Category: The Juliet Stories

Our Halloween: the good, the heartwarming, the parenting fail

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ring wraith (he and his dad are currently into the second book of The Lord of the Rings)

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seriously, when she said she wanted to go as a book, I had no idea which book she had in mind

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butterfly in flight

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and the knight is the last to emerge

This was the actual order in which they exited the house.

The ring wraith left early to meet a friend. They’d already plotted their route to maximize candy gathering.

The book also trick-or-treated with friends, and stayed out latest of all. She arrived home saying her favourite house was the one where she heard adults on the porch saying, “Hey, it’s The Juliet Stories! Isn’t it up for a prize or something? I heard the writer lives in our neighbourhood!” And then she was proud to tell them: “My mom wrote this book.” She was hampered, however, by the costume design, which went down a little long in the legs, making step-climbing tricky. (And I worried that neighbours might suspect I’d sent my kid out as a walking billboard …)

The butterfly and the knight came with me and some friends.

There is a great article on the joy of Halloween in the Globe and Mail this morning (which I’m still reading despite resident-books-writer John Barber’s seemingly bottomless dislike for contemporary Canadian book publishing). I felt the Halloween magic yesterday evening. The decorated houses, the efforts to entertain and welcome. Children knocking on strangers’ doors and receiving compliments and candy.

The butterfly and I outlasted the knight, and made an effort to visit our nearest neighbours, who don’t get many trick-or-treaters. Our street is busy with traffic, and it is populated by more of a mixed crowd than the family-oriented streets that surround us: students, the elderly, people who have lived here for decades and haven’t renovated their kitchens and never will. We knocked on some doors I wasn’t sure about, even with the porch lights shining. And at every one we were greeted with welcome and kind words — and treats. The students who had dressed up their cat as Superman. The man whose wife came quickly to tell him what to do with Fooey’s treat bag, which he’d taken into his own hands, and stared into as if trying to decipher its purpose. The neighbour who recognized me from the article in the Chronicle and said, “You wrote a book?” as if he were saying, “You’ve been to the moon?”

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Back at home the candy-eating and sorting was well underway. Our littlest ate candy like I’ve never seen a child eat candy. He just didn’t stop. I was entranced by his enormous appetite for chewy faux-fruit-flavoured sweets and I stood by his stool watching him with amazement and, I’ll admit it, admiration. When apparently, as evidence would show, I really should have stopped him.

Parenting fail. Yes, parents of four can make rookie mistakes on the last kid. How were we to know? Our other kids have all shown restraint, over the years. Not one of them has ever eaten themselves sick. Which is exactly what happened to CJ last night: he ate himself sick. Even when we declared it cut-off time for candy-eating, he would have gone on; but then he rolled off his stool and collapsed to the floor, holding his tummy. “It hurts!”

Uh oh.

I tucked him into bed, hoping he’d wake up feeling better. But instead he woke up feeling worse. It was one o’clock in the morning. I won’t paint the scene for you, but suffice it to say, his stomach didn’t even bother trying to digest those masses of chewy faux-fruit-flavoured sweets. The cleanup took a long time. And then I got up early for spin class. Ouch. This is not an error we intend to make more than once.

At least he felt instantly better.

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my favourite photo of the evening, which sums up the agony and ecstasy of excess: view on Flickr for full scene

The tired Sunday post

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Mother Nature and Junot Diaz

If you read my blog you’ll find Kevin’s Halloween costume funny (I hope); everyone else will just be baffled (especially because Kevin never remembered how to pronounce his last name). At the party last night, Kevin spent a lot of time explaining to everyone else who he was, and why. I spent a lot of time eating cheese and pickles and olives and cheese again. Wasn’t sure I’d make it into party-land standing, let alone wrapped in vines plucked off the side of our house, but a nap with the dogs on the couch gave me a couple more hours of stamina.

Yesterday was a Chapters day, and I enjoyed myself despite (because of?) spending five hours behind a table stacked with my books, smiling and waiting for people to approach. Thankfully, many friends turned up — for the hugs, right? One bought me a coffee and a protein box from Starbucks, which lasted all afternoon. And I sold a bunch of books, and not only to friends. I tried to tailor my pitch to whomever was approaching. Mention the setting? But offset it by adding, “It brings a child’s innocence to a politically-charged situation.” (Thanks to Charlene Diehl for the suggestion: I was riffing about pitch ideas on Facebook during the slower moments yesterday.) I also said that it was a good book club book, and I’d got strong and heartfelt responses from readers. I used vague phrases like: “mother-daughter relationships,” “family drama,” “memory.”

