MY GRAPE ESCAPE is FREE for download for the next few hours...
One of the things I love most about our slower days in France is the routine of opening up the shutters at La Maison des Chaumes in the morning and shutting them again in the evening...
One of the main reasons I began writing my Grape books was because there were stories I wanted my daughters to know and I didn't know if I would be around to tell them.
Many of you know how the morning after I was diagnosed with PSC I began writing My Grape Escape and didn't finish until I self-published it about nine months later. A simple Google search (FYI: NEVER a good idea with health stuff) will tell you that PSC kills off its victims in a myriad of inventive and heartless ways. Early on, a specialist in Vancouver said to me, "You have to accept that you have a life-threatening disease. You could die of sepsis tomorrow, or be diagnosed with liver or bile duct cancer next week. That is your reality now."
Blunt, to be sure, yet effective.
No doctor, however, could ever tell me exactly how one goes about "accepting" such a reality. Probably because such an existential question of reconciling life and death strikes at the heart of the mystery of our human journey - a mystery that people have been grappling with ever since they made handprints of their own hands on the wall of a cave in Chauvet, France 32,000 years ago.
I wrote feverishly, telling the stories of how I decided to leave behind an Oxford degree and prestigious career legal career path to throw myself into the unknown, how I struggled with panic attacks and anxiety, how it slowly dawned on me that life didn't need to be perfect to be wonderful, how it was wiser to collect les petits bonheurs than to harbour unrealistic expectations of life, how sometimes it was impossible to make yourself happy and to make others happy too...
These were things my three girls needed to know. I had no desire for them to read my books immediately - once they were published my stories would be there when they needed them. That is the magic of art, and writing, and books. They give us a sliver of immortality in a finite world.
However, an unexpected thing happened on the path of telling my stories. It was only when I was about half way through my latest book, My Grape Year, that I realized how creating - in my case writing - was the best course of therapy I had ever embarked upon.
Immediately after I was diagnosed with PSC I called in the cavalry. I set up appointments with acupuncturists, spiritual healers, RMTs, therapists, as well as bought a juicer and eliminated sugar, grains, dairy products, and caffeine from my diet. My whole life became about curing myself from this bizarre, rare, and unpredictable disease.
It didn't work. Not only did eliminating every pleasurable form of sustenance and living off juiced kale started to make death seem like a not entirely unappealing option, but my days were so full of appointments that my battle to stay alive left me no time to actually live.
I am generally a big fan of therapy, but in this case once we had talked for a few sessions about my health situation, the therapist (and there were a few) and me would inevitably end up staring at each other with nothing more to say. The whole PSC situation was certainly not the worst thing in the world, but sucketh, it did. It was one of those types of burdens that cannot be eliminated. It had to be carried, and nobody could tell me how. I had to figure it out for myself.
So blindly, compulsively, I kept writing. I wrote my Grape books out of order. At first this made no sense to me, but one day it finally dawned on me that, on the contrary, it made perfect sense.
My Grape Escape is all about faith, huge life changes, and trying to build a whole-hearted, authentic life even when things are far from perfect. I wrote it during that first year post diagnosis when my life had been turned on its head and I needed to find a new way of living with and in the face of my PSC.
My Grape Village is about the challenges of adapting to a new life with a family - finding community, balancing your needs with those of the people you love the most, finding happiness via les petit bonheur du jour despite the challenges life throws at one's head, and the humbling realization that life never stops providing us lessons, especially at those very moments when we believe we know it all.
My Grape Year was written at a time when my PSC had started to become extremely symptomatic, forcing me to embark on uncharted territory. I was terrified and needed to find courage. I found it in my bold 17 year old self - that girl with her head full of romance and dreams who left Canada and flew almost half way around the world to seek out love and a different way of living. I cannot tell you how many times I woke up during my writing of My Grape Year, either in the hospital or home, paralyzed by visceral terror. My body was slowly, irrevocably getting sicker, I was learning how the transplant system in Canada was both political and ineffective, especially for us PSCers, and my disease was stripping away every part of me that made me me. It was only going back to the manuscript of My Grape Year that made me remember that I was strong and that I was bold and that I had done scary things before and that doing those scary things had transformed my life.
