With Summer Come Good Things

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Summer is almost here. With summer come good things that we started during the short, darker days of winter.

Today I’m happy to share just a few with you.

 

* The three Picture Book manuscripts that I submitted to the 2015 CYA made the short list in the writing competition.

The Children’s and Young Adults Writing and Illustrating Conference is based in Australia, and I thank my friend Stella from Sydney for introducing me to the writing competition.

Wish me luck!

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*The first draft of my new Middle Grade novel is well under way.

Although I freaked out many times this winter considering my slow progress, I’m happy to say that spending time with my fictional characters, before jumping to the keyboard, wasn’t such a bad idea. Talking of keyboard, I found out that my old notebook and pen weren’t too bad either. In the end I got to know my people much better and handwriting is more liberating than typing.

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*Thank you, Chris, for having me today as a Guest Author on your popular and prolific blog.

From The Story Reading Ape’s Blog Chris generously provides various tips for writers and links to other writers. From inspiration to publishing, from drafting to marketing, there is something for everyone interested in the craft of writing and publication.

Thank you, Chris, for introducing my writing to the people who read your blog.

And thank you, my regular readers, for following my writing journey.

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Enjoy the summer and the many good things that come with the season!

 

 

 

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Of Moonbows and Rejection Letters

On Friday June 13th, on a sudden impulse, I dragged four people to Yosemite Falls to watch a moonbow, the lunar version of a rainbow.

I told them that two ingredients are indispensable for a successful moonbow recipe:

1- A Full Moon

2- Water

I easily convinced everyone that Friday was a good pick because the moon had been full the night before.

Unlike a recipe that calls for optional ingredients, the recipe to see a moonbow includes a mandatory component that I ignored. I treated the detailed information like I disregard fine print. Or rejection letters.

 

We entered the park around 8:00 PM, chose a great picnic area overlooking Yosemite Falls. My friend had made California chicken salad sandwiches. Her husband uncorked a bottle of champagne, the appropriate drink when nature brings you to your knees. I had baked a strawberry cake. Between the lively conversations, the candles we had lit, the stars, and the full moon, we were in a celebratory mood.

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Around 10:30 PM, after a cup of coffee, we walked to the bridge that faces the falls. About forty photographers had already settled with their cameras and tripods. Some people were playing and climbing around the falls, impossible after a regular rainy season. The song Dark Side of the Moon rose from an iPod. A group of small children spoke in hushed voices. Occasional laughter and giggles cut through the night.

From behind the tress, the moon watched over us, casting a luminous glow on faces and rocks alike.

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Around midnight, the photographers gathered behind their cameras, ready for action.

The moon seemed to pose like a star on the red carpet, ready for the perfect shot.

I craned my neck toward the water and widened my eyes.

Snap. Shot. Snap. Shot.

On the rocks and water, the faint outline of a grey bow. Luminous. Elusive. A dream?

The photographer who had been standing nearby for the last hour started to pack his gear.

“Did you see anything?” I asked him.

“Tonight wasn’t the best,” he said, setting his camera back on the tripod. The photo he took, however, showed a distinct rainbow, not as stunning as I had hoped, still gorgeous.

“Look the one I took last month,” the photographer added.

“Woah!” I exclaimed. “So how do you explain the difference?”

“The falls are lower. There is no wind, no mist rising from the water,” he explained. “Still a beautiful night, isn’t?” He threw his bag on his shoulder and walked away toward the campground. He had to stay overnight before driving back to the Bay Area and envied us for living so close.

Envious? I thought. Really?

My friends had never been in Yosemite at night. A dinner at the foot of the falls, under the stars and the full moon was awesome for them.

I’ve been in Yosemite late at night, even hiking at night, so I was disappointed.

My friends suggested a short walk through the valley. Later as we drove home, they offered to stop so we could admire the cast of the moon on Half Dome.

I was still sulking.

People saw a perfect moonbow in May. Why not me?

When we reached home, I apologized to my friends for the missed opportunity. They insisted that it had been a gorgeous night and so much fun to have dinner together.

I agreed and moved on, beyond my frustration.

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Yesterday I had dinner with my writing friends. One of them had been to Yosemite in May and said the moonbow was extraordinary on the day of the full night.

“You saw the moobow?” I exclaimed.

“Weren’t the pale light on the rocks and water so gorgeous?”

Yes, it was really beautiful. A natural color and light hard to describe, and I suspect hard to reproduce on a canvas, too.

“But it wasn’t a moonbow,” I insisted.

“You need a great camera,” my friend went on. “A tripod. The right spot. And a lot of patience.”

I finally realized that my human eye could only see the pale grey arc. Only through the lens of a camera, set a certain way, under certain conditions someone can admire a moonbow.

I know that nobody can force nature to do tricks to accommodate our schedules. Storms, snow, ice or rain, have occasionally impacted some of my outdoorsy plans. So, despite my disappointment, I had finally accepted that I couldn’t ask the moon to pose, summon rain to fill the falls or beg the wind to blow to trigger a moonbow.

It was much harder to accept that I came unprepared and to admit that the ingredient I disregarded was in fact crucial.

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Today, in an effort to minimize my clutter, I went through my writing files and found rejections letters I’ve accumulated over the years.

Some were flat and totally impersonal. Like a dull thank you note with no genuine sincerity. I dumped them in the garbage can. Not even worthy of the recycling bin.

Most were kinder. I put them aside. Small, nice words of encouragement go a long way.

A few letters had been written with the understanding that rejection hurts. I read them again. In addition to being “nice rejections,” I realized that they contained valuable information and even specific comments about the manuscript I submitted.

When I received such letters, I just read the word NO, tucked the letter away with the manuscript, and started a new story.

To avoid the natural pain that accompanies rejection, it isn’t a bad idea to move on and brainstorm a new project. Yet I shouldn’t have dismissed pieces of advice that could have pushed me to embrace a deeper revision and perhaps led to an acceptance letter, farther down the road. I’m not implying that all positive rejections are an invitation to submit again, but I should have given them more attention.

As for the moonbow, I will have to wait until spring 2015, since the Yosemite Falls will dry out early this year.

 

If you want to know more about this natural phenomenon, the website from University Texas is the place to start.

To admire gorgeous photos and get specific advice on how to take pictures of moonbows you can click here and here.

To read more about the  moonbow, celebrating rejection, and perseverance.

 

 

P.S. A few of my favorite picture books for the upcoming full moon:

Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle

Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

And a classic for adults: Paris, The Moon by Adam Gopnik.

 

Now, your turn…

Do you sometimes dismiss important information?

Have you ever seen a moonbow?

How do you deal with rejection?

 

 

 

 

 

Meet My Character Blog Tour

 

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Last week, a fellow blogger invited me to be part of Meet My Character Blog Tour.

Sherri blogs and writes from England, her native land, after many years spent in California. Although she didn’t have to learn a new language, she had to adjust to a new lifestyle as she raised her children in the Golden State.

I also live in California, away from my native France. This common characteristic established a natural bond between Sherri and me. Although we’ve never met and communicate only through our blogs, I’ve learned a lot about Sherri and the challenges of her life, thanks to her regular posts and gorgeous photos. She is now at work on a memoir.

Thank you, Sherri, for thinking of me for this event.

It’s now my turn to tell you about Cameron, the main character of my novel Trapped in Paris (for readers 12 and up).

1. What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Cameron is the main character in my novel. He’s sixteen, American, and the product of my imagination.

2. When and where is the story set?

The story is set in Paris and the Parisian suburbs in April 2010 when a volcano erupted in Iceland, disturbing air transportation through most of the world for days and even weeks.

3. What should we know about him/her?

Cameron lives in Portland, Maine. His father owns a small float of fishing boats and expects Cameron to work with him someday.

Cameron is the middle child of five and also the only boy, which gives him a good understanding of girls and a natural respect for them.

Cameron is close to his mother, a third-grade teacher, and to his fifteen-year-old sister Maddie.  He also adores his eight-year-old sister Rose.

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Cameron’s girlfriend Lilley has dumped him brutally for another boy. This recent broke-up episode adds to Cameron’s natural prudence.

He has never told his father that he’s scared of the ocean and that he doesn’t want to be a fisherman. Although he has never traveled away from his native state, Cameron’s curious about the world. So when his High School’s French Club plans a trip to Paris over spring break, he wants to go. Still heartbroken, he doesn’t want to fall in love ever again.

So when he’s stuck at the Paris airport when the volcano erupts, he wants to stay away from Framboise, a girl he meets there. Yet this girl’s different from his former girlfriend,  intriguing and convincing, and when she suggests to leave the airport for Paris, Cameron gives in.

When he and Framboise witness a crime on the River Seine, they are kidnapped by a dangerous man and kept in an empty flat. From that moment, the two of them will become unlikely partners in a fast, action-packed four-day adventure through the Parisian suburbs.

5. What is the personal goal of the character?

For the first time, Cameron is confronted to several new, important experiences.

He fell in love and a girl broke his heart.

He’s miles away from home.

He’s stuck in a foreign airport.

He meets Framboise, a girl who speaks three languages, has traveled the world, and is adventurous.

He will have to rely on Framboise while he wants to stay away from girls.

He will also have to trust his survival instinct, brave danger, and act with courage to help Framboise when the two of them get separated.

Ultimately Cameron will learn to believe in himself.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

When I started this story, a title jumped to my mind: Ash Cloud.

I thought it would be the final title until a writing friend told me that Ash Cloud was misleading. My husband shared the same opinion, so I reconsidered. Changing the working title wasn’t easy, but ultimately I agreed that the volcano eruption triggers the story but isn’t the main topic.

The final title Trapped in Paris is the product of a brainstorming session between my husband and me.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

I published the novel in the fall 2012. It’s available through Amazon and can be ordered in any bookstore.

Last fall, I teamed up with the same editor for a new novel that will hopefully be available before the end of 2014. In addition, I have two other completed manuscripts that I intend to publish as well. I have also recently submitted a short story to a French publishing company for an anthology.

A Petunia's Place, samedi 26 novembre 2012

At Petunia’s Place, November 26, 2012

 

I’m happy to return Sherri’s invitation and invite other writers on Meet My Character Blog Tour.

You’ll notice that the five of them are women. Nothing against men! Several men are among my favorite writers. And I also know terrific bloggers who are men.

I selected women to support the #ReadWomen2014 twitter initiative.

I owe the idea to Kimberly who wrote about it earlier this year.

The writers below are women I respect and admire.  Their writing and blogs inspire me. They make me feel good about being a woman and hopeful for a kinder world in which art would play a more active role.

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Listed in alphabetical order and not in order of preference, using the blogs’ names:

 

Alvarado Frazier

Life Between the Sheets (of paper): Story, Art, and Poetry

Mona writes posts infused with poetry. In addition to her poems, Mona has completed a YA novel, now a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough novel. Cheers to her success!

I was drawn to Mona’s blog because of her American-Mexican heritage, and the fact that she’s using challenges and work experiences as powerful ingredients in her writing.

Harvesting Hecate

Thoughts on life, writing, creativity and magic

Andrea runs a high quality blog where I always read beautifully crafted posts and also find inspiration to fuel my own writing. Her posts about creativity are among my favorites.

Andrea’s writing has been noticed and recognized. Her list of awards and prizes is too long to list here.

Kimberly Sullivan

Thoughts on reading, writing, travels, and all things Italian

I could only be attracted to Kimberly’s blog. Kimberly was born in the US and lives now in Italy with her family. Besides her regular blog posts, Kimberly writes fiction. Many of her short stories have been published. I read Amica del cuore in the anthology Foreign and Far Away and liked it very much. Kimberly has completed two fiction novels.

Stella Tarakson

Author – children and young adults

I like Australian writers – Markus Zusak is my favorite – so when I met Stella who writes from Australia, I knew I would feel at home.

Through her extensive teaching and writing experience Stella provides concrete advice to recent and more seasoned writers. Some tips apply more specifically to Australian writers, but inspiration and support are international. Stella has already published many books. Some of them have received awards. Her latest book will be in print this year.

Teagan’s Books

Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene is one of the most unique and creative writers I’ve met online.

She writes fantasy fiction and started blogging when she embarked the indie boat to publish her novel Atonement, Tennessee.

As a personal practice exercise Teagan started a project called Three Ingredients. Using three cooking or baking ingredients, she concocts the most original posts, blending plot, characterization, and setting with the expertise of a chef. Et voilà! Due to her readers’ enthusiastic response, she’s at work on Cookbook 2.

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I hope you will take the time to visit these women writers to read more about their work, either published or in progress.

 

 

Still Writing…

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When AP testing will be done, finals over, high school graduation a memory, and summer vacation almost there, I will be visiting a local high school.

It will be so close to the end of the school year that I wished I could simply sit down with the kids, listen to their summer plans, ask them about the books they like, and the stories they would like to read.

In my perfect plot I would be a host.

But the school counselor and the AP English teacher have invited me to talk about writing.

It is not the first time I visit a school, a library, or a bookshop.

But in the past, my visit was linked to the recent publication of my novel, to a specific event, or in collaboration with other writers.

When I’ll go to that school I’ll be alone, and although I can bring copies of my book, the main purpose of my visit is to talk about the process of writing.

When you spend huge amounts of your time making up people, crafting twists and turns and ups and downs to create suspense, pondering one work over an other, don’t you think it’s a little weird to be invited to talk about this process?

Should I talk of the time I spent yesterday over chapter 21 of my new novel? Of the hard time I had to hush the racket playing in my head, so I could re-enter the world of my people? Of the fluttering inside me when I found my pace and ran to meet my main character’s expectations? Or of my disappointment when I had to click on Save because I had to pick up my son at school, while I would have loved to stay?

Who could be interested to know that?

Seriously, in a world that gives more importance to material possession than art, more power to the product than the journey to build it, more visibility to quick success than behind the scene labor, is it important to talk about writing?

But I’m invited and feel a greater responsibility than when I ask to come over.

In the same way considerate guests arrive with a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine when invited for dinner, I want to bring something special with me.

As I searched through my files and power presentations, I find that too much is about me, about my personal journey, and my work.

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I would like for the students to value words as exquisite and powerful artistic tools.

Words are what notes and instruments are to musicians, watercolors, oil, and brushes to visual artists, stone, glass, wood, and carving utensils to sculptors.

Our palette isn’t limitless but our possibilities infinite.

Like most writers did when they were teenagers, high school kids write to make sense of the complexity of their feelings and emotions, of their wounds and their moments of happiness, and also just for the fun of telling a story.

 

I would also like to be honest.

Writing, unlike some other jobs, is never perfect. This imperfection triggers moments of doubt. Is it worth of my time to sit for hours and write?

On the other hand, although most people but artists will find this strange, the richest aspect of writing, in my opinion, resides in its imperfection. I find the search for higher quality very rewarding.

When people find out that I write, some of them believe that writers are rich. I assume financially rich.

Some are such great and prolific writers that they sell lots of books and make money.

Many of us, however, will spend our lifetime without knowing this form of success.

Does it mean that we should stop writing?

Most writers have a day job and still write.

Not when we find the time to write but in the window of time that we’ve purposely designed for our writing.

 

I would also like more questions than answers.

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And I would really like to take a few people with me.

 

KCross for her upbeat attitude and marketing skills.

The Eye Dancers for his unique way to tie his writing to other forms of art.

Stella for her extensive writing and teaching expertise.

Mona for her work infused with poesy.

 

That would be a killer team.

In some ways, they will be there.

We write inspired by the authors who left their mark when we were young, and others when we became more sophisticated readers.

And we share our passion for words and stories, nourished by the passion of other writers.

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What or who do you bring with you when you visit children or teens and are asked to talk about writing?

Thoughts from the Snow

Since Friday night snow covers the ground around my home.

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The shimmering whiteness over the golden Sierra grass has a soothing effect that triggers reflection.

Down in the valley I suspect that holiday shoppers must converge toward the malls and shopping plazas. Christmas trees, parades, music and plump Santa Clauses will transform the city and excitement will float in the air.

Although I want share the spirit of the season, I pause.

The end of the year is approaching and with it comes a closure.

Three hundred and sixty five days have come and gone.

I can’t help but wonder where they went and what happened while I was living them.

I think that it is impossible to live every day with the awareness of living twenty-four hours that will never come back. Although Steve Jobs said that as soon as he knew he was seriously ill he decided that he would make sure to live each day as his last, I feel like I would be observing myself twenty-four seven and possibly missing on the unexpected if I focused so much on making each day count.

Yet as the fresh blanket of snow covers imperfections all around me, I’m trying to capture the essence of my 2013.

It would be too extensive and boring, too, to cover all aspects of my life, so I will only focus on the craft of writing and the life of people who choose to write over other form of art to express their humanity.

In an interesting and not surprising way, over the last days a few bloggers have written posts, which echo my thoughts at different moments through 2013.

Anthony reflects on the one-year anniversary of his book.

Cristian questions writing versus living.

Lisa explores the reasons why she loves to write.

Stella wonders about being a writer versus an author.

The whiteness over the golden Sierra grass has a galvanizing effect that triggers desire.

A year is almost gone and there is nothing I can do to stop the time.

But three hundred and sixty five new days have not yet unfolded.

Each of them holds possibility.

I’m a little frightened to think of inexistent days.

I feel like standing at the edge of a cliff, facing the openness of the ocean or a New Blank Document.

Yet promise stirs inside me.

Each day can count and yet remain mysterious before it has started.

So I quit Word and drive down to the valley.

To see what’s going on there.

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Hotel California

Mistakes happen…

Wrong link. Wrong tag. It is after all called Weekly Challenge. So in response to the theme Moved by Music here it is

1977.

The year I went through the first part of my French baccalaureate. French was my favorite subject and I was not too worried, yet I had to excel in order to get my baccalaureate, the mandatory entry ticket to the French universities.

I studied alone and with a few friends on Saturday afternoons. We quizzed each other but we also gossiped about our classmates, planned our future and dreamed of the upcoming summer.

During these grey, rainy Normandy afternoons we endlessly played the newly released Hotel California.

The song had been an instant hit in France, and although neither my friends nor I spoke English well enough to understand the meaning of the lyrics, we learned them by heart and sang at the top of our lungs until our mothers begged us to stop.

The date of the exam arrived and despite the time I had spent listening and singing “Hotel California” I aced the test.

As a celebration gift my dad took me to the beach every day for a whole week. He traveled a lot and I barely saw him. So in June 1977 the two of us walked for hours on the long Normandy beaches, only stopping for lunch and an afternoon snack before heading home for dinner.

Inside each café, each bakery, each ice cream shop the song “Hotel California” played.

“Ta chanson,” my dad would say.

Yes, it was my song.

I could have been fed up with the lyrics and the melody, but the more I heard the song the more I loved it.

I didn’t know yet that it would remain this way for the rest of my life.

A month later, I joined my parents and my sister for what would be our last family vacation together.

“Hotel California” played everywhere.

In July I fell in love for the first time. I was sixteen.

I got my first real kiss under a star lit sky. Behind us, someone strummed the opening notes of “Hotel California” on his guitar.

Years have passed.

I now live in California. My kids don’t especially like the song “Hotel California.” They don’t dislike it either. I realize that no particular emotion hits them when the song plays.

But me? I can’t help but hum the melody. If I’m alone, I sing along and tears well up in my eyes.

They are not tears of regret for my past, only tears of joy.

I feel grateful to have one song that sums up some of the most important experiences of a lifetime.

Recently one of my friends, a southern California native, mentioned “Hotel California” in conversation. My heart sped up at the name, but I almost brought my hands to my ears to block my friend’s voice when she started to explain the lyrics.

I don’t want to know, I thought. That’s my song.

I felt possessive and realized that my dad was right when he had called “Hotel California” ma chanson. I had made this song mine. I didn’t want anyone to explain the meaning of the metaphors. They had sounded cryptic in 1977 and had to remain mysterious.

“Hotel California” is no longer my favorite song the way it was in 1977. Although it won awards and topped every other song back then, it is not a perfect song. I have never liked long guitar solos in the first place.

But in the same way only people who share your hometown can criticize it, no one is allowed to discuss the song that embodies a whole year of your life.

Hotel California sings the end of my high school life.

Hotel California sings special dad-daughter moments.

Hotel California sings my last childhood summer vacation.

Hotel California sings my first love.

Years have passed.

My high school friends are names and memories.

My dad recently passed.

I built my own family.

I fell in love with another man.

Yes, years have passed and I feel lucky to have one song that rocked a whole year of my life and is forever etched inside me like an indelible tattoo.

And whenever it plays, for six minutes and ten seconds I am in 1977.

No NaNoWrimo

November 1st was gone before I knew it. Yet in the back of my head, if I’m totally honest, I was kind of pretending I didn’t remember that November 1st marks the beginning of NaNoWriMo.

A mix of uneasiness as if I had missed something important and relief knowing this ‘lapse’ was my business bothered me.

In the fall, when good resolutions look as crisp as a new back-to-school outfit I had no doubt I would write the draft of a new novel in November.

I have done it twice and the drafts gave birth to one published novel (Trapped in Paris) and to another one almost completely revised.

So what happened?

The pressure and the cheerleading kind of support built around the event didn’t talk to me. Maybe, I wondered, it is like with anything new. The novelty wears off and interest wanes. In the past less people participated. Maybe, I thought, I liked it better when the event was small and carried some kind of secret bond between the participants.

This year more branches grew out of the original NaNoWriMo. Writers of nonfiction have their own event. Picture book writers make up their own version.

But as much as I am in favor of challenges – I set them for myself in different aspects of my life including mountain hikes and even baking – the more I write the less I think that writing can be done in a designated time frame.

As much as I need occasional writing competitions, which push me to write around a theme and deadline, I felt panicky at the idea of writing a draft in a month.

What’s up with you?

The pressure had been a real motor and revved my productivity to the max. Yes to 2 000 words a day. Yes to 50 000 in thirty days.

In the past I had also enjoyed the fact that other people were participating.

And I didn’t like it as much this year.

What’s wrong with you?

You like people in general and writers in particular.

What I think I perceived this year – everything in life is after all a question of perception – is the artificial aspect of the event.

Writing remains a solitary task. And all the peep talk cannot change the fact that every writer faces the same fear and excitement and anxiety and thrill each time she or he sits down to write.

It can feel reassuring to know that other men and women are writing 50 000 words from November 1st to the 30th, but in the end you are ultimately alone to do it.

Aren’t you a little blasé and cynic?

Perhaps. And I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone who is doing NaNoWriMo. As I said I have been a participant and enjoyed being part of the event. If you are considering the option – November 3rd isn’t too late – go ahead, enjoy the ride and be proud of your accomplishment.

Maybe I will enter again but for this year I opted against.

And yes, I am relieved from the pressure, from my friends’ questioning my progress and from simply not having to write 50 000 words.

And yes, there is uneasiness lingering inside me as I had missed something important.

My husband who never understood NaNoWriMo said, “Told you it was weird.”

I didn’t tell him about NaBloPoMo.

photo(6)Blogging in two languages should fulfill the mandatory One Post a Day.

Dear English Non-Native Speaker,

When I started to write English I entered writing competitions. The specific topic and deadline pushed me to write and taught me discipline.

I thought I should do the same – once in a while – with my blog.

So this post is in response to WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge.

Dear English Non-Native Speaker,

I was born in Portugal. Lisbon is my hometown. Everything was easy until I met Tom. Tom is an American man. We are in love. Tom doesn’t speak Portuguese. He couldn’t find a job in Lisbon. So I said yes, let’s move to the USA. It didn’t matter that I don’t speak English.

Tom said, “It’s okay. Many people speak Spanish in California.”

“Portuguese is not Spanish,” I said. Tom said it’s okay.

It is not okay. I feel lonely. I feel different. I feel stupid. I see how people look at me when I speak. They try to not laugh. I was smart before. I like to laugh. I know jokes. But I don’t know any American jokes. I worked before. Now I can’t.

“You’ll get your Green Card soon,” Tom said.

Yes, but will people take me seriously?

Tom works a lot. I try to meet people. But they work too. I try to read. But it is hard.

Maybe, I think, you can help me.

Help!

Thank you very much.

Andréa, lost in translation

 

Dear Andréa, lost in translation,

First of all I want to welcome you in the USA.

The United States of America is a land of immigrants, so you have your place in this big country, too.

Second of all I want to compliment you. You wrote a letter, for English Non-Native Speaker’s sake. That’s an accomplishment.

Third of all I want to reassure you. You are not alone.

You saw my column and you are right to ask me for help.

You found someone who can relate to you.

I am also from another country. As a matter of fact, I am from Europe, like you. I was born in a small French country town, and like you I followed my husband to the US.

Like you I felt lost in California where we moved and still live.

I only spoke French when I came and I felt lonely, different and stupid, too.

I didn’t like it when people spoke to me very slowly and loudly. I wasn’t dumb. I was just a foreigner.

So, yes, Andréa, I understand how you feel.

But I can promise you two things: you will speak English and you will find a home.

I know, it’s hard to believe me right now, because everything is new to you, but it is the truth.

One day you will remember your first days in America with an equal mix of pride, embarrassment and affection.

I promise you.

But before you can celebrate this great moment you’ve got to have a plan.

The only way to find your home, you are right, is to learn how to speak English.

Since you live in the San Francisco Bay area, you are lucky.

You will easily find free or inexpensive classes open to non-native speakers, often in neighborhood schools. This type of class is taught by volunteers, local teachers and sometimes by people who used to be just like you. And your classmates will be people like you, men and women from abroad who want to find their place in the States.

Then I encourage you to do the five following things:

Read every day. When I moved to the Bay Area there was no Internet but plenty of free local newspapers. I read them all. Every day. With my dictionary and a notebook where I copied words I didn’t know (they were many when I started!) and also sentences I found useful and also just pretty.

Watch TV. Pick a show that sounds fun or interesting to you. I watched tons of shows when I arrived. I didn’t understand a lot, but thanks to the visuals, little bit by little bit, I learned more and more words. You won’t get the meaning of every single word either, but based on the context you will understand the general meaning. This is how everyone learns how to speak a foreign language.

Listen to the radio and songs. A much harder exercise than TV because you don’t have the support of the images it is an essential tool in order to get the music of the language. I bet you know many American songs. Pick your favorites and get the lyrics online if you don’t have them with the CD. Sing aloud with the CD in the background. People think you are crazy? You are only learning their language.

Meet people. Go toward them. Nobody will do it for you. Yes, it is hard work but it will pay off. We make friends when we go toward people. Not the other way around. Unlike the people who live here you have to move on with your life. You are the one who’s got to make the move. Smile. Be you. They will love to know about your native country. When you will have a few friends you will feel much better. Invite them over and cook a Portuguese meal. American people love to experiment with cuisine from abroad.

Write down the five following inspirational nuggets. I wish I had thought of them when I was so new I felt like an alien (I was one, according to my papers). Read them. Repeat them. Again. And again. And again.

1-    You are smart. Don’t feel stupid: I realized when I spoke a better English that people weren’t making fun of me. I was so ashamed of my inability to speak proper English that I truly believed they were laughing at me. In fact they were intrigued and curious.

2-    You are confident. Don’t be self-conscious: have you noticed how most American people are confident? That’s their education. Their parents and teachers have told them so many times “good job!” that they believe in their potential. You weren’t raised the same way but now that you live in the States, think positive. Don’t be embarrassed to speak: it is the only way to progress.

3-    You are proud of yourself. Don’t underestimate your skills and expertise: although millions of people speak English, there are millions who speak another language, too. You can be proud of your ability to speak Portuguese.

4-    You can do it. Don’t fell discouraged: as I wrote earlier you have to master the English language in order to fit in. It will take time and perseverance. But it is doable; otherwise very few people would speak English in the US.

5-    You are unique. Chance is that you won’t exactly speak like a native speaker. But between you and me: Americans are suckers for foreign accents. You will hate the way you speak and they will find it unique and charming.

You have a terrific asset, Andréa:  Tom is American, so when he’s home, talk with him in English and ask him to correct you. He loves you and owes you some help since you left your familiar life behind to be with him. Tom is right, you will find a job. But you are right to think that speaking English will be a plus. I missed my job very much when I arrived, but I eventually worked again. Don’t lose your focus and you will get back to work.

Dear Andréa, I feel so thankful for your letter. You remind me of myself when I thought that I would never make it in America.

But you are now asking me for advice. Me, a foreign-born woman, so much like you.

From the bottom of my heart I wish you the very best.

Cheers,

English Non-Native Speaker

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P.S. Also, since I am almost an American, I did a very American thing. I googled your first name.

Did you know that your Portuguese first name means strong and courageous?

So, Andréa, I am 100% positive that you can only succeed.

On Book Promotion and Manuscript Revision

So, as planned earlier this fall, Trapped in Paris and I were part of a Mystery and Imagination Book Festival.

As said earlier this month, I always go through a prep routine to get myself ready for this kind of events.

A few words about book events: even though all books are now available online, nothing beats a physical venue.

Meeting other readers and writers in person is a unique opportunity to share a common passion for words and stories, expand our network, renew established contacts, rekindle the writing flame, and yes put a face on online relationships.

As said earlier, there is always for me some apprehension.

Writing in a foreign language is hard enough, but being a speaker brings an unsettling mix of anticipation and anxiety to the nonnative.

As always, this book event was a mix of learning lessons and good time.

Since we were six writers, each of us was allowed twenty to twenty-five minutes. I came in fourth position and was relieved: I would take full advantage of my slot.

In reality I didn’t relax at all while listening to the first three authors.

I found them funny and clever. And they spoke fluent English. No way I could match them.

Yet in real reality I did relax. Especially toward the end.

Everyone was nice and smiling. They liked the cover of my book and Paris and everything French. And they even complimented me on my English.

The event was videotaped and a local TV channel stopped by to tape a segment.

When available I will lock myself in my den. I’m sure to draw valuable lessons from this new experience.

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Talking of experience, my editor has e-mailed me my middle grade novel edited and copy-edited. She worked as she did with Trapped in Paris, tracking changes on Word.

But when I worked on Trapped in Paris I did one huge mistake: I changed too much stuff from the story after the editor had finished her job. This mistake became a challenge for the formatting of the manuscript, which in turns is essential for the printing part.

My husband played a crucial role during this step. He’s supportive, resilient, clever, and skillful, but there are limits to everything and everyone. He remembers of our first partnership experience. Since I’d like to keep the partnership I must avoid a second round of similar mistakes.

This time I’m NOT rewriting big chunks of the novel. Promise.

But…

Although my novel is a work of fiction, I was inspired by the cultural, social and political backgrounds of the early 70s in France and the USA when I wrote this story. With my editor’s comments filling my screen, I need to double-check a few historical and cultural dates and accuracies, which I thought I had done. Like: when did Levi’s make jeans for women or how was the Coca-Cola logo in 1971?

See the importance of a second impartial pair of eyes?

So I get to read more about music, history and even clothes (oh lalala) from the 70s.

This is the fun part.

The less fun part: I should get rid of every adverb. We all know that an active verb is better than a verb plus an adverb. But that’s not my editor’s comment.

No, it’s a personal decision and based on a simple fact:  I just can’t understand where adverbs go.

Hey, in French I’m just fine, so it’s really this darned English language.

But writing is a journey they say.

Mine is only a bit bumpier. Yes, I know, obstacles make the trip more interesting.

That’s what I said at the book event. People liked it.

We always like it when others tell of their challenges; it helps us to surmount ours. And I’m totally convinced that mistakes and obstacles (ours and theirs) exist to make us better. Better people. Better writers.

So, once more, I’m tackling the embarrassing task: to agree on countless Accept Change offers from my editor.

Accept. Click. Accept. Click. Accept. Click…

I will deal with my husband later this week.

When Someone Else Reads Your Words

Two years ago my writing group agreed that we needed to change our routine.

It was decided that from now on we wouldn’t read our own work. Another member would read aloud while we would remain quiet. In fact we would be silent until the entire group had commented on our chapter or manuscript.

Although I didn’t propose the idea, I silently embraced it. For a very personal reason. Reading my prose with my French accent can be a distraction. So on the one hand I figured that it was great to have someone else do it for me. On the other hand I thought that the member who came up with the idea was a little sadistic.

The whole thing was sometimes humiliating.

Why do sentences that look just right on the screen and paper sound imperfect when read aloud by someone who hasn’t written them?

The comments point at ambiguity, repetitions, clichés, and other embarrassing imperfections.

The worse is that you can’t defend yourself before everyone has added her grain of salt.

For anything in life I always want the bad news before the good. When it comes to my writing, however, I like to get the good stuff first. And I’m glad that we all agreed on that point.

Finally when everyone is done, the writer has the right to justify or clarify her choice.

Two years later, I must say that suggesting this routine change was brilliant.

And this week I particularly experienced its benefits.

I have mentioned in a previous post that I am struggling with the completion of the first draft of a YA novel started months ago.

While I trudged my way along a more challenging road than expected I lost my main character. Thankfully I found him again when I opted for a change of plot.

My plot alteration had of course modified my early chapters. So I rewrote the beginning of the novel and brought chapter four for critique. I was happy with the result and wasn’t expecting any major modification after the meeting.

And while my friend read my chapter, I was relaxed, looking forward to going on. But when she reached the last sentence, she exclaimed, “Oh, I love it. Tell me, how long will the kids be stuck in Room 312? And how will they escape?”

Well, I hadn’t planned to have them stuck in Room 312.  Period. So I had not plotted an escape either. I had written an entirely different scenario. But I had to be honest.

My friend’s instinctive reaction matched the traveling of my thoughts.

Because when I heard her read my words, I had simultaneously considered another turn in the story.

This realization should have crushed me because I already envisioned more changes ahead of me. Instead, a rush of adrenaline – added to the strong espresso I had ordered – gave me wings.

So I went home, mentally drafting my revision and wondering if anyone would have thought of suggesting this new twist if I had read my own words.

Furthermore, would I have been fully open to the suggestion?

Reading our words aloud helps our writing, but try for another reader if you haven’t done it yet.HPIM3953

Chance is you will be surprised by the beautiful road this little change opens.

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