It Was the Best of Times ... It Was the Worst of Times
May 21, 2020
Wow! COVID-19 -- a global pandemic ... I didn't see that coming. I haven't even really come up for air yet, which is why I haven't posted a blog since February 1st. But if you're feeling it like I am, you won't even have noticed. The ramblings of a fiction writer probably aren't high on your current list of priorities.
Aside from having to postpone until next year a 10-day trip to a beautiful little lake, as well as reschedule a writing workshop, and miss out on having my son and his family visit during the summer, my life hasn't changed much. Fortunately for me, my income remains the same (I work from home so no change there), and I don't have money worries to compound the health concerns brought on by the virus. So my daily life is pretty much as it's always been. I miss my weekly scrabble group as well as my writing critique group, but otherwise it's same old, same old. Except that I feel I'm walking around with a 20-pound weight on each shoulder, and I'm trying to push through thigh-deep mud. And I can cry at the drop of a hat.
From discussions I've had with other people (texts/emails/phone conversations--all from a safe distance), I gather my feelings are pretty standard. Most everyone else feels the same way I do. That's because like the Prime Minister says, we're all in this together. And we'll get through this together. It's not forever; it's just for now. If we stay home and stay safe, and physical distance when we have to venture out, we'll flatten the curve and prevail. But for now, this is the new normal.
So many buzz words and catch phrases. I don't think I've watched as much news in years. I know all the journalists on all the networks (except Fox), and I know all the politicians and their portfolios. I'm also on a first name basis with all the health officials in Canada and around the world.
I am well-informed. Sometimes too well-informed I think. If I turn on Trudeau first thing in the morning, my mind is like a piece of soggy toast for the rest of the day. I lose my drive and one hour blurs into the next. It took me six weeks to write one chapter of my current work in progress. And since the first draft is due on my publisher's desk October 1st, that kind of work schedule isn't going to cut it. Therefore, I've taken to blocking out all news until the evening. My husband has taken the totally opposite tack -- he'll tune in during the day, but after supper, he avoids all news programmes. Otherwise he doesn't sleep well.
But we both know we're very lucky. As I've already said, our financial situation hasn't changed, we have a roof over our heads, food on the table, and thus far we have our health. There are too many people who can't say that, and I truly worry for them.
I'm sure when/if this time ends, there will be many books devoted to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some will be novels; some will be reflections, others will be histories, psychological studies, societal investigations and on and on ad infinitum. And that's because this pandemic has affected the world and its people in a myriad of ways. It has brought out the best in some, and the worst in others. I guess water really does rise to its own level.
Worry and grief have led to increased crime and demonstrations of anger and frustration through public protests armed and otherwise, flagrant disregard for political guidance, hoarding, money scams, domestic abuse, at risk mental health, racial hate crimes, theft, arson, assault, and even murder. There have been too many instances at all levels of name-calling and laying of blame. I could go on, but all of this sickens me, and I don't want to dwell on it -- but it's definitely the worst side of humanity.
At the same time, there have been so many good, heart-warming things happening, so many instances of people helping people in big ways and small. Old and young alike finding ways to ease the hurt and worry of others, the hunger, sickness, and desperation. Food banks, hotels becoming shelters for the homeless, individuals and companies finding ways to produce PPE, virtual concerts, go-fund drives, evening salutes to frontline workers, new safety protocols in the workplace, neighbours helping neighbours, kids mailing smiles, sharing jokes, writers sharing books online, heartfelt thank yous at the grocery store, and despite all the uncertainty -- encouraging words and air hugs. People are getting in touch more often and in ways they haven't for years. It's as if it took a pandemic to make us realize how important people really are. That is happening around the world as well as on a personal level. Instead of killing each other, disparate countries are putting aside their grievances and helping one another. And environmentally, the world is working at healing itself too. Scientists are seeing cleaner air and water. Animals are returning to habitats they haven't visited in years. In that regard, this is the best of times.
The question is will people learn from this experience. Will we take forward what we're learning and apply it to the future? Right now Mother Nature is unloading big-time on the world. As if the corona virus weren't enough to deal with, natural disasters the like of which we have never seen before -- floods, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes -- are bringing the world to its knees. Nature is trying to tell us something. For the sake of the entire world and everyone in it, I sure hope we're listening.
Lost in Translation
February 1, 2020
When my first book was published way back in 1997, it was exciting just to see it sitting on the shelf in my local bookstore alongside the likes of Judy Blume and Betsy Byars. Tick another item off the bucket list.