During a mid-afternoon lull, I had four back-to-back long conversations with people who apparently were just looking to chat and didn’t buy the book (that was a low point). I gave advice on how to get published. I declined free manuscript reading. One woman said she rarely reads in English (she is French), but that she felt extremely drawn to the book. She stayed for a long time, but never quite made the leap to purchase; I wondered whether I should have pushed her harder, but pushing is not really my forte. My inner-Menno recoils in horror at all this self-promotion. What if I’d said, “Maybe there’s a reason you’re being drawn to the book.” But I couldn’t, and didn’t. (But I’ll admit I wondered afterward: maybe there was a reason.)

A woman originally from Romania said she thought it would be too close to her own experiences to read, and apologetically walked away; but then changed her mind and came back all in a rush and bought it as a gift for a friend.

Mid-afternoon I posted on Facebook that no men had yet to buy my book, but lots of them were smiling at me. Of course, three minutes later a man bought the book. By the end of the afternoon, I figured about half the sales had been to men. Some were buying gifts for their wives. One had never met a writer, and complimented me on my author photo. He’s the one who had the best line of the day. After I’d signed the book for him, he said, “Damn, I should have had you write ‘Thanks for a wonderful night!’ so I could show it to my ex.”

See. I wouldn’t get any of this stuff if I’d stayed home instead.

This morning I listened to an interview with Junot Diaz (the real one) on YouTube — Kevin had found it while researching his costume. I guess this is one way to discover a new writer — be mistaken for him. It’s a very long interview, but if you’ve got time while kneading bread or doing dishes, listen in. I started around the 19th minute, where he’s talking about the book being an archaic medium because it moves at a human rhythm, not at the rhythm or speed of a machine; it’s archaic because we have been trained to become machines, and to forget that we are humans. He also said that to find something new, you have to first be lost.

I resonated with so many of the things he was saying, and I think other writers will too. (Be warned: he did use the F work often enough to interest Fooey, who was playing in the living-room. “It’s that word Mommy uses when she’s driving,” she said. Argh! I keep promising the kids I’ll stop swearing in the car, and I keep failing miserably. Just like a human or something.)

Come see me at Chapters today, starting at 11am

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stickering Juliet

I’m just going to go ahead and call this Publicity Week.

Yesterday, for example, I went around to local bookstores and stuck GG stickers onto my book’s cover (as in above photo).

And if you’re looking for a chance to get a stickered book signed (preferably one I’ve written), I will be spending the better part of the afternoon at Chapters in Waterloo, starting at 11am. I’m just going to brush my hair, round up some children, and head there now.

Hope to have time to blog more in-depth about other happenings from this past week, but meantime, promote, promote, promote.

Come and say hello. Please. And thank you.

Reading at IFOA for the GGs

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hospitality suite at IFOA

You’re going to suspect that I do nothing but jet around to festivals and parties. Heck, let’s pretend it’s true. Let’s pretend I’m not sitting at home in a slubby hoodie neglecting the sick kid on the sofa who is playing video games. At the very least, I’ll provide no photos of my current state.

I’ll admit it. I ache. I think it’s a combination of playing soccer on Sunday followed by all the driving and standing and sitting required by parties and readings. I have it down now: I’ve got comfy but good-looking shoes for the standing parts and the parties, and I save the heels for the readings themselves.

I’m doing a bad job of telling this story.

Yesterday, Kevin and I drove off to Toronto, mid-afternoon, leaving my mom to look after the sick kid and everyone else (dogs too! good grief!). I checked in at IFOA (Toronto’s International Festival of Authors), and the organizers let me use a hotel room to change in (for some reason, I didn’t get a hotel room out of this event, perhaps because Toronto considers Waterloo to be a suburb or a cousin once removed? In any case, no hotel room for GG finalist Carrie Snyder). Kevin and I also ate sandwiches and eggplant dip in the hospitality suite: supper.

