Saturday, 1 October 2011

Shaping Characters: A comparison of teaching and writing

After a month of nearly full-time teaching, I had a small epiphany.  I have been feeling quite fulfilled by my teaching job.  I had thought I would be pining to write as I worked on lesson plans and assessment.  I have had my moments -- when I finished a short story one weekend and all I wanted to do was to write ten more.  When I heard an author interviewed on the radio and wanted to get straight to work on my next novel.  However, I've found several similarities in my two careers which enable me to be content in either line of work.

In teaching, I get to create lessons.  I write them out, daydream about them and anticipate sharing them with my students.  This is very much like outlining a plot and dreaming about what is to come. 

Secondly, I am working with children, having a small hand in shaping their characters.  I get to interact with them and celebrate their learning and empathize with their frustrations.  While my fictional characters are fictional, I often feel like they are real.  I have even more say about how their characters will develop and I certainly feel their highs and lows.

Lastly, in both writing and teaching I get to share some of myself with others.  Although I write fiction, it is heavily laced with my own experiences.  Now that I have been publishing my writing, others are able to read about this and often respond to me about their own experiences in similar situations.  This is very satisfying.  In the classroom, I often share my own stories of learning and growing up.  My students share their own stories and we have another thread of connection.

And so, to those who say "Those who can not do, teach", I say "You are so wrong!"  Teaching is reciprocal and fulfilling if the teacher is willing to put his or her heart into the job.  It should be said that "Those who do, should teach!" 

Monday, 5 September 2011

My other career

After seven years of subbing, applications and interviews, I have acquired a teaching job!  This is great and I'm thrilled, but I'm worried my writing will now move to the back burner.  I know it will. 

While I was typing out long range goals and lesson plans during the summer, I was also writing at a maddening pace.  I had begun a novel in April and was determined to have the first draft finished before school started. Goal acheived!  I did one read through with edits and have now passed it on to family members to read while I get to know my class and get on top of my planning. 

I hope to have my next book ready by spring.  I believe I mentioned that it has ties to Jane Austen's book Emma.  I can't wait to have it out and to get started on something new.  In the mean time, I'll be learning right along with my students and trying to fit in a little writing here and there.  Happy New School Year everyone!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

To youtube with love

For some time, I have been dreaming of putting a scene from my book Expectations: A Continuation of Pride and Prejudice on to youtube.  At first I pictured a very homemade scene made in the comfort of my own home, but after realizing I had nearly nothing that looked remotely Regency, I decided to look outdoors.  Unfortunately, it was only March and a very cold and miserable March at that.

I was blessed to have two good friends join my crazy mission from the start.  We decided a local garden would be the perfect setting.  But spring was long and wet and it seemed nothing would ever bloom again.

After a fast a furious June, suddenly the garden was perfect!  But I had lost my nerve.  That's the problem with telling your friends your crazy dreams.  They keep you to them!  A few setbacks later, my good friend Katie was not able to join us for the filming, but my husband offered to take her place behind the camera.  We booked babysitters for the kids and headed out to the glorious garden.  Our hair would not stay curled, but the sun was shining and we had memorized our lines and taught ourselves to speak "British".  We practiced while my hubby set up the scene.  We filmed a practice run-through and watched it to see our mistakes.  Set up for the next shot and "BZZZZZZZZ!"  No, not a timeless bumblebee, but a very modern and unmistakable weed whacker.  Not just one, but three.  Then four, five, six!  Seriously!

"It can't take long!" I reassured Phil and Charity, but alas, the weed whackers were on a mission to beautify an entire block worth of greenery.  The time on the baby-sitter clock was ticking.  We packed up and went for a little drive, throwing out suggestions here and there.  We chose a nice green space, but there wasn't a flower to be shot.  I took a quick trip to the florist and selected three roses and some other flowers I thought looked relatively "English".  Another set up and at last we were running through the lines.

I was very pleased with the outcome of our little video.  My friend Charity is a breathtaking Elizabeth and my husband is a whiz at filming, directing and editing.  It was one of the most enjoyable projects I've ever worked on.  My advice though, is to be flexible and enjoy the process.  I'd love to know what you think!  

