bad news, bad timing

in keeping with the general trend of my life - the wonderful independent bookseller, mcnally robinson, (canada's largest indie) has filed for bankruptcy protection. see more detailed story here (for the Toronto story) and here (for the local Winnipeg version).

this is bad news for me because i'll probably never see any of the money they owe me. my debut novel was launched there and was even on their pre-Christmas bestseller list for 2 weeks. as an unsecured creditor i'll be at the very bottom of their debt list. nobody ever goes into writing to make money - but i sure lost money now.


It appears that someone (inadvertently) slipped a name into the historical note appendage that shouldn't be there. The boy of the story who dies too young as a soldier is Olga's little brother, Albert, and not Sasha. Albert is the boy in the photograph on the back cover of The Kulak's Daughter. He was a real person. Sasha is an imaginary boy. I hope this clears up any confusion.

merry christmas/frohe weihnachten

recipe for a merry christmas/frohe weihnachten

evergreen tree
liberal sprinkles of red and green
colorfully wrapped secret packages
plates of sugar cookies
mandarin oranges
photogenic golden lab (optional)
fluffy black cat (also optional)
children (or reasonable fascimile)
sentimental xmas music
generous spoonfuls of love, tolerance, and hope

mix together.
put into a home.
tastes best if shared liberally.

time for reading

it's the second week the kulak's daughter gets to be noticed on the local bestseller list. slipped to 3rd place, though, thanks to neil gaiman's trip through the city. that's okay, i'm thrilled just to have it noticed at all. (this can't & won't last, though - first, because of supply issues, and secondly, because it's historical fiction and kind of depressing).

i've read some amazingly good books lately (see my reading list) which both humble me and make me again realize the power of books. i've been forced into a more couch-centered lifestyle while my wrist mends. we're such a busy world - reading books can seem so unimportant, so disconnected from life. why can't we give books and reading more time, more power, more prestige? while i don't wish anyone a broken bone, i wish all of you time to indulge in good books!

what a week

the last 2 weeks have been kind of surreal. no write/right hand, my first-ever novel arrives, i have a most wonderful launch event, go in for wrist surgery, and now as i wean myself off the painkillers, i discover that i'm on this week's McNally Robinson/Winnipeg Free Press bestseller list (for kids' books). so what if it's -45 with the windchill tonight? i am pumped!

oh, and i know it's only for this one week - but, i shall enjoy. not only that but i've rediscovered how wonderful friends can be.

i don't quite believe this

my downfall came on dec.1st with the first light flakes of the season. i'm a letter carrier, but there'll be no december rush or january deep chill for me this year. the cruel irony is - with a broken right wrist - i'm unable to hold a pen and i have my long anticipated book launch & signing next week. i'll be going from a tuesday night launch, to a wednesday morning surgery. hmm ... must be creative and find some way to sign books.

i'll have to be creative with a few other things, too ... like buttering toast & wrapping gifts

meanwhile, i'm eagerly anticipating a special delivery ... my book!

Ursula Mahlendorf

Almost finished reading The Shame of Survival - Working Through a Nazi Childhood by Ursula Mahlendorf. It's a 2009 release. I chose it as background reading for my WIP. This book is fascinating: a first-person female youth's perspective. There are so many levels to this book. There's the obvious political, then the family dynamics, the war, and the growth of self. It explains so much - not by telling, but by showing. All those severe German attitudes I grew up with - and still encounter - are there in the characters of her book, and, of course, the great universal spasm between adults and young people.

It's also fascinating to see her love of literature develop - reminds me of The Book Thief - one of my all time favorite novels. She puts samples of German poetry in the book - poems I remember reading as a student when I had to go to Saturday morning German School.

I'm close to the end now, and it's growing ever more compelling.

Math Truth

What is truth?

This question haunts me a bit because on my book cover it'll say "based on a true story." What does that mean? I wonder myself. I wanted the truth to be in the historical events surrounding my character. I wanted my character to be true to the personal trauma my mother experienced - loss of home, of parents, of her dog. I wanted my character to be true to the vanities, insecurities and interests of an eleven-year-old girl (here, I'd say I relied more on my own girls & my childhood - but the imaginary girl of the book has definite character traits of my 90-year-old mother who retains a lot of that eleven-year-old fighting spirit).

The beauty and strength of fiction is that - like a math equation - you can work everything out. If it doesn't balance - if the events and the character do not come to terms with each other in some way - then the story fails. Of course, an author manipulates the plot and the character development. After all, in our finite world of the book, we are the creators. We get to choose which characters stay or go. But it's the readers who judge 'the truth' of that world. And like in math, we have 'theorems' to go along with the equations. Each piece of fiction has a 'theorem' - and that is what the author sets out to prove.

Truth? Can it be simple math? Let's see.
If a + b = c then c -b = a
If girl (a) plus dog (b) equals home (c) , then home (c) minus dog(b) equals girl (a)

But this is where math fails. Yes, we have girl - but we have a changed girl. How do you show that truth? Man, back to the books. Math and me will never get along.


I've been trying to keep myself distracted while awaiting my first book release - pub. date is Nov. 24. I've been revising a wip and have also started something completely new. But reading good books has been my best distraction at the moment. Marissa Doyle's Bewitching Season has been sitting on my bedside pile for over a year now, and I've finally read it. Wow! I so enjoyed it and must read the next in the series, Betraying Season. I see she has a third coming out called, The Waterloo Plot. Historical fiction with romance and humour. Great combination. Marissa was co-chair of the Class of 2k8 and she was a kind, level-headed and grounded leader. So good to see how her writing career has taken off.

I've also just finished reading Betsy Lerner's The Forest for the Trees. It was the right book at the right time and has got me prepared for life after publication. Listen to this quote from chapter 12: "Most books come into this world with the fanfare of a stillborn." (James Purdy). Oh. That's encouraging. Then Lerner goes on to say, "Publishing a book can be a cruel joke on the uninitiated." Well, that's me - the uninitiated. Okay, so I'm psyching myself up for postpartum depression and the cruel joke. You know, if a tree falls in the forest and there's nobody there, does it make a sound. Well, if you get a book published, and nobody reads it, does the book really exist?

My c0-BTP author, Bev Patt's, debut novel Haven, has just been born, and I wish Haven and its creator nothing but a wonderful life. Can't wait for my copy in the mail.

Let me quote from Lerner one more time: "This quixotic belief in oneself is critical for a writer's continued existence..." I hear music from Journey crowding my brain.


Check out the latest Class of 2k9 post. It's a 'marketing gift' to the class of 2k10. (And since it's on the internet, it's a gift to us all.) Great advice in there, too! Dare I sum it up? Get involved in group marketing, be bold, but be yourself. There's no right way to do this. Just believe and always keep writing.

I had to drop out of the Class of 2k8 (after spending a whole year in it). That was a sad shocker. Then I made the difficult decision of dropping out of the Class of 2k9. I still watched the class from afar - like a student who drops out of school - I'd sometimes stand on the opposite curb and watch the buzz (or is that 'hear' the buzzer?). Do I regret dropping out? Sometimes. But my reasons were reasonable and at the time it was the right decision. I learned so much just hanging out in 2k8 for over a year, and I strongly recommend group marketing for newcomers.

