Monday, June 28, 2010

First Guest Interview - Claudia Osmond author of Smudge's Mark

I'm thrilled to have as my first ever author interview, Claudia Osmond, fabulous initiator of the Torkidlit group of MG/YA authors and even more fabulous author of SMUDGE's MARK.

Claudia has done a fantastic job with both and she's been gracious enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about how home and family have affected her writing today - both of which are major themes in my stories and I'm always fascinated by how they might affect fellow writers.

My debut novel, ILLEGALLY BLONDE, was inevitably influenced by my family experiences and cultural heritage. In what ways have your books been informed by how and where you grew up and your family background?

This is a tough question – one that took quite a bit of thinking! I’m an only child who grew up without grandparents or any significant influence from extended family members due to my parents leaving their home country when I was just a baby. So I suppose one of the general factors linking SMUDGE’S MARK to my family background is that, like Smudge, I don’t know much about my heritage and I only know about the country of my birth based on the few short visits I’ve had there. I always think kids who grow up with their grandparents around are so lucky to have that connection to their lineage. At times the disconnect for me has been so huge that it’s had me feeling like my birthplace is a whole other world; a world that I would have been a part of had my parents not moved. And it often makes me wonder who I’d be today had I been more connected to that world. Luckily for Smudge, he gets to find out through a reconnection to his “other” world!

Another, more purposeful, link between SMUDGE’S MARK and my background would be that since I was a teenager I’ve imagined conversations I’d have had with my grandparents; secrets they’d have told me of our family’s mysterious and eventful history. In reality, tho, I’ve only heard disjointed bits and pieces of the lives of the characters that make up the story of my family tree - one of them being my mother’s father. He was apparently quite the prankster. Having never known him and being intrigued by this little tidbit of information, combined with my desire to find out “family secrets”, I created Smudge’s Grampa; a grampa that I would have loved to have grown up with.

(Thanks for the question, Nelsa. I probably never would have made these connections! )

You're welcome, Claudia! I'm also fascinated by the stories of my parents and grandparents history. Probably because - like you - I only had the briefest of contact with them. I only met my own grandparents twice in my life. Grandparents can have such an effect on children even in their absence!

Before I wrote ILLEGALLY BLONDE (set in both Toronto and a small, rural village in Portugal), I never considered myself a writer who gave a lot of thought to setting and how it can inform your theme and story. In your recent book, does setting inform your story at all? If so, in what way? If not, why?

I’ll make this answer short! Yes. Setting definitely informs the story in SMUDGE’S MARK. The setting essentially displays the fallout of the main conflict.

The struggle between duty to family and duty to yourself is a big issue to my main character, Lucy. Growing up, did you struggle against your family’s expectations of who you should be or were you given the freedom to express yourself in whatever way you wanted? How did either of these situations influence you as a writer?

My parents’ only expectations of me growing up was that I be honest, respectful, and obedient. I was lucky that they didn’t put pressure on me to “become” something I didn’t want to become. However, I think that because of their underprivileged European upbringings and me being an only child – a daughter at that – it didn’t afford much leeway to expressing myself in whatever way I wanted to, either. But let me tell you, I had dreams. And a very vivid imagination. So while the company having coffee in the living room remarked at what a well-behaved and quiet child I was, I was secretly expressing myself through a conversation of my own with a movie character, famous rockstar, or ancient Egyptian King! So, I suppose those many years of internal “dialogues” prepared me for a future of writing.

(You gotta love those quiet kids - their inner life is so vivid!)

In ILLEGALLY BLONDE, Lucy makes some extreme decisions in her quest to get back home to Canada. What’s your approach when faced with making a difficult decision? Do you go with your gut and make impulsive choices? Do you take your time and make a list of pros and cons? Some other approach?

Usually when making a decision I go with my gut and dive right in. I don’t usually think things through a whole lot. Sometimes it’s landed me in hot water, but other times it’s been awesome. I’ve learned that even if I haven’t made the best decision, it’s not the end of the world. I tell myself I’ve got two options: either change directions or forge a path. In the end I believe I’ll end up where I’m supposed to be, even if I’ve taken detours along the way to get there. The only time I feel like I’ve made a wrong decision is when I allow myself to get stuck or when I’m backtracking, because in either one of those instances I’m not moving forward.

