Saturday, December 29, 2007

Happy New Books to us All!

2008 is looming large. I've been looking forward to it for so long. I got the 'phone call' from my publisher back in December/05, signed the contract in January/06, and have been antsy for my book to actually come out ever since.

Of course, I've tried to keep busy. I did re-writes, wrote a sequel (and now working on re-writes for that), and I've been busy learning about book promotion. I consider connecting up with the class of 2k8 to be a great gift. They are a passionate group of debut novelists and it's just so empowering to share this thrill of writing success with like-minded people. We all lead very different lives, in very different places, and yet - through the power of the internet - we are sharing this incredible trip together.

Lots of books under the Christmas tree for the whole family. I got my two wishes: Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. (How come I've not read this before?), and The Whisperers, Private Life in Stalin's Russia by Orlando Figes (new release and I can't wait to get into it).

My two daughters' book gifts include: Unschooled by Gordon Korman (he's always been a big favorite at our house), The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty, Kenneth Oppel's Darkwing, and an autographed copy of Spider's Song by local writer Anita Daher (she's amazing!). And yes, I'll be reading their book gifts, as soon as they're done.

My husband got the edited sequel to Lord of the Rings, and my son ... my son ... got no book at all. He was raised on books just like my daughters ... so I don't know why he's no longer a reader. Maybe you just can't be a (video) gamer and a reader at the same time.

The weather outside is perfect for reading inside. Talk to you next year - in 2008! (Finally!)
Happy new books to us all!
-gabe

Sunday, December 23, 2007

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!
The tree is at its prime - all gussied up
and surrounded by secrets.

That's a big part of the Christmas magic, isn't it?
The anticipation, the secrets?

My all time favorite Christmas book is The
Polar Express by Chris van Allsberg.
I so enjoy challenging the sceptics
- the unbelievers - especially when they're
only eight years old. What's your favorite
Christmas book?

To all of you ... this is my Christmas
wish ... keep believing in the magic,
not just of Christmas, but of life.

- gabe

p.s. OOOH, I almost forgot ... great
Christmas gift is on the web! The
Class of 2k8 website is up and running.
It's gorgeous, if I don't say so myself.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Christmas Tree

An evergreen tree stands precariously in
its stand a few feet from me. In a few hours,
when everyone's home, we'll turn it into a
Christmas tree. We'll use the same decorations
we've used since the kids were little and I think
maybe my kids - now hidden behind eyeliner,
six foot frames, and intectualizing (okay,
there's three of them and they're each
quite different) - have a little-kid-bond with
this piece of forest that enters our house
every December.

It's a Christmas tree that started my novel. In
fact a short story I wrote, "The Secret Christmas
Tree" was a finalist in a 2003 Writers' Union of
Canada contest. I'd hoped for the story to become a
picture book. One editor at a Canadian publishing
house sent me a very nice rejection letter and said
the story seemed to belong to a longer piece of work.
And so I started to surround my Christmas tree story
with what is now my debut novel.

No, I won't repeat the story here.
But my mom - almost 89 - and now closer to
the little girl she once was than ever before,
repeated her Christmas tree memory to me just
the other day. It's a memory of a 1929 Christmas
when Stalin had outlawed the religious event.

She even sang the old German carol she
remembered singing with her little brother.
Some of her details are different, of course from
my story. I've written a story, after all, and not a
memoir. But I hope I got the essence - the smell
of pine, the sense of secrecy and the magic that
Christmas is for a child - whether 9, 89,
or 19 years old for that matter.

I hope you're getting your to-do list checked off.
Enjoy the rush.

-gabe
Word of the day:
essence
the individual, real, or ultimate nature of a thing

(from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Cultural Diversity

I've been focusing on my trip to Ukraine in this blog,
but today I'd like to meander a bit. I've got some
exciting news to share. I'm going to the TLA
http://www.txla.org/conference/conf.html
in Dallas, Texas in April to speak on a panel discussing
'cultural diversity in children's literature.' I've just
finished booking hotel rooms, so that makes it feel official.