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Meeting Meg

Meg Kerr is the author of Experience, a continuation of Pride and Prejudice.  After reviewing her book for my blog and for the Jane Austen Society of North America Calgary website, I asked her a few questions about her work.
Samantha Adkins:  How did you come to know Jane Austen and her work? 
Meg Kerr:  I was one of those kids who always had her nose in a book. I was about twelve when I first read Pride and Prejudice, and as a teenager I re-read it every year. That of course led to the rest of Jane Austen’s novels (Persuasion is my next favourite, followed by Emma) and then to other 19th century novelists. Their stories are still easy for us to identify with in the 21st century, even if the details now seem exotic (candlelight, coaches-and-four), and their prose has rarely been equaled by later novelists—and NEVER equaled if we’re speaking of Austen!
SA:  Why did you decide to write a sequel to Pride and Prejudice?
MK:  Just as every reader does, I wanted to know what happened after Pride and Prejudice ended. And I wanted to have a visit with all the characters simply because I like them and wanted to see more of them! They really turn into friends after a couple of readings. Who wouldn’t want to live at Pemberley? And although we might not want to stay at Rosings or Hunsford Parsonage for a month, we’d even like to drop in on Lady Catherine and Mr. and Mrs. Collins for an evening.
P&P takes place in a world all its own, almost untouched by contemporary events in England. I love history, and I wondered what would be the result if the real world leaked a little into the story; so some of the things that happen in Experience are based on current events. (Little things like the Napoleonic Wars….)  But others are based more on the personalities of the characters—what they would do if they found themselves in new situations. I’m one of those people who firmly believe that Elizabeth and Darcy lived happily ever after, so I’ll say right now that they don’t drag each other around by the hair,  divorce or die in Experience.           
SA:  What do you enjoy about the writing process?
MK:  Thinking up stories is fun. And I love playing with words—maybe that’s something I picked up from early exposure to Jane Austen.
SA:  What part of Canada do you live in?   
MK:  I live in Toronto, although as a little girl I lived on my family’s farm north of Port Hope, Ontario. That branch of my family emigrated from Ireland between 1820 and 1830 (they would have been fairly close contemporaries of Susannah Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill, who also settled in the general area). I mention this because I put a Canadian connection—a historically natural one--into Experience.
SA:  Do you plan to write other novels related to Jane Austen?
MK:  I’m working on a sequel to Experience that tells Georgiana’s story. (Of course several other characters’ stories are in it as well.) Poor Georgiana is a cipher in Pride and Prejudice. Not even any speaking lines! I was sure something interesting would happen to her, and better than her little adventure with Wickham at Ramsgate.
SA:  Where can we find out more about your work?
MK:  I am taking part in this summer’s Austenesque Extravaganza I should say that someone from Pride and Prejudice is taking part. For a little treat, have a look at Meredith Esparza’s blog on Austenesque Reviews on August 13.
The website for Experience is at

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Experience by Meg Kerr

            Experience is a gratifying continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  It begins with the final chapter of P&P and continues directly after Darcy and Elizabeth’s honeymoon.  The reader is treated to an intelligent and entertaining story of “what happens next” to all of the Bennet sisters, Caroline Bingley, Colonel Fitzwilliam and a host of other characters.
            Kerr does a fine job of maintaining Austen’s characters, intentions and style.  She shows an obvious respect for Austen’s sensibilities and writes with a good deal of wit.  She also writes amusing dialogue and weaves many Austen quotations into her novel.
            Readers who are interested in knowing more about the regency world will be pleased with the attention to detail and the inclusion of historical events.  Kerr cleverly includes the birth of the S.P.C.A., the Luddite Rebellion, British politics, the birth of the railway and many other occurrences into the plot.  Her own love of horses is evident throughout the book. 
            There are several new characters in this novel who compliment Austen’s characters.  I especially enjoyed Adam Kendall.  I was tickled with the future Kerr imagined for Elizabeth and Darcy and their sisters.  Anyone looking for a bodice-ripper will not find one in Kerr’s work, but will instead be treated to an admirable homage to Jane Austen and her work.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Weird things happen when you publish a book

Do you ever Google yourself?  It might be a bit egotistical, but it is interesting.  A few years ago, all I could find about myself was a reference to my time at Mount Royal College.  Now I find my books and other writings and one very strange item.  But first I have to back up. . .

A few months after I published Expectations: A Continuation of Pride and Prejudice I decided to take the plunge and send it to Andrew Davies, writer and director of all my favourite Austen film adaptations.  But how to find his address?  Google of course!  I was led to many different sites where I could pay to get his agent information OR, I could use an address I found for him in the U.K.  Perfect!  As a self-published author, I almost always go with the most cost-efficient route:) 

I wrote up a letter, which I thought rather witty, and at the end said something like “if you are not the Andrew Davies who wrote and directed Jane Austen’s movies, please feel free to keep my book as a gift, but kindly notify me by email so I can search for a different address.” 

A year passed.

I decided to Google my book, just to see if there was anything on the web I didn’t know about.  Then I found this link  Ha!  My book was for sale on ABE books for over $40.00.  I won’t quote directly from the sales pitch, but it was noted as a rare book with a personal inscription to Andrew Davies!  It was also marked as “unread”, which I found just a tad insulting.  If only they had read the book, I would feel better about the whole mess.  Anyway, I had a good laugh and next time, I’ll make sure to find Mr. Davies’ real address before sending him my book.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Blogging Block

I hope no one's been holding their breath to read my blog!  I've been happily busy working away at my next book.  It will be Austen related!  Don't know if I'll blog much until it's done.  Thanks so much to everyone that's been following.  I've been a little frustrated with how difficult it is to leave a comment on Blogger.  Maybe by the time I post again, things will be easier.  Enjoy the sunshine while you can!

