Word Warriors

The Isle of Loathing

Right now I don't just mildly dislike my current WIP, I loathe it with every fibre of my being. I'm about two-thirds through the second (big) round of edits on My Grape Wedding. Every word I have written sounds trite. The dialogue is lifeless. The scenes are pointless. The description (even my beloved food porn) is repetitive. Why did I ever think I could write a book?

My inner critic tells me a million times a day that I should save myself and my readers the agony and just bin the entire project. I have so many other things I want to write besides this tired old WIP. I hear their siren's song...More brilliant things. Easier things. Effortless things.

My writing ship has run aground the Isle of Loathing.

I've been here before. In fact, in the past three and a half years I've been here THREE TIMES before. When I begin a new writing project I always think I can avoid this place, but in fact I had to do my penance here with every book I wrote and published.

I can almost set my watch by it now. I always end up here between half and two thirds of my way through the second edit.

For a decade before I published my first book I never explored what was on or beyond the Isle of Loathing. In those ten years I began eight manuscripts and shortly after being shipwrecked on this ghastly place, I would always alight to a new, shiny story idea, only to be surprised and dismayed when I hit I inevitably hit the Isle of Loathing once again. As a result, despite a regular writing practice I didn't finish or publish anything for ten long years.

Then, I decided to become a finisher.

Being a finisher, as it turns out, means getting out and exploring the Island and figuring out how to get off.

Surviving and escaping the Isle of Loathing isn't complicated. It is comprised of two steps:

  1. Embracing the Suck
  2. Finishing your current project

Embracing the Suck means that you accept the Isle of Loathing as part of your writing journey, and almost learn to relish its fetid air and polluted beaches. This is the point in your writing when you get up close and personal with one of a writer's most valuable assets - grit. You will have to dig deep, but you will also begin to take a perverse pleasure in knowing that you can dig deep. The Isle of Loathing is going to suck, but it is not going to stop you from writing. No sir.

Finishing your current project is also pretty simple. It means you continue writing, but do not jump ship to another project until you have completely finished (for me this means hitting that "publish" button) your current WIP.

If you just keep doing this every day you will find eventually a kind tide will wash in and free your boat. You will escape (at least until your next WIP). Then, you'll begin to find some bits in your MS that make you laugh out loud. You'll discover that you actually handled a scene quite effectively. Readers will thank you for writing your book.

All of that will make your temporary purgatory on the Isle of Loathing worth it. Feel the loathing, but finish anyway.

 

The Best of The Worst of Me

Close-up of old typewriter It's been a rough few weeks. After getting out of the hospital in March and finishing ten days of IV antibiotics for my liver infection I enjoyed five weeks of feeling like A Million Bucks. Well, not other people's version of a million bucks, but a significant improvement on the Varying Shades of Shite that had become my norm. Dammit, I'd take it!

I finished editing My Grape Year, arranged the photo shoot in France for its cover, planned a Creativity workshop for the end of May I am super stoked about, even wondered if I may be able to make it back to Burgundy in July. Then, about six weeks after my IV treatment, I started to slide slowly but inexorably downhill. Nausea, increased pain and discomfort in my liver area, fatigue, weakness, and random fevers. It basically feels like a combo of the stomach flu and the actual flu that waxes and wanes throughout my waking hours. There are no longer good days and bad days, but rather good hours and bad hours, or often, good minutes and bad minutes.

The whites of my eyes are no longer white but rather pale yellow and I'm sure the results of my last batch of bloodwork are going to be pretty horrific. I'm still waiting on the doctors to get back to me with A Plan but I know that sooner or later I am heading towards another all expenses paid stay at Club Med. On top of all that, I'm also nearing my yearly colonoscopy / gastroscopy and my 6 month MRI - always stressful as they look for all variety of nastiness that could disqualify me from a potential liver transplant.

So...yeah. Basically a shit sandwich.

I wake up every morning with a lead weight not only in my liver, but in my soul. A lot of that is physical pain and discomfort, but even worse, I think, is the mental anguish, particularly the intense, crushing anxiety.

I have been thinking a lot about my lifelong struggles with anxiety and the lifelong struggles that so many of my fellow writers have with anxiety. Just for the record, not all writers are headcases - a minority are remarkably sane - but frankly, most of my favorite ones have a bit of the headcase in them.

I see some people deal with serious illness and am amazed at how they just power through and DO.NOT.WORRY.. They do not try to project the future, they do not second guess, they do not doubt...they just decide on an outcome and never mentally sway from that path. How I wish I could be like that.

Instead, I was born with the "what if?" gene. What if they run out of antibiotics that work on my liver infection? What if they find cancer? What if one of my varices ruptures? What if I am approved for transplant but my potential donors can't get vacation time off to be assessed? What if I get a fever when I am supposed to be getting the colonoscopy? What if I die? What if I live? What if, what if, what if, what if, WHAT IF?

Not only is my brain obsessively asking 'what if' all the time like a needle on a skipping record, but it also concocts and projects fully fleshed-out scenes of the various 'what if' scenarios - good and bad. Me being told by the doctor that my PSC has morphed into cancer, me waking up from transplant feeling like I've been reborn, me being counselled by the hospice people as I prepare to die, me on the stage at a TED talk after a successful transplant talking about how creativity saved me...it's all there in turns - the terrifying and the galvanizing, the wretched and the glorious.

Lately, I long to muzzle this overactive 'what if' drive on my brain, but no amount of meditation, gratitude journaling, sessions with spiritual healers, or reflexology seems to be doing the trick. The truth is nothing in my life (and I have tried pretty much everything) has ever changed that aspect of my mind. The 'what if' is as much an innate part of me as my brown hair or my love of the ocean or my fear of knives.

But that 'what if' has a flip side. Without the 'what if' I wouldn't remember my past in terms of scenes and stories and be able to write about it vividly in my memoirs. Without the 'what if' I wouldn't be able to concoct a paranormal romance between a winemaker and a mermaid, as I am doing right now for my first work of fiction. Without the 'what if' no writer would be able to write but because of the 'what if' so many of us writers live with anxiety.

My 'what if' gene is the perfect example of a human paradox; the worst part of me is also the best part of me.

Without 'what if' I would not be waking up every morning with that lead weight of anxiety in my soul, but without my 'what if' I would not have writing in my life as one of my strongest lifelines in these stormy seas.

My reflexologist gave me an interesting idea last week. She said, "how about you try writing down little scenes of your life after a successful transplant?"

I have done that in a little (turquoise) journal - a little snippet per day. I'm surprised at how it is the little things that capture my imagination - not the TED talks as much as being able to volunteer to take Clem's class to the beach, without worrying I may have to bail due to a fever or nausea or a hospitalization, gardening with Franck without needing to rest on the couch, not having to tell my girls I need to head to the hospital again...a normal life - god how I will treasure it if I am lucky enough to get it back.

I am tired of fighting against my essential self. My anxiety, for better or for worse, will probably always be a part of who I am. I am going to invite my 'what-ifitis' on this journey with me, instead of making it stow away in the life-raft. I'll let you know how it goes.

 

Excerpt from My Grape Year

Rapsblüte  

I found myself chuckling when I was editing this scene, which is always a Nice Thing. This excerpt begins halfway through the scene (it is a pivotal one, and I need to keep the first part a surprise until My Grape Year is published).

Laura (moi) is late for her speech at an Ursus meeting in Beaune but my once pristine white speech outfit is now covered in mud thanks to an impromptu standard driving lesson from Franck which resulted in getting his father's car stuck in the mud. Let me know what you think!

***

I realized that even though I had no idea how we were ever going to get the car unstuck, let alone get me to Beaune in time, there was nowhere I would rather be than where I was at that moment. I wasn’t supposed to drive and I wasn’t supposed to date and I certainly wasn’t supposed to fall in love but as I looked into the caramel and green flecks of Franck’s eyes, I knew that it was too late.

Je t’aime aussi,” I said. We couldn’t close the distance between us fast enough.

Some time later a rattling cough interrupted us. I spun around to see a wizened man standing at the mouth of the woods in moth-eaten woolen overalls and a threadbare sweater, leaning on a twisted walking cane. He looked as though he belonged in a fairy tale.

Bonjour,” Franck said. “Perhaps you could help us.”

The man’s eyes roved over the scene in front of him, missing nothing. “I have my doubts,” he concluded.

