Category: Good News

The Juicy Jelly Worm

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And, suddenly, the world is green again.

I’ve got news: I haven’t signed on the dotted line, but my agent tells me the deal is done, and promises that I won’t be jinxing myself by making an announcement.

Deep breath, here goes: I’m going to be a children’s author!

I’ve read a few children’s books over the years. In fact, I’ve done the math and figure that I’ve read at least 7,665 picture books since embarking on motherhood nearly twelve years ago, although I have to wonder how many of those constituted multiple reads. You know, the favourites that got “lost” because the loving parent couldn’t bear even one more read? I also wonder whether there are even that many pictures books at the library? Numbers are not my forte.

Anyway, it’s been an education. And I know what I like. So I wrote a book for children.

The title is The Juicy Jelly Worm.

I was helped along the way by brainstorming with my kids (but of course!). I riffed on plot ideas. I wanted to make them laugh. And in the end, I wrote text that has no moral to the story (gasp!). None. The book is purely for fun. It’s approximately 700 words in length. The publisher, OwlKids, will find an illustrator to bring the story to life, and really, as a neophyte children’s author, I don’t know how the process will unfold, other than it appears to be underway.

A few more details: OwlKids is known here in Canada for publishing the popular kids’ magazines Chirp, Chickadee, and Owl (our household subscribes to all three). And the tentative pub date is 2015.

So there you have it: The Juicy Jelly Worm, coming to a library/bookstore near you, a few years from now.

Meanwhile, I present to you Spring. Appearing right here, right now!
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{this captioned moment}

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{This photo hints at how difficult it is to capture my emotions, to see myself clearly, in a week that has included: a challenging 25km trail race; an early Thanksgiving dinner with family; witnessing The Juliet Stories becoming a GG finalist; many interviews during which it was not me holding the recorder and taking notes; a celebratory reading; lunch out with Kevin (rare); a dear friend’s birthday party and morning coffee with more friends; an inbox full of greetings from friends near and far; prepping to host family for Thanksgiving; and the every day domestic work of cooking, dishes, laundry, groceries, school schedules, bedtime reading, hugs and kisses and soccer and swimming and ordinary life.

I’m here, in the midst of this wonderfulness. Feeling at once stronger and more centred than I’d imagined; and unexpectedly vulnerable, open to tears and laughter and big emotions. Open to putting my foot in my mouth. Open to stumbling (or, more accurately, stumbling no matter how much I want not to).

I am failing to caption this moment. Am I supposed to admit this? That life is too sprawling and complex and amazing and heartbreaking and mundane and fabulous to be captured in the words I spell out, with hope that I’ll transcend my limitations? Knowing I can’t? Knowing I’m going to keep trying, imperfectly, for as long as I can find words?}

A miscellany for your reading pleasure: balloon animals, soccer tips, anecdotes, and beyond

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balloon-dog, by AppleApple*

*Yes, she made her own balloon-dog. She looked up instructions on the internet. When she explained the twisting technique to me, my brain malfunctioned. That is because, when it comes to engineering of any practical sort, I am the opposite of gifted. She’s thinking she could sell balloon animals this summer at street parties; we weren’t convinced the yard sale approach would work for such a specific product. 

:::

Here’s what I’ve learned at soccer, so far. This is purely skills-related. Skip over this section if you’re not remotely interested in playing the game of soccer.

First game: I learned to touch the ball.

Second game: I learned that I was fast. And that this is handy, if you like touching the ball.

Third game: I learned that a pass into the net is as good as a hard shot; likely better. Perhaps not coincidentally, I also learned how to kick the ball without injuring myself.

Fourth game: I learned to run with the ball by kicking it in front of me rather than trying to dribble it at my foot. I also learned how to do a throw-in. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way–during game play, by doing it wrong the first time.

Fifth game: I learned that when heading for the net, I need to turn in toward the middle a lot sooner. Unfortunately, in this lesson I’ve only gotten as far as realizing that I must be doing something wrong. I get the ball, start running up the wing, and then (mostly) lose it because I come up against a defender. Kevin tells me I shouldn’t really be coming up against a defender, but should be making my decision earlier either to turn or to pass.

Maybe in the sixth game I will learn to keep my head up?

:::

While speaking of learning things, here’s an anecdote to make you feel better about yourself.

Yesterday I was at the bank to make a simple deposit, and found myself waiting for ten minutes in a line-up of one (me), while one teller served one client, and several other teller-types walked briskly around in the background avoiding catching my eye, as if to say, I’m much too busy to open up another window here. Is a ten minute wait long enough to start getting truly impatient? Because I was truly getting impatient. In fact, steam was coming out of my ears.

When finally I handed over my cheques for deposit, a transaction that look less than a minute to complete, the teller thanked me for my patience. It felt farcical, like I was part of a reverse psychology experiment. I almost replied, “It would be much more accurate to thank me for my impatience because it’s clear I’ve got none of that other stuff, and you know it as well as I do!”

Oh my goodness, I am not a patient person. It’s the main reason I swear so much while driving. All that time wasted, endless inefficiencies, and being at the mercy of systems not of my own creation.

My goal is to find something good in every situation, to waste nothing, by which I mean to find in any situation something redeeming: educational or funny or comforting or amusingly distracting or morally relevant; but I sure enough wasted those ten minutes at the bank, seething with irritation. What do you think I should have done to salvage the situation?

:::

One more miscellaneous item, relevant today-only, and only if you live in the greater Toronto area. If you pick up today’s Toronto Star, you’ll find a special section on Canada Day, with a bunch of stories and a few photos by me! I’m especially pleased about the photos, though this job has spurred me to make a few minor (and thankfully inexpensive) improvements to my current photo-processing and -storing capacity. I would like to add Photographer to my toolkit of marketable skills, and this is an excellent start.

I see myself as a workmanlike photographer rather than an artistically-skilled one. But I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and that there’s a place for it.

It fits in with my philosophy that there’s a place for all kinds of writing, too; I aspire to be able to work across the genres. I think anyone who writes serious literary fiction should damn well be able to write light-hearted party-planning pieces, and snappy headlines, and generally entertaining well-constructed articles on most any topic imaginable, assuming there’s time to do proper research. These take technical skill, as much as anything else. I also believe that writing across the genres will make me a better literary writer. (My only caution would be: don’t get stuck in a rut, and don’t write the same thing over and over; write widely, if possible.)

And that concludes my On Being a Writer 101 lecture for today.

News plus nostalgia

fake front page from Dec. 8, 2000
fake front page from December 8, 2000

All this week, I am guest editing the Afterword, which is the National Post newspaper’s absolutely terrific book blog. Since my first real job was at the National Post in their books section (oh, more than a decade ago now; pre-children and post-grad school), the current books editor, Mark Medley, suggested I write about my time there. Which got me all nostalgic, I must confess. And that is the subject of today’s post on the Afterword. More of my posts, on other subjects, will follow throughout the week.

A word on the photo above. When I left the National Post, colleagues in the section surprised me by putting together a fake front page with stories written by them especially to mark the occasion. It was one of the sweetest gifts I’ve ever received, and of course I framed it to keep forever. Below, a close-up. This photo was taken at a Post party, and it’s what I looked like in the fall of 2000. I was in fact pregnant with my first baby, though you can’t tell (and yes that is a non-alcoholic beverage in my hand). I just look at this photo and think: so young. (Also: why the turtleneck, young sexy Carrie? Why?)

I look at this photo and it makes me happy.
once upon a time

“A very spirited Juliet”

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this morning’s paper

Kevin and I slept in this morning. Indoor soccer season *at 8am for six-year-olds! is finally over. We must have been tired.

When we finally dragged ourselves out of bed, I picked up my phone to check messages. Here is the first one I saw: “Congratulations on your Globe review, Carrie. You’re probably going to want to read this one.”

Without saying a word, I beelined for the porch, retrieved today’s Globe & Mail, flipped through to the Arts section, and to Books. And found my own self-portrait, which my brother tells me has a Zoolander flavour to it (nooooo!). I also found a really solid review of The Juliet Stories. Exhale.

And then Fooey came to see. “I found your name, Mommy!” She tried to sound out the headline: “sp, sp, sp …” And then Albus asked if he could have the section. It has the funnies in it.

At dinner the other night one of the other writers with whom I was reading said a good review is like a sugar rush. This feels like a caffeine high. I’m not sure it’s quite healthy. Don’t get me wrong, I am not arguing in favour of bad reviews, not at all. It’s that attention of any kind has an unpredictable effect on the human spirit. It’s a dangerous flirtation. This may be my Mennonite roots showing. Guarding against vanity; humility of spirit.

But this is a good and happy and out-of-the-ordinary moment in my life.

So on behalf of all Obscure CanLit Mamas out there, I embrace this unsettling rush, with deep appreciation for a continuing dream. My feet are off the ground — one flash-frozen stride in a long journey.

Declaring a mental health day

our house
I quietly declared yesterday a mental health day. And so I did not blog. Not that blogging negatively affects my mental health. It’s just that it’s one of the many things I try to do every day. And yesterday, it felt like there were perhaps already too many things on the must-do list and that I should therefore ease back, breathe, take a long nap.

And then the power went out. For hours and hours.

CJ ran around the house trying every light switch and reporting back. “Not even the cold cellar, Mommy!” “Not even in my room!” Meanwhile, I cooked supper in an eerily quiet kitchen over the blue gas flame. Partially cooked, would be more accurate. I’d started preparing it rather late, and planned to warm ingredients in the crockpot, leave everything simmering on the counter, and race back home to eat in between piano lessons and “Performing Arts Night” at the kids’ school (see: already enough things to do). I was sauteeing onions when everything but the stove stopped. This is one of those situations when it is extremely handy to work from home. Dump still-frozen ingredients from crockpot to stove. Thaw. Beats arriving home to a chilly house and an unfinished supper waiting on the counter.

Mental health day really only lasted an hour. But it was a good hour. I napped peacefully while CJ watched a movie. He had minor surgery yesterday morning (and it was very minor, no worries), so I kept him home from nursery school. Sleep is good. So good. And it is something I’ve found lacking post-launch-party. Something about coming down off the mountain. Too much oxygen down here. The clutter of the every day. The feeble human mind whirling as it tries to absorb all the good stuff and keep it–and exhausting itself in the process.

After a truly restorative nap, it was back to work. More movies for CJ. Plus some playtime on my office floor. I find myself fearing that what my children will remember of this time in our lives is their mother saying in a voice tinged with the frantic: “Just a minute, please, I’m trying to finish some work!” Or: “Wait, wait, wait, I just have to get this work done!” Or: “Mommy’s working, can’t you get a glass of water yourself?”

You know, that’s not the worst thing ever, come to think of it. A little water-fetching independence never hurt anybody.

This morning the girls were wondering when I might start baking again. It’s true. I bake bread on the weekends, but my cookie and treat-baking has fallen right off the map. Fooey was browsing longingly through a kids’ cookbook from which we used to like to bake banana muffins — together. And I looked at the girls, sitting side by side at the breakfast counter, and I said, “Hey, you’re big enough to try baking together!” “Really? Can we?” “Of course!” (If they’re big enough, I should be big enough, too: to let them learn by trial and error; ie. make a mess, and possibly bake something inedible.)

I’m not going to declare today a mental health day. Nap: check. Power: check. Blog: check. Kids safely to school: check. Supper planned: check. Early morning exercise: check. Discovery of a new blog (by me!) up at the amazing Canadian literary hub The 49th Shelf. The house is quiet. It’s not even 10am. And I’ve got messages like this waiting for me in my inbox:

“I finished reading The Juliet Stories this afternoon. That ending!!!—I’ve read it over and over.”

and this: “My 90 year old mom finished your book. She said something to the effect that you “have an absolutely incredible way with words”.”

and this: “Just wanted to tell you how much I’m enjoying Juliet. In fact, it’s hard to put down! It’s a gorgeous book.”

(If any of you are moved to write such kind words to me, please also consider taking time to let Amazon and Chapters know how you feel too. You don’t have to buy the book from them, but as Tuesday’s post explains, personal reviews and good ratings move the book higher in the rankings.)

Okay, now it is 10am. What am I going to do with my one precious life today? And you, what are you going to do?

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