Friday, 13 May 2011

Interview with Bonnie Mae, writer and director of A Modern Pride and Prejudice

I joined the Calgary chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America just over a year ago.  One of the benefits of joining is receiving regular updates, via their website and newsletters, of what is happening in the Jane Austen world.  It was through one of these newsletters that I first learned about Bonnie Mae and her soon to be released movie A Modern Pride and Prejudice.  The movie stars Maia Petee, Caleb Grusing, Christina LaFon and Mark Mook.  Although she is in the midst of editing, she had a few minutes to spare for my questions on her soon-to-be-released film.

Samantha:  Is A Modern Pride and Prejudice your first movie?

Bonnie Mae: No, this is not my first Feature Film.  Since and before A Modern Pride and Prejudice I have directed several other films.

S:  How did you get into directing?

B:  I've been directing movies and theater since high school and it is something that I always wanted to do since I was a little girl.  Most little girls had pink rooms filled with Barbies and dress-up stuff; I had a Directors Chair, old film posters of Ron Howard, James Cameron, S.S (Steven Spielberg) and more plastered on my wall.

S:  Why did you decide to make a modern version of P&P?

B:  I have been a HUGE fan of Jane Austen since high school and really started to think about it and write it down a couple of years later. It has been a ton of years in the making. I wanted it to be modern because there were so many period adaptations and I wanted it to be fun and fresh, so I decided to make it modern, but still use the language of the period, society, estates etc...It’s a very different version :)

S: Tell me about the process of turning Jane Austen's work into a modern script?

B:  Doing the screenplay was fun because I got to insert my own modern day flare into the script. The challenge was trying to put modern day into the script but also keeping the period version of the dialogue.  I (kept asking) myself, "What Would Jane Austen Do?" The most fun of the script was the last proposal scene.  In the book they walk off and then they are married. I added my own period dialogue with an extremely intense and romantic proposal scene.  It turned out great!  We actually filmed it two different ways with and without have to wait and see what we ended up using :)

S:  What was the process for selecting your cast?

B:  The cast process was LONG.  Even though it was only six days worth of auditions and call backs we had a ton of people to audition that came from Colorado and as far as the UK.  Everyone wanted to be a part of this film and we went through thousands of auditions live and via the internet.

S:  Was one character more difficult to cast than the others?

B:  The hardest part was casting Elizabeth because I wanted a modern day girl but also someone that could do period dialogue, (be) feisty and passionate. I also wanted a girl that was the same age as the Elizabeth in the book. We ended up casting everyone the same (age) as in the book, even Darcy. I didn't plan on everyone but it just happened that way so that was pretty interesting. I was fortunate enough to have a great cast.  We had a blast on set and off set as well. There was a very abundant amount of laughing! The film is filled with a ton of Love.

S:  When do you hope to release your movie?

B:  We are hoping we can release the movie very soon but I want to post the trailer first, which I'm hoping will be done within the month of May. Keep Posted:)

S:  How can people keep posted on your movie?

B:  Find us on facebook at: or on the official website:

S:  What do you plan to work on next?

B:  I'm hoping to do Persuasion next as a part of a modern series with JA novels.
I already finished the script for "Persuasion" which is my favorite novel of JA so I'm hoping to do that JA novel next.

For right now I'm working on some other feature films and trailers that I hope to have out in the future. I've also been hired as a Director to do some local things and one Giant thing in LA which I will be a part of at the beginning of fall, if everything goes as planned.

S:  Why did you start with Pride and Prejudice?

B:  I have a ton of people ask me why I did P and P first if I love Persuasion more.  The answer is P and P is more well known and I hope to have great results from A Modern Pride and Prejudice (so I can) do "Persuasion." (Fingers and Toes Crossed).  

S:  Is there anything else you’d like to say to your readers?

B:  I also want to say Thanks to all the fans that have supported this version and this vision. I also want to give a BIG shout out THANK YOU to everyone in front of and behind the camera that worked on this film. We spent three months together and I had a blast!!

If anyone wants to send Fan Mail to any of the actors or crew they can send it to: PaperCut Studio Productions PO BOX 7069 Woodland Park CO 80863 Please send a self addressed envelope for cast pics. Thank You!

Monday, 9 May 2011

A Critical Review

I received my first bad review for my book Expectations: A Continuation of Pride and Prejudice.  I’ve been expecting it for some time, but after having my book out for over a year and a half, I was starting to think I was safe.  Wrong!  Now before I start, I must say I absolutely respect the right of the reader to post her opinion.  I’m merely exercising my right to respond.