I wept over my keyboard countless times. I laughed over it too. Initially when people asked me why I was writing my Grape Books out of order I would just laugh and say that my mind wasn't linear. This is completely true, but now I look back on the order and it makes perfect sense. The story I wrote always dealt with issues that I needed to work through the most at that time.
Right now I am finishing up edits on My Grape Wedding and I am realizing that this books deals with a time of crisis in my life too, when my panic attacks were probably at their debilitating. Paradoxically, it also deals with one of the most joyful times in my life - the summer when Franck and I got married in Burgundy, France. This rite of passage not only marked a new beginning, but a time when I was surrounded and lifted up by the love and support of friends and family from all over the world.
Could it be a metaphor for my approaching transplant? I certainly hope so.
I haven't actually received that many entries into my Noel Grape Giveaway - running a giveaway in December when everyone is so insanely busy with the Holidays probably wasn't that strategic on my part. As most of you know, my marketing "plan" tends to go something like this: me becoming overcome by the spirit of generosity and the need to thank my readers for their amazingness and consequently putting one of our vacation rentals up for grabs. Yep. That's about all the forethought that goes into marketing decisions for me. Ready. Aim. Fire.
But...what does my utter lack of marketing savvy mean for you? It means your chances of winning a free week stay at La Maison des Chaumes are tres, tres bien.
Also, I expanded the rules slightly beyond those written in my first post about the giveaway. You can review any or all of my three grape books, My Grape Year, My Grape Escape, and My Grape Village. For each review you post to BOTH Amazon and Goodreads you earn an entry (one for each, I mean).
So, for someone who has read all of my Grape books, they could potentially earn SIX entries by writing reviews for each book on both Amazon and Goodreads.
Also, if you are outside of the US you can earn additional entries by posting both a review on Amazon.com and then another one on your country's Amazon site (i.e. Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, etc.). It is just a matter of cutting and pasting the review...
All you have to do after that is send me a quick email to email@example.com to let me know where you have posted reviews and I will add your entries in the draw. There is nothing I love more than helping my readers actually experience the magic of Burgundy for themselves.
I'm telling you right now that your chances are GOOD. I mean, sans blague.
Also, a huge merci to everyone who has already posted thoughtful and lovely reviews (although I appreciate ALL reviews, even the two star ones). I am a lucky, lucky writer indeed.
For most of us, December gives a whole new meaning to the expression "time crunch". Sugar cookies to decorate, kids' performances to attend, trees to decorate, menorahs to light, presents to wrap, eggnog to drink...
Yet I have a manuscript (My Grape Wedding) I want to finish rewriting by mid-January and another (my paranormal romance) than I need to completely revamp...how by all that is Holy do I get that done at this time of year?
Here are my top five tricks:
- Cozy it Up - Make writing a holiday tradition in and of itself. Set the stage. Turn on the fireplace. Flick on the fairy lights. Pour yourself a mug of something warm and delicious, choose a festive playlist on Songza, then hunker down with your manuscript. You will feel cozy and accomplished all at once!
- Barter for Time - i.e. I will wrap these presents if you take the kids figure skating. Everyone has a ton to do this month, so figure out the things that you don't mind doing and do those in exchange for blocks of uninterrupted writing time.
- Ease Up on Yourself - This is the one I always struggle with the most. Let's face it - December is probably not the month of the year when you are going to accomplish the most writing-wise. Take five minutes and consciously rewrite your writing goals and benchmarks to make them less ambitious.
- Treat Any Writing As a Win - I truly believe that ANY writing you get accomplished in December deserves a round of applause, so don't wait for anyone else - give this round of applause to yourself every time you, say, chalk up 100 new words or rewrite a page. Big projects are accomplished by hundreds of tiny steps and the important thing is that you are doing SOME writing and keeping your momentum going. Reward yourself with a candy cane.
- Enjoy The Holidays - Sometimes us writers (*ahem* me) get so wrapped up in our parallel imaginary worlds and writing goals that we forget the thing that actually fuels our writing - LIFE. Without taking time away from our manuscripts to actually enjoy our lives and time with our loved ones, our gas tanks are going to run dry pretty darn quick. Time away from our writing can benefit our writing. This means, my fellow writers, that we need to go out and get our Fa La La La La on!
I had a humdinger of a panic attack last Wednesday. Many readers ask me after reading My Grape Escape and My Grape Village whether I still get them. Short and honest answer - yes, as last Wednesday proves, I certainly do.
I no longer waste precious time and energy trying to eliminate panic attacks from my life. I have been having them, after all, at random intervals since my mid-teens. They come. They go. They are always epically unpleasant and unwelcome.
I no longer believe they happen for a reason. I have come to the conclusion that searching for triggers or reasons for my panic attacks is a colossal waste of time.
On Wednesday, I was just sitting on the couch talking to a friend on the phone when my heart started beating faster than usual. The anxious part of my brain seized on this and started going, "Why is your heart beating faster? Something must be wrong! Redalertredalertredalert!!!"
Within three minutes my hands were shaking and my mind was spinning in that hellish anxiety vortex, making note of every uncomfortable physical sensation, amplifying it by approximately a million, and creating a logical case for my imminent demise (or worse yet, being trapped in a situation I can't control aka Just Kill Me Now).
Even though I consider myself a writer, I find myself at a loss for words when I try to describe the intensity and sheer terror of a panic attack to anyone who has not experienced one before. Conversely, when I talk about panic attacks with people who have experienced them, words are not necessary. I can just tell by looking in their eyes that they get it.
Even though I hate them I have come to a place of acceptance that they stem from a glitch in the way my brain is wired. I think we ALL have glitches in how our brain is wired. Some people have the depression glitch, some people have the jealousy glitch, some people have the fear-of-intimacy glitch...as for my brain, I suspect my panic attack glitch is the same or closely related to the part of my brain that allows me to imagine and write.
I am no longer ashamed of my anxiety. Indeed I think the stigma around mental health is one of the most corrosive forces in existence. However, I certainly don't want to feed my anxiety by treating it like the most exotic, fascinating animal in my own personal zoo either. I think my creativity, love for Star Wars, and humour are all vastly more interesting than my anxiety. Still, panic attacks are part of my emotional hard-wiring and chances are I will most likely have to co-exist with them for the rest of my life.
Something interesting, though, has been happening in the midst of my panic attacks since I began taking my writing and creativity seriously. In the middle of my Wednesday anxiety roller coaster ride, in the midst of my shaking hands and my pounding heart and my spinning head full of thoughts of certain and imminent doom, another little voice popped up. I like to think of this particular voice as the voice of my creative self.
"Remember Tillly?" it whispered to me (Tilly is the protagonist in my paranormal romance - she doesn't suffer from anxiety disorder but she does experience plenty of well-warranted fear). "You have to remember how you are feeling right now. How exactly is your heart pounding? What muscles are contracting in your chest so it feels like you cannot take a full breath? What is making you so viscerally uncomfortable right now? You have to make note and remember so that you can depict Tilly's fear more effectively."
One of the things that I am trying to learn through my mediation practice is to create some distance between myself and my thoughts and physical sensations that are always, even though they never feel like it at the time, transitory. Meditation encourages us to be curious about our thoughts and feelings without judging them.
Creativity does the same thing. By looking at my panic attack-y feelings and thoughts as a potential writer hoping to harvest them for future use, I create some much-needed space between myself and the deeply uncomfortable sensations my crocodile brain is creating for me.
