Category: The Juliet Stories

Ode to Cheesies

Ever feel like you’re just not into the domestic necessities? I can usually find some smidgen to enjoy in some portion of the daily chores that Must Be Done. But not right now.

Right now, due to soccer-all-the-time, I am washing dishes in a grumpy stupor after 9pm. “Remember when I got to wash dishes right after supper while listening to ‘As It Happens’?” I said to Kevin last night, who was also in the kitchen, putting together lunches for school. “Who knew that was such a treat?”

And hanging laundry–an often peaceful activity, a moment of quiet in a noisy day–right now, feels like a relentless intrusion on my time. There’s so much of it and so many stages to the doing of it: gathering, washing, carrying the basket up and down stairs, hanging inside or outside, gathering, folding. The only thing I refuse to do is to put away the stacks of clothes neatly piled and arranged from youngest to oldest, on my bed. C’mon. It’s the least they can do.

Even cooking is not drawing me these days. I haven’t baked bread in over a week. I’ve been stocking up at the half-off shelf at our nearest grocery store (and because our grocery store is frequented by a lot of students, the half-off bread is usually the best they sell: multi-grain or spelt or Red Fife wheat).

I haven’t baked a cookie, square, or cake in ages. I offered my two youngest a half-bag of cheesies to snack on while we sat waiting in the hallway for AppleApple to be done her final piano lesson. I’d assumed we’d be alone, because the music school is pretty much shut down, but of course there was a mother across from us, watching my offspring coat themselves in sticky orange powder. I pretended no shame.

Maybe I wasn’t even pretending, come to think of it.

I am consumed, right now, by two major projects. One is the triathlon, which will happen next weekend (not this one). I am training heavily, and it is eating a great deal of my time, mentally and physically. What I’ll do after it is over, I just cannot fathom. I can’t really think that far. I love the early mornings, but they take a toll. I would like to get together with friends and enjoy a drink of an evening, again, for example. But meantime, I am aimed like an arrow at a target, with a focus I just can’t turn off.

My other major target, on which I feel just as significantly and undistractedly aimed, is my Juliet Stories, several of which I am reworking in quite radical ways. I am rolling with ideas, especially after a conversation this morning with my editor, and trying to be patient and to work within the limits of the time that is put aside for writing work. I am grateful to Kevin, who is taking over everything this weekend, so that I can write.

And so the kids are eating cheesies, and I am resenting the laundry, and we are doing a lot of last-minute barbequeing.

I just realized something. It’s not pretending. There’s no shame. I’ve lost whatever guilt I once had, as a mother, about pursuing interests that don’t revolve around my children and my household. Right now, I am wired tight as can be, focused, excited, energized, exhausted, stretched, and it’s all good.

The Juliet Stories have their own ISBN number

My next book exists in a publisher’s catalogue. Look for it on pages 22 and 23, House of Anansi. My picture is in there too (does it look too serious? too intense? too “brooding-writer-who-would-be-no-fun-at-a-party”? Maybe I should send them a different photo for the cover).

The irony, of course, is that I continue to polish this new book, so for me, it’s not finished enough to exist anywhere; the catalogue copy, to me, reads like a birth announcement made at 34 weeks gestation. I never named my babies in utero, and always felt a bit superstitious about pre-birth baby showers. Let’s get this baby born, bathed, and bundled before sharing the good news. But how done is done? I remember a funny conversation with the doctor who oversaw the early months of my first pregnancy. I said, “So when I get through the first trimester, I can stop worrying, right?” (I was terribly anxious about miscarrying). And she gave me an odd look: “Um, I’m not sure you ever stop worrying,” she said gently. Riiiiight.

So I suppose, if conflating book-production with having children (a facetious comparison, let’s be honest), it stands to reason that even with the last “t” crossed and “i” dotted, joy will continue to mingle with unease.

The other morning, we were reading an article in the newspaper about a man who is training for a traithlon. It’s part of a regular weekly series: the paper profiles someone relatively well-known and a trainer helpfully critiques his/her exercise plan. I was shocked by how little training this man was doing, and how confident he sounded, and Albus thought that the paper should come and interview me instead: “You should be in the newspaper, Mom.” I explained that the fellow was being profiled not for his excellent triathlon-training, but because he was relatively well-known. But, I said, when my new book comes out, we probably will be able to read some things about me in some newspapers.

