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!

Silent until now, but not unaware.

Much has been said and written about the events of Friday December 14 that took place in Newtown, Connecticut. When not scrambling to prepare for Christmas or helping my daughter with homework and university applications, I have been glued to CNN. I have watched with shock, then horror and lately profound sadness. I haven’t wanted to comment, because the US is not my country and so many have already said so much.

But…

I am a neighbour,

I am a mother,

and

I am the daughter of two public school teachers.

Of all the things I have heard and seen, this resonated the most with me.

Designer Dogs Are Us

I was at the doggie park in Ambleside this week, enjoying the dogs, the ocean, and the owners. Okay, so I’m the first to admit that I’m a tiny bit biased, but as an owner of Labrador Retrievers, I have to say that 9 times out of 10 I am impressed with other Lab owners. They are generally family oriented, relatively easy going (like their dogs) and sociable (also like their dogs).

Other breeds attract other kinds of owners, generally speaking of course. The latest trend  for the special folk of West Van is the designer dog, in particular Labradoodles and Golden Doodles. Of the two, Labradoodles and in particular Chocolate Labradoodles are the most desirable; at the very top of the food chain are Chocolate Australian Labradoodles which come in a variety of sizes (small and medium are best). These dogs are touted as possessing the best of both breeds, i.e. the gentle good nature of the Lab combined with the non-shedding, hypoallergenic coat of the Poodle. That’s the theory anyways. These dogs aren’t cheap though, and of course, that’s a large part of the attraction. Should you wish to “adopt” one of these precious princesses or princes, consider the following:

1)    Designer dogs cost 2 to 3 times as much as established breeds like Labradors or Retrievers or Poodles. Of course this fact just makes them that much more desirable. Wonder why the ones I know are yappy, hyper and poorly behaved? Is that a product of the dog or the owner?

2) Training a dog, any dog, takes a great deal time and energy; figure on a good 6 months of daily work at the beginning. But all too often the families of these designer dogs tend to have no idea how to train a dog, so they take obedience classes (which is great) that their dogs fail (not so great). They then hire dog consultants for several hundred dollars to spend quality time with their dogs and families at their home.

3) All too often these families don’t take their dogs for walks – nope, dog walking is reserved either for their nanny/housekeeper or favourite dog walk service. Every day on the local trails and dog walks, I see many of the same dogs. Now this service really is great for families where both spouses are working; but many of these dogs are from families where one of the spouses (usually but not always the wife) is at home. With a nanny/housekeeper, personal trainer, regular mani/pedi and weekly massage service. Good dog walkers are not cheap (at least by my standards) – about $20 for an hour walk…with other dogs. That adds up pretty quickly when it’s several times a week.

4) Don’t forget that what goes in, does come out, albeit in a different form. Somebody has to pick up after these dogs, but usually that pleasure is reserved for the nanny/housekeeper or Dog Poop service. BIG bucks to be made in the pooper scooper business in West Vancouver – figure on at least $10 – $20 per week depending on frequency. Also add extra to have your consultant teach your designer dog exactly where on your property your dog should leave their waste; after all, West Van gardeners get very upset when their clients’ pets that destroy their handiwork.

5) Be sure to budget for grooming fees. Just because designer dogs don’t shed doesn’t mean they don’t require grooming. If anything, they require more care than a Lab or Golden; their curly hair tends to absorb mud, sticks, leaves, etc. so demands frequent shampoos, brushings and trims.  No baths in the basement sink for these pampered pups! Suddenly the balls of hair in my house don’t seem too bad.

6) I just learned that customized swimming lessons are available where dogs can learn to swim in a safe and comfortable, controlled environment – honestly, I’m not making this stuff up! Who cares that West Vancouver is on the ocean. And has a number of dog friendly trails located beside rivers and creeks and lakes.Let’s pay big bucks to teach our designer dogs to swim.

7) When you go on vacation, what does your dog do? Home care, kennel and boarding are all viable options, but do consider  the deluxe doggie hotels and spas. Where the doggies can get special treatment like massages, treats, one-on-one specialized care in a carefully controlled environment. Don’t forget to book the services of the dog psychic if you really want to discover your dog’s true needs.

But why would you become a dog “guardian” (designer dog or not) if you don’t want to spend any time with it? After all, dogs are great stress relievers, they provide unconditional love, and generally encourage better health through those daily walks. Dogs, no matter what breed, are essentially social creatures; they want to spend time with people and other dogs, outside. But, they do require some work, some time and some responsibility.

