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Thursday, 26 July 2012

Green Giant and Wonder Woman

When I was a kid, my Mom never hesitated to open a couple cans of Green Giant to go with our dinner, usually green beans, and if we had been very good, creamed corn.  ‘It’s why God invented cans,’ she would say.  Today, we’re made to feel guilty if the food we serve our children isn’t organic, seasonal, local, Free Trade and free range.

I was thinking this week about how in some ways my mother’s generation was more liberated than my own.  They bought into the liberation of technology, the ease and freedom of food in a box.  Of course, I didn’t know the conversations between women back then, but I do know what they are now, and when I share them with my Mom, she just doesn’t get it.  ‘Just open a couple cans for dinner tonight and forget about it,’ she’d say to my stress about getting a proper meal on the table, one that includes fresh veggies and food group diversity. 

This post isn’t about my Mom’s affinity for those cans of green beans and corn, though.  It’s actually about Wonder Woman, the television show I’d be watching when I could smell that creamed corn simmering on the stove for dinner. Wonder Woman was not afraid to kick some serious butt while wearing lipstick, hot pants and bulletproof bracelets.  She wasn’t apologetic about the duality of her nature.  She was a mother figure, a protector, extremely proficient at hand-to-hand combat, and also an advocate for love and peace.  I want my daughters to love Wonder Woman as much as I did.  They’ve got Dora the Explorer, she’s cute and feisty, but let’s face it, she’s also kind of annoying, and I’ve never seen her in hand-to-hand combat.

This week I’m looking for books (Middle Grade, Young Adult and Adult) with strong and feisty female main characters who embrace their dual natures.  I’d like to highlight books that are promoting girls and women who are strong, fierce, and independent.  Send in your favorites and we’ll post them next week, along with questions to ask the author of the number one suggested book.  

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Interview with Kathryn Burak, author of Emily's Dress and Other Missing Things

We are so lucky to have Kathryn 'Kate' Burak, author of Emily's Dress and Other Missing Things, with us to answer a few questions about mothering and writing.  Her Young Adult novel is set to come out this fall.  She has also been gracious enough to share her essay about her journey as a writer.

Tell us about your book.

Emily's Dress and Other Missing Things is  a contemporary, realistic book with a mystery and a good dose of romance.  In my story, the main character, Claire, goes looking for help in understanding her mother's suicide in the poems of Emily Dickinson--and at Dickinson's house, in Amherst, Massachusetts.  Why not?  Dickinson certainly wrote about death often enough.  But then Claire accidentally steals Emily Dickinson's dress, and can't stop thinking about how her best friend just sort of disappeared off the face of the planet.  Somehow these two elements merge into the story that comes attached to Claire's teaching assistant, Tate, who has been reading all her writing and knows more about her than she wants him to.  (At first.)

What's next for you?

With the last three years behind me, I find it no easier to balance being a mom and being a writer.  There are only 24 hours in a day and there's always guilt--I could wake up three hours earlier, cook more, clean (sometimes!).  But what is easier for me is embracing my identity as a writer.  I say, "My part-time job is writing, and so I must write." I also teach full time, and if I have to grade papers or prepare for class, I do that.  Nowadays, I don't feel as guilty about my "other" job as a writer.  I know publishing makes me feel a little more "legit," but aspiring mom/writers shouldn't let not publishing yet get in their way.  Writing is your "other" job. 

Thanks, Kathryn!  I hope you enjoy Kathryn's below essay as much as I did.  We all need to hear these stories as mother-writers!

Mom Writes First Novel by Kathryn Burak

Early that summer, it hit me: I woke up one morning in a bed filled with regrets, with the awful feeling that I might not ever do the things I wanted to do in my life. It was a combination of fear and something else. . .I wasn't sure what. It made me want to sleep.

So I did. I slept for fourteen hours one day. And twelve the next. This went on for about a week. And then I started to feel something else, something more definable and more definite than fatigue.
It was adrenaline.  The next week, I bought a laptop and started to write a novel.

For weeks I got up at 4 am and wrote for 8-10 hours a day, taking half-hour breaks to do the work I was supposed to do that summer, Cleaning The Basement.  Somewhere in the middle of July, I found this box in the basement that made me actually feel ill. It was my old writing--dot-matrix printed pages (that's how old it was) of stories. One box had a copy of a novel I started when I was pregnant with Yoshi--seventeen years before. The manuscript was covered with yellow post-it notes, comments on the draft made by a literary agent who had read my short stories and liked them and had tried to coax a novel out of me. I remembered the story and the notes, but I didn't remember the letter I got from her two years after I sent her the draft.

May 19, 1994
Dear Kate Burak,
I was going through my follow up folder and I realized I had never heard back from you and it occurred to me that you might not have received my message. So this is just to say that I very much enjoyed your stories and your novel and would welcome the opportunity to either read more or hear from you.

I sat down, clutching that letter. The basement was wet and warm and mildewy. I felt sick to my stomach about this letter I never answered. All I could think of was how easy it was, when I was younger, to let things drift away.