Publishing is a huge, confusing world. But that big publishing world seems a wee bit cozier when I recognize former classmates' books on Winnipeg bookstore shelves. Thanks fellow Blooming Tree author, Greg Fishbone!

Halloween Setting

It's a great time of year - the in between time - and the weather outside is totally perfect for wandering imaginations. To set the mood, one must listen to Hawksley Workman's song, Autumn's Here. Then add: grey sky, some fog, and a wind whipping dead leaves around. I love it!

Here's a link to a tour of Winnipeg's haunted spots. Yes, we have our ghosts here. Do I believe in ghosts? I've met a few, so I guess that makes me a believer. I brushed shoulders with my grandfather in Zhitomir while I was there. Okay, it might have been the wind, I admit, bumping into me while I turned that corner to the archives building. Wind is just one of nature's most amazing things - it's invisible, yet so powerful. Without wind, everything would stay the same.

Have yourself an imaginative Halloween!

Moving on...

Finished off my copy-edits yesterday (hurrah!!) and played the bit part of a harried/hurried mom in my daughter's college film project. Plus the day job. So today I can do the off-stage harried mom bit - laundry, scrounge for food, walk the ignored canine, pet the ignored other pet (poor kitty) and scream at all the clutter that grows in bathrooms and hallways. Why do girls have to try on three or four different outfits before they leave the house?

As to my movie debut? Umm, I think I'll stick to writing and reading.

Yaya, Siberia

My mother and her siblings, along with my grandmother, were exiled to a place called Yaya in Siberia. It's a bit southeast of Tomsk and off the beaten track. Thanks to google, I've more interesting information about this journey. It's about 3000 kilometers from Moscow to Yaya. Gas costing $1.29 a liter (or $4.89 a gallon) means a round trip would cost about $750.00 dollars - and we definitely would want to make this a round trip. But in 1930 they would have left from Zhytomyr, which adds another thousand kilometers to the trip. So a round trip from Zhytomyr ... would cost about $1000.00 dollars in gas money. Still probably cheaper than the train. Wouldn't that be a cross-country adventure?

Of course, back in 1930, the trip into exile was courtesy of the government. A slow, unheated freight train ride to the middle of nowhere at the beginning of winter. Plus, it was a one-way trip for my grandmother.

My grandmother was hoping that they'd be dumped in Irkursk on Lake Baikal because that was where other family members had been sent. It would have added another thousand kilometers. Yaya, was only supposed to be a transition camp - a place to spend the winter. Irkursk seems less desolate than Yaya. Today, it's quite the tourist destination - because of it's proximity to Lake Baikal, no doubt. So if I went, that would a good place in which to headquarter.



Do other authors go through this? I'm totally de-flated, dis-couraged, and de-layed.

New release date: November 24.

Sharing computers

Someday when I'm rich and famous (or old and lonely) I'm going to have my very own laptop and I'm not going to share. Does anyone else have these issues? Back in the old days I could write whenever the 'muse' hit me. Now, I write when my favorite teenager is working, still sleeping, or at school.

I guess I could exercise the muse with the old pen and notebook. Some tools will never go out of style.

Stalin-era research seen as a threat in Russia

If you click the above you'll see why something as innocent (but truthful) as my children's novel might not have a chance in the very country it's set in. The FSB (ex-KGB, ex-OGPU) in action.

Back to work to tomorrow and my internet time will dwindle. This could be a good thing. Computers suck time like ... like vacuums suck dirt. Or... better analogy anyone?

Names of people changed, too!

Today when I was checking on addresses (that I'd come across when I'd perused the former communist archives in Zhitomir), I realized that names, too, had changed over in the old country. In the archives I'd found several letters. In one, my mother's Aunt Olga wrote to the officials back in 1958 (after Krushev's de-Stalinization) asking for information about her missing husband - my grandfather's brother, Gustav. Her last name had morphed from Ristau to Ristovaya.

So as much as I'd love to send my upcoming book to extended family, I realize I don't know names, places, or the alphabet and language. But having gotten this far, I still hope that somehow I'll make a connection.

I got side-tracked and checked out some travel costs for visiting the wilds of Siberia. Wow. Very expensive. I was lucky just to get to Ukraine.

More Name Changes.

Before I forget, I wanted to mention that not just places got their names changed in the old USSR. The secret police, who managed to creep into everyone's life, also had name changes. In my book - which happens between 1929 and 1931 - they're called the OGPU. By 1934, they morphed into the NKVD. (And before being called the OGPU - they were just the GPU.)

The NKVD became the NKGB in 1941, the MGB in 1946, and then divided into 2 groups in 1954. The KGB was in charge of espionage, while the MVD was the secret police.

Oh, and today Russia's secret police are called the FSB.

So many initials. Boggles the mind. But when that knock came on the door, and the vehicle was waiting, it all boiled down to the same loss of freedom and of human rights ... interrogation and either death or the GULAG. (Those initials stood for: Glavnoe upravlenie lagerei - Main Camp Administration).

New launch date

Must mention that my book release date has changed. It's now November 9 - 2009 (At least it's still coming out this year.) So I've changed my launch date from November 18th to December 8th. Still at McNally Robinson Bookstore - Grant Park location. My biggest fear is that nobody will come - so if you're in the area - please visit. Fingers crossed that there'll be no snowstorm and that the book will have actually made it, too.

Naming and Re-naming

One of the first things God did after creating us humans (according to the Genesis story) was order Adam and Eve to name the animals. It appears that naming things is what we people do. We create and then we label.

Over in Russia they not only name, but they re-name, and then re-name again. Names were changed after the 1917 October Revolution, with the rise and fall of various Soviet officials, after the victory of WWII, after Stalin's death (when Kruschev came to power) and then again more recently in the 1990s after the USSR's collapse. Here's a few examples of this confusion.

St. Petersburg (on the Baltic Sea) was once Leningrad (renamed when Lenin died 1n 1924 until the year of the USSR's death in 1991). From 1914 until 1924 it was Petrograd.

Volgograd was once Stalingrad (1925-1961) and before that it was Tsaritsyn. It's on the western side of the Volga River. There's still discussion about renaming it Stalingrad.

Kaliningrad. (Also on the Baltic Sea) This Russian city was once called Koenigsberg (...til Feb., 1945 when it was heavily bombed). See this youtube link.

Slavskoye. (This was once Kreuzburg - and close to Koenigsberg). My mom spent her teenage years here. In those days it was part of East Prussia - a country that's been renamed and today is part of the Russian Federation.

Kaliniwka (35 kilometers northwest of Zhytomyr) used to be Federofka - my mom's birthplace. Today it's a tiny, sad place - with no links on the internet, except for Don Miller's.

Then there were cities like Tomsk 7 (now Seversk) that didn't even exist on maps because they were considered 'secret' cities.

So you can see how an old person, with an already sketchy memory, can get totally messed up and how the next generation (people like me) can scratch their heads and wonder where these places are and if those old memories can be trusted.

