Green Eggs and Ham

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courtesy Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

After several days of massive Tokyo crowds, illegible city signage, non-stop neon lights and those high-tech multi-functional washlets with heated seats, we escaped to the countryside. As mentioned in my last post, Oh the places you’ll go my husband, The Original Obnoxious One, made all the travel and accommodations arrangements for this trip to Japan – or rather his people did. After speaking with friends and colleagues he decided we should stay at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Ryokans are generally located in scenic areas, near mountains or water, and feature tatami-floored rooms with foldaway futons, communal and private baths, elaborate multi-course meals and multiple rules and regulations.

ryokan

Our first stop was the Aura-Tachibana in Hanoke, an easy two hour train ride from Tokyo. And the Japanese train system is amazing – clean, efficient and relatively affordable. But once we arrived in that tiny town and started to look for our ryokan, we couldn’t tell left from right or up from down. Yes, we had detailed instructions multi-coloured maps but…

jeg

courtesy iclipart.com

After bumbling around for an hour or more we dragged our bags and carry-on items up the steep hill, around a couple hair-pin twists to the Aura-Tachibana. By the way, our Japanese is almost non-existent despite what The Original Obnoxious One likes to believe, and the receptionist’s English was very, very rudimentary. After 30 minutes of trying to communicate, the most we could understand was that we could leave our bags at the front desk but couldn’t check in to our room for several hours. We even phoned our super-duper problem-solving incredible travel agent back in Vancouver. She yelled at the local ryokan rep in English with a heavy Mandarin accent  (we could hear her across the lobby) but was ultimately unable to convince them to let us stay.Why? We never did figure that part out.

What to do and where to go?!

We meandered back down the hill, through the town, to the river where we had a lovely view of a couple of homeless guys washing and urinating. 018b36c0ceaa3289a8d94304340fc9a61f4615205c

Of course it was Sunday so very few stores or restaurants were open. Apparently Hanoke’s claim to fame is its hot springs, natural beauty and view of Mount Fuji. We couldn’t find any vistas in or around town of Mount Fuji and the homeless folk  were not exactly naturally beautiful. Maybe our hotel accessed the hot springs for its communal baths?! But Hanoke is close to Tokyo so it provides a quick and easy get away for families and couples. Especially couples. 😉

Basic RGB

courtesy clipart.com

After walking around in circles for a few hours we climbed back up that mountain and were shown to our room. We were one of the lucky ones there, with our very own private hot tub and view of that same river we had now come to love.015389d32a64abb9823faea18f36cc8d0f4e615f8f

My husband was a little more adventurous and actually ventured out of our room in order to soak in the communal hot springs and baths.

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The Original Obnoxious One heading to the baths – doesn’t he look cute?!

Somehow the thought of parading around naked, with my (mostly) blond hair and mottled menopausal body towering over of a bunch of cute little Japanese ladies did not fill me with joy and pleasure. So I stayed in our room and studied the official instructions of how to behave and what to do and not do.

But the fun was just beginning. As the only non-Japanese folk at dinner and breakfast the following morning in the large dining room, we weren’t the least bit nervous or uncomfortable until we were presented with this and this.ryokan breakfast

Okay let me confess something right here, right now. I will generally try most any food most any time most any where except at breakfast. Yes, it’s true – I am a wimpy cowardly breakfast-eater! Give me cereal and milk or yogurt and fruit or eggs  but that’s it. Plus of course a latte. I will travel miles and miles for a latte in the morning – just ask my most patient parents.  A regular boring cup of coffee just doesn’t cut it. I know, I’m spoiled but I blame it on the never ending rains here on the wet coast, November through March.  The Original Obnoxious One is much more accommodating – if its edible he’ll eat it, regardless of colour, texture, etc. Imagine my unmitigated pleasure upon gazing at this adorable delicacy at 8am :

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Dried Horse Mackerel – even the name is “interesting”

Those eyes hypnotized me and not in a good way. But  I did take my chopsticks and attack  this fishy fish and made it look like I sampled the delights when in reality I tried to remain calm – I only screamed and gagged in my imagination! In fact, at that moment I sympathized greatly with this character:

i do not like

courtesy Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

Just exchange green eggs and ham for fishy fish and jam .

