A Portrait of Molly (Introducing Mount Royal)

I’ve been a little too busy to spend much time on this blog, I’m afraid. The good news is, the reason is mostly writing related. Earlier this week, I received the design galleys for The Unwritten Girl as a .pdf file. Dundurn really knows how to lay out its books; I’m so excited that my story is going to look so attractive. I was also glad that I was able to catch a couple of typos that they missed.

I also received an author questionnaire from Dundurn’s publicity department, asking me about myself and any media contacts that I knew and who was friendly with. Seems I know more than I thought I knew. At the start of the questionnaire, I was laughing and saying, “I’m a first time author; who would I know in the media”. I managed to turn in an impressive list in the end — well, it impressed me. I also talked to them about using blogs to help get the word out, and they seem very amenable to the idea.

The Unwritten Girl is scheduled to come back from the printers on March 31. Dundurn will wait about a month to allow the books to move out to the bookstores, and then begin their media blitz. So I’m looking at a couple of launch parties (Waterloo and maybe Toronto) in early May. It’s going to be great!

Here’s something else that I’ve been working on. Consider it on one of my stove’s many burners, set to “simmer”, alongside The Night Girl, which is percolating, to mix a metaphor. Mount Royal began when a writing friend heard from a friend of her agent. Seems that an agency, dedicated to serving writers from the American south, had been asked by a publishing company to find authors for a new young adult series they were working on. The format of this series involves a protagonist, first time away from their parents, on an exchange program for a semester at a school in some exotic locale. This action travellogue series would showcase the locale, insert an adventure, and also deal with the typical joys and fears of a young teenager setting out on their own for the first time.

The agency couldn’t find enough authors to fill the publishing company’s requirements, so they were looking further afield. The friend asked my friend’s agent, my friend’s agent asked her, and she asked me and my mother, among others, and my mother and I sat down and brainstormed a few ideas.

We figured if the American publishers wanted an exotic locale, we would be at a considerable advantage if we selected Montreal. It would be exotic to Americans, but known to us. The protagonist was likely supposed to be American, so we created Molly Sanderson, a 14-year-old girl from Omaha. And then we needed a story, and taking our cue from “exotic”, we decided it had to involve art thieves, which meant Molly was on exchange for a semester at an art school. I realized that, if I played my cards right, I could embark on a story that paid homage to Hitchcock’s classic North by Northwest. Montreal’s Mount Royal would come into play, and so we titled the story Mount Royal.

In the end, the agency turned our story proposal down, saying that it had more action than they were wanting for the series (in other words, the series was for a younger audience than we planned for), but my writing friend encouraged me to keep working on Mount Royal, and gradually, 4000 words have materialized.

Below you shall find a draft of the opening scene, introducing Molly to the readers as she arrives in Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport in Montreal at the beginning of her exciting summer.

Molly Sanderson clutched her passport beneath her sketchbook and tried to remember her name in French.

She was surrounded by luggage and travelling families, in the middle of a corridor of painted cinderblocks, fluorescent lighting and polished stone tiles. The muzak competed with the chatter and sighs and the scrape of rolling luggage.

“Your attention please,” squawked the public address system. “Votre attention s’il vous plait. For security reasons, please keep your luggage with you at all times. Unattended luggage may be confiscated by security personnel. Pour des raisons de s&eancute;curité, gardez s’il vous plait votre bagage avec vous tout moment. Le bagage sans surveillance peut étre confisqué par le personnel de s&eacute’curité.

Molly glanced at the pile of luggage around her and pulled a stray bag close. Then she returned to her work sketching a young family three places back on the line. She kept her sketchbook close to her chest and scribbled with a pencil as she watched the young mother and father cooing over a few-week-old infant. It was a caricature, not worth framing, but it kept her fingers limber, and it gave her something to do while she waited.

In her mother’s arms, the baby opened her eyes.

A moment later, Molly revised the drawing, blurring the arms and legs and drawing in a great gaping hole with sound lines in place of the baby’s mouth. The parents looked frazzled. Molly closed the sketchbook and turned away.

She was twenty feet back from the front of the line, ten people ahead of her. She stretched her arms, rubbed her neck and rocked on the balls of her feet. She sighed and slid her sketchbook and pencil in her back pocket. Molly sagged.

This was not how she wanted to be introduced to Montreal. A new city, a new culture (technically, an old culture, but as she hardly remembered her last visits here, it was new to her); it should have been exciting. But the gateway to Montreal was like the gateway to any other American city: drab concrete corridors, lineups, overpriced coffee, tourist themed artwork that tried to entice but just looked garish, and tired families at the end of their tether. The only difference was that the announcements were in French. Even the conversations, while in French, had that weary tone she’d gotten far too familiar with.

She winced as the child’s wail escalated to a new level of scream.

The public address system squawked again. “Your attention please; votre attention s’il vous plait, would Mr. George Kaplan please report to the concierge; M. George Kaplan satisferait l’etat au concierge, your party is waiting to meet you, votre partie attend pour vous rencontrer.

The line sidled forward, and Molly suddenly found herself at the front of it, staring across at a row of booths with immigration officers talking to new arrivals. Molly’s breath quickened. Now things could change. The sign above one booth lit up, the officer behind it looked at her expectantly. Molly gathered up her suitcases and staggered over.

The customs officer, a portly woman with full, dark hair, took Molly’s passport with a yawn and glanced from Molly’s picture to her face. She flipped open a blank page and stamped it. “How long will you be staying in Canada?”

