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Remembrance

We remember. Both the men pictured here lived long after the war. But they served. We remember them, and all the others who have given their youth, their peace of mind, their health, their limbs or their mobility or their eyes, their all, and, all too often, their lives. Thank you to all who have gone before and to the men and women who serve still.

Blogging at SiWC.ca today

I’ve gathered up some of the links to blogs written by this year’s SiWC attendees about the conference and have posted them on the blog at the SiWC website today. Check them out! http://www.siwc.ca/blogs/kathychung/siwc-2012-review

Interrupting the crickets…

My good friend Tyner Gillies mentioned me in his blog post this afternoon. It didn’t occur to me until he posted it that agreeing to be mentioned meant he’d point you here, and you’d find the crickets chirping, filling in the silence.

As many of you know, my head gets entirely eaten every fall, specifically every September through about the first week of November by my role as coordinator of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. This year was no different.

So apologies for the silence. If you’re new here, I hope you’ll find something you like in the archives. I’ll be back soon!

Blog Visiting

This is the busiest time of my conference year other than the conference itself, so I’m afraid my ability to string sentences together is rather impaired at this point.

But when I’ve taken breaks, I have managed to read a little of what my favourite bloggers are posting, and some of it’s terrific. You should have a look.

If you’ve ever been or known a kid whose favourite stuffed animal never leaves his side, check out the video posted by my friend A Novel Woman on her blog. Also, more recently than that video, she has another posted that contains Hugh Jackman. Go look.

Over on the Knight Agency blog, agent Nephele tempest tackled the sameness she sees in manuscripts and how to use details to make your world different from what she and other agents see every single day. Great advice.

And I don’t remember how this one came my way, but it’s completely safe for work. Meet Nellie the Sea Otter:

More soon!

Birthday Reflections

It’s my birthday. Back-to-school and my birthday always fall within a week or so of each other, so inevitably it’s reflection time, goal-setting time, a chance to figure out where I’m on track and where I want to concentrate my efforts on this particular trip around the sun. There are lots of things I wanted to accomplish last year that I didn’t, but I tried, and I’ll keep pushing this year.

Me at ten months with my mum

But this afternoon, sitting with my favourite hot chocolate and letting my mind wander, I got thinking about some of the things that are really great about being this age. I’m 41, and while I’m not sure I like how quickly the years are going by (actually, I know I don’t), some parts of it are pretty damn good. Here are some of the ones that appeal to me the most:

– knowing who I am and what’s important to me
– knowing whom I love and who loves me
– having a great kid
– not being too upset anymore if someone doesn’t like me
– not being afraid to have or express strong opinions
– liking what I like and not caring what other people think
– not being afraid of so many of the things that scared me when I was younger
– not feeling the need to conform to anyone’s idea of what’s cool
– not suffering fools
– being able to pick up where we left off with old friends whenever the chance arises to talk with them, no matter how much time may have gone by
– knowing so many great people who make my life richer by being part of it

And, as I recently discovered in a conversation about mutual connections, playing “six degrees of separation” is WAY more fun at 41 than it was at 21.

I know I’m forgetting a lot of things that could be on that list, but that’s a good start. What are some of the things you like best about being the age you are?

People Who Make a Difference

We all have them: those souls who, going about their daily lives, doing the best they can, change ours. Some of you who know me well have heard about this one before, but today, I felt like telling the rest of you about him.

Me in grade 5

When I was a kid, the week before back-to-school meant riding our bikes over to the elementary school to check out the class lists taped up in one of the windows to see whose class we were going to be in.

On that fateful day right before the beginning of grade five, a look at the lists left me quaking. This man, the stern, strict, terrifying vice-principal of our school, was to be my teacher:
 

To say he didn’t suffer fools is probably an understatement. He had the kind of look, an old-school vice-principal look, that could quell misbehaviour without a single word, and we were all scared of him.

But what none of us knew until we started getting to know him in his class was that he was passionate about language. He pulled it apart and put it back together and taught us to do the same. And while we worked, he played classical records on a scratchy old record player, too. I loved it. Loved knowing how sentences worked, loved understanding the rules and how I could bend them to my will once I knew what they were. I was mostly alone, I think. Other kids grumbled and groused about grammar lessons, but I revelled in them. Thirty years after being in his class, I still have my grade 5 grammar notebooks tucked away somewhere.

