Monthly Archives: April 2010

Inshuti wanjye (my friend)

I have written before about my amazing friend, Marie-Josée, the nurse and widow, who worked with me in Rwanda and supported her children, sisters and nephews.  I don’t know how Marie-Josée and I became such good friends, but it started with a sick visit.

One of our Rwandan colleagues was sick in bed during my first two months in Byumba.  I learned that the local custom is to visit a sick person to offer company and conversation.  I joined some Ugandan colleagues during the visit – the people with whom I shared living space.

The Rwandan members of our team didn’t live with us, so I had not yet had a chance to get to know them.  Marie-Josée stood out to me that evening. Tall, thin, dark-skinned, she was the only French speaker of the group.  Many of our Rwandan colleagues had lived in Uganda, and so spoke English.  But Marie-Josée had lived in French-speaking Burundi.

We began to meet regularly, when our schedules allowed.  Marie-Josée worked in our trauma hospital as a nurse, assisting our Zairian doctor in surgery.  She spent her weekends in the capital, Kigali, with her family.

She supported a widowed younger sister, in her early twenties, with a toddler son, who took care of the house and kids while Marie-Josée worked with us in the north; a teenage sister who required secondary school fees and stayed with the family during school breaks; plus her own sons, Fabrice, Yves and Hervé.  During my time there, two married siblings died and Marie-Josée took in several nieces and nephews.

Despite all the weight on her frail-looking shoulders, she always wore a smile.  And despite the vast differences between us, we became as close as sisters.  Marie-Josée listened to my stories of family, about my crushes and adventures, and was always my biggest supporter. 

Maybe she’s the reason I feel so strongly about writing “Kwizera Means Hope”, and getting it right.  It isn’t her story, and yet it is.  Just like my character, Cecile, my friend Marie-Josée survived personal and national tragedy, yet her inner strength and goodness continue to shine.

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Thanks! Who am I?

Aren’t kids great?  They say the things that pop into their heads, the things we have learned to filter.  As a result, you know you can trust what they’re saying to be exactly what they believe and how they feel.  And I have learned from that candor.

A few weeks ago my four year old wore a pair of pants he has been wearing since the beginning of the school year.  While trying to get out the door to pre-school, he said, “Hey, I have pockets.”  Um, yeah.  This was news to him, somehow, but it was also really special to him. 

It reminded me how special it is to find out new things about ourselves.  Young kids find out new things about themselves and their world every day.  How cool is that?

This same little one regularly thanks me and his dad for all sorts of random things that normally go unthanked in the real world.  For example, tonight when we parked at Friendly’s – a place we don’t go to often because we don’t eat out all that often thanks to DH being a wonderful chef – the four year old said, “Thanks for bringing us here, Daddy.”  Even though he already knew we were going to Friendly’s for dinner tonight.

I teach French once a week for 15 to 20 minutes to my six year old’s first grade class.  Last Wednesday, he came home from school and right after saying hello to me and walking through the door, he said, “Thanks for coming in today, Mom.”

My point is that young kids are so much better at expressing their emotions than we give them credit for.  They feel gratitude for everything, and usually tell you.  They notice almost everything, and usually tell you.

As writers, we can learn so much from our children and students.  Following the example they set can make our writing richer and more impactful.  All we have to do is watch and listen.  And learn.

What have you learned lately from a child?

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Filed under The rest of my life, writing

Beautiful Blogger Award

Beautiful Blogger AwardThanks to Jen Bee, the Tea Wren, for passing this award on to me. Now, to fulfill the requirements of the award I must share 7 facts about myself:

1. I have temporary obsessions like learning Greek or Spanish or to play the guitar, or crocheting beaded bracelets, and then I move on to the next obsession after about 3 to 8 weeks. Current obsession is knitting. It’s hard to read and knit at the same time, however.

2. My favorite protein is shrimp, except when I was pregnant, in which case my favorite source of protein was milk shakes and frozen yogurt. I’m lactose intolerant (bonus fact), and when I was pregnant was the only time I could naturally digest milk products. It was wonderful.

