Hazy (Not so) Lazy Days of Summer – at Last!

The humidex is apparently 40 degrees in the Annapolis Valley today. The heat we get here, the kind that makes you feel like you’re moving in slow motion, is so different than in tropical climates.

I’ve been spending almost my entire summer revising a number of manuscripts, utilizing my newly-honed skills, thanks to having been mentored by Gary Blackwood last winter. I’m amazed at how much I learned from him – now if only it will make my work more desirable to publishers/agents, etc. I have to admit I’m really starting to enjoy the editing process. I’d like it even more if I was doing it under the instruction of a seasoned professional, I suppose. Hopefully, I’m accomplishing something on my own.

School will soon start again; Liam will return to Queen’s, Don and Shannon to Horton. I’m going to try substituting, a first for me. Some days, I just can’t see myself at the front of a classroom full of strangers, but other days, I think it might not be so bad. Time will tell…Hopefully, I’ll also be tutoring ESL students again, a job that really suits me. If I had to do it again, I don’t think I’d have spent quite so many years staying home and making children’s clothing. I think I would have enjoyed teaching at the elementary level. I suppose 15 or so years ago, I really felt I had to be home with my kids. Hindsight and all that…

“Killing off your darlings”, as Kathy Stinson says…

I’m not sure if I’ve got that expression quite right, but it’s something along those lines – ie. editing out the unnecessary words that once seemed so perfect. At the suggestion of a children’s editor, I’ve been hard at work shortening “A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk” for the past 10 days or so. It’s amazing how much can be shaved off without changing the story’s essence. I’ve reduced the manuscript by over 10,000 words (from 67,000 to 57,000), but I’m not finished yet…The 240 pages have been reduced to about 200, and it feels right when I read through it (even though there were a couple of good scenes I chopped). I’ve been told the general rule of writing is, “if it doesn’t advance the story, in some way, it doesn’t need to be there.” I suppose that would be especially true of a novel for middle grade readers, who like lots of action and rapid plot advancement. Truthfully, I’ve been surprised at the number of words I’ve been able to get rid of, and I hope I’m right in believing the pruning is improving the manuscript overall.

I applied, unsuccessfully, for a NS Dept of Culture grant for this project – just found out yesterday it was a no. I’m wondering if it’s because I mentioned I wouldn’t be teaching during the summer. Do they only give Creation Grants to full-time writers – ie. those who earn their living completely through their writing? When you read through the list of grant recipients, there seem to be many of the same people receiving grants each year. Interesting…

Sir Paul Rocks Halifax!

Spent yesterday in Halifax with friends from Amherst. Spent 2 hours mid-day on the patio at the Lord Nelson Hotel waiting for Paul and his entourage to leave for their soundcheck. The wait paid off, and I was able to get a couple of close-up photos of him videotaping the crowd out of his SUV window (I’ll try to post one of them). The concert was unbelievable; two and a half hours of non-stop Beatles and McCartney hits. How a man of 67 has that much energy remains a mystery to me. The truly amazing thing is that he always looked like he was having the time of his life – and thanks to the giant side screens, you could see his face for almost the entire show. The weather was perfect, although it got a little chilly toward the end; nothing a little singing couldn’t take care of! I can’t imagine the impact that one man has had on the world; musically, politically and socially. And he seems like such a genuine, nice guy – as I said to Eileen, “I want him to be my friend.” In my limited concert experience, this was the peak. Who knows, maybe he’ll be back in Nova Scotia someday! We Love You Paul!

Leaving Home

The full manuscript of “Hare” is in the hands of two publishers today, and they both expect to get to it in the next week or two. I’m feeling slightly the same as I did when Liam went off to university in Ontario last fall; I’ve done the best I could, and now, I can only hope for the best as “my baby” leaves the nest. I’m still playing with the opening pages; from agent responses, I know it doesn’t pull the reader in as quickly as it should. I’m toying with the idea of starting the novel a couple of years into the story, and then skipping back to the true beginning (idyllic life in Southern Sudan pre-war). We’re off to Horseshoe Lake tomorrow for Father’s Day; think it will do me good to get away from my laptop for a while.

