Writing

Sneak Peek at My Grape Year

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

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

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

***

My Grape Year 

Chapter 1:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indie Interview with Moi

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

INDIE TUESDAY -- WRITER LAURA BRADBURY

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

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

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

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

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

KC: How did you choose your titles? 

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

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

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

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

She thought to herself, “This is now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KC: Why Indie publishing instead of the traditional route?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

The Word Warrior Mantra

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

Badass Surrender

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

My first instinct was to argue my case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, I thought about it some more.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Flotilla of Doubt

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

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

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

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

The Things I Cannot Control Pile was a mini Everest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so on and so forth...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet Faith still scares the bejesus out of me.

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

 

 

 

Flashback Friday - Christmas 2008

DSCN2980 I was going over my old blog and found this post of the Christmas jaunt we took to Colmar, Alsace in December 2008 when Clem was under a year old. If you are in France during the Christmas season and can make it up to Alsace do not miss the Christmas markets and celebrations up in this unique corner of France. Stunning and makes for fantastique memories.

French Christmas Food & Wine Porn!

IMG_8893  Some Christmas french food & wine porn for this festive season from My Grape Village. Enjoy! 

*****

The presents were quickly disposed of on Christmas morning. Charlotte and Camille ripped off the paper and squealed over their stuffy puppies and Polly Pockets. They ate a prodigious amount of papillottes and their enjoyment of the day didn’t seem to be at all affected by the torn wallpaper on the walls or the ugly floor tiles. The tree and the decorations and the fact that the Père Noël came during the night, drank all the ratafia, and ate the papillottes made it a perfect Christmas in their eyes. A big Christmas was fun, but a modest Christmas had its rewards too. Fewer gifts made us aware of what was important, and increased our appreciation of what we did have.

Stéphanie told us to be at her house by 11:30 for the apéritif. She would not hear of me bringing anything to contribute to the Christmas meal. When I asked Franck why she was turning down repeated offers of help he said that it was her pride as a hostess to do everything herself. I wondered briefly why I had never seemed to possess that particular brand of domestic pride.

Tom and Lola greeted us at the door, jumping up and down and telling us about the presents Père Noël had brought them. The most popular was Lola’s stand up microphone. The four cousins rushed upstairs to her bedroom try it out. By the time Thierry had poured us each a flute of mousseux the strains of very loud but out-of-tune voices floated down the stairs. We were the last ones to arrive, There was Steph and Thierry, Thierry’s parents, his aunt from Dijon, Franck’s parents and of course La Mémé, equipped with several exquisite shawls to stave off drafts despite the roaring fire. We caught up with Thierry’s parents and his aunt and Stéphanie passed around homemade gougères – crunchy on the outside and rich and airy on the inside - made with Mémé’s recipe.

Eventually Steph went back in the kitchen and André went to help her. I was shooed away. We were told to sit down at the table, stunningly decorated with tones of red and gold, and an abundance of freshly picked holly.

Steph handed out the plates, beginning with Thierry’s aunt and Mémé and then moved on down the line in order of age. On each plate were two artfully arranged slices of foie gras, two slices of toasted brioche, and a scoop of fig jam.

Thierry busied himself with filling our glasses with a dark yellow Sauternes, perfectly chilled.

We waited until Steph and André were seated at the table and then Stephanie said “Bon alors, Joyeux Noël et bon appetite!” I scraped some foie gras on a piece of toasted, buttery brioche, topped it with fig jam, then washed it down with the beautifully paired Sauternes. The foie gras was silky smooth of my tongue, enhanced by the sweet pops of the fig jam and the honeyed richness of the Sauternes. They mingled together to form a holy trinity of yum. The table fell silent for several minutes as everyone relished this first sublime bite of the holiday meal.

We talked about preparing the foie gras which Stephanie had done from scratch this year - well not completely from scratch - she hadn’t force fed a goose but she did bought a freshly fattened goose liver and prepared, deveined, marinated and cooked it herself.

“Do you like it Laura?” she asked. I knew I should feel guilty about the force-fed goose, but all I could think of was how it was so incredibly delicious.

C’est délicieux,” I answered. Why did nothing in Canada taste this satisfying? Why were flavors never quite so carefully and artfully matched? Here on my plate and in my glass was the perfect harmony of sweet and savory. The crunchy butteryness of the brioche and the syrupy fig jam highlighted the savory onctuousness of the foie gras. Individually all these things were delicious, but married together they were sublime. There wasn’t a lot of the food on the plate but because it was so perfect it was all that was needed.

