writing

It All Started With a House in France

It All Started With a House in France

Our French vacation rentals began with our simple, typically Burgundian village house in Magny-les-Villers - La Maison des Deux Clochers.  It happened to date back to the same year the Revolutionaries in Paris stormed the Bastille, but it waited for us until 1998. 

We were in no position to buy a house in France, especially not one built in 1789 that undoubtedly held a bouquet of surpises for us along the lines of ancient plumbing and a leaking roof (and nesting snakes in the cellar, as it turned out)...

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.

 

Creativity Therapy

photo 3.JPG 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Tips to Squeeze Writing in over the Holidays

IMG_3866 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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

"Race Me To La Fin" Contest - My Grape Year

IMG_0536 I am deep in the throes of putting the final touches on My Grape Year - my tres romantic prequel to the bestselling My Grape Escape and My Grape Village and the third book in my "Grape" series.

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:

1. Write an Amazon.com review for My Grape Escape

2. Write an Amazon.com review for My Grape Village

3. Write a Goodreads review for My Grape Escape 

4. Write a Goodreads review for My Grape Village

5. Join my mailing list

6. Like my Facebook Author Page

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 laura@laurabradbury.com 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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

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.

 

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

We Have a Gagnante!

58220_525159777504477_1251903873_n (1) 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!

Felicitations!

P.S. A new contest will be coming very soon, so watch this page...

Grape Titles!

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 Escape (published)

My Grape Village (published)

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:

little_house_on_the_prairie

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.

The Grape Harvest at Domaine Buffet in Volnay

Check out these amazing photos of the 2014 Burgundy Grape Harvest... 1904273_10152736552426180_6415536610825861848_n

As I write this post, the grape harvest is happening all over Burgundy. My amazing friend Charlotte (who is also Clementine's godmother) is busy at work at the family Domaine in Volnay (Domaine Buffet) that is now managed by her husband Marc-Olivier. I hadn't met Charlotte yet in My Grape Escape - she was busy in Paris meeting her now winemaking husband.

Charlotte is a major character in the upcoming My Grape Village (although I had to change her name to "Marie" as having two Charlottes - her and my eldest daughter - was just too confusing for this here writer). We had several hilarious email exchanges where we competed to find the most hideous name for her - my favorite being "Fredigonde" I believe - but for the moment I have been calling her "Marie" in the manuscript as her friendship and that of my other French bestie Isabelle was truly one of the miracles of my years in France.

I will keep posting photos of the Grape Harvest at Domaine Buffet for the next few days...a huge merci to Jacqueline Hogue, another member of my beloved Buffet clan, for taking these phenomenal photos.

10645327_10152736564416180_6201764102583795992_n

The vineyard above supplied the grapes in the first and last photos. These vines are Le clos de la Rougeotte, and the ancient and gnarled cherry tree to the right there is what gives this appellation of Volnay 1er cru such a unique cherry flavour. 

The fact that every section of vineyards in Burgundy creates unique tasting wine based on a myriad of such oddities is what makes Burgundy such hallowed grown for wine lovers.

10647139_10152736553631180_8752623580396228852_n

According to Charlotte B. (or Marie, as you will be getting to know her, or Fredigonde if we decide to go that direction) the 2014 grapes are beautiful and luscious with very little rot. The only shame is that the yield will be low due to the disastrous hail storm when Franck was in France. Rest assured, there may not be a lot to go around but the wine that is going to be made from these grapes above is going to be delectable indeed.