For the first time today, I pulled up an old chapter-book manuscript – had an idea for it in the middle of the night, and I’m already two chapters into major revisions. I have to admit it feels good to be moving on – guess it was time…

WFNS Mentorship Reading

Yesterday I was in Halifax for the AGM of the Writers’ Fed…quick and painless.  Everyone shared a potluck lunch, then the dreaded reading…quick and not so painless.  I enjoyed listening to Gary’s introduction – odd to hear someone speaking about you while you’re actually in the room!  Didn’t realize how nervous I was until I got behind the podium shuffling my papers.  I had decided that morning to read a different excerpt, one that would only take a few minutes but contains an entire scene.  I had printed it just before leaving, and had read through it once.  Just before I got up to read, I noticed the header said “Jacob’s Long Walk” which made me panic, thinking I’d brought the wrong version; it was the right version, but I’d simply neglected to change all the headers when I’d changed the title several weeks ago.  Anyway, I think it went okay – my voice didn’t break at least, but my legs were literally shaking.  I guess I’m used to reading in front of a younger audience, and this was definitely outside my comfort zone!  Three other people being mentored read as well.  The man sitting beside me, Rob North of the CBC, recognized Jacob Deng in my story and told me of meeting him when he first arrived in Canada. Overall, a good event – sorry Jane Buss couldn’t be there, but she’s taking  some much-deserved time off.  Driving home I was feeling a bit melancholic – the mentoring experience was so positive for me, and I’ll miss Gary’s insight.  Still can’t imagine tackling another novel-length project right away, but it will be nice to try a few picture book ideas I’ve had squirreled away for quite a while.  I didn’t really get a chance to chat with Gary at the event, but I’ll be in touch when, or if, there’s any news to report on A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk.  The Writers’ Fed does such important work for writers, and I’m still thrilled to have been chosen – apparently they had 56 applicants last year!  Thanks again to everyone involved.

Ada Mingo Teen Writing Competition

I was in Truro for the third annual teen writing competition, named after my late Mum, and sponsored by the Colchester East Hants Regional Library.  Thanks to the women who put so much effort into this event each year, and to the students/writers who participate.  We’re hoping to get more entries next year by contacting English teachers personally, rather than school principals, who have so many other papers cross their desks daily.  Mum would be so humbled and touched to see these eager young writers, and honoured to have her name associated with an opportunity for young people to shine in the world of words; so often, it’s the athletes, actors and musicians who are more frequently recognized for their accomplishments. 

Sadly, Peter Carver and Kathy Stinson won’t be having their Port Joli Children’s Writers’ Retreat this year – I attended last year, and the fall before, so I’ll miss my time in their fish house this year. 

Gary had a few more small suggestions re A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk last week, but I think I’m actually finished the manuscript.  The Writers’ Fed is hosting a mentorship reading on June 6th, so I’ll have to select a section to read for that.  I’ll be nervous as it’ll be an adult audience; give me 50 young readers any day for an audience!  As Gary said, they’ll all be hoping for us to do well, as evidence of the value of the mentorship program, and just because it’ll be a writer-friendly crowd.  Hope he’s right…

TTYL.

School Visits

I’m involved in the Writers’ Federation Writers in the Schools (WITS) program, and it’s been a huge part of my writing life over the past two years.  I visited Bayview Community School in Mahone Bay on April 24th and Dr. John C. Wickwire School in Liverpool yesterday.

Usually during school visits, I read Rainbws in the Dark to the younger students, but recently I’ve been reading excerpts from A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk, and I’m happy to say it’s been well received by the Grade 5 and 6 students I’ve visited.  Yesterday, one class was particularly enthusiastic, and I had several questions re when the book would be published, where they could buy it, etc.  When you spend so much time writing and researching in isolation, it’s a wonderful feeling to get some positive feedback from readers (or potential readers). Thanks so much to those students and teachers for their support! 

I’ll meet my mentor, Gary Blackwood, on Thursday when I’m in Truro for the awards ceremony for the Ada Mingo Teen Writing Competition.  I feel like there isn’t a lot more I can do with the manuscript, but as I told the students, I haven’t yet read through it without making several changes – until I can do that, I won’t really feel like I’ve given it all I have…But I do feel as if I’m getting close to that point.

I can’t imagine writing for young readers and not participating in school visits.  Even though I work in an elementary school four days a week, it’s not the same as being in a school as an author.  WITS is such an incredibly valuable program – thanks to Jane et al at the Fed for  all the hours they put into making it happen every year!

TTYL!

Maxine Trottier & Susan Tooke visit KCA

Thanks to Box of Delights’ owner, and KCA Librarian, Mitzi DeWolfe, we enjoyed a visit from children’s author, Maxine Trottier, and illustrator, Susan Tooke today.  They both have books nominated for the Atlantic Book Awards tonight. We had a few technical difficulties, but the kids did get to hear (via CD) Shauntay Grant read Up Home, her beautiful picture book illustrated by Susan.  They started writing down some of their own “I remembers”, but time didn’t allow them to finish. I was amazed to hear that Susan can illustrate (acrylic paints) an entire picture book in only 6 months!  I’m envious and told her my art hadn’t advanced past the grade 3 level.  Both women were very engaging and the kids were impressed to have two “famous” people visit their school.  Maxine was first published in 1991 and has over 50 books, to date!!  She was a grade 2 teacher for 31 years, and many of those books were written while she was still doing report cards, prep, etc.  She’s happily retired (from teaching) and living in Newfoundland.  Susan lives in Halifax – she would be one of my dream illustrators – if I ever get another picture book published!  The detail she includes in her pictures is incredible.  She invited me to stop by her studio sometime I’m in Halifax.  TTYL

365 days isn’t the same for everybody

So, lately I’ve been thinking about time.  How is it that it seems to pass by so much more quickly the older you get?  There are always 24 hours in a day, 365 days, give or take, in a year.  Someone once tried to explain it to me in terms of fractions.  For example, when you’re 10, a year is 1/10th of your life.  When you’re 50, a year is 1/50th of your life, a tiny little fraction of all that has happened to you up to that point.  It sort of makes sense to me, but I don’t like it, however it’s explained.  Since I had an unexpected, and unexplained, heart attack a year and a half ago, time has become very precious to me. It’s depressing to see how much valuable time people waste complaining and being unhappy.  Researching the story of the Lost Boys has also certainly helped me have a brighter outlook on my own relatively easy life here in small-town Nova Scotia.  I only wish I’d been brave enough to volunteer in a country like Southern Sudan when I was younger…Always lots to think about!  TTYL

Yeah Chocolate!

We’re having a pretty quiet Easter Sunday.  First Easter in 19 years that we haven’t had an Easter egg hunt in our house…Mailed “A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk” off to Gary last week – it’s close to 66,000 words now, 234 pages.  It cost almost $10.00 to mail the manuscript!  I’m feeling pretty good about it and spent a lot of time over the past week scrutinizing it for anything that smacked of inauthenticity (is that a word?).  Amazing some of the things you can find when you’re really looking.  I’m also working on a query letter and an application for a Creation Grant through the NS Dept. of Tourism, Culture & Heritage.  Query letters are amazingly hard to write, – especially trying to summarize the essence of 234 pages in a page or less.  It will probably take the rest of the week for me to produce something I’m reasonably content with.  I’ll meet Gary in Truro next Sunday; we’re both judges in the Ada Mingo Teen Writing Competition (named after my late mum, proprietor of The Book Nook in Truro for 20+ years), so it will be interesting to see what Gary has to say about this latest revision.  I’m hoping the snow has finally left us for another winter – today is cold and wet, but I’m thinking I’ll have to force myself out for a walk anyway…TTYL