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here’s what I decided to wear

Then we went to the IFOA party. I can’t remember the title, but it was crowded with industry folk, and it was hot. I was happy to talk to the people I knew, but equally happy to stand on the sidelines and just observe. Best moment of the evening: when we were approached by a very excited woman who came right up to Kevin and said, “Junot Diaz?!” Needless to say, my husband is not acclaimed American writer Junot Diaz (who wasn’t at the party in any case), but when we checked the author photos in the IFOA guide, we thought, hey, maybe he should put on a name tag. And grow a goatee. Because otherwise, people, I’m basically married to Junot Diaz.

The woman was embarrassed when she realized that I was the writer, and that she’d never heard of me. People keep joking that I may need to change the title of this blog, but I’m not too concerned. I reassured her, and she said she’d buy my book. (But I’m thinking she’ll probably buy Junot’s instead.)

Should I do more name-dropping? It seems almost obligatory. Here’s who we talked to at the party: Sarah MacLachlan (my publisher); various Anansi people; a lovely woman from the Canada Council who had read my book thoroughly enough to know exactly which story I was going to read when I told her the title (I was impressed!); Iain Reid (One Bird’s Choice); Linda Spalding (fellow GG finalist) and her husband Michael Ondaatje; Ania Szado (a writer with whom I toured back in the Hair Hat days); Eva Stachniak (The Winter Palace; she is Ania’s friend); Mark Medley, books editor of the National Post, who commissioned my best writing assignment ever, which just ran on Saturday: a review of Alice Munro’s new book, although it is more ode than review; the woman who thought Kevin was Junot; and a few others, though possibly by accident. We were there for an hour and a half, so clearly we didn’t excel at the mingling.

Then Kevin spotted Vincent Lam (The Headmaster’s Wager; fellow GG finalist). Vincent was leaving the party, so we thought we’d better follow him, because I didn’t really know where I was going for the actual event. Vincent and his wife were both super-friendly, and possibly super-human (he’s an emergency dr and she’s a family doc and they have three kids under 7). We had a nice chat. After awhile, we were joined by an IFOA publicist, and Linda Spalding, and set off for the theatre, quite clearly going the wrong way. There we all were, tramping around in the dark surrounded by a very high fence. “I’m sure IFOA will provide us with a ladder,” said Linda Spalding. Thankfully, no ladders proved necessary. Eventually, we went the right way, and were soon backstage at the theatre. Our group now included Robert Hough (Dr. Brinkley’s Tower) and Tamas Dobozy (Siege 13) and the poet Phil Hall (Killdeer).

I tweeted a terrible photo. Vincent Lam tweeted a better one. Guess which is which.

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We met Shelagh Rogers. She gave me a scarf because it was freezing backstage, and you’ve seen what I was wearing. I read second to last, which gave me ample time to freak out. I handled my nerves by going into an almost comotose stillness during the first several readers. Conserving my energy, I thought, if I thought anything at all. It was kind of peculiar, actually, and prevented me from doing any useful networking backstage. But when it was nearly my turn, the stillness broke and I got very jittery, which was quite unpleasant. I don’t usually get so jittery. I had to go for a little walk in my noisy high heels. But then I thought, just harness the energy and be glad you’ve got it: better lots of energy than none. I also thought, perhaps rather melodramatically, You’re doing this for Juliet, so just go out and do it.

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that’s me onstage

So I went out and did it. I settled down instantly, under the lights. I read “She Will Leave A Mark” from the first section. I think the story carries more poignance and depth after you’ve read the second section, but it’s a good story even on its own. I love reading. The only emotion I felt at the very end of the story was, well, a kind of bittersweet sadness. Because the moment was over.

I enjoyed being asked by the stage manager if I’d like something to drink at the booksigning table (white wine, please!). And I enjoyed signing books. Kevin brought our stack and had all the GG finalists sign them, but there was a mix-up with Vincent Lam’s. Kevin is going to need to find a second wife named “Sandra” in order for the dedication to make any sense. More proof that my blog title is in no danger of becoming obsolete. But then Michael Ondaatje shook my hand and told me he’d loved my reading. Hm. So maybe fifty-fifty.