Molly started. “Um… sorry, could you say that in French?”

The customs official looked up at her with narrowed eyes. “Excuse me?”

Molly winced. “I mean, pourriez vous dire cela—

The customs official peered at Molly’s passport. “It says here you live in Omaha, Nebraska.”

“Yeah, but I’m here on an exchange program,” said Molly. “I need to practice my French.”

The customs official stared at her a moment longer, and then turned back to Molly’s passport. “All right… Combien de temps resterez-vous au Canada?

Caught off guard, Molly stuttered. “Um… Trois mois?

Avec qui resterez-vous?

Who am I staying with, Molly thought. “La Famille de Forchet.

Et ou vivent-ils?

Oh, what was their address? “Um… dans Laval; Je… er… J’ai leur droit d’adresse ici.” She fumbled through her carry-on bag.

The customs official waved her off. “Et ou irez-vous d l’école?

Molly froze. She struggled to find the right words, but they wouldn’t come.

The customs official looked up, and sighed. “And… Where will you be attending school?”

“Oh!” said Molly. “Um… L’école d’Art de Montréal.

The officer thrust the passport back to Molly, who bobbled it. “Welcome to Montreal. Have a nice day.”

“Um… merci beaucoup!” She scrambled to gather up her luggage and she staggered past the booth, her heart thumping.

She was in the middle of a moving crowd, now. The squeak of her suitcase wheels joined the chorus. The energy picked up. She stared at the approaching double doors with nervous anticipation. This is it: Montreal, French immersion, a summer away from grandma, seeing the adopted city of my parents. But most of all, it’s time to leave this harrowing airport.

The automatic doors opened and Molly staggered out of the customs area and into the arrivals lounge.

The floor changed from tile to carpet and Molly stumbled to a stop. She found herself in a fenced-off area of soft lights and subdued colours. Beyond the metal fence were windows, the displays of a duty free shop, and a bookstore with best sellers lining the walls. Before her, people were waiting, anticipating, opening up, waving and calling out to friends and family; behind her, others called back happily.

Molly pulled herself to one side and stood on tiptoe to scan the crowd. Nobody called her name.

The stream of people burbled on around Molly, standing like an island in the flow. Minutes passed. She bit her lip. Maybe they weren’t here. Maybe they’d gone to the wrong terminal. Maybe they’d forgotten. Maybe she had to call. What was the Forchets’ phone number?

Then she spotted a commotion at the far end of the lounge. The doors parted and a petite woman strode in, her long, beige overcoat billowing behind her. She slipped through the people ambling by, dodging luggage, a look of determination on her handsome face. She reached the metal barrier and stopped abruptly. She scanned the new arrivals like an ostrich scouting the desert. She held up a handwritten sign with “SANDERSON” emblazoned in magic marker. Her face lit up with a hopeful smile.

Molly grinned, gathered her luggage, and stepped forward. “Mme. Forchet?”

The woman’s head snapped towards her with a look of wide-eyed wonder, a split second before it clicked and she smiled. “Molly?” Her smile and accent immediately made Molly forgive her for pronouncing her name “Mole-E.”

“Yes ” I mean, oui, Mme Forchet. Je suis Molly Sanderson.” Molly extended her hand.

“Ah! I thought I had missed you!” Madame Forchet spoke in richly accented English. She reached over the metal barrier and hugged Molly tight. Then she pulled her back and planted two quick kisses, one on either cheek. Molly staggered back, blushing.

“You must call me Lucille,” said Madame Forchet. She turned. “This is my husband—” She stopped when she realized she was standing alone.

Behind her, the doors to ground transportation parted and a tall man with greying hair on his temples entered the lounge. He smiled when he saw Lucille and strode towards her. Behind him, a boy about Molly’s age, obviously his father’s son, slouched along behind.

Stephan! Gilles! Venir ici!” Lucille beckoned them over. Stephan, the grey-haired man, came over with arms outstretched. Molly smiled, swallowed, and nodded at the fence between them. They waited while she gathered up her suitcases and stepped out through the gate.

Bienvenue a Montreal!” said Stephan. Molly smiled and allowed him to kiss her on both cheeks as well. Then she screwed up her courage and approached Gilles, only to be confronted by an offered hand.

“Pleased,” snapped Gilles, glaring at her.

Molly stared at his hand for a moment, before clasping it. They shook hands briefly, and then Gilles pulled away.

Lucille snatched up two of Molly’s suitcases and passed them off to Stephan and Gilles. Gilles accepted a case grudgingly. As she gathered up the remaining cases, she said, “Did you have a good trip? Were there any problems going across the border? Was your seat comfortable?” and an assortment of questions leaving Molly barely enough time to say, “Oui. Non. Oui.”

“Have you eaten?” asked Lucille. “No, of course not. All they serve these days is peanuts and water. Where would you like to eat?”

“Ah, oui, ah…” Then Molly’s brain went on strike. She blinked at them, befuddled.

Lucille beamed. “Let us get some food into you. I know the perfect place.” She clasped Molly’s shoulder and eased her forward. “Gilles! Attendee!” she called over her shoulder.

As they led her through the door to the carpark, Molly let herself relax. Finally, she would be free from planes and airports. Montreal! A restaurant! At last she would see the city and experience its culture. And food.

I apologize for the French. Remember, this is a draft, and my own French is, at best, rudimentary… Actually, rudimentary is stretching it. It would, of course, be cleaned up as I pushed further on this story.

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