The sensations are still wretched, but having curiosity about them brings a glimmer of transcendence. And then, when I actually use the material, which I always do sooner or later, the circle is complete. I have used my own misery to do a better job of writing and to hopefully make others who have felt profound visceral fear (and who hasn't?) feel less alone.
In other words, for people who have managed to carve out a creative outlet for themselves, even the really, really bad stuff is useful. Through our creativity we make even the unwanted and the uninvited serve a purpose. As I have said before, IT'S ALL MATERIAL.
I am not a subscriber to the belief that bad things happen for a reason, but I DO believe that we can choose to give even the yuckiest things meaning. This ability, in fact, is one of the things that makes us uniquely human.
Creativity won't make my panic attacks disappear for good (godammit), but it does make them slightly easier to cope with, and remains one of the most best ways for me to render useful something that is inherently useless.
I received my two paperback proofs for My Grape Year last night, which means I will be able to put the lovely paperback version up for sale on the Amazon website in the next 24 hours.
This also means, however, that there are only 48 hours or less to enter my contest to win a free week at any one of our four Grape Rentals in Burgundy. Here are all the ways you can earn one (or more - lots more!) entries in the "Race Me to La Fin" contest.
There is also an additional way to enter for those of you wonderful people who have already purchased and downloaded (and even read already, for a lot of you!) a digital copy of My Grape Year. Simply post a review of My Grape Year on Amazon to earn yet another entry.
Here is one of my earlier reviews:
I'm going to blog in the upcoming months about our last-minute trip to Burgundy this summer, but let me just say that Burgundy weaves a spell on me and so many of our guests that come and stay in our vacation rentals. There is an authenticity there, a devotion to the art of pleasure, a measuring of the days that takes place in humble rituals such as opening the shutters, buying bread, and going to the market that never fails to fill up my soul.
Also, my web designer has added some cool buttons at the bottom of all my blog posts so you can easily share them on Facebook, Twitter, and all those other fun places. Check them out and let me know if they work!
Sharing Burgundy's magic with others, both through my books and our vacation rentals, is one of the most rewarding parts of my life. Good luck, or should I say bonne chance!
I won't entirely believe it until the airplane actually takes off to Paris with me inside.
We made a spontaneous, last minute, leap of faith decision and bought tickets last Sunday to leave for a month at our house - La Maison des Chaumes in Burgundy, France this Sunday.
It has been such a weird year with my health (you need a transplant! No! Wait! You're still far too healthy for a transplant! But you do need to go to the hospital again!) that I feel scared writing those words, as though I'll jinx myself and I'll land myself on an IV drip rather than on an airplane in three days time.
Still...my PSC specialist in Calgary encouraged me to travel now. He said, "Sure, you can get sick and end up in the hospital, but that can happen just as easily while you are sitting at home in Victoria as in France." It would suck to be sick in France, but at least I would have the satisfaction of knowing that my kids are visiting with their cousins and grandparents and friends and having a lovely time in Burgundy. Besides, I spent a week in the hospital in Beaune after having Clementine and as far as hospitals go it is a pretty sweet place to be - three course meals, coffee and petits gateaux that come by on a trolley every afternoon...I was waited on hand and foot and actually read Ken Follett's "Pillars of the Earth" from cover to cover in the six days following my C-section.
Living with a life-threatening illness has taught me many things over the past three years but the lesson that I keep circling back to again and again is that I have to live for the NOW. Also, shit happens in life. Sooner or later, pretty much everyone will encounter their own personal shit storm. All anyone ever has is The Present (yes, with capitals) - ill or not. We must throw fear to the winds and tackle that sucker. It is, as far as I can tell, the only sane way to live life.
So I thought to myself, "Eff it. Let's at least try." Then I pressed the "purchase tickets" button on the Air Transat website. Ready.Fire.Aim. That's my motto.
So for the next month I will be eating cheese, baguettes, pastries, looking longingly at the wonderful wines I can't drink, taking a gazillion photos, soaking up every moment with my beloved French family and friends, scoping the markets and the vide-greniers for antiques...I may also have a little sejour in Beaune's Club Med (aka the hospital) but that is OK.
This may delay the publication of My Grape Year by a few weeks. Right now it is in the hands of my copy editor. Once I make those final changes there is really little else to do. I am taking my laptop with me but my goal for this vacation is play, not work, so I'll just see how it goes. It will be published soon though - very soon...I am so excited to hear what you think and I am determined to craft the best possible story for all my fantastique readers.
In the meantime, of course, this gives you a little extra time to gain some additional entries for my "Race Me to La Fin" contest. I am receiving several emailed entires per day and rest assured they are all going into my 'contest' folder and are being counted. In particular, I am only four reviews away from hitting 200 reviews for My Grape Escape so if you could write one to receive yet another contest entry I would love you forever - promis!
I will be posting photos and snippets of our Burgundian adventures on my author Facebook page, my Instagram account, and my Twitter Feed (where yesterday two of my writer idols - Cheryl Strand and Elizabeth Gilbert 'favorited' one of my tweets...verklempt).
In life and in travel my new mindset is not to strive for a perfect vacation or a perfect month, but rather to be on the lookout for perfect moments. This is just another version of Franck's Aunt Renee's petit bonheur du jour approach to life that I describe in My Grape Escape and which resonates with so many readers.
I will gather up and cherish these perfect moments like the shards of beach glass I collect. They are the closest thing I have found to capturing eternity in my hands.
I swear to god, I am not trying to confuse everyone. It's just that my brain resists operating in anything resembling a linear fashion. Now that there will soon be three books in my "Grape" series I realize I need to clarify their chronological order.
Most readers understandably thought my next book in the series would be about Franck and I and an apartment in Beaune. After all, the last few lines of My Grape Village go like so...
That'd what I learned here. The French were instinctively good at living in the moment. At the same time, I knew that the lesson was far from over for me. In fact, it had barely begun. But what path could I follow next?
"You know what I think would rent really well?" I turned my face so that I caught Franck's eye.
"What?" His lips curled into a smile.
"An apartment within the medieval walls of Beaune."
As you can see, it would not be a huge leap of deduction for my readers to assume this next book would be about Franck and I buying and renovating what would become Le Relais du Vieux Beaune.
What can I say? I write whatever story is clamouring the loudest to be told at the time I write my rough draft for the National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) every November.
This past November, it was not the apartment story but rather the story of how it all began that was being by far the loudest and the rowdiest. It was what was to become My Grape Year - the story of that pivotal year when I was seventeen and sent to Burgundy as an exchange student. That year completely altered the course of my life, particularly a certain Spring evening in Nuits-Saint-Georges when I met a certain Frenchman named Franck.
My Grape Year ended up being crazy romantic (so much so that I am seriously considering banning my parents from reading it, or at least my Dad) and a sheer pleasure to write. When I was struggling with the stress, uncertainty, and just sheer merdique-ness of my current health challenges these past eight months, writing My Grape Year was a daily exercise in gratitude for the incredible moments that I have been privileged to experience so far this time on the human merry-go-round.
All my editors and readers have told me that in their opinions this is the best book yet in the series, which is extremely gratifying. I have high hopes that my readers will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it for them.
The apartment story is also clamouring to be told, and who knows? It could be next. I already have the title to that one - it's called "My Grape Town".
If you are interested in having a peek into my anarchic brain, here is what I have as my mental list of books in the "Grape" series. This may or may not be complete...
My Grape Year (soon-to-be-published)
My Grape Paris (about Franck's and my year living in Paris)
My Grape Town (maybe next project???)
My Grape Baby
There will also be several novella-sized additions - around 40,000 words each I am estimating. These would be "My Grape Wedding" (could be next Grape project too...clamouring pretty loud these days and I already have an outline), "My Grape Cellar", "My Grape Quebec"...however, any one of these could bloom into another novel-sized book. That has a tendency to happen.
I am trying to figure out a name for a novella-sized memoir...a memoirette? What do you think? Do you have any suggestions?
Clear as mud?
Also, don't neglect to enter my Race Me To La Fin contest to win a free week in Burgundy, the birthplace of not only Franck and Clementine, but also of all of my Grape adventures so far.
Now I must be off to email my copy-editor! I won't rest until I get My Grape Year into your hands (or on your Ipad or Kindle!).
In honour of Bastille Day tomorrow here is a little excerpt from the VERY soon-to-be-published My Grape Year. If you could like to race me to the finish of this latest instalment in my "Grape" series, just enter my contest to win a free week at the Grape Rental of your choice in Burgundy.
This excerpt comes near the end of the book, when Franck and I spent the entire night dancing at the 14th of July balls in Paris the day before I had to fly back to Canada.
A few hours later, Franck and I were nestled in a brasserie in the Sixth arrondissement. We just finished a dinner of a goat cheese salad, steak frites, and fromage blanc. This was all washed down with a strong house red, which made me teeter between joy and sadness every few seconds.
He reached over and checked my watch. “The balls will be starting.”
We paid up and stepped out into the Parisian evening. Every cell in my body rejoiced at how I was actually living this moment – French cars whipping by honking at each other, the warmth of Franck’s arm around my shoulder, the muggy air of Paris in the early summer, the whistle of firecrackers being set off by kids in adjacent streets, the jingle of a few francs in my pocket…
Better yet, I understood everything that was happening around me – every expletive yelled by the pedestrian who had just been cut off by a mobilette roaring around the corner, the chatter of lovers chatting at a café table we passed, the waiter taking an order…this was an entirely new life I was living and it hadn’t, in the grand scheme of things, taken that long to create.
Franck led us along several dimly lit back streets.
“How do you always know where you’re going?” I asked. “You never even look at a map.”
“I walked a lot when I lived here,” he said. “Kilometres and kilometres every day. There was always a new adventure waiting.”
We could hear the noise of the fire hall several blocks before we arrived. The street echoed with the sounds of laughter and loud accordion music.
People were spilling out of the courtyard of a large stone building. Strung across the courtyard in a half-hazard fashion were strings of multi-colored lights. A wine stand was set up at the rear of the courtyard and its menu was simple; a glass of red or white for the price of ten francs.
People were already dancing, young and old, chic and bohemian. Franck ordered us each a glass of wine served in plastic goblets. We sipped as we watched the festivities erupting around us. The night was warm, and tiny stars began to light up the sky like sparks. I put my empty glass back down on the table and Franck followed suit. He swept me into the middle of the dancers and we lost ourselves in the accordion music. He spun me around and around until the revellers surrounding us became a blur and I felt like a small part of a much greater whole. Nobody in the crowd hung back on the sidelines. If they had no one to dance with, they danced anyway, and were soon swept up into the frenzy of celebration.
We humans need this, I thought. We need to let go of the routine of our everyday lives and just celebrate the mere fact of being alive. The French were awfully gifted at that.
Soon Franck took my hand, and led me out of the writhing mass of dancers. We walked for about ten minutes, laughing and enjoying the site of the fellow revellers out in the streets before we ducked into the next fire station for another glass of wine and into the whirlpool of another celebration.
The night stretched out from fire station to fire station, from neighborhood to neighborhood.
At about five o’clock in the morning, the sky began to pale, to welcome a new day. The day I dreaded since I met Franck. The day I had to leave him.
“I know a brasserie not too far from here that is open all night,” Franck said. “Should we go and rest our feet?” Mine were throbbing from all the dancing, so I agreed.
In the brasserie we huddled together on the leather seat. I inspected my blisters, which were impressive, both of us agreed, and we snuggled as we waited for our order of two large café au lait with croissants and jam.
The chime of a church bell rang six times.
“That was the bell at Nôtre-Dame,” Franck said.
Normally I would have loved that fact, but it only drove home that my time left with Franck was no longer measured in days, but in hours and minutes.
“You’ve gone quiet,” Franck observed.
My Grape Year invites readers back to the very beginning of the "Grape" story when I was sent to Burgundy for a year as a 17 year old exchange student. That year I learned French, developed a passion for Burgundy, and met my true love...the latter, much to the consternation of my hosts and in direct breach of the "No Dating" rule.
At the moment, I am juggling beta-reads, formatting, copy-edits, consulting over cover design, etc. etc. and basically just trying to put together the best possible book for my lovely readers.
It is not easy to estimate when I will be done, but it will be soon. My goal was to have My Grape Year published by the end of July, but realistically I think it may be more around the first week in August...however, you never know. Whenever I can hit that "publish" button - trust me - I do not hesitate!
Like I did when I was finishing up My Grape Village , I've decided to throw a little race for all of my readers, largely to motivate me to keep pushing on until My Grape Year is in your hands or on your Kindle, Ipad, etc....
The prize is a 7 day stay at your choice of any of our "Grape Rentals" - our four lovely vacation rentals in Burgundy, France (which has just been designated a UNESCO world heritage site!). This stay can be redeemed at any time, subject to availability and can also be gifted to the person of your choice if you cannot get to Burgundy.
To enter, this time you have a choice of things to do!
For any one of these tasks accomplished, you gain an entry, so if you do three things on this list, you get entered three times...Just click on the links below to be taken to where you need to go:
7. Post a photo of either or both My Grape Escape & My Grape Village on Instagram with the hashtag #amreading
8. Post a photo of either or both My Grape Escape & My Grape Village on Twitter with the hashtag #amreading
When you have accomplished as many of these tasks as you like, simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know which actions you have taken and I will enter you as many times as applicable in the contest.
Don't wait, as it will be over as soon as I hit the "publish" button for My Grape Year! Bonne chance!
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
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!
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.
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:
- I am incurably impatient
- I like being my own boss and want to choose my collaborators
- I had several ideas re: how to launch / market my first book
- I actually enjoy marketing / social media
- I had a web presence already built up thanks to graperentals.com
- 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.
- 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.
- I am happiest when working on projects from beginning to end. I’m definitely a “project person”
- 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.
- I have an allergy to authority in any form
- 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.
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!
I was going over my old blog and found this post of the Christmas jaunt we took to Colmar, Alsace in December 2008 when Clem was under a year old. If you are in France during the Christmas season and can make it up to Alsace do not miss the Christmas markets and celebrations up in this unique corner of France. Stunning and makes for fantastique memories.
I have had many people ask me about the traditional Burgundian drinking song "Le Ban Bourgignon" that I refer to frequently in My Grape Escape and My Grape Village. "What does it sound like?" / "When do you sing it?" / "How does everyone know the words?"
Sometimes a video is worth a thousand explanations, especially the one below. This was filmed in La Maison des Chaumes at the meal celebrating the baptism of our 13th century wine cellar under our apartment in Beaune. Oui, in Burgundy we baptize wine cellars just like newly born babes...but that is another post for another time!
That is Robert, who you will all become acquainted with in the upcoming My Grape Town, singing and you'll spot Franck at the end of the table holding baby Clementine, me appearing from the kitchen (in a white linen shirt, of course), my parents, Martial and Isabelle, Franck's parents and his aunts, Charlotte ("Marie" in My Grape Village, as two Charlottes were just too awkward for this here writer).
This captures pretty neatly the spirit of those long, raucous Burgundian meals that I love so much. Enjoy!
There's nothing I love better than giving away time in Burgundy and allowing others to experience the magic of this special area of the world that I write about in My Grape Escape and My Grape Village for themselves. So, just in time for the giving season here are the rules for our newest contest!
