes, I pulled out my laptop, and re-crafted a sentence from my latest project and reflected on the reasons why I would spend four hours on an Amtrak train that morning to attend the conference.  The reason: words make me happy, even if I sometimes come off like a blithering idiot.  I may just be a krill in the Sea of Children’s Literature, but I love my habitat.  I teach, read, and write in this genre and there’s no other place I’d rather swim.

Cheered, I introduced myself to the librarians at my table.  “I just got knocked out by a Big House Editor,” I admitted, explaining my odd behaviour.

To which one replied, (God bless her!) “Who punched you?  I’m going to go talk to them!”

We laughed together and they gave me a cheat sheet to maximizing the rest of my afternoon, encouraging me to “get back on the horse even if it kicks you off.”  I came away from the day enjoying the conversation and contacts of several fantastic Canadian houses and received 22.8 kilograms of free books to browse in many genres, including signed copies for my kids, galley proofs and new upcoming books to share with the students at my school.

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For Your Enjoyment

seattle

 

 

I toyed with calling this “Serve Me Up on a Platter for Your Boss,” or “What the Big House Really Thinks of Your Unagented Submissions.”  You decide. 

Setting:  ALA Conference in Seattle (January 2013); International NY publishing house booth.

Characters:         Me

                             Big House Editor

                             Big House Marketer (With a Kind Face)

                             USA Library Reps

                             Big House Employee of Unknown Role

Scene 1 (Duration: five minutes)

Me:                         Your books look great.  My class enjoyed this one… etc.

Editor:                   Thank you.  You should check this one out though, take a free copy, it’s   the Next Big Thing.

Librarians:           (looking wistfully at shelves of books) I really loved So and So.  What are they doing now?

Editor:                   (laughing) Focus people! (Holding up a YA book) Trust me: this is the Next Big Thing.

Enter: Positive Vibe and Too Much Moxy

Librarians             (consider the book Editor is holding)

Enter: Lull in Conversation

Me (to Editor): (holding up book) This is one of my books.  Do you ever accept unagented submissions?

Editor:                   (browsing my book’s cover) No, unless I meet someone at a conference and like their work.

Enter: The Big Choke (Can’t remember my own name).

Librarians:         (Ask Editor questions about the Next Big Thing).

Me:                        (Browse books at other opposite end of stall, muttering to self, see Marketer With a Kind Face, consider a second go, gather courage, etc.)  Do you ever publish books about… I have an idea for a way to market… etc.

Marketer:           Oh, you should really pitch to Editor.  She’s really important in our Big House.

Me:                        Oh, I just completely choked.

Marketer:           You should try again.  What have you got to lose?  Just tell her you choked.  Tell her Mary said to try again.  She’ll like that; it will make her laugh.

Exit:  Any Sense

Me:                        (brightening) Okay, I will.

Marketer:           That’s the spirit!

Editor:                  (Talking to Librarians)

Enter: Lull in Conversation

Me (to Editor):   I choked on my pitch before.  Mary thought that would make you laugh.

Editor:                (not laughing) That’s okay. I don’t do pitches.

Me:                      (still clueless).  That’s perfect!  So skip the pitch, let me tell you about this unique idea I have for a picture book.

Editor:                It wouldn’t work and I don’t do pitches.  I let the writing speak for itself.

Me:                        Great.  Can I send you one of my pieces?

Enter: The Big Brush Off

Editor:                   I don’t do cover letters; I know if I like something on the first page.  I don’t do pitches. My advice to you is to get a Literary Agent.  Sorry if that’s too f****** brutal for you.

Me:                        Not brutal at all, I know it’s a competitive Market.  Thanks for your advice.  (Glance at Marketer).

Marketer:           (Eyeing Editor and I; giggling to Big House Employee of Unknown Role, also watching us)

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