Maybe some families just want a dog for the annual Christmas photo.

Oops – wrong one!

Much better!

Maybe instead of trying to be a writer, I should be a dog walker &/or groomer… the pay would certainly be MUCH better. Really!

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!

Brilliant, brave or just plain batty?

Driving home from my workout one morning this week,  Peter Gabriel was singing on the radio about the rain coming down on him. Why do they play this stuff when it’s really raining out? Especially when it’s been raining non-stop in Vancouver for weeks and weeks without let up. When my dogs are permanently wet and stinky. When my SUV is permanently filthy and stinky. When the skin between my toes is webbed and stinky.  Enough already!

Okay, I’m moaning about the rain because this my way of leading up to what may be the craziest decision of my life to date.

But wait, I’m not finished rationalizing quite yet. Remember, my New Year’s Eve wasn’t quite up to par; for some reason I don’t consider  raised voices, stomping feet and slamming doors delightful. (See Happy F–ing New Year in F–ing Paradise.) Also, consider the fact that I’ve been feeling rather left out and sorry for myself lately, since my husband, the Original Obnoxious One just went skiing for several days with his buddies and is planning yet another guys’ trip, this time golfing in Bandon in mid February. Yeah, yeah I know that Bandon is a golfer’s dream – trust me, I’ve heard that many, many times. In addition, my son, the Obnoxious One is going to an all inclusive in the Dominican Republic over reading week in February with his buddies. Heck, even my daughter, the Demon Child, went skiing at Big White a few weeks ago with her friends.

Meanwhile I sit at home, holding down the fort…looking after the dogs and whomever else is left behind. Doing the usual…cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, schlepping up dog poop. And hunched over my computer day in, day out.

.Are you feeling sorry for me yet? Can you hear the violins playing for my pity party?

But since this is a New Year and a new phase of my life, (I’ve recently joined the half century club – oh joy), I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands, and  I WANT SUN. So I offered to take my 16 year old daughter and 2 of her friends to Hawaii for a week. Without my husband or son – a girls’ road trip over March break. I figured  I could soak up some rays, do a little shopping, relax, unwind and since she would have her friends along, she would be happy too. Brilliant, right? The Demon Child totally jumped on my suggestion and signed her friends up within moments of my uttering those fatal words.

Amazing how quickly teenagers can respond to something that interests them – who would have guessed?!

So now we’re really going…to Waikiki…for 6 days.

Reality is settling in and I’m starting to shake. Each of the parents has taken me aside and murmured how brave and wonderful I am. What the heck have I done??? Three beautiful, headstrong, hormonal 16 year old girls, including the Demon Child, and me spending 6 days together in a hotel room. Deep breath now.

Okay…well I’m not totally nuts; I have rented a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom suite at one end of the beach. Should be a little quieter here I think, I hope. And I’ve read them the riot act: NO boys, NO alcohol, NO drugs, in the room by 11pm and they MUST have dinner with me every night.

Doesn’t matter that I’ve never been to Waikiki or Honolulu before. And doesn’t matter that it’s been 12 years since I’ve visited Hawaii at all and then it was only Kauai. Not much difference between Kauai 12 years ago and Waikiki now, right? And who cares when if the Demon Child has a melt down? Just because she’s had a temper tantrum at some point on each of our trips the past few years. And no way the 3 girls will have a fight – after all, they’re BFF’s.

Stop with the negative chatter…only positive thinking from here on. This is a brilliant plan, remember?!

So, I’m going to load up my ipod with lots of happy music (What a wonderful World), pack light-hearted books and magazines, bring feel good clothes, and PRAY. I think I’ll also stock up on coffee and wine the moment we land..lots of each…TONS in fact… just for me.

Yeah, I must be batty, but don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted. Really!

Rita’s Reflections has been awarded the Versatile Blogging Award – Really!

So let’s start the New Year over again right now, on January 11 where I am delighted to be acknowledging the Versatile Blogger Award. It doesn’t matter that I should now be forcing helping my daughter, the Demon Child, with her overdue homework right now, or making dinner or feeding the dogs. Nope, I am basking in the glow. 🙂

Thank you, thank you,  thank you to Tales from the Motherland for thinking of me. You’ve had so much on your plate, but you put it out there regularly, the good, the bad and the messy. I applaud you.

Now the award rules state: Share 7 things about myself and then pass this on to 15 other noteworthy blogs. Okay, let’s start with the 7 things.