(What a great philosophy! I'm always in awe of people who can just jump right in!)

The definition of home is very subjective and means different things to different people. What’s your definition of home?

Having moved a lot, at this stage in my life I quite simply feel I’m home when I’m with my husband and children, sharing a space we’ve established as our own.
Thanks Nelsa!

Thank YOU, Claudia. I feel like I've gotten to know you a little bit better and, the next time we have a Torkidlit get together we'll have to compare our immigrant parent stories!

Here are Claudia's contact details or if you want to order SMUDGE'S MARK

Website: soon to be

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thankful Thursdays

I know I'm not the first blogger/writer to theme out one of their days to offer up some tidbits on what they have to be thankful for but I think it's about time I started. I've been trying to live life a bit more optimistically for me and after the last few days of worry about my mom's health I think it's a great time to offer up some thanks to the universe because karma has a way of following you and I need to highlight some things and people that just don't get enough credit.

I totally underappreciate my husband. He's a rock when I need him to be and he kept the homefires burning (without burning down the house) while I was gone this week.

The supportive torkidlit MG/YA writers group initiated by the fabulous Claudia Osmond. Even when I'm away I feel their support and, lo and behold, Claudia posted her interview with me this week and I barely had to lift a finger. I'm thrilled to be returning the favour and will be posting my interview with Claudia next Monday once I organize my life after being away for three days! Thank you Claudia and torkidlit!

I'm also thankful to be back in town for Cheryl Rainfield's book launch of SCARS tonight. She's doing a fabulous thing by having a charity affiliation with the all profits for Scars sold tonight going to the Toronto Rape Crisis Center/Multicultural Women Against Rape and Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN). SCARS is about 15-year-old Kendra, a sexual abuse survivor who can't remember who abused her. When things get tough, she cuts herself to cope--but that only hurts her more. With the help of some people she loves, a good therapist, her art, and a friend who might just become her girlfriend, Kendra is able to face her past and to find healing.

Who can't help but be thankful when there's authors like that doing such good things in the world?

I'm also thankful and excited and a little sad to see my oldest daughter officially finish high school today and celebrate with her Prom. She is smart, beautiful and a joy in my life. I've been a lucky Mom to get to share this life with her and I know this is a significant ending and beginning point for the next part of her life. Congratulations, baby. Thank you for being such a fabulous first child.

And on that slightly weepy note, I will end my first Thankful Thursday. You know, they're right when they say to list out the things you're thankful for when you get overwhelmed, feel too tired to cope or are just in a bad mood. Life is good sometimes and we just need to remind ourselves of that once in a while. Hope you're having a thankful Thursday!

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Tsunami of Dread

I'm leaving for a quick visit home later this afternoon and, besides the usual dread I feel over the long, boring 4 hour drive to Harrow from Toronto, there's another layer of dread over top of this visit. My mom's surgery is scheduled for tomorrow morning. Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer two months ago so the long wait for surgery has been preying on all our nerves. I'm hopeful that the cancer has been caught early and that she'll only have to undergo a lumpectomy and radiation after. We'll only know for sure after they do the surgery. This will be the first major operation either of my parents has ever had and a whole slew of worries go through your mind. But with my mom's ever present anxiety no one speaks of them. Well, she speaks of them - often and to the point of obsession. But our job is to try and calm her down and keep the positive outlook on life that is so hard for her to maintain.

So it's been a good thing that I made a conscious effort this last year of trying to keep an optimistic outlook on life. I've needed it this past month to keep her dread level down. Thinking positively has worked in many ways and I've been blessed and fortunate in so many aspects but I am also a realist and life doesn't always run smoothly. Those niggling worries you try and suppress sometimes peak through and, if you don't nip those nasty little buggers quickly, all that hard won optimism is buried under a tsnuami of dread.

