Friday, December 17, 2010

A Writer's Apprenticeship

What a year this was! 2010, the year we were all forced to come to terms with the new financial reality (all except Australia, which seems blythely unaware of more than a slight hiccup somewhere over there). We started thinking of new ways to make, save, or hide money, and it's brought out a lot of hitherto unacknowledged creativity, if some of those heart-warming TV stories are anything to go by. Some of us are worse off than others, struggling just to get by, and the rest are worried that it could happen to them. But we've become more understanding, more empathetic, through all of this. All in all, 2010 was a year with little to show for itself. But--the good news is that you don't have to keep up with the Joneses anymore, because they're probably having a rougher time than you are.

In the 70s, I was mad for books and TV programs that featured the Simple Life, whether it was back-to-the-land escapist stuff, decorating on a shoe-string, or how to look fabulous wearing clothes from the thrift shop. It was cool to be green, although I did it because I had to, single as I was with three small children in tow, but the philosophy behind it became something of a mantra, and I try to live this way today, even though it's just me now. So learn to enjoy this belt-tightening. It feels like you've suddenly given up bread, or coffee, or even cigarettes, and you'll have withdrawal symptoms, but you can do it. After a while you'll be lecturing others on how to cut corners, where the best deals are.

Oh, and if you think I'm being patronizing? --I've been there, guys. When my husband left, and the kids were tiny, I  lived at a shelter with them, later used food stamps until I was able to scratch out a living and stand on my own two rather wobbly legs. It was then that I decided that I would never allow myself to be so vulnerable again. I've had some rough times since, but they were my rough times, not the result of someone else's irresponsibility.

And eventually you get through it. It's corny, but you really do appreciate life, and friendship, and all that other stuff, far more when you've eaten tuna and rice three times in a week. (My grown children are still not too fond of tuna and rice.)

So I'm sorry that my posting today doesn't appear much like a writer's blog, but, if you think about it a bit, it really is. All those years of struggle, of worrying about whether or not one of the children was too ill for school, which in turn meant I'd lose a day's work, or simply trying to keep them in shoes (one of the most difficult tasks), was my writing apprenticeship. You write it all down, or go mad--at least, that's how I was. I wrote a lot of black humor, ironically, because that's how I saw the world. But we got through it, and you'll perhaps be surprised that I don't regret any of it. I can write equally about poverty, and comfortable living, because I've known both. And, to this day, I write about relationships, in all age groups, because my friendships over the years have been my saving grace. 

It would have been great if those writings in the lean years had generated income, but I had no idea what I was doing, or even how serious I was about writing. And so I had to reach this grand decade to decide that it's time to do something about it. Notice that I'm not at all impatient. See that I have reached the age of philosophizing. What is, is. You know, a touch of Buddhist thinking goes a long way.

In the meantime, I am over one-third into the fourth novel, Uncharacteristic Behavior. This is my first whodunnit, and at times I wish I hadn't. It's very tricky stuff to write. If you're at all interested, I've added it to the right side bar (click on the cover to read the synopsis). Speaking of covers, do you like my artwork? Of course, it's unlikely any publisher would use it, because they employ their own people, don't they? (And we wouldn't want to take their jobs away from them.)  But I think my pictures are evocative of the subject matter. Anyway, I like them.

Have a great holiday season. Stay home. What's so great about being somewhere else at this time of the year? You need to bum around, flop on the couch, and not bother with makeup. You don't do that at a resort (you'll be lucky) or someone else's place. And you get to sleep in your own lovely bed.

See you next year.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Surviving the Move

It's been over three months since my last post. Some of you have stopped looking for me, I know. Well, everyone, having recovered from the stress of my move, I am as back to normal as I can ever be. (I wasn't that normal to start with.)

From where I'm sitting now, I can hear a bunch of rainbow parakeets chattering and screeching in the trees in the courtyard here. Members of the parrot family, they are the noisiest birds in the world, but I love every minute of it. They sound so happy to be alive! I don't know if it's their exclusive food, but they hang out in bottle brush trees (so called because their red blossoms look like bottle brushes), and they sip on the nectar all day long. Having two of these trees directly outside means I hear all the action.

So I know where I am; it's audible. Then there is that unique smell - of eucalyptus, jacaranda, and other flora that gently surrounds you the minute you land here. It's as different to Brighton (in both England and Canada) as tea is to coffee, or whiskey is to vodka, but I'm always grateful I've had the opportunity to appreciate all these places, along with the others. I'm a wanderer. Like the song. But time to stay put now, not just for my sake, but my dear cats.

I finished Summer Must End back in August as I predicted. I have yet to pull together a one-page synopsis and shorter jacket blurb for it, but there's plenty of time to do that. With the two other manuscripts patiently waiting their turn, I doubt much will happen for quite a while. Does that matter to me? Not at all.  I am already well into my fourth novel and I'm guessing that there will be more before Summer comes under the microscope. You have to have huge patience in this writing game. But you guys already know that.

The great news is - dare I tell you? You might recall that I dropped an agency last year, and perhaps you thought I didn't  take the process seriously enough - I have a new agent. She is absolutely lovely. The ideal for me always (a bit of a fantasy, I thought)  was having an agent who was very friendly, uncomplicated, excellent at her craft, and available. And then there she was, like an old friend in the way she responded to Hafan Deg (although I'm persuaded that title should change to something more recognizable). It's quite a shock to deal with someone who communicates so easily. I send an email, and she replies immediately, always sounding enthusiastic. Oh, my... (Pinching myself again.)