Now I can start worrying about what in the world
I have to share about 'cultural diversity in children's
literature.' But then I realize that The Kulak's Daughter
is the book I never got to read when I was a child.
When I was in school I was ashamed of my immigrant
background. I was ashamed of my parents and their
foreignness. They could barely speak English. I couldn't speak
any English, either, when I started kindergarten. And it wasn't
just language - it was a clash of cultures. My reading
in the school system was about "Dick and Jane" not
about characters like my "Olga." (If you check
out this link http://faculty.valpo.edu/bflak/dickjane/neighbors.html,
you'll see that cultural diversity did eventually enter the popular readers
- my school must have had older books.)

With Christmas approaching, I now cherish my family
traditions. We celebrated St. Nicholas day on December 6th with the
boots put out the night before. We celebrate Advent every Sunday
and we'll open one gift after sharing a poem, song
or story in front of the tree on Christmas Eve. There
is no shame.

Cultural diversity in children's books is as important as
cultural diversity in life. Children can feel so lonely when
they are labeled as different. I know. Through books, we
can empower those on the edge. Books are a one-on-one
relationship that not only reveal new worlds or old worlds
but also empower the child to understand these other worlds.
Wow.

Hey, I think I figured out the slant I want to put on my panel talk!
Talk to you soon. I've got to go console a cat who can't get past
the fact that it's -26 out there.
-gabe

Word of the day: shame
- a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or
impropriety
from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary


Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Token

One look out the window confirms
the season - it's December! I'll be
visiting a Christkindl Markt this
afternoon to get some German candles.
Later, we'll light one candle
to mark the First Advent.

It snows in Ukraine, too, and so I
guess these rocks will be hidden for
the winter.

This pile of red granite is all that's left of my grandfather's windmill. We found it - with Helena's help - in one of the
fields of Federofka. The rocks sit on a slight incline near some lilac bushes which were in full bloom when I was there.

The red granite is flecked with black. It
sparkles just a bit. I know this because
I've got a chunk of my grandfather's windmill
rock beside me as I type. It's my token of the
grandfather I never knew. His character
is symbolized by this rock. I describe him
as hard and determined - but with the
capacity to have a twinkle in his eyes.

When I was researching Lenin's death, I
was amazed to learn that his mauseleum
- rebuilt in 1929 - is partially made of red
granite. Here's a link to read more about
Lenin and his tomb.
http://englishrussia.com/?p=783

Talk to you soon,
-gabe

Word of the day:
Token: an outward sign or expression:
a symbol, or a small part representing
the whole.
(Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Windmills


Hi!
Here are some photos of an old
windmill we visited in the vicinity
of Federofka. It was raining hard
when we found it and I thought of my
fictional character (I'd finished the
first draft of my novel) - taking shelter
from the storm in her father's windmill.

We climbed around inside the huge pine
structure. The technology was quite
impressive. However, I was more impressed with some initials carved into the wood beside the date - 1923. I felt tingly all over. Could this be my grandfather's windmill?

If you study his signature on the
bottom of his confession papers (see Oct. 27 post) - there is a
distinct similarity. But alas! We had to
conclude this was not my grandfather's windmill.
Why?

Piecing together my mom's memories and old Helena's directions, the windmill was a bit too far away and in another direction from where the school once stood.

Then there's also Helena's memory that the Communists tore down my grandfather's windmill within months of the family's deportation. Supposedly, they needed the wood to build the new collective manager's home. I added this fact into a later draft of my book.

I'll never know the truth. Next time I'll share with you what I think are the remains of my grandfather's windmill and I'll tell you how these remains connect to Lenin's tomb in Red Square, Moscow.

Talk to you soon,
(Go Bombers, Go!)
-gabe

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Graveyards


Hi, thanks for being here.

Graveyards have got to be one of
the most fascinating kind of gardens
around. I'd like to meander the
world just going from graveyard
to graveyard ...
Call me morbid, or just call me intrigued
with the past.

After landing in Kiev, back in May, 2004,
our six member tour group zoomed off
only to crunch to a stop at a graveyard.
We had a flat tire! And so we spent an
hour wandering through this colorful
graveyard.

Flowers, photos, empty food dishes,
stuffed animals, empty bottles, hungry
dogs (are there any other kind?) and
sleeping drifters made the cemetery
a busy place. What a contrast to the
graves of my two maternal
grandparents.

One of the last places I visited before
coming back home was a weed-infested
ditch in Zhitomir filled with industrial
piping. This was my grandfather's
resting place. The dandelions were
bright and profuse. They're a hardy
plant.

Then there's my grandmother. She died
in the dead of a Siberian winter. What
kind of grave marks her life? Maybe
someday I'll have the opportunity to
search for it.

That's why I write, I guess, to remember
the stories of those who are unremembered.
Call me morbid.

Next time, I promise to write a much brighter
blog entry.
-gabe

Word of the day: morbid
- abnormally susceptible to or characterized by
gloomy or unwholesome feelings
(Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

So much to remember


Me again.

Hi, how are you? Still no snow
over here and that's fine with me.

I wanted to share a bit about the old woman,
Helena Nickel, from the rundown village once
called Federofka.

Helena Nickel is a couple of years younger
than my own mother who was born in 1919.
Like my mom, she too, has a worn out body,
crippled by arthritis. But while my mom has
painkillers, there is very limited health care in
the now defunkt USSR. And it's the old
who suffer the most. Helena eagerly accepted the
medicines I'd brought from home.

Sadly, her biggest concern was for the future.
How could she find the thirty dollars to
buy a coffin? I helped her out and then we
could focus on the past.

Helena's eyesight is clouded by cataracts.
My mom got surgery to brighten up her world
a few years ago and I remember her amazement
when she saw her sweater was in fact
red and not brown.

It's sad to think that the red poppies which bloom
- even in this forsaken place - look
brown to Helena. On the other hand, maybe not,
because she has memory to color her world.

I've come to see not what Helena now sees,
but what she once saw. Her inner sight is keen,
her memory sharp. With arthritic hands covered
in open sores, eyes clouded with cataracts, she points
to my own mother's past. We explore the Federofka
landscape.

The farm was in one direction. (I'm disappointed not
to be able to find the old well where my mom's
doll was once thrown.) The school was off another
way. It's now just another empty field. I ponder which
hill my mom went sledding down one Christmas - back
when Christmas was forbidden.

We head to the woods where Helena says the
old graveyard was. Only a few perennials suggest the
lives once lived - my grandfather's first wife (who died in childbirth)
and some of my mother's siblings (who died as infants)
would have been buried here.

Then I ask about the windmill - my granddad's pride
and joy. I'll tell you about that real soon, but first
I want to meander on about graveyards.

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day. There is much
to remember. So much.

Talk to you soon.
-gabe

Word of the day: remember
"to bring to mind or think of again"
(from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Transition



Hello there!

First Saturday in November. November has got to be the most melancholy of months - the month squished between the gold of October and the snow of December. Any day now can bring the beginning of winter. Transition is always hard.

I think the weather in Ukraine is quite
similar to ours here on the Canadian
prairies. Not as harsh, of course. (We
prairie people like to think of ourselves
as tough.) But what do we know of winter
here with our centrally heated houses,
cars in driveways, warm clothes
and food-a-plenty?

Here's a photo of Helena Nickel. I met her in the
little village of Kaliniwka (about 35 kilometers north of
Zhitomir). This place was once called
Federofka (also spelled Federowka or Federoufka).
Exploring the past in the former USSR is
challenging - not just because of the politics,
Russian and Ukrainian languages, and the
Cyrillic alphabet, but because of the name
changes).

