The Next Best Thing


Here I am, FINALLY posting again. Nothing like a bit of “blog tag” to get my ass in gear. We (as in a bunch of writers) are playing a game called The Next Big Thing. Each writer  answers ten questions about their work-in-progress, or soon-to-be published work, then tags five other writers. Those five writers answer the ten questions, then tag five other writers. And so on and so forth…. This way, we get to tell the world about our big projects, discover all sorts of writers’ websites and blogs, and also get more traffic to our own websites. My five authors will appear at the bottom of my post, so check them out!

I’ve been tagged by my dear friend, the talented Ayelet Tsabari, author of The Best Place On Earth, a collection of short stories that will be released by HarperCollins in Spring 2013.  Thank you, Ayelet, for tagging me. At first I thought, oh no, not one of those chain letters! so thanks for setting me straight.  This was fun and took a surprising amount of thought. Hence the turtle pace at getting this posted…


What is the working title of your book?

End of the Rope is the title of the memoir I’ve completed, but the working title was Leaving Limbo. I’ve also had several wacky titles: Between a Rock and a Hard Man, Taking Life By The Balls, Staggering Upward. You can see why they didn’t stick.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve always managed to find trouble, even in the most innocuous of places or situations. Most of my adventures are more fun to write about than to live through, so I started a series of light, funny stories about climbing rescues, whitewater kayaking near-death experiences, and other risky outdoor epics. But the more I wrote, the deeper I went, until I found myself getting closer and closer to the why, through my explorations of the what. So my short stories eventually evolved into a longer narrative. Two, in fact.

What genre does your book fall under?

Narrative non-fiction or memoir. Though it began as a climbing memoir it has developed into a narrative about a woman who confronts her fear both in the mountains and in relationships to finally take control of her life.

Which actor would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

How do you choose an actor to play yourself? I first thought of Ellen Page for my younger narrator because she’s my height, 5’2”, dark-haired, tomboyish and child-like, but everyone I polled thought it had to be someone tougher. So I thought, maybe Winona Ryder? Kristen Stewart? Hmmmm….. Can I come back and change my mind?

For the narrator’s husband, it really should be a younger Robert Redford – there’s a strong physical resemblance in real life. But if I had to go with someone younger, it’d be Aaron Eckhart: good looking, blond, wiry, flinty, remote, a bit broody…. I could see him as a logger; he’d look cute in grey Stanfields and orange suspenders.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Soon after her boyfriend’s death in an avalanche, a feisty young climber gets pregnant with a hard-edged Himalayan alpinist and entangled in a tumultuous marriage that threatens to stifle her spirit unless she can find a way back to herself.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

In early October, I queried a Toronto agent who read the first chapter and requested the whole manuscript. I take that as a good sign, but I’m still waiting. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll keep sending out queries – I’m just at the beginning of that process – but I won’t self-publish.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

That’s complicated. I crafted my first chapter, The Pink Wedding Dress, back in 2007. I wrote a few chapters from that point forward, then backwards to events that led up to the wedding. That was with UBC and The Writing Studio at SFU. A few people read it and thought my depiction of my ex-in-laws was ripe for a lawsuit, so I dropped the wedding chapter all together.

It’s safe to say I was close to “finished” the first draft after working with Betsy Warland in her Manuscript Intensive in 2009. But in 2010 I went to Banff Wired and wrote backwards again, adding several childhood chapters. In 2011, still struggling with structure, I went to Banff Mountain Writing, where it was suggested I take the childhood chapters out. So I set them aside and decided I would have two books, a coming-of-age memoir, (working title: Mountains From Molehills) and a “climbing” memoir: End of the Rope.

A few months ago I submitted End of the Rope to Random House, where two editors read the whole manuscript. Apparently they did like it, but they suggested I combine the two manuscripts, the young narrator and the older narrator, and resubmit. Which puts me back where I started.

Now I think I’ll just stick my head in the oven….