We took a good hour nibbling away at the first course. The children came down and they all ate a full plate just like the adults, all except Lola who was turning out, much to the despair of Franck’s family of gourmets, to be a picky eater. I wasn’t sure if my kids realized if they were eating fattened goose liver or, if they did, whether they would even care.

Without me realizing exactly when or how, their eating habits had improved drastically since we moved here. They sat down to eat three proper meals a day and a snack when they got home from school around five o’clock. There were still a few things they didn’t like, spinach for Charlotte and brussel sprouts for Camille, but they would try more or less anything else, mainly because the kids around them had to try everything too. Also, I believe the fact that most things they tried actually tasted good inspired them to be adventurous.

Charlotte and Camille proclaimed that the foie gras was delicious and declared it one of their new favorite foods, then asked if they could go upstairs to play. The cousins disappeared again, and Steph and Thierry and André took their time doing the dishes from the first course while Steph periodically checked the oven.

Finally she removed what had been in there and the house was filled with an irresistible smell. It was a chapon - a rooster castrated at a young age filled with a chestnut and pork stuffing.

Stephanie served this with a side of chestnuts for anyone who wanted them. I had grown up in Canada seeing chestnuts cover the sidewalk every autumn but I had never tasted them before or, indeed, ever seen anybody eat them. It was in France that I first discovered them and realized how much I loved their earthy taste and texture. Stéphanie also served her bird with a reduced jus from the cooking. Thierry, meanwhile, had taken out several bottles of Hospices de Beaune wine and served one that was a Pommard premier cru.

He gave it to Franck to taste. Franck swirled it around in his glass, sniffed, and swashed it around his mouth and proclaimed it perfect. No one rushed on to anything else, and each plateful was just the perfect amount of flavors to savor without overwhelming the palate.

I thought back to our Christmas dinners in Canada. They were joyous affairs, but it was always such a race to get everything on the table at the same time; the turkey, the stuffing, the brussel sprouts, the scalloped potatoes, and the green beans. Everybody filled their plates and rushed to the table to eat before it got cold (which it inevitably did). The flavors were good, but there were too many of them at once, and the whole thing was over far too fast. Afterwards, everyone sat back with prodigious stomachaches and a kitchen full of dishes to clean.

The protracted nature and the small portions of meals in Burgundy meant that everything was properly savored. It forced everyone to slow down. Slowing down while eating, I realized now, was key to true appreciation and enjoyment of food. There were no distractions apart from the flowing conversation.

After the chapon came a trou normande in the form of a lime sorbet with strong alcohol poured over it. This was, according to French belief, the secret to digesting well and making more room in our stomachs for the cheese and dessert courses.

The fromage platter was massive, and included a truly pungent and perfectly oozing “Ami de Chambertin, a half round of Cîteaux, and a crumbly and salty Cantal sheep’s cheese amongst other offerings. Here too, the different textures and tastes of the cheeses riffed off each other creating an amazing taste experience. For the wine, Thierry served another Pommard from les Hospices that was groaning with ripe fruit flavours and structured tannins – absolutely the perfect foil to the cheeses.

Dessert came sometime after, along with a vin de paille from the Jura, a sweet intensely yellow wine that used half rotten grapes that had been aged on hay. Its richness complimented Mémé’s two “buches de Noël”, one mocha, one chocolate. Next came a praline kouglouf made by Franck’s father, served with the tiny china cups of strong espresso and bowls of papillottes and clémentine oranges.

As I was unpeeling my second orange the conversation ranged from wine to the best markets in the region. Thierry’s father, nicknamed “Le Cadou” so insistently that I had never learned his actual name, was a loyal attendee of the Friday morning market in Nuits-Saint-Georges where he went without fail to visit with friends and his favorite merchants and to buy whatever struck his fancy. Franck’s favorite market remained the Monday morning market in Louhans that featured veal’s brains and chilled white wine for the traditional pre-market breakfast. Mémé had always liked the market in the nearby town of Chagny. I argued for Beaune even though Franck’s family didn’t like the fact that it had seen an influx in tourists over the past decade during the summer months.

I glanced at my watch for the first time that day. “It’s ten o’clock at night!”

Indeed, darkness had fallen over the vineyards behind Steph and Thierry’s house a long time before, but somehow I didn’t have the impression of time passing. We had been at the table for almost twelve hours.

“A perfect Christmas Day,” Franck said, rubbing his stomach and reaching across the table to caress my palm.

 

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...

My Grape Village Paperback now available!

cover_my-grape-village Mes amis! I promised I would let everyone know when My Grape Village was released in paperback and c'est fait!  My advice is to order it directly off Amazon.com which provides the quickest delivery by a long shot. Just click here to order.