Not only that, the current government in Russia is trying to control history so that Stalin has a positive image. This mass manipulation is happening right now. It's totally frightening.

Follow up with these links:


One of the books I got while at the conference was Nettie's Journey (by Adele Dueck, Coteau Books). This book is set about a decade earlier than mine and tells the story of the chaos after the Russian Revolution. The story centers around a Mennonite family in an area south of Kiev who later immigrates to Saskatchewan in the 1920s. (My own book focuses on a Lutheran/Baptist family in an area known as Volhynia west of Kiev.)

Anyway, while reading this very interesting book last week, something surreal happened. The character, Nettie, is eating tweiback (a Mennonite food described in the book's handy-dandy glossary as two buns baked on top of each other) when my daughter's friend shows up and offers me a gift from her Mennonite grandmother ... tweiback. I couldn't believe the coincidence. Hers were wrapped in the middle with beet leaves. They tasted totally delicious and I shared some at the nursing home.

I wonder if Adele offered tweiback at her book launch? I'm re-reading my book now trying to decide what to offer at my own. Linden blossom tea, perhaps?

Sandra Birdsell's book Der Russlaender also talks about the violent chaos in the Russian countryside after the October Revolution. When I first read that book I thought that was my mom's story, I mean ... really... how many Germans were there in Russia? Turns out there were many. Different groups came at different times and settled in different areas. They also immigrated to North America at different times. My mother's group stayed behind and got caught in the Stalin terrors.

More recent groups left in the nineties after the USSR collapsed. I don't suppose there's too many left now. But I should check on that.

Good bye Prairie Horizons 2009

Last post about Prairie Horizons. Just have to share the photo with our hats (As conference facilitators we were the head gardeners :)) From left to right, Joss Meyeres, Sharon Plumb-Hamilton, Marie Mendenhall, and me.

It was a two-year online relationship and meeting again at the conference after months of sometimes frantic emailing was a great way to end this 'conference planning learning experience.' Would I do it again? Probably not. Am I glad I volunteered? Most definitely.

My only regret was that I didn't have a book to bring along. But soon... fingers crossed, I hope. October 20th is the official release date of The Kulak's Daughter, and publisher seems confident that will happen. (We shall see.)


We also had a panel discussion. Topic? Climbing through the thorns. Two panelists gave us their take on the down side of writing. You know, the rejection, the revision, the recycling ... Did I miss a 're'? Writing requires toughness. And you only get that by sticking to it and re-sending those re-written manuscripts. (Because I was the supposed 'moderator' of this session I have no notes, and my memory is spotty because I was trying to think of clever things to say in case there was a lull - which there wasn't.)

Dianne Young went first and got us all laughing as she told the story of her now finally accepted picture book manuscript. (Years and years later.) The story of her stick-to-it-tive-ness was a great story.

Gillian Richardson told of how opportunity comes when you least expect it and maybe when you most need it? She's got an impressive list of titles and has shown that tenacity pays off.

Heather Nickel shared information about her company, a self-publishing option in Regina. (Your Nickel's Worth Publishing). Her books are beautifully produced and a viable option for those interested in a more limited distribution and print run.

The session was over too fast and conversation spilled over into the next session - which was a meeting for local writers involved in the founding of a Saskatchewan Chapter of CANSCAIP. (Sniff, sniff - I'm an outsider from Manitoba). But it's inspiring to see such a lively kids' lit group in Saskatchewan.

Interesting note: There was nobody east of Winnipeg at the conference. I guess the east has enough happening in their more densely populated areas.

Anita Daher

Anita Daher was my choice for presenter for the Prairie Horizon's conference. (Hey, as organizers that was our big thrill - choosing the presenters). I know from the general reaction that Anita disappointed no one. She's the author of seven books - most recent being On the Trail of the Bushman (Orca). She's also an editor at Great Plains in Winnipeg, where she's been a past marketing director. So Anita knows the children's publishing business inside and out.

Her presentation focused on the 'macro' and 'micro' edit and on the author/editor relationship. Everyone took notes. There was a lot of information. As I glance through mine, a couple of things stand out.
- Perfect your 'elevator pitch'. What is the story about?
- Remember the editor is on your side.
- If at all possible talk to the editor on the phone - not just through email.
- You need to trust - not just your editor's love of the story - but yourself to challenge the editor's suggestions.
I also got to watch Anita in action at a local library. I wish I'd video-taped it so I could see again how she managed to keep two grade five and six classes so focused and involved in her talk. It was the kind of presentation where I'm sure the kids went home to talk to family over dinner (families still do that, don't they?) - or in the car - about 'that interesting author we got to hear.'

Anita's next writing project involved summer research of wild horses. No wonder kids love her.

Linda Aksomitis

Our Saturday morning presentation was by Linda Aksomitis. Her topic? The Internet. Seems we can't be authors anymore without it. The internet has changed 'the writing life.' No longer do we write in solitude - well we do, but now we have more ways to get distracted. Linda gave us a list of 17 different 'writerly' applications of the world wide web. The information she shared was quite overwhelming, actually. Luckily we don't have to use all the ways she talked about - just what we feel comfortable with. (And for me that appears to be limited to blogging.)

The internet is a great way to promote yourself and your book. At the very least, she recommends taking advantage of the page profiles in professional organizations like CANSCAIP, Manitoba or Saskatchewan Writers' Guilds, etc. Blogs, of course, are also free, user-friendly and inter-active.

Then there's the newer, shorter way to communicate - Twitter. Don't forget Myspace and Facebook.

One knew thing I must try out is the Ping-O-Matic! It's a way to let the blogging service know you have news. (http:/

Linda is not only an online guru, but she's written many books and been published worldwide. Her most recent one, Longhorns and Outlaws, was selected to be in 2008's McNally Robinson's Christmas catalogue.

The information that Linda shared was vital for today's children's writing and I learned so much. Thank you, Linda!

Hazel Hutchins

What's so great about being 'creative' is that there is no right way to do. And maybe that's why we're so eager to hear how others beome successful. Each path, or should I say, each climb of the beanstalk, is unique. What we do look for when hearing other's stories of success, is validation for our own journey.

And with that little intro, let me introduce Hazel Hutchins. As our 'keynote' speaker - which implies Canada Council funding - she did two presentations, including one that was open to the public. Hazel was on fire. It's easy to see why she's published more than forty children's books - in a variety of genres. Not that she looks like a writer (ooh, and that's a good one - what does a children's writer look like?) When Hazel talked about her writing career she had everyone's rapt attention. She had energy, passion and attitude - and humility!
I also got to watch her in action when she presented to a room full of kids at a library. She demonstrated her juggling skills - research for one of her books.

I bet we all left the conference determined to be worse housekeepers than ever. Hazel has given us permission. Here's a sample of her advice. The spoon falls on the floor. Don't pick it up. Why? Because then you'll take it to the sink. Then you'll notice the dishes and wash them. Then you'll break something and get the broom. You'll sweep. Then you'll decide to wash the floor and before you know it two hours have passed, the kids are home, you're tired, or you've lost that creative juice. Thank you, Hazel!

She was a true inspiration. Her most recent book is After - a young adult novel.

The woman was dynamite!

