Category: The Juliet Stories

What I’ve been up to …

photographing the photographer
What a weird and wonderful week it’s been. I am positively bubbling with creative energy. And, right about now, caffeine. Which might explain the rapid-fire typing you’re hearing.

Yesterday had a stinker of a start. Well, not the very early start, which was spin class, and which, though I never quite got into it, still kicked off the day with a rush of happy endorphins. But then I got home. And discovered that CJ was refusing to go to nursery school, again. And you know, he’s been sick, so I wasn’t sure. Maybe he was still a bit off? Okay, kid. I’ll give you another day. Even though that means cancelling my morning plan to go record a song at my brother’s studio. Fine. Except it wasn’t fine, and I wasn’t fine, and I had to go to the basement and throw laundry into the washer and yell things and slam the door and perform other unpleasant and completely immature venting activities. It put a pall on the general everyone-heading-off-to-school-and-work part of the morning. I have a rotten temper.

It’s all about the expectations. I’d expected and planned to do one thing, and when plans suddenly shifted, I was disappointed. And frustrated. And facing another housebound day with a less than willing spirit.

But I came around, in a moping sort of way, to acceptance, and went on with the changed plans. When suddenly the phone rang–it was Kevin. His morning appointment had to be rescheduled. “I’ll come home and look after CJ, and you can go and record.” “Seriously?” “Seriously.” Well, off I went, let me tell you.

Proof that a stinker of a start doesn’t mean the whole is ruined. Remember this. Remember, and leap for the unexpected opportunities that parachute into your hours.

Why didn’t I take my camera? My brother’s new studio is filled with light. It’s an old Mennonite schoolhouse, one big room, and I sat right down at the piano to get loosened up. And then we recorded. Just one simple song, a lullaby. I wrote it for a character in Juliet. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wrote it as my character. Because my brother Karl is such an amazing and talented producer, as well as a musician, I know we’re going to have a beautiful song at the end of the process. It’s exciting. And I found myself up late last night perfecting more songs as my character. It’s weird, but I can write songs as her better than as me. Maybe it gives me the distance necessary to be vulnerable, to allow myself to tap uncritically into emotions and even a particular style that I can ascribe to her. Maybe it’s like writing a poem in a persona. I won’t question it. It’s working.

This morning, I surfed the creative wave toward a different shore. It helped that CJ trotted merrily off to nursery school–unquestionably healthy again. PRAISE BE. This morning, my friend Nancy arrived with coffee to share, and her camera. She is working on a new project that she calls “ipowr,” or “Intriguing People of Waterloo Region,” and she chose me as her first subject to interview and to photograph. I couldn’t resist photographing her too, plus it put me at ease to stand behind the lens. A nice way to warm up, perhaps for both of us. Less pressure. The photo above makes me think of a villa, a place both stark and soft, and somehow old-fashioned. The crop doesn’t quite do it justice. You can see the original here.

And so that is my yesterday and my today. I am basking in creative activities that would seem outside of my comfort zone. But neither feel like a stretch. Instead, both are extensions of what I’m already doing. And I’m brimming with appreciation for this quiet time between major projects, when I can do and try anything.

The world is full of beauty and light.
I am teetering on the brink of over-caffeination.
It’s all good.

Right now I am …

… 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.)

What’s blue and red and makes you wonder: who’s that girl?

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.)

Dreamy, dreamy.

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.

Proofing the page: reading Juliet

I am thinking about perfection. I happily admit to being a perfectionist. Not about everything, mind you. But when it comes to writing — and writing fiction, particularly — I obsess. I consider myself a technician, deeply interested in grammatical construction and the very tiniest of word choices. You would not believe how long I can suffer over the inclusion or removal of a “the.”

But as I read these page proofs, I’m starting to question my obsession with perfection. I mean, for me it’s the way I do it and I’m not likely to change what’s working. But I’m seeing that it may not be that important in the end. In the end, a story, a whole book, it works because it leaves the reader with an impression, an emotional impression, something intangible that exists because it exists. Not because a “the” was removed. I’m not speaking against a careful craft, please understand.

I am speaking against perfection.

Sometimes, the imperfection of my creations bothers me. I’ve worked so hard and yet I know here and there is a paragraph too many or a flabby word choice that I cannot budge. But when I let myself sink into what I’ve made and forget about how it could or should be perfected, I am moved by what is being offered. To do this requires me to place a layer of distance between myself and my words, almost to read as if I were someone else.

When I consider my favourite books by other people, none are perfect — and I couldn’t care less. It’s how they make me feel when I read them that matters. It’s that they make me feel. They catch me off guard. They push me. Or they lift me. And though these books almost all display technical accomplishment, it is not for their technical accomplishments that I love them. I love them for existing.

That is the kind of book I hope to write; I hope to have written. Imperfect. With feeling.

I am loving this quiet week in my office, reading words on the page that I’ve written, gathered into a whole. I am loving being pulled right through the book from beginning to end and understanding its wholeness differently, in a new way. This feels like a special and unusual experience. I don’t expect to have it again anytime soon. I am savouring it.

:::

P.S. The photo is a detail of a photo that depicts me posing in costume to look like a very old family photograph of my Great-Grandma Carrie Anne, my namesake. (A little more about Carrie Anne here.) The photo was taken for a photo project by Ilia Horsburgh.

“You’re always grumpy in the morning, Mom”

What to do, what to do?

What do you do when you’re feeling less than inspired?

This morning was my “sleeping-in” morning; naturally Kevin decided he’d get up early and spend about five minutes rustling around in the dark looking for his clothes. I stayed in bed until 7:15 but shouldn’t have bothered. It’s not like it made me happier. Downstairs, AppleApple greeted me with beautifully brushed hair and a packed schoolbag: “You’re always grumpy in the morning, Mom, so I decided to try to have everything ready to go, so you wouldn’t be so grumpy.”

Gee, thanks, kid. A hint: don’t tell your mother she’s grumpy if you’re trying to lift her from her grumpiness.

Truth is, it’s probably more anxiety than grumpiness. Is it the lack of light? General Novemberishness? The sudden onset of Christmas? Whatever it is, this is not my best time of year; never is. As the light recedes, I’m dark with indecision.

**What thoughtful and possibly homemade gifts can I devise to spread cheer and joy this season? Can I find stress-free ways to fulfill our family’s seasonal rituals and traditions and meet everyone’s expectations?
**Should I skip supper and try out that running club tonight? How can I fit a club’s schedule into my own? Maybe that’s why there are no women my age at running club — maybe we’re all at home eating supper with our families and trying to keep a finger on the pulse of each kid’s well-being.
**What the heck book am I writing right now? I keep finding characters and abandoning them: sorry, don’t want to spend the next six years with you.

I’m thinking in massive chunks rather than manageable morsels. I’m thinking an entire book rather than a page or two.

Know what I mean?

As if every tiny individual choice has to fit into a larger whole, has to be a stone in this solid structure I’m building, this thing called Life. And if I go off piling stones in the wrong place, the whole thing is going to be ruined. Hm. Office as metaphor: Remember how the windows were the wrong size? How upset I felt? And how unexpectedly easy they were to change? It took some work, for sure, but it wasn’t impossible or disastrous, and ultimately only cost a day’s labour.

So what to do?

Today, I’ve set myself a small task. I am writing a song for a character in The Juliet Stories. She’d probably write a much better song herself, but that’s okay. My brother Karl has a new recording studio and when the song is ready, I can go and record it, which is pretty cool. It doesn’t add up to anything particular. It doesn’t fit anywhere else. It doesn’t answer a single question. It’s just something I want to do.

It’s just a little pile of stones I’m making in the middle of a field I happen to be passing through.

How much do you care about a question mark (?)

Ah, the best laid plans. I am sitting at my desk and working, and sat and worked most of yesterday too, but I’m not writing reams of words into a new book; instead I’m going over the final copy edits for The Juliet Stories, which arrived on Wednesday afternoon. I was almost afraid to open the file. When Hair Hat was being published, lo these many years ago, I enjoyed every stage of the editing process … right up until we got to the copy editing. Suddenly, I disagreed with the editor, and strongly. You’ll remember that my one real job was at a newspaper where I worked my way up to being a copy editor. So I was feeling pretty confident that I’d turned in a clean manuscript to my publisher.

But the copy editor didn’t think so.

And, listen, she was right and I was right. We were both right. The copy editor’s job is to use a fine-toothed comb and to insist on grammatical correctness and stylistic consistency, by which I mean adherence to the style guide used by the publisher, and not style as in stylish. And that was where we disagreed. I wrote Hair Hat in a deliberately flat and uninflected (stylish) style. I didn’t even use question marks. I wanted the reader to arrive at conclusions without being dragged there by me, the author. The copy editor wanted all questions to end with a question mark.

I just couldn’t do it. It sounds ridiculous to get upset over punctuation, but by God, I just could not compromise. And it pained me. I like to make people happy (even more so at the time than I do now.)

So when the copy edits landed on Wednesday afternoon accompanied by a long message from my editor explaining the process, I went all fear and trembling. It’s been a fabulous editing process up until now. Would the copy edits do me in? Well, I’m only about halfway through them now, but the answer so far has been a gentle, no. These copy edits will not do me in. Am I a more relaxed person, now, than I was before? Is my (stylish) style in The Juliet Stories more compatible with traditional grammar? Or have I just accepted that some disagreement will be part of the process, and conflict doesn’t upset my stomach in the same way that it once did?

I have to go with door number three. I’m still a pretty finicky person. I can get very excited over a semi-colon, let me tell you. And my (stylish) style in The Juliet Stories, though different from Hair Hat, is unique, and sometimes idiomatic rather than grammatically correct. I don’t always agree with what the copy editor has suggested, but I’m okay with that; we don’t have to agree about everything, and I get that this time around. She’s done a bang-up job on this book. The fact checking is amazing. And I’m taking notes on her highly effective use of italics.

I’m back at it again today. Thankfully without dread.

Where does that leave my ambitions for a November writing month? I’m sticking with the original plan, just pushing the start date back by a few days. The copy edits are due back at the publisher on Tuesday morning. The amazing thing is that the builders say my new office will be DONE by Wednesday. In some strange confluence of otherwise unconnected endings and beginnings, that means that I will start my new book in my new office, having dotted all i’s and crossed all t’s on this one.

It’s too much to think about. So I’m off to think about italics instead.

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