Also, our contest winner will be drawn and announced on Monday, so stay tuned...

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.

Hang Out With Moi

photo[9] Come hang out with me and let's talk writing, self-publishing, and mustering up the courage to create:

FACEBOOK - You can find me at www.facebook.com/AuthorLauraBradbury where I procrastinate a tad too much, posting anything useful and inspiring about living a writerly life.

TWITTER - I fart around on here as @Author_LB , hanging out with other writers and the self-publishing community (it gets lonely sometimes), posting word counts to keep me motivated, and participating in writing sprints.

INSTAGRAM - I keep a photo diary of my daily life as laurabradburywriter : the good (my family, my writing life, and the beach), the bad (my rare auto-immune liver disease), and the ugly (even ugly on Instagram looks beautiful, which is why we are all addicted).

PINTEREST - Eh oui, I too have fallen down this vortex of gorgeousity. My boards are under my vacation rental persona as graperentals and will likely make no sense to others and illustrate once and for all that my brain is a messy place. However, suffice to say I have discovered the art of creating mood boards for my stories and I am hooked.

Paperback of MY GRAPE VILLAGE - sneak peek!

MGV Full cover Master Pink This feels disloyal but I have to admit it - I vastly prefer reading a paperback or hardcover book to a digital book. Kindles and Ipads are very practical when traveling, or in bed when your grumpy husband doesn't understand why you need to stay up so late because you are deeply engrossed in a story (!), but I look at a screen all day when working. The tactile experience of shifting to an actual book for me is pure pleasure.

Since publishing the Kindle version of MY GRAPE VILLAGE - you can also download the Kindle app for free on your Ipad and read it on there - if I can figure it out, anybody can! - two days ago, I have had many people ask when the paperback is due out.  Rebecca, my graphic designer, Paul, my formatter, and me are working very hard and the estimate is about October 15th.

Rebecca sent me this mock-up of the paperback cover yesterday and I got so excited I thought I'd share it with you. What do you think? I'd love to know.

The first review of MY GRAPE VILLAGE was posted last night (from a very speedy reader as the book does clock in at over 110,000 words). As always, reviews are HUGELY appreciated and make a massive difference for us authors. I am tres, tres curious to find out what you lovely people think of my story. This is the nerve-wracking part of putting my writing out there to share with the world. That, at least, never changes!

Here it is:

"5.0 out of 5 stars Just As Captivated With This Sequel October 8, 2014
By ina
Format:Kindle Edition
I loved Laura's first book "My Grape Escape" and found that I was just as captivated with this sequel. Like the first book, it is a lovely and entertaining read by an author who has a detailed eye for cultural differences and a gift for sharing it in her writing. You get drawn into the characters in their new situations and roles. Burgundy becomes your next travel destination. I read it in one sitting. Being relatively new to digital books, I found myself checking and hoping that I wasn't reaching the end soon. (The sign of a great book for me.)"

MY GRAPE VILLAGE is now available!

9 After eleven months of writing, coffee, rewriting, coffee, editing, coffee, more rewriting, more coffee, and still more endless editing MY GRAPE VILLAGE is available this morning on Kindle. The paperback will be out in the next two weeks.

Behold the blurb!

Five years after “My Grape Escape,” Laura and Franck are back in Burgundy to tackle their newest project, a derelict 16th century winemaker’s cottage located behind Franck’s family home. Not only is this a daunting rebuild from the ground up, Laura and Franck now have two preschoolers adjusting to the foreign customs of a French school. 

Navigating the different rules for raising children and managing a family in a small French village prove every bit as challenging for Laura as learning to drive a stick shift through narrow streets, or arguing with the Architect of French Monuments over permissible paint colors (spoiler alert: any color as long as it’s gray). Come along on this evocative and honest journey where love, coupled with good French food and local wine, pave the way to la belle vie.

I cannot wait to hear your feeback and I hope you have as much fun reading MY GRAPE VILLAGE as I had writing it. As always, I am forever grateful for your ongoing love and support (and your reviews on Amazon or Goodreads). Please shout out the joyous news to the rooftops (or, better yet, share it on social media) that book #2 in The Grape Series and the sequel to the Bestselling MY GRAPE ESCAPE has arrived.

I'm off to eat a square of chocolate to celebrate! Merci mes amis. Bisous to you all. xo

 

 

My Grape Escape Pilgrimage

6.1410834064.our-home-la-maison-des-deux-clochers  

This is so fun! Friends of friends read My Grape Escape recently and were inspired to make a pilgrimage to Magny-les-Villers and La Maison des Deux Clochers. Even better, they blogged about it! Read all about their adventures in Burgundy here. I love that they took our advice and lunched at our favorite local routier "L'Auberge du Guidon" in nearby Comblanchien and familiarized themselves not only with French truckers (and their moustaches) but huge communal bottles of wine and gargantuan "help yourself" cheese platters.