Prairie Horizons Conference

We had, in total, 7 presenters sharing with us how they approach the beanstalk to achieve creative success. Before I tell you about them - let me first mention the obvious - they had to believe in that beanstalk before they could climb it. That was the neatest part about this weekend gathering in Lumsden - we were all there because we believed in the magic of words and images. And there's just something so empowering in hanging out with people who think like you ... and people who've faced some of the same frustrations and joys.

But before I go on - here's an image of the prairie horizon at dawn - The Prairie Horizons CANSCAIP conference got its name from the amazing sky that is so 'in your face' in that place.

Climbing the Beanstalk

Well we did it! We planted the seeds, we watered them with great funding, we emailed a zillion times back and forth, and then we shared the golden eggs! Now let's put this Jack and the Beanstalk metaphor back on the shelf.

Honestly, I so enjoyed this bi-annual conference and it's got to be because Saskatchewan and its people are simply the warmest, most approachable, most nurturing people around, and their children's writers are the cream of that crop.

It was CANSCAIP's bi-anual Prairie Horizon's conference and I've got photos and more to share in the next while.

Eating crow

I go visit my mom and she's sitting in her wheelchair looking out the window. I saw three yellow cars, she tells me. Only two red. She's becoming more like a kid, even as my own kids have moved past counting cars by their color. 

But then she surprises me. I see that tree...and she points at an ordinary mature maple or ash and she says...that tree reminds me of when we would throw stones at the crows.

She proceeds to tell me of how when she was a prisoner of war after WWII in the Ural Mountains, they would eat crow to supplement their watery cabbage soup rations. And I think, wow, there is still so much I've not known about you.

Book Trailer (tweaked!)

I got my dear daughter to tweak my trailer - just a bit. Now she's in back-to-school mode and that's all the tweaking I'll get. But I really do like it and I love her for doing this for her old technically-challenged ma! (I love her for other reasons, too!)


Long weekend coming up and I had the music on loud as I drove home from work - after all - it is the last weekend of summer and the weather is gorgeous.  I was indulging in the Abba music of the Mama Mia soundtrack. (I'd just seen Julia Julie this week - a movie I totally loved). I must admit that the determination to become a writer was fueled by Abba music (and the rock from my grandfather's windmill).

Anyway, I want to share a dream that's been hovering in my dreamscape. I like to imagine the The Kulak's Daughter as... (gulp - don't laugh) ... as a drama - maybe with some choreography and singing.  I saw a stage version of Naomi's Road a few years back while visiting in B.C. and was so impressed with how the printed word became a live stage production. I'd like to try writing a play version and have kids act out - not just characters -  but even objects in the book. 

I can hear you laughing. It's just a dream. But just let me learn some basic scriptwriting ... 

Nursing homes

There's nothing sadder in my life right now than my two or three weekly visits to the nursing home. Helpless old people - mostly women - totally dependent on strangers for their basic needs.

You might ask why I don't pull my 90 year old mom out of there. I sometimes ask myself the same thing. But I must work as the main breadwinner of my own family and there's no way around that. 

Because my reading is often about gulags and such, I'm starting to see signs of the gulag mentality everywhere - especially at work - but that's another story.  At the nursing home it's all about the 'system'. The staff are very good at following the rules. They are the 'guards' - making sure that the system works. Patients must be washed, dressed and at the breakfast/lunch/dinner table so that they can be fed. The food is nutritional - if boring. They will not starve to death - like in a gulag - but that doesn't mean that they will enjoy their meals, either.

The biggest change I see in my mom - and I'm not blaming 'the system' here, is in the lack of awareness of the outside world. It's an artificial environment - not too hot, not too cold - always the same. The days of the week lose meaning and the daytime hours are focused around the bland meals. Partly this is because as we age - like children - we do become more self-centered, less interested in the the world. Getting down the hallways with the walker or the wheelchair is the big event of the day.

Death is not discussed and it's only visible when a bed is stripped and a room is declared vacant - ready for the next old person. 

But there are beautiful moments, too. There's a couple of cats that wander at will - they are prized glimpses of freedom. Then there's the old people who are capable of humor, of flirting even. They're like fresh breezes in a stale place where memory, pain and death are private.

Then there's the staff. Some dare to do more than just their job. Their personalities shine and my mom - for one - latches on to their humanity. A caregiver with a smile and an ear that really listens is the rainbow in this weatherless place.

Nursing homes - so full of people - can be the loneliest places on earth. And maybe they aren't like gulags at all - they're like nursery schools. And the old people - like children - would all benefit more from one-on-one.  Don't we all thrive with a little bit of attention?

Margarete Buber-Neumann

Hurrah! I have a book launch date set up with McNally Robinson - the best bookstore in the world. My dream is starting to feel more real - and guess what? - I'm becoming totally frightened. Where can I hide?

Although my release date is October 20th - I put the launch date for November 18th - just in case there're issues with the border or whatever. So it's three months. Have I mentioned that I'm scared? Does the world really need another book? 

But then, this book isn't just a figment of my imagination. This is a promise fulfilled - this is a girl's story that needs to be told. (I must remind myself of that.)

Speaking of books based on history - I just finished reading a most intense memoir by Margarete Buber-Neumann.  Her book, Under Two Dictators - Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler - was first published in 1949 (She passed away in 1989.)  This woman - this author - was simply an incredibly strong, kind and intelligent person. Her story is so well told and so enlightening.I highly recommend it.

Anne Laurel Carter

The current CANSCAIP News Issue - Summer, 2009 did a feature interview with Anne Laurel Carter. Her most recent book is The Shepherd's Granddaughter. The article was an insightful profile of an author who has worked very hard to achieve success.

I'd like to quote her. The quote refers to her subject matters and why she writes: "(about)...people who are silenced, the story not told, stories that have been appropriated by people in power. We cannot move on in history unless a story is told honestly."

I must read her books.

Finding my inner dog

Got to go camping - just me, myself and I - and the dog. You see, the weather was cold, windy and wet and the kids, well, the kids are past doing what Mama wants. But the dog, he's totally into hiking, beach combing,  and eating outdoors. A few mosquitoes never scared him off.  We went out to one of my favorite spots at Hecla Island - on the big Lake Winnipeg. It was superb. I shall definitely make this a summer ritual. Just me, the dog, my laptop, and some books. Life can't get much better. 

Read Malcolm Gladwell's The Outliers. Interesting read. 

1945 rapings

The other day CBC radio had a documentary on the rapes of about 2 million women (and children) at the end of the war in 1945. As German women they were considered the Red Army's reward for defeating the Nazis. This topic is not mentioned a lot, for obvious reasons. But rape has continued to be a war 'tool' and so now for the purposes of research, these old women have been interviewed. How does sexual brutality affect a woman throughout the rest of her life?

My mom was already in her 20s when the Russian troops descended on the German civilians in East Prussia. Because she'd been raised in the Soviet Union, she knew their language and was protected by an officer who used her as a translator. Her two sisters weren't so lucky. One never had her own children. The other told me of how they would hide in the outhouse in the evenings when the booze flowed.