1) I practice pilates three times a week every week, except over Christmas and when out of the country. I do matt, chair, reformer, board and other minor forms of torture. And I do wear Lululemon to do that.

2. I love to walk and/or hike pretty much anywhere, but especially in the mountains with my dogs. Every day. In rain or shine, and in Vancouver it’s usually rain, or at least heavy mist.

3. I believe travel educates the mind and broadens the soul.. .okay let’s just say I LOVE to travel, everywhere and anywhere. A few years ago when my husband and I got married (ok, it actually 26 1/2 years ago but who’s counting) we agreed that we would spend our earnings on travel, rather than furniture or housing. Of course, that is the reason it has taken us ten years to renovate our house, rather than ten months. Hey, I’m not complaining because our travels have taken us all across Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and Europe, as well as Turkey, China, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore.

Vietnam - Halong Bay

Still on my bucket list : Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu and Egypt.

4. During my first twenty years I was passionate about music and art. I played piano, cello, clarinet and acoustic guitar and sketched/doodled/drew nonstop.I still love to go to art galleries and museums when travelling. Then I was focused on math, business and accounting for a number of years. Once my kids started school, I stopped working for money, and volunteered as class mom, soccer manager, softball manager, and joined quite a few charitable and not-for-profit Boards. Now I’m ready for a new career – as a children’s writer. I’ve taken courses and written a manuscript for children aged 9-12 entitled “The Trouble with Queenie” which I have submitted to several publishing companies. Stay tuned.

5. Although I’m not a big believer in astrology, I will admit that I am a Leo and my husband, son and daughter are all Taurus.

Leo = sun worship + perfection + light + royalty

Taurus = stubborn + determined + persistent + resistant to change

Hmmm…that totally sounds like the Original Obnoxious One, the Obnoxious One and the Demon Child. Maybe I SHOULD be a big believer.

6. I am a voracious reader of fiction and always have been, ever since I can remember. First it was the Narnia chronicles , then Anne of Green Gables, then Mary Stewart. Now…everything and almost anything. Lately I’ve been checking out tons of YA stuff ( The Hunger Games, Blood Red Road ,The Magicians, but as well thrillers, (currently David Baldacci) historical fiction, the occasional chic lit, travel (The Beauty of Humanity Movement) and mainstream bestsellers,  (Room, The Help, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as well as the just plain weird like The Gargoyle. Oh, and I CAN’T forget one of my favourite series, the Flavia de Luce books ( The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) by Alan Bradley, my hero.

7.  My favourite movies of all time include “Gone with the Wind”, “The Sound of Music”, and the old James Bond movies with Sean Connery as well as “Casino Royale”.

Okay, now that I’ve bared my soul, I have a confession to make…I don’t follow 15 blogs, or even a number close to that. Sorry folks – I know there are TONS of amazing blogs out there, so it’s my bad, not yours. And with the New Year, my thoughts are back to writing and publishing. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time on those kind of blogs. Here are the ones I frequent:

The Bookshelf Muse

Girls Heart Books

Quick Brown Fox

Nathan Bransford, Author

Cynsations

Adventures in YA and Children’s Publishing

and I couldn’t forget to mention my teacher extraordinaire, Alison Acheson

Okay, I think I bent the rules a bit – so sue me!

However, I will give special mention to 2 blogs that keep it real and always make me smile: The Waiting and Toohotmamas’s Blog.

Really 🙂

Hip Hip Hooray – it’s the Liebster Blog

Liebster Blog Award

This Award is given to bloggers who have less than 200 followers, all in the spirit of fostering new connections. 

Leibster is German & means ‘dearest’ or ‘beloved’ but it can also mean ‘favorite’ & the idea of the Leibster award is to bring attention to blogs with less than 200 followers & pass the award on to 5 or more bloggers.

The Rules
 are:

  1. Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.
  2. Reveal your top 5 picks for the award and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
  3. Post the award on your blog.
  4. Bask in the love from the most supportive people on the blogsphere – other bloggers.
  5. And, best of all – have fun and spread the karma.
     

I find this award especially sweet because I know absolutely no bloggers in real life. I was nominated by adollyciousirony from allaboutlemon. Thanks so much for finding and noticing me!

So here are my picks in no particular order.

Too Hot Mama’sBlog

Grammar Guru

Tales from the Motherland

The Waiting

Not Quite Old

Do take the time to browse these blogs and enjoy. Really! 🙂