On Saturday, the Wild Writers Festival launched here in Waterloo. I’ve now been to a few festivals across this country, and each has its own unique personality and flavour. The Wild Writers ran as smoothly as if it had been chugging along for years. It was the most academic, I think, with master class sessions for writers and those interested in becoming writers, as well as panels and readings, but it was not stuffy. It was comfortable. The Balsillie Institute is full of light. It’s a beautiful building, and I’m lucky enough to live about three minutes away, which really cut down on travel expenses.
I didn’t take my camera, however. And this post will suffer for that lack. I’ve got these striking scenes in my head that I can’t show you at a glance. Instead, I offer you random nature photos from my backyard.
I started the morning being interviewed along with Alison Pick (Far to Go) and Miranda Hill (Sleeping Funny), right there in the light-filled lobby, by Dan Evans who has a show called Books for Breakfast on a local radion station called CFRU. I can’t find the Saturday show archived on the website, but it was live to air, although it didn’t feel like that. It felt like we were having a chat with Dan, who hosts an effortless-feeling interview. I know he’s a bookseller (The Bookshelf in Guelph), but someone should poach him for the CBC. Seriously.
After that, I sat in on Kerry Clare’s blogging workshop (she blogged about it too!). I took notes. Put me at a desk in a room with a lectern and I just can’t help myself. I flash back to the happy student days; plus jotting notes helps me think through what’s being said. I don’t listen well unless I’m busy with something else.
Sometimes people write and ask me for advice about starting a blog, but I’ve never analyzed why my blog works (and by “works,” I simply mean why I keep doing it, and regularly). The only piece of advice I generally offer is: know your boundaries — how comfortable are you with scrutiny, and do you know where your own personal line is between private and public? No one else can tell you that, and it’s different for everyone. But I connected with many of Kerry’s very practical points, number one being: Blog like nobody’s reading. I blog for the pure joy of writing. I blog to make sense of my life, and to record its passing moments. And although I didn’t set out with this purpose, I’ve found community and real life connections through my blog.
I jotted down notes later in the day, too, at the men’s “wild writers panel.” Alexander MacLeod said that reading a short story is harder work than reading a novel because the reader can’t be passive. The story has to resonate. It begins doing its work when it’s done. It has to create resonances within the reader, so that the end of the story becomes its beginning.
I did rather want to stand up and shout YES!, but it wasn’t quite the atmosphere for gospel-style responses.
That essentially sums up why I wrote The Juliet Stories as stories rather than chapters. Although I do apologize to my agent and to everyone trying to sell the foreign rights to the damn thing, because the plain truth is that stories don’t sell (it would be nice if we could prove that truism wrong). Next book I’ll write chapters as stories, but I won’t tell anyone, and maybe everyone will just assume it’s a novel. Sneaky. Don’t tell, okay. This is just between you and me.
I haven’t said a word, yet, about my panel, all women, all deemed wild writers; but maybe that’s because I wasn’t taking notes and don’t feel qualified to comment. All I’ll say is that I expected it to be fun and engaging, and it really was. Thank you, Kerry-Lee Powell, Miranda Hill, Alison Pick, and our very fine moderator Amanda Jernigan.
In other news …
I baked bread this weekend.
I managed a frantic speed clean of our neglected chaotic house on Friday after school.
And I stunk it up on the indoor soccer field yesterday afternoon, where my team was schooled (or owned, as Albus put it — he was the only unfortunate family member who came along to watch) by a team of very young women with superior foot skills, who usually play a few divisions above us. Thankfully we won’t meet them again this season. With all the sprinting and turning and stopping and starting, I didn’t even feel fit! (The scotch I had imbibed the previous night was not helping.)
Meanwhile, on another indoor field in Mississaugua, my eldest girl was having quite the opposite experience, for which I’m truly grateful. Someone in the family needed to be earning the soccer honour, and it wasn’t going to be me.
For about 48 hours after the GG announcement, I found it very amusing to narrate my life by captioning all activities with “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder …”, as in “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is going to finish these supper dishes before anyone gets a bedtime snack,” or, “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, would like a cup of tea and a back rub.” I’m not sure anyone else found it quite so amusing.