The review was posted on along with my book sale information.  It will stay there with my book for as long as I keep it on amazon.  I will see it any time I check my book – which I do about once a week to see if there are any new customer reviews.  I don’t wish to rewrite what the reviewer said here – feel free to check it yourself.  But the gist of it is that I write like a twelve-year old and that I probably put “Mrs.” along with my name in order to make me feel older.  I had to laugh at this.  I only wish I weren’t as old as I am!  Also, the “Mrs.” is there simply because I had to enter my title when I was filling in my information to publish. 

So what does it mean to write like a twelve-year old?  This is the question that keeps spinning around my head.  Does it mean I did not include sex, swearing or tragedy?  I did this on purpose as I wanted to write in Jane Austen’s style.  Did I do a bad job of writing in regency style?  This is quite possible.  I did my best by reading Jane Austen’s books continually as I wrote and watching movie adaptations of her work.  Is my grammar poor?  Another possibility as I did the editing myself with some help from friends and family.  I’m certainly a product of the whole-language movement.  I go by what sounds good and have difficulty picking out parts of a sentence.  I hope I can afford an editor next time.  Have I been reading too many picture books to my children?  Another possibility. 

Ironically, my most recently published book, Subgirl, is written from the point of view of a twelve-year-old.  I had an editor say she didn’t believe the narrator was twelve, so I reworked my book, hoping to make it sound like it was written by a twelve-year-old.  In the end, this criticism is not very helpful.  There are too many possibilities.

In defense of the comment that I should spend time refining my writing processes, I must say that I've been working on this since I could hold a pencil.  I studied journalism and professional writing for two years at college and have been writing and honing my skills in the fifteen years since.  I majored in English at University, am part of a writers group, read constantly, and attend any writing event I can.  I really want to become a better writer.  I have embraced the suggestions I’ve had from other writers, friends and family in regards to my writing. 

My introverted instinct was to keep the review to myself and not mention it to anyone.  I thought maybe no one would see it.  But after half a day of this, I decided I should at least tell my husband.  Then I thought I’d mention it on Twitter – most of the people there don’t know me personally, so it seemed rather anonymous.  But I kept feeling this burning shame and discomfort so I decided to post it on Facebook.  Why not let my friends give me their opinion on the article?  Definitely a good decision.  Somehow, the kind and encouraging words of my friends, assuring me I have a gift and should ignore the review and keep writing, have given me the courage to keep writing. 

I hope this might help any other writers faced with a negative review.  There is the temptation to believe bad reviews are the truth and good reviews are written just to be nice.  Emily Bront—Ď kept her critical reviews in her desk at all times.  I will not be doing this.  I don’t think it would be helpful.  The pain of negative words has faded over the week and I have been able to put it into perspective.  I just think of all the books I’ve loved that others haven’t and vice versa.  Writing is very subjective and a bad review can be seen as a way to get the conversation started.  I'd love to hear about anyone else's experience in this regard.  Just post a comment.  I'll read it!   

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


I returned last night from a glorious trip to Southern California, expressly to visit Disneyland with my family.  We had sunshine every day and we wore shorts and sandals!  I didn’t write a thing and only checked my email and Twitter twice!  What a treat after the longest winter I can remember here in Alberta.  My kids, who are six and three, had a blast and we were able to get full value out of our five-day park hopper. 

My daughter, who has loved Princess Aurora since the day she first set eyes on her lovely pink dress, tried all week to find her at the park.  We went three times to the Princess Fantasy Faire, watched the Royal Princess Ceremony thrice and stood in line two times to meet the princesses – but only Princesses Tia, Ariel and Belle could be reached for photos and autographs. 

Finally, on day five, we returned to the Princess area.  We asked which princesses were available and found the same three.  We went to watch the Ceremony AGAIN and while we were waiting, “J” approached a young man in prince attire and asked if he could take her to Sleeping Beauty.  He couldn’t then as she was “taking tea”, but after much persuasion, he promised “J” she would come out for autographs after the ceremony.  We waited the thirty minutes and then the show began.  “J” watched desperately and positioned herself beside the princess for the one time she descends from the stage – during the maypole dance.  She walked beside the princess and told her she was her favourite and asked if she could sign her book.  The princess said yes, but I worried it was just a ploy to keep a young girl from crying.

The ceremony ended and the princesses disappeared behind the set.  We waited with bated breath.  Then “J” approached another lady who was part of the show and she said she would get Princess Aurora.  “J” was elated, but I worried as the minutes ticked by.  Then the castle door opened and out came. . . Snow White.  Hmm.  Closer, but not quite and then. . . Sleeping Beauty!  “J” ran to greet her and said “Do you remember me?”  Sleeping Beauty said “Of course!”  She signed “J”’s book, posed for a picture, talked prettily, and gave her a hug.  My little girl was overjoyed, her face a shining orb.  It was, indeed, the best part of her trip.