Franck ignored this. “I’m not exactly sure where we are. Could you tell me the the nearest village?”

The man jerked a thumb over his left shoulder. “Villers-Fontaine is over there. Two kilometers.”

“Our car is stuck.” Franck slapped his hand on the roof. “I was teaching my girlfriend how to drive a standard-“

“That wasn’t what you were doing.”

“Well…that’s what we were doing before we got stuck,” Franck clarified.

The man raised a bushy eyebrow.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to get the car out,” Franck said. “I’ve tried everything I can think of.”

The man wandered casually over to the front of the car and studied the front wheels. “You should never let women drive,” he said, at last. “Dangerous.”

I bristled. “I can drive just fine. I’m just not used to driving a standard.”

The man looked at me again, again cocking a skeptical brow.

Franck placed a placating hand at the small of my back while I crossed my arms over my chest and made a sound of displeasure. “We’ll just have to walk to the village and see if we can get a drive,” I said to Franck. “Or at least use a phone. We have to hurry though-”

“It’s a small village,” the man said. “Not certain you would find somebody home.”

“We’ve tried everything,” Franck gestured helplessly at the mud-mired tires.

The man tugged at the neck of his sweater. “What about stones?”

“Stones?” Franck said. “I hadn’t thought of that, but wouldn’t they puncture the wheels?”

“Not if they’re flat and positioned correctly,” the man said, poking at the front tire with his cane.

Franck and I both scanned the woods around us. The only stones I could see were the two enormous boulders placed to mark where the road entered the wood. I was quite certain that several men couldn’t lift them.

“I don’t see any stones,” Franck spoke for both of us.

“Ah!” The man shook his finger at us. “That’s because you young people do not know where to look.”

The silence stretched on for a weirdly long time, and the elfin French man seemed to be relishing every second of it.

Alors?” Franck finally prompted.

“Come.” The man plunged into the woods, using his cane to whack away errant branches obstructing his path. “Suivez –moi.”

Franck followed him and seeing as I was still holding his hand, I did too.

“What if he’s crazy and he’s taking us in the forest to kill us?” I hissed after the trees became denser and began to obscure the afternoon light.

Franck paused, looked pointedly at the crooked figure disappearing in front of us, then back at me. “Laura. Please.”

He had a point. “Sorry. No insult intended.”

“None taken.” The twitch of his mouth confirmed this.

We followed the man deeper and deeper into the woods until the bright spring day disappeared entirely underneath a tunnel of bushes and trees.

“I always seem to get into strange situations like this with you,” I observed.

“I attract them. Ask any of my friends.”

The man finally stopped and beckoned us over to where he was standing.

Voici!” he declared. “I bet you never would have found this by yourselves. He pulled aside a chunk of bushes with his cane to reveal a mossy wall that seemed to continue on the other side of the bush.

“Why is there a wall here in the middle of the forest?” I asked what I believed was the obvious question.

The man fixed me with brown eyes that looked black in the dim light and shrugged. “Gallo-Roman of course. Been here long before these trees were planted.” He nodded to a cluster of trunks nearby.

Franck inspected the smooth, flat stones wedged between the layers of bright green moss of the wall. “These might work.”

The man nodded. “Take a few each and carry them back to the car. You’ll see. They’ll work.”

I stared at the wall and then back to the man who was waiting, tapping an impatient forefinger on the gnarled top of his cane.

“But if the wall is really Gallo-Roman-,” I began.

“Do you think I’m lying?” the man demanded.

“No. I’m just not used to stumbling on Gallo-Roman walls in the woods where I live."

“Where do you live?” the man asked, indignant at the sacrilegious idea of woods which did not contain Gallo-Roman walls.

I glanced at my watch, which confirmed my suspicion that we didn’t have time to get into the whole Canada conversation if we had any hope of getting me to Beaune, muddy or not.

I waved my hand towards the sky above the treetops. “Not near here.” The man narrowed his eyes at me, clearly regretting his offer to help a non-Burgundian.

“What are you waiting for?” the man asked. “I don’t have all day.”

“We can’t dismantle a Gallo-Roman wall!” I burst out. To even think of taking apart a wall that had been built in the third century was a travesty.

Our wizened leader snorted. “It’s hardly like this is the only one in these woods. They’re everywhere.” He waved his cane around. “Besides, the Romans probably made this wall out of stones they stole from a Neolithic wall. Terrible thieves, those Romans.”

Roman thievery notwithstanding, I would not remove a stone from the wall, nor would I allow Franck to do it, Ursus speech be damned. This wall would be in a museum back in Canada. I would take no part in destroying such a piece of history.

Luckily, Franck solved the impasse by crouching down and finding several flat, smooth stones that had fallen off the wall and landed on the ground. “I think these will do the trick,” he said. “Are you OK with taking these Laura?”

“I guess,” I said. They were just on the ground, after all.

“No difference,” the old man grumbled, but ultimately approved Franck’s selections of stones.

We headed back to the car, each with several stones in our arms. When we got there our unlikely helper brusquely instructed us in their correct placement under the car wheels and gestured at me to stand far away from the car while he signaled to Franck when to rev it up. I rather thought this was less from fear that I would get even dirtier, and more from the suspicion that the proximity of a woman would throw a pox on the whole delicate operation.

Franck revved the car up and within seconds it came flying up on the rocks and out of its mud trap.

Franck drove it several meters further until it was well out of the muddy forest. The man gave a grunt of satisfaction.

“Thank you for showing us the rocks,” I said, eating a large slice of humble pie.

“You young people aren’t very clever,” he noted. “It makes me worry about the future.”

I tried to ignore this bit of rudeness. “Well, I think we learned something today.”

He harrumphed again. “Tant mieux.” He lifted his cane in a perfunctory good-bye and limped into the woods once again.

Franck was walking back into the forest to meet me.

“I thanked him,” I said when he’d reached me. “He said that our generation isn’t very clever and that it worries him.”

Franck took my arm and shouted merci and au-revoir to the man’s receding back. He didn’t even bother to turn around.

“Maybe he’s deaf,” I said.

“More likely he’s just run out of patience with us imbeciles.”

“I think you’re probably right…are we that stupid?”

Franck leaned down and kissed me. “Maybe love makes us stupid,” he said. “If that’s the case I’m quite at peace with being an idiot. Now come on, we have a speech to get you too.”

Sneak Peek at My Grape Year

IMG_9902 I apologize for my absence from the blogosphere recently. I have found that single-minded focus is required to finish a book and my latest, My Grape Year, is proving no different. A little Spring Vacay in the hospital thanks to my sick liver set me back several weeks, so I am now channelling all my available energy towards editing, getting the right photo, designing the cover, and publication.

My goal is to publish this prequel to My Grape Escape, and the third book in my "Grape" series this June. To thank you for your patience, here is the first chapter as it stands right now. This still has to pass through the hands of 3-4 more editors and a copy-editor before it is published, but it gives you an idea of where I'm going with my story! P.S. I chose to go with American spellings, as usual, despite the fact it grates my Canuck soul! ;)

Enjoy and merci as always for your overwhelming love and support. Gros Bisous!

***

My Grape Year 

Chapter 1:

The men’s polyester pants were off-gassing in the stuffy hotel room. The scorched smell of synthetic fabric tickled my nostrils. March was generally a cool month in Victoria, so the hotel hosting the annual Ursus District Convention hadn’t anticipated the heat wave.

A makeshift fan had been unearthed and stuck in the corner of the room, but sweat trickled inside my navy wool blazer that was festooned with at least forty pins already. Pins were the currency of the incoming and outgoing exchange students and traded with the fervor of stocks on Wall Street.

The interview was almost over, thank god. If they liked me, I would get the final confirmation that I would be spending next year as an exchange student in hopefully my first choice of host country, Switzerland. There was only one available spot in Switzerland and it was hotly contested every year. Belgium, my second choice was better than nothing. Germany was my third choice but I knew I definitely didn’t want to end up in Germany. I had never found blond men attractive and I vastly preferred wine to beer. It was a crime that Italy, France, and Spain weren’t options. I could completely envision myself at some Spanish or Italian bar dancing on the tables after a night fuelled by Sangria or Prosecco.

“I see Switzerland was your first choice Laura,” the head of the table observed. Was? Not is? Every one of the ten or so men around the table had a copy of my application in front of them. “Can you explain your reasons for that?”

I had answered this question so many times in previous interviews that I could do it in my sleep. “One of my main motivations for going on a year abroad is to learn a foreign language,” I said. “Switzerland has not one but three official languages – French, German, and Italian. I would love to be exposed to more than one language during my year as a Ursus Youth Ambassador.”

The lead Ursunian cleared his throat. “That is an excellent answer Miss Bradbury. However, we just received the news that the Switzerland spot was nabbed by another district.” The men exchanged shocked looks at this breach of fair play between Ursus districts.

What? What about my fantasies of racing up and down the Swiss hills like Maria from Sound of Music and warming myself up with some lovely cheese fondue and wine in a wooden chalet afterwards, preferably with an entourage of handsome Swiss men? I would have to deal with my disappointment later. I dug my nails into my palms and smiled brightly. “I’ll go to Belgium then.”

“We do have several spots there. I just feel we should let you know though that more than half of them are in the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium.”

Flemish? I had been so sure I was going to Switzerland that I hadn’t even considered the possibility of being sent to Flemish-speaking purgatory.

 I flashed another smile. “Of course I would make the most out of any placement,” I said. “However, French is Canada’s second official language and growing up here on the West Coast I have always regretted the fact that I have never learned to speak it fluently. I hope to go to McGill University in Montreal so obviously French would be a huge advantage for me in Québec. If I could be placed in a French speaking area of Belgium that would be ideal.”

There was no need to mention that French had actually been my worst mark all through high school, and that I had to drop it after Grade Eleven because it was torpedoing my GPA. Or that I ran out to the quad after my Grade Eleven Provincial French exam and yelled “Thank God! I will never have to speak French again in my life!”

A slighter, balder man piped up. “You may not be aware of this Miss Bradbury, but there is no way for us to guarantee where you will be placed in Belgium. We send over the files for the incoming students and it is up to our Belgian brothers to allocate them as they see fit.”

I wasn’t aware of that, as it happened. I struggled to maintain my bright eyed demeanor.

“There’s always France, I suppose,” mused the head man, as though thinking aloud.

My head snapped over to him. “I understood there were no exchange spots available in France.”

He cleared his throat. “That was the case but there has been a…ah…development.”

A tall man at the opposite end of the table who had been picking something fascinating out from under his thumbnail jerked his head up. “With good reason!” he said, paying attention now. “Every exchange we arranged In France in the past has ended in disaster. The families didn’t even bother to come pick up our students from the airport, or suddenly decided that they were sick of hosting and locked the child out of the house or left on vacation without them. We couldn’t possibly jettison another student into-“

The head man cleared his throat meaningfully. “I have a letter here from the Ursus Club in Beaune, France." He waved the letter, which from what I could see was written in elaborate cursive with a fountain pen. I longed to get a closer look – it possessed a tantalizing whiff of the exotic. “They say that one of their students is being welcomed this year by our district so they would welcome one of our students in exchange. Just one student you see. It would be on a trial basis. They sound sincere.”

“Don’t believe them,” snarled the tall man. “I was President of our club that year our poor student was abandoned at the airport in Paris. He had to take a plane back to Seattle the next day. Try explaining that to his parents!”

“We must believe them,” the head man said. “Ursus spirit demands we must have good faith in our French brothers. Besides, Miss Bradbury here strikes me as a competent sort of person who can deal with extreme situations. I wouldn’t even mention the possibility of France to most of our outgoing students.”

“I…I,” I stuttered, wondering how I was going to disabuse him of this notion. I couldn’t imagine any horror worse than leaving for a year abroad only to have to return to Canada the next day with my tail between my legs.

“George.” The tall man’s voice was stiff with displeasure. “Throwing this nice young lady here to the French would be like throwing a lamb to the wolves and I for one-“

“Neil,” the head man said in quelling tones. “There is an open space for France and it needs to be filled. Miss Bradbury has explained how urgently she must learn French. She is mature and full of positive energy. I have complete confidence in her.”

What was the word for ‘shit’ in French? Merde? My mind whirred as I tried to find a way to extract myself from this fix.

But then I thought about the Eiffel Tower. Paris. Red wine. Little cafés. Baguettes. French men were supposed to be very charming, weren’t they? In any case, they had to be an improvement on Canadian boys. It could be a disaster or it could be even better than Switzerland. It was definitely better than spending a year learning Flemish. Screw it.

“I’d be delighted to take that spot in France.” I straightened my shoulders. “That way, at least, I would be sure to learn French.”

All the men except Neil nodded approvingly at me, as though I had just performed a heroic act. Darn. Had I?

The head man erased Switzerland and Belgium from my application and wrote “FRANCE” in large capital letters. He scrawled something down in his notes.

“That settles it then! You’ll be heading to France in August Miss Bradbury. I hope you have an excellent year, or shall I say, a bon voyage?” He chuckled at his own joke.

“Thank you,” I said. “Or shall I say merci?” This got a laugh out of all the men and they stood up and stretched their polyester clad legs to indicate that I was dismissed.

I must have missed the sound over the whirr of the fan and the muffled scrape of chairs against the carpet, but when I think back to it now I am convinced there must have been a mighty creak. There had to be, because at that precise moment my entire life shifted on its axis.

***

I'd love to hear what you think and if you would be inspired to keep turning the pages!

During this intense writing period for me the best way to keep up with what I am doing is to go to my Facebook page , my Instagram feed , or attend the fantastic day-long workshop I am hosting with my talented friend (and amazing painter) Laura Harris all about how to "Unlock Your Creativity." Go here to the moonrisecreative.ca website to learn more and sign up.

As soon as I have a firm publication date in June for My Grape Year you'll be the first to know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indie Interview with Moi

My lovely author friend Karen Dyer (writes as KC Dyer - check out her awesome YA fiction) just interviewed me for her "Indie Tuesday" blog segment. Watch for the upcoming self-pubbed release of her novel "Finding Fraser". I have had a sneak peek and it is ADDICTIVE - a must for anyone who loves humour, romance, and Outlander. Read below for my musings on self-publishing, rules for writing, and my visceral resistance to linear thinking! Here's the direct link if you'd like it.

INDIE TUESDAY -- WRITER LAURA BRADBURY

Hola! This week we have an Indie celebrity in our midst, in the form of Laura Bradbury.

Laura's forte is the self-published memoir -- and what a story she has to tell! It is filled with romance, intrigue, anxiety, high comedy and a whole lotta wine. Laura's 'Grape' stories are must-reads, and the reading community is getting the message. She's continually posting huge sales, as more people discover her warm, whimsical story-telling style.

Laura's also extremely generous with her hard-won knowledge and has really been helping me in my efforts to get FINDING FRASER out into the world. Let's hear a bit about her experiences, shall we? She's got a lot to share, so I suggest you get a cup of tea -- or a glass of wine! -- and enjoy!

KC: Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pantser when it comes to writing your books?

Laura: I am definitely more of a panster. I believe planning a book is easier with memoir than with fiction. Each of my “Grape” books covers approximately one year of our lives when we were buying and renovating a specific property in France so there is a very clear cut beginning and end point each time. Initially, I make a rough Excel spreadsheet  of bare-boned scene ideas. Then I write a quick and dirty ESRD (Epically Sh!tty Rough Draft) based on these scenes. The more I write the more my memory is jogged so I add a lot of scenes en route. Then I do a BIG edit where I break the ESRD into chapters and add in new ones I realize are missing (usually about one third of the total scenes). I am lucky that I have a crazy-good long term memory. I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast this morning, but the taste of blackcurrant in that glass of wine I drank fifteen years ago? I TOTALLY remember every detail. My next project after My Grape Year (the third book in my “ Grape” series) is a paranormal romance trilogy involving mermaids and fishermen. I suspect I will have to dramatically tweak my writing processs and do a more detailed outline for fiction writing. However, the way I learn things is simply by doing them (verus reading about them or having someone teach them to me) and figuring out what works for me through trial and error. I know outlining will be something I will have to force myself to do though, as I am highly resistant to organization!

KC: How did you choose your titles? 

Laura: The Grape Series all have “Grape" in the title I.e. My Grape Year, My Grape Escape, My Grape Village. The Grape is the emblem of all of our vacation rentals in Burgundy (which we call Grape Rentals www.graperentals.com). It is natural, authentic, honest, tied to the earth, and something humble that has the potential to be transformed into something sublime (wine). I liked the play on words with Grape / Great and also having “ My Grape…" repeated in my titles is a hommage to the wonderful “Little House” series that was my first exposure to memoir and one of the first series I fell for as a child. I love this quote which struck me so forcibly when my mother first read my sister and I the “The Little House in The Big Woods” when I was around seven:

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”

“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”

But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the fire-light gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.

She thought to herself, “This is now.”

She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.  

This to me sums up the magic quality of memoir – when my mother read us that book I was Laura Ingalls. Books allow you to live so many additional lives.

KC: Do you have a favourite genre to read -- or write -- in? What draws you in that direction?

Laura: My “comfort” genre is probably Regency Romance at the moment. I love Georgette Heyer and Jo Beverly in particular. I avoid reading memoir when I am writing memoir as I always worry about absorbing someone else’s voice. As an English Literature undergrad I went through years of being incredibly snobby about my reading –  I would only deign to read highbrow literary fiction that was shortlisted for the Booker, Orange, or the Giller. However, by my fourth year of my BA I actually stopped reading altogether. I just couldn’t handle one more obliquely drawn character that I couldn’t invest in emotionally (no matter how beautiful the language) or one more story about the holocaust or incest. Highbrow literature at that period was overwhelmingly depressing. I didn’t start reading again until my sister Suzanne insisted I read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I was so hooked that I am embarrassed to say I actually read Outlander and Dragonfly In Amber at stoplights on the way to taking my kids to preschool (NOT ADVISED). I still believe Diana’s books should come with some sort of FDA addiction warning like on cigarette packages. Thanks to Outlander, it finally hit me that what made me fall in love with books and reading in the first place was the craft of storytelling. I wanted to be transported to another place and often another time. I wanted to be invested in the lives of the characters. I wanted escape. I wanted emotion. I wanted imagination.

KC: This book is part of a series -- where do you plan to go next?

Laura: The “Grape” series will have six books in total (in order, the bold ones have already been published): My Grape Year, My Grape Paris, My Grape Escape, My Grape Village, My Grape Town, and My Grape Baby, plus a few of what I think of as “Memoir-ettes” (novella length memoirs): My Grape Wedding, My Grape Cellar (not akin to Twenty Shades of Grey, but rather about the 13th century wine cellar we renovated under the streets of Beaune), etc.. As you can see I do not write them in order. Whichever story is yelling at me the loudest is the one that gets written next.  See above re: my visceral resistance to linear thinking.

My paranormal romance trilogy is definitely a trilogy and the first book is about 85% written, although it needs a serious overhaul. I will probably finish the first book in this series once I finish My Grape Year, although it will really depend on which story is shouting the loudest at me then! I have to say I am intimidated to turn from memoir to fiction, as I know it will be a steep learning curve. That terrifies me and thrills me in equal measure.

KC: Why Indie publishing instead of the traditional route?

Laura: I actually wrote a blog about exactly this topic and here is the list of reasons why self-publishing was the right choice for me:

  1. I am incurably impatient
  2. I like being my own boss and want to choose my collaborators
  3. I had several ideas re: how to launch / market my first book
  4. I actually enjoy marketing / social media
  5. I had a web presence already built up thanks to graperentals.com
  6. Aspects of my books (i.e. my struggles with panic attacks / anxiety) didn’t “fit” with mainstream publishing. Several agents were interested in taking on My Grape Escape but they all wanted me to remove any mention of my mental health struggles. I felt my story would be inauthentic without this honesty, and I also felt removing them would be a betrayal of myself and anyone out there who also lives with any mental health issue. I wanted to show how it is not necessary to eliminate or “cure” life’s many challenges in order to live a rich, incredible existence.
  7. I wasn’t prolific when I began, but definitely writing more and faster was a goal. I felt I had far more than one book in me - self–publishing doesn’t work as well for people who only want to publish one or two books – although like everything, there are exceptions.
  8. I am happiest when working on projects from beginning to end. I’m definitely a “project person”
  9. I have ongoing health issues (a rare auto-immune disease of the liver and bile ducts known as PSC which means I will need a liver transplant sooner rather than later) that meant I did not want / need stress of having to meet other people’s deadlines and expectations.
  10. I have an allergy to authority in any form
  11. I wanted to donate 10% of all my after-tax writing-related earnings to PSC Partners for researching PSC.

KC: What's your favourite part of the publishing process? Why?

Laura: Writing a book is a hell of a slog. Still, there is something epic in the feat of writing a book that appeals to me - a bit like climbing Everest or rowing across the Pacific. Most days I write because I force myself, but there are moments when my imagination takes flight or I come up with an evocative turn of phrase or the perfect tempo of dialogue and I feel as though I have been plugged into a force way bigger and more awe–inspiring than myself. I call this "communing with The Great Mysterious". These moments are generally fleeting, and I can also experience them when by the ocean, eating a particularly scrumptious cheese, spending time with my family, meditating, or doing other creative work – painting, making beach glass mobiles, etc. but I get them fairly regularly when writing and they always leave me with a sensation of grace and oneness with the universe.  Who doesn’t need more of that?

Also when the box of paperbacks arrive for of latest book…holy moses is that ever satisfying! Worth every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears!

KC: Do you have a preferred format for your books? E-book vs paperback?

Laura: It is ironic that probably around 90% of my writing revenue comes from Ebooks (mainly Kindle) but I actually cannot stand reading books on any sort of screen. I am a diehard lover of paperbacks. For me, the tactile experience of reading  an actual book - paperback or hardcover - is like a sacred ritual. Besides, I already spend a lot of time in front of the screen writing and doing my social media stuff.  However, I have many girlfriends who are complete converts to ebooks and are permanently attached to their Ipad Kindle app or their Kindle. For them, the ebook thing actually has them reading way more.  It’s a personal preference and I keep my mind open. I love my Kindle readers.

KC: What's your favourite review one of your stories has received? [Share it, if you like!]

Laura: Here is a nice one that was posted just a few days ago on Amazon.com for My Grape Escape: "As an avid reader of mainly non fiction I was thrilled to find this author. As the book started I thought ho hum - yet another story about France, renovating the dilapidated house, etc...... However, after a few pages I was hooked. I agonized and laughed with the author till the end. Found her to be refreshingly open about her state of mind. Has a unique gift of describing situations and people. Immediately got the follow up book.

I especially love the ones where people tell me how my honesty about my struggles with anxiety disorder made them feel less alone with their own struggles in life – mental or otherwise. These always strike a chord with me and make me so glad I decided to stay true to myself, keep my book honest, and self-publish.

KC: Can you name a favourite Indy author or two, and recommend a book?

Well, I am VERY excited about KC Dyer’s upcoming “Finding Fraser”! I cannot wait to get my hands on the paperback of that. Martin Crosbie does lovely memoirs and his blogs about self-publishing are always so generous and helpful. I also love pretty much everything Chuck Wendig writes and he is a stellar advocate for writers everywhere. There are so many talented, insightful Indie authors out there…

KC: And to finish, can you give your best advice to someone starting out?

Laura: I would say the #1 piece of advice would be – FINISH! I kept writing and rewriting the first book in my paranormal romance trilogy for about a decade but could never finish. Then came the day I was diagnosed at age 39 with PSC and all of a sudden I was living with a rare, serious, and possibly terminal illness. My life completely changed in that instant. I started writing My Grape Escape the next morning and vowed to finish. I learned more in finishing and publishing My Grape Escape than I did in ten years of almost finishing my other writing projects. Resist the siren’s call of other projects until you finish your current one. It is as difficult as Odysseus and the Sirens at times, but put cotton balls in your ears, a huge sign beside your keyboard…whatever it takes - FINISH. My word-warrior motto is Write. Finish. Share. Repeat.  Here is a printable of that if you need a reminder http://laurabradbury.com/2015/01/28/the-word-warrior-mantra/  .

Also, I try to give myself a word count goal every day whether writing or editing. Usually it is 2000 words. There are many days where I don’t hit it – days when I am hospitalized because of my PSC, days when my three kids have caught contagious diarrhea, days when it is sunny outside and I simply must go beachcombing…life happens, but having a goal is something to shoot for.

 

Holy crow. Didn't I tell you Laura was great? Forget a font -- she is a RESEVOIR of great information...and inspiration, too.
Thank you, Laura, for taking part and for sharing your story so candidly. If you'd like to jump on the Bradbury Grape Bandwagon -- and who doesn't? -- you can find her books HERE.
Ready -- set -- GRAPE!
More soon...
~kc

 

Woo Cannot Fail, It Can Only Be Failed

水晶の結晶とグラスキャンドル Yesterday, the alternative health universe lost one of its stars, a charismatic Australian woman named Jess Ainscough, better known as the "Wellness Warrior". She died at the young age of thirty after seven years of trying to cure her very rare form of cancer by eschewing traditional cancer treatments and opting for alternative therapies, such as Gerson therapy which requires lovely things such as coffee enemas every four hours.

Jessica's death upset me. Dying at thirty before having kids, before marrying her honey, and before realizing so many dreams is a human tragedy. Also though, I am pissed off that she was both a victim and a perpetrator of a set of beliefs that pressures sick people to choose between traditional (western) medicine and alternative therapies (woo). Since being diagnosed with PSC I have felt this pressure in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

I will not lie, I love me some woo.

I have a meditation altar set up in my bedroom, complete with my healing crystals, a sellinite candle, and pieces of beach glass.

Franck said to me recently when he came upstairs to find me meditating in front of my lit candle (to purify cosmic energies), "all you're missing is an eagle feather."

"I know. I totally need one," I said.

I am a big fan of vision boards (on Pinterest) and live in the hope that the universe will manifest my wishes of a New York Times Bestseller, a TED speaking engagement, and a trip to Sanibel island with my mom to go beachcombing. I am a devoted patient of reflexology and a Reiki-type energy massage. I believe that acupuncture can be helpful in many situations, same for yoga and visualizations. I have even done a past life regression that took me back to not one, but three past lives. Fascinating stuff.

Most days I down a monster smoothie packed with kale, probiotics, hemp, and chia seeds. It tastes like stagnating pond scum, but I know it is good for me. Maybe my smoothie is more about nutrition than woo but the line between the two in the alternative health world is often very fine indeed.

Still, nothing annoys me more since being diagnosed with PSC than people (often people I barely know) suggesting that I go on a liver cleanse to heal myself or just think positively. The implication is, of course, that I could heal myself if I followed their suggestions and believed in it enough. If it didn't work, it would clearly be my fault because I didn't do it right.

I religiously did acupuncture and Chinese herbs for a year and a half after being diagnosed with PSC, with the full consent and knowledge of my hepatologist.

I became increasingly uncomfortable, though, with my Chinese Medicine Doctor. First of all, I could discern no positive effects of her treatment besides temporary relief of some symptoms like itching. My blood results were getting worse and I was clearly getting sicker. I was bothered that she kept blaming this on my traditional doctors, even though they were not treating me with anything at that time (the only available treatment for PSC is an eventual liver transplant which tends to be a one-shot deal).

When I started to move closer to transplant and decided to discontinue the herb portion of the C.T.M. treatment because it could eliminate me from transplant eligibility, she never let an appointment go by without telling me how she had cured other liver patients with herbs or how she regretted my decision to stop them. I was being pushed to choose between traditional medicine and alternative medicine and I resented it.

Despite my lifelong love of crystals and the occult I never, not for a moment, considered abandoning western medicine in favour of woo for my PSC. It would not be my reflexologist who would be performing life-saving transplant surgery, after all. I sought out the best care I could find, which means for me flying to Calgary on a regular basis to meet with a hepatologist who has the fourth largest PSC practice in the world and is a leader in the field, and being assessed by the world-renowned liver transplant clinic in Toronto.

I do not think my PSC is a "gift" from the universe or was sent to me for me to learn some cosmic lesson. I make a conscious choice to give my experience meaning (I'm a big fan of  Vicktor Frankl) but I see PSC for what it is - a nasty, cruel disease that strikes indiscriminately, just like cancer and ALS and heart defects and all the myriad ways a human body can break down.

Traditional medicine is by no means perfect. I have been subjected to skilled but inhumane doctors who really shouldn't be allowed to talk to patients or, in fact, other human beings. At all. Under any circumstances. Things are misdiagnosed or diagnosed too late, treatments can be brutal and sometimes fatal. Sometimes, even though both doctor and patient have tried their best, people die. When this happens I remind myself that we are all headed to The Terminal on this bus of life, it is only a question of how and when.

I have seen fellow PSCers die. They have thought positively and fought until the bitter end and done everything "right". Most often their deaths can only be blamed on one thing -  this cruel disease. Often life or death boils down to the one thing that few want to accept - sheer dumb luck.

I have also, though, seen many lives saved by Western medicine. People who go from deathly ill to thriving after a liver transplant, or who recover from bile duct or liver cancer with the correct protocol. There are a lot of these miracles in our community.

So while I love my woo, I refuse to buy into the belief that woo alone will heal me, or that western medicine is evil. People who damn western medicine and promote woo will say that it is precisely because I don't believe that woo will not heal me. This, to me, is the crux of my problem with woo.

Woo cannot fail you, you can only fail the woo.

If chemo and surgery don't work, nobody is going to blame you - they are just going to blame your disease for being so goddamn unforgiving. If you opt for woo to the exclusion of traditional medicine for a serious disease and you die anyway, like Jess Ainscough, many people whose theories she championed (like those Gershon folks) will probably say that somehow she didn't do things right, or thoroughly enough, or her beliefs were too flimsy. That is bullshit. Who needs more guilt in their life, especially when struggling with a serious illness?

We can do our best to positively influence our lifespan and our quality of life, but the truth is we cannot control death.

We can do our best - trying to eat well, doing things that make us feel fulfilled and happy, meditating, yoga-ing, praying to our crystals, consulting the best specialists we can find and undergoing recommended treatments. We can do all of this and still die. Hopefully though somewhere along the way it will sink in, as it has done for me (finally!), that improving the enjoyment of my day to day life is even more important than trying in vain to stage-manage its longevity.

We cannot know how our stories will end. We cannot control the uncontrollable. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something. Sadly, Jess Ainscough was not only a victim of this nefarious sales pitch, but in time ended up inflicting it on countless others struggling with life-threatening disease.

Stay open. Stay skeptical. Remember this - a closed mind is a dangerous mind.

The Word Warrior Mantra

IMG_0084 This is my mantra and the mantra of my badass tribe of writers founded at last year's wonderful SIWC Writers' Conference (listen to my keynote speech here on my "Press" page all about how, after a decade of false starts, I finally became a writer who FINISHED and PUBLISHED books). We call ourselves the #wordwarriors - we feel the fear and write anyway. Join us on Twitter!

Badass Surrender

Kapitulation Last Monday I was sitting in a doctor's office at the Liver Transplant Clinic in Toronto, listening to the hepatologist tell me that although a transplant would probably be in my future and was still the best case scenario for me, I was still "far too healthy for a transplant yet."

My first instinct was to argue my case.

I had ample ammunition to do so. My recent MRI showed that my PSC is progressing fast and that my bile ducts are sick, sick, sick. I have cirrhosis. I have a fibroscan score of 22 which means my liver has the pliability of a crusty, deflated football. I have to take antibiotics every day to ensure that the cholangitis infection that has now taken permanent residence in my bile ducts is kept  at bay, and a different type of antibiotic to control the suicidal itching. Most of all, my PSC guru in Calgary told me in his peppy Australian accent when I saw him at the end of November, "Well Laura! I think it's time to get you a new livah!".

Since my PSC diagnosis in 2012 I have had to fight, fight, and then fight some more to access the best care. PSC, like other "orphan" diseases, is so stupidly rare that most doctors I come across in Victoria have only experienced a couple of other PSCers at best.

Funnily enough, the third book in my "Grape" series which I am writing right now (entitled MY GRAPE YEAR) is about breaking rules. The thematic resonance with my present battles are unmistakable.

Contrary to what many people seem to believe, I did not get to Toronto by luck or by the benevolence of a medical fairy godmother / concierge service.  Rather, I accessed Toronto by offending doctors, becoming that pain-in-the-ass patient that makes medical assistants and nurses roll their eyes, refusing to take no for an answer, and nagging, pushing, and trodding (repeatedly) on the toes of the medical establishment. When the full extent of the parlous state of hepatology in British Columbia finally sunk in about six months after I was diagnosed, I made a conscious decision to discard my upbringing of being polite and not offending anyone. My survival trumped the need to be "nice" by a long shot.

I became a put-yer-dukes-up PSC badass. I did my research as though my life depended on it, and it actually (scarily) did on several occasions. I learned that Toronto was a world leader in living donor liver transplants, that they did the biggest volume of this very specialized type of surgery in North America, and depending on who I consulted, perhaps the world. I discovered that in over 700 surgeries they had never lost a donor and that doctors from all over the world flew in to learn how to duplicate the success of their program. Unfortunately nobody has a crystal ball to see into the future, but I felt with Toronto I was getting my best chance of getting through to the other side of this whole PSC thing.

Yet, after all that, at my first doctor's appointment in Toronto here was the hepatologist telling me that maybe it wasn't time for a transplant after all? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!?!?

My first instinct was to do what I had been doing for the past twenty-four months, to fight back. Yet about half way through that appointment, when the hepatologist was explaining the risks associated with transplant which, make no mistake about it, are substantial, it dawned on me that his arguments against transplant right now were not without merit.

Throughout that intense week I lost count of the doctors and specialists I consulted (not to mention the vials of blood drawn from my veins). The Toronto specialists were, without fail, kind and incredibly competent. Some felt I was ready for transplant right now whereas others thought it could maybe wait a while longer.

The upshot was that all the people I saw were going to meet with all my test results and make a collective decision about my case. My knee jerk reaction was to feel frustrated and impatient with this difference of opinion.

Then, I thought about it some more.

Having my case debated by so many experienced doctors in one room was exactly what I had been fighting for. They were all world leaders, their collective knowledge and expertise was mind-blowing. They were going to try to make the best decision for me and the fact that there was a difference in opinion meant that my case would be looked at in detail.

Surrender seemed like the most unnatural thing for me to do, but as it turned out surrender was the most badass choice I could make right then.

You do everything you can humanly do and then you have to do the hardest thing of all - relinquish control to the experts you have gathered in your corner and, even more importantly, to what I have come to think of as "The Great Mysterious."

So this week here I am, back in Victoria (where it is not -19 C, hooray!), practicing badass surrender to the best of my ability. While I wait for the decision to be made in Toronto I am feeling a very curious and unfamiliar feeling of peace. I have no idea how long this astonishing (for me) state of zenitude is going to last, but it has made me realize that I must become better acquainted with this whole badass surrender thing. It may just have the potential to be one of the most powerful weapons in my repertoire.

 

 

 

The Flotilla of Doubt

Wave This has been the oddest New Year for me. I have never in all my life been poised to embark on such a vast sea of uncertainty.

I have absolutely no idea where I will be when Dec 31, 2015 rolls around. Very ill? Very healthy? Somewhere in between? With a new liver? With my same, sick liver? Dead? These are all distinct possibilities.

I incorporated a New Years ritual suggested to me by one of my favorite fellow PSCers into one of my regular beachcombing excursions at the dawn of 2015. I wrote down all the things I was worried about on little pieces of paper (biodegradable paper, of course) and sorted them into two piles:  1) Things I Can Control, and 2) Things I Cannot Control.

The Thing I Can Control pile contained precisely three pieces of paper.

The Things I Cannot Control Pile was a mini Everest.

I filled my pockets with Things I Cannot Control and walked down to the beach. When I got to one of my favorite outcropping of rocks I read each one out loud, crumpled it up, and threw it in the emerald-green waves. Here is a random sample:

That they will find liver / bile duct cancer that would mean I am not eligible for transplant.

That some other health issue will crop up that will mean I am no longer eligible for transplant.

That I will fail the psychological component of the transplant testing and they will take my incapacity for denial and dark humour as signs that I am, in fact, clinically insane (and therefore, no longer eligible for transplant).

That I will die during the transplant surgery (my doctor took great pains to drive home the point that 10-12% of people do not make it through the actual surgery itself).

That if I survive the transplant surgery my body will try to reject the new liver.

And so on and so forth...

Soon, there was a flotilla of Thing I Cannot Control papers bobbing around in the water. I began to climb towards the next beach but, when I looked over my shoulder, I saw that instead of floating out to sea the Things I Cannot Control were hugging close to shore, following me like an attacking fleet from the Napoleonic wars. I grabbed a nearby piece of driftwood to splash them away.

"Go away!" I shouted. "Shoo!" Sweat broke out on my forehead. These Things I Cannot Control were stalking me. I wanted them GONE.

I scrambled across the rock, hopped down onto the next beach, and found a bigger piece of driftwood. I lay in wait for the flotilla to come around the curve of the rock.

I waited there, with my driftwood weapon poised for battle, for several minutes before I started to feel like a complete dork. The flotilla still did not round the corner of the rock as expected. Where had it gone?

I hopped up back on the rock where I had thrown the papers to get a better vantage point. My eyes scanned the green waves but the Flotilla had simply vanished.

Where had they gone? Had they sunk? Had they floated off in another direction? One thing was certain, they had disappeared.

And then, on the top of that rock at my favorite beach I experienced an overwhelming wave of peace. I was going to be okay. I didn't know how, or what path would take me to okay, but I knew I was going to be okay.

Now, while Dread and me are childhood friends, I have just met Faith in passing. I would describe her as a "recent acquaintance".

My knee jerk reaction was to doubt my moment of grace, to try to explain it, to shoo it away just like my paper flotilla of uncertainty. As much as the Things I Cannot Control were scary, daring to have faith in the unknown was weirdly even scarier.

I know, deep in my soul, that learning to have faith - even when all signs point to the contrary - is one of the lessons I am supposed to learn in this lifetime. To have faith when there is no proof to support it. To have faith that all is unfolding as it is should. To have faith that everything makes sense on some higher plane that my human brain is simply not equipped to comprehend.

Yet Faith still scares the bejesus out of me.

Still, I thanked the ocean for taking care of my Things I Cannot Control for me. I wouldn't say my Flotilla of Doubt had transformed into a Flotilla of Faith yet, but it was a start.

 

 

 

I'll Take A Personality Transplant, Please...

b37f2b3a5583c8e00fdd6da426231978 Every morning since being diagnosed with PSC two and a half years ago I wake up thinking, "I totally cannot handle this. Life gave this disease to the wrong person."

I often joke that what I need even more than a liver transplant is a personality transplant. Like most jokes it contains an uncomfortable dose of The Truth.

It's not that I would wish this shitty auto-immune disease on anybody else, or because I harbour some sense of superiority that makes me think I deserve better. It's not even because of the exquisite irony that I manage four vacation rentals in the french vineyards and am the wife of a Burgundian and can no longer touch a drop of wine (but somebody up there certainly does have a twisted sense of humour). Rather, I yearn for a personality transplant because most of the time - especially on days like today when I have medical stuff looming on the horizon and am frankly not in a felicitous mental state - I feel woefully ill-equipped to deal with this disease.

Through the PSC community I have come into contact with people who possess a deep, unshakeable faith that they will be fine in the end. I'm always amazed by this. Have they always had this certainty? Where on earth does it come from? More importantly, I'd like to order some of that please.

I've also come into contact with people who are brave...like, superhero brave. They endure painful treatments and what would for me be torturous uncertainty with a kind of nonchalance that an olympic skier would feel going down the bunny hill. They say they never feel scared and, stranger still, I suspect they are actually telling the truth. I'd like a piece of that too.

There are also the people who just "carry-on" in the best of the British tradition and decide that they are not even going to really consider themselves as being sick at all, even when diagnosed with things like liver cancer. They just think "Crikey. That's a spot of bother." Wow. Yes, I'll also take one of those. 

Then there are those lucky, lucky souls who seem to have been born without the worrier gene. When I ask if they worry about cancer, post-transplant rejection, etc. they answer, in all honesty "no". When I ask how...why...how the hell they DO that, they say, "I decided there was no point to worrying, so I just don't." What!? You can actually turn off that switch in your head!?

So there's the zen buddhas, the biblical matyrs, the superheros, and then...there's me.

I am such a hypochondriac that Franck actually had to ban me from watching medical dramas like ER, House, and even Gray's Anatomy a decade ago. My suggestible imagination meant that any illness I saw on-screen would manifest itself immediately in my body as symptoms, which usually culminated in a deeply humiliating ER visit within a few hours. When I was diagnosed with PSC one of my first reactions was "Goddamit! I forgot to imagine that disease. That's why I got it!" Clearly, I also have a bit of magic-thinking craziness going on in this head of mine.

I worry and I ruminate. My mind gets stuck in painful thought patterns. I am vigilant about each symptom and fret about new ones. I wish beyond anything that I could just turn off that worry switch, but I have tried and tried and tried but mine appears to be welded in the "ON" position.

I get scared. Like really, really curled-up-on-the-bed-in-a-foetal-positon scared. When I'm like this, my mind projects terrifying films for my own personal viewing pleasure on a continuous loop.

I don't speak the language of denial. I can't pretend that I am not going through this. If I could, I would, but my powers of denial are puny.

There are so many people so much better equipped to deal with PSC than me - pretty much everybody, actually.

However, I have discovered a few arrows that I use again and again to help me fight the mental and physical impact of PSC.

One is my dark sense of humour that I share with Franck. There isn't much we can't joke about, especially if it is in bad taste. When the grim things get too threatening, we deflate them with our laughter.

Another is my need to create - write, paint, glue beach glass on wreathes...whatever takes me out of my own head for long enough to be able to take a breath again and re-engages me in life.

My defiance is one of my strongest arrows. I fall, often and badly, but there is something in me (what I call "my little spark of fuck you") that forces me to pick myself up again.

Another arrow that I have found shoots straight and true is my need to connect with others, to listen to their stories and journeys and to share mine in all its rawness. This creates a net of support that makes me feel supported and I hope makes others feel supported as well.

It's the same with parenting - I am good about reading with my kids, but lamentable at keeping track of the various lunch forms, soccer try-outs, and teacher's gifts that come with their busy lives. I love doing crafts with them but am doing a far from stellar job of protecting them from swear words and age inappropriate movies.

With my writing, I appear allergic to plotting and formatting, but I have always had an ear for dialogue and an instinct for how to end a chapter.

I guess the hard lesson I'm learning is that going through life most of us feel ill-equipped. Bemoaning our shortcomings is a waste of time better spent on cultivating our strengths, even if they seem like meagre offerings.

This is far less messy than a personality transplant. Besides, if we had a different set of arrows in our quivers, we wouldn't be ourselves anymore. That, I know, would be a terrible shame.

 

Us Broken Shells

photo.JPG  

I beachcomb several times a week on what my bevy calls "our" beach at the end of Oliver Street. It is part meditation, part therapy, and part religion. My main focus is beach glass but I pick up other pieces of intriguing flotsam and jetsam like bits of driftwood and shells.

Last week I was beachcombing with Clem. We climbed up a rock that the seagulls and crows had been using to crack shells to eat the yummy little sea creatures inside. I picked up a few and showed my handful of shells to Clem.

"Why do you only pick up the broken ones?" she asked me.

There were many intact shells scattered at our feet - ones that the birds hadn't managed to break. Clem was right though, I never pick up whole shells to take home.

"I don't know." I shrugged. "I just do."

A few days later as I arranged my new finds on half a whitewashed oyster shell, I found myself contemplating unbroken and broken shells.

Whole shells may be pristine but they have no secrets. One is more or less interchangeable with any other. The broken ones, however, are endlessly unique.

One that I picked up is broken on the top so that I can peer down its inside and see the spiral helix that disappears into the most extraordinary deep purple colour. Another, sheered in half, shows a perfect cross-section of the interior architecture of the shell and the variety of other-worldly hues contained inside.

If there is a word to describe how I have been feeling in the past few days it is Broken.

Broken by the weight of uncertainty of the next year. Will I be approved for a transplant? Will I find a donor? If so, how the hell am I going to move to Toronto for several months to make this happen?

Broken by the thought of my upcoming appointment with my PSC specialist and memories of how the last one left me so emotionally shattered that it took me over a month to pick up the pieces.

Broken by having to repeat my tumour-marker blood test in a few weeks.

Broken that I can't seem to conjur up the faith that seems to come to others so easily.

Broken by feeling myself get sicker and less able to cope with it all.

Broken by the chronic lack of organ donors and the knowledge that people like me die needlessly waiting in vain for one to come available.

Broken by the constant itching and nausea and feeling like I have the flu every day.

Broken at just wanting to set down this burden but knowing that I can't.

Since sharing my story in my keynote speech at SIWC and here on my blog I have had many people contact me and tell me about how they too are broken. Life can break us in a myriad of ways; the death of a loved one, a critical health challenge, parenting a challenging child, a painful separation, mental illness, heartache, loneliness...I am beginning to think that getting broken is an unavoidable part of the human journey.

Even though I have been struggling too much with my own broken state to get back to even half of the incredible people who have shared their stories with me (mea culpa), I am moved by each and every one.

I wish they could see how beautiful I find them. They open up and show me their strength and faith and tenacity and hope and empathy and generosity and grace. They are like my broken shells, sublime in their broken-ness, with a lustre that would be invisible if they had remained intact.

It is often difficult to see the beauty in our own broken state, or to realize that the majority of people around us are also broken or have been broken in the past. I too am seduced by the images of perfection we are constantly served up by magazines (I mean you, Real Simple) and carefully curated websites and public profiles. I find myself thinking, my life should be like that.

Ultimately though, accepting our broken-ness and sharing it is far more compelling than a flawless exterior.

I was stuck on how to end this blog post until yesterday, when I received a message from a high school friend that I haven't seen in over twenty years:

"I wanted you to know that you have inspired me to do something that is out of my comfort zone. I am donating a kidney on Thursday to a father in Max's class. Keep promoting organ donation because your words are working miracles."

Celebrating our broken-ness leads to interconnectedness, and interconnectedness leads to miracles. So if you too are a broken shell, know that you are beautiful and brave. Also, know that your glow reaches farther than you could ever realize.

 

Good Night, Laura. Good Work. Sleep Well. I'll Most Likely Kill You in the Morning...

The-Princess-Bride-the-princess-bride-4546832-1280-720 Fear and I have been getting rather hot and heavy since my wonderful few days at the Surrey International Writer's Conference at the end of October.

When I introduced Clementine to the wonders of the movie The Princess Bride a few nights ago, it struck me that the past two and a half years living with my auto-immune bile duct & liver disease has been a lot like the years after Westley was captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts.

If any of you didn't spend years memorizing every line in The Princess Bride (and if not, what is wrong with you?) The Dread Pirate Roberts captured Westley on the high seas, but let him stay alive and put him to work on the pirate ship. The Dread Pirate Roberts would always bid Westley good-night in the same manner, "Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I'll most likely kill you in the morning.".

My liver disease bears an uncanny resemblance to the Dread Pirate Roberts. The thing with PSC is that it greatly increases one's risk of liver cancer and bile duct cancer. Now there are cancers and there are cancers. Bile duct and liver cancers belong in the latter category.

When I asked my PSC specialist what could be done if they found bile duct cancer in me he said, as dispassionately as a waiter reciting the specials of the day, "Usually not much. Generally all we can offer is palliative care. Death usually comes within eight months."

"Can I do anything to prevent it?" I asked.

"No."

Right then. I'll just curl up into a ball, rock back and forth, and suck my thumb.

The same specialist emailed me a letter to include in my (obscenely large) medical file in which he wrote that I am at a "tremendous" risk for bile cut cancer.

Being a writer I leapt on the significance of this word. "Tremendous," I wrote in the email I fired back immediately. "Now that is a strong word. How exactly did you mean tremendous in this context?"

He wrote back. "Your large duct PSC and the chirrotic charge of your liver mean that you are at significant, aka "tremendous," risk for bile duct cancer."

Alrighty then.

About 35% of PSCers develop bile duct or liver cancers, so I try to remind myself that I have more chance NOT to get it than to get it. Also, there are many, many other ways PSC can kill me besides cancer (which doctors have kindly spelled out in detail on numerous memorable occassions) but my mind has latched on to this fear in particular. I did the same thing when my girls were toddlers. I was paranoid about them choking on things but wasn't unnerved one jot by the idea of dropping them, parking lots, or electrocution. Minds (especially mine) + fear = weird like that.

So, part of living with PSC means that I am fearful about my PSC morphing into cancer pretty much ALL THE TIME. It is one of my first thoughts on regaining consciousness every morning, and it is that asshole of a thought that always (dressed in black and wearing a mask) who comes back to taunt me regularly throughout every day.

Every morning, after I am fed up of laying in bed feeling scared, I get up, reminding myself of something Winston Churchill said (and say what you will about the British Bulldog, he was a guy who knew a thing or two about writing and struggle and perseverance), "when you are going through hell, keep going."

Prodded by Winston's invisible cane, I make my way downstairs. I spend my days looking after my kids the best I can. I give Franck a kiss. I go for a walk with a friend. I deal with all the ridiculous administration of illness. I laugh and watch soccer games and enjoy every sip of my coffee. I write. I write. I write.

Like all PSCers, I am monitored for cancer often. I have tumor marker blood tests every six months, MRI's of my liver and bile ducts every six months and extra tests every time I am hospitalized with cholangitis. I knew I was coming up for a set of my cancer marker blood tests after Surrey. I went in to Lifelabs on Halloween Day (may as well concentrate all the spookiness in a 24 hour period, right?) and since then the Dread Pirate PSC perched on my shoulder and taunted me with lots of grim films of the future. His currency is high drama and he somehow always manages to get my attention.

I got my bloodwork back on Wednesday and my tumour marker score was actually the second lowest it's ever been (it was 102 and it has gone up to 148 before). I was pretty pleased. My specialist, however, was not as pleased and wants me to repeat it in a month. Good night, Laura, Good work. Sleep well. I'll most likely kill you in the morning...

I have survived far worse scares. In September 2013 I had an invasive exam called an ERCP where they push a scope into the bile ducts in my liver to take brushings and biopsies to specifically rule out bile duct cancer (they were that worried about it). I had to wait an ENTIRE MONTH to get the results. The Dread Pirate PSC was omnipresent during that entire month. To be frank, he was a complete douchebag.

This July my PSC had been progressing rapidly and landed me in the hospital with cholangitis for several weeks. I had to get three MRIs within a week to rule out bile duct cancer. Right after Christmas I will have to go in and get more MRIs...it is basically never-ending. Like Westley, I live with a Dread Pirate taunting me with my death every day and every night.

Still, in The Princess Bride Fire Swamp scene, Westley talks about his years with the Dread Pirate Roberts as "a wonderful time."

During these years in the face of fear Westley gained the strength to scale the Cliffs of Insanity, the resistance to withstand torture in the Pit of Despair, the ingenuity to figure out plan to storm the castle and rescue Buttercup, and most rad of all, the swordfighting skill to best Inigo Montoya. I rather suspect it was the constant threat of death that added an urgency, appreciation, and an almost superhuman focus to his days.

My fear isn't teaching me swordfighting (maybe one day, fingers crossed...), but it has pushed me to write and publish three books and get me well on my way on my fourth. Who knows? It may drive me all the way to the New York Times Bestseller List. Even if it doesn't it will make me appreciate each sip of coffee, kiss, sunset, writing session, and book launch party along the way.

 

 

 

Hand-Out from Self-Publishing Workshop - SIWC 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 10.45.53 AM If you are anything like me, you LOVE handouts. Here is the one I prepared and handed out at my workshop entitled "Could self-publishing be the perfect solution for you?" at SIWC 2014. If it can help you in any way, I am thrilled.

***

Let me preface my talk with explaining my stand on self-publishing. I do not believe that there needs to be such a conflict between the self-publishing and the traditional publishing communities, nor do I feel as though the division between the two needs to be as stark as it is so often depicted. Often, engaging in gratuitous conflict is just another form of procrastination.

I firmly believe that for some books and some writers traditional publishing is the right fit. For other books and other writers, self-publishing is the better solution. More and more I think that a hybridized version of publishing is going to start to occupy that middle ground between traditional and self-publishing, whereby an author may hold their ebook rights but work with an agent or publisher for things like paperback distribution, foreign rights, and film / TV rights.

I think there is room for everyone and I am just grateful that, as a writer, there are so many options now for sharing my work.

***

Reasons why Self-Publishing is the Right Solution for moi (any of these sound familiar?)

  1. I am incurably impatient
  2. I like being my own boss and want to choose my collaborators
  3. Had several ideas re: how to launch / market my first book
  4. Enjoy marketing / social media
  5. Web presence already built up thanks to graperentals.com
  6. Aspects of my books (i.e. my struggles with panic attacks / anxiety) didn’t “fit” with mainstream publishing
  7. Wasn’t prolific when I began, but definitely writing more and faster was a goal (I felt I had far more than one book in me)
  8. Am happiest when working on projects from beginning to end. I’m definitely a “project person”
  9. Ongoing health issues meant I did not want / need stress of having to meet other people’s deadlines and expectations
  10. Lifelong allergy to authority in any form ;)
  11. Wanted to donate 10% of all my writing-related earnings to PSC Partners for researching PSC.

 

What I have learned (“DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT!” is my new motto)

 This being said:

  1. Think strategically about what you are good at and what is a time suck for you. I am terrible at the technical / formatting side of things and it would take me forever (not to mention drive me insane) to try to learn this aspect of self-publishing. For this reason I hire a formatter to format my MSs for Kindle and Createspace. Same goes for graphic design (i.e. covers, etc.). DELEGATE EVERYTHING THAT YOU DO NOT ENJOY AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHICH TAKES PRECIOUS TIME AWAY FROM YOUR WRITING.
  2. If, like most of the human race, you never seem to have enough time, you will have to make strategic decisions about how to spend it. For example, I made a conscious decision than instead of making a push to get my first paperback book (MY GRAPE ESCAPE) distributed and in bookstores, I would first finish the second book in the series (MY GRAPE VILLAGE) so when I did turn my attentions to this I would get more bang for my time spent. If your time is limited you will have to make choices and stick to them.
  3. Spend the time and money on an EXCELLENT cover design. It makes a huge difference. There are far too many bad covers out there on self-published books. Like kitchens in home renovations, a great cover will give you powerful bang for your buck.
  4. Spend the time and money on at least 2 essential edits – a thorough content edit and a great final copy-edit. Even with these, errors will slip through!
  5. Find at least 2 people whose judgment you respect as beta-readers.
  6. I have always found the formatting stage just before publishing to be hellish and unbelievably nit-picky. I remind myself “it’s always darkest before the dawn” and that having that completed book in my hand will make it all worth it.
  7. Do not fear bad reviews. In fact, they do you a favour by legitimizing your good reviews (they are also occasionally hilarious). Make peace with the fact that you will never please everyone. Find and cultivate the tribe of people who love your writing. Write for yourself and for them.
  8. Keep writing and keep finishing what you start!
  9. Your writing and self-publishing muscles will grow stronger – guaranteed!

 

 My process is still evolving, but this is roughly what it looks like now.

  1. Exploding with inspiration after SIWC, begin sh!tty rough draft in November for NaNoWriMo. Vomit atrocious writing and ideas in very crude form on Word document. Here quality and structure are ignored and word count is king!
  2. Do first big edit – arrange word barf into rough chapters of more or less equal size, make a note of what scenes / bits are missing and which bits need to be trashed. Go through and make it readable.
  3. Do second edit – here look at story structure and storytelling technique. Pay close attention to language. Trash any useless words (adverbs!) and tighten things up.
  4. Send to content editor. Get moving on cover design NOW.
  5. Get content edit back. Incorporate edits.
  6. Send edited MS to at least 2 carefully selected beta readers.
  7. Get beta readers comments back. Incorporate.
  8. Send MS off for copy-edit.
  9. Incorporate copy edits.
  10. Send edited MS to formatter.
  11. Make sure graphic designer has uploaded / sent graphic materials ready to be uploaded.
  12. When all of this is ready, hit the “Publish” button (this is REALLY fun)
  13. Ta Da! You have a published book!

 

Resources:

SIWC! - Network with people here. I found my graphic designer, social media guru, and content editor here. Talk to people. You will find that many writers offer up excellent quality side services.

Elance.com - Great for having people bid for any of the techie stuff you need to get done. Super useful site.

Indies Unlimited - Wonderful articles on self-publishing and a unifying force in the self-pub world

Martin Crosbie - Local White Rock self-pub success. Martin always posts extremely useful articles for self-published authors, especially issues that affect Canadians (can we say withholding taxes?). Read his “How I sold 30,000 ebooks on Kindle”.

www.seancranbury.com - Sean Cranbury is a social media guru, especially helpful to self-pub authors.

Formatting - My formatters are Paul and Tammy Lechner of Kindilize and they are wonderful. To contact them for a quote email palechner@gmail.com

Graphic Design - The amazing Rebecca Sky did my covers and is crazily talented. She is also a successful self-pub writer in her own right. To get a quote from her, email AuthorRebeccaSky@gmail.com