Sunday, February 03, 2008

New Year, New Look

It wouldn’t do after three (okay, four) months of blogosphere absence to just shrug and say I was busy.

I was – finishing up my second novel, Cutting Loose (yup – it’s got a real title now!), not to mention settling into a new job in Montreal doing something wildly different from what I did in Cayman – but those would just be excuses. I’m not sure why I feel compelled to be so honest on something the entire universe has access to, but hey, I do just that every time I put pen to paper and write a scene. Why should a blog entry be any different?

I’m having some very mixed feelings on adapting back to Montreal life. And mixed feelings make good blogging pretty difficult. It makes you question – what’s the purpose of a blog in the first place? Is it a soapbox (that’s pretty much what I’ve been using it for lately)? A place for uncensored, disjointed, and totally random thoughts (kind of like how this post is turning out…), or a place that brings together people with some sort of common interest(s)?

Blogging for me has been, I think, if I look back on two and some odd years I’ve been doing this, largely a matter of mood. More direct and transparent than fiction writing, it’s still a way of connecting what’s rattling around in my head with my friends and readers.

So, as I sat in the Second Cup on the corner of Sherbrooke and Claremont, watching the frost forming at the edges of the glass of the windows and huddling tighter into my thick scarf every time someone swung the front door open and subjected me to a blast or arctic wind, it was probably a good thing that I didn’t let anyone one in to the jumbled mass of miserable thoughts rattling around in my head.

As much as I love being close to my family again, my fabulous sex-and-the-city-like life, complete with a fun, downtown apartment and weekends dolled up and out on the town, and a fun new Rachel-esque job as a buyer for a Canadian clothing chain, I haven’t managed to kick Cayman out of my system yet.

Maybe it’s the weather. When people used to ask me why I’d picked up and moved to the Islands, I always listed weather before money, and three months into an interminable winter, I realize now that this really was my main motivation. Even as I write this, I’m sitting in a cute little writing “nook” set up in my kitchen, right next to an big old window overlooking very Parisian-looking rooftops below, but… it’s snowing. Again. And as much as I’d love to pick up and go to one of those Montreal cafés and bookshops I constantly reminisced about while I was away, I just can’t bring myself to bundle up in a heavy-duty winter coat that makes me look like a miniature Yeti. The fact that it’s a Michael Kors does not make it any easier to fool myself into thinking I look remotely fashionable (or even human) every time I slide it over my shoulders. And the adorable plaid one with the bell sleeves from Zara, and the sleek black one from Guess, both hang idly in the hall closet, virtually unworn, as it has been way too cold and snowy for these “medium duty” coats.

See? A whole paragraph on the miseries of winter. So it’s probably best I haven’t been blogging.

But why now, you ask.

Well, this past month has marked a number of signposts on the old writing path that deserve to be commemorated, and that are making itch to jump back into the game.

At the turn of the New Year, not one but two of my very dear friends and critique partners – ladies whose support, opinions, and words of wisdom did so much to improve my work have seen their own babies hit the shelves.

I had the chance to see Wendy Toliver’s The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren back when it was a mere flicker in Wendy’s mind, and now it’s a full-blown novel on a shelf right here in a Montreal bookstore. I’m so proud of her, I could burst. Even though I’ve read several drafts of the manuscript, seeing it looking so… book-like… as opposed to a Word document is making me want to read it all over again. If you enjoy Young Adult fiction, or have kids who do, this is a great one – fun and well-written, and light-hearted with a dose of Greek mythology on the side.

And then there’s Dona Sarkar’s How to Salsa in a Sari. Even though it was Dona’s adult fiction, not her YA I’d helped critique, I’ve had a special place in my heart for this one. I’m usually total rubbish when it comes to titles but for some odd reason, Dona’s theme of Latin-culture-meets-Afro-Indian-culture struck a chord in me, and so when we were discussing title ideas, that one just jumped at me, with no brainstorming or excessive head-breaking needed. Now that’s I’ve read HTSIAS cover to cover, I can see why the themes hit home so much. Which brings me to my next tangent…

Cutting Loose, my second novel, a loose spin-off of Fashionably Late involving Ali’s deeply traditional cousin Ranya’s efforts to break free of the judgments of not just one but two societies, was finally finished, polished and handed in to my editor on January 8th.