Jeeves longing to get out there...

Baby contemplatng the garden...


So there it is.


The move to the Antipodes is over; my cats survived it with only a little resentment; I'm working on my new novel; I'm agented for the first. Oh, and another bonus: the local library is directly across the street. What more could a girl want? Seriously.

Love being back here. More about the new book next time.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The End of the Novel - Summer Must End

I know I've been very quiet - for almost two months, in fact - but I've been busy. Summer Must End is in the final furlong. I'll finish it by next weekend.

When I started this book on September 6, 2009, I'd already been composing in my head for months. I knew how it would end. I always know how my books will end, like Stephen King, with whom I share that particular approach. I don't start a book until I have the ending. But getting to that end is the thing - that's where all the exciting, unplanned things occur.

When I write (and I've mentioned this before), I quickly work on each chapter, getting down everything I feel  I need to say at that moment, and later - the same day, or the next morning, whenever - I carefully edit the draft, and move on to the next segment. When that chapter is complete, I go back to the very beginning, because ideas and dialogue are constantly coming to me during the time that I'm not physically writing, roughly scribbled on scraps of paper, and they now need to be inserted. Another careful proofread (well, as careful as any normal person manages) and I'm on to the next chapter. And so on. So what started out as (say) a 10-page chapter becomes 14 pages, perhaps, and the manuscript is becoming the final draft with each re-read and tweak.

The point today is that I'm about to start that final chapter. This one is the payoff - this is what writing all the other 90,000-plus words was leading to, and I'm both excited and relieved. There will be more inserts, of course, before this thing is ready for an agent. No doubt I'll even be tweaking it after I've made my move from Canada. But it will be ready for my trusted critics, those dear friends who again could take the time to give me their own opinions on it. I can only hope they love it as much as I do. It's my homage to Ontario. It's my farewell to Canadian rural life. I leave here at the end of September.

Sometimes when I'm deeply immersed in the work (or is that submerged?),  I find myself wondering if my un-writerly life is going okay. I work on average 5 hours a day, skipping some days to do the usual chores, and then I feel as if I've just returned from a trip, because writing the story, being surrounded by all these characters, genuinely makes me feel as if I've been away. I look at my cats, and wonder if my occasional cuddles in the evening have been enough. Are they feeling neglected?  Baby and Jeevesie, I promise I'll make it up to you. (And soon you'll be chasing lizards together.)

I'll continue my blog, of course - more regularly, I hope - after my move to Sydney. For those of you who have hung in there with me, despite my long absences, I wonder if you'll detect a difference in my demeanor. The light is so different there, and it makes me different. Being so geographically remote, you tend to feel less involved with the world than you do in Canada. My thinking becomes lighter, less introspective and intense. What kind of novel might that produce?

What I haven't mentioned over the last little while is that two - yes, two - lovely agents are presently looking at my first two manuscripts, respectively. They both seem very upbeat about them, and the fact that they communicated this to me is, in itself, a wonder to  behold. We all know how very mysterious most agents appear to us, so this is almost miraculous - this one-to-one contact. I am practical enought to realize that It could come to nothing, which is my usual experience, but one never knows.

Summer must end, but perhaps we'll have an Indian summer. I always live in hope.

Talk to you soon.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I Wonder What My Characters Are Up To?

Since I haven't been devoting myself to the current novel, I feel I've let the side down. Not just my readers, who could be anxious to see whether or not the writing life is all it's cracked up to be, but my characters. Stuck. That's what they are. In limbo. Hanging, like a proofreader's "widow".

Because I am somewhat weird, perhaps, I picture them doing things behind my back, like teenagers left alone at home. I imagine they have been going places, talking about interesting stuff, having the occasional party, and I wasn't invited.  I could check in, of course. In one second I would see that they've been absolutely nowhere, but are still just about to sit down to a scrummy vegetarian Christmas dinner, all of them frozen in time. But I don't check. I rather prefer the idea that they are out there doing their thing, laughing, weeping, and loving.

My own days are taken up with final arrangements for my cats' transport. No one likes to send cats on international journeys. If I had my way, they'd sit next to me on the plane, but that's impossible. I try not to think about it too much, as I look into their little faces. Cats are tough. They will be cranky with the whole business,  but they'll get over it. The experience is going to be more emotionally draining for me, when the time comes.

My friend in Oz asked me today if I was sure about this move. Well, first, it's a bit late to change my mind. All the arrangements, except for booking my flight, are in place. But, second, I know it's time to leave again. Because of the way my offspring are scattered around the globe, it's difficult to settle for too long in any one place. I divide my time almost equally between Canada and Australia, and visit England regularly. All three countries are important to me.  I am an odd arrangement of English, Australian and Canadian. During sports finals, particularly the Olympics, I am totally torn about which teams to root for, and end up being complacent about it. NOT the hockey, of course. There's only one team to cheer on there.  (I just hope I'll be able to get the NHL in Australia. There must be a way. Surely ESPN is available worldwide.)

Only about 15 weeks to go now. I don't know whether I'll get my characters in Summer Must End away from the Christmas dining table during that time. This avoidance is not Writer's Block, but Writer's Distraction. I've so many other things to deal with for now, and can't bring myself back to the novel. It's not going anywhere. A little more stress in the coming months could well produce even better writing. Well, that's what I tell myself.

So forgive the scarcity of my blogs, please. This, too, shall change, once I'm back to normal. Whatever that is.

