Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Time to Crash the Pity-Party!!

Wow. Just re-read all of my blogs. Holy pity-party! I think it's time for some happy Brenda. (It's not all bad in deployment-land!) Blogs below, though true, sound dangerously close to Eeeyore... on a bad day! Woah, woah, is me. Poor, Brenda. ENOUGH!

So...what makes me happy these days (because the spa gift certificates haven't rolled in yet)? My book. A Flower of Stone . Ellen Margaret Peterson, a soon-to-be fourteen year old British teen is banished (her word) to Canada for her summer holidays. Sent to her brainiac Aunt's house for a summer of mental gymnastics. But there is nothing scientific about the stone chair she finds deep in her aunt's forest. Nothing logical about the faerie she sees beside it. And no textbook could have prepared her for what happens when the full moon rises and her world turns upside down.

Written for late middle grade readers, A Flower of Stone follows Ellen as she learns to listen to heart--even as parents, portals and prophecies contrive against her.

Oooooooh, aaaaaaaaaaaah, ooooooooooooooah. *smiles like a goofball*

So yes, my manuscript makes me happy. Which is a good thing, as I've entered the daunting world of queries, agents, editors and other scary entities(And if you're one of the above, reading this drivel...Thank you!). I was in a bit of a slump, but thanks to my friend @marcyberg I revisited my Twitter account a few weeks ago. I've joined in (or maybe I should say lurked) on a few chats (#scribechat, #kidlitchat) and have learned LOADS. The best thing I've learned from these hour-long online sessions is that the experience is universal. Most unpublished authors go through the same emotional roller coaster. Sure, there are a few who luck out and get published quickly. But, from what I can see, a published work is the product of long term perserverance and hard work.

And I've also met some really nice people through these chats. Encouragement in abundance. As I mentioned below, I need lots of encouragement I've become a bit of an Twitter addict. Which led me to sign up for an online children's writer's conference in August. Very excited! Check out for details.

Oh...and you know what else makes me happy? Hubby (from his post overseas) has booked us all a MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE!! Whooot! Oooh, baby! Italy and Greece better look out, cause the Dunnes are coming to town! We get to see him, and be pampered to the nines at the same time. Now THAT is something to look forward to.

See? I can be happy!

Now to go get another thing that makes me!


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Quarrels, Quinte cups, Conversation killers (and Queries)

It's been a month and a half that I've been parenting on my own, thanks to the Canadian Armed Forces. The kids and I have gotten into a routine. We've pulled one of the chairs away from the table, so it doesn't seem so empty without dad (pictured, left) there. I work my shortened work week, I taxi the kids to their activities, and I try (unsuccessfully) to keep the house from looking like a complete pig stye. I feed them at least one vegetable a day. We eat out more than once a week. Pretty normal, actually.

According to my handy-dandy Family Deployment Handbook (FDH), I'm right on schedule. I'm in the 'Recovery and Stabilization Phase'. Meaning...I'm not sick? And I'm not so unstable? That the old boat ain't so tipsy? True, the almost-in-labour anxiety has calmed down, and I spend less time sitting in the middle of the bathroom floor sobbing. But I still hate it. Just because I'm not running down our country road screaming obscenities and pulling my hair out doesn't mean I don't think about it.

The FDH states that by week 6 I should be experiencing "Feelings of increased confidence, independence, competence, freedom, pride, isolation, anxiety and depression". How can you be confident and still be depressed? How can you feel competent and independent, yet have anxiety? Living in deployment-land is full of nasty contradictions. I'm moodier than a PMSing teen deprived of sleep and coffee. One thing's for sure...if Momma's grumpy, everyone's grumpy. I try to be patient. But patience has never been my forte. So the kids are less patient with each other...and then the fights start. I have adopted the 'Mom's having a time out' technique. Rather than blow up at them for blowing up at each other, I lock myself in my bedroom and count to 1000 (10 just doesn't cut it). It works...more or less. The kids go 'Huh?' and stop quarrelling. And I get a precious moment or two by myself.

It bugs me that the little FDH book is so accurate, though. I hate to be pegged. But it's right. Independent? My husband (and parents, and siblings...)will tell you that he didn't have to go away for me to be independent. And now that he's gone, independence has hit full force. Whatever you do, DON'T suggest I can't do something. I'm like a kid with a dare. Two weekends ago the girls were at their first away horse show (One of the Quinte Cup Series)of the season. Two ponies, two girls, my son, saddles, bridles, helmets, show outfits, water, a sun shelter, chairs, food, diabetic supplies (for my youngest) and coffee, all had to be packed into boxes, trucks and trailers for a day long show in the heat. We got up at 4 a.m. to leave. And it went...okay. We got there, the girls showed, and we came home. I did it, with help from others, of course, but I did it. So there, ha ha. Independent me.

