Yesterday, I pretended to be a commuter: so this is what it would be like, dressing appropriately, brushing one’s hair, and slogging down the highway to the big city. Yesterday, I met with my publisher, the House of Anansi, one of the last free-standing Canadian independent publishing houses. Their office is large and bright and the hallways are lined with–you guessed it–bookshelves. I enjoyed imagining Juliet occupying space beside other Anansi authors like Rawi Hage and Lynn Coady.
Anansi publisher Sarah MacLachlan and publicist Kate McQuaid (yes, I took my camera along too)
The meeting was to discuss publicity plans for The Juliet Stories. Ah, the many stages of making a book. So I wrote a book, so I found a publisher, so it’s going to print. What now? Indeed. What now is publicizing the book’s existence and asking people to read it, and the next few months will find me absorbed in that pursuit. It’s a real change of pace, that’s for sure. And one hopes it will be a positive change of pace, as my book and I head out into the (largely indifferent) world to make connections. The glass-half-empty part of me made me add the paranthetical aside. Yes, that parenthetical voice hangs out in my head, mostly around 3 o’clock in the morning, but I’m working on suppressing her. Except part of me thinks a hairline of cynicism can be useful too; keeps me honest.
My publicist, Kate, says she hopes this stage will be a happy time, a celebration of all the work that’s gone into making the book what it is; the glass-half-full part of me agrees. Here’s the thing: Writers are not generally outgoing extroverts. That’s why we’re good at sitting for many longs hours with only our thoughts for company. Once upon a time, the mere idea of meeting new people overwhelmed me with conversational paralysis. But I’ve got a decade of motherhood under my belt, a decade of meeting a whole lot of new people–and learning how to ask for things on behalf of my kids, how to demand space and attention when needed, how to listen, how to assess situations quickly, how to problem solve on the fly, how to communicate clearly, how to pinpoint the crux of an issue, how to juggle different needs at the same time, how to be okay with not pleasing everyone. It’s been eight years since my first book came out. Eight years. I’m ready to meet and greet and talk and throw a party or two. Thank you parenthood. I think I can handle this.
Out of our meeting emerged a few things I can share with you right away.
News, news, news
**Goodreads is giving away 10 advance reading copies of The Juliet Stories. All you have to do is visit here, and click on “enter to win”; (you probably need to be a Goodreads member too). Please spread the word.
**Also spread the word about the new Facebook page dedicated to all things Juliet. If you are a Facebook user, you can “like” the page and let your friends know about it too. (I always put Facebook “like”s into quotation marks, which basically gives it the opposite meaning, but you know, you’re welcome to actually like the page too).
**If you’re in Toronto, I will be reading at the Harbourfront reading series on March 7.
**News on the local launch party coming soon.
**Oh, yes, another reminder about Thursday night’s launch of Storywell at Whole Lotta Gelata in uptown Waterloo, 7-9. This is a free event for writers, interested writers, editors, etc. I will be there. Being all extroverted and talking to my cup of gelato. Or possibly to you, if you come too.
This week has not been the easiest. We’re halfway through January and already I’m seeing cracks in my new year’s plans. My hip creaks (literally) and I need a training plan that will accomodate returning me to injury-free status (no long runs for a little while? I’m ever so slightly panicked at the thought). I haven’t taken a Sunday photo today. The weekends are proving more packed than anticipated. I sense the dropping of many balls. I’m probably dropping several right now as I sit and type in my dark office instead of heading for the dinner table.
And I’m back. Decided to head for the dinner table when the cries for Mommy grew too strident. They need me at the dinner table. I need to be there too, catching what’s falling, in touch with the many moods.
And there are many moods. Disappointments to walk alongside. Hopes. Plots and plans. Energy that might be silly and outrageous or emptied out and low. Sadness. Grumpiness. Sibling unkindness. Siblings racing around and egging each other into greater and greater goofiness.
Tonight my mind is occupied, too, by tomorrow’s publicity meeting tomorrow with Anansi. I hope to return with good news to share, and good energy to share, too. I’m entering into a new stage of this book’s life, and I have very little control over what happens next: how the book is received. It’s a tough stage for me. How to let go? How to be graciously accepting, no matter what? How not to dwell or muddle or worry or fret? There may not be an easy answer. Sometimes just gutting through is the only answer I’ve got.
