Writing: on-again, off-again

In the Netherlands with my great friend, Hanneke Siewe-Corbet… final research for my family memoir, GISELE

In August 2008, there I sat with my pile of empty book boxes. The previous year had been a time of such creativity and growth. TOMANDO AGUA DEL POZO was successful, and I got it into my head that I should try fiction.

Fortune provided me with an opportunity to attend a creative writing workshop in San Miguel Allende and I looked forward to a new chapter opening up in my budding career as a writer.

Ha! I’d have been better to spend my time embroidering a banner that read: “Beware of Getting Ahead of Thine-self” The 2 week course was an exercise in humility. I realized that yes, I had the ability to tell my own story, and I could think up new plots because I have imagination.  But I lacked the techniques, pacing, and structure to narrate anything more complex.

I didn’t dwell on my negative feelings of inadequacy though, I began the process of learning how to do all of the above. I must add that this process NEVER ends. It doesn’t matter how many times I re-write, it is AWAYS possible to write it better. But at some point, a writer has to leave well enough alone and let the words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters go to print as they are.

A met generous writers from the San Miguel Literary Sala who have never stopped cheering me onward and upward. I attended the San Miguel Writers’ Conference on several occasions and I took more courses there. 

In the fall of 2009, I recounted my experiences in San Miguel to my friend and fellow writer, Rainie Baillie, and we decided to form a writers’ group closer to home. Many of Merida’s aspiring authors joined us, as did visititors who spent winters in Yucatan. The Merida Writers’ Group (MWG) started that fall and happily it is still going strong. I am no longer a fully active member, but my support and gratitude to MWG should never be questioned.

My first novel, THE WOMAN WHO WANTED THE MOON spans 20+ years (1968 – 1990) of contemporary Mexican history. The protagonists are talented but their interactions are peppered with betrayal and self-interest, as well as other excesses that constantly threaten their relationships. These in turn mirror the devastating socio-political and economic realities of the same time period in the country. It took 7 years to finish the book, in part because I completed another project before publishing this one.

MAGIC MADE IN MEXICO is the most successful book I ‘ve written. The theme is cultural adaptation to a new country, the same as my first, but written to reflect the focus of the publisher that bought the rights from me. I liked most of the changes I was asked to make and the resulting book was widely read by international residents all over Mexico. Because it was published by a national house, it received more distribution. One of my greatest “author thrills” happened when I visited the gift shop of The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, and saw copies of Magic Made in Mexico on the shelves.

Magic Made in Mexico for purchase at Mexico City’s Museum of Anthropology

My fourth book is my favorite. It is a family memoir called CIRCLES that recounts the relationship between my Canadian father and his Dutch first cousin. Because of the 40 year difference in age, I call her Aunt Gisele. During WWII she hid many Jewish friends in her tiny apartment on the Herengracht, one of Amsterdam’s principal canals. She risked her life every day to keep everyone safe and fed as best she could. My dad, John was a private in one of the Canadian divisions that fought to liberate the Netherlands. He had his cousin’s address, so when he got a day’s leave, he called on her. What he found horrified him, and she says if not for the food and other provisions he quickly acquired for them, they would have starved to death. After May 1945, he was deployed to the displaced persons camps in Belgium. The two cousins never saw each other again. However, they corresponded regularly. When Dad died in 1982, my sister and I carried on the letter writing.

For nearly six decades after the end of WWII, Gisele led a colourful life as an artist and international spokesperson. She was officially decorated by the Dutch, German and Israeli governments. I did not meet her until I was 50 and she was 90. But fortunately during the final part of her life, I visited with her many times. Despite all the difficulties Gisele experienced, she remained curious and joyful until her death at 100 years.

So, between 2007 and 2015, I published four books. Blogging, short stories and travel pieces have figured most prominently since then. I do have another novel in the works but not quite the same impetus to finish it because the onslaught of social media has radically altered the reading habits of most people. In fact, many formerly avid readers seem satisfied with the ever-changing, continuous feed of short enticing material available on a whole gamut of internet platforms.

So what does the future hold for writers? Let’s explore that in my next post.

Published by Changes in our Lives

I am originally from Canada but have lived in Mexico since 1976. My husband is from Merida, Yucatan and we raised our family here. We both worked for many years at Tecnologia Turistica Total (TTT), the tourism, language and multimedia college we founded for local and international students. Now retired, we enjoy spending time with family and friends, My other interests include spending time with freinds, reading, painting, cooking and travel.

10 thoughts on “Writing: on-again, off-again

  1. How nice to see a picture of our great time together in Bussum! Always enjoy reading your articles, Joany!

    Stay well, stay calm, stay healthy!

    LOve Hanneke

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    1. That trip with you remains one of my very favourites. For 30 years we’d said we would travel together to the land where we both hail from and that was so special. But all you showed and taught me there… WOW . Those lessons have remained with me and alwys will. Dank u wel…

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  2. Dear Joanna – Thanks for your story of struggle, stick-to-it-ness and triumph. The writing life can be so daunting at times but all writers’ processes are daunting; Just keep on keeping on. Congratulations on all your books and successes! xoxo

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  3. Congratulations. Joanna. ‘Tis a tale of persistence and personal growth that’s wonderful to read in these trying and confusing times.

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    1. My aunt’s story is an imspiration. Many times during this pandemic I have thought… well at least I don’t need fear jackboots kicking down my door (just spikey viruses that might sneak under my mask!) Fear is fear, isn’t it? But hopefully we are near the end.

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  4. Please keep working on that next novel. I have read and re-read all of your books, some passages many times over. They sit always within view. They are trusted friends.

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