All I can do is keeping hoping for the best and maybe that tsunami will turn into a little wave lapping on the shore. Hope is fragile but it's tenacious and we couldn't navigate through life without it. Here's hoping all goes well and that we'll be back to our regularly scheduled blog filled with the ups and downs of a writer's journey through publication by Thursday. I'll let you know how we all coped. How about you? How do you all deal with worries and anxiety? Any tips and suggestions most welcome!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Summer Movie Madness

Well, it's that time of year again when I start looking forward to a summer filled with hopefully awesome movies. There's just something about summer releases that makes me want to spend gobs of money on tickets and popcorn and enjoy a two hour stint in a darkened movie theater. Usually I'm psyched about some mindless action flick but in investigating the crop of films I want to see over the next few months there's not one action movie on there. Huh. What gives this year? I've already seen Iron Man 2, enjoyed it but not as much as the first, so I'm left with a few comedies and, because of the dearth of summer listings that entice me, I've had to search into the fall to get some more movies. So, here goes...

Toy Story 3 - releases June 18
I can't tell you how excited I am about this one! It was 15 years ago that we saw the first one - the one that put Pixar on the map. I'm always excited about Pixar releases because they never fail to dissapoint. And even though Up! is firmly rooted in first place on my all time favourite Pixar flicks, the Toy Story franchise will always hold a special place in my heart. This third installment is especially poignant for me because the premise is Andy leaving for college and the toys get sent to a daycare. My oldest daughter (almost 3 when she saw the first Toy Story) is now 17and is, herself, leaving for college this fall. She has - we all have - grown up with these movies and I believe this will be the last one (it should be - end it on a high note please, Pixar. I have utmost faith in you!) I've already placed an edict on the kids by saying they are not allowed to see this movie with anyone else except me and their Dad first. In fact, I think we'll do a Father's Day outing on Sunday to see this film together, as a family. There are just some films that are imbedded into your family life history and Toy Story is one of them. Woody, Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, Barbie … and now a Ken doll and a female Tyranasaurous (sp??) Rex? I'll be choking with laughter on my popcorn and the next minute sobbing with sadness over some heartwrenching song showcasing how children have to, inevitably, grow up. Oh, lord … pass me the Kleenex now.

Despicable Me - releases July 9
Steve Carrell is one of my favourite comedy guys. The trailer looked hilarious. Yes, it's another animated flick but I still have a ten year-old at home so I'm totally allowed to go see this one, 'kay? Kay.

The Sorcereror's Apprentice - releases July 16
I'm not a fan of Nicholas Cage but I LUV Jay Baruchel. Awesome Canadian actor who is so engaging I'm hoping he can make me forget the weirdness that is Nicholas. This looks filled with great special effects and may give me my actiony type movie albeit dressed in fantasy story-telling.

Charlie St. Cloud - releases July 30
Zac Efron. Love story. Family drama. Dead younger brother. If Zac chooses to love this girl he loses the ability to communicate with his dead younger brother. OMG. What a conflict, what a premise. Zac is adorable. I think this will be a two Kleenex box movie. Can't wait.

The Other Guys - releases August 6
Will Farrell movies can be hit or miss but, boy, when they hit they're hilarious. Plus there's yummy Mark Wahlberg to look at. All I know is they play two cops and nothing else about the plot. But when I saw these two actors do their hilarious bit on the MTV movie awards I was hooked. Hoping for a funny one here. Fingers crossed.

Now, that's all I've got for summer this year. Not a lot but hopefully quality. But I couldn't help but take a peek at the fall to see what's coming up so I have to mention - in case anybody's been, like, living on another planet or anything that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows releases November 19th. EEK! I can't wait to see how Daniel Radcliff does the sob-inducing walk to his death written so beautifully by J.K. Rowling in the final book. I expect great things and hope I'm not disappointed. A few others that are intriguing me for fall are:

Due Date - releases October 2010
Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis (of Hangover fame) together on a road trip with RDJ trying to get to the birth of his first child and Zach being ,well, Zach. I'm hoping this is as funny as Planes, Trains and Automobiles with Steve Martin and the incomparable John Candy. The bar has been set high so I don't know if they can reach it but I love both RDJ and Zach so I'm hoping…

Life As We Know It - releases December 22, 2010 (my b'day!)
I like both Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel and this romantic comedy looks funny and fluffy about two people who don't exactly like each other but are forced to look after a baby together. Simplistic, overdone plot but I'm hoping the two leads have good chemistry to make it work. Katherine's movies choices have been iffy lately but I enjoyed 27 Dresses so I hope she can capture the magic of that even if the script is weak. Haven't seen a good rom com in ages so, again, fingers crossed.