This is the village where my mother was born
in 1919 and my grandfather in 1875. It was
once a vibrant place. In 1911 it had 615 people
and 65 houses. When I visited in 2004,
it was an almost empty place with rampant
alcoholism (homemade vodka),
recent suicides, and extreme poverty.
There are few men and the women work
so hard just trying to survive.
With the fall of communism, there is no
collective farm and no employment. I can't
imagine the hardship of winter
in Kaliniwka.

Communism is over, but the transition
has hit the villages and the old people
very hard.

Talk to you soon. (I want to tell you more
about what I learned from Helena).
gabe

Word of the day:
Transition - a passage from one state, stage,
or place to another: change
from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Connections


Hi!
Sudden insight: circles are lines that get
get connected! This is a WOW discovery
for me - something that, no doubt, every
good math student learns. (I'm a bit slow.)

Here I am meandering down the trail of life
and then I get to connect somehow with another
moment and then that line becomes a circle.

What is she talking about? Or are you already
clicking away from me? I must focus. What I'm
trying to share is how I got the spark -
the connection - for my novel,
The Kulak's Daughter.

We were sitting (sort of) around the dinner
table at Christmas. My three kids were hyper
and my mom was being her usual foreign, stiff,
old self. I was in the middle trying to keep
everyone happy.

Instead of harassing me about keeping my
kids more under control, my mom proceeded to
tell a story about how she misbehaved one Christmas
back when Christmas was banned. It wasn't
the banned Christmas that brought the spark - the
connection. I'd heard her ramble many times
about life back in the old country.

It was the idea of my mom being bad.
It was then that I saw the circle of life.

So this upcoming novel of mine might be set
back in the horrors of the former
Soviet Union - but it's really about childhood. It's
really about connecting the present with the past
and (hopefully) with the future.
Man, I better stop talking.

Here, as promised is a photograph of my
grandfather's signature. I got this from a former
KGB file in Zhitomir, Ukraine. It was forbidden
to take photos of these once top secret files.
But my grandfather was murdered and his body
thrown in a ditch along with thousands of
other kulak bodies. I deserve this photo of his
signature at the bottom of a forced confession.
(It's dated August, 1937)

And you know, if it wasn't for the internet, I'd
never have connected with this part of the past.
But that's another story.


Word of the Day:
connect: to become joined
from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary


Talk to you soon (and I hope we're connecting!)
gabe

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Drama

Googling yourself on the internet is sort of
like looking in the mirror. Snow White comes
to mind. Who is the fairest in the land?

Me, I'm just looking for signs of my upcoming
book. And yesterday, I found it! My book is
actually up on Amazon. I was seriously thrilled
and showed it to everyone in my house. (Right
now that includes my three kids, husband and our
German house guest, Ralf.) My kids were least
impressed. It's hard to impress teenagers (even
when a couple are technically out of the teen
decade.) I think August, our cat, was impressed.
She purred.

I've also finished a second draft of my sequel to
The Kulak's Daughter. So now I go from feeling
busy - a good busy, a purposeful busy - to feeling
relieved (I've done it!) to insecure (who cares?,
it's no good, etc.)

But enough of my emotions. I want to continue
sharing my most amazing trip to Ukraine.
Guess I'll save that for another post.

Outside there's a fog hiding the neighborhood.
I love October. It's just so full of drama.
That's what I wish for my books - the drama
of October - cool lighting, intense colors,
winds that argue and fogs that make even
ordinary places look mysterious.

Word of the day: drama:
a state, situation, or series of events involving
interesting or intense conflict of forces (from
Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary)

Talk to you soon,
gabe

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Serendipity





I've been digging through my photos
of Ukraine trying to find the best ones.
I went over there in May, 2004. It was
the most amazing trip and now that I
have this blog, I'm going to share some
of my experiences.

Here's a photo of me and Uri
(my interpreter) in the
former KGB files of Zhitomir.

I was able to look through
documents about my grandfather.
My dear old mom was finally
able to learn what had happened to her
father from whom she was separated in
1931 as a 12 year old.