Oh, do you like the new template? It's full of sky and brightness. I think it's a happy design.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Writing is so Egalitarian

It's been a while. I'm sorry about that. It's been a tiresome month, really. You have them - months like that. One thing after another, right?

I wish I could say that at least the writing is going well, but it's not. I have days when I manage a bunch of pages, but then I lose interest again.  It's the same attitude I have to this blog, which I'm ashamed of (the attitude, not the blog). I just can't seem to work up any enthusiasm for what I'm doing. This includes my move. I should be excited, but I'm not.

A Health Issue presented itself a month or so ago, nothing life-threatening, but certainly life-changing.  (Much time has been spent researching online.) I've been vegetarian/vegan most of my life, so I was floored by the diagnosis. I don't get sick. I don't get colds. I don't get backaches, or headaches, or any of that. I did my little exercise routine each day, including using my small weights.  I'd stopped smoking, too. I was such a good girl. But apparently blood tests don't lie. Smart-ass me was stunned. How could I possibly improve my diet? Of course, I could, and did, but at the time I thought I was already doing absolutely everything right. I know now that genetics has a lot to do with things, but who knew?

Years ago, when the doctor mentioned he thought I was expecting twins, I asked my mother if there were others in the family, and she said no.  Well, that was an outright fabrication. There were several sets of twins, it seems, but she didn't want to worry me, she said. What could be worrying about having twins? It was amazing! So, did anyone ever mention diabetes in my family? Of course not. That would imply some kind of genetic weakness, right? People might worry. And people might start really watching what they ate...

Anyway, I came to the conclusion that my mood of late is because of this challenge to my fitness-ego, and the fact that I have this undeniable and unforgiving birthday on Friday. It's an age where they start looking for cataracts and cute things like that.  I can't write down the number. Why confuse you? It's a mistake, after all. When I see it on a form, I raise my eyebrows and almost lean forward to correct it. That can't be me, can it? That must be someone else...

Which leads me back to Le Grande Move. My heart hasn't been in it. Fatigue sets in as I seal yet another box, and I wonder what the heck's wrong with me, to be doing this all over again. I should be taking things a bit easier, really, so they tell me. I should be settling down once and for all, they say. Am I not getting a bit past all this wandering about, they ask.

When the writing is going well (proof of the agelessness of passion, isn't it?), I can't wait to get to it each day, and even have difficulty turning off the computer at night. I want that feeling back. Writing has no age. Writing, like your animals, doesn't care what year you were born. Writing can be done at 15 or 95 (if you can still sit at your computer unaided). 

I like that about writing. It's so egalitarian.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Treme

It's the first time I've promoted a television show, but I'm overwhelmed by this one. Treme (pronounced "truh-may") is the best series I've seen in years. (The Canadian link is below the picture. If you're in the States, here's your link.)


In case you're wondering, Treme is a New Orleans neighborhood.

I have nothing to add. My words - clever though I sometimes imagine them - just won't do it justice. Watch it.

I can barely wait for next Sunday.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Still Querying, but Tiring Fast.

One of my dearest followers commented that I am always so uplifting with my blog, so very optimistic about my querying process, and I feel like a sham today because I have to admit that it's all smoke and mirrors.

The fact is that I'm a bit tired of this whole query business. I received another rejection today - very generous, very enthusiastic, but none-the-less a rejection. Even the best, most popular, writers must get jaded with the feedback they get at times, so it stands to reason that an unknown, unpublished writer would get saddened by it. I love to write, but it would be oh-so-sweet to be writing for others.

I'm tired of being told that I'm a very good writer, but that my books are too quiet, too instrospective, and not marketable in today's tough, thrill-seeking culture.  I don't write for that readership. Can it be that the very people who might enjoy my books only use their local libraries and have little influence over book sales? Am I writing for a similarly quiet and introspective group who wouldn't know a Kindle if one jumped up and bit them on the nose? Is there such a group? Am I, to put it bluntly, writing only for a phantom audience, perhaps only for myself?

But that was always enough, wasn't it, once upon a time? The pleasure of the words, the poetry, the cleverness we saw - we did it for ourselves, didn't we, as we toiled into the night? I used to show my mother when I was very small, and that was enough, and, much later, my most trusted friends or family members. At what point did it become something we just had to share with the world? When did it become an ego trip? What did we read by one of our favorite, well-published writers that triggered us to think, "I have something new to say about this, and folks will want to read it."?

So, today, I am feeling like Martin Amis's protagonist, Richard Tull, in The Information.  I am despondent, childishly resentful, totally shallow and weepily exhausted by my thankless querying adventure.

Of course, I'm very tired from all of this moving business. Still packing - not all at once, you understand, but as the mood takes me - but there's a lot of mental processing going on about it all the time, and I'm not sleeping well. There is stress, despite my cat-entertaining Hatha Yoga asanas.

I still have queries for two books out there, by the way.  All is not lost. Only my optimism, it seems, at least for the time being.

Like Fagin in Oliver!,  "I am reviewing the situation."  I'm quite good at that.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Nuts and Bolts of Writing 101, and Cats with Sweet Breath.

My cats had bad breath. The vet said they had gingivitis. General anasthetics  and several extractions (and a whole heap of money) were involved. It's done now, but it was rather a hellish week. They're home, of course, with sweet breath, reasonably themselves (although Baby is particularly grouchy with Jeeves - I've never heard such cat language - as if he caused all her discomfort).