Buried - unknown release date
Ryan Reynolds. Thriller. Buried Alive. Claustrophobia. Fear. Argh.
For Ryan I'll see anything he's in - even my worst fear up on the screen. Please Ryan get out of that box…

So, that's my list. What are you guys looking forward to?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

And the winner is ...

Well, it was looking to be like a tough battle. Twitter was heating up with Cynthia Reese, Elizabeth Ryann, Linda Grimes, and Patty Blount all arm wrestling to get the copy. A last minute contender, Andre Zollers (mtgoldeneagle on Twitter), with an interesting strategy to use the Golden Retriever card to get an edge in on the arm wrestling crowd, popped in to keep things guessing. But, in the end, it was the quiet, stay-in-the-background strategy of Tory Minus who ended up winning the day. That's right, The Boy pulled Tory's name out of the hat! Congratulations, Tory!! I'll be contacting you today by Direct Message to get your address and deets to send you your free copy of ILLEGALLY BLONDE.

I must say, all the participants have made my first contest extremely fun. I wish I could send each and every one of you a copy. Alas, I am only a lowly writer, not a miracle worker. But check out the miracle workers that are your neighbourhood librarians and see if they can conjure up a copy.

Now with the excitement of the contest over I'm not sure what to do with myself. I do have a couple of interviews coming up with fellow torkidlit writers Claudia Osmond and Debbie Ohi (Inkygirl on Twitter) so I'll keep you posted on those. In the meantime, here's a fun interview I did with the main character, Alya, of Jill Murray's Rythm and Blues. I'm hoping to interview Alya's creator Jill in an upcoming blog post soon (although she's heading off to Ethiopia soon! How cool is that??. Jill's another amazing member of torkidlit as well as the brains behind Y-eh! a blog tour of Canadian authors.

Thanks again for playing everyone! You all make Blogland and the Twitterverse a better place.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Contest! Just because...

Well, not just because. I've been meaning to have a contest for a while because, well, that's what you do to celebrate the release of a book. Or if you have a blog anniversary or if you hit 300 followers on Twitter (like I just did!) or if you just want to give away a free copy of a book you actually you know, like, wrote for absolutely no reason at all.

So, in honour of all those things and just because I think it'll be fun and just because I've never had a contest before and just because I'd like to share ILLEGALLY BLONDE with someone who might want to read it and just because it's been a hoot having a blog and being on Twitter and meeting so many fabulous people here's my first contest: If anyone would like a copy of ILLEGALLY BLONDE just leave a comment on the blog here before next Tuesday morning (that's June 15th)one of my kids will pick the name out of a hat and we'll ship a copy off to you pronto.

Thanks for playing and thanks for visiting!

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Thank You to My Favourite Teacher

We've all had one. That special person who inspired you, made you think, made you laugh, made you feel like you weren't just a number in the crowd of kids that paraded through their classrooms year after year. Every person I know - and usually every writer I've met - has a favourite teacher. We know that we'll always remember them because if they were good, if they were doing their job ... no, sorry - if they were doing MORE than just their job, if they were teaching because it was a passion then they made an impact on our lives. I know I had a few great teachers over the years but in high school (the time period I like to write about and that is always most vivid to me) I had one particular teacher who I will never forget: Mr. Nespolon.