But it amused me this morning too, as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, stood on a stool in the downstairs bathroom attempting to remove spiderwebs with a wad of toilet paper, and a giant nest fell down her sweater sleeve. (“I told you that bathroom is infested, Mom!” “Yeah, there’s definitely a weird looking nest above the sink.” “That’s an orb spider.” “A what?!” “Don’t worry, it’s not poisonous.”) It continued to amuse me as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, trudged upstairs to clean the bathroom floor. (“Someone peed on the floor!” “There’s pee in the upstairs bathroom!” “Somebody missed the toilet!”) And the fun kept on rolling as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, sorted a dark load of laundry while repeatedly shouting up the steps, “I’m in the basement, come down if you want me to zip you up!” Apparently, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, had misheard the request. “He said that he wants you to pick him up from nursery school.” “Oh.” Sorry kid, but GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is leading a writing workshop for high school students this afternoon, and can’t. GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, also has a vague toothache in the very same spot where the dentist put in a filling last winter (remember that?), which seems like ominous timing given she’s flying to Vancouver in two days. GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is also panicking slightly about what to pack for her trip (how many shoes can she fit into a carry-on bag?). GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, got up in the middle of the night to turn off her alarm and did not go to yoga this morning. Despite getting extra sleep, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, did not look fabulous in the mirror this morning; she really should have gone to yoga.
GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is putting the hammer down. Stop this now, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder.
This feels like a miscellany day. I’ve been having some random and more serious thoughts on a related subject.
It’s the subject of being paid for one’s writing. The Globe and Mail (a newspaper in Canada) is going to attempt a “paywall,” by asking subscribers to pay for content; apparently, readers are not pleased. The New York Times does this as well, and the truth is, ever since it did, I’ve stopped reading NYTimes articles online. And I’m a writer! I get that writers and editors need to be paid for the work they do, and I respect the work that they do; so why not pay for quality online content? I think the answer is three-fold: one, I’m lazy and it seems like too much work to set up an account and try to remember passwords, etc.; two, I still get most of my news from the daily paper and from CBC radio; and three, there’s a ton of free content online.
Let’s address that final issue. I write a blog. I provide free content, practically every day! I understand why professional writers dislike bloggers — professional writers would like to make a living doing what they do, thanks very much. Most bloggers, like me, do this in our spare time. I have no desire to monetize my blog, nor to figure out how to make money off of it, mainly because I do it for fun. It would change everything to try to blog for a living.
That said, here I am, trying to write for a living. It’s dismal to report, but freelance rates, per word, have actually gone down since I first started freelancing, over a decade ago. I’m not sure freelance writing (for magazines and newspapers) was ever an excellent money-making occupation, but in today’s climate it’s an excellent way to sponge off your spouse. So, is being a writer a sustainable occupation?
GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, has yet to figure out how to make it so.
And it isn’t for lack of trying. I’m beginning to wonder whether being a writer, a serious writer of fiction with hopeful freelancing on the side, is in actual fact a hobby, or an act of volunteerism, or of love, or of obsession, rather than being what one could legitimately call an occupation. A job.
This isn’t meant to be a pity-me rant. I don’t feel pitiable, not at all; I’ve been doing exactly what I want to do; and I do make (some) money at it. Nevertheless, I feel prepared to look at coolly at my options and draw some fairly harsh conclusions. Our four kids need more than I can offer them as a writer; and I don’t believe the burden should be carried unequally by Kevin. The question is: what, then? Well, I’ve got some ideas, to be revealed in good time. For the immediate present, I’m sticking with the status quo, doing the freelance jobs that come in, working on a new book, applying for grants, hustling, and jumping up and down for The Juliet Stories. And blogging.
I love writing. I never started writing fiction thinking that it would earn me a living; and that wasn’t why I started blogging either. With my writing, every step along the way has felt like a gift: the first time I had a poem accepted for publication; the first time an editor at a magazine wrote back to tell me she liked my story (even though she was turning it down); the first time I earned a grant for an unfinished manuscript; the first time an editor called to tell me that she loved my book and wanted to publish it; and on and on. In between all of these steps were innumerable impersonal rejection letters, fat self-addressed envelopes stuffed with rejected stories, and, once I’d acquired an agent (another exciting step), calls of reassurance that also brought news of “no, thanks.” None of this could have been undertaken if it weren’t answering an extreme personal call — a deep probably irrational desire — to keep writing, keep learning, keep practicing the craft. None of this would have been undertaken if I hadn’t loved doing it.
Certainly, none of it was undertaken with an idea of dollar signs dancing in my head, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’m a highly impractical person, and I encourage my kids to dream impractically too. To pursue doing what they love, no matter what it pays in monetary terms.
But the thing is, we also have to figure out how to pay the bills. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m doing what I love, and I’ll keep doing it forever; but I’m going to have to do something else, too. My word of the year, this year, was actually two words: work and play. An interesting, difficult, troublesome choice, I think, and prescient.
|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.
I really want to do nothing more than blog … but I arrived home after midnight last night, and I’m on deadline for a couple of stories, which means I’m off to do research in exactly nine minutes. Seriously. I often budget my time in terms of minutes.
So: nine minutes to blog! YAY! I missed you, blog. I also missed the dogs, and the kids, and Kevin, but that goes without saying, doesn’t it? Thankfully, text messaging has changed travