Here’s what it feels like, right now

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squirrel on our back fence, yesterday, sheltering itself from the rain

I’ve been quiet.

There’s a time to be quiet and a time to make noise, and it’s time to be quiet. I’ve made a lot of noise this fall, that’s what it feels like. I’ve done my best. And because I chose to write about every stage of this journey, it seems only fair to close up the chapter begun on October 2nd, when my book was named a finalist for one of Canada’s biggest literary prizes.

A quirk about the GGs is that there is no instant reveal ceremony. Instead, all the finalists are informed of the results in advance, and then asked to keep their knowledge secret until the day of the announcement. I’ve tried to play by the rules, but you can read me like a book. I carry my happiness and my sadness in my body. I’ve been through a massive range of emotions since Oct. 2nd, and I’ve tried to accept every shift, every climb, every jitter, every fall. I’ve tried not to resent what I’m feeling. Just feel it. Just be there with it.

I’ve known for over a week, now, that The Juliet Stories was not chosen by the jury as the last book standing.

I’ve felt quite alone in that knowledge. It’s a lonely place to be, accepting good wishes for a result that you already know will disappoint. I suppose that’s been my rawest emotion: the sense that I am disappointing friends and family with this result.

I told my two big kids on Sunday, after I’d had a difficult day, struggling with how I would get through one more day until the announcement. I was so weary, so distracted, so short-tempered, it wasn’t fair to them. So I told them, to give them context; I make a habit of naming my emotions (and encouraging them to name theirs) so we all know what we’re working with. This was late on Sunday evening. They were sad to hear the news, yes, but mostly they were purely compassionate, empathetic. They forgave me my snapping.

I said, “I’m really sorry to be disappointing you.”

And my daughter came across the room like a heat-seeking missile to hug me, hard. She said, “You’re not disappointing me, Mom. I’m just disappointed in the jury’s choice.”

I needed to hear it, and I’m blessed to have heard it from my own thoughtful child.

It’s not like I ever felt that my book deserved to win over anyone else’s. I still believe it was luck that landed me on the list. But if luck got me that far, it meant I might get luckier still. And I got pretty close to that light. I’ve lived a simple life, propelling myself toward this possibility from a young age. Writing books was the one thing I consistently wanted to do and so I figured out how to write books with a singular focus: reading, studying, practicing, and working toward this goal — which is an amorphous goal, and I’m not sure one that should rely so heavily, in my own judgement, on prizes or sales, but I’m also not sure how else to measure my success in meeting it. Essentially, it’s been the goal of signing my name amidst the names I’ve read and studied and admired.

It’s been the goal of writing a beautiful book. Or two. Or more.

I’m not sure, now that I’m here, what I imagined it would be like. What if this is as good as it gets? The festivals, the readings, meeting other writers — all things I’ve truly enjoyed this fall, but also things that are new and strange and exciting because they are out of the ordinary. Would I enjoy them so much if they became ordinary? The prize part has surprised me most of all. It’s left me drained. I’d say humbled, but it’s more a sense of helplessness, a lack of control. I ask: wouldn’t I do this all over again? And yes, I would. Without question. Crazy, huh.

I’m still feeling quiet. November is a good time for quiet, and I’m craving winter’s hibernation. But I’m going to try not to hide out completely, not to avoid people. Now you know how I’m feeling. Now we know where we are. Right?

Entertaining at home
Cosmic activity in the friendship area ...

31 Comments

  1. I was rooting for Juliet, too, but I’m sure, like me, all your readers agree with your daughter!

    And since the goal is writing, how could this be as good as it gets? You’ll write lots more, and even if EVERYTHING becomes ordinary, that part never will.

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    • Thank you for your positive and very true observation, Saleema: with writing, there is always the potential for discovery, for newness, and that part of my writing experience has yet to come close to feeling ordinary.

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  2. What a beautiful, honest post Carrie. I am sad you didn’t win, but how thrilling all of this happened. Take some good care of yourself. And keep on writing: we like it when you do.

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    • Thank you, Jude. I’ll do just that. 🙂

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  3. Thanks for the post– and the honest discussion. And congratulations on the short listing. That’s great.

    These days, it seems the literary world is more and more relying on prizes. I’ve always felt that though it means something to win (or be short listed), and sure, it’s an honour, it doesn’t mean anything not to win. (Though, of course, I empathize with your complex feelings.) But these things are picked by a jury after all. There isn’t an objective test. Many of the books that I most value, the writers who works who have most inspired and informed my world, my writing, and my life, have never won, or even been nominated for anything. And, I frame it this way to myself: Should I feel sad that, out of 6 billion people, only one (my wife) selected me be her love interest? What, other people, am I not loveable? You choose this other person other than me? What gives? Or, if I go into a particular store they only carry certain products. Does that mean the products that they don’t stock aren’t good? Not necessarily at all. Prizes, juries, moments, can’t objectively pick ‘the best’. What does that mean? (Of course, it’s great luck if you win –or are short listed — it’s means lots of interest in your work, and readers. Engagement in the work. Opportunities for the book and for more writing.) But there isn’t an objective test, at least, once one is at a certain left. Kafka isn’t Becketty enough. Margaret Atwood isn’t Ondaatje-y enough.

    I do get worked up when writers and other interested people forget that awards can only judge whether the nominated books fit into the award’s notion of what is ‘awardable,’ not some divine right of quality.

    It’s great that your book was shortlisted. I’ve hadn’t heard of it before. And now it’s on my short list to read and I’m excited about it.

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    • Thanks for checking in here, Gary. I’m glad you’ve found my book.

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  4. You *did* write a beautiful book! Some parts of it are still with me, months after reading. I’m disappointed in the jury’s choice too. But I’m so glad that I had the privilege to read your book, and that because of this whirlwind with the GG’s, many other people now know who you are and will have that privilege too!

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    • Thank you, Nath. With a nice week’s perspective between this post and now, I find myself filled with gratitude for the whole experience, every part.

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  5. Most contest results don’t mean much of anything important. But elation and disappointment do.

    I’m very happy that your book was able to reach an even wider audience for its being nominated. Congratulations again, and well deserved.

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  6. Totally agree with Saleema. Onward!

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  7. As soon as I read this sentence – “It’s a lonely place to be, accepting good wishes for a result that you already know will disappoint.” – my thought was exactly your daughter’s. Not disappointed IN you but disappointed FOR you.

    Except not even that, because how exciting and amazing to have been a finalist. I still think that calls for congratulations!

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    • Thank you. I’m definitely coming around to appreciating that too, Tudor, that’s it’s been an exciting and amazing experience, no regrets, no complaints.

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  8. I’m sorry to hear about that outcome, but congratulations on the nomination. That’s really wonderful. Your book certainly deserves such recognition (and more, if I had any say!). Honestly, I admire you so much for actually producing the books you have. That’s still a nebulous dream for me that hopefully one day will become a reality. In the meantime, keep writing! You’re really good at it and prizes don’t make you any better than you already are anyways.

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    • Amen. I really appreciate what you’re saying re prizes. I’ve read so many amazing books that were somehow overlooked, one way or another, by prize lists, and it certainly doesn’t affect how I feel about them. A good book is a good book.

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  9. Thanks, all. I’ve really been bouyed by all the responses today. Who knows, I may just look back on it as a really good day in my life. (In fact, I’m quite certain that I will.)

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  10. Carrie: Your reflection on the prize is itself another example of what a fine & thoughtful writer you are. The Juliet Stories is a really splendid book, and good readers will continue to read and reread it for a long time. Thanks for writing it. And thanks for your dedication and your honesty and your gift and your craft.

    Thanks for whatever you’re writing today.

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    • Thank you, Gary, for all of your support along the way.

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  11. Carrie, I think that the short list represents less luck and more genuine achievement than the final prize. There really is a difference between, say, the top 10% and the rest, one that does not depend so much on the judges’ taste or mood or on luck. But once they have that short list on which everything is truly excellent, the final cut is somewhat arbitrary, much more luck. In my mind, you’d already won because to me, the short list is the real achievement.

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    • Carmen, when I read what you’d written I must confess that it really did make me feel better … so thanks!

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  12. Carrie,

    I am mid-way through The Juliet Stories, and hugely enjoying and admiring them. It is wonderful and brave of you to be so open about the ‘prize’ experience.

    Best regards and a pleasure to read you and meet you,

    Vincent Lam

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    • Vincent, thank you for connecting here. One of the very great pleasures of this whole GG experience was meeting the other finalists, including you. I’m guessing you’d have thoughts to share on the prize experience yourself. I hope our paths will cross again.

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  13. I always tell my students: Enjoy the time before you publish, for publishing is quite the most psychosis-inducing activity a writer can engage in. Of course, they never believe me.

    I’ve published a few books now, and been rejected a great deal. I’ve also been short-listed for the Rogers Writer’s Trust Prize and Longlisted for the Giller. The book nominated for the Giller was turned down by, well, pretty much everyone before it was finally published by a small US press and later picked up by a big Canadian house that had previously turned it down. Did I think I’d ever be on a prize list? Well, I hoped, but I also hope I’ll wake up looking like Cate Blanchett one day, so I don’t hold my breath for such things.

    When I didn’t win for the Rogers, and didn’t make the cut for the Giller shortlist, people asked me if I was disappointed. Sure, I was, for a couple of hours. Especially since I was having such a GREAT time. The month I spent on the Giller longlist was a real blast. But to waste any more time being disappointed seemed, well, kind of silly and ungrateful since had I not been longlisted I wouldn’t have been paying any attention to the short list.

    Being mentioned at all brought my book to the attention of many more readers than would otherwise have heard of it, and that made me and my publisher very happy.

    Still, my idea of a living hell is having my emotional equilibrium depend on the opinion of other people, especially people I don’t know. I can ENJOY being nominated, heck I can dance the happy dance, sing from rooftops, bathe in rose petals, but I can’t NEED it.

    We write because we are saner than we do than when we don’t. We write because we can’t not write. If we keep on writing, we are successful.

    You keep writing. You’re doing a lovely job.

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    • Thank you, Lauren. I felt the same — very disappointed, but only briefly, and it’s passed and I can’t access that emotion anymore. If I hadn’t written this post immediately, I think the emotions would have been lost. It reminds me of childbirth, and how quickly the pain vanishes.

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  14. Carrie, I read this with a fist around my heart. My book was nominated last year for the Commonwealth Prize, a finalist for the Danuta Gleed, and I’m still waiting for the results of the Evergreen.

    They’re not the GG. Certainly.

    But I know this sudden swoop and fall, swoop and fall. The win that could change everything. The shortlist that already has, but seems small until much later, when perspective comes.

    Be disappointed. Let yourself be comforted. Absorb what’s happened and understand, tomorrow or a month from now, what an extraordinary accomplishment this still is. Not winning doesn’t take that away. It’s yours.

    Wishing you so much joy,
    Darcie Friesen Hossack

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    • A heartfelt thanks, Darcie. And the same to you.

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  15. Carrie, I can only imagine the roller coaster of emotion you’ve experienced these past few months and of course you are disappointed but don’t feel that you disappointed anyone! You wrote a beautiful book – passage that still haunt me today (the way you write of a mother’s complete exhaustion) – and because of your powerful writing I have been singing your praises to anyone who will listen. Short-lists and prizes definitely garner attention but so does word of mouth. Like one commenter said, many books that have never won accolades rest of people’s shelves for them to turn to and lose themselves in. Your journey has been simply that, a journey. And you’re just getting started!

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    • Thank you for your support, Beth-Anne. I love word of mouth!

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  16. I have to admit something: that when you got nominated, that was the celebration in my mind. Not because I didn’t expect you to win. It’s just that I didn’t really think past that, maybe because it was so huge. So, honestly, I hadn’t thought as far as a victory or a disappointment. To me, you had already won. Lots of love to you. My guess is that the experience of all the emotions you’ve had will only make you a better writer!

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