I’ve been reading Charles Foran’s biography of Mordecai Richler. It’s a fat book and I’m not even halfway through, but already lines are jumping off the page. I’m deeply intrigued by the portrait of the formative writer–the kid, no more than twenty, who set off to Europe cadging money from any willing family member or friend, working as if possessed, carousing, ambitious. That’s what strikes me most about his formative years, when he was writing frantically and receiving nothing but rejection letters–the sheer volume of his ambition. Of course, in part what he displays is youth. And he had talent even if it was awfully raw at that point in his life. He had luck too. Just before he left Europe to return to Montreal, broke, just twenty-one, he found an agent who admired his potential, and helped him see his way into this life he was demanding for himself.
Charles Foran writes about what might have happened, had Richler not been found and professionally validated; he had a lead on a job at the CBC and in fact worked there briefly writing news copy; but not for long. “By 1952, CBC radio and the new television network were already the destination of choice for those with talent and culture who dared not risk seeing if they could really make a go of it as artists…” [my emphasis]
Guess what Mordecai Richler dared to do?
What elements make up the personality of someone willing, as Foran writes, “to hustle, do what was required. … Henceforth, he would be freelance, his own master and servant. Without security. Without nets.” Brash? Egocentric? Bold? Calculating? Intensely focused? In many ways, it’s not the nicest personality, is it? It can’t really be. You can’t worry about pleasing others, or meeting conventional expectations. It helps not to be apologetic in your approach. Why apologize for being who you are?
(Side question: Does this apply mainly to male artists? Personally, I don’t think so, though traditionally it’s been less acceptable for women to be unapologetic in their ambitions. Now where the heck does motherhood fit into the bold/brash/intensely focused rubric?).
One more thing. Around this same time, Richler wrote to his editor Diana Athill: “Often I think I don’t like or dislike writing, it’s just something I’ve got to do.”
I read those words and felt like something in me had been struck. Yes.
This week has been a flurry. There’s a lot of hustling going on. At various moments during any given day it feels like I’m keeping up; not keeping up; almost keeping up; hanging on by sheer will; taking a tumble; staying with it; losing track; back in the game; organized; overwhelmed. But mostly, okay.
I’m okay because I keep landing on this thought that completely amazes me: I’m doing what I want to do. No, you know, it’s even more amazing than that: I’m doing what I’ve got to do.
Yesterday, a reader commented on my Green Dreams post, which was written about a year and a half ago. This morning, I read that post again and found these words, which feel like a wise reminder from my (slightly) younger self:
I would like to offer my time–because I have it, and I’m grateful for that gift–to living creatively. Anyone who’s ever made anything knows that there is a great deal of invisible work behind what’s created. There is the original vision, changed and altered and made deeper by reflection and time, there is work, there is error and recognition of error, and incorporation of error, too, and there is luck, happenstance, improvisation. There are bursts of production and activity, and lulls of wondering, daydreaming, even doubt. There is sacrifice. You have to figure out if it’s worth it to you–figure out what you’re sacrificing, and why you want to.
Mostly, though, you just do it: you do the work you’ve chosen to do.
Living creatively, improvising, digging in, committing, taking risks, messing up, pausing to reflect, continuing, trying new things and rediscovering the tried and true: that pretty much sums up my life at present–or at least, the life I’m aiming for, every day. Yours, too?
On that note, I’d like to tell you about a few projects I’m currently digging into.
* increasing subscribers to my blog: If you look on the right-hand side of the blog, I’ve got links to a variety of extras, including a new feature that allows you to type in your email address and receive blog posts in your inbox. We’re still tinkering with this (and by “we” I mean my techie friend Nath is troubleshooting for me), but I’d be happy if you signed up. And then please let me know if it’s working for you.
* Storywell: My friend Susan has launched a business aimed at helping people tell their stories: “Whether you are writing for your own family and community, aiming at publication, or needing help in telling your company or organization’s tale, we can help you tell your story well. We offer you a team of professional writers, editors and proofreaders whose goal is to help you develop as a writer.” And guess what? I’m one of the professional writers on her team. Interested, or know someone who might be? Get in touch.
* a new challenge: “Make Carrie’s Book a Bestseller.” Okay it’s a crazy challenge over which I have no real sway. Even publishers don’t know how books make it onto bestseller lists, the compilers of which seem to collect data from a variety of unpredictable sources. But I think it will be fun. Kevin is the brains behind the idea. He created and hosts a flexible web site for his business that can be used by personal trainers as a forum to run challenges. We’re using that forum to create a challenge called: “Help Make Carrie’s Book a Bestseller.” The site is still under construction, but I plan to have it ready to launch in the new year, and you will be invited to join. I only have one hope for my book, and that’s that it will get read. Then it can speak for itself.
* early to rise: This isn’t really a project, it’s just something I want to continue whether or not I’m working toward a particular race (my next one is in March, which still seems too far off to be highly motivating). I like the ethic involved in getting up early. I like that it’s not easy. It’s not easy, but it’s ALWAYS rewarding. This morning, my internal alarm woke me up for yoga. I’d planned to sleep instead, but when my eyes saw 5:48 on the clock, I recognized that it was a little gift, and I accepted it. Few of my evenings are free. My only guaranteed alone time is in the early morning hours. I’ve never been a morning person and even now do not consider myself one; but that doesn’t mean I can’t rise early and move my body and stride confidently into the day.
(Just realized that this looks like an early New Year’s resolution list. It’s not meant to be. I’m very ho-hum on resolutions. I prefer big picture overviews of the past year combined with swooping excitement and energy beamed at the year ahead. Every year on the eve of my birthday–which is Dec. 29th–I write just such an overview in my journal, by hand. Very old-school. Very satisfying.)
… still buzzing after meeting all of the Anansi staff at their sales rep party in Toronto last night. I was so nervous. So nervous! I put on mascara while Fooey writhed on the floor and screamed in her bossiest voice, “You will not be going to this meeting tonight! They can do the meeting tomorrow! You are not going!” It brought me closer to the reality that, for my little kids at least, this Mommy’s publishing a book thing is a major inconvenience; they really can’t understand what it means to me. Mommy’s publishing a book and she’s not tucking me in tonight! Not: Mommy’s publishing a book, yay for Mommy! I set supper on the table, set the table, and as soon as Kevin walked through the door, peeled two desperately clingy children off my legs and made a run for it.
Then I had a pleasant (not) leisurely (not) drive down the 401. The traffic! Plus, the closer I got to my destination, the more nervous I got. I got so nervous I was having to remind myself to breathe. It’s been awhile since I’ve schmoozed. Thankfully, as soon as I walked through the door, I was in good hands. My former boss from, oh, a decade or more ago, is married to Anansi’s publisher. I think he knew I was nervous. I kind of had the same expression on my face that I had at the beginning of the marathon (but with better hair and a nicer outfit). He got me a glass of wine and took me outside to meet his dogs, and I was soon feeling much better. Just like reaching the 10km mark. Before I knew it, I was cruising.
And I got to meet everybody! I mean, all of these people who have been working with me from afar (not so very afar, but far enough that we’ve never met in person). I got to meet them! I met my editor! It was like meeting an old friend, except I had imagined her looking just a little bit different. I’d imagined everyone differently, come to think of it. Everyone looks different over email and the telephone. It was like meeting the people behind your favourite radio voices. Without even knowing it, you construct these imaginary faces.
Anyway, by 34km or so, I was one happy writer. I’d been fed a lovely dinner. My sister’s red shoes looked great (thanks again, Edna!). Best of all, I wasn’t schmoozing, I was just getting to know people. Hey, I like people! And come to think of it, I like talking too! Not so nerve-wracking after all.
At the end of the evening, I mentioned that I was kicking around for a new challenge this coming year–thinking of a running challenge or something like the 365-day photo challenge–and Sarah, Anansi’s publisher, said (and I paraphrase): “How about publishing your book!? Forget the other challenges. This will be plenty. This year, you’ll launch a book!”
I like that. I might have to go with that.
(Oh, and I got up early for spin class this morning and I was still buzzing … still am … floating on an evening out of the every day.)
(And, no, that photo does not relate. It’s just a purty picture of some berries in the snow in front of our house.)
This is what my book looks like!!!!!! (Insert full paragraph of exclamation points.)
You can even pre-order it!!!
But this is what it looks like!
(And, no, I don’t know who the girl is, though she does look weirdly like my own AppleApple. The publisher designed the cover, not me.)
This was not the post I began writing this morning. That post started like this:
“Long week. General gloom. Set alarm, rose early. Glad for that.
Snow falling. Cough cough cough from my constant companion.”
And went on in the same vein. Which is true enough. But I’m glad the cover popped into my inbox and interrupted my cranky, restless mind with a splash of colour. And, oh, that dreaming girl. I’d like to just go be her for a little while.
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