At that moment, regret seemed insufficient. The word I needed was deeper, with more of a bellow to it, something that was connected to the notion of gone and lost forever. Something closer to grief.

I took the box upstairs.

My kids were out of camp that week, lying around in those summer, late-afternoon stupors. I showed them my treasure box, and read a little from the novel-in-progress that I worked on while I was waiting to become a mother.

I suppose it's always this way when your mother tells you about how she spent her time before you came to live at the center of her life: it's the story of a stranger--improbable as a world without stars.

You gave all this up for us?  They were sad for me, and at that moment I was sad for me too, but it was also important to tell them this--because of all the things I could say to children about the time they spend on earth, this is the most important--If you are lucky, you get to make choices.

I was lucky.  I chose to make Halloween costumes, and birthday cakes that looked like Pirate ships. I chose to direct school plays and teach poetry workshops. I started a film club and we made great films. I was part of a wonderful group of people who sold pizza for a year and earned enough money to build a labyrinth at my kids' school. I had the pleasure of knowing all their classmates, and sharing with those kids my love of words, and most of all, watching all of them grow up together. It was a great pleasure. It was an enormous pleasure.

I think I chose well. And most significantly, I had the opportunity to choose. And nothing about that is sad.  But it was also important to tell them every choice is a trade. Something for something else.

And that morning earlier that summer when I woke up in bed with all my regrets I was thinking about that, too--of the conscious decisions you make and how they tally up, how they are the sum of your days.

The next day I got up at 4 and wrote for 8 hours. I was, in fact, having the time of my life.  At the end of this summer, I had a book, one I liked. Maybe I could publish this book--who knows? I pulled out the letter from 1994 and googled the agent's name. I assumed she'd gotten really successful since she had her own agency, now. I wrote her an email that started, "Many years ago. . . " And I sent her my novel.

The grief I felt that day in July really did start to shrink. In fact, it was nearly gone. It didn't matter that she would probably never respond to my email, that she might even think I was some kind of loser.

But, there's a little magic to the story. I contacted other agents who offered to represent me, and when I was about to take an offer, I heard from the agent from the past. She was, maybe, interested. How was that possible?

On October 8, 2009, I was digging in my sock drawer for something to wear, and I came up with a little muslin doll I made for Yoshi when she was born. It is a little replica of Emily Dickinson. I embroidered very large eyes and a small Gioconda smile.

Finding this doll was very meaningful since Emily Dickinson is in my new novel and I had been spending many days with her in my head and sometimes out of my head, in the room with me, and the two of us in the woods with a black bear. Elbow deep in socks, holding this little hand-made Emily Dickinson, I had an epiphany.

You can't give up something you truly are. It doesn't just go away.

In some part of my consciousness, I had not ever really set everything adrift. For years the rice was cooking--in a very dormant way--but still, slowly cooking.  And later that very day, fifteen years after she sent me a letter I did not answer, the agent from my past agreed to be my literary agent. After all.

So here's my six word memoir, dated October 8, 2009.

Letter--after fifteen years--finally answered.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

We've been on hiatus since my 17-month old broke my logic board by pushing my laptop off the table. We're back with a post from Val and more interviews with mother freakin' writers coming up this month!

Routine and Productivity by Val Innes

With the school holidays well and truly underway and my mind still relatively intact my mum offered to run the legs off my kids to give me a break. I stuffed some pencils and a notepad in my bag before I ran for hills in case she changed her mind. I ducked into the nearest coffee shop and started to write… of sorts. I made a list. Do you class list-making as “writing”? The list I made was of how much writing progress I had made since last summer. I compared it to the year before (summer 2010-11 for those writers who don’t “do” figures) and what quickly transpired was the ebb and flow of my “creative” periods. In particular, how each year mirrored the last. A natural writing timetable, if you will. However, what my 12 month (and 24) review showed me was that I had, indeed, made headway. Not enough, of course. I wonder - can we ever be satisfied about how much we write? You plug away to get published – in my case features and articles – and when it happens you are exhilarated. But then you just have start scaling the heights again for your next piece. But forging relationships with editors and building a contacts list really has taken shape over the past twelve months. Why, my clippings file is too thick to balance my red wine glass on now! Nb. I generally write once the kids are in bed. What I find most beneficial is understanding how my “writing” clock works and the realisation that the summer holidays are never my most creative. However, it seems that a summer of not actually writing much allows ideas to form because I consistently see a rise in features sold each Jan until May. That tells me that I cocoon and nurture my ideas and then research and sell through the dark, months of winter; moulding and preening them until they are ready to hatch with the coming of the New Year. My writing mirrors a Phoenix by slowly burning and disintegrating during the hot (excuse my wishful thinking) summer months only to rise again from the ashes of the previous year in full colour and bursting with life. Fantastic. I can now relax in the garden with no guilt about lack of writing. But with our weather? Perhaps not!