Sunday, September 16, 2007

article written for Black Press

The life of a novelist, freelance writer and mother

By Jessica Murdy
Black Press
Sep 05 2007
It’s early morning in rural Rosedale. So early, the sun hasn’t risen over the eastern hillsides onto the Vandepol home, and nearby farmers have yet to start their daily chores.
The Vandepol children, all nestled into their beds, are resting up for another busy day of playtime, school and soccer.
It’s around this time, this still of the night, when their mother Michelle usually curls up for sleep. Other mornings, as early as 3 a.m., she’s already abandoning the comfort of her bed in favour of work.
She’s eager to work and eager to get things done. And even as the mother of three young boys, she’s eager to get a novel out, no matter what.
“It’s taken six years,” Vandepol says, chatting informally in her living room.
But it was six years well invested, as that first novel is in print and selling.
There were the late night writing sessions one would imagine necessary of a writer. There were the early morning starts, sometimes at the urge of her husband.
“There were mornings he would wake me up with a tap, tap, tap,” she says, and she’d stumble to the keyboard.
And throughout the day, no matter where she was, she took note of every thought relating to her writing project. She wrote down each bit of dialogue, each bit of scenery, and ideas for characters.
“I used tray liners in McDonald’s and napkins in the carpool,” she says. “I wrote on everything.”
Once back at home, the busy mom would collect her scrap papers, adding them to the pile of others waiting to come to life on her computer screen.
“I had a big tin and threw them all in,” she says.
In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best method, Vandepol says. And through the years, she “lost whole chapters.”
But balancing life as a mother and life as a writer — and an unsigned writer, at that — doesn’t really allow for 9-to-5 hours or conventional means. So she did her best to merge the two.
“A lot of the time I was deep inside other people’s worlds,” she admits.
Adding to the intoxicating madness of raising a family and writing a book, Michelle is also a freelance writer for magazines, e-zines and newspapers (including Black Press’ Agassiz-Harrison Observer).
What she’s hoping for is an agent or a publisher to pick up Mother Mexico and take a chance on her as a new author, even knowing that the Canadian literary world isn’t one full of glamour.
As she signs a reporter’s copy of her novel, Vandepol admits to having wondered what it would be like to hold an author’s signing. In reality, she says, even the biggest names rarely draw a crowd.
Thankfully, writing novels isn’t usually about money. It’s about telling a story. And Vandepol says she has plenty of stories inside her yet.
As for Mother Mexico, Vandepol describes it as a story of redemption in which the main character must learn to be a mother without guidance from her own. She also must learn forgiveness, in the unforgiving, impoverished back country of Mexico.
Now that the excitement of releasing Mother Mexico is behind her, she’s focusing on her next project.
“I expect it will be twice the size of the first one,” she says.
Fertility Archipelago again will take on the not-so-delicate matters of women, with stories of unplanned pregnancies, fertility issues, in-vitro fertilization and even abortion.
“I always thought I was strictly pro-life,” she says, smiling at her youngest son. “But there things that I learn that completely blow holes in the ideas I’ve had.”
She’s referring to her own teenage pregnancy a decade ago when she was surprised to briefly find herself considering abortion when it was presented to her as a possibility. She is so thankful she kept the pregnancy, calling the birth of her son “an amazing turning point in my life”, but later in life she learned that friends of hers did not, lacking the support she had and hearing that abortion was their best choice in the circumstance. While she says she came out of the experience more definite in her pro-life stance, she says the part of her belief that got holes shot into it was looking at it as purely a set of moral issues removed from her own life and not understanding others like she could when she stood briefly in their shoes.
The Fertility Archipelago shows more sides of the story.
She wants to tell women’s stories “free from judgment,” she says, and from points of view separate from her own, letting the reader draw their own conclusions.
While writing Mother Mexico, she says she acknowledged the first-time writer’s trap of an unintended autobiography.
“But Natalie (the main character) is not like me,” she says. “She does things that I don’t agree with.”
Vandepol hopes to find a publisher by the time she’s done writing Fertility Archipelago
Mother Mexico was published through iUniverse, where authors pay to self publish.
Although Vandepol wishes she had more time to edit her novel — she hopes readers will forgive the typo on the first page — she says having a publisher wouldn’t have changed the novel’s direction.
“I would have wrote the book the exact same way,” she says. “I consider this as just a stepping stone ... a giant resume.”
Mother Mexico can be bought through Barnes and Noble, and Amazon Books, and retails for $12.95 US. She is also planning an author’s reading at Agassiz Library. Find out more about Michelle Vandepol, and read her daily blog at

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