This one was so completely different from Fashionably Late, on so many levels, it nearly drove me nuts.

For one thing, I’ve always had kooky, eclectic and widely ranging tastes. I’m not someone you can easily box into category, and while that sounds like a desirable, highly evolved trait to have, it can be quite annoying most of the time. Because our society is built on categories. White. Black. Brown. Anglophone. Francophone. Allophone. Brainy. Ditzy. Alternative. Mainstream.

Sometimes I want to look around at everyone around me trying to smoosh everyone and everything into a box and scream – isn’t it all relative??? At various points in my life, I’ve been slotted into every one of those categories listed above (except maybe 'black') – relative to who I was talking to.

In the Middle East, I’m white. In North America (particularly in her airports – thank you, Miami Homeland Security! I love you too!), I’m brown. In Quebec I’m technically an allophone but effectively and anglo, and in the rest of Canada I’m a Francophone. They haven’t come up with an “Arab” category in the census yet, not to my knowledge anyway, so those were always a gas to fill out.

But I’ve ranted about all of this before.

The point here, is that with Cutting Loose, since it was on contract (meaning people were actually expecting me to write something, and I had much less groveling and sucking up to do than with Fashionably Late), and since I’d proven to myself that I had at least an adequate grasp of the writing craft, I was free to take some chances with themes I really cared about.

Dona’s How to Salsa in a Sari and Cutting Loose have this in common, that you would be hard pressed to box them in. Dona’s main protagonists are, after all, African-Indian and Cuban-American. In Cutting Loose, they are Lebanese-Muslim, Palestinian-Christian (and yes, your religion has a very tangible effect on your life in the ME), and Honduran-American.

So which section of the bookstore would these novels find themselves?

Why, mainstream of course (in Dona’s case, mainstream YA). Because when you challenge people’s notion of categories and labels, sometimes you succeed in transcending them.

Congratulations Dona and Wendy – you’ll be hearing more from these ladies just as soon as I get into a more regular blogging groove, which, though not an official resolution this year, is something I really want to throw myself into this year.

(The official resolution, of course, is to hit the gym regularly and maintain my svelte, post-winter-depression body weight. If I am grateful for one thing in my life is that stress actually makes me lose weight. Thank God for small mercies)

All the best in the New Year, and for those of you in the Big Old Nasty North, hang in there, at least January is over.



Wendy Toliver said...

Welcome back to blogging, Nadine! And thanks for the shout-out. :)
I had the same surge of pride when I got my copy of Fashionably Late. It is totally different and so much fun to read it as a real live book! I cannot wait for Cutting Loose (great title, btw). And of course How to Salsa is on my TBR list fo'sure!
Speaking of weather, we have a six-foot fence around our yard and in all seriousness, it's reduced to about six inches now b/c of all the snow. Thank God the DH is not traveling right now, because it's been nothing but snow removal and leaking ceilings (boo hooo, my new IKEA closet!)

Marilyn Brant said...

It's nice to have you back, Nadine. You've been missed! Glad to hear you survived not only the move but that iPod re-installation!! (I feel your frustration, my friend...)

Looking forward to reading Cutting Loose and more of your blog posts :).

Nadine said...

Thanks guys! Nice to be back! I'll try and make sure I actually write my posts on my blog regularly this time around, and not just in my head...

Bride-to-Be said...

you've been missed nadine. great to have you back. i can't wait to read cutting loose. love the title!

Nadine said...

Thanks Paris! I'm in copy edit hell right now, and anxious to have CL off my hands and out there in the world too! I took lots of risks in this one. More on that in another post...

Bride-to-Be said...

i am also in copy edit hell...but i'm sure i don't have as many pages to go through as you. :) i wish we were geographically closer and i could offer my services.