But I did no new writing; I was too distracted to concentrate on the current manuscript. I did manage to tweak the short synopsis of Strachan's Attic. Sarahbeth suggested it needed to be a tiny bit more descriptive, that it's a ghost story, whether I like putting those words to it or not.  So I obliged. I guess it's clearer. I amended the sidebar and webpage blurb as well.

I'm no longer making the first chapters for all three novels available on my site, only the blurbs. I thought about it a lot. For those who know me, who like to keep up with my work, it was good to have them there,  and I'll do it for any new books for a brief period, but the idea that an agent might pop by on a whim is overly-optimistic. Knowing what we know about over-worked agents, do we really think that they go blog-browsing, looking for their next great writer? I doubt it. If they do, my blogs alone will have to suffice.

I've mellowed in the sixteen months since I started this blog. Looking back, I was so full of worries and questions, but these postings have been (I've said this before) like a mini-course in the nuts and bolts of writing. I mean, I know how to write (I should do, after all these years), but the technical stuff associated with producing an agent-worthy and pristine manuscript has been hugely useful. I've met so many remarkable writers here, published and unpublished, either because they contacted me, or I noticed them in my research, and they had their own personal anecdotes for producing the most professional-looking manuscript, the most eye-catching query.

I've finished that 101 course now, I guess. I think I've learned all the basic rules; I'm even confident enough to break some. I'm no longer that naive, tentative blogger I was at first. I wonder what's ahead. Just so long as you guys are there as well, I'll be fine. It's like belonging to the best club in the world. A Bloomsbury Group. An Algonquin Round Table. You could charge membership fees.

I have two agents who are prepared to read Hafan Deg's full manuscript. One had requested it over a year ago, just after I signed with the UK agent, and is still interested, but away for two weeks. The other (a friend's agent) is swamped  but will look at it in April.

I've now sent out five queries for Strachan's Attic. I received two instant rejections...you know, "Dear Author"...which means it's doubtful anyone read more than the opening intro, but the other three are still active.

To quote Heather, also in Query Mode, "All appendages that can be crossed, are crossed." For me, I managed six, but as I age, it could soon be eight.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and That Agent in England.

Well, folks, I finally got a response from my agent. It seems that everything we've heard about the economic downturn and the publishing industry, particularly as it pertains to Britain, is true. They just don't want to handle new and unknown writers. The UK is struggling more than most, right now, so I'm going to back off a bit with Hafan Deg. I need a break from it, anyway. I've terminated the arrangement with the agent. In sixty days, under the terms of their contract, I could conceivably sign another agent. Doesn't that sound easy? Like finding a lawyer or an accountant? Hmm, that one sounds nice. I think I'll hire her as my agent...

In the meantime, I have begun the query process for Strachan's Attic, which wasn't under contract. It felt so amazing to send off the letter and the first one hundred  (Yikes!) 25 pages.  I realize now that I quite enjoy the process. It's exciting, at least at first. (We get a little jaded later, to put it mildly, when the rejections start arriving.)

But that process is the thing. Arrival is always as Gertrude Stein quipped, and I paraphrase, "The trouble is that when you get there, there isn't any there there."  We've been told all our lives that it's the journey that counts. It's true, but we don't listen. The thing that gives me such huge pleasure is the anticipation of things possible. My books in bookshops, and people dealing with me as a published writer - all of that will likely prove quite mundane and ordinary, if it ever happens. It's the excitement of the chase, the thrill of the departure, the joy of the now - that's what's important. In a way, we would probably all be much happier (and psychologists do say this) if we never arrive at our goals. It's all a bit like Tantric sex, really.

So today, along with a tiny bit of sadness, I am feeling relief. I no longer have to stress over what's happening with Hafan Deg. She's coming home to Momma for a while, until we can find a new home for her, and Strachan's Attic will be doing the rounds while I'm finishing Summer Must End.



Roz Morris of Dirty White Candy is offering an e-book in PDF format, "Nail Your Novel" which I think could prove helpful to you. It's free to download, and I'm not going to apologize for taking advantage of a technology that augments conventional publishing. This is a great book, available for purchase as a hard copy as well, in case you prefer that.
 
"Nail Your Novel is a writing buddy in a book. It holds the reader’s hand every step of the way, from the blank sheet of paper to the finished manuscript. And at less than 100 pages it's half the size of most writing books - for the reader who wants effective writing advice without the waffle."
 
Take care, everyone. Enjoy the adventure.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Happiness Doesn't Depend on Hearing From My Agent

It's only Thursday, but I had to tell you. My agent is accepting no further submissions!

You know I've been trying to reach them (and they're in England, so I can't just drop in). All their incoming emails are going through some kind of auto-reject response, so even I can't get a reply. I can phone, of course, and will, but now I think I'll wait a bit longer because of this latest news. It's been eight months since I signed the contract, but I can wait a bit longer.  Patience should have been my middle name, remember.

The agency's web page speaks of their enthusiasm for new work, how prompt they are if they like your query, but there's now an addendum as of September last year. It hadn't occurred to me to check that until today, smug and confident as I was.
"...It is our policy to read and reply to all emails within 48 hours whenever possible. Of course it will take us longer to read your whole manuscript but in most cases we will give you an answer within 2 to 3 weeks. However, this approach has proved too successful and therefore we regret to say that we are unable to accept any new unsolicited submissions for the foreseeable future. "

Goodness, I squeaked in just before the crunch (June 2009). Perhaps it's my manuscript that's taking up all their time. Could it be that they are so busy trying to sell my work to publishers that all else must fall by the wayside? (And now you're wondering why I'm not writing fantasies, as I'm so good at it.)

I'm going to remain resolute about these guys until I finish Summer Must End later in the year. I certainly don't want to deal with New Agent-chasing while I'm still working on it as I use the opposite side of the brain for querying, and that can't be good for the creative flow.

You'd think I'd be cranky about all of this, but I'm not. This whole frustrating profession is full of strange hiccups and wobblies. I've gathered this from contact with all of you, and from reading writer bios and memoirs. I honestly don't think there's room for irritation in this game. We love to write. That's it. All the other stuff is merely fluff, and you deal with it, or sweep it under the bed. In fact, waiting for a response from the moving company I'm considering is annoying me much more than waiting for my agent to check in.

All in all, I'm a happy person. I believe you grade happiness by how often you feel good, compared with feeling bad. Allowing for Life's usual turmoils and emotional upheavals, I always bounce back. This doesn't mean I don't get angry over things, but that quickly passes. It doesn't mean I'm not cynical over much that happens in this world, but you can be healthily critical and still maintain good humor.

Studying someone (surreptitiously, I thought) as we writers tend to do regularly,  I'm sometimes accused of thinking too much, that I'm too serious. Well, of course that's true,  but I certainly like a good belly laugh; it's a buffer against being overly self-absorbed. I do talk to myself a lot as well, and use sailor-like expletives quite regularly when I'm alone - that's always good for a laugh considering how my cats look at me each time. But I can also enjoy a really good weep (remember Holly Hunter's character in Broadcast News?) and then just move on. Moderation in all things, right?

I salute you all, my deeply sensitive, constantly questioning, unwaveringly observant, often, I think, teary-eyed, but patient friends. What an adventure we're all on. Do we all think too much? Hell, yes! And we wouldn't have it any other way.

I wonder if my agent needs a hand getting through the slush pile.  Perhaps I should offer to help. IF I could only get through to them...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Query One - Just One - Manuscript at a Time

Today I'm including a link to a children's agent blog, which impressed me with an interesting post on querying. A kids'  book agent? Well, agents are agents, whatever their field, and this post covers an area not often addressed - the urge to query more than one project at a time.

One or two of you are tut-tutting, saying, "There's that Fran being silly again, assuming we have more than one MS to query." But some of you do. You comment about it. And as we query agents with one story, we long to mention that other one, and perhaps an even earlier one - just a hint of them, that's all; just a snippet...a little whisper of a suggestion that we have a couple of other books looking for an agent; let them see that we're prolific, that we're industrious; and this, in turn, should warrant serious consideration.

Sometimes we sneak it in at the end of the letter. "This is my third novel. My first and second (third, fourth and fifth) are currently being revised (unrecognizably reconstructed, mercilessly mutilated, savagely vandalized, irrevocably ruined)," we say, hoping against hope that the agent will swoon in anticipation of yet more of our great works and email back, "Send these immediately!" Most times we don't say anything, but feel a litte inadequate talking about only one novel, as if we've been a bit lazy, when we've spent years working on those others, too, our earlier babies.

So this children's literature blog, KidLit, has a very useful take on the problem.  And if finding an agent for your only novel is your torment, thank your lucky stars. You are still delightfully uncynical about the whole business and probably life in general.  (It won't last, you know.)

I see Anne Mini is focusing on the correct formatting of  the manuscript again at her blog.  It's hard to believe it's still necessary to remind people of the preferred style, but there you are, all giddy excitement over your clever words and no thought for the agent's feelings, as she, it's hoped, reads it.  This is the one time when you don't want to appear eccentric, inexperienced, or just plain silly. You can do that later during the television interviews.

Of course, her Author! Author! link is permanently in my side bar, but to save you mousing over and looking for it, check Anne Mini's blog here. If you've forgotten how good her posts are, read a couple of others while you're there. This woman really knows what she's talking about, and the site is well indexed and ready for just about anything a writer could need.

Okay, so all of this chit-chat could be perceived as a cover-up for the fact of my NOT working on my current book. It's been ten weeks. I've done a few pages here and there, but no real, out-of-control, steam-heat-generating, can't-concentrate-on-TV, writing. But, I told you, I've had so much on my mind. I am entering a life-altering period again, a stage in my history which will be writ large for a long time to come. Such huge intercontinental house moves are up there with death and divorce when it comes to traumatic experiences, although you usually have little control over the last two.

And so Summer Must End can wait another couple of weeks while I deal with all the stresses that I've chosen for myself. The associated drama and frayed nerves (the cats will cost HOW MUCH to transport?) should help with the writing, at least, when I am ready.  We writers will do almost anything to put the excitement back into our writing.

Last, because it's almost Valentine's Day, I've slipped in the link to Patricia Volonakis Davis's blog, which is entitled "Got Love?" Hope you enjoy it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Too Tired to Write, but not too tired to read more of Under the Tuscan Sun

I'm really not in the mood for writing. I'm quite tired. I've started packing. Of course, I'm not leaving for months, but I do like to get an early start. I hate surprises.