The evening was starting to get really fun, probably because my publisher Sarah and her husband Noah Richler were on the scene, so we were talked into going back to the hospitality suite, which we hadn’t planned on doing, being responsible parents from Waterloo, Ontario. Just being around Sarah and Noah has the effect of regressing me to my pre-child self — almost; but let’s not call it regression. Let’s call it staying in touch with my spontaneous glam girl side. I’m shocked to report that side still exists.

But I’m not shocked to report that spontaneous and glamourous doesn’t go exceptionally well with early mornings and sick kids and walking wet dogs in the rain.

No regrets. This is an strange and happy little bubble of a moment. I’m going to float while it’s floating. (But thanks to kids and dogs I’m quite sure that I won’t float away.)

{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 day out of ordinary life, with thanks and mile-wide smiles

reading at the launch of Waterloo’s Wild Writers Festival, yesterday evening

photo speaks for itself

with Tamas Dobozy, fellow local writer and GG finalist

with my husband, Kevin, who told me my hair looked fine (but I think it’s a bit wild, no?)

So. That was quite a day.

Apparently I only stopped grinning ear to ear when it was entirely impractical, such as while doing a reading from The Juliet Stories.

I know it’s cheesy to say so, but yesterday was truly special. It was a day out of ordinary life, yet still grounded in it. I don’t expect to have many days like it in my lifetime. Below, at the risk of sounding giddy and foolish, a few highlights.

– I’m glad that I posted early on yesterday, when the news was still so fresh and astonishing. That post is a keepsake in words. (And I’m glad for all the moments my blog has captured over the years that I’ve been chronicling our family’s adventures, big and small.)

– I rode a wave of excitement yesterday, generated by the goodwill of friends and family. Thank you, all who joined in to share the moment. (It reminded Kevin of when we had our first baby: the genuine outpouring of happiness that greeted that arrival.)

– A friend arrived, early afternoon, offering Goat cheese and “Grapes” (wine): get it? Double Gs to celebrate the GGs. And bless her heart, because I hadn’t eaten lunch. And I needed someone to hug. And the glass of wine didn’t hurt either.

– My kids! Oh my goodness, they arrived home all together in a clump, and Kevin had met them partway and shared the news, and they were positively giddy (at least the older ones were). Beaming. Everyone fighting for hugs. Albus’s first question, which he kept repeating in hopes of receiving a different answer, was: “Are we going to be millionaires?” Um, sorry, kiddo, you may not realize this but I’m a CANADIAN LITERARY WRITER. That will never happen.

– When a TV camera arrives at your doorstep, you will discover where you draw the line in terms of what you’re willing to share publicly. Did I rush to shovel the Lego off the floor? Did I brush my hair? Did I make my children turn off the wii? No. But I did remove my crocs, which I wear as slippers around the house, and put on shoes instead. So apparently that’s my line and there ain’t no crossing it: crocs.

– The publicity. I’ve got to tell you, it will sound crass, but it’s sweet to know that news of my book’s existence is being broadcast around the country. I’m not sure a writer can ask for anything more than that. Here are links to the articles: I spoke to Mark Medley at the National Post first (he caught me literally within 15 minutes of the announcement, smart man); Victoria Ahearn at The Canadian Press interviewed me next, which was lovely because a lot of papers carry the CP stories (and everyone used Vincent Lam’s photo, which makes sense as he’s the most well-known of the five finalists); I spoke to Paul Irish at the Toronto Star next (mid-wine, actually); then I spoke to Robert Reid at The Record, and they also sent a photographer to last night’s event. Apparently I’m on the front page today, but I haven’t seen this to confirm it. And then the TV crew showed up while I was making lentil soup for supper.

– Can you believe the beauty and candour of those photographs? My friend Nancy Forde took them at the party last night. She also took my author photo, which appears on the inside cover of The Juliet Stories. How lucky am I to have a personal chronicler of life’s big moments on the scene with camera in hand? (She also took photos at my book launch, way back when.) If you want more Nancy, visit her work on Flickr. She’s got a gift.

– I squeezed in a run before the reading. Thank goodness for running. There is no better way to burn nervous energy, quickly and efficiently.

– My mom reminded me that occasionally things come along that are more important than a good night’s sleep. Isn’t that the truth.

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