Josephine's Dream Reading

Josephine's Dream Reading
Trying to look like Josephine Baker - and failing miserably!

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls
Conquering the Beast

Sunday, February 22, 2009

How Much Do I Love Books?

It happened on the number 33 bus, which was heading away from the university in the direction of my doctor's office. I was passing the time in the best way possible - reading a Wonderful Novel - when suddenly, out of the blue, I had an idea for something I wanted to do with my own novel. I put down the Wonderful Novel, took out the ever present notebook and pen, and began to furiously scribble, in my impossible to read handwriting ('Joan must work harder with her handwriting.' 'Joan's handwriting looks as if a spider fell in the inkwell and tottered drunkenly across the pages of her notebook.')
I looked up and saw that my stop was fast approaching, or to be more exact, the bus was fast approaching the stop. I grabbed my two bags, made my exit, then sat down on a bench outside one of Vancouver's more elegant grocery stores in order to finish writing down my great, literary thoughts - before I forgot them. You see, I'd decided to give one of my minor characters a bit more pep and have her do something interesting. It would elevate her to a new status in the story. Pleased with my brilliance, which seemed to have been inspired by a couple of words in the Wonderful Novel I'd been reading, I popped the notebook into my 'capacious handbag' (wonderful description, first used by Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Ernest by Mister Oscar Wilde) and quel horror - the Wonderful Novel was not there! Like an eccentric bluestocking I rifled through both of my bags and then spoke words which no child under five should hear - fortunately no such children were in the vicinity - after which I sighed a great deal and clutched at my chest. Then I pulled myself together, but only just, and popped into the extremely expensive grocery store to buy a couple of things I really couldn't afford. After that I walked dejectedly down to my doctor's office.
"How are you?" she asked, brightly.
"I lost a book!" I cried in despair. Her eyes widened and she took out her blood pressure torture equipment and checked for signs of life. "Your blood pressure is normal for someone who's just lost a book," she said, puzzled yet somewhat relieved. This remark was followed by a lecture about how people who have had heart attacks should avoid stress (I reminded her that I am the mother of a teenager, so how could I possibly avoid stress?)
"It's only a book," she reminded me.
I reacted the way my husband does when I refer to hockey as, "Only a game." With shock and disbelief.
She explained that over the years she herself had lost many things and had learned to 'let go.' Then she demonstrated a 'letting go' breathing method which I tried and failed to find useful. She wrote me a prescription and sent me on my way.
Pills are all well and good, but I needed a book!
Next day I pestered the transit Lost and Found office - they were very sweet - and a miracle had happened. Someone found the book and handed it in, and my husband picked it up, on his way home from work, from the Lost and Found office and brought it back to me.
He is my hero, even if he does love hockey.
Who says chivalry is dead? Not I!
And that's how much I love books.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

There's Nothing Quite Like an Accolade

I'm Serious. But before I tell you about a Wonderful Review that landed in my mailbox this week, let me explain. An accolade is positive reinforcement. I know, that's basic child psychology, but it doesn't stop working when you get older. Kids need to be told when their work is good, or when even some of it is good. ("Yes, Joan, you did write a one hundred word run-on sentence, but your story was original and funny. Let's just work on punctuation, shall we?") It certainly works for me. In fact my editor quite often talks to me like that. Of course, for a writer a nice fat royalty cheque would come a close second to an accolade. An accolade won't help pay the rent, but it might show up just in time to give you a shot of much needed writing confidence. Those of you who write (or act, or paint, or do a teenager's laundry) will appreciate how much love we need in order to continue the work we do.
Let me drift from the topic slightly, before I get back to my Wonderful Review. About twenty five years ago, maybe more, something happened that still makes me cringe when I think of it. I was auditioning for a professional theatre company in Vancouver. Along with a number of other hopeful actors I had to present two monologues - one modern, one Shakespearean. For the Shakespeare I chose Puck's speech from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' that begins, "My mistress with a monster is in love."
Please feel free to picture me cavorting about the stage like a spritely imp, or is it an impish sprite? Anyway, the casting dirctor wore a stone face throughout (a bit like an angry Aztec god) as I mugged and pranced and did my Puckish best. After it was all over he made a few notes and dismissed me with a 'thank you." That's when I did the unforgiveable. I asked, "How did I do?" Yes, even after all this time I shudder at the memory of my needyness. I can't remember what he said, because it wasn't really an answer. I slunk away feeling very un-Puckish. Puck, of course, would have turned him into a goat!
I later discovered that this casting director had reduced others to tears. One young woman, hoping to be cast in a musical, was actually in the middle of singing something when she was dismissed mid-note.
I never heard back.
So you can see how important an accolade is to me, and my latest bit of encouragement appeared in the Winter 2009 edition of Canadian Book News. A lovely reviewer, teacher-librarian, named Ellen Donogh, heaped glowing praises on 'Josephine's Dream,' both for my story and for Chantelle Walther's illustrations. In fact she said it was sure to be featured in celebrations of Black History Month. From her lips to librarians' ears!
A miracle is something that happens when you need it most. I got that line from the old movie 'Moses' starring the late Burt Lancaster, and I believe it. Would Hollywood lie?
I was in the middle of yet another re-write of my latest manuscript, and feeling unworthy to put pen to paper - or fingers to keys. In other words, my mind was full of doubts, instead of plot twists. Should I turn my attention to another story? There's no shortage of them on my back burner. I even began to consider packing it all in to deal with the pile of my teenager's socks that waited patiently, yet stiffly, by the washing machine (what does he do - take off his shoes to wade through wet concrete?) - until this lovely review appeared. A miracle just when I needed it (thanks Burt Lancaster). Now I believe I could conquer the world.
Accolades rule!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Literary Adventures in California. Four Days of Palm Trees and Sunshine.

Last week I was in Los Angeles. The first day I was there for a conference. The other three days I managed to fit in eight readings, not only in three wonderful schools but also in a fabulous indy. book store. I'm only writing about it now because while I was away there was a death in the family. My mother in law, a dedicated reader and lover of books, died at the age of 86. She'd once worked as a school librarian and teacher, so she knew the value of books, and the importance of the school library - the heart of any school - as both a door into the future and a safe haven and refuge. You don't always need a psychiatrist. Sometimes you just need a library.
One of the school librarians that I met was S. Jones Rogan, who wrote 'The Daring Adventures of Penhaligon Brush.' By co-incidence, we share a publisher! Random House. I also visited Once Upon a Story Book store in Long Beach, where Cyndie Kalina welcomes book loving families with a space full of books and cuddly toys. There's nothing nicer than snuggling up with a teddy bear (or some other stuffed creature) and getting lost (or finding yourself) in a book.
At all the presentations, I gave my usual plug: "Please pass on family stories. Ask lots of questions and write down family histories. Everyone's family is interesting," I said, over and over again.
Some children told me about their grandparents and other relatives, or even their own experiences. "Write it all down," I said.
One little girl told me that she had a famous relative and that the family had stories about him. "What was his name?" I asked.
"Stonewall Jackson," she replied. The teachers, and I, all gaped in amazement.
If you've never heard of Stonewall Jackson, all I can say is - Google!
My last day in California was the one at Long Beach. Joanne Renaud, cover artist for the U.S. edition of 'Honey Cake,' drove me there and brought along a couple of her friends. We had a wonderful lunch, bought a lot of books from Once Upon a Story Book store, walked around Long Beach while I took photos of houses and palm trees, and then Joanne and I gave our presentations in the book store.
Many thanks to my friends Brenda and Abe for letting me stay at their house - and to Diogie and Red Dog for being so friendly. Thanks to Sally, Venus and Amy for being wonderful school librarians, and Cyndie for welcoming me into her book store. And to Joanne, Katherine and Berkeley (pronounced 'Barclay') for sharing a great day. Also many thanks to all the dedicated writers, teachers and book lovers at the Jewish Children's Literature Conference.
There were only sixteen passengers on the flight back to Vancouver, so the flight attendants told us to spread out. I'm not sure if that was so the plane wouldn't tip! I'm not sure I want to know.
So now I'm back in the land of evergreens and frost. A different kind of beauty.
But don't forget, everyone. It's all material.