Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Blog That Did Not Happen

When I'm dead and gone, my heirs will post this blog. Before that, I can't.

But I need to hold this space for it. For the stories that can't be told but should be. For the anecdotes that would have you in stitches but would get me into trouble if I spoke about them.

And no, neither Sue nor I went to jail.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Flight Report

The good thing about keeping a blog back for a couple of days: the urge to rant like crazy about some things diminishes. Like, if this here had been written while I was still on the Air Canada plane? It would have been the meanest, grittiest post about Heathrow airport, and my frequent use of the "f" word would have made my publisher blanch. I did send out one tweet using that word, and it felt GOOD. That's what I think about Heathrow.

Hamburg Airport, 5am. Just me, the planes and the rain on the tarmac.

At that time of day, I was all alone. You know how it is when you get ready to go on a really big trip? The moment you've checked in and your luggage has been processed, even though you are still in your home town part of you has already left, is on its way, and you have to follow. So no long goodbyes for me.

The plane to London was tiny. We had to drive halfway across the airport to get there, in the pouring rain, past the giants glued to the comfortable walkways. My plane did not qualify for them, I guess. The funny thing: the moment I got on my fear of flying was totally gone.

Heathrow. Heathrow, REALLY? I mean, freaking REALLY? That airport is a nightmare among airports, it deserves awards for bad design and bad maintenance, and an extra-Oscar for ugliness. If someone needed an airport setting for a horror movie? Something depressing, apocalyptical and really, really ugly? Take Heathrow. It's like the house from the "Psycho" movie gone airport. It's like how Stephen King would make up an airport for a really dire book. One where nightmare clowns lurk around every corner.  I mean, seriously? Why in the world does ANY airport need that many stairways (and no lift!!!), corridors and corners and BUILDINGS? Come on, London. You can do better than that! And I'm not even going to say ONE word about the dinginess of it all.

Ok, so there was some Heathrow rant left over in me. I'm sorry.

On the Air Canada plane, this pretty lady greeted me:

Isn't she one cool girl?

She took this pic of me halfway across Greenland. See? No fear of flying!

It still was a mean, long flight from London to Vancouver. The last two hours seemed interminable, and I have to say I never bought something more worth its money than my flying socks. Thank you, dear Doctor, for prescribing them!

See what I mean? Long, long flight. Thankfully, the service aboard was very good.

Vancouver airport: Clean. Efficient. Nice. Pretty. Airy and light, full of Native art, waterfalls, shops and restaurants. Did I mention clean and efficient? Yeah, that. Short ways. All in one building. Carts for the handicapped, like me, to whisk you through border controls and customs.

Suzie's home:

If you turn around and look in the other direction you can see the snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Sue's family was there. Hubby, kids, kids' wives and all. They are a loud, friendly, easy-going bunch, and it's ALL about the food with them. Lengthy, philosophical and intense discussions about dinner go down here, and the results are amazing. Sue does not like to make hamburgers, so she got her son to form the patties.

It's funny how places smell so differently. I always notice this when I go somewhere else, and it's an important part of a place. Vancouver has one pervading scent: cedars and the ocean. Even downtown, in the midst of rush-hour traffic, it's there, just like the water is everywhere. You always seem to be driving down towards the water. I can see some of my next book happening here. It's just the kind of place that would appeal to my characters.

You all know this trip was about meeting twitter and fb friends, right?

So besides Sue, here is the first friend from twitter I now met in real life: lovely, witty and charming: Moniera!

Can you imagine going out for cocktails, and then they don't serve strawberry margaritas? I had to have bourbon and lemon something and it was called "Lynchburg Lemonade", and boy it was good enough to have a second one.

That was an interesting part of town though, where we went for those drinks, and I'd like to go back there and walk around a bit. Sue said it was "touristy" but I don't care. I'm a tourist. I like pretty.

So the things I've done so far:

Had a family dinner with the Farrants. Drank Single Malt with Sue's hubby. Went grocery shopping. Went to the Apple Store. Did NOT buy shoes for Sue.

We had the most amazing sushi for lunch, and I really want to go back to that place and have what the people at the tables around us were having. Sue drove me through Stanley Park (in the rain!) where the huge cedar trees grow right down to the beach, and I turned down the car window, and there it was: the amazing smell of forest, cedars and ocean. The water was to our right, the old, dense forest to our left, and it was everything I had thought it would be.

I've talked to both Jane and her sister-in-law on the phone today, probably the two sexiest voices this side of the Mississippi, and now I can't wait to meet them.

This afternoon there will be a pedicure, and I'm getting the Canadian flag on my toenails for Canada Day. After that, I'll attempt my first border crossing into the US. I hope they let me in. Guys, I'm a good girl and I love the US. So please be kind to me. Ok?

Tomorrow night will be my first book reading ever, here at Sue's house, and I had hoped no one would show up and I could get out of it, but that's not going to happen, I've just been told. The house will be full. So... I guess I'll better practice my reading some more. And hope they won't laugh me out of the front door. Oh well, too late to worry about that anyway.

