The reason I shouldn't be writing this blog entry is because I have a ton of things to do... but I've got lots to tell you, dear blog reader, so here I am, writing a blog entry when I shouldn't be.
I'm very close to finishing the third draft of my new manuscript. It's officially due at the end of January, but I have the feeling I may be able to submit it in the next few days. I'm too close to it right now to know if it's any good. Sometimes, I think it is; other times, I'm not so sure. Which is why I am so glad to be able to work with my super editor Sarah Harvey. Like me, Sarah is a plainspeaking sort of person, and I'm sure she'll not only be able to see what can be improved, but that she'll be able to tell it to me straight.
You may be wondering how my mum is doing (if you've read my books, you might have met her in a way since the character Anneke in What World Is Left is based on my mum). My mum's been in hospital since Christmas eve, but she is getting better every day. I think soon she'll be back in her own house. And she is regaining her old feistiness. Here's an example you might find interesting. One of my mum's relatives was upset with her for sharing her wartime experience with me. He felt she should have kept her family's story secret. Well, yesterday, this relative happened to phone at the hospital while I was there, and I overheard her tell him: "I want you to know I don't regret I told Monique the story -- especially after everything I've been through in the last few weeks!" I say HURRAY for my mum. I love that she is as courageous as a lioness and that she knows how to stand up for herself (and her cubs!!). She is an example to me and I think maybe also to my readers.
Other bits of news: I go back to teaching tomorrow. My eight months as a full-time writer are coming to an end. Now I'll be teaching full-time until May, but writing in every spare moment I can find. And of course, when you write for teens the way I do, well, there is a great benefit in teaching college. I get to spy on and listen to teens all day!! (Where do you think I get many of my story ideas?!)
Also, my dad was here for dinner last night. (I have to admit I made steaks that turned out very badly. My husband, the barbecue expert, is away this weekend, and so I pan-fried the steaks. I don't recommend the method!) Anyway, totally unprompted, my dad started telling me about his experiences during the war -- he's only half-Jewish and so managed to escape the concentration camps, but he was hidden in a small Dutch village during the Nazi occupation of Holland. My dad told me how at first he stayed with the local barber. My dad helped the barber by lathering customers before the barber gave them their shaves. Only my father says he was too quick at lathering. The soap on the customers faces dried before the barber could get to them -- and the customers ended up with nicked cheeks and chins. My father (he was only 12 at the time) got fired! The story was funny and sad at the same time (an excellent combination in my opinion), so of course, I popped up from my chair at the dining room table and grabbed my notepad. By the time we finished eating those steaks (they were tough to chew so dinner went slowly!), I had six pages of notes! So, who knows, maybe one day there'll be a book inspired by my dad's wartime experiences, too.
Another very cool thing that happened has to do with a family friend named Nira who visited Israel recently. Nira gave a copy of What World Is Left to a friend in Israel and the following morning the friend phoned to say she'd begun the book and was really interested in the story. She told Nira that in Israel, there is a kibbutz which I believe is called Givat Haim-Ihud which has a museum about Theresienstadt (the concentration camp my mum was in, and in which What World Is Left is set). Nira decided to visit the kibbutz and when the people there heard how Nira knows the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Dutch painter Jo Spier (I'm one of the grandchildren), they treated her like royalty! So, this afternoon, when I finish working on my manuscript, I am going to send an e-mail to the museum, and tomorrow or the day after, I am going to send them a copy of the book. Exciting, no?
My opa survived the camp and helped ensure his family's survival by making propaganda drawings for the Nazis. This must have been a terrible task for my opa. I believe some members of his family felt guilty and maybe even a little ashamed about what happened... so it meant a lot to me when Nira told me, "In that museum in Israel, your grandfather is a hero!" Well Opa, if you happen to be reading this blog entry from heaven today, I want you to know you were always my hero. I owe you my life and my love for stories. Love, Mo