Friends who found out I had written a book that was actually going to be published, often asked if I planned to use my real name or a pen name. I had never even considered a pen name. I mean, how would anyone know the author was me? They might not even believe me if I told them.
That concept led me to another thought -- after many more published books, I went into a bookstore in a city I was visiting and asked the salesclerk if she wanted me to sign the copies of my books the shop had in stock. She retrieved them, and I inked my name, but while I was waiting, I thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to say I was some other author and sign their books?" The clerk would probably never know, because aside from famous faces like JK Rowling and Stephen King, most writers are recognized only by their names and their books.
But when the foreign rights for my very first book (The Runaways/Kids Can Press) were sold to a publisher in the Netherlands, a whole new question of personal recognition arose.
Yes, I was thrilled to have my book translated into another language, and yes, the cover was the same, and my name appeared on it, but the contents were a complete mystery. About a year after its Dutch release, I met a fellow from the Netherlands at a party, and I asked him the literal translation to English of De vluchtelingen. He told me it meant Asylum Seekers. Interesting -- similar to the English title, but not exactly the same.
That's when it dawned on me, that the translation of the story itself would not be exactly the same either, and that was somewhat troubling, because I had spent so much time and thought choosing the right words and constructing the sentences that would showcase the images, dialogue, and emotion! Those things were what made the story mine. What if they were lost in translation?
The thing is, I had no way of knowing -- ever! I just had to trust that the person who had translated my book had stayed as true to my way of telling the story as was possible. That meant that the translator had to not only be proficient in both languages, but also had to be a good writer. I just had to have faith.
Over the years -- especially every time another of my books is translated, I think about the unheralded role of the translator. For the most part, we writers receive little recognition for what we do, but the translator receives even less. I couldn't even tell you who translated my books. All I know is that those books are a collaboration between them and me. It's a big responsibility to retell a story accurately and artfully in another language, so that the style of the original writer is still there, and the narrative has the same flavour.
Zee's Way/Orca Book Publishers in English, Spanish, and Slovenian.
The Trouble With Liberty/Orca Book Publishers in English and Swedish.
Pharaohs and Foot Soldiers/Annick Press in English and Korean
Cheat/Orca Book Publishers in English, French, and Korean.
Caching In/Orca Book Publishers in English and Swedish.
As you can see, sometimes the covers change, and sometimes I can't even tell if my name is there. It's all about faith, and I have more of that after reading a translation of a novel by another writer.
Du Mercure Sous La Langue/Les Allusifs in French and English.
I read the English translation, and I was blown away by the beautiful way it was written. The language was exquisite. It was one of those books you read for the way it was written as much as for the story. I have no way of knowing if Sylvain Trudel's original book was equally well-written, or if Sheila Fischman, the translator, elevated the text. I choose to believe both writers did an excellent job.
I also choose to believe that the translators of my books have done my stories justice as well. So, to all you under-appreciated people who choose to use your talent to forward the efforts of writers like me, I thank you.
Happy New Year
January 8, 2020
How can it possibly be 2020 already? Where did 2019 go? I was just getting used to it.
But it seems we're barely a week into the next decade, and I'm already running behind. Okay, maybe not behind, but I'm having to pedal pretty fast just to keep up. I have a portrait commission due for February 4th and novel revisions due for February 18th. I'm also working on another novel -- the second in a series -- the first draft of which is due in the fall of 2020.
Seriously though, I wouldn't have it any other way. Keep me busy. Put too much on my plate. I'll find a way, and while I'm doing that, a hundred other ideas and projects will be worming their way into my brain.
And I'm completely fine with that. I am a procrastinator by nature, though I'm also goal-oriented, and I've never missed a deadline in my life. I have more ideas for novels, paintings, quilts, and other things than I shall ever be able to bring to life. And more ideas come daily. I need two -- maybe three of me just to keep up.
It makes me sad to think that at my life's end, I shall be leaving something unfinished, but there's really no alternative. I try to fool myself into thinking I can live forever if I always have something midway to completion. How can I die before it's finished? But there will always be something in the works, so I simply must keep running as fast as I can.
Happy New Year--may you have been blessed with new running shoes for Christmas.
A Change is as Good as a Rest
November 4, 2019
I am a writer. That's how I earn my living. The fact that I love doing it is a bonus. Long after I cease to be published, I shall still be writing. But every now and again, I need a break.