And as to coversation killers... I read a post on Facebook this week that just about hit the nose on the head. I can't find it now (of course) and can't find the author, so forgive me if you wrote it. (And let me know if you did so I can give you credit) but it was along the lines of "14 things to NOT say to a spouse of a deployed soldier". I have great friends, and they generally know how it is with me. But I'd like to paraphrase a few of the points:

1. "I know how you feel." You don't. Heck, I don't even know how I feel most of the time. If your husband has NOT gone away for 6 months and flown in and out of Afghanistan at least once during that time, you don't know how I feel. If you haven't sat beside your diabetic daughter at 3 in the morning praying her sugars come down, you don't know how I feel. Just like I don't know how you're getting through whatever challenge you have in your life right now. My FDH tells me I feel isolated. Darn right. I'm alone in my experiences. I don't generally want to talk about it with anyone, because it kills the conversation dead.

2. "It could be worse, he could be in..." Gee, thanks. Make me feel even worse than I already feel. Sure, he could be somewhere worse. I'm sure there are a million things that could make my current situation even more stressful. Do I want to think about them right now? NO.

3. "Well at least the kids are older (not babies)" Have you ever had a pre-pubescent daughter? Not fun. Tears at least twice a day. And my kids are old enough to understand where their dad is. They get it. It's on the news every day. Someone killed, someone bombed, funding cuts...I try to turn off the news, and thankfully hubby is not in Afghanistan all of the time, but they hear it. And they think about it. Babies don't.

I could go on and on, but the negative vibes are making me grumpy, so I'd like to add a change of tone. I want to give you a few things I'd LIKE to hear. Music to the deployed spouse's ear, a balm for my tired soul.

1. "Here's a gift certificate to the spa. I'll stay at your house and watch your kids." I don't have time to look after myself these days, what with summer (ie kids are home), work and taxiing. I'd love to have a moment alone. And if my kids are home, I have less to worry about than if you took them to...Wonderland or anywhere else far away and less safe. I can't relax if I think there's some danger. And with a diabetic daughter, keeping my diabetes-educated kids together, and keeping them at home means easy access to whatever food, medicine, or equipment she needs. If you offer something like this to a military spouse, though...make sure you follow through. There is nothing worse than looking at a gift certificate on the fridge for six months straight. And I can guarantee they won't ask you about it.

2. "Let me pick up the milk, pizza...(insert food item here)" I could really use help with lunch/supper now and then. I love to cook, but hate to decide WHAT to cook. We live 10 minutes away from even a corner store, so dinner = preplanning. The less I have to do, the better.

3. "You look great." "You're doing great." "You're a super mom." "You're husband is so lucky to have you." "Insert compliment here." What I'm doing is hard. My main cheerleader is gone. My kids complain. A little bit of heartfelt flattery goes a long way.

And here's one for just me...

4. "I loved your query...please send me your full manuscript!" Sorry, had to say it. My biggest project for the week ahead is to FINALLY send off a couple of queries to agents in hope that one of them will support my book. A wholelotta anxiety over that one, I can tell you! I've spent over a year editing and coddling it since my last misguided attempts(yup, I did EVERYTHING wrong with those first queries). It's time to let go again, and see what happens. Query number one went out today. Wish me luck.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Overdunne Writing...a manuscript is born.

I love to write. I always did, but didn't really realize it until a few years ago. Like most people, I wrote through elementary and junior high school, but only when I was told to. Mostly I read. And read. And read.

In high school I started to write articles for the school paper, and then for the local newspaper. I penned deep, teenage hormonally-charged poetry and hid it in my closet. I started university with a full scholarship and the conviction that I was going to be a journalist someday. And, yah baby, I was going to change the world.

But then the practical side of me kicked in. I am not a city girl. The glamourous, exciting, adventure-filled life of a prime time news correspondent didn't sit well with my inner chi. So what did I do? I became a military physiotherapist and moved to Ottawa. Not a whole lotta logic there, but it's what I did.

And before I bore you with any more of my life history, we'll skip over about 15 years. One husband, one military release, 3 kids, 7 moves and a tumultuous physiotherapy career later, and I'm sitting in a village in the UK, trying to figure out how to connect with family and friends back home.

