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.