My mother also told me that venereal disease spread like crazy and that by the time she was shipped via freight car to work in the Ural coalmines, the Soviet soldiers had had enough of raping. 

Which then brought her to another topic ... food. What did she eat in the Soviet prison camp? I'll save that for another post. 


Finally finished reading one of my Mother's Day gifts.  Presentationzen by Garr Reynolds  is a book about using Powerpoint. If you click the link you'll go to his blog which is full of more presentation wisdom. It's helped me understand the creative potential in doing a presentation. (Afterall, I'd love to share my research from writing my book.) 

Reading this book has shown me that simple is way stronger than complicated and while it's not directed at presenting to children, I'm sure children would be even more appreciative of simple. There's this mistaken belief that simple is ... well ... simple.  But let me borrow a quote from the book that's by Leonardo da Vinci.  "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

So I'm going to go back over the powerpoint I've prepared and will focus on keeping it simple.  

Marilyn French

I'm a bit behind - maybe it's because I love history -  always stuck in the past. By the time I catch up on my newspaper reading the events are no longer current - but history, too.

So it is that I just learned of the passing of one of my all time favorite writers - Marilyn French. She died May 2nd of this year.  I'd never read anything like her back in my twenties. She was so daring! My close friends and I shared "The Women's Room" - underlining and exclamation-marking certain passages. She was so astute - in our naive, young opinions - about relationships between men and women. I'll have to reread that book from my now more 'mature' perch.

It was much more recently that I found a copy of "Her Mother's Daughter" in a second hand store. I loved that book and again realized the power of writing. She just has so much depth and insight and even though I sometimes don't agree with what she says - I still love the way she says it.

Marilyn French - thank you - and rest in peace. Your words will live on in my life.

p.s. And .... she has a novel coming out this fall!

Folk Fest

No folk fest for me this year. 

For the last twenty years I've gone to the Winnipeg Folk Festival every year. It was like Christmas in July for my family. Wonderful memories. But twenty years is a long time. The toddlers that once swung their cute little butts to the music are now working weekends, or into heavy metal, or traveling to Europe, or ...  

And I've decided - with mixed feelings - to stop volunteering. I must focus on my writing goals.

Now my teenager is carrying on the folk festival tradition in our house. I just saw her and her friends off. She's volunteering at BackStage hospitality this afternoon and I'm happy for her. Me? I'm just looking forward to having the house to myself and will indulge in seeing leaves flutter peacefully in the summer breeze as I continue revising that 1931 transition from the USSR to East Prussia.

Book Cover

My book's cover is now posted on Amazon, so I guess that makes it official. It's not much different than my 'temporary' cover. 

For you, kulak children. I hope I did okay. 

I wish I could feel good about this whole project. Instead, there's a heaviness in me - a dread that it's all been a dreadful waste of time. Must keep busy!

Happy Canada Day!

My parents chose Canada as their home back in 1953. They taught me to never take this place for granted. Sure, the winters can be long and cold. But, hey, we have central heating, cars and enough money to buy warm clothes. It's the kind of country where you can show up with nothing and still be considered equal. 

It was important for my mom to get her Canadian citizenship. For years she'd been a 'nobody.' In the Soviet Union she had to hide her 'Germanness.' Later in Germany, she was considered second class because she was a 'refugee' from the east. Now in Canada she is a proud Canadian and she's taught me to be proud of my German Russian heritage and at the same time, of my country, Canada. In Canada, you can be who you are and a Canadian - and that's what makes this country such a positive place.  

So HAPPY CANADA DAY to all of us misfits, we have arrived!

Jonathan Brent

Here's a 'photograph of words' from Jonathan Brent's book "Inside the Stalin Archives." He's writing about today in the former Soviet Union: 

"Both the drive toward the future and the pull of the past can be observed on every street corner - for each "answering blow" and New Russian Vogue there is a shapeless babushka, an old grandmother, twig broom in hand and stockings rolled up to her knees."

That's why I want to be a writer - to be able to say what a photograph only suggests.

Reading "Inside the Stalin Archives" (but outside)

Meandering right along. Reading "Inside the Stalin Archives" by Jonathan Brent right now. He might be a Yale academic but he writes using all his senses. The smells, sounds, tastes, sights and textures of Moscow are so vivid. No ivory tower dryness here. 

When I visited the Comuunist Party archives in Zhitomir back in '04 I was struck with how cold, drab and neglected things were. The atmosphere was very well suited to the ghosts of the past.

As I blog, the sun is shining, the birds are twittering, and the grass is growing. Must get out there and indulge. Summer in Winnipeg has arrived! And if I'm not quick, it'll be gone.

Scent of lilacs

My kids used to love puzzles - especially the ones where you had to find what was different in two seemingly the same pictures. I wonder if it would work to do a reverse puzzle of some sort - one where you find the similarities?

What made me muse about this was seeing the poppies resurface in my yard and I thought about the poppies over in Ukraine. There are so many similarities between 1930s USSR and 2009 Canada. Poppies for one. Lilacs, too. Irises. Sweet-smelling apple blossoms. Proud, tenacious yellow dandelions. 

I think my grandparents would have liked it over here. Many did leave the USSR. But after 1928, that opportunity for spring in a new country faded.

June 4th, 1937. Eduard Ristau is arrested at #66 Andriivska Street. His charge? National fascist work and propaganda against the Soviet government. I visited the place where the house once stood. Lilacs were blooming like crazy - even in 1937 - the year of the Great Terror - the scent of lilacs was in the air.

Robert Harris's Fatherland

Just finished Robert Harris's book, Fatherland. It's a great thriller. He re-writes history and postulates a world where Hitler won the war. In it people don't know anything about the millions of Jews who were gassed. After all, the truth of the Holocaust was uncovered by the Allies. The German people were led to believe that the Jewish population had been moved out to the wilds of the conquered East. In a world where Hitler wins the war - it's Stalin's Holodomor that becomes the ugly Holocaust.

But Stalin was on the victor's side and so he got to manipulate the truth. Thus, there are no monuments remembering the famine of 1932,  or the lost children of the kulaks. There's no guilt in the former Soviet Union about the past. No collective sense of responsibility.  Still, truth has a way of finding its way out.  Just takes a long time.

Colleen Sydor

When I participated in TLA last year I discovered the fun, the frenzy, of collecting ARCs. One of my co-panelists, Linda Joy Singleton, was an experienced ARC collector and I just followed along. It wasn't hard to get the hang of it. Grab.  I'd so many ARCs I had to ship them home separate from my luggage. 

And I still haven't read them all. 

One ARC that I finally read, caught my attention when it recently won the Manitoba Book of the Year Award (older books for children category). It's Colleen Sydor's novel debut,  My Mother is a French Fry and Further Proof of my Fuzzed-Up Life (Kids Can Press). This is an edgy book, and very funny. The fifteen year old protogonist, Eli, talks - or should I say, rants, about her mother and school. She's quieter about the other things - like a first boyfriend and a nagging guilt about a little sister.  The book is totally deserving of this award. 

Victory Day

It's been five years since I explored my family's connection to Ukraine. We'd  spent the first weekend in Zhytomyr caught up in the Victory Day celebrations. It's a big event marking the defeat of the Nazis in the USSR.