I began to blog.

And I liked it.

Now, if you've stuck with me to this point, you'll know that I have absolutely no fancy computer skills in the blogging department. But for an entire year I filled page after digital page of words, photos, and links. Dunnesinuk was a diary, and a connection to home. My then 92 year old grandmother kept a copy of my posts in a binder at her bedside. I tried to draw a picture of our crazy life, from my youngest's scary night in a Swindon hospital and her first insulin needles, to the Paris Metro, to tea with the Queen. And the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write.

Enter my eldest daughter. This girl eats books. At 9 she had read all seven of the Harry Potter books...five times. Our local British library tried valiantly to keep her in prose, but it wasn't easy. So (cocky me) I decided to write her one. Sure! I could do that! A cinch, really! A little Middle Grade fantasy...a bit of danger, some faeries and elves... why not? In amongst all of the diabetic insanity, military and social engagements, travel, and general family madness, I sat down to write my kids a book.

Well, needless to say, I didn't finish it as soon as I'd hoped. Nope. Another trans-Atlantic move and more of the same slowed me down. But I kept plugging away, feeling a little thrill every time I got my characters through another chapter.

14 long months after I wrote my first words I had a 90,000 word, 330 page first draft in hand. I gave it to my daughter. "Here, Sweetie, try this!"


"Momma, when are you going to write another one?"

Are you KIDDING ME?? It took me 14 friggin' months to write that and you scarf it back in less than a day? I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Don't get me wrong, I was elated that she had liked it, read it that fast, and wanted more. But, Holy Cow!

So that was a year ago. I've edited out 20,000 words, and I've gotten my first polite, but firm rejections from publishers. My Twitter education (thank you, Twitter friends!) has taught me that I need a bit more polishing yet, but I wouldn't change a thing. I'm starting the search for an agent. I still love to write. I still love my manuscript. And some day, maybe someday, you'll see my book on the shelf.

Till then, I'll be here, sitting at the computer, with my kids reading over my shoulder...and a smile on my face.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Canadian...and Proud of It.

I got to sleep in today. Well, if you call 7:30 a.m. sleeping in. For me, it was blissful. To wake up without the BEEEEEEP! BEEEEEP! BEEEEEP! of my very annoying alarm was a true treat. I came downstairs, made coffee (Canadian Blend), and sat down to listen to my happy kids and the wind in the trees. For the first time in what seems like forever, I had no one to wake up, no one to make lunches for, and no where that I HAVE to be today. Aaaaaaah...

But I will in no way forget WHY I get this treat. It has nothing to do with me deserving a break (although I'd like to think I do). Nor is it simply wearing red and white and eating beavertails.

Today I'm wearing yellow. I'll admit, it's a first for me. But without the yellow ribbons, red and white might be something very different.

I had the privilege three years ago to take a trip to France with my family. We spent New Year's eve in a beautiful chateau near the Loire. We ate escargot and mushrooms in a cave. We drank wine. We spoke french. And then we took a small detour.

Outside of the village of Sailly, near Cantimpre, there is a wide expanse of farmer's fields. In the middle of one of them is a walled cemetery with rows of white stones. Near the back, in the left hand corner, is a gravestone marked "Lewis Ward Love". He was my uncle.

I never knew Lewis Ward Love. In fact, he died before even my mother was born. But I was the first member of his family to visit his grave. As I stood there, the bitter January wind stinging my cheeks, I had a glimpse of what it meant to be Canadian. My kids were with me. My husband was beside me. The wide open sky held only birds. And in front of me was a man I never knew, buried in a cemetary miles away from home nearly a hundred years before, so that I could have the privilege of walking free on this earth.

So today I wear the yellow ribbon. Yes, for my wonderful husband who is spending Canada Day overseas. But also for Lewis Ward Love, an unknown soldier in a distant grave. I am proud of both of them.

Being Canadian isn't just the shmoltzy wearing of sytlized maple leaves. It's snowsuits and swimsuits. It's city streets and quiet fields. It's smiling at a stranger. It's sitting here, writing words that mean something to me, without fear of repercussion. It's being willing to stand up for what you believe in, even it means facing your own fears. It's the rows of people who line the highway when a brave soldier comes home. And it's standing by the plane when that soldier is carried on.

Today I celebrate all of these things. And as the fireworks go off tonight I'll be standing proud.