My naughty cat, Jeevesie, was restless last night, pouncing around on my bed, burrowing under the covers, scratching, licking, doing all those noisy things to himself that are guaranteed to keep me awake. Perhaps my packing makes him feel insecure, but what can he know about packing? He was a stray I took in! Anyway, I hissed at him, batted at him with a foot, even took a swing at him at one point, but he was far too quick. Then, as soon as I was resettled for another shift of sleep, he slipped back onto the bed very quietly, and waited for me to be welcomed into the arms of Morpheus, so that he could start all over again.  But Morpheus had given up on me. In seven hours of trying to sleep, I figure I managed about five, all broken up into 3/4 hour lots.

I've tried shutting Jeeves out of my room. But then he begins a new game - trying to shred the carpet under the door. He figures carpet is what keeps doors closed. Baby is never a problem. Through all of this, she yawns, looks totally bored, and goes back to sleep.

So, exhausted from my packing, unable to get a decent night's rest, I am most definitely not in the mood for writing.  I can manage reading. You MUST read Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes. This is one of the most delicious books I've read in ages. I know - you saw the movie. Believe me, the book is better. And the movie wasn't bad, after all.

I finally emailed my agent. Short, suitably polite, but a tiny bit grumpy if you read between the lines, but all it generated was an auto-response that they are on vacation, and, even if they weren't, they're not taking any new submissions until the fall.  Hmm. The auto-response didn't recognize that it was me, that I'm an insider, but it still hurt. A dear supporter, close to the industry, assured me that my agent is very reputable and I should be patient. Patience is my second name. Frances Patience Caldwell.  No, I lied. My second name is Grace.  I have a fair amount of that too, if you don't count the names I called Jeevesie last night.

Forgive the meandering. Ver' tired. Barely keeping my eyes open. Good movie on tonight, too. I hate when that happens.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Customer Relations in the Time of E-Mail

Things are starting to come together.  I've been so busy messing about with emails about my move, phoning, trying to get quotes, that I haven't had a minute for the writing this week. Once things are more or less in hand, I'll get back to it, calm and relatively undistracted, she said.

(Grumbly stuff follows) In this day and age (as my mother liked to say), isn't it strange that customer service is worse than it was before the advent of the internet?  I know this, because I was around then, running an office, a household, using the phone and an occasional letter to arrange things, and getting a prompt response and real help.

In my efforts to get quotes from moving companies, I've done several online forms, and emailed, according to their requirements, and only one has been in touch with me so far.  Back in days of yore, friendly, almost eager people would phone within a day or two to say they'd noticed me, heard from me, appreciated me, whatever - and would be back in touch in due course. This is certainly not my experience in 2010. People just don't bother to respond at all, in most cases. Perhaps they don't like where I live. I don't have too much in the way of goods to move, so perhaps the value of it isn't worth their while. Couldn't they just say that? Perhaps someone in the office doesn't open emails. Someone in the office certainly doesn't follow up on phone messages. Oh, Yikes! I could go a little crazy here. There's no point in complaining, either, because they're not going to respond to that, and who do I complain to? What's with the world?  It's become so darned anonymous!

Now, on to my poor cats' travel arrangements.  This involves flying and is stressful for all of us, particularly me.  I need a pet transport company that's concerned for both the pet and the guilt-ridden owner. There aren't many companies around here that will handle everything door to door, but I managed to get responses from two, of the four I contacted. The first was very sweet, but confused me with all her details so early in my querying. I'm a plodder, and like to do things as they are about to present themselves. She wanted to load me down with the lot in a half-hour phone call, had me scribbling down all this stuff, until I thought, "Wait a minute...I need to get her to send me this detail, not write it down myself." I think she was a bit miffed when I said that, and then she proceeded to repeat everything all over again, as if I were a rather inattentive child.

Second company seemed good, much more practical, got to the point, although we still talked a lot of detail for a good hour, but I was happy. I needed to phone her back the next day with some more information. She didn't have the foggiest idea who I was, or where my "file" was. Our first conversation had been quite friendly, with family anecdotes, so I was bewildered by her apparent amnesia.  I mean, what if she forgets where my cats are going, when the time comes? She took my name and number again, and will "get back to me". Nothing so far...(Grumbly stuff ends.)

If any of you are contemplating the start of your own business (which I hugely endorse! I don't believe in working for the man, unless times are desperate), customer relations and providing that extra service is the most valuable skill you can have, or develop. Form a good working relationship with your client, and they will love you and trust you, even if you still have to learn something new for the job! They'll forgive you that, because you stay in touch with them, give them regular reports, follow up, ask questions, remember their names, and check to see if they are satisfied.   Imagine if we found agents like this? I'd be their love-slave for life...

So much for my so-called writing blog. Odd one today. You'll have to put up with me going off course for a while. I'll be back to my normal me soon enough, I guess.



My dear J.D. Salinger has gone. Because he was rarely seen in his solitude in the depths of New England, only his 60s photographs are available to us, and so he remained broodingly handsome and cool - a term coined back then, by the way - to the end. (I always thought he looked more like a jazz musician than a writer.) They say he had some fifteen manuscripts locked in a safe, because he hated to publish.  His estate will burst into the headlines if this proves to be true. Imagine having a new Salinger book in your hand. Imagine Google licking its corporate lips in anticipation...

Enjoy the sun, if you have it. We do. Very cold, but bright and beautiful.

Friday, January 22, 2010

On Goofing Off Last Week With Bloggers' Blahs. (Perhaps nobody noticed...)

I goofed off last week. Perhaps nobody noticed. Only dear Squeakie mentioned he'd not seen my blog, sweet guy. I know I mentioned taking a Writers' Rest the week before, but now I think I have a case of Bloggers' Blahs.

A lot is going on with me right now, yet I've found it so difficult to sit down and try to explain it.  You seemed to be waiting for me to report in, as well, last Friday, which was very disconcerting, because I felt somewhat stressed, as if I'd stood you up for lunch. I know you wouldn't want me to feel like that just because I miss a blog or two, right?

Anyway, I've finally made a decision about where to live. I shan't say where until it's finalized - a lot of stuff needs to be arranged, but I've started getting quotes on freight, and cat transport, that sort of thing.

I haven't truly been myself for the past three years, but I didn't realize how unlike myself I'd been until I made this decision to move. I immediately felt light-hearted, vigorous, and full of anticipation - the way I always used to feel, but had forgotten.

My writing has gained from this rurally-generated, introspective period, of course, and was a life-saver. To mess about with painting (thinking, thinking, all the time, about my situation, as I applied the paint) would have been unhealthy, but writing took my mind off all my concerns, my anxieties. It was the one thing (other than my cats!) that got me springing out of bed in the morning. I will finish this third novel, Summer Must End, at just about the time I will need to start packing to leave this bit of rural Ontario, which is planned, coincidentally, for around the end of summer.

In retrospect, country living was necessary for me because I had never done it. I thought I would find myself here. Well, I looked all around, and there wasn't a sign of me anywhere. I gave up looking after the first year, but I did find my writer's muse. Everything has a purpose, even when it's not immediately recognized. Loneliness did it for me, as it does for a lot of writers.

Writing this now, I feel as if I'm saying goodbye, which is just plain silly. This blog isn't going anywhere, although it will have a different IP address, if you cared to check it. It's the first time I've travelled anywhere and not had to say, "I'll call you when I arrive," or, "I'll see you next summer," or similar sentiments. In this case, I'll sign off from my blog one Friday morning, and sign on again in another time zone the following Friday, and you won't even know...

I've heard nothing from my agent, and this is now starting to totally irritate me. I would email them, but I'm too prickly - probably say the wrong thing, and I'm not that confident about finding another agent if I upset the one I have. But, I mean, what's with them not even politely bringing me up to date with my novel's journey? What publishers have seen it? Has anyone turned it down out of hand? Has there been even a murmur of interest anywhere? It would take just a few clicks of the mouse and a quick email to reassure me. I'm starting to have doubts... It's been six months. Perhaps that's not so long. Like Scarlett, I guess I'll think about it tomorrow...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Not Writers' Block, but Writers' Rest. You get that, I know.

Back to normal after the whirlwind of the holidays, right? Well, not me. I thought I'd immediately get back to Summer Must End, but I haven't. I've been incredibly lazy, mentally - lolling about on the couch watching daytime (!) TV, playing computer games, browsing on eBay, dabbling in the kitchen, sewing, crocheting. For Pete's sake, this is a writer's life? Surely not! It must stop, this literary idleness. My poor characters are still stuck at Christmas morning, where they were when I left them on December 1.

I repeat that I don't have Writers' Block. What I have is Writers' Rest.  This is a new term I'm coining to illustrate that period in a writer's life when the story is rich and rewarding, and absolutely ready, but in no particular hurry to emerge. It can only be better when it does appear. It will be like soaking fruit in sweet rum or brandy (Rumtopf) for a long, long time, and each day it gains a more intense flavor, more richness, when you finally pluck it out to savor.  Well, that's what I tell myself anyway.

So enough about the novel. I just heard from a friend I haven't seen or spoken to in fifteen years. What a delight that was. My usual weekly or monthly emails to friends are more or less the same content, as nothing huge happens during the down time - except when you pick up an agent here, you buy an antique there, sell the odd painting... But leave it for a decade or so, and you have real news! This initial contact just touched the tip of the iceberg and there'll be a great deal of catching up to do, but this first one was amazing. I had checked her "Message Source" first, because I thought she was one of those very polite Somalian or Nigerian emailers who use the subject of "Dearest Frances, Remember Me?" or stuff like that. (I avoid opening things with such overly-affectionate references.)

My friend Googled me! What a wonderful system of friend-recovery we have with search engines, especially if we're prolific with online words. I belong to Facebook, but it's never done much for me, as I use it only to stay in touch with a handful of friends and my children, and it's not open to the public. Sometimes I consider cancelling it (not as straightforward as you think), but it's not hurting anyone, that little page of mine. My blogs are posted there, so perhaps one of my kids will look at one out of the blue. The world is full of surprises.

In my current Writers' Rest period, emails and blogs are okay for me. I am in idle mode, warming the engine before I begin the final journey with this current novel.  I have no doubt at all that you understand exactly what I'm saying, so I'm not even going to ask what you think. I know you all so well, and I know you get that.

From now on, I'll be mentioning TWO long-distance friends who've been there for me over the years, through thick and thin - my friend in New Zealand, along with my friend in Oz. I'm not even going to mention how long I've known them. We girls have to maintain some mystery.

Have a good one. Give your friend a hug. You've no idea how lucky you are.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Deal with your Limitations, and Have a Happy New Year!

I was going to write some kind of inspirational piece of my own, about resolutions, steadfastness, courage, and self-belief, for this stimulating new decade, but I more or less try to do this throughout the year, either for my own or your benefit, so it seemed redundant. In fact, your own words in response to many of mine have helped me enormously, so here is a good place to thank you for spurring me on.

Instead of my usual blog, I'm quoting Delia Quigley this morning. She quickly gave me permission to reproduce her fine article on Limitations, which I read on Care2 yesterday. It moved me to examine my own feelings, and I thought you might enjoy it, too.

"The New Year is upon us and if you are a goal setting kind of person then you know that just saying you will make changes does not necessarily mean it will happen. There are all kinds of things that can get in the way of our good intentions, most of all our mental excuses. Change in life is inevitable; actually it is the only thing we can guarantee to happen other than dying. The question is, do you shape your life according to your dreams and desires or do you just let life happen, like a free fall through time, dreaming of what you shoulda, coulda, woulda done, if only?

Making resolutions, setting goals, and making commitments are easy to do, but it is the ability to see them through to completion that is difficult and tests our human nature. The fact that self-sacrifice is called for is what makes overcoming our limitations and manifesting our dreams so challenging. It requires that we give up our comforts, our fears, and our long-standing habits, even the ones that are painful or threaten our well being in some ways. At least we know what to expect from them, but stepping out into the unknown? Sheeze, now that’s a scary place.

Limitations are not always visible to the eye at first glance. They take some investigation, like hidden chambers or weak character flaws that need to be confronted and coaxed out into the light. They begin in our mind as thoughts and translate into actions that hold us back from achieving our potential. Instead we settle for a kind of uncomfortable mediocrity, knowing in our hearts that if I could just take that first step…

1. Identify your limitations.

This requires coming to know yourself by observing your thoughts with integrity and scrutiny. By watching your thoughts you begin to notice, say, a tendency to procrastinate, to judge yourself harshly, to belittle yourself or to ignore what is best for you. Sitting in meditation helps with this process, as does writing thoughts down in a journal for future reference.

2. Recognize your limitations.

Now the work begins, because you have to stay present to how that mental limitation can show up over and over again. In A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Eckhart Tolle refers to these limitations as a negative state of thoughts that are easily overlooked, precisely because they are so common, so normal. You live with these negative thoughts without even knowing you are thinking them. Paying attention to what and how you are thinking allows you to counteract the thought or action before it can manifest.

3. Accept your limitations.

Rather than lash out in anger and do battle with yourself, accept that this is the person you have become, and these are the thoughts your ego has created as a means of survival. Think of the mind as a computer where your thoughts are made up of random input from past experience, images, conversations, instructions, and interactions. You must first accept whatever and whomever you have become in order to begin changing that person.

4. Honor your limitations.

This may be the most important task of the four steps and, for some, the most difficult. To honor life’s lessons introduces them as worthy opponents. If we are, as some say, spiritual beings having a human experience, then confronting our limitations should be done with the understanding that these challenges are what help us to grow beyond the ordinary and away from mediocrity. To honor these lessons is to take them on with a courage we may think is impossible, but is within each and everyone of us, just waiting to be called into action."
Delia Quigley is the Director of StillPoint Schoolhouse, where she teaches a holistic lifestyle based on her 28 years of study, experience and practice. She is the creator of the Body Rejuvenation Cleanse, Cooking the Basics, and Broken Bodies Yoga. Delia's credentials include author, holistic health counselor, natural foods chef, yoga instructor, energy therapist and public speaker. Follow Delia's blogs at  Body Rejuvenation Cleanse and Broken Bodies Yoga, and her website, Delia Quigley


I'm good at sticking at things, once I've decided what they are, but there are some I must do battle with, despite my determination. It's that mental negativity that comes in, and Delia understands that. Helpful in quitting smoking, there is an evil little character (used in a no-smoking product commercial) I use as a visual. He has form and substance to him, so that I can rant and rave when he appears, and it does work. With other things, deciding where I want to live, for instance, I allow negativity to creep in, because I've developed doubts about my own decision-making. When I consider returning to Oz, which I long to do, I find myself suddenly thinking of huge Huntsmen spiders! Well, that sure as heck doesn't help! I need to maintain a prettier representation - hibiscus blooming, the smell of eucalyptus, balmy (for me) winters, the company of family and friends.

Despite my resolve, when it comes to the idea of actually publishing my books, I've developed a new pessimism. What if my name becomes known, even a tiny bit? Will there be television interviews? Will the Walrus want to do a full page feature? All of this terrifies me! I need a warm, fuzzy view of success - able to support myself from my writing, living in a house I own and love, throwing impromptu get-togethers with other artists and writers. And, most importantly, lucky enough to protect both anonymity and peaceful locale from curious eyes. Of course - and here's that negativity again - the kind of fame I fear is unlikely to happen anyway, so why worry?


So I'm not writing out my list of things to achieve this decade. Writing them down doesn't guarantee anything. Instead I will quietly work on getting them right, honing them to things of beauty. One of them is facing the fact that I have a huge birthday this year. It's been depressing me somewhat, the idea of it. How can I, Fran Caldwell, be that old? My new resolve will be to joyously celebrate it. After all, the alternative to aging is pretty nasty. Let the battle begin!

So thanks, Delia, for opening my eyes. Of course, it's not really new to me, your philosophy. I just chose NOT to think about it.

Have a wonderful New Year, dear friends. You all work so hard, with few grumbles, really. I wish for you all what I wish for myself: to complete the finest work we hope for ourselves, have the best agent, and find a top publisher, all done with a modicum of privacy, unless you long for the limelight.

Remind yourself that you have one of the greatest gifts, with this abiity to write. Whatever happens in your life, you will always have that.

“I’d rather be a failure at something I enjoy than be a success at something I hate.” — George Burns