Prize: One week at any one of our four vacation rentals in Burgundy, France (to choose / research / procrastinate / dream just go to our website www.graperentals.com)
Dates: This contest will run from now until Christmas Day
Rules & Regs: The winner will be selected in a random draw. The week is redeemable at any one of our four Grape Rentals properties, subject only to availability. There are no date or time restrictions (so you can go to Burgundy at Christmas, Easter, Passover, the Summer Solstice, etc.). The lovely people who posted a review before this contest was announced will also, of course, be entered.
Bonne Chance tout le monde!
Sorry this is a day late - things have been a little hairy for me trying to have the paperbacks of MY GRAPE VILLAGE and MY GRAPE ESCAPE shipped in time for me to bring them to the wonderful Surrey International Writers' Conference this weekend.
Now, however, I am happy to report that we have a WINNER in our draw for a free week at La Maison de la Vieille amongst all the people who signed up for my mailing list. It is (cue drumroll) Elizabeth Theobald!
The winner is automatically generated by some genius that lives in a specialized computer thingy I bought (it's like maaaaaaaaagic!) but I am thrilled to report that Elizabeth is part of my PSC family.
I met her and her lovely husband Kevin (the PSCer, like me) in Denver at the PSC conference this year. We bonded when Kevin and I yanked up our jeans and compared the scars on our legs (from the horrendous itching - a hallmark of PSC) and marveled at how we both looked like we had been mauled by the same werewolf. Kevin told me about how a young man from a youth group he led had offered to donate 65% of his liver to Kevin for a living donor liver transplant (by which time Elizabeth, Kevin, and I were all crying over the selflessness of Kevin's donor). Kevin's transplant happened two months ago. Last I heard Kevin is doing fantastic, which makes me very happy and hopeful indeed.
This prize couldn't be going out to two more deserving, delightful people, So Elizabeth, you have a free week at La Maison de la Vieille Vigne - our 16th century winemakers' cottage in Burgundy, France to use yourselves, gift, donate, or do whatever you want with!
P.S. A new contest will be coming very soon, so watch this page...
I have had a lot of people ask me why the books in my Grape Series have similar titles. They do indeed: My Grape Year (currently writing)
My Grape Paris (to be written)
My Grape Town (to be written)
My Grape Baby (to be written)
Interspersed between these will be a scattering of smaller memoirs (memoirellas?) such as My Grape Wedding, My Grape Cellar, My Grape Summer, etc.
For our French life, "grape" has always been highly emblematic. Our network of vacation rentals is called "Grape Rentals". I liked the play on the word "great" plus in my mind a grape evokes so many things that are profoundly Burgundian - the earth, tradition, the rhythm of the seasons, the combination of man and nature to create something truly sublime...
These titles came to me right away, whereas the title for my paranormal romance continues to elude me. The working title is "Silver Fish", pulled from the poem by early Canadian poet Isabella Valency Crawford that inspired my epic story idea over a decade ago.
The line goes "Love is like a silver fish, shy of line and shy of gaffing."
Unfortunately, I was informed very quickly by my fellow writers (who are, thank god, blunt when they need to be) that "silverfish" were also pestilential insects that called for reliable fumigaters. Not really an association I wanted for a paranormal romance. So....back to the drawing board, except that I'm still waiting for that lightning bolt of inspiration. If you have any ideas, please help me!
Anyway, back to The Grape Series. I realized after I had already decided on the "Grape" titles that one of the reasons having the almost-identical title repeated again and again was that it reminded me of my first love in the world of memoir writing:
Who else is with me on this one?
At Thanksgiving dinner this weekend when my sisters and I were gushing over the "Little House" series my brother-in-law Mark said, "Christ! I frickin' hated those goddamned books." Maybe there is a gender split here, but in any case I LOVED them. Also, I have never forgotten this section near the end of Little House in the Big Woods that struck me as a six-year-old when my mom read Suzanne and I the whole series one winter, and stays with me still. To me, it embodies the magic of memoir:
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 firelight 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 firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.