The kids were blown away by the idea. That’s when it struck me: Albus and AppleApple were 2 and 14 months, respectively, when Hair Hat came into existence. They had zero awareness of their mother being anything other than their mother. It was news to everyone that, in fact, I’d been in the newspaper when Hair Hat came out, and they thought this was just plain awesome.

But dancing oneself into the public eye involves grabbing for a double-edged sword. I was fortunate enough to read multiple positive reviews of Hair Hat before the first negative review came in, several months post-publication. It gutted me. (Obviously, I recovered). So that’s what I explained to the kids: when the new book gets reviewed, we all have to pray that it falls into the hands of readers who appreciate it. Because no book will please everyone, and there’s much luck-of-the-draw fate that can befall a book. Such is the way of art, and individuality, and taste. Even positive reviews almost always highlight some small flaw, as if to note: nothing’s perfect. Fair enough. Nothing is.

I think this sobered the kids up a bit. Me, too, but for different reasons. Last time around, it was really just me who was affected by the publicity process. I could turn away and bury myself in my babies’ oblivious needs. I identified myself, even in my own head, as “mother,” not “writer,” and that comforted me. This time around, it’s different. I’ve got no babies, nor have I the prospect of more. Instead, I’ve got some interested parties tagging along for the ride. And I’m beginning to wonder: what’s the tipping point at which I become more working-mother and less stay-at-home mother?

It feels like I’ve metamorphosed without noticing, during this long stretch between books.

Snatam Kaur concert

I went to a concert earlier this week. If you want to hear one of the songs, here’s her version of “Long Time Sun,” although her onstage version was less-produced-sounding, and we all got to sing along. In fact, we sang along (or chanted) the entire two-and-a-half hour concert.
During the concert, I was struck by two thoughts that are not quite enormous enough to be called revelations, but nevertheless felt revelatory. The first was that I must stay open to mystery. Not sure why I need the reminder, but maybe in all this literal, physical work I’ve been doing toward the triathlon, I’ve forgotten that it is driven by the spirit, and that without a strong spirit, I wouldn’t be able to do it. It also reminded me that my word of the year is “heart.” Still haven’t figured out much about that (admittedly cliched) word and the year’s almost half over; but there’s a piece of mystery to ponder.
The other thought that came over me powerfully is the fortune of my family: my children, my husband. I was just overwhelmed with gratitude for them.
This whole post sounds cheesy, like most heart-felt things. I thought a lot about my Juliet Stories during the concert, and my hope for them is that they express the heart-felt without being cheesy. But this post is written in haste on a sunny spring afternoon and there is no distillation in it. And that, my friends, is the difference between story and blog.

The Message I’ve Been Waiting For

That title is grammatically incorrect. Forgive me. It sounds perfect to my ears.

Here it is: good news, arriving in my inbox and waiting for me to get home from running errands on bicycle yesterday, with kids shouting in the stroller behind. I was so busy that I only had time to skim the message once before jumping back into the other projects in my life, namely, cooking, laundry, and children. (Laundry: how can there be so much of you? you never give up).

This was news from my other life, the one where I’m a writer. It was a long message from my editor, who had finished reading the draft of The Juliet Stories I sent awhile back. I’d written many new stories for the revision, and was praying she would like where I’d taken the book.

First, the “bad” news, which is easy to swallow: I will need to rework two stories from the opening section, possibly combining them into one. I like her suggestion to combine the two and will put on my thinking cap. I’m pretty much always up to a good challenge. I will have a month or so to do this. I estimate it will take me three full long days of work, assuming the ideas flow. If they don’t; well, I won’t go there. Why assume the worst?

Because the best is the rest of my editor’s message, of which I’ll share my favourite part here. The hard work, the isolated hours, the years of doubt, all add up to: “My heart was in my throat as I read these new stories.” Emotional connection: it’s what I crave for my writing. I also appreciated, and read with much relief, the line: “The book is cohering so beautifully now …”

I like to think this “Obscure Canlit Mama” blog, now in its third year, had something to do with the creation of The Juliet Stories. It’s brought me connections with other writers; allowed me to be vulnerable; and it’s given me permission to embrace myself as a writer. Sometimes just saying something out loud is enough to make it real.