From my hotel window I could see one of the tank monuments commemorating the event. The ex-Soviet Union is big on monuments.
Even tiny villages have big monuments. I doubt there's family that didn't make a direct sacrifice for Mother Russia. If you dig into the statistics, you learn that the Soviets lost way more people in WWII than any other country.  

I like the contrast in this tank photo. The church in the background, the tank in front and the old woman walking by. Mother's Day weekend here in Canada. Yeah. Cruel ironies - mothers, tanks, churches. 

Oh, and I see that today in Moscow the military is still flexing its muscles.


I don't take photos while I do my daily walk as a letter carrier. But I see a lot - the kind of stuff you don't see if you're driving by. For example, you wouldn't see the little grey fur ball that's been hiding under some stairs since Christmas. So scared of people, no one, neither the stair owners, or me, could catch it. The stair owners started leaving it food daily and this beautiful, angry little feline managed to survive our bitterly cold winter.  Now it's spring and guess what?

The cute little charcoal grey kitten is pregnant! Life is tough on the street. Especially for young cats in heat.  Life is tough for cats any time, though. One of the chapters that got cut in my upcoming book was about some kittens that were to be drowned. The procedure - as my mom explained - was to put most of the newborn litter into a sack with some rocks, tie it up and dump in the river. 

What could be sadder than unwanted life? Our fat, fixed feline is a happy cat - even when she's meowing her complaints and being miserable. 

Prairie Horizons Conference

After months of emailing and phoning and worrying,  the naive and very green organizing committee of the bi-annual Prairie Horiozons conference is happy to announce that we're ready to accept registrations. Please visit us on the CANSCAIP  website for full information.

The conference is September 18-20 in Lumsden, Saskatchewan and it's going to be so much fun, because:
a) kids' writers are such wonderfully approachable people
b) Saskatchewan in September is simply gorgeous
c) it's so affordable
d) we have some great presenters
e) to z) variations of the above!

Our motto for the conference is Climbing the Beanstalk to Creative Success.

Red Cross WWI records

Red Cross records from WWI have just been 'discovered' in Geneva, Switzerland. Twenty million carefully noted records of war casualties have been sitting in the basement of the Red Cross headquarters totally untouched for more than ninety years. Amazing. They'll start digitalizing the records this fall. 

If I ever get done exploring my mom's past, I might start on my dad's. Growing up grandparent-less (ie. rootless) has given me a hunger for the past. Most of what I know about my paternal grandfather I learned in secret. Nobody's supposed to know that he committed suicide after returning from WWI. But the truth is so much more interesting than just the facts. It's the human factor - it's why numbers need words to tell a story. Even the photos aren't enough. Put the three together:  numbers, words, and photos, then you start to have a story. 

More Historical Fiction Favorites

Two favorite books I forgot to mention when I blogged about historical fiction: 
Markus Zusak's The Book Thief (Knopf, 2006) - I just loved this book. It was so gentle and so strong. A story of a girl during the Nazi times. Here's a sample of his poetic-like writing: "In the darkness of my dark-beating heart, I know. He'd have loved it all right. You see?  Even death has a heart."  And even the German children had hearts.  As a child of Germans, I judged my own parents as guilty for participating in the war. Children can be harsh judges.

And one more book  I'd like to recommend is Joan M. Wolf's book, Someone Named Eva (Clarion Books, 2007) It's about a place that no longer exists. A place called Lidice, Czechoslovakia. A powerful story about the Lebensborn program. Plus, it's a debut novel. 

The survivors of  last century's wars are old, feeble people now. It's easy to forget that they were children and involved in some of history's most horrible events. These books are about connecting the past to the present. Mid grade is that stage where they're curious about the world. Later, in their teens, they often become more involved with their own emotional turmoil as puberty takes over.

So historical fiction for mid grade is a powerful way to teach history.

Book Forest

I like to own books - to collect them. They crowd the shelves of my house, fighting for space. 

I remember once visiting a prof in his home - an apartment - and he had all his walls lined with books. This is what I want, I remember thinking ... to be surrounded by books. Books, after all, are ideas, experiences, ... forests to meander, get lost in, and explore.

I've friends who like to read, but they prefer using the library. Now I'm all for the library, but I like to put marks in my books and to take my time with them - often reading a few at once. And, I go back to them to re-visit a page here or there.  Lately, with the blessing of my tax man, I can justify the expense as a writing supply. There are times when I wonder if I've more books than I need. But as I finish a book I've enjoyed, and put it on the shelf, I feel comforted knowing it's available when I need it. Sometimes, just a glance at its spine, reminds me of the world inside its covers.

Here's a favorite quote from the Stephen King book, On Writing, that I just finished: "You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself. These lessons almost always occur with the study door closed."

Yeah, so my books are my garden. After all, a book is a living thing, dormant until touched by a mind. Books are trees and many trees make a forest. Now there's a metaphor to explore.

Historical Fiction

As a child of immigrants, I couldn’t find my family’s story in the Dick and Jane

books we had to read in elementary school.  But I kept looking:  first as a university student, then as a mother, and later as a writer.  Turned out, I had to write my own. But the journey – the search, and the re-search - was a trip well worth taking.

Lois Lowry’s book Number the Stars (Newbery Award, 1990) opened my eyes to the power of historical fiction for young people.  And once opened, my eyes couldn’t get enough. Here are some of my more recent favorites.

John Wilson’s Flames of the Tiger (Kids Can Press, 2003).  World War II is seen through a German boy’s eyes during the final days in Berlin.

Kit Pearson’s The Sky is FallingLooking at the Moon, and The Lights Go On Again (Penquin Books) This is a great trilogy about English war guests in Canada during the war.

Leslie Wilson’s Last Train From Kummersdorf  (Faber and Faber, 2003).  Here children are fleeing the Russians in the chaos of 1945.

Ilse Koehn’s Mischling, Second Degree (re-released by Puffin Books, 1990). This book is a survivor’s story about growing up in a Nazi country.

My hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba welcomed many post-war European immigrants. Some became writers. Eva Wiseman wrote several books about her background as a child in communist Hungary. Her books include My Canary Yellow Star, which was on the New York Library Best Books list.  A more recent book, Kanada, (Tundra Books, 2006) was a finalist for Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award. And I’ve just bought her newest book, Puppet, which I can’t wait to read. It’s set in Hungary in 1882 and deals with a less known time of conflict between Christians and Jews.

Kathy Kacer is a Canadian who also writes historical fiction based on family.  Her book, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser (Second Story Press, 1999) is set in Czechoslovakia.

Another local author who’s a must-read is the prolific Carol Matas. Lisa (1987) and Jesper (1989) are two books that deal with the Danish resistance during WWII.

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch lives in Ontario. She’s written about the Armenian Genocide in books like Aram’s Choice and Daughter of War Kobzar’s Childrenis a young adult collection of stories that she edited. It shares the voices of unheard Ukrainians.  Enough (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2000 with Michael Martchenko as the illustrator) is a picture book about the Holodomor – death by hunger during the 1932 famine in what today is again Ukraine. Viktor Yushchenko - the current president of Ukraine – has awarded her his country's highest honor.