I couldn’t help but notice, with my Austen-shaped mind, how much I enjoyed the rides dedicated to Disney movies – especially Peter Pan, Snow White, Pirates of the Caribbean and Sleeping Beauty’s castle.  I loved how Storyland looks like a little English village.  I delighted in becoming a part of the story.  And I wondered – wouldn’t it be grand to have a Jane Austen-land?  You could dress up in Regency garb, ride a carriage around Pemberley, waltz with Henry Tilney, share a sisterly chat with Elinor Dashwood, break for tea with Fanny Price, stoke a fire and just stare and stare at the beautiful clothes and antiques.  Well, maybe that is a North American idea, but I’m certain we could all enjoy ourselves, imagining we’d met the real Jane Austen and all of her fabulous characters.  Which one would you wait all day to meet? 

Friday, 22 April 2011

Lost and Austen

Lately I have been filled afresh with sadness over the end of my favourite T.V. drama -- LOST.  Probably because it was usually in full steam this time of year.  The last few seasons didn't begin until February and then they went steady until the season finale.  Not this year.  This year, I've had to make do without.

So why would a Janeite be addicted to a violent, fantastical, multi-universal show?  I have no idea.  I thought if I wrote about it, I might figure it out. 

So there was Jack, Kate and Sawyer caught in a love triangle.  Jack loved Kate, Kate wavered between loving Jack and Sawyer -- I think she actually loved them both depending on her mood --  and Sawyer mostly loved himself.  Love triangles are certainly common in Austen's books.  Consider Wickham, Elizabeth and Darcy; Emma, Knightley and Churchill; or Willoughby, Colonel Brandon and Marianne.  In Austen, there are clear winners in the triangles and clear heroes, though at first the reader and the characters may be deceived.  In LOST, there were no clear winners.  In one universe, Kate is happy with Jack, in another she is happy with Sawyer.

LOST has a very distinct setting.  Though there are flash backs, flash forwards and flash sideways into other times and places, it is mainly set on a magical island.  The island is a character in itself with personality, evil smoke and the ability to move itself to another dimension.  I loved the setting.  I loved the water and the greenery and the beach.  Austen's novels certainly have a distinct setting.  Regency England for the middle and upper classes is filled with charm, intrigue and character.  Though Austen doesn't spend a whole lot of time describing her setting, the movie versions are lovely and comforting.  I can't get enough.

Finally, LOST was an escape from reality - an escape filled with danger, adventure and fascinating characters.  I think it is here that I find my real attraction both to Austen and LOST.  I love Jane Austen characters.  They have backstory, wit, quirks and foibles.  They are so real I speak of them like they are friends.  LOST characters are similarly multi-faceted.  On one episode, they seem saintly, on the next they are murderers and crooks.  One season I cheered for Jack on another, I cheered for Sayid.  Like real people, they have their good points and their bad.  I could believe in them, even if they were battling black smoke. 

In conclusion, both LOST and Jane Austen's work ended before their time.  I am definitely left wanting more.  I will have to make due with writing sequels and prequels to sustain myself. Expectations: A Continuation of Pride and Prejudice 

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Writing. . .With Children

When I first became a mother, I was completely absorbed in the crying, waking, feeding, cleaning, and newness of it all.  I couldn’t imagine I would ever have the time or energy to write again.  Then there came the day, probably six months in, when my little girl was napping and a sunny day presented itself.  I took my notebook outside to the picnic table along with the baby monitor, and continued the novel I had begun so many months before.  Elation!  I could be a mother and a writer at the same time!  It felt wonderful to escape for even twenty minutes, from the all-consuming career of motherhood, into my favourite occupation.

Once I had overcome the initial shock of parenting, I found my way into a daily schedule which involved a lot of home time.  This has been essential in my writing practice.  I recently read a book on teaching by Debbie Miller which emphasized the importance of sameness in each day for encouraging learning and creativity.  When you can count on certain things in your day, you can make time to create.  This has certainly been the case for me.

Each day I write, I carve out time for my craft.  I make sure my children are happy, fed and occupied before I sit down at my computer (I no longer write my novels in notebooks.  Typing is so much faster!)  I make sure the laundry is going, the kitchen counter is clean and I have answered my phone calls and email.  Then I can concentrate on my story. 

