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