It’s a little under a month until I leave for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week, so now I’m starting to sweat. It’s not that I’m uneasy about travelling. In fact, I’m really looking forward to visiting Ottawa and London. It’s not that I’m apprehensive about speaking to rooms full of kids either. I’m not. I was a teacher for almost twenty years, and I’ve visited many, many classrooms and libraries as a writer. And it’s not that I’m not prepared. I know what I want to say. Now it’s just a matter of compiling a slide presentation to accompany my words. That should take less than a day. So as far as my presentations go, I’m good.
It’s all the other stuff I have to do before I leave that has me chasing my tail. I have to do my quarterly GST report. I’ve got assorted paperwork to attend to. I have illustrations to do for a picture book. I have out-of-town friends to spend time with. I have bookmarks to design and get printed — and then sign. 1000 of them! I need to buy a spring coat and good walking shoes. I need to contact schools to ensure they will have books for students to buy — and for me to autograph (if they plan on going that route.) I need to gather together my visual aids and figure out what clothes to pack. And I need a new mascara and eyebrow thingy!
I’m not generally a list maker, but I think right now a list is exactly what I need.
Now where’s my pen …
Oh my goodness … how can it possibly be four months since I last wrote in my blog? I haven’t been hibernating (though we have had snow), but I have been—and still am—extremely busy. According to the date on my birth certificate, I’m retired, but I beg to differ.
Since my last blog, I have completed twelve chapters in my new novel—twelve chapters that I am extremely pleased with. I also took on a short-term writing assignment with a US publisher for about five weeks—creating teachers’ guides for books that other authors wrote. And now I am working on some illustrations for a picture book for a self-published author.
My neighbour, who runs a cat hotel is hounding me (oh, bad pun) for ads to commission pet artwork. Yes, I shall also get to that soon … I think.
And I really should be composing my presentations for CCBC TD Children’s Book Week coming up in May.
I’m not even going to talk about the spring cleaning I need to do.
The saying goes that if you want something done, ask a busy person. Okay, people, that would be me. What have you got?
So I’ve begun a new writing project because:
(a) the 5 or 6 I already have on the go aren’t enough to sustain me
(b) I have the attention span of a fruit fly
(c) it’s a way of avoiding the other things I should be doing
(d) it’s just too fantastic an idea to ignore
(e) all of the above
Don’t you just love multiple guess questions?
The thing is I’m starting with nothing more than a title. Not to say I haven’t done that before, because I have. The stories for The Hemingway Tradition, Waltzing Annie Home, and Return to Bone Tree Hill all came after their titles. Moreover, those are three of the pieces I’m most proud of.
When I write, I always have an outline. It might not alway be on paper, but I ALWAYS know where the story is going. This time not so much. Yes, I know the general direction I’m headed, but it’s like I’m travelling through a fog to get there. And that is not a comfortable feeling for me. Other writers I know are quite fine with following hazy paths and writing 20,000 words they will later have to cut and replace with 20,000 new words. That doesn’t work for me. I may be a procrastinator, but once I’m on task, I’m nothing if not efficient, and there’s no way I’m wasting my time going down a rabbit hole.
So I’ve written the opening chapter, cleverly inserting all kinds of building blocks for potential plot directions, and I know what I want to say in at least the next two chapters. Rather than push on though, I’ve decided to pull in the reins and see what I know for sure.
It’s not precisely outlining. Actually more like a reflect and brainstorm activity. As I write down what I know, sure enough that leads me to what I didn’t know I knew, which in turn leads me to more and more revelations. Little by little, I’m feeling my way through the fog. Perhaps before the day is over I might actually have a trail of breadcrumbs that will take me where I need to go.
I don’t understand how this process works for me, but thank goodness it does.
Yogi Berra was famous for his funny, yet somehow sensible quotes. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up someplace else.” “I’d give my right arm to be ambidextrous.”
And my all-time favourite — “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
At this point in my life, that quote seems more than a little appropriate, because I believe I am standing at one such fork. I would have thought I’d be past all the forks in my life’s road by now, but it would seem I’m not.
Back in November of 1995, I burned out from teaching, and went on sick leave until the beginning of June 1996, at which point, I took a year’s leave of absence. Would I go back, or wouldn’t I? I was at a fork in the road, but I didn’t know which way to go, so I put the decision off for a year.
I had just received my first book contract with a respected publisher (Kids Can Press), and in my euphoric naivety, I was certain I had my foot in the publishing door. Teaching was quite literally killing me, and though it offered a decent income and potentially healthy pension, at the end of the day, the dread of returning to the emotional stress outweighed the economic security, and so I resigned.
It was a big risk, and the decrease in income was huge, but my husband and I have learned to live more modestly, so we’re fine. It means constantly looking for ways to bring in money, but that’s okay, because I think it helps me stay keen and mentally acute.
I’ve been at this writing thing now for over 20 years, and though I will keep at it until I die, I sense it’s time to change things up a bit. I’ve always loved historical fiction as a reader, but haven’t really tackled it as a writer. Waltzing Annie Home, a short story I wrote back in the late 1990s and my newest chapter book for young readers titled Isobel’s Stanley Cup are the only two historical stories that have been published. But I’m ready to do more, and I’m going to, even though I know publishers aren’t as open to that genre as they are to stories set in modern times. So I’m moving off the paved road and onto the gravel one. It’ll be tougher slogging, but I’m up for the challenge.
In addition, I want to tackle some projects that involve mythology and allusion to the classics. I shan’t say what, but I have a few ideas, and since what I have in mind is not even an existing genre, I shall be moving from gravel to a dirt pathway.
Finally, I want to do more with my art. I want to take on more commissions, and I would love to get into book illustration. This is totally uncharted territory. There is no road of any kind for me to follow, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The Road Not Taken (Robert Frost)
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim Because it was grassy, and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence; Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
At the moment I’m gearing up for two major launches of my new book, Isobel’s Stanley Cup. The first is on October 1st—the book’s birthday! How perfect is that! The second is on October 6th at the Nanaimo Ice Centre as part of the festivities for the Girls’ World Hockey Jamboree taking place that weekend. Since my book is about a girl playing hockey, this is the perfect venue.
Because I am trying to integrate the various creative parts of my life, I have done a painting of a pair of vintage skates (they belonged to my husband and to his mother before him), and at each of the launches I shall be giving away a signed print of the painting. This is about as close as I’m ever going to get to multi-tasking.
Yesterday I heard back from the editor for a book coming out in 2019 (a teen novel titled Girls Like Me), and it looks like we’re finished with substantive edits. Phew! The manuscript is now off to the copy editor, so there’s nothing more I can do on that front for the moment.
Even so, I should be writing. My critique group meets on Wednesday, and I have nothing new to submit. And I have a sneaking suspicion that’s not going to change, because — in addition to prepping for the book launches, my husband and I are renovating our kitchen. If nothing else, we have good timing — he’s an avid fisherman and its coho season, and I’m up to my ears in other projects. AND the NHL pre-season is underway.
So, enough chatting. I have countertops to choose and book launch trivia questions to come up with. And after that, of course, it will be time for Hockey Night in Canada.
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