And here they are, the FedEx-delivered pre-launch booklets. It's an amazing feeling to hold them in my hands. I've written this, and a publisher is putting down their money on me. Tomorrow night, my career as an author starts in earnest...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Meanwhile, On The Other Side Of The World...

Things are moving. My personal Air Canada flight attendant has left home to meet me in London tomorrow morning. Up to the last moment we tweeted about it, and when she left her house she was still worried about her front door. I hope everything has been fixed now. That woman, Sue, is a whirlwind. I wonder if she even sits down for lunch or has that on the run, too.

My first ever book reading will be at her house, on the 29th. I'm nervous about it, it's a totally new experience, and I've been reading out loud for days now so that I won't sound like a total idiot, but my tongue still feels like a dead slug when it tries to wrap around the seldom spoken English language. Funny how one can write fluently in one language, but when it comes to speaking it everything is different.

So anyway. Last minute crapola.

Last minute crapola is when you give your publisher the wrong address for the FedEx package with your pre-launch reading booklets. Trust me, it makes you look dumber than dumb and blonder than Madonna. It makes you want to crawl under the carpet and hide there for the rest of your life. Thankfully, they value me for my narrative skills and not for being a great manager. Crisis over, booklets on their way to the right house.

Something good came from this though. The publisher asked, just for good measure, for the phone numbers of the other recipients, and when Bunny gave me hers I could not resist. I TALKED TO THE BUNNEH! The first time ever!

Ok, now that I'm writing this, I can see you raise your eyebrows and go, "What? You've been friends for TWO years and you never talked on the phone before?" Yes, well, that's just how it was. Now we have, though, and I can tell you, she has a voice like sweet molasses. That Southern drawl is just too good for words.

So while Bunny and I were chatting, Sue left her house for the airport.

She tweeted this. I have to say, it looks pretty much like here, weather-wise.

Oh, I have to explain this. Sue NEVER flies the London route. She's a Pacific girl through and through. Today she is doing this just to pick me up. It was her bribe for me to go to Vancouver, which was not on my trip plan at all. AFTER I had bought my tickets she grumbled a bit about London, and how she would pull out every single hair from the top of my head if she caught bed bugs in the hotel there.

Last night she looked quite relaxed though.  She tweeted a couple of pics of herself and the rest of the crew, but I'm not sure I should upload them here without their consent. So you'll just have to imagine a group of pretty Air Canada flight attendants in very smart, dark blue outfits.

Tomorrow, pretty much at this time of day, I'll be sitting down in that plane, in London.

And now I'm off because I need to do some packing. See you on the other side!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rainy Days

[caption id="attachment_442" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="I don't know who holds the copyright for this pic, but it's not me."][/caption]

Anyhow, look at that bird, and what do you see? Yup, it's me. That's how I look and feel today.

Woke up too early because the hubby could not find his stupid alarm clock, went to bed too late last night because the publisher kept heaping work on me, and I could not find the sleeping mask I had bought for the flight when I wanted to pack it in my carry-on.

The weather is rotten, it has been raining for weeks now, and as if that is not enough it's also miserably cold. Our car is due for inspection, the fridge is gasping his last and the cat barfed on the carpet again.  There's no fresh bread in the house, I still have two dresses that need to be altered, my flight leaves on Sunday at 7 in the morning, and that means I have to leave for the airport at 4.

My book reading in DC has been canceled for reasons not connected with me, and I wish I had known earlier so the publisher and I could have made other arrangements. I have no idea what to cook for lunch, or what to wear to the Neil Diamond concert tomorrow night. The writing on my second novel has come to a grinding stop because I'm so insecure right now after all the editing that has been done on the first, and I really want some hot chicken soup now.

Oh, and have I mentioned the lift is out of order? And the suitcase is staring at me from the corner where I parked it, begging to be packed.

I mean, how can one be happy and cheerful when it looks like October outside and it's really Midsummer Night and the air even SMELLS of fall? What the hell is going on, there was not even a proper spring, and now we can start on the Christmas garlands?

On the upside, I'll be going to a Neil Diamond concert tomorrow. Afterwards, there will be champagne and giggles with my best friend. We will swoon a bit, and maybe hum a song or two, and walk on those clouds for a while. Thursday, I'll start packing in earnest. Saturday there will be a barbecue with friends to see me off, and then, Sunday at daybreak, I'll be off for six weeks to meet my twitter friends. One of them will even be flying all the way from Los Angeles to NY just to meet me, and with the Bunny I'll be taking a trip to the beach where we will laze in the sun and eat fried oysters. I'll get to meet my publisher in person, and then I can tell her how many rounds of edits I can take, and how many are too much. There will be an excursion to Amagansett for some book research, and I've managed to talk my West Coast friends into a day trip to Biggs Junction on the Oregon border for some redneck adventure.

If the fridge really dies, it will happen when I am gone and someone else will have to do the cleaning in the spot where it stood before the replacement is delivered.