Not to do nothing. I waste a lot of time, but I am always doing something, even if it's just playing computer games. I have a lot of interests, but in the past few years, the two that take up the bulk of my time are writing and making art. And art usually gets short-changed, because I have a contractual commitment for a book.
Well, at the moment, I am between writing projects -- sort of. I had a book come out in August (Girls Like Me -- Orca Book Publishers), and I have a new book coming out in October of 2020, (The Druid and the Dragon -- Crwth Press), but revisions don't begin on that until February, so I almost have some free time. I say 'almost', because I've begun work on a sequel to the D&D novel, but there's no deadline yet.
It's the perfect time to stretch my artistic muscles. I have a new medium -- graphite powder, that I need to learn how to use, and I want to work on loosening up my watercolour work, so off I go.
I gave myself about a week, and this is what I came up with. And now that I have that out of my system for a while, it's back to writing.
How Can I Know What I Think
Until I See What I Say?
July 29, 2019
I believe it was E.M. Forster who came up with that little nugget, and as far as I'm concerned, he hit the nail on the head. At least he did for me when it comes to writing.
A publisher recently asked me to submit an outline and the opening chapters for a novel I'm writing. Normally I do an outline before I begin the actual writing of the story, but this time I was working straight from plot points I had arranged in an arbitrary order. I had a handle on the general premise of the story, but some of the details were a bit hazy. I think that's why I'd skipped the outline. But suddenly I had no choice, so away I went.
The first 12 chapters were easy to outline, because I'd already written them. It was the next 11 that were going to be a challenge. But as always seems to happen, once I got writing, the ideas walked out of the fog in my brain and showed themselves. "So that's what this story is about!", I found myself saying over and over. Bits and pieces I'd written into the story for no other reason than to bring life to a scene, suddenly showed themselves to be integral to the rest of the story. (I so love it when that happens!) In two days I had an outline, and I felt so much more confident about what I was writing as a result.
But it gets better. I have worked many times with the publisher who asked for the outline, which is an advantage in as much as I don't have to submit as detailed an outline as might be asked of an unknown writer. For me that means I provide the main events of each chapter but no detail. Each outlined chapter is approximately 3-4 sentences. The publisher is fine with that. The details happen when I write the story, and the truth is I don't really know what they are until I'm tapping at the keyboard. It is the details that make a story memorable, but even as I sit down to work, I don't know what they are. For instance, I am currently working on Chapter 13. The outline says:
On the way back to camp, Bradan shares a vision he has had to see if Maeve can make sense of it (an exercise in her training). When she offers her interpretation, he says it was a good try, but incorrect and proceeds to tell her that it actually means the chiefs and kings of the land are gathering and Bradan's presence is required there. Maeve expresses her amazement at how such a vision could mean that. Bradan explains what each image symbolizes, and then when Maeve's awe has reached new heights, he confesses that he actually received word from the King's messenger on the previous day while Maeve was picking mushrooms. He says he'll be leaving the following morning and Maeve is to accompany him.
I'm 2/3 of the way through the writing of the chapter, and I haven't touched on anything in the outline. Instead, I've been laying groundwork for what will happen near the end of the story, as well as working on character arc. I had no idea this was going to happen until it did, but I as I look upon what I've written so far in the chapter, I can see that it was necessary. The other information in the outline is also necessary, but I've changed the weight of it in the actual writing.
This is one of the reasons I love writing so much. Gut instinct inevitably takes over, meaning the end result is always a surprise, regardless of the outline.
Am I having fun yet? You betcha!
July 17, 2019
I guess you noticed I have a new website. I usually upgrade every 3 - 5 years, but this time it's only been a year. Part of the reason is because I wasn't all that happy with how I'd put together my last site. I had wanted to keep it simple, and I'd wanted to include a page for genealogy, both of which I did, but in cutting out some other pages, I discovered that I simply didn't have a natural place to put some things that needed to be included, which meant I've been 'making do', and I hate that. I have also become somewhat disenchanted with my website-building company. I just don't seem to be getting the same service that I used to.
All of which led me to start searching for something new -- and this is it! I'm really happy with the new site-builder. There are more templates than I can fathom, and I have access to so many bells and whistles, that my mind is boggled. The company I'm now with is highly rated (I did my research) and is priced competitively. Best of all, it has made it easy for me to build a good website. I am a definite luddite, so when I'm impressed, you know the process has to be simple.
I shall continue to tweak things, but so far I'm really pleased. Take a look around and let me know what you think.