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Wild by Cheryl Strayed, The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard, Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston, In Zainsville by Jo Ann Beard, The Turquoise Years by M.A.C. Farrant.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

In part, incongruity in my life. I’ve always been involved in seemingly tough, high-risk activities: climbing, whitewater kayaking, ski touring, mountain biking. In my twenties, I tried to out-tough everyone: burping, farting, swearing, chewing tobacco, but my façade usually crumbled in a relationship because on the inside, I was soft and mushy, a scared little girl looking for protection. It boiled down to a lack of trust in myself, both on the rock and in relationships, which resulted in my not being there for myself. I gave up on myself. Needed an external protector. This often landed me in dangerous situations.

I felt compelled to explore the origins of my lack of self-trust, to get down on paper my attempts at integrating the tough chick and the scared little girl, the masculine with the feminine.

I see this incongruity as a universal problem, mostly for women. I wish I could say books like The Cinderella Complex are outdated, but unfortunately they are not. It seems many seemingly strong, independent women still feel that if they wait long enough, they’ll be rescued. Reading other women’s stories – short stories, self-help books, biographies, memoirs, novels – has been indispensible in my journey back to myself.

I really relate to this quote by Tristine Rainer in Your Life As Story:

The unconscious story that has driven your life is now made conscious and you choose another. 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Most writers struggle with issues of privacy when writing non-fiction. I seem to struggle more than most. It took me a long time to claim my right to tell my story, a story that’s entwined with my former husband’s. Usually, when I try to work something out in my life, I resort to writing personal essays, so a few years into writing my memoir, I did just that. Here are the last paragraphs from an essay I wrote, sort of a pep talk to myself:

Excerpt from: My Messy Glory

…so when things got really bad in my marriage, I went to other women for stories. I wasn’t looking for pretty stories. I wanted to hear messy, ugly, honest secrets. I wanted to hear from women who sometimes felt they would smother their kids if they didn’t shut up, who fantasized about their husband getting squished under a tree at work. Brave women like Erica Jong, Gloria Steinem, Anne Lamott. Women who got out in spite of their fear. Or never got in.

Maybe, as other women have passed along their stories, I can pass along mine. Tristine Rainer says,  “…yours may be the words that relieve another’s isolation, that open a door to understanding, that influence the course of another’s path.”  Maybe in sharing my message, I can apply it to my own life: Don’t wait for permission: to grow, to leave, to speak, to write your story. Don’t hinge your life on approval. It’ll never come.

Sometimes I play that little head game with myself, the “what’s the worst that could happen” scenario (trying not to think of that author whose ex-husband committed suicide). Really, the worst that could happen is: I could piss off my ex-husband, receive a few nasty emails and phone calls, feel a tad self-conscious when I go back to my hometown. But it’s unlikely anyone’s going to kill themselves.

At the rate I’m going, there’s a chance that everyone in my book will be dead before I finish this manuscript anyway, but just in case, I’m ready to use all the standard tricks.  For sure I’ll change character names, and maybe place names. Write a full-page disclaimer. When I’m feeling particularly gutless, I consider disguising my ex-husband with a mustache, creating composite characters, using a pseudonym, publishing as fiction. Even publishing posthumously. But what message would I be giving my kids?

I want to share my stories. I want to read them into a microphone. I want to see them in print. I want my kids to see them in print. I still don’t want my ex to see them in print, but if I allow him to sit on my shoulder and play critic, if I allow him to silence me, it’s as though I never got out. This is my story. In all its messy glory.



Here are four of my five amazing, talented, fascinating, inspiring writers. I’m waiting on commitments from THREE others. Oops. I know it was supposed to be only five….

Gillian Wallace

Rhona McAdam

Morgan Chojnacki

Bruce Elkin

 Message for tagged authors: Rules of the Next Big Thing

***Use this format for your post

***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)

***Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

What is the working title of your book?

Where did the idea for the book come from?

What genre does your book fall under?

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

Be sure to line up five people in advance.























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7 Responses to The Next Best Thing

  1. Pingback: The Next Big Thing « The possible present

  2. Pingback: Gillian Wallace ... watch me edit · The Next Big Thing: Diary of an Angry Woman

  3. Carla Smith says:

    Jan… Bruce emailed me with details of blog tagging and curious, I wandered over here to your blog to check it out.
    Not only does the process interest me but your story even more. Beneath the good clear writing there’s a fierce strong grasp of a dichotomy struggle many women (I will say females but I suspect it applies to both genders) find themselves in the midst of. And our responses to it are as varied as our personalities. I loved reading your answers and peeking into your inner life.
    I remember your name from long ago. I never went to Hector (spent my summers figure skating) but hooked up with the tribe at University and later in Canmore. I’m not sure if we ever met. I knew some of the ‘inner circle’ of hard ass mountain people and while I loved the mountains and was in awe of the passion around me, I eventually felt caged in out there. I wasn’t ready to be defined and knew that I was kind of just tagging along.
    Who and what we are, the paths we need to choose and why, no doubt are a kaleidoscopic mix of genetics and life experience and I am honoured to be privvy to a glimpse into another travellers life. We dance and trip and stumble and run along a path that it seems to take a long time to eventually call our own and I kind of think that when we finally do, we will realize it will all have been about our courage to love – ourselves, others and more than likely, all of humanity.
    (way more than I intended to write but reading your blog was really inspiring, as I imagine your book will be. I hope you keep writing it.)

    • admin says:

      So interesting to hear your response. Such encouraging words. Thank you. And so timely. I’m struggling with yet another rewrite of my manuscript and you’ve reminded me why I’m writing this particular memoir. Helped re-clarify my themes. It really is about the opposing forces in me, and I believe in everyone – the courage and terror – trying to go forward in life, being pulled back by fear, the dependence and independence – wanting to be strong and in control but wanting someone to look after me. In our macho climbing community, I sometimes felt I was the only one who was (and still is) so confused and conflicted because we were all able to put up such a good front. I know I’m very good at it. It’s uncomfortable peeling back those layers. The icky stuff underneath – the fear, dependence, doubt, lack of control, self-disgust etc are considered weaknesses to be eradicated, or at least kept hidden. The more we hide all that, the more incongruent we become. The more incongruent we become, the more we have to hide our “weaknesses”. I think I climbed, and maybe others too, because on some level, I knew I couldn’t keep the real me hidden in the mountains. It came out on the rock. We put ourselves in life or death situations and let our inner courage battle it out with our temptation to give up on ourselves and hoped the courageous side would win. It was like an intense, compressed version of life being played out on the rock. It seems like people with a lot of issues climb. So it’s probably a healthy sign that you didn’t stay in that hard ass mountain circle 🙂

      I love your comment about dancing and stumbling along our path until we realize it’s all about our ability to love. So many people, so many climbers struggle with self-love. I, too, believe that’s the key to everything. It seems the absence of good parenting is why many climbers have to have such hard lives. We’re in the constant search of a loving parent to internalize. That’s the back story I’m trying to get into my manuscript without it turning into a cliche, but I’m struggling with the structure. It’s good to chat about it.

      Thanks so much for your insights and thoughts and encouragement. You’ve given me some fuel to get through another day of rewriting. It’s so nice to meet you!

  4. Carla Smith says:

    Thanks for sharing the heart of the struggle. Putting a finger on the pulse of that – those are the moments of flash insights, leaps of understanding and that feeling of being both connected to everyone and on your own solo climb, if you will. It’s easy to buckle under what seem to be the measuring gazes of those around us, measuring our success against what they believe to be a rather outlandish idea that we can even succeed at all in these endeavors. All the more reason to shut out those voices and listen to the one inside. I will be following along even more closely now. It’s a huge share, on your part and I thank-you.

    • admin says:

      “All the more reason to shut out those voices and listen to the one inside.” Wonderful reminder. Having trouble with this with my manuscript. Gotta get back to what my own vision is for my story. I’ve had much too much input. Ah – amazing how writing mimics life. Sucks, actually. So wish me luck! I have a big agent and Random House willing to read my rewrite if I can figure this one out….

  5. Pingback: The Next Big Thing | Morgan Chojnacki

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