I survived only to relive much of the experience again in our ryokan in Kyoto, the Hiiragiya, minus the delayed check-in and homeless absolutions. At least in Kyoto breakfast and dinner were served in our room by our very own geisha-girl/butler,

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Ahhh…where to begin.

so no one else had to observe my attempts at poking, prodding and fumbling with chopsticks. There were a few more choices so I could avoid the fishy fish for breakfast. And I could find a latte close to our hotel without too much trouble. Plus our dinners were absolutely exquisite in appearance.

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and tasted pretty good.

i will try

courtesy Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

The Original Obnoxious One was in heaven – he loves this kind of stuff. But he was most proud because the staff congratulated us several times on having the best room in the ryokan –  the best because it had the largest private bath.

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There was also another large room with a long counter and double sink.

Of course the beautiful views of the private courtyard  and gardens didn’t hurt. In fact the Hiiragiy Ryokan was quite a special place – small and intimate, run by the same family for six generations, beautifully maintained and centrally located.  And it has even been updated with modern amenities like wifi. Once I got past the morning menu terrors, I really enjoyed wandering the street and lanes of Kyoto – lots to see, especially in the old part and even the most touristy sections were gorgeous and fascinating.

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But I will say that I was rather relieved to leave Japan for Hong Kong and then Thailand, where I could anything under the sun for breakfast, including eggs!

i like green eggs

courtesy Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

Really! 

 

 

 

 

So if I’m a writer, what do I write?

Here’s a sneak peek at the first page of my middle grade novel – please note that it’s draft # 341 and is likely to change at any moment. Really!

cartoon courtesy iclipart.com

cartoon courtesy iclipart.com

THE TROUBLE WITH QUEENIE

Chapter One – My First Day as Popular

So what if things didn’t turn out quite as I’d imagined on my first-ever day of school at Western Canada Prep. I could still rule W.C.P.S..  I really could!

This morning I’d been so excited to get started. The fancy school, perched high above the highway that snakes across West Vancouver, was much newer and nicer than my crummy old one, and I was 110% positive it was going to be amazing and the kids were going to love me. Yep, this year I was going to be super popular for sure!

Proudly sporting my brand-new blue SpongeBob backpack, I dodged the big shiny cars dropping off kids, zigzagged up the steep street, raced through the chatting and laughing people, and smashed into Mrs. Hope, the Headmistress. Why did she have to stand right in my way, guarding the doors of W.C.P.S.?

“Queenie!” said Mrs. Hope in her posh British accent with her hands on her hips. Her  big bug eyes behind ginormous gold-rimmed glasses, grey helmet-hair and giraffe-long legs, would scare most kids, but not me.  Not today. Last week Mom and I had met her and my teacher, Miss Parfait, when we had our tour of the school.

Mrs. Hope spoke slowly and carefully like I was in kindergarten instead of Grade 5. “Number one: no child shall cross the road by him or herself. Number two: no child shall walk up the driveway by him or herself. Number three: no child shall leave their car until the car reaches the yellow line in front of the main set of doors.”

What the heck?

I bit my lip to keep from arguing with her, and shifted from one foot to the other. My feet were really uncomfortable in these brand-new, black-leather shoes, and my uniform was so so so itchy and scratchy. I peered way way up at her face, which was totally serious. And even kind of mad. I gulped, blinked and loudly promised never to break those very important rules ever again. A couple of little kids giggled, pointed at me and walked way far around us. This was not supposed to be happening to me today.

“Don’t forget, Queenie. These rules are for the benefit of you and every other girl and boy at Western Canada Prep School here in West Vancouver. Please try to remember this is a fresh beginning for you.” Mrs. Hope must’ve talked to Mrs. Franklin, the evil principal of the public school I’d gone to in Ontario for the past five years. I’m sure she made up lots of nasty stuff about me.

Really.

Probably.

Okay, maybe some of it was true.

“Sure thing, Mrs. H.!” I said as I turned and zipped down the hall. Over the yelling and screaming kids, I heard her call out, “It’s Mrs. Hope, Queenie, and no running in the halls!”

courtesy iclipart.com

courtesy iclipart.com

 

Do you love it? Do you hate it? Let me know…really!

courtesy iclipart.com

courtesy iclipart.com

 

 

Repeat after me: I am a writer, I am a writer…

Lately I’ve been preoccupied with the business of writing, or rather the business of attempting to get published.

  • fine-tuning the manuscript for the umpteenth time
  • polishing and repolishing again the first three chapters
  • perfecting the cover letter

    courtesy iclipart.com

    courtesy iclipart.com

  • tweeking the synopsis
  • researching which agents and publishers in Canada, the US and the UK are looking for contemporary, humorous middle grade novels
  • reviewing submission guidelines
  • personalizing queries for said agents &/or publishers
  • following up with queried agents &/or publishers after 2 or 3 or 4 months
  • and drinking lots and lots and LOTS of lattes while performing all of the above

    courtesy iclipart.com

    courtesy iclipart.com

Lately I feel like research has taken over my life. It’s so so SO easy to lose  days hours Googling this that and the other thing, examining and liking new Facebook pages, searching sites about the publishing industry such as Quill & Quire, and reviewing various writing blogs.

courtesy iclipart.com

courtesy iclipart.com

It’s essential to be aware of  what kind of middle grade books are selling, what kind are in demand, what kind are requested, so my analytical left brain takes over and asserts itself. After all, this is the side of the brain I have relied on for years in my finance and accounting career, as well as for my not-for-profit Board work. It’s also the side of the brain I’ve utilized for more than twenty years managing my creative and often hilarious, distracted and extremely unorganized family.

courtesy iclipart.com

courtesy iclipart.com

Somebody has to be in charge.

Somebody has to know what’s going on.

To date that somebody has always been me.

My kids say I’m nosy and bossy; they accuse my of creeping them and their friends on Facebook. Nonsense! I am simply curious and I seek knowledge about the world around me. Really! I’ve always been this way. When I was young, I used to ride my bike for hours all around my neighbourhood and beyond, examining the homes in our middle class suburb and imaging what kind of people lived there. I used to love canoeing around the lake where my parents’ cabin was, so I could check out the cottages and the shacks. (this was before the mansions arrived in Muskoka and beyond) Now in the summers I kayak up Indian Arm, close to shore, where the water is not so rough and of course, the cabins are easy to spy on observe.

courtesy iclipart.com

courtesy iclipart.com

And I have a healthy imagination. When my kids accuse me of misrepresenting their actions, of distorting the truth in my blog, I point out the obvious – this is MY blog. If they want to tell their story, they need to write their own blog. Besides, far too often the truth really is stranger than fiction. I mean, what child of mine would express his/her loud preference for a basic youth hostel over a luxury hotel, and for public transit (buses, subways) rather than drive his/her own car?! While all the Sexy Moms of West Vancouverwell the ones who talk to me that isbrag babble about their nightly Skype sessions with their precious daughters, I smile and say nothing. After all, my daughter has been too busy to skype with her Terrible Awful Mother since the beginning of January, but somehow she has found the time to demand  repeatedly ask for money and help with essays. So I have to envision her and what she’s up to based on my knowledge of her personality – her nicknames The Demon Child and The Weird One say it all – and the photos she and her friends post on Facebook. 1900116_10153777830790290_647385992_nIf I exaggerate a teeny tiny bit when blogging, well that’s my prerogative. Besides who needs to stretch the truth when there is such wonderful material at my fingertips!

When I sit back and take stock of my abilities and proclivities, I think it’s obvious that I was totally meant to be a writer. After all, writers should be meddlesome curious in their daily lives – curiosity may have killed the cat, but certainly not the author. Writers must be stubbornly inflexible determined in their efforts to dream up create the perfect world for their story. The ability to spy on friends and family carefully observe and listen to everyone all the time is a vital aspect of the writer’s process, as is the act of daydreaming carrying out relevant research.

Please excuse me as I send this blog to each and every member of my family in order to educate them about the noble sacrifices I make on a daily basis to hone my craft, and how suited I am to my chosen pastime career. Now if only a publisher would agree with me. Really!