He was, of course, my English teacher. But he was so much more than that. He was a teacher in the highest sense of the word. He inspired me to do better, to think deeply about what I was reading or writing. He was the first one to suggest I might be a good writer by asking if I was going to submit for publication a short story I'd written. I thought he was just being nice because he was always so encouraging to everyone but maybe even back then he saw something in me I didn't see in myself. Yet. He was funny, he was impatient, he was nuts sometimes, he was always available to us (I sometimes wondered if he had a life outside of the school he was there so much). He prepared us all for the rigors of university because he expected a higher level of thinking from his class. We became more critical, more astute thinkers. We were only teenagers but he helped us grow up a little with the discussions we had over the classics (or even just talking about the Rocky Horror Picture Show).

He gave of himself through countless hours spent directing school plays and musicals. He demanded a lot of his actors (including me) sometimes bringing me to the point of tears but he got me to perform better. Doing his musical finally gave me the courage to break out of my shell. I was never so terrified but it was the best thing I'd ever done and Mr. Nespolon guided me through it.

Years later, when I went back to visit my school, to my surprise he still remembered me. He still does. My mom called me today to tell me that he was visting a former student of his, now a teacher herself, and the daughter of my mom's good friend. She told him about my book, showed it to him and he was so happy she said, so pleased for me. He told her he still remembered me and said what a good kid I'd been back then. He took the book away to read. I hope you like it, Mr. Nespolon.

I know I'm only one of countless kids my favourite teacher inspired. I know he's created at least 3 teachers out of our class and countless more from other years. I know he definitely had a hand in creating one writer. So, Mr. Nespolon, if I don't get a chance to tell you this in person please know that if it weren't for you I don't think I would have had the guts to start writing. It took me a while but I finally published something. And please know that everything you ever taught me about literature, language and the gift of writing I will carry with me forever. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Chapter One - Illegally Blonde

The struggle. The agony. The relief.

No, I'm not talking about how hard it was to write Chapter One. It was a pleasure, actually. What I'm referring to is the royal pain it was trying to get a PDF version linked to the blog. But here it is. Chapter One. I hope it works. I hope you like it!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Getting Back into the Writing Game

Wow, June 1st already. Where has the year gone? For me, the last few weeks have flown by with nothing really concrete to show for it. I've taken a break from writing since I finished the revision to my YA paranormal earlier in May and that was right after I finished my YA contemporary back in October (with a sidetrip to a WIP that led to a dead end - for now). So now on the writing front I'm in the waiting game to see how both these books do. They're out of my hands for now. But that means I have to decide what to pursue next in terms of writing and that's a hard thing to figure out sometimes - especially without a shiny new idea dangling in front of me. I hate being in this limbo time.

It probably doesn't help that the family life is not expected to get any less stressfull over the next few months. As many of you know, my oldest daughter will be prepping to go to university in the fall and we'll have to get her packed and off and started on her new life (sob!!), we're trying to get a major reno started this summer and, most stressful of all, my mom (who lives about 4 hours away) will be undergoing surgery for breast cancer this month. My mind isn't exactly on mapping out my next story, you know? And yet, I know if I don't start writing soon, it will be that much harder to get back into it again. I've always believed that writers need to recharge their batteries and stepping away from writing and doing other things is crucial to creating good writing. But I've never left it for very long. A month at the most. And that's what I'm coming up to now.

I think I fear that somehow I will have forgotten how to write if I stay away from it for too long. That if I do let the personal life take over I will lose the one true discipline I've nurtured in my life. Believe me, I'm not that disciplined in anything else I've attempted but for writing I have started, I have kept at it - even through dark times, raising 3 children and work and family conflicts and books that felt like they were going nowhere - I have continued to write. So then why am I worried about not immediately picking up the pen now? What's holding me back?

Maybe I need a little bit of positive, go forward news from the writing front to get me fired up again. A good writer friend just told me about some news she received that really gave her a boost of confidence. It was just a few words but boy did they fire her up. I think that's what I need. Some sign from the universe that the brain cells I'll fry during the writing process are a worthy sacrifice. The summer will be here soon and we all know that the already slow publishing business will grind to a halt then. Before that happens - and before my personal life completely takes over - I need that little bit of something that will help me get back into the writing game again. For writers it doesn't take much to make us pick up the pen again. But a little good news sure makes that pen lighter.