I had the pleasure of listening to Jane Urquhart speak at WordFest in Calgary.  She said that writing has always been her reward for getting the housework done.  I can concur. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Subgirl Chapter 1

Chapter One:  Introductions
            There are so many reasons why I, Jordana Simkins, am an odd twelve-year-old, it’s hard to know where to begin.  My appearance would be the first thing you would notice, so perhaps I’ll start there. 
            I’m taller than most girls my age.  In fact, I’m taller than many grown women, including my mother.  While I was at school, this was often an embarrassing fact, especially when I had to dance the polka with short Marty Henderson in gym class.  You’ll notice I used the past tense when I referred to my school days.  I’ll get to that in a minute.  But soon after my twelfth birthday, my height began to be an asset – which is something that is good and helpful.
            I also have impossible fine brown hair which refuses to do anything but lie flat against my skull.  I generally wear it in two long braids down my back, but my mother is forever trying to curl and style my hair in the most outrageous ways.  This too would prove to be an asset in my twelfth year. 
            Another oddity is my thick, thick glasses.  Even after the lenses are shaved down to make them as thin as possible they are over a centimeter in width.  All the other girls my age with glasses are allowed to wear contact lenses and often experiment with various colors; including violet which makes them look rather peculiar, but I have an astigmatism, which means my eyes are shaped more like footballs than soccer balls, which for some reason makes wearing contact lenses impossible.
            Finally, while I have many other abnormal features, I don’t really enjoy talking about them, so I will just briefly mention that I have size 11 feet.  I know, you’re probably rolling on the floor laughing hysterically right now.  It will only make you laugh harder to know that having such large feet often causes me to be clumsy, but is it really fair to laugh at people for things over which they have absolutely no control?  I’m sure you have some part of your anatomy which is a bit strange too. 
            Anyway, it turns out that it is not very common for girls to have size 11 feet.  It’s a better size for a 17-year-old boy or maybe a clown, but the shoe companies interested in twelve-year-old girls do not even consider size 11 as a possibility.  Instead, I have to buy shoes for teenaged boys or shop in specialty shoe stores for woman with large feet.  Apparently, these women don’t care what their shoes look like because all the shoes in these stores are horrible.  Needless to say, I don’t enjoy shoe shopping.
            In all fairness, my peculiarities should stop here.  The rest of me should be normal, normal, normal.  But as my father has taught me since I could talk, which was rather earlier than other children (but I’ll get to that later), life isn’t fair and my differences go beyond my looks.
            Speaking of my father, my parents are both rather unique themselves.  Dad is a rocket scientist and if I could tell you how many times I’ve been told “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist” to figure something out or to do something or to turn on a light bulb, you wouldn’t believe me.  It’s Dad’s favourite joke. 
            “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to raise a baby girl, Jordana, but it sure helps!” 
For fun, my Dad builds canoes and rocking chairs in our basement with his fellow rocket scientist friend, Mr. Leopold.  My Dad and Mr. Leopold also enjoy puns, which are terrible jokes involving playing with words that are just barely funny, and if I have the misfortune of going downstairs to bring my Dad a phone message or a snack, I am inundated with puns, meaning I have to stand there for a really long time pretending I think my Dad and Mr. Leopold are funny.  Dad will say something like this:
            “Hey Leo, can you give me a hand with this rocking chair?”
            And Mr. Leopold will reply, “But that would leave me with only one!”
            “Ho, Ho, Ho,” they will chuckle while I stand there waiting for them to take the cups of coffee I am trying to give them.
            My mother is equally eccentric.  Although I’m not at liberty to tell you exactly what she does, I can tell you she is heavily involved in the political world and that she often travels and spends many hours at her computer writing letters in foreign languages and encrypting emails to numerous people in similar positions.
            When she isn’t working hard or traveling, my mother loves baking extravagant desserts.  The only problem is that she always gets distracted by a long distance phone call or a triple-encrypted urgent email so that her baking is disgustingly ruined.  But no matter how badly she ruins a dessert, she always freezes her creations in our giant walk-in freezer which takes up the other half of our basement.
So, between my father and mother, we have a house filled with half-baked goodies, canoes and rocking chairs.  I often suggest we try selling some of my parents’ creations, but they just smile at one another, give me a hug and say “We don’t do it for money, darling.  We love what we create, just like we love you and would never sell you no matter what.” 
They’re so weird.  How can I help being a little strange?
            My mother also strives to share her knowledge of foreign languages and so at any given time of the day or night, she will call out a word from among the fourteen languages she reads and writes fluently and ask me to translate:
            “Filaki!” she will say when she comes to my room to say goodnight.
            “Greek for kiss.”  I will reply and she’ll give me an approving kiss goodnight.
            And if you haven’t put down this book yet in fear of my freaky family, I’ll now add the final nail to my coffin, proving how very bizarre I am so that you would never, ever wish to be my friend.  I’m incredibly smart.  Embarrassingly so.  I learned to say the alphabet by my first birthday.  I could add double digits at the age of two and multiply at three.  By the time I started Kindergarten, which was at age four, they made an exception for me, I could read chapter books, do long division and write in paragraph form.
            Kindergarten was a bit of a snap for me, so they bumped me into grade one halfway through the year.  I was still miles ahead of the other children so my parents suggested I tutor children when it was appropriate.  I did – not only grade one students, but grade two and three as well.  When I was five, I completed grades two, three and four and when I was six, I finished elementary school.
            This is when my height became an asset.  At the age of seven, I was already five feet tall and not even the shortest kid in grade seven.  I finished grades seven and eight that year and edited the junior high newspaper. 
By the time I was ten, I had written and aced my grade twelve diploma exams.  The university registrars scratched their heads at my application to attend first year classes.  They decided it would upset the morale of the other students to have a ten-year-old in their classes.  Instead, they agreed to have me take classes by correspondence. 
Within two years, I graduated with a four year degree in education.  I had always helped other students during my school years and so education seemed like a natural step for me.  I even fit in a four-month teaching internship where I learned how to work with a full class of students rather than just a small group.
            During my internship, I learned a lot about classroom management, which is the way teachers get kids to sit down and listen when they would rather be running around the room.  I had a wonderful classroom teacher to work with in a grade one classroom.  Four months was the amount of time I spent in grade one my first time around, so it was good to have a refresher course.
            At the age of twelve, I had a decision to make – study towards a masters and PhD or take up teaching.  I enjoyed my internship so much that I chose to teach.  I’ve always loved helping others learn and I was tired of taking my classes alone in my room.  I was ready to be in a classroom again.
            Again, I puzzled administrators with my request.  A twelve-year-old had never been on the payroll before – in fact it is illegal, where I live, to work for pay until a person is fourteen-years old.  My parents made an arrangement where I would substitute teach towards a scholarship fund.  I would only teach grades one to four so that I would not be too close in age to my students.  All of the administrators but one agreed to this arrangement. 
            Ms. Luella Trites is the vice-superintendent of our school division.  It is fitting that her name, Luella, means “renowned in battle”.  She is a fearsome-looking woman with perfectly manicured nails, hair that never moves, and ramrod straight posture.  She tried everything to keep me from teaching in the school system, but in the end, she was outvoted by the superintendent who thought the schools would benefit from a role model like me. 
My parents have always been with me when I have to see Ms. Trites, but I’m afraid that one day I may run into her on my own.  I’m dreading that day.
            Despite Ms. Trites’ best efforts, I will now enter the life of a substitute teacher before most girls start baby-sitting.  So, that brings me to today – my first day of teaching.
Subgirl on Amazon

