CANSCAIP PYI coming up

Next week I'm going to a CANSCAIP conference in Toronto called Packaging Your Imagination or PYI (fyi).  It will include workshops with Kit Pearson, Lynne Missen, and Karen Boersma. The keynote speaker is Marie-Louise Gay.

I hummed and hawed a long time before deciding to spend the money on this. But then I reasoned - how often have I heard others say that making connections with real people is so useful for their career.  Maybe I'll really be able to make a writing career happen this late in my life.  Shoot, I only have one book contract, but I'd like to get another. So I have to keep investing in this dream, eh? Yes. Who needs a new sofa? (That's what I would have spent the money on and my old sofa is only twenty-something.)

I'm really looking forward to seeing and hearing Kit Pearson. My daughters and I have loved all her books.  I'm especially interested in how she ages her characters in her historical trilogy. Listening to a HarperCollins editor can only be enlightening; and, I need to know more about book marketing. 

Plus, I'm on a planning committee for the 2009 Prairie Horizons conference, which is a wing of CANSCAIP. So this will be good research for that.

Okay, I'm convinced. No more guilt. I totally deserve to go to CANSCAIP's Toronto event. 

Feeling Good!

I've finished my copy edits - I feel free, I feel strong, I feel like I can do anything. Of course, feelings are like the weather, good today and totally different the next. The trick is not to count on feelings or on weather. The trick is to be ready for anything. So ... I am (fingers crossed). I have mittens, boots, and various layers of fleece. And I have books to read,* friends to meet, and my next WIP to polish. 
Here's a toast to feelings: may the days they're UP be many, and the days they're DOWN be few!  That's why my closet is so stuffed- I have to be ready for all kinds of weather.

More positive notes: my mom's heading home tomorrow after a six week hospital stay. My son is safely back from a six day road trip and I'm off work for another glorious five days. Yes!

*Note to self: order Ellen Booraen's The Unnameables and Stacy Nyikos' s Dragon Wishes, asap.

Massey Lecture with Margaret Atwood

Last night I got to listen to one of our country's literary icons, Margaret Atwood. It was a Massey Lecture and the topic was debt - not a financial how-to, but a literary how-it-was. Dicken's Scrooge was a central character in her discussion of how the 19th century was full of money talk.  Massey Lectures are recorded for CBC radio's program called Ideas. Past lecturers have included Martin Luther King, Doris Lessing and Stephen Lewis.

I'll admit I haven't enjoyed all of Atwood's works. But The Robber Bride (1993),  Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin (2000) are up there with my favorites. I also really enjoyed reading Rosemary Sullivan's biography of Atwood called The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood Starting Out (1998). Atwood became a writer through determination and lots and lots of hard work. 

I just glanced though my copy of The Red Shoes and noticed I'd underlined this statement by Sullivan in the introduction, "...I am fascinated by the mystery of artistic confidence. Where does the strength come from to believe in yourself as a writer?"  In the afterword, Sullivan writes, "Writing was a matter of discipline: of emptying the mind of everything and letting it fill with whatever fiction, poetry, or prose she was working on."  She hired a babysitter when the kids were young.  Her three priorities were family, writing and the environment. 

I'm skimming through this book, even as I write this blog and now I notice another statement by Atwood that I'd underlined.  "A family and writing is OK, even a job and writing is OK. But a job, a family, and writing is not on. Only two of the three is manageable."

Okay, so I must struggle with the three. At least my kids are growing up (ie. I'm getting old) and my job is basically a daily four hour walk - involving my body and not my mind.  I've loved being a parent, and I'm almost sad to see these years end, ... note the word almost. They'll always be my kids - even when they've moved on. (They will move on, right?)

So, yes, I got to see and hear Margaret Atwood last night. She's a pretty amazing woman. And she did it all through WORDS. So it's just a matter of arranging them in the right order ...

Someone I Admire

It's hard to pick just one person whom I admire. I could pick my mom (a true survivor) or Don Miller who's done so much for the poor in Ukraine, or some of my co-workers who choose not to get petty about ... stuff.  I could even mention my oldest daughter whose organizational skills I truly admire, or my other daughter's soccer coach who is so passionate about his chosen sport. 

But because this is a writing blog and I'm about to become a novelist (I hope I didn't just dream the whole thing) I'd like to post about somebody in the writing field who has been full of kindness and generosity and whom I greatly admire because she's also so successful. This person has published about a dozen books, has received among other awards, the Order of the Princess Olha from the President Yuschenko of Ukraine this past spring, and yet she still has time to hobnob with us ordinary folks who are just plodding along. This person makes me not only want to be a writer, she makes me want to be the kind of writer who champions causes and mentors along the way. 