3. My husband and I pick travel locations based on food expectations, most recently Croatia which had amazing pizza and cured meats. Favorite foodie destination so far: Oaxaca, Mexico. Moles, anticuchos, carnitas, tacos al pastor…

4. I spent the summer after freshman year of college working in Paris for a software company, at which time I became fluent and read Hemingway in French (For Whom the Bell Tolls, of all things), discovered merguez sausage and pizza with an egg on top, and learned enough curse words so as not to smile when someone used them on me.

5. I am not enjoying my sons’ obsession with bodily functions. I grew up in a refined household where even the men kept their noises and smells to themselves. Why are burps (not to mention the other words and functions that come up at the dinner table) so dang funny? I don’t get it.

6. I miss singing. In my younger days, I could fill an empty house or apartment with top-of-the-lungs renditions of Linda Ronstadt, 1980’s pop, and Les Mis songs. Now I rarely get to spend time in an empty house, and when I do, I usually have some writing/plotting/revising to do. Or cleaning.

7. I went to a Waldorf school for 4 years, which is how I got started playing the oboe and learning French. If it hadn’t been for that school, I wouldn’t have sewn a unicorn and a nightdress, made an egg and a pestle in wood shop, knitted socks, learned to play the recorder and the violin, started learning German before college, or taken the movement class called Eurythmy. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed Eurythmy, but I minded it less than my classmates, maybe because I love dance (ooh, another bonus fact!).

And I have the pleasure of giving the award to 15 other beautiful bloggers:

My extraordinary critique partner Suzanne Lilly
My exceptional critique partner Laura Elaro
Suzette Saxton and Bethany Wiggins of Shooting Stars
Stina Lindenblatt of Seeing Creative
Christine Fonseca
Laura Diamond of Diamond – Yup, Like the Stone
The author of Scars, Cheryl Rainfield
The query ninja herself, Elana Johnson
Mary Lindsey
Sarah Wylie of Sarah with a chance
Jamie Harrington of Totally The Bomb
Tami Moore
Martina Boone and Marissa Graff of Adventures in Children’s Publishing
Debra Driza of Enjoying life with 3 dogs, 2 kids and an ADHD husband
Cole Gibsen of Hair Dye & Samurai

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Creative outlets for writers

I played my oboe the other day for the first time since last August.  It felt good.  A little painful, but mostly good.  It was a great way to get through the impatience of waiting for feedback from beta readers on the latest version of Kwizera.

Another way I wait is to start a knitting or crocheting project.  I used to crochet a lot.  Afghans, mostly with granny squares.  Beaded crocheted bracelets and necklaces.  A sweater.  Baby blankets.  Last winter my husband and I crocheted scarves for Special Olympics.  But mostly, since having kids, I keep my hands busy in the evenings by writing.

Every now and then, however, I need to do something other than write.  Once Kwizera is out the door to agents, I can focus on the next book.  In the meantime, I have to keep my hands and brain busy elsewhere.

The oboe and a handwork project are the perfect ways for me to keep busy in a creative way.  I recently crocheted a pair of fingerless mittens with a butterfly pattern, and now I’m knitting a scarf (in between Kwizera revisions).

We writers are creative people.  We must create something.  And making music, dancing or making something with our hands not only keeps us busy, such endeavors can also help break through writer’s block.  Creative juices flow, my mind is occupied on something other than my problem, and before I know it, I have a solution.

If nothing else I’ll have lots of warm accessories for next winter.  For now, I guess the scarf can wait, since Spring has arrived.  But the oboe is calling me.

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Filed under The rest of my life, writing

Synopsis Resources

*Some general advice on synopses from the always helpful Nathan Branford.

*Crime writer Beth Anderson tells us how to write the tight synopsis.

*More general advice on when, why and how to write a synopsis from the Fiction Writers Connection.

*Mastering the dreaded synopsis from Fiction Factor.

*Suite 101 gives us a detailed definition and how-to article on writing a synopsis.

*Sisters/authors Lisa and Laura Roecker got agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe’s advice on writing a great synopsis.

And here’s something I tried with the Kwizera synopsis. I wrote about the book in the main character’s voice. I filled almost two pages, single spaced, with Cecile’s words on the most important aspects of her story, only including the characters who really needed to be mentioned to make someone else understand. Then I went back and made sure the verb tense was consistent throughout. Then I changed it to third-person. Just watch out for choppiness.

Good luck!

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Filed under Getting Published, writing