Barbara Smucker’s book, Days of Terror,  (Puffin, 1981) deals with the years immediately after the 1917 Russian Revolution. It’s about the tense and violent period just before the setting of my own fall-release book, The Kulak’s Daughter.

I could go on. These books are but a sampling of what's available. Good books, good stories, good histories.  Considering our countries are filled with people who come from foreign lands because of war, persecution, homelessness, and economics, it’s no wonder authors continue to write their family’s his- stories. They’re our-stories. The days of Dick and Jane are long over.

So, what's your favorite historical fiction book? What's your-story?

Plotting or just plodding?

I've been thinking a lot about plot lately (partly because of the Stephen King book, On Writing and partly because of my still plotless WIP ). And because I'm obsessed with metaphor I'd like to muse aloud about plot and metaphor. Plot is what moves words forward. Plot is to writing what a map is to walking. Without a plot, words just go on and on - like a long, destination-less walk. A book needs a plot, like a life needs a purpose. But whether that plot is the genesis of the work, or grows out of the work, hey - that's my current issue. King talks about 'situation' as being the beginning of his books. That's encouraging.

I think the trick is to sort of have an idea where you're going with your plot, but to be ready to leave the trail and scout out the off-trails. And sometimes, just writing, just walking, just doing, leads to possibilities unimagined. While it can be good to have trail markers and a map, (the outline) - it can be a real adventure to just go and see where that road leads. Unfortunately, sometimes you just get lost, tired, and frustrated. 

Still, that piece of wasted writing, without plot, does let one develop some endurance, some writing practice, and some understanding. A trail - a plot - can't be far off.  

Now hasn't this been a real meandering, plotless post?

Signs of spring in Winnipeg

Things have shifted in the last week, here in Winterpeg Winnipeg. Amazing what a little sun can do. We're in SPRING mode. Here are the signs:
1) Potholes - they're big, ugly and everywhere.  Poor car.
2) Puddles - it's dangerous to be a pedestrian, or to even have the sunroof open.
3) Noise - birds are twittering their little hearts out. (Chickadees, robins, even crows and a noisy, hammering woodpecker).
4) The smell of melting snow in the sunshine should be bottled and sold as 'rejuvenation'.
5) Trash - ooh, what the melting snow reveals. Last November's flyers, cigarette butts, and a winter of doggie doo. Holding my breathe and moving on....
6) Cars are revving more around the high school. 
7) Outdoor soccer practices - well, the fields are soggy, but the conditioning runs are outdoors.
8) Trees are thickening with buds - and in a few weeks they'll be green and I'll be living in my own little forest again. (Oh, except for the new plum tree that Buddy mistook for a stick and chewed - almost to the ground. What a dog.)
9) The Canada Geese are back with their mates and setting up nests in the same dangerous spots by the new roads - just like last year.
10) PUSSY WILLOWS, soft and silvery, are emerging on the edges of the Harte Trail. They're my absolute favourite sign of spring - next to the smell of melting snow, the sound of trickling water, tweets of happy birds, and the ...
Oh, I just like it all!

The Unknown Gulag by Lynne Viola

Just finished reading Lynne Viola's book, The Unknown Gulag. Quite overwhelming, actually. This book is the story of the kulaks. And it's not a fictional story, it's the real story. I was afraid that reading it would put holes in my mid grade novel. I was afraid that somehow my mother's memory would prove false, or that my imagination would be weak. But except for one point - I can feel strong about my protagonist and her twelve year old view as the daughter of a kulak. (I'll talk about that one point sometime later.)

Aleksandr Sozhenitsyn opened the can of worms that was the Gulag. It was 1973 when The Gulag Archipelago was published in the West. Thirty years later, Anne Applebaum's Gulag, A History came out. That same year I was introduced to the research of Donald Miller, (who's written several books about those years in an area once known as Volhynia). His book, Under Arrest, has one of my mom's cousins on the cover. In that book my grandfather's arrest and execution is listed along with thousands of other kulaks. 

The people who have survived those decades lived in silence - afraid, always afraid. (No wonder there's so much alcoholism in Russia.) Now they're old. If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it still make a sound? (or something like that).  

I'd like to recommend these books as background reading to my own little book. In Viola's conclusion, she writes: "History once denied through lies is now threatened by obscurity; forgetting has taken the place of falsification." (p. 193)

Putin, this is for you. (Ha! If only ...) I'd tell him to put real history back into his schools' history books, to rebuild his country, by facing the truth about its past. I dare him.  As Viola says, "... there are no national monuments to the kulaks. Their graves lie scattered and unmarked ... the death toll through the 1930s roughly half a million people ..." (p. 183) 

Visit the Memorial Society website to learn how the survivors of the Gulag are trying hard to keep the truth alive. Or check out the wikipedia entry and learn how Russia is still trying to keep the truth from the public. And in case, you don't have time to read the whole entry, let me mention that as recently as December, 2008, the Russian authorities removed several computer disks which contained the Memorial Society's collection of information to create a Virtual Gulag Museum online. (Now, supposedly, these computer files will all be returned.)

Still, this is all a very current issue. 

Focus on the Positive

The weather is a bit like my life as a writer. No spring. We've had another snowstorm this week and it feels like the middle of winter. Same with my book. No spring release. Instead, it's to arrive in the fall. So I've cancelled my Milwaukee presentation at the geneology conference. I think it's better to wait for the book. The good news is that my publisher is working with a new and better distribution outfit and I'll be exposed to markets outside of the US of A. So, being a Cdn. it makes me very happy to know I've a chance to be in Cdn. bookstores. 

My publisher, Bloooming Tree Press, down in Austin, Texas is small and the publishing world is so very big. I guess I just have to learn patience. Hard to do sometimes. But like I tell my dear old mom in the nursing home, you must focus on the positive. 

I see that Anita Daher's book, Spider's Song, has been nominated, in the Books for Young People category, for a Manitoba Book of the Year Award. That's positive news, for sure! Congrats and fingers crossed for her. She's been a wonderful mentor to emerging writers like me and Spider's Song is a book that tackles difficult teen issues with sensitivity and warmth. 
And another positive thing ... which actually makes me feel a bit self-
conscious, but ... the warm and friendly super-blogger and author of the fun and spirited,  I So Don't Do Mysteries, Barrie Summy, gave my little ole blog a little nomination, which I will wear with pride. I'm a bit slow, here, Barrie, but super thanks.

Bull Rider

I especially like reading books by people I've met - either for real, (of course, that's the best), or through the internet- (which is becoming a great substitute).

So, last year about this time, when I was still in the forming class of 2k9 (and yes, I'm a dropout :( - sad, but true - twas a hard decision), I was able to have dinner with the author of the fabulous new release, Bull Rider. Suzanne Morgan Williams was en route from the high Arctic back to her home in Nevada - and my city of Winnipeg was an overnight stop for her. 

Who'd want to go to the Arctic in March? Global warning researchers, perhaps? Russian spies? Polar bear enthusiasts? Snowmobile test drivers? How about a children's book writer? Yes, Suzi was researching another novel. And now that I've read her first book, I'll be sure to watch for her next one.