During their stay in Magny they ventured out to the epic Monday morning market in Louhans and blogged about it  (scene of our memorable day with Rene when we ended up going home with a freshly butchered poulet de bresse and a pile of dirt cheap Emile Henry kitchenware). That was when Rene reminded me to "never confuse what is urgent with what is truly important."

I hope you enjoy these two blog posts as much as I did. I wonder what trips My Grape Village will insipre?

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Grape Harvest has begun!

The grape harvest in Burgundy has begun! Sue Boxell from "Burgundy on a Plate" wine tours sent this photo yesterday. 10661875_949176025108271_725547513571219349_o I'm currently finishing up one of my LAST round of edits for "My Grape Village" which will be published next month. I'm at that stage where I feel as one writer friend put it, as though somebody has locked me in a dark closet and is forcing me to smoke every single page of my manuscript without a break! The same day that Sue sent this photo I was editing this scene of Charlotte and Camille taking part in the harvest shortly after our move back to Burgundy. I thought you might enjoy the excerpt!

***

Hand in hand, with the girls skipping in front of us, casting up the ochre vineyard dust, we made our way over to the harvesters. They were a motley crew, dressed in filthy clothes, with T-shirts or shorts tied around their heads to protect them from sunstroke. I knew that some of them were probably doctors and lawyers or other well-heeled friends of the winemaker who came and did the harvest every year, picking side by side with backpacking teenagers and unemployed youth. Harvesting was the great equalizer and they would all be complaining about the heat of the beating sun and sore backs from kneeling down in the dirt all day long.

Unlabeled bottles of wine were being passed up and down the rows. Charlotte and Camille stood at the head of the row, wide-eyed and tiaras askew.  

“Do you want to try to harvest some grapes?” A man with an impressive girth and a pink t-shirt wrapped around his head came over and kneeled down beside the girls. He held out his wickedly sharp shears.

“Go ahead,” I said, while Franck began chatting with another bare-chested man wearing a fraying straw hat. Franck and he seemed to vaguely know each other. I watched as the pink T-shirt man took Camille and Charlotte half way down the row and showed them how to separate the grape bunches from one another and where to cut the grapes off the vine. They cut off several bunches each until the man’s bucket was full.  

He kept up a constant stream of chatter and the girls occasionally nodded yes or no and Charlotte even squeaked out an occasional oui. When he asked them if they were from Savigny the girls shook their heads and Charlotte whispered “Non. Nous sommes Canadiennes.”

“Canada!” he exclaimed, then stood up and shouted out to his fellow harvesters “We have little girls here that have come all the way from Canada to help us with the harvest. Everybody say bonjour to les petites canadiennes!”

Everyone shouted bonjour and Charlotte and Camille were immediately swept into the team of harvesters. My girls snipped off grapes, helped haul buckets to the tractor and then, when that was full, they were invited to ride on the tractor that was festooned with grape vines back to the village. 

Franck and I followed behind on foot through the vineyards.

“Did you know that guy you were talking too?” I asked.

“Vaguely. Turns out he’s a distant cousin, maybe second or third cousin. We couldn’t really figure it out.” This happened often since we arrived in Burgundy. Sometimes I wondered whether Franck wasn’t related in one way or another to most of the people here.

The tractor wove through the narrow streets and into the cuverie at a local winemaker’s family Domaine where the grapes were dumped out on the sorting table. We were all given a glass of freshly pressed grape juice to sip, although our new friend used imaginative miming to explain to the girls that they had to be careful not to drink too much or else they would get an explosive case of diarrhea.

About two hours later we all wandered out of the massive cuverie, Camille and Charlotte both wearing crowns of grape leaves and vines laid over their tiaras. They were smiling from ear to ear. 

CRUSHES - Philosophy of Preschoolers - Volume 2

I just wrote down this recent conversation between Clem and Anna for Volume 2 of Philosophy of Preschoolers. It just gives you a little glimpse at the nuggets of wisom contained inside! ***

Clem: "I still have a crush on Riley you know Anna."

Anna: "Why are you telling me that Clem?"

Clem: "It's important. I realized that maybe after the summer you didn't realize that I still had a crush on Riley after all this time, but I do. Cousins need to tell each other important stuff."

Anna: "You're right. I'm having a princess party for my fifth birthday. I'm going to have a princess cake and princess crowns and-"

Clem: "Why are you telling me this Anna?"