Some of these OGPU (the secret police
of the day) documents were on faded
pink paper and classified 'top secret'.
All, of course, were written in Russian.
The file on my grandfather was quite thick.
It's mind-numbing to think that there
are highrises full of such documents
throughout the former Soviet Union.
They were meticulous book-keepers.
I'll share some of the details of
these documents in a later post.

Discovering my grandfather and the child
my mother once was over in that faraway
place has been a most serendipitous
journey.

Word of the day: serendipity -
The faculty of finding valuable or
agreeable things
not sought for.
(from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Suppose you gave a reading and ...



almost nobody came?
(Photo: Rae Bridgman with 2 of her 6
kids at launch of The Serpent's Spell
in April, 2006.)



I was torn, last Tuesday, between going
to a friend's reading at our public library or attending my monthly
critique group. I opted for the latter and now regret my choice.
Turns out, turnout for the reading was dismally low.
The question is WHY?

The event was well advertised - or was it?
Posters were put up at the university and
at the library (co-sponsors of the event).
But was that enough? Obviously not.

It's a lesson for me - still waiting for my
own first book to come out. Never assume
an audience. Maybe I have to bribe people
with ... I don't know ... food, perhaps.

I mean, if you can't fill seats in your home
town, what happens if you go to an out-of-
town place?

My friend is a fantastic speaker. She's funny
and energetic. But if nobody shows up, how
will anybody know? It's like the tree falling
in the forest. It makes a sound even if
nobody hears it. Or does it?

Anyway. I feel guilty for not showing
up. Rae Bridgman is a terrific writer and
her two books, A Serpent's Spell and
Amber Ambrosia
(published by Great Plains)
only make me want to read the next in the series.
Learn more at her website: raebridgman.com

The midgrade books are set in our city
of Winnipeg. They're full of Latin phrases
and fantastical turns of plot. I highly
recommend them to anyone who gobbled
up the Harry Potter books.
(And isn't that almost everybody?)

Yes, I think it's safe to say, NEVER assume
an audience. Let me see, chocolate sounds
like a good bribing food, or maybe carrots or ...

But really, how can you make sure you get
a decent turnout? A good weather forecast,
a place with good parking, perhaps a couple
of other speakers? Any ideas are appreciated.

Talk to you soon,
gabe

Monday, October 8, 2007

Being Grateful

Here in Canada we get to eat turkey
and sleep-in on a Monday on the second
weekend of October. It's a treat and
I am grateful for it.

I was visiting my widowed mom who
lives in a seniors' block yesterday (the
same mom that I wrote my first novel
about). That seniors' block is just overflowing
with stories - tragedies, comedies, romance
novels, thrillers - and of course, coming-of-age
childrens' books.

A fellow passenger on the elevator
with me preached a little sermon about
'gratitude is attitude' and I told her she
was a poet and I think she was titillated
by the suggestion.

Perhaps everyone wants to be a writer
- a creative person - of some kind.
And I think we all are. But the more
we believe in our creativity, the more
we act on it. (I am meandering quite
badly now.)

Back to giving thanks. I am grateful
for so many things including the sounds
of Canada geese that I hear migrating
south now as I blog. (Did you know
that some call them the 'rats of the sky'?)

But I'm most grateful that I'm not
in charge of the turkey dinner this year.

With a grateful attitude, (but it doesn't rhyme!)
yours,
gabe

Friday, October 5, 2007


Here I go. Already I've messed up.
My first blog entry refuses to come
out of the draft stage.

I'll quickly tell you what that first
carefully pondered post was all about
I'm scared of yapping on this blog,
scared of messing up and letting you
know how totally uninteresting I
can be.

On the other hand, I'm terribly
excited about sharing with you
the adventures of this journey
as I get my first book published.

Yes, I am going to be a novelist!
And I am going to meander down
the various trails of writing,
publishing and promotion.

I'll also, no doubt, meander off on
various other trails.

Talk to you soon. And thanks for
visiting.

-gabe