Bull Rider covers a lot of territory. There's the whole issue of young men going to fight wars and coming back forever changed. Then there's the exotic world of bull fighting. Now this is something I've only seen on TV - I can't imagine a more crazy 'sport'.  But the way Suzi develops it in the book, I could actually begin to understand the rush that attracts young males.

Then there's the topic of traumatic brain injury (TBI). That really intrigued me because my husband is a TBI survivor. It's a difficult injury because a) it's invisible; b) it goes on and on and on, and c) it's subtle and different for each individual. Suzi obviously researched her subject!

I was so impressed with Suzi's ending. Ben, her TBI survivor, is not given a story-book ending. And that is the strength of Bull Rider. There are no happy endings. No easy solutions. Just the victory of trying (kind of like staying on a bull). Wonderful metaphor. Hey, and it applies to the writing career, as well. Stay on. And if you fall off, get back on.

Thanks, Suzi! All the best.

Time management

When you work full time, it's a challenge to fit writing in along with the other activities of life. So, I've been looking forward to these two weeks off in March. You should have seen my 'to do' list. Actually, making a to-do list was on there, because getting priorities in the right order takes time, too. So now I've about 48 hours left. My fridge is still cluttered, ditto for the downstairs freezer, and the front hall closet. Sigh.

But I've enjoyed long daily walks in the woods with the family canine. I've finished reading Suzanne Morgan Williams new debut Bull Rider (more about that in tomorrow's post), I've started a super interesting work of nonfiction called, The Unknown Gulag (more about that when I'm done), and I'm indulging in Stephen King's On Writing memoir. 

I've also been visiting my mom in her new place at the nursing home. Now that is another world. Of all the ailments of age, dementia scares me the most.  I had my 16 year old and her friend come along to visit and they were thrilled to find a mini pool table. An old (they're all old) woman (and also, mostly women) came by to watch. The girls were happy to have her there, until ... the woman began mumbling something and pocketing the balls. Oh, dear. 

In other news ... the pussy willows by the old train tracks are showing just a hint of their silver fur. Winter can't last much longer. 

about time

I still have another week off work and it's wonderful. The gift of time is a such a treat. I got this New Times link from a listserve I'm on. A new memorial has been erected in Kyiv to remember the 1932/3 famine in Ukraine. 

It's about time.

Chetnia: Readings from Russia

I jump around in my reading - like my food preferences, I enjoy variety. Sure, I have my staples: nonfiction about my favorite historical times. But I also like to read what's currently being published in the juvenile field, plus, books in my mother tongue, German. Reading books in the only other language I'm fluent in, is somehow refreshing and I regret not being able to read in other languages ... like Russian, for instance.

I've just finished reading a journal of translated Russian work. It's called Chetnia: Readings from Russia.  This edition, Volume 3, Summer 2008, has "Road Trips" as its theme. The authors include well known names like Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) and Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) to contemporaries like Peter Aleshikosvsky ((short-listed for the Russian Booker) or Dmitry Glukhovsky. The latter's excerpt from his novel Metro 2033 published in Russian in 2007 and translated in this journal by Paul Richardson), Chapter Five, entitled For Cartridges, was my personal favorite in this themed collection of 'roads'.  By googling Metro 2033, I learned that there's even a video game out based on the novel (a novel which, by the way, was first published in installments on the internet. Click on the above link and watch a youtube documentary about the book's success.)

The setting of Glukhosvksy's book is the near future in the Moscow Metro. It's dark and this darkness is a major force of the chapter. I'm not a big fan of science fiction or fantasy, but this excerpt really caught my imagination. The suspense was very real. I was in the dark with the character and felt cheated when the chapter ended and I couldn't read on.

My other favorite from this collection was Chekhov's Sakhalin Island. I could find Sakhalin Island on my modern map of Russia and it was fascinating to read about how Chekhov saw it more than a hundred years ago. Explorers didn't just head west in those years. The island is still a controversial place.

Chtenia: Readings from Russia is a quarterly journal. Journals and journeys - both have the same root, which is from the French word meaning "day." Daily writing, daily traveling. Writing is the journey - and the roads are geographical, historical, psychological, or political - but always personal.

As a Canadian I feel linked to the Russian headspace with our common expanse of a harsh, huge landscape. It does affect the psyche. And yet our roads, so similar, are also so different. Kind of interesting.  

Back to my pile of books. What shall I taste next? Reading is simply the most amazing human invention. By giving us the ability to step into another's world, we can become more than who we are. Yes!

Happy 90, Mom!

Every life is a story and each starts the same way. Once upon a time a baby was born. Today, ninety years ago, my mother was born. Here's nine decades at a glance.

1919 A stork delivered Else to Federofka (a small village near Zhytomyr which is near Kiev which is today in Ukraine. Back then, Federofka was part of the USSR.)

1929 Stalin's first Five Year Plan calls for the 'liquidation of the kulaks' and forced collectivization. At 11, Else (and her family) is exiled via freight train to Yaya, Siberia (near Tomsk). Else becomes an orphan.

1939 Else is now 20 and living in East Prussia - not too far from Königsberg (present day Kaliningrad). With the outbreak of WWII, Else becomes a worker in a munitions factory for Hitler and against Stalin. Her flight from East Prussia in 1945 when the Soviets gained control, is unsuccessful.

1949 As a half-starved 30 year old POW survivor (having worked in Stalin's coal mines in Ural), Else illegally crosses back into West Germany, finds her remaining scattered family, and starts to work in a hospital in Pinneberg near Hamburg. Here she later meets another Soviet POW survivor and later gets married.

1959 Else is now a 40 year old mama with 2 pre-schoolers in a new country called Canada. The family's first home is on Cathedral Avenue in Winnipeg's north end. Her husband, an ex-Luftwaffe pilot and five year Gulag survivor, gets a job in the furnace industry.

1969 Elsie (her Canadianized name) is a 50 year old potato chip worker, paying off a mortgage on a brand new house in the suburbs. She dearly loves her home on Kirby Drive and makes great friends with the neighbours.

1979 Elsie is a 60 year old cottage owner and gardener. She's proud of her tomatoes and of her Sweet William biannuals which proliferate at the Lake Winnipeg cottage.

1989 Elsie's a 70 year old grandma. She crochets, chats, and travels - enjoying the golden years of retirement with the added pleasure of
Suzi, the dog, and a couple of grandchildren.

1999 Elsie's an 80 year old widow with a third grandchild. She'd been married
forty and a half years and lived in her Kirby house for almost thirty. She tries hard to adjust to living in an apartment at Meadowood.

2009 Now Elsie is 90 years old and yet another adventure begins. She has a new home in a nursing care facility - for now, here at Tuxedo Villa. Arthritis and osteoporosis have crippled her body, but her mind is still clear and she struggles to come to terms with her physical limitations.

Soon she'll make new friends, and together with her old friends, she'll continue to have warm (and not so warm) memories of a life of challenges that 90 years ago in Federofka, no stork, proud papa, or loving mama, could ever have imagined.

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