And now to spend a weekend celebrating by eating cheese, swimming in a lake (I hope–in my borrowed wetsuit), and communing with friends who’ve been with me since I was way more mama than writer. (I’m still way more mama than writer, but I’m not intensive-pregnant-nursing-mama anymore; and somehow that’s changed how I imagine my life and explore other parts of the whole. They’re out of the cocoon, in a way, and so am I).

One last thing. My editor also described The Juliet Stories as “deeply feminist,” which surprised me. It’s not that I don’t see myself as feminist (I do! I am!), but I never imagined writing with the intention of expressing a political viewpoint. I hope she means that the book explores the emotional and physical potential in women’s lives. I do think of my characters, especially the women, as free, somehow; or as free as any human being can be, to claim their own lives and essential selves, and to make choices beyond the boundaries of gender, while still understanding and partaking in the potential of their bodies. “My soul felt decidedly less shrunken when I’d finished reading it,” my editor wrote.

Next up: a complicated rewrite for two thematically linked stories. Followed by the line edit. Followed by … book cover design? Copy editing? And the big intake of breath before the finished book exists and hits stores, and makes its attempt to kick out a place for itself in the tough and largely indifferent world. If I learned anything from the first time around, it’s to enjoy the moments when they come, and not try to put them away and save them for later. Enjoy in a big way. Laugh, cry, shout. Forget muted gestures. There is no way to store the rush of immediacy. Which is why I let myself bask in the feeling of relief yesterday afternoon, in the midst of busyness. Ahhhh.

Ups, Downs; Downs, Ups

The week has gone by in a blur. I’ve had less energy, yet have stuck to the basic routines. And here we are, arrived at a holiday. Kevin is home from work. So I am working. Yes, I am upstairs in the playroom/office typing away on a new project that I plan to reveal next week when it goes live. Stayed tuned.

This week has seen its ups and downs. And downs and ups.

One item that started up, then plummeted down, (thankfully not literally), was our porch, which we hope to rebuild this summer. It’s been steadily decaying due to water damage, and might make it one more year before falling off the front of our house–might. So we’ve been saving our pennies and gathering quotes from contractors and builders. And in the midst of this planning, my friend N offered an exciting suggestion: while we’re rebuilding the porch, could a tiny home office be built, too? There is a perfect place for it: we have a door that leads off the dining-room onto the side porch, and both door and side-porch are currently underused; wasted access, and wasted space. Would it be possible to create an insulated room right there? I have to confess that I was/am hugely excited, giddy almost, to be entertaining the idea of having a home office — a real writing space, a room of my own. I could imagine it in perfect detail: spare and functional, with white painted wood, tall windows, a wall of bookshelves, and a desk. Simple. Perfect.

My feelings were/are almost covetous. Drooling. Dreaming.

Well, here’s the down. We got our first quote for the job and it was double our budget. And we thought our budget was pretty generous. Did I mention that the quote was just for rebuilding the porch? Nothing to do with adding on said fantasy writing room? We’re not quite back to square one, because quotes can vary wildly; but my home office bubble is suffering serious deflation. And you know, maybe it isn’t my time, yet. I need to earn entry into the perfect writing space. I need to sell more books, more words. (Words for sale! Words for sale!).

Speaking of words for sale, I had a pleasant chat with my agent yesterday. And I have news! My second book, THE JULIET STORIES, will be published earlier than originally anticipated: look for it in stores this coming March (in Canada, that is). Which means that there is exciting work ahead, also sooner than anticipated: editing the manuscript on a micro rather than a macro level; discussing cover design; meeting the kind people at House of Anansi; and planning publicity for the book. Yikes! Yowza! Woot!

But enough of ups into downs and downs into ups. Time to stop typing, stop working, and let this space revert back to a playroom for most of the rest of the weekend. It is a holiday, after all.

Writing Day: Up

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).

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