It was our 20th wedding anniversary yesterday. In keeping with tradition, we forgot...
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!
How did we find ourselves in December already?
No matter. December is the month for giving things away and I LOVE giving things away to my readers. I especially love giving them the opportunity to travel to Burgundy and experience for themselves its special magic that I try to convey in my Grape books.
So, my Noel Grape Books Giveaway will have the prize of a free week at La Maison des Chaumes - our home in Villers-la-Faye, Burgundy, France. This three bedroom house with a huge deck and garden is located in the same village where Franck's family live, where he grew up, and where we fell in love, as I write about in My Grape Year.
My Grape Year has hit #1 on the Amazon "France" bestseller list several times since I self-published it in late September. I have all of you to thank for that and I am so grateful to have such an amazing community of Francophiles and book loving people who support my writing.
Without further ado, here are the rules & regs:
- the week at La Maison des Chaumes can be redeemed whenever, subject only to availability, and can also be gifted to another person if you wish
- all you need to do to enter is write a review for My Grape Year on either Amazon.com (or any of its affiliate websites (Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, etc.) or Goodreads and then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know where the review has been posted (I need this because I often can't contact people via their Amazon or Goodreads screen names). If you post on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Goodreads, for example, you'll receive three entries.
- if you have already written one or more review(s) for My Grape Year just let me know via email as above - that counts too (and MERCI for posting a review so promptly)
- it doesn't matter if your review is one star or five stars - they all count and I am grateful for them all. The only thing is that you do have to have read the book in order to write a valid review - just common sense and good ethics
- entries will be accepted until midnight on December 25th and the draw will happen and the winner will be announced the day after Boxing Day (December 27th)
Bonne chance to tout le monde! I hope you all have a merry, sparkling, and joyous December filled with lost of delicious cheese.
The attacks in Paris happened right in the middle of a two-week long treatment for me at the local hospital. This involved going every morning to get pumped full of IV antibiotics to try to beat back the infection that has taken up permanent residence in my sick liver and bile ducts.
Every time my liver infection rears its head the physical effects are wretched, but worse still is the mental anguish of not knowing what is going on inside my body and what will happen next. Crippling uncertainty and fear become my constant companions.
Having faith that everything will be OK is one of the hardest things in the world for me, as it turns out. How do I put my faith in a power (call it God, Buddha, Allah, Fate, or the Great Manitou) that has let many of my friends with PSC die despite the fact they had unrelentingly positive outlooks and everything that I don't seem capable of maintaining throughout this journey?
In the midst of my struggles with that conundrum, the attacks in Paris happened. As the news began filtering in I spent several hours feverishly checking in with friends and family to make sure they were safe. I discovered with horror all these innocent people who had thought they were going out to a concert, or for a drink with friends, or for a casual meal, only to be gunned down or blown up in the most cowardly and brutal manner.
How was I supposed to have faith that I would be taken care of by the same power that neglected to protect the victims in Paris and of other attacks over the globe?
Paris has felt like my backyard for all of my adult life. It is a place where I feel safe and nurtured. At the end of August, Franck, myself, and the Bevy were careening around the city in the wee hours of a sultry summer night with our friend Joelle, leaping out of the car to enjoy ice cream cones and an impromptu musical performance by some street musicians on a bridge over the Seine. It was one of those glorious moments when my whole soul throbbed with the joy of being alive. I seem to experience such joie de vivre frequently in Paris.
The day after the Paris attacks Camille said to me, "Mom, is Paris going to be changed forever now? Will it never be the same?"
"No way," I said. "Paris has been through much worse. Paris is resilient. Paris will always be Paris."
I realized after I answered that I had complete faith that this was true.
The day after the attacks my friend Joelle posted on Facebook that she had gone out to a bistro and sat on the terrace for not one, but two drinks. Thousands of other Parisians did the same in the impromptu #jesuisenterrasse movement.
Parisians did not cower in their apartments. They went out and fought terror with joy and wine and fresh croissants.
The Parisian approach gave me a new insight into my struggles. Often, since I got sick, I feel as though the disease is not only destroying my body, but that it is dismantling bit by bit all the things that make me...me.
But now I will remind myself to be like Paris. When things get scary and sad I will fight back by moving ferociously towards LIFE. For me, this means spending time with my family and friends, writing, reading, eating delicious food, beachcombing, creating new things...all the things that remind me that, despite my PSC, there are still so many pleasures to be savoured - so many petits bonheurs du jour as Franck's Aunt Renee always says.
If I could get on a plane right now to join the Paris #jesuisenterrasse movement in person, I would. However, budget and liver are not cooperating so I thought I'd do the next best thing - I could help others travel to France via my Grape Books. Reading is one of my favourite (not to mention most budget-friendly) methods of travel, after all.
I have never discounted my books before because I know better than anyone the work, sweat, and effort that go into creating them for my readers. I don't believe that creatives should get in the habit of undervaluing their efforts. For Paris, though, I have made an exception.
I chose to discount My Grape Year because it recounts how I fell in love with not only France, but Paris. I want everyone to be able to remind themselves of how the French have made an art of enjoying life's small, countless pleasures (which is why, I believe so many of us feel that France is one of our spiritual homes).
Choosing life, again and again and again, is a defiant type of faith. It has allowed Paris to weather hardships over the centuries that would have toppled lesser cities.
In good times and in bad times we should all strive to be like Paris. When things get tough, we can find ourselves again by going #enterrasse.
I was busy getting in some words for the upcoming My Grape Wedding memoir-ette and before logging off the computer I checked Amazon and - le voila! - the MY GRAPE YEAR paperback is now available!
It is three dollars more than my previous books because it is *ahem* rather large (366 pages to be exact) and consequently production and shipping costs are more. However, it should provide you with a long, lovely, escapist, cozy, and romantic read. Just click here to go and check it out on Amazon.com .
Also, you should be able to share this blog post with the newly-added buttons below. If someone could test drive those for me I would be extremely appreciative!
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!
My Grape Year is available, as of this morning, on Amazon's Kindle. Just click here to check it out. There is nothing quite so satisfying as hitting the "publish" button on a new book and this one particularly so. Here are my top five reasons:
1. It is so far the most downright romantic book I have ever written (all about the year Franck and I met).
2. I realized how lucky I was to conduct my first real love affair before the age of emails, texts, and cell phones.
3. I got to revisit the first time I tasted snails.
4. I managed to write this book during a year of serious health shitstorms, including hospitalizations and a full week-long work-up at the Toronto Transplant Clinic to see if I was ready for a liver transplant yet (verdict: not yet - still too healthy).
5. My eighteen year old self taught me all over again that the universe has a plan for all of us and that we all have to fight for our own personal fairy tale.
So, for the meagre sum of $3.99 you can purchase and enjoy My Grape Year for yourself. The paperback will be available on Amazon as well and at local bookstores in approximately 2-3 weeks. I'll be sure to announce that on here.
I wrote My Grape Year with my awesome tribe of readers in my mind and close to my heart. You have supported me, made me laugh, and made me think during the writing and editing of this book. More than anything, I cannot wait to hear what you think.
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 email@example.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!
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.
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.”
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!