Thursday, January 31, 2008

Words

"... I chewed time like a wad of bubble gum and stretched it across the darkness all the way to dawn ..."
from Jerry Spinelli's book, Love, Stargirl

Does he know how to use words or what?


Sunday, January 27, 2008

More than the cold facts about Siberia

Here's a bit more info. about Siberia - the place where my mom (the daughter of a kulak) was exiled as a child in 1930. A dozen quick facts ...

1. Siberia is bigger than Canada.
2. The name Siberia comes from the word sibir which means sleeping (or calm) land
3. The Trans Siberian Railroad was built between 1891 and 1905 and is still the major east/west transportation route. Today it takes 7 days to take the complete journey.
4. Coniferous forests - called taiga - cover 40% of Siberia.
5. Tundra (treeless), steppes (grasslands) and mountains make up the rest of Siberia.
6. Siberia is rich in natural resources including: oil, coal, gold and diamonds.
7. Siberia's Lake Baikal, the largest fresh-water lake in the world, has several unique fish varieties.
8. Novosibirsk- the largest city in Siberia - was basically created by Stalin's industrial ambitions. Other major cities include: Omsk, Tomsk, Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk.
9. Average temperatures range from -40 F. in the winter to 100 F. in the summer.
10. Siberia has been used as a place of 'exile' since the 1700s. (Dostoyevsky spent four years in exile at Omsk in 1849.)
10. Siberia's population doubled between 1914 and 1946 because of forced 'resettlement' - this included many kulaks.
11. Siberia was home to the gulag system which was brought to the world's attention by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's writings.
12. Today Siberia is becoming a tourist destination because of its vast natural beauty.

More about the gulag another time.
Stay warm!


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Weather

The last weekend of January - finally. It's been a long one this year. As a mail carrier who spends four hours a day out walking - I feel intimately connected with the weather. Usually, I love it - even the cold. A day of minus 30 (that's celsius here in Canada) when the sun is shining and there's no wind, is totally as beautiful as a plus 30 day in July. Seriously. I'm not kidding.

Why has January felt so long this year? Could very well be my state of mind after finding my book postponed to 2009. I'll get over it.

Years ago when I first became a letter carrier I had to hide this truth from my mom for four years. Why? Because when I'd hinted about my plans she'd begged me not to. For her the winters of Winnipeg are like the winters of Siberia. She didn't want her only daughter to experience the cold like she had. Eventually I told her - and I still have to remind her on the weekends when I visit - that cold doesn't feel so cold when you have warm clothes to wear, proper boots for your feet and a satisfied stomach. (Central heating and a block heater for the car helps, too.)

Isn't all of life more manageable when you have the proper gear to face it?

The Class of 2k8 is getting much positive attention. The first two books have been launched - Liz Gallagher's The Opposite of Invisible and Lisa Schroeder's I Heart You, You Haunt Me.
They're getting excellent reviews and I'm sure looking forward to reading them. Dreams have come true for these debut novelists and I wish them both much continued success.

Weather forecast: Balmy high of minus six today - blizzard warning for Tuesday! Let me get my gear ready and then ... bring it on!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Old photographs

I'm reading the new book by Orlando Figes called The Whisperers (subtitle: Private Life in Stalin's Russia). There's lots of photos in the book. I love to stare into the eyes of these faces from long ago - trying to read the secrets that they tried to keep inside.

Back in 2000 an aunt sent us one of those popular custom-made photo calendars. She'd inherited a box of photos from my mother's much older brother after he passed away. In this calendar were three photos of my mom as a child. It was the first time I'd seen photos of her this young. I thought everything had been lost after the Russian destruction of East Prussia in 1945.

At first I found the photos difficult to look at. Why? Because my eighty-something year old mother couldn't look at them. They were too painful. And so, out of respect for her, I just gave them quick, secretive glances once in awhile. But I couldn't resist and eventually pinned copies of them up near my bed and stared into those long-ago eyes until finally I researched and wrote their story.

Here are the photos. (Sorry about the quality.) The first one is from the fall of 1930 - just before the family is forced from their Federofka home and exiled to a 'special settlement' near Yaya, Siberia. The second photo - with my grandfather - is from the spring of 1931 - after the death of my grandmother and the baby on her lap.

The Kulak's Daughter happens in between these photos - during Stalin's second wave of collectivization. My mom is the eleven and then twelve year old - top right in both photos.