A Little Look at my Book

Dawn at Tales from the Motherland  tagged me last week in a “game” called the Look Challenge. The game is for bloggers who are also writers, and is a way to let others sneak a peek at your work.

courtesy iclipart.com

Here’s how it works: Search your manuscript for the word “look” and copy the surrounding paragraphs into a post to let other bloggers read. Then you tag five blogger/writers to invite them to the challenge.

So here goes. This excerpt is from the first chapter of my middle grade manuscript, The Trouble With Queenie. On the first day of school after a scolding from the Headmistress, Queenie rushes to her grade 5 classroom.

Boy oh boy, this place was crammed full of rules. How was I going to remember them all when I couldn’t remember to take off my shoes at home, let alone my pill? I couldn’t even remember to flush the toilet half the time, but that’s another story. Anyway, I slid around the corner, past the first door on the left and straight into my classroom, lifting my hand to high five Miss Parfait. When I screeched to a stop in the doorway, nineteen pairs of eyes were glued to me. Miss Parfait frowned as I slowly lowered my hand.  She also did that thing where she lifted one eyebrow at me. Never could figure out what that means.

The silence was deadly. I glanced at the faces around the room. Crap! I did not have long silky hair, and I was not tall and slim. My brown hair was really thick and stuck out all over the place no matter how much I brushed it. My eyes were brown, my front teeth were crazy-crooked and I was super skinny and short. My white button-down shirt already had a big stain from breakfast (strawberry jam), my tie had wilted from the milk spilled on it and my knee socks were bunched around my ankles. My mother had wanted me to clean up before school, but I ignored her. I figured there was no way the cool kids would look perfect in their itchy grey sweaters, white shirt and ties. Wrong again!

“Please have a seat right over there beside Kenneth, Queenie,” Miss Parfait said with icicles hanging off her voice, as she pointed to a serious Asian boy with glasses and thick black hair. “I was just welcoming the girls and boys to 5P and outlining the class rules. The first one is to always be on time. Always! You are four minutes late, Queenie.”

“Sorry, Miss Parfait.  It won’t happen again, I promise,” I mumbled as I collapsed into my chair at the very front of the classroom beside the door. I stole a peek at Kenneth who smiled at me. 

So now my turn to pass the Look Game along. At the Surrey International Writers’ Conference I met a group of wonderful writers, each of whom is attempting to write a novel in five months and blog about it. Since then I’ve been following their blog, and I must say I’ve really enjoyed their comments and their stories. See for yourself at 5 Writers 5 Novels 5 Months.

Now let’s hope they’ll play. Really!

The Magical Allure of Books

As a voracious reader, enthusiastic writer, and aspiring author, I know a little bit about the power of words. Imagine my delight when a member of my philistine family finally showed some interest in really good books. Yes, my husband, the Original Obnoxious One reads – nonfiction economic, law and business books. How do you spell boring?! My son, the Obnoxious One reads – economic and history text books at university. My daughter the Weird One reads – existential angst-ridden teen fiction. It hurts just to look at her books – really! The Weird One recently told me, “Mom, in all the best fiction, somebody always dies. Think of Disney’s Snow White and the Lion King. So, you should definitely kill off someone in your novel.” Yes dear,a must-have inclusion for a humorous middle grade novel.

But this member of the family showed a fierce desire to go beyond all that, way beyond! This one wanted to gorge on books, to totally possess the written word. 

Who am I talking about? Why Franklinstein of course.

It wasn’t enough for him to chew my slippers, shoes, boots, chairs, baseboards, drywall or mill-work. Is it any wonder he has digestive issues?  Nope, he has officially moved on to books. Sigh – what an intellectual. And not just any old books, but the two books I purchased at the amazing Surrey International Writers’ Conference a couple weeks ago. And they were signed by the authors and addressed to me! Yeah, specifically The Rose Garden a wonderful story by Susanna Kearsley which luckily I read before Franklinstein struck, as well as The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great by Donald Maass. It was next in my pile of books to read. It looked really good; it looked really great in fact. So, can you imagine my reaction?

courtesy iclipart.com

I placed the two books on my desk in the kitchen, and left the house for two hours. Apparently Franklinstein enjoyed himself very much in my absence. Perhaps he was familiar with John Milton’s words, “A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit.” Yeah, that must be it.

In the words of my wise friend, coach and freelance editor Sylvia Taylor, “Good thing that dog is REALLY cute!”

You can say that again. Many times. Really!

Would you believe…the weather is the culprit?

Yup, I blame the weather … it’s just been too fabulous to do anything. Well, almost anything…except hike in the alpine at Whistler and the canyons of the north shore of Vancouver and hang out at the doggie park on the ocean. And swim.

For the past week or so the Pacific Northwest has been at its most glorious. But don’t tell anyone.We wouldn’t want the world to move here.

Really!

P.S. I actually have been doing some work rewriting The Trouble With Queenie, my Middle Grade novel, with the help of freelance editor extraordinaire Sylvia Taylor. My goal is ito have a polished manuscript ready for the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in October.

It’s great to be appreciated – thanks a million

Many thanks to CandyBottoms for the Versatile Blogger Award and mucho thanks to Talesfromthemotherland for the Sunshine Award. What a wonderful way to start the week!

I’m going to do a combined post here – share 7 things about myself and answer the 10 questions below. Must be efficient. (Sorry, my business background asserts itself in strange ways at strange times)

So let’s start with the 7 things:

1) West Vancouver could be the perfect location for The Stepford Wives – women here have long blond hair, are slim, workout most days (pilates, spin, and ultimate core are the most popular), drive large SUV’s (Range Rover, Lexus and BMW are favourites), own an entire closet full of Lululemon and live on skinny lattes. – at least I don’t have long hair!

2) Drivers in West Van are among the worst in the world – souped up mega expensive cars driven on very steep and often slippery slopes by folks that should NOT have licenses.

3) Currently there is a construction boom in my neighbourhood – at least 6 huge new homes are being built within a 2 block radius, and a few others are undergoing major renovations. This makes for even worse traffic than usual and grumpy neighbours. And grumpy me!

4) I’ve been married for almost 27 years…to the same man. I can hardly believe it myself.

5) My daughter is an absolute clone of my husband; the thing is I’ve had 27 years to correct his flaws – after 16 years, I’ve barely made a dent in hers. Good thing they’re both so charming!

6) I’m still trying to get my manuscript, The Trouble With Queenie published, but lately it  has been tough slogging. Currently my plan is to find an agent and try again. If you are one, or know of any, PLEASE let me know.

7) I am now a blogger on Huffington Post 🙂 You can find me on the Canadian site in the Living section here : Christie Russell. So, confession time: Huffington Post has all kinds of rules about transparency and the like (as they should), so I had to use my real name, Christie…Rita is my grandmother’s name, and hopefully my pen name for my novel.

And now the 10 questions.

favourite colour – pink as a colour to wear, but old gold/mustard as a colour to live with in my home

favourite animal – Labrador retriever – really

favourite number – 7 always has been

favourite non-alcoholic drink – plain Pellegrino/Perrier

facebook or twitter – facebook; I admit I just don’t see the point of twitter – now I really do sound like l’m a thousand years old

my passions – traveling, hiking, pilates, kayaking, reading, writing

giving or receiving presents – definitely giving – I’m a Leo after all

favourite pattern – hmmm. Have to think about this one…the golden ratio.

favourite day of the week – Friday for the anticipation of the weekend

favourite flower – boring I know

– 

Now the hardest part – passing the torch to deserving bloggers. Once again I have to say that lately I’ve been reading predominately websites of publishing companies, agents who represent children’s writers and writers themselves. And Huffington Post.

Doesn’t leave much time to search out new and wonderful bloggers, even though I know there are tons out there.  I will, however, highlight a couple that I do enjoy:

She Can’t Be Serious

Parenting, Illustrated with crappy pictures

Susan Kiernan-Lewis

The Hungry Novelist

So thanks again but gotta run now – my dogs are moaning and the mountains are calling. Really!