That year changed me in ways I didn’t realize until much later. I became an English teacher, one who taught against the tide, closing my classroom door and, very unfashionably at the time, teaching my students the language to talk about this language of ours. I like to hope there are at least a couple of people out there who write better emails, at least, because I taught them how sentences work.

When I moved on from teaching and became a writer, what he’d given me became even clearer. I play with language because I love it and because I can, and I can, at least in part, because all the stuff I’d picked up from being a bookworm made even more sense after he showed me why it was the way it was.

For ages, I’ve been meaning to tell him. He’s getting old, and I didn’t want to leave it too late. When I missed last year’s reunion, I thought I’d talk to him at the retirement of a mutual friend this past June. He missed it for health reasons. Suddenly not leaving it too late became a bit more urgent. But I was a chicken. So much easier to run into him somewhere and seize the moment than create one out of nothing.

But today, I was thinking about Judy Blume. (howzat for a non-sequitur?). She’s been a theme in my world this week, popping up at least four different times unexpectedly. And that got me thinking about the first time Amanda Palmer made me cry, at her show in Vancouver last year when she sang this:

And I decided that if she could sit on stage and tell Judy and all of us, too, I could call Mr. Rawlins. So I did. This morning. When my books find a publisher, he’ll be there in the acknowledgements. I hope he’ll be around to see that, but I don’t know if he will be, so I told him today. I don’t know what he thought, but I’m glad I made the call.

First Day of School Blues

It’s the first day of school here in BC, and my girl is off to her first hour as a grade seven, king of the heap here, where grade 7 is the last year of elementary school. She’s torn about back-to-school. Excited to see her friends and to be back, but sorry to see summer end and to have to get up to an alarm again, something of which neither of us is fond.

While the easier work scheduling for me during the school year has its appeal, I am SO not ready for the summer to be over. Yes, I struggle to fit in as much work as I need to during the summer holidays, for sure. But I loved this summer. Loved going to sleep and getting up on my body’s schedule rather than an externally-imposed one. Loved balancing work with sitting on patios, having fun outings with my family, spending time with our best friends, and taking mini trips around our own area. Loved lazy afternoons reading and busy ones exploring.  We played tourists in our own town and relaxed on a Gulf Island and did all sorts of other things, too.

Summer was late in arriving after an almost non-existent spring here, and I’d happily take another month of setting our own agenda, exploring our world, and not worrying about having to be anywhere  or have our family time interrupted by homework or school-night bedtime.

Here are a few glimpses of what our summer looked like. One or two of these are from my terrible camera phone, so please excuse the quality.


How was your summer?

Chacun son goût

My next door neighbours are a couple in their eighties. They’re the best possible sort of neighbours to have in lots of ways. They’re quiet, friendly, warm, and exactly the sort whose home we happily watch when they’re away and who do the same for us. They’re also interesting people. They’re into everything from helping refugees to getting lots of exercise to writing poetry and self-publishing it for their families. They’re computer savvy and independent, and over the years, we’ve talked lots about books, because they’re avid readers.

Until now, we’d only mentioned titles and authors to each other, but after a recent visit, I offered to lend her a couple of books I thought she might enjoy. I picked two: one I liked with a subject I thought would appeal to her, and one that ranks as one of my own favourite reads this year. I didn’t tell her anything about the books when I dropped them off.

This morning, she brought them back. The first she liked well enough. She found the topic interesting, as I thought she would, and the writing solid.

The second, a book I loved, she didn’t like at all. With an eye to making future suggestions she’d enjoy more, I asked her what she didn’t like about it, and she said she didn’t like the writing, that it got a bit better as she went along, but she just didn’t like it and didn’t really know why. She doesn’t mind reading outside her usual areas, she said, but likes good writing, first and foremost. (The implication, I suppose, was that this book wasn’t it.) Then she asked me what I thought of it.

This book had me hooked from the beginning, and I think it’s beautifully written. She was very surprised when I told her it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year, and that I like the writing style, the characters, all of it.

It was a very good reminder that reading is utterly subjective. One person’s favourite read is another’s wasted reading time. The variety of books available at any bookstore should be reminder enough of that, but it’s easy to forget, especially when you’re looking for someone to love your baby enough to publish it or if you get a poor review.