Friday, 1 April 2011

Why pick a genre?

My next book to print came out today on Kindle, soon to be available in paperback from Amazon as well.  Yippee!  And yet, I am filled with dread that I have missed a typo or that someone may misinterpret what I have written.

It is called Subgirl and is asbout a 12-year-old genius who turns her skills to substitute teaching.  Of course, I've been subbing on and off for seven years, so you can guess where my inspiration came from.  Still, it's fiction and none of the characters are really based on anyone I met along the way.  They are more prototypes of the kinds of kids and people you meet in life.  I am especially proud of the parents I created in Subgirl.  They made me laugh every time I reworked the book.

So, you may wonder why I would write a middle-grade novel after a Jane Austen sequel.  Truth be known, I wrote Subgril before Expectations.  Jeannette Lynes, who was kind enough to work with me during her Writer-in-Residence stint in Saskatoon, suggested I might have a lot of good stories from my subbing career.  I decided to give it a try.  A couple of years and one baby later, I had the finished draft and began sending it out to publishers and then agents.  I got as close as I've ever been to having a publisher interested.  She actually wanted to see the whole manuscript, but in the end, no one would take it. 

I reworked the book and sent it out again this past fall, but with the success of Expectations on Amazon, I decided it was time to take the book into my own hands and go with online publishing once again.  It really is very satisfying to make all of your own decisions about cover, price, marketing etc.  I went with again and am continually impressed with their product.

So, I haven't picked a genre yet for my writing.  I've tried a screenplay, a Jane Austen Sequel, a middle grade novel, two literary novels and my latest is a young adult crossover novel.  I just write what I'm interested in.  I don't always read the same genre, why write in the same genre?  Anyone else out there enjoying writing in multiple genres?

Subgirl on Kindle

Monday, 28 March 2011

Passionate Geniuses

I spent most of Saturday reading Karen Smith Kenyon's book The Bronte Family: passionate literary geniuses.  While it is written as a young adult biography, I found it equally excellent as an adult reader.  It is filled with fantastic pictures of artifacts and photographs of places the Brontes frequented.  I was struck by how lonely their lives were, set apart as they were in the parsonage in a small town.  Only Branwell seemed to get out visiting much, and then mostly at the local pub. 

The lives of the Brontes were not previously well known to me.  I have read Agnes Grey, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and this book made note of several ties between the real lives of Charlotte, Anne and Emily to these books.  Whenever I read fiction, I wonder where the life of the author intersects his or her creation.  My own fiction often reflects my experiences, but at the same time, nothing is exactly true.

After finishing the book, I felt deeply saddened by the shortness of the lives of the Brontes and especially for Charlotte, so recently married.  Kenyon surmises that she died due to excessive vomitting due to pregnancy.  As someone who struggled with morning sickness, I often wondered what became of women with extreme morning sickness before the advent of our modern day medications. 

I am rereading Wuthering Heights and am fascinated with Emily's creation.  Kenyon made no mention of any romances in Emily's life.  How did she come up with Heathcliff and Catherine?  I've decided I need to read more biographies of writers.  So inspiring!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

What Are You Working On?

I seem to be working on too many projects at once right now.  So, mostly for myself, I thought I'd write down what I'm working on to keep it all in order:

1.  Marketing - I've just uploaded my novel Expectations: A Continuation of Pride and Prejudice to Kindle.  It should be ready to sell as an ebook sometime today!  Also, new to Twitter, I'm trying to figure out how one markets a book in that Twitchy little universe!  I find I am spending a lot of time wandering around, getting continually sidetracked. . .

2.  Editing - I recently received a proof copy of my next book to come out.  It is called Subgirl and is written for middle grade readers, although as a substitute teacher, I find it very amusing.  Jordana Simkins is a twelve-year-old genius who has finished University and decided to substitute teach.  This book covers her first day of teaching in a Kindergarten classroom.  I had meant it to be a series, but we'll see how well this one does!

3.  Searching for publishers and agents - Oh, this is a soul-sucking venture.  I've been searching for publishers for about 15 years with very little success.  I just started searching for agents this fall, with even less success!  My next novel, Taking Comfort, is the story of four young women in 1993.  One of them becomes a teenaged mom.  The story starts in 2009 when this mom decides to tell her daughter the truth about her conception.

4.  Restarting a novel - I started my next novel in the fall while between projects.  I'm about 30 pages in, but had to leave it for a while.  Now I'm trying to get back into it.

5.  Short Stories - I have several of these that need a home!  I'm really enjoying writing them.  It's so nice to be able to see the whole story, rather than one chapter at a time.  My latest was inpired by a writing exercise at writing group.

Add to this parenting, substitute teaching, cooking and homemaking and you can see why I worry that I have ADD sometimes.  Oh yes, and blogging.  Ack!  What am I thinking?

Monday, 21 March 2011

Why another Austen sequel?

With so many Austen sequels to choose from nowadays, one might wonder why I would write one myself?  It happened after watching the final episode of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice (yes, the one with Colin Firth) on PBS in February of 2008.  I was by no means a major fan of Jane Austen at the time.  I had only read Pride and Prejudice and some of Sense and Sensibility.  I was more familiar with the movies made of her work than her books.  But my sister was a huge fan of Pride and Prejudice and her birthday was coming up in April.  I thought, I'll just write a little 20 page short story continuing Pride and Prejudice.  I jotted a few notes which went something like this:

Continuation of P&P
-Pemberley was fine indeed, however married life was far from bliss.
-misses sisters and knowledge of place in world
-ostrasized by Darcy's Aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh
-romours of her sister's folly
-how to run servants?
-hard to find friends
-sick and pregnant
-loves Darcy, but he is a man of few words
wonders where the excitement of life is.  Finding a mate had been such a huge part of life

From such beginnings, my novel was born.  I was shocked when I eventually did an internet search of Pride and Prejudice to realize there were already over 100 sequels.  I thought "Why didn't I do this before I started my book?  I could have just bought my sister a present!"  However, I am so glad I continued with my sequel.  I also wanted to get to know Austen's work more deeply and to improve my writing ability.  I know painters improve their work by imitating other painters and I thought I would do something similar.  I've never had so much fun writing a novel.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

An Austenific Saturday

I was able to participate in one of my favourite activities today - a meeting of The Jane Austen Society of North America, Calgary Branch.  Today we heard from Dr. Diana Patterson about Josiah Wedgwood and from Michelle Agopsowicz about the theme of charity in Austen's works.

Having recently finished reading Jane Eyre, I considered the similarities between the story of Jane Eyre and the story of Mansfield Park.  Of course, I'm aware of the tensions going between Austen and the Brontes, but I love them all and so I will dare to post a few of the similarities I realized today:

Both Jane Eyre and Fanny Price were left as children to the care of rich relations.  Both women were very concerned with morality.  Both were courted by two very different men.  They each had the choice between a 'bad boy' of fortune and a minister of comparatively less fortune.  

An altogether inspiring day and now I have begun work on a youtube video of my book, Expectations: A Continuation of Pride and Prejudice.  What fun! 

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Addicted to the Internet

I can't seem to get off the internet lately.  I'll be playing with the kids or cleaning up the kitchen when I start to get the itch - Gotta check my facebook page, did he email me back? Has anyone else started following me on Twitter?  I'm an undercover ludite.  I resisted facebook for at least a year before I caved.  I didn't even have the internet in my house two years ago.  I guess I knew I was prone to this kind of addiction.  Can anybody relate?