It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged on a writing day. But I have a feeling today is going to be a good day. Here’s why: the manuscript is ready to send, save for a few crossing of t’s and dotting of i’s, and my editor has given me the green light to send it to her. In the months that it’s sat quietly waiting, I’ve had the chance to polish some stories, and decided in a fit of dissatisfaction last week to completely rewrite one, which seemed weak and undone–the notes to a story rather than a completed story. I didn’t want my editor to read it as it was. I knew it could be better.
Last week, I picked and picked at it, with discouraging results. At some point, probably during a yoga class, it occurred to me that the story contained too many disparate elements, and specifically, too many narrative threads that didn’t cohere. Of course, I was quite attached to a couple of those threads, which is why they were still in the story (it’s funny how that works; I actually recognize the problem, but am attached to it, and defend it until it becomes glaringly, arrestingly, hideously clear that it’s indefensible, and we must part ways; I soothe myself by thinking, hey, never know when this might become useful some other time, some other place, some other story). So I scrapped a lot. And suddenly–it was suddenly–on Monday afternoon, as the clock ticked down toward babysitter-going-home-time, my brain jumped tracks and my fingers leapt across the keyboard, and I closed my eyes and typed. The story finished itself. This does actually happen; it isn’t a writing myth. I would never have been able to plot this story and its ending out in advance. I had to wait and wait and tough it out and hang around and attend with patience and hope to receive what arrived, at last, like a gift.
I’ve been thinking about the image created ever since. It comforts me in my mind’s eye. I will tell you what it is: the empty cellar of a burned-down house, overgrown and abandoned and forgotten, and in the centre of the cellar is a box, perfectly placed, left to the elements. Do you want to know what’s in the box? Well, I’m not going to tell.
With some more work done on Wednesday, and the finishing polishes today (hello, my friend Spellcheck), I will send The Juliet Stories away with a light heart. There is more work to be done, of course, because there always is. But I have gotten the manuscript to the precipice, to the furthest corner of the earth that I can currently carry it. And I will be happy to set it down and rest apart from it for awhile, til a new map arrives to show me a way to get even further, even deeper into territory I can’t yet imagine.
I love this process.
In other news, I received a package yesterday and it had a book in it–not mine, though my name was on the back, beneath a short review I’d written of the book itself. I will tell you more about this book when it becomes available in stores next month. It’s called Up, Up, Up, and it’s a book of stories by a first-time writer (whom I do not know, but look forward to meeting someday; the CanLit world is a teeny-tiny world).
I wonder what picture I create–of my life, and of my character–here in Blogland, and whether it relates, even somewhat accurately, to reality. I don’t mean that I deliberately attempt to misrepresent myself, only that I often blog about best intentions, questions, hopes and plans, and forget to follow up with the hey-here’s-what-happened-with-that post.
So here’s what happened with a few things …
1. Kids playing outside, alone.
The most wonderful thing happened this weekend: two boys from Albus’s grade, twins who live up the street, spontaneously appeared on our front porch, dressed in winter garb and throwing snowballs, to invite Albus to play with them! Seriously! No parents were involved (though we did give Albus permission to go). Off the three of them went, tumbling like puppy dogs, to have a snowball fight. And the twins came back again yesterday, and Albus spent about three hours playing outside with them, all over the neighbourhood, all on their own. I am thrilled. And I had not a moment’s pang about his independence and freedom to wander. I think this has to do with several factors: he’s old enough, and he’s not alone, but with friends.
2. The book. The publisher.
Okay, I’ve been wanting to make a formal announcement for awhile, but the truth is that no moment ever feels quite momentous enough, and in any case the good news has leaked out in dribs and drabs and you probably already know what I’m going to say. But just in case … I signed a contract with a publisher! The publisher is the wonderful, independent, Canadian House of Anansi Press
. (Please visit them, and pick up some of their books for Christmas gifts, which you can get directly from them for 30% off. Yes, I am shilling on their behalf; but only because I think the books are that good
. Offhand, for grownups, I would recommend: Far to Go, by Alison Pick; Annabel, by Kathleen Winter; February, by Lisa Moore. Their children’s imprint is Groundwood
, which publishes the Sam and Stella books, by Marie-Louise Gay, and the classic Zoom, by Tim Wynne-Jones, illustrated by Eric Beddows. Good, good, good.)
The tentative pub date may sound like a long way off to anyone not involved in writing and publishing books, but sounds plenty soon to me: Fall, 2012.
I’ve been working with Anansi’s editor, Melanie Little, for several months now, and if you spot me mumbling to myself on the walk to school, or looking particularly grumpy/lost/absent, please be kind. The transition between writing time and mama-time is not always smooth, especially if I’ve had to leave a story unfinished (which is most days). Don’t take offense, run in the opposite direction, or report me to the authorities, please. Really, I want you to approach and talk to me. Throw me a lifejacket. Pull me out.
I am thankful for yoga, which gives me time to empty my mind so that it can be filled anew. I am thankful for a recent writing week, which yielded another story and a half, and solid new ideas to boot. I am thankful to Kevin for doing more dishes and cooking more suppers than he did even a few months ago. I am thankful for an excellent nursery school, public school, and babysitter. And I am most thankful to have a publisher’s support backing this work. I won’t say it’s erased all anxieties or doubts, but it’s a true gift to know others are out there, rooting for this book, and doing their best to make it all that it can be.
3. Green dreams. Confessions.
People, I am dreaming green and living grey. I drive my kids to swim lessons (yes, it is walking distance). On a rotten weather day last week, I drove to pick up the kids from school. I had no excuse except convenience and comfort. And I keep using the drier! (There continue to be lice outbreaks at school, but still …). Last Wednesday, while Albus was at piano lessons, I lost my mind at the grocery store (at least I’d walked there), and in a sleep-deprived haze grabbed off the shelves several boxes of snacks and treats. Packaged up in plastic and cardboard. With ingredients I can’t pronounce. Better versions of which I could have made at home. There. I won’t go on. Just know that my intentions are good, but they are not good enough.
4. Is there anything else?
Probably. But that’s all for now. I am inches from finishing a Really Good Story. I’ll let you know how it turns out … or will I?
I will be reading at The Word on the Street in Kitchener’s Victoria Park, Suday afternoon at 1:30, with The New Quarterly team. Look for us in the “Kitchener Radio Group Spotlight Tent.” There are loads of other tents, and readings, and books, and storytellers, and kids’ programming, so here’s hoping for good weather, and lots of friendly faces out and about.
Um, yes, the photo is an unrelated indulgence.Whee!
Publishing alert: my latest published piece is in The New Quarterly’s Extra!, which can be purchased online, or will be included as an added bonus if you choose to subscribe to this wonderful Canadian literary journal (and, please, do subscribe if you don’t already; you will savour the lively mix of fiction, poetry, and essays; and the chance to get acquainted with new and rising writers).
Note that my contribution is a personal essay, not a work of fiction, though the further I get from having written it, the more I wonder … does it really lie somewhere in between, and how the heck can I know?
I will also take this opportunity to let you know that I’ll be reading at Kitchener’s Word on the Street, which takes place in Victoria Park, Sunday, Sept. 26. The time has yet to be pinned down precisely, but it will be sometime during the afternoon. More info forthcoming.
It’s been a good summer, a fast summer, a hot summer that felt like a summer. I’ve ticked most items off of my “summer to-do list.” I’ve canned enough tomatoes to last us through winter (I think), and have filled one whole freezer with fruit and veggies and herbs, too. This morning, I dumped the water out of my canner and put it back into the basement. I’m all out of jars, and my pantry shelves are full. And my mom has promised to can peaches for us, so what more will we need? Yesterday’s canning session took all morning, but it wasn’t hard: one last 1/2 bushel of tomatoes, whose beautiful red flesh I’m looking at right now, glassed in on my countertop.
I fully intended for this week to be about letting the kids enjoy what’s left of their holiday and that’s what it’s been (I hope they’ll concur): sleepovers, playdates, and yes, computer playing. We’ve biked to afternoon swim lessons; we’ve been on one evening picnic; we’ve bought shoes, had eye check-ups and gelato, and we’ve shopped for school supplies at Shoppers Drugmart. Actually, that spree coincided with a moment in my life which I may never forget. The kids were mile-a-minute enthusiastically comparing bandages (Barbie? Star Wars? Pooh Bear?) in the first-aid aisle when I got a call from my agent. It was the kind of call for which every writer quietly waits. She said, Have I caught you at a good time? I said, I’m standing in Shoppers with my kids. She said, check your email when you get home.
I’m struggling with how best to share this news, because it’s tenuous in-between news, neither signed, sealed nor delivered; on the other hand, anyone reading this blog has suffered through the dregs of naval-gazing and self-doubt, and it seems more than fitting to share with you the flip side of the equation–the moments of affirmation. I found myself weeping–not in Shoppers, but later, when I’d had a chance to let the news sink in, yet while it was still fresh and utterly thrilling and overwhelming. Why are you crying, Mommy? Because I’m so happy! (Apparently, that’s how I do happy; it ain’t pretty).
My agent was calling to tell me that I have offers on my Nicaragua book; though the offers didn’t quite arrive in a lump, they came close, in the feast or famine style that is a writer’s fate. Wow. I almost can’t type those words out or trust in them. Might it all evaporate if I look at it too closely, or wave it around too excitedly?
Because it is now the long weekend, I have several completely quiet days to think and to imagine. My agent, who has been with me and with this book for the years that I’ve committed to it, said she wished for me to relax and just enjoy the moment for what it is. Savour it. She, like my husband, gets an inside view of my efforts, hopes and ambitions, and I hear what she’s saying: This is where you are, right now. It took a lot of work to get here. There’s a lot of work ahead. This is one of those rare peaks along the climb, an opportunity, if I let myself take it, to stop for a moment and breathe in the view.