So next time your work gets slammed in a review or you get one of those “not right for me” rejections, remember that that one was my neighbour, but the next one may be me, hand-selling your book to everyone I can talk into buying it because I loved it so much.

I don’t know about you, but iTunes has certainly changed the way I listen to music at home. In the car, I’m usually a radio girl, so things are much as they’ve always been during drive time, but at home, listening to my own collection, shuffle has become my default setting. It’s different: I never know what’s coming next and the variety makes things interesting. And besides, in many cases I have only one or two songs by an artist, the ones I downloaded because I particularly like them, something I used to dream of being able to do when there was only one song I wanted on a $16 CD and my choices were buy it or don’t.

But even with mostly positive change comes loss. Just as we’ve lost something of the joy of photography in not having to develop all the pictures on a roll of film to see the entirety of what we found worthy of our limited exposures, seeing the whole rather than the carefully-selected parts, I’d lost touch with the pleasure of listening to whole albums at once.

The other day, I drove to a friend’s house on a winding mountain highway. Along the way, my usual radio stations still came in, but with lots of static. Anyone who’s ever driven anywhere beyond the range of a radio station with me knows I Can’t Stand That. It bothers me beyond any reasonable reaction. It’s been ages since I drove alone into a static zone (ie with no one in the passenger seat to take charge of searching for good reception while I concentrated on the road), so I reached over and hit the CD button on the stereo. The only time I ever use the CD player in the car is on a road trip. I knew there were long-ago-inserted disks in the CD changer in my ten-year-old car, but had no idea what I’d be listening to.

What came on was an old Mary Chapin Carpenter album, Come On Come On. It’s the only CD of hers I ever owned. It was one of those random purchases years ago, because something about it appealed to me. Between the drive up to my friend’s house and back home again that day, I listened to it from start to finish, leaving it on even when I could easily have switched back to my default radio in the city.

I was struck by how much more I enjoyed the whole than the individual songs that pop up from time-to-time on my iTunes shuffle. I’d forgotten the work that artists put into choosing the order of songs, the mood, the overall feel of their albums. I’m glad Mary reminded me.

What are some of the albums you loved that you haven’t listened to from beginning to end in too long?

Memorable Reads

Read anything good lately? I’ve been making a bit of a dent in my TBR pile. That’s not to say I haven’t added more to the pile as quickly as (*cough* more quickly than) I’ve taken some out, but still…

The past few months of reading have brought a mix from meh to marvellous. Nothing I didn’t care to finish, which is a nice bonus, and a couple of excellent ones with characters and stories that have stayed with me, clear in my memory, long after putting them down. That’s rare, and I appreciate it. Here are a few, chosen for being memorable enough that they came easily to mind when I was sitting on my patio thinking about what I’d read recently:

 

The Self-Preservation Society by Kate Harrison
This is the second of Kate’s books I’ve read. In the first, Brown Owl’s Guide to Life, she impressed me with her handling of multiple points of view and a flashback timeline, too. This one has a simpler structure, but is also well written. It’s a little bit silly and a I’ve no idea how well she handled the medical subject matter, not knowing anything about brain injuries, but as a summer read, it was fun and I appreciated that the main character resisted changing. Don’t we all?

 

 

 

 

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

Regular readers of my blog may remember the kudos I gave Susanna for her The Winter Sea. I loved this one, too. Within a few pages she had me absolutely hooked, and had my writer wheels turning trying to figure out how she’d done it. Once you’ve read it – not before – you should check out the lovely video Susanna has on her blog, sent to her by an Australian woman who reads Mariana over and over and over again.

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes

I’d been eyeing this one for awhile, and finally bought it a couple of weeks ago. I had a feeling it would be something special, and it is. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. Jojo Moyes does a beautiful job with both the parts set in the early 1960s and the present day.

 

 

 

 

Not unusual for my recent favourites to be British women’s fiction. (Yes, Susanna is Canadian, but her publisher, Allison and Busby, is in London.) I tend to love books that would fit handily in the soon-to-be-nonexistent “strong romantic elements” category of the RWA Rita awards, and many of the books I love best have been nominated for the British version, the Romantic Novel of the Year award from the Romantic Novelists Association.

What’re your favourite recent reads?