I hope today's digital photos withstand the decades. Our children will need them to help tell our stories - and hopefully, they'll be happier tales.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ready, Set, ... Wait!

I drive my family crazy with metaphors. So I'm giving them a break and "metaphorizing" here instead.

Imagine you're in a race - one of those marathons - where everybody has a number pinned to their shirt, jogging on the spot and - then the gun goes - and you're off. You feel good - mostly - it's a bit confusing at the beginning and you can't really see where you're going but you're set - I mean you've trained and you've done the right prep - fluids, gear, mindset - you're ready to run the marathon - to go the distance. (Okay, I'm not a marathoner - but I've watched two of my kids run - I've smelled the sweat, seen the glistening bodies and as a writer I've got a good imagination).

And then, still near the start, in the chaos of the beginning, a voice calls from the sidelines - it's you they're calling - and you edge your way over only to get told you're disqualified - some minor bureaucratic thing. You slump down to the ground. The others scurry past - giving empathetic glances - as they go.

There'll be another race. I pull my race pinny off and wish my fellow marathoners well.

Okay, so writing a book and getting it published is not a race. There are no winners or losers. There's just the daily training - the belief that we are writers and that our writing will move us forward. In my head, I know this, but right now my feet are dragging.

This is a long way to say - my book won't be out in 2008. Sniff. 2009 seems a long way off and I'm disappointed. But what's the saying - a watched pot never boils? So I will keep busy. I've got my website to work on. I'm on the planning committee for the 2009 writing conference - Prairie Horizons - linked with Canscaip. I've got to prep for TLA in April, and of course, I've got more books to write. Best of all, I've got a whole year of great reading to look forward to. Sitting on the sidelines here, I'll be able to watch and appreciate the Class of 2k8 in a manner that would have been impossible if I'd been out there myself.

I wish my former classmates of 2k8 the best of success. Their passion and their talent is making them noticed throughout the world of children's literature. And they're off to great start!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Test

Class of 2k8

True or False

1. The class of 2k8 has 28 members.
2. The class is divided into 14 middle grade and 14 young adult titles.
3. It’s only coincidence that the class is all female.
4. The class members met for the first time on the internet.
5. Some of the class members are young.
6. Some of the class members are not quite so young.
7. Some of the books are adventure stories.
8. Some of the books are love stories.
9. Some of the books are mysterious.
10. Some of the books step back in time.


If you answered TRUE to all of the above you’re right!
Visit the class site to learn even more about these great books.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Just back from a great weekend of soccer out in the wilds of
Saskatchewan - great space - some people call it empty. I call
it room to think.

And I thought about how to best share this wonderful class of
2k8
I'm a part of - and I had a 'great idea'! (Or so it seems at
the moment ...)
It'll be a couple of days before it's ready. So please come back.

Talk to you soon.
gabe

Word of the day
empty - blank, void

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Blather

It's 2008 and all of a sudden I'm filled with doubt. I want to go back and examine every word, every comma, every plot point of my book. On the other hand, I want to tear it up and go hide somewhere. I want to apologize for taking up so many people's time with my drivel.

I think this insecurity is partly fed by a character flaw on my part - a deep wound in my self-esteem possibly inflicted during early childhood. But this insecurity is heightened right now by being part of this fabulous marketing group called Class of 2k8. Just like in the school days of my past, I feel myself drawn to the edge of the class as an observer. I watch the other kids - or in this case, the other authors - who are brimming with the self-confidence that talent brings, acting as leaders, connecting with each other and with the big publishing world out there. Of course, this might partially be due to the fact that I'm the lone Canadian in this group.

I wish there was an ultra-sound test for books in the making. I want to be reassured that my baby will be healthy. I want to hear its heartbeat, count its toes, and know that it will be ready for the harsh world that book publishing is. But I can't know this. I can only know that I did my best and that soon it will be judged. Then I must move on. I must write because I love to write and not because I'm successful or not.

On another note ... I've finished reading my first book of the year and would like to share just one quote from it. It's Slaughterhouse-Five. Vonnegut writes: "And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human." That's a theme in my writing so far - looking back. So what if it kills me. At least I've got Vonnegut's blessing. I feel better already.

Looking forward - even while I look back - to a great year! (Truly!) Next post I'm not going to blather on about myself. No! I'm going to talk about this fabulous of class of 2k8. So please come back.
-gabe

Word of the day:
human: susceptible to or representative of the sympathies and frailties of man's nature
(from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary)