"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I'm in good company

I started reading David LaRochelle's Absolutely, Positively NOT. The main character's struggle is poignant, and yet, the way the author tells his story is hilarious. Anyway, Steven has a line I can't resist posting here:

"Mornings would be beautiful if they didn't happen so early in the day."

Ha ! Absolutely, positively true. I could never understand people who jump out of bed at sunrise and cheerfully go about their activities. My father in law is like that. Up at 5 am, and whistling all over the house. Wait a minute : my own mother is like that. What is it with these people? Getting out of bed before 8.30, 9 am is torture, and when forced upon people, should be declared a punishable crime.

I say.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I have a problem

The smart pants out there who know me are probably thinking that I have more than one, but this is a strange one. The whole of yesterday, I thought I'd become Rilla. Maybe I need to stop reading her blog. Imagine: I had two arguing voices in my brain.

Now, I've always spoken alone and aloud. Yep. I actually think that many people do that: more than are willing to admit it anyway. I can't spend two minutes alone in a car without having whole conversations with myself, absent people or imaginary characters. And I can't stand in front of a mirror without launching into an argument with whoever happens to really annoy me at any given time. I rehearse conversations. Or I re-enact conversations after the fact, especially when I feel I missed an opportunity for a good retort. You know how it is. Punchy lines so often spurt out once we don't need them any more. Maybe that's why I love writing. I can rehearse, revise and polish as much as is necessary.

Anyway, last night, after a truly horrid day, here is what went on in my mind:

- You are a horrible mother. How could you scream like that at poor M? Yes, the potty training is taking forever, but she's not even 3, for Pete's sake. And K. didn't see your foot when she dragged that stool all over it. You didn't have to scream at her, too.

- I'm tired, that's what I am. These kids, sometimes, they drive me up the wall. How dare they get sick at the same time, anyway? And the nanny, too ? What is this: a conspiracy ? I had things to do. For weeks, I've been stuck with my translation, deadlines and what not. Now that I have some time, I wanted to prepare a bunch of submissions. I had to check the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market book, publishers' websites, editors' infos, blogs, and what not, in order to target the right persons. This takes time. And I wanted to do that today, because then, tomorrow, I can actually WRITE. I'm supposed to be a writer, and all I've been writing lately is blogs! I don't want to be the author of a sole, lonely book. I have to work on new stuff. How can I do that with two sick children constantly interrupting me for the pettiest things? Maybe I wasn't meant to be a mother.

- Yeah, well, you are soooo not patient! All you care about is your computer, your writing, the blogs, emails and reading books and articles about the process. As Jane Yolen said, just "WRITE THE DAMN BOOK" already. Stop looking everywhere for the magic formula. Get organized. Stop wasting so much time. And if the kids are sick, forget about the writing for one day. Why didn't you just put the submission process aside, and stay with them, instead of constantly running up and down the stairs whenever the little one started wailing - quite a pair of lungs she's got that one. She'd make a good opera singer.

- What? Spend the whole day playing with dolls? Constructing Charminars - that's how my little one calls whatever thing she builds with her blocks ? Watching "Dragon Tales"? Are you kidding? I can't do that. I don't know how to do that. I forgot.

- Exactly : lousy mother. And in the end, you don't get the work done, and you traumatize your children.

- I did get the work done. I sent out 4 submissions and 4 queries !

- Yeah, but at what price ? Did you see the look on M.'s face when you got so angry at her?

- Well, did she have to poop in her pants, right after she peed in the previous pair? I'm only human, you know.

Etc, etc.

I went to bed feeling dejected and utterly miserable. I got up twice to go and kiss the girls - who look so angelic in their sleep - and whisper that I love them. Thank goodness, I had a good book waiting for me. I'm reading "Tears of the Giraffe" from the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, by Alexander McCall Smith. Just the right dose of down-to-earth philosophy to help me settle into sleep. Today, I'm back to square one. Both kids still sick, still no nanny, and maybe I should just write this writing day off, but... I can't. I'm thinking that once they're all grown-up and they curse me whenever they have to pay their psychotherapist, I'll show them this post. I'm just a struggling, not very patient mom trying to balance priorities in her life : children, family, work, AND writing. Because even though I love them both to death, the writing also nurtures my soul and makes me feel like I'm achieving something for myself. And contrary to some other mothers-writers I know, I cannot get up at 5 or 6 am, when everyone else is asleep, to write. So, pipe down, the two arguing voices, up there, and get out of my brain. That was Rilla's idea, anyway. I'm going back to talking to absent or imaginary people, depending on the mood and circumstances.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Movies from all over or: how to get a headache !

No news on Ifeanyi's front. Last I heard, they'd found an illustrator, but were waiting for things to become official before they disclosed a name. Audrey sounded very happy about it, though, so I'm curious, expectant, etc, etc. The feedback about my last draft was positive, but as far as the name is concerned, opinions were still divided. The suspense remains.

And since I don't have anything more to report on that front, I shall digress and share something I've been thinking about. It still has to do with multiple backgrounds and what that does to a person, so maybe it's not such a big digression from my favorite themes.

A friend of mine commented that in my profile, I don't mention a single French movie. Mm! How bizarre! as Louis Jouvet said in "Drole de Drame". See, I do know my French classics. So, why is it that when I was thinking about my favorite movies, only American ones popped in my mind?

There was a time when I went to the movies almost every day of the week. And when living in Paris, on the Journée du Cinéma - it's a yearly celebration in France : for one day, you pay for one movie, and you can see as many as you like for a very small entry fee - I would actually see FIVE ! Yep, that's how compulsive I can be. It required careful planning, some running, and a good knowledge of the Odeon area where you can find dozens of movie theaters crammed in the same neighborhood, but I did it. I saw all types of movies. French. Italian. American. German - I was a big fan of Fassbinder, for a while, especially his Lili Marleen with Hannah Schygulla - Chinese, Japanese, British, African, Portuguese... I mean, basically anything that got good reviews I tried to see. Lots of old black and white movies, too. And, of course, many of the movies I loved were French ones : because they were great, because the story happened to have a particular resonance in my life at the time that I saw them, because I loved the subject, the actors - I also did the typical groupie thing in my teens : swoon, hang posters in my room, and the whole fan thing. My favorite, for years, was Alain Delon. Now that I'm supposed to be all grown-up, I'm no longer fond of him because I really dislike his political views. But hey, I was young-er, and was he handsome !

Anyway, why didn't these movies come to mind when I was listing my favorites ? Did I mention only American movies because I was in my English mode, read : writing in English?

I lived a chunk of my life in the US, and my time in New York was the most happening, exciting, interesting time I've had, so far. I was born in Paris, I grew up there, and yet, New York is home. I still think of Park Slope, Brooklyn, as my neighborhood. I mean, I physically miss the place. Whenever I land at JFK and we come out of the airport, I feel like I've just been punched in the heart and I'm being lifted from the ground all at the same time. Pure elation. HAPPY ! Now, don't get me wrong : I would not give up the chance of living in India for the world. Yeah, I should have the ability to be in several places at the same time. Unfortunately, I don't.

So, my point??? Here it comes : Do people adapt so much to their chosen environment that they can experience some kind of internal distancing, maybe even dichotomy? Do I unconsciously switch my "Americanized" self on when I speak and write English, to the point that my other selves move into the shadows ? In other words, are mixed background people composed of several distinctive personas rather than a kind of amalgamated single entity? Or maybe I'm seeing too much into this and I just suffered from temporary memory loss.

Another anecdote comes to mind. Years ago, I was visiting Montreal with friends and we'd met a local who took us around town. When he found out I was half Spanish, he immediately started speaking Spanish to me. Of course, I replied in Spanish, and after a while, he exclaimed : "My God, you sound so different when you speak Spanish. It's like you are a different person." Well, let's see. My mother's family is from Malaga, in the south. Background : poor, working-class. That's where I spent most of my summers growing up. So, my spoken Spanish is not your average Castellano, but rather a popular Spanish with an accent from Andalucia. On the other hand, I learned English in London, working as a nanny for rich families who did speak a very upper class English, and to this day, even after years in the US, I cannot say tomayto, I say tomaaahto. My accent is the result of a wild mixture of influences : it sounds somehow French - but not Inspecteur-Clouseau-like even though I can easily render that one :) - but also British, American, even Indian, now. Is it possible that I put on a different cloak, depending on the language I'm speaking ? And what about when I'm writing ? Does the fact that I chose one language over another one mean anything? And what would that be?

This requires further exploration, and I may post some update on the subject... IF I come up with some brilliant discovery or conclusion.

In the meantime, I feel I need to own up to all the Katias in there, and so, I officially declare that I do have French movies in my list of favorites. I love most of Claude Sautet's movies. And Truffaut. Some Lelouch. As for Alain Delon, I actually liked him best in his Italian Visconti movies - I also adore Visconti, by the way. And I'm a big, big fan of Pedro Almodovar. Red, by Kieslovsky, is another favorite. And Zhang Yimou's movies. And I'm back to American, because I realize I didn't mention Cassavetes, and how could I possibly forget him? So, there. A nice global mix. As Malkovitch/de Valmont said to Pfeiffer/de Tourvel, in Dangerous Liaisons: "It's beyond my control" :)

And next time, I won't even try to list all my favorite anything. Because it's a recipe for recurring headaches!

Friday, May 4, 2007

My editor, Audrey Maynard !

I finally worked out the courage to send this blog's link to my editor at Tilbury. I was worried about... agh, I'm always worried about something : that she might be annoyed about my resisting the name change, that she might discover that I'm French and Spanish and no longer want to work with me, that... I don't know what else I might have come up with. I'm very much like Woody Allen's characters that way : totally, neurotically anxious. Wish I were only half as funny. :)

Well, she LIKED it ! She did! She sent me a really nice note, and even shared some info about her. I'm so very lucky. I suppose it's only normal that the person who liked Ifeanyi's story enough to want to publish it, would share so many of my views, would even get invested in the type of project that I have so much respect for.

Check out what Audrey does when she's not selecting/editing/helping publish good books ( and, yes! that implies that my own book will be good, too)

There are so many wonderful people out there who strive to open the world for our children, to broaden their horizons, to make sure they see the whole picture and learn values like tolerance, the importance and richness of difference and diversity. Everyone can do it at their own level, using their own sets of skills. And what may feel like a drop in the ocean can then turn into streams, and rivers, and more. Am I getting carried away? It's the tide of optimism. May it stick around for a while. I like it when I'm up-beat. Up-beat is good.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Fate? Coincidence? And who are you climbing trees with this week?

Last summer, I attended my very first SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. It was exciting, fun, inspiring, and totally exhausting. By the time I crashed into bed, I was so full of all that had happened during the day that my mind continued to buzz all night long and I barely got any sleep. I met people who came from all over the world. I heard many different languages being spoken among conference attendees. Thanks to that, and to the genuinely friendly atmosphere, I felt totally at ease, and that's rare enough to be mentioned, as I'm at my most awkward in big groups and crowds.

Where is this going, you ask? Well, on the second evening of the peer critique group session, I arrived a few minutes late and was shown two tables where I could sit. I hesitated a fraction of a second and chose the second one. I sat as discreetly as I could and took out my manuscript. After a few seconds, I noticed that the woman sitting next to me was staring at the address at the top of my first page. I looked at her and found her eyeing me with an air that was part unbelieving part suspicious.

She: "You live in Hyderabad?"
Me: "Yes."
She: "Hyderabad, India?"
Me: "Yes." (starting to think : so what's wrong with that?)
She: "That's my hometown!"
Me, eyes now wide open: "Really ?"
You can imagine the rest.

Coincidence? Fate? Just another proof that our world is so much smaller than we imagine it to be? I'm not a religious person, but I believe in signs, in life sending us signals and even tests. And I don't believe in coincidence, not this type of coincidence anyway. What where the odds that I, currently living in a south Indian city, would sit next to THE person (out of the 600 + attendees) who grew up in that same city, at a children's writers' conference in Los Angeles, California, half a world away? And that it would be precisely at a peer critique group where she was bound to see my address on the first page of the manuscript ? I mean, I sat next to a lot of people at that conference, and we sometimes exchanged a few words, but my situation is so complicated - French and Spanish, writes in English, lives in India, currently vacationing in Florida in order to see my husband's family as the situation in Haiti no longer permits that we travel there with our small children... stop to catch my breath - that I usually chose to give a short cut or it would have taken too long to explain it all within the few seconds or minutes we had between talks or riding the elevator. The way I see it? Life, destiny, wanted me to meet this new friend.

Anyway, Rilla came to Hyderabad to visit family over Christmas, and we saw each other. We ended up climbing the very old Golconda fortification walls at sunrise AND a very tricky, slippery 500-year-old African Baobab tree that I had been unsuccessfully trying to locate for some time. We had an absolute ball, and here we are, in the early Hyderabad morning light, talking, talking, talking :
And my point? Well, I just love that story so much that I can't resist telling it over and over again. And because I just LOVE it when life sends me surprises like that. I consider them an invaluable gift. Because even though Rilla is part American part Indian living now in California, and I'm part French part Spanish living now in India, even though our backgrounds differ quite a lot - our childhoods couldn't have been more different, even if she also read in the dark at night - we share a common passion for writing. We both have an interest in multicultural themes and issues. And I think that we all need to meet, talk and laugh with people who come from different backgrounds - social, religious, racial, etc - and chances are we'd better understand how we can all get along.

At that same conference, one of the authors who really stood out for me was Jacqueline Woodson. The world needs more authors like her, who actively seek not only to denounce, but also to bridge the gap between people. She gave a great presentation, and read her last picture book SHOW WAY. It was so beautiful I had tears in my eyes. Someone asked her a question : "Do you think there are still fences in America today?" She was referring to JW's picture book THE OTHER SIDE, where two girls living in a segregated town strike a friendship in spite of the fences that separate their worlds.
Jacqueline Woodson's answer (I quote from memory, so if anyone who was there reads this and thinks that some words are not exactly the ones she used, please, don't sue me :) : "If you haven't had dinner with a black person or a mixed race person at least once in the past week, then, I'd say there are still fences in America today."
How simple, and yet, how very powerful ! Can the whole world do that ? Make sure that we have dinner - or climb trees - with people from a different race and/or religion, and/or sexual inclination... at least once a week ?