Anna: "Because it's important."

Clem: "But not important like a crush."

Anna: (mutinously) "It is. Princess parties are so important...anyway, what does it mean to have a crush?"

Clem: "It means I still love Riley."

Anna: "Why is it called a crush then? Why don't you just say that you love him?"

Clem: "Well...it's called a crush because when you really love someone you want to...you know...crush them on the ground or against a fence."

Anna: "That would hurt them."

Clem: "You have to crush them otherwise they might escape. They need to be trapped."

Anna: "Oh. That makes sense."

Clem: "You don't want the boy you love to escape, you see, but they always try to escape and run away. That's what's so hard about crushes."

Anna: "I'm glad I don't have a crush."

Clem: "It's not easy."

 

Writing: A Lifeline

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As you may know, two years ago life served me up my mid-life crisis on a platter. It came in the form of a phone call from an insurance company who had just performed medical exams on Franck and I for life and disability insurance.

"Ms. Bradbury?" the woman said. "I'm calling to inform you that your application has been denied by our underwriters."

"There must be a mistake," I said. "I'm perfectly healthy." In fact, the reason Franck and I applied in the first place was because we were feeling so goddamned self-satisfied with our lifestyle since moving back to Canada from France. It included a lot of running, freshly caught fish, and an abundance of kale.

"There's a problem with your blood test results," she said. "You'll have to take it up with your doctor."

Two months, many sleepless nights, countless blood tests, an ultrasound, an MRI, and a liver biopsy (let me tell you, those are a gas) later my gastroenterologist sat Franck and I down in his office and diagnosed me with PSC, also known as Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis. It was a very rare autoimmune condition, he said. It was poorly understood, he said. It was completely unpredictable, he said. There was currently no treatment or cure except a liver transplant, he said.

What did I do the day after, when I could barely get out of bed due to the weight of the diagnosis that was draped over my body like a lead blanket? I stumbled downstairs, turned on my computer, and I began writing "My Grape Escape." After writing for a few hours, I picked up a pen and scribbled in capital letters on a post-it note, "FUCK YOU. I'M NOT DEAD YET." Maybe it was a message to my PSC, maybe it was a message to life...to this day I'm still not entirely certain. Anyway, I stuck the post-it to my computer screen where I could see it and kept writing.

I wrote on days when fear felt as though it was devouring me from the inside. I wrote on days when I felt sure that I could not live with the uncertainty of my future for one more second. I wrote on days when I saw all my friends and family through a veil of anger, wondering, "Why me and not them?"

My writing does not stop the progression of the disease - nobody knows what can do that or if it is even possible. It does, though, give me a lifeline on the darkest days.

My writing distracts me and helps me daydream of something other than bile duct cancer and liver transplants. It makes me grateful for the incredible life I have lead so far. It reminds me of lessons life has taught me in the past and that I need to remember now. It allows me escape in my imaginary world. It gives me a way to contribute to PSC research (10% of all of my royalties are donated to PSC Partners for this purpose). It also connects me with the world through my readers and other writers.

Most of all though, it allows me to flip the metaphorical bird at my diagnosis. There is nothing as defiant or life affirming as the act of creation. The words I have written are out there now and only world oblivion can erase them.

Yesterday I met up with a new doctor for my PSC, one who finally seems to be an expert in the subject and who was the first to offer me A Plan. As much as this was a huge relief, he was blunt about the steeplechase I will have to run in order to beat my PSC.

He confirmed that my disease has progressed to the stage where I have a cirrhotic liver (without any of the fun that heavy drinking writers like Bukowski and Hemmingway had getting there, which is a complete pisser). He hopes to maybe squeeze "one to three years" out of my current equipment, but a transplant is definitely in my future and sooner rather than later. That is, if I can pass the rigorous testing that ensures I could survive the operation in the first place. That is, if (hold on to your pants here folks, because this almost scares mine off every time, and my underwear too) I can dodge the bullet of bile duct, liver, or gallbladder cancers that PSCers are far more prone to than the general population. I have heard this same information from many other doctors in the past, but the harsh realities of my PSC shatter my soul every time. I walked out of the hepatology clinic dazed anew with terror and wondering how I was ever going to survive the next ten minutes living with this cruel disease, let alone the next ten years.

Yet what did I do first thing this morning when I woke up feeling as though I was trapped in a nightmare I couldn't escape? I started composing this post in my head and set a goal for how many words of My Grape Village I wanted to edit today. Now, I am at my computer. Writing. Creating. Defying. It's all I can do but you know what? It’s actually a lot.