 I attended one of her book launches last year and when I got her to sign my copy of Prisoners in the Promised Land, I mumbled that I was getting a book published on a related topic, and she showed sincere interest. She even phoned me long distance from Toronto, a week later and continued sharing with me her abundant knowledge. I was invited to join a listserve that she formed called 'storyfriends' and I'm continuing to learn so much by hanging out with these fellow writers.

So I'd like to share Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with other bloggers. She's a real treasure. I feel honored to have met her and look forward to reading all of her books. The latest one is Daughter of War, and in November she's releasing Call Me Aram.

I don't know how she does it - plus she continues to be so approachable. Thanks, Marsha.

And thank you, Barrie, for letting me share. I'm adding you to my list of people to be admired.

More on Zhitomir

Follow this link for some more spellings (it's spelled with a j - jitomir) and some great historical photos.  I'm reading a book by Wendy Lower right now. It centers on Zhitomir during the Nazi occupation and is called Nazi Empire-Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine. The Jewish community was almost totally destroyed there in the late summer and fall of 1941. 

It's hard to imagine so much death in one place. After going through Stalin's Great Terror in the thirties, (which took my grandfather in 1937), the Nazis descended to do their killings. There's a good chance my dad passed through the place, too. No wonder I felt ghosts brushing my shoulder every time I turned a corner in that bloody place.

My dad - a German born on the North Sea, close to Hamburg - spent several years as a Military Police for the Nazis on the Eastern Front - or the Wild East - as Hitler liked to call it. My dad had joined the German Air Force back in 1936. He was eighteen. His ex-wife told me the uniform was a real babe-magnet.  He crashed over Prague in 1941 and then after a year in hospital he was sent to Ukraine.  But he only talked about the air force years, never about the Eastern Front years or about the five years in a Soviet POW camp.

This time of year is full of ghosts. And I feel overwhelmed by the cruelty of life.  But it's Thanksgiving and I'm grateful for the peace in which my family lives.

Painted Nails, etc.

It's a rainy Thanksgiving weekend - perfect for indoor stuff like cleaning (blah), cooking (blah), and eating (yeah!). It's also great for writing - or in my case - the cleaning of writing, more commonly known as editing. I've had to change editors and, the truth is, I've found this to be quite the draining process. But, I shall survive! And so shall my book - because I so totally believe in the story.

I was visiting my mom in the hospital this week and she is, for the first time in her life - at age 89 - wearing nail polish. I can't stop chuckling about it. There's another old woman in the hospital who was admitted around the same time as my mom. I talked to her husband for almost an hour. The couple has a similar background to my mom and they speak German. I'll call the woman Lilly to protect her privacy.

Lilly dresses in flowers. Her pants might not match her top, but both will be a bright, bold floral pattern. Lilly has lost her mind. It's a totally scary thing seeing this slim, always in motion, flower garden struggling to find herself. She has moments of memory and her body seems to know more than her mind.

For example, she walked into the lounge area where I sat with my mom (who's losing her body, and not yet her mind) and Lilly first made sure the chairs were standing in order, then she got on her knees and starting cleaning the floor with the tissue in her hand. When she was done her housework, Lilly joined us.

I asked her how old she was. She said fifty-one. (Lilly must be in her eighties.) My mom started to argue with her. I gently moved on to another topic. A nurse walked by and gave me a grateful smile.

There are stories here. All I have to do is listen.


I'm currently working on edits (again!) for my book. One thing I'm wondering about right now is the spelling of the city of Zhitomir.

Here's what I learned. Zhitomir is the Russian and/or Yiddish spelling. Shitomir is the German spelling and Zytomierz is the Polish spelling. Zhytomyr is the current Ukrainian spelling. Poor city, it's been through a lot.

I suppose, I should perhaps keep the spelling consistent with the time period of the novel, which means I'll spell it the Russian way. It might not be the politically correct thing to do now that it's a vibrant Ukrainian city once again, but it'll be historically accurate.

Even here in Canada there's issues with the names of places. Several northern communities were once named after European explorers. I'm thinking of Frobisher Bay which was renamed Iqualuit in 1987.

The photo here is of 2004 Zhytomyr. It's a beautiful place. (Those are chestnut tree blossoms.) I'll have to share some more about it later.

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