I won't be cleaning cat barf for a good long while – and in all honesty, it is mostly the hubby who does it anyway. Someone else will be serving me lunch, and I'm sure there will be fresh bread.

So if you add it all up, it's actually a rather good day today. And now I want baked bananas with honey, or a scoop of maple walnut ice cream.

Rant over.



Monday, June 13, 2011


                                                                                (Painting: M. Otis)

Ok, ok. The eternal question: "How did you do it?"
So far, I've skirted around that one and always given the evasive answer, "Oh, you know. I just... wrote." And mostly, laughter ensued.  But guys, if you look closely enough, it's the bare-boned truth, and there is no other recipe. Maybe I'm going to be hugely unpopular after spelling this out, but it is my firm belief, and my personal experience.

No amount of talking about it, reading about it, blogging about it will get your novel written for you. No matter how diligently you research, plot, outline and discuss it, if you don't sit down and actually write it, there will not be a book. No writer's workshop, conference or creative writing class will help you here.  The dream agent or publisher you found? They need a finished manuscript.

At some point, this one thing has to be the major part of your life. You will have to be ruthless, selfish, single-minded and patient. Your household may die a slow and dirty death, the husband's shirts go un-ironed, the kids fed deep frozen food, your friends might miss you, but all these you have to accept if you really want a book to happen. It must be your JOB. Your calling, your obsession, the air you breathe and the last thing on your mind before you go to sleep. It's the first thing you worry about when you get out of bed, and the one thought when you're waiting at a red stoplight.

My publisher is a very nice lady, but when it comes to business she is quite the tough cookie. I like that about her. A lot. A writer, she tells me, is someone who writes. An author is someone who gets published. By a publisher. She also tells me there are a million more writers than authors. Authors have the guts to pull this off. To start, write and finish a book. To submit it and expect criticism and rejection. Or maybe reap the sweet reward for all their work and the many hours spent on shaping a novel.

The main thing, though, is: first you have to write it.

That's all.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Speak Up!

I was born in Frankfurt, Germany, of a German mother and Saudi-Arabian father.

During the first seven years of my life, my parents moved from Germany to Saudi Arabia and then Brazil, and returned to Germany to settle there permanently.

Since my father did not speak German and my mother did not speak Arabic, their common language was English. It was not perfect English, but good enough to raise me in both languages. (please don’t ask why my father did not speak Arabic with me; I never found out.)

My real obsession with English began when I was about fourteen and found out there was Canada. At that time, there was a TV running on German TV, “Adventures In Rainbow Country”, and my best friend and I were totally besotted with the teenage hero, a blond boy. His mother owned a lakeside hotel on Lake Huron, and he had all kinds of adventures with his Cree friend.

I wanted to live in Canada, and very badly. I wanted a lakeside hotel and a blond, Canadian husband, and I knew I would have to be very fluent in English for that.

The language became my obsession, the gate to the life I wanted.

So from only speaking English with my parents I started reading English books, listened to AFN (the US Forces radio station) and corresponding with a lady in Toronto.

She was the sister of one of my teachers, and he gave me her address.

After finishing high school, she invited me over for a visit with her family.

For six months, I was immersed in Canadian culture and the language I had come to love.

When I got back home, my course was set: I was going to study English, be a journalist, live in Toronto, and be happy.

I did study English, and American Literature, but I never got to move to Toronto because before that I met my husband, fell in love, got married and consequently was stuck in Germany.

My husband, after he finished university, took up a job with a computer company based in Minneapolis, so we got to travel to the US, and the language stayed alive for me.

I started on my novel only three years ago, out of sheer boredom while supervising the detention room at the school where I was also teaching the Theater course, and it was not even a decision I had to make: it had to be done in English.

I’ve always seen myself as writing in English.

I knew my settings would not be in Germany, never.

Germany is a small country, and I wanted space in my book.

You might say the settings are the reason why I chose English over German. I wanted my characters to be international, world-wise people, not restricted to one place, and definitely not Germany.

My story plays in many places: Geneva, a small fishing village on the Norwegian coast, London, Toronto, New York and Los Angeles. I’ve taken care to pick locations I have actually visited, with the exception of L.A., but I have many friends there and had them check my details, and I will soon be going there to verify what I’ve described myself.

Choosing English over German is a gut decision.

It is, for me, the more poetic language. It flows differently, the music in it speaks to me.

More than anything else, the rhythm and tune make me want to hum along.

My characters speak to me in English. There’s not a German word lost among them, even though my female protagonist at one point reveals that she is indeed quite fluent in German. But she is special, and very well educated. And Canadian.

I find declarations of love in German embarrassing and cumbersome. In English, they are a song.

And, from a purely commercial point of view, the chances of my book being picked up for a Hollywood movie are far better if it is written in English from the start, because it will be published in the US and not in obscure Germany.

I know this sounds preposterous, but who knows. After all, I found a publisher in the US. I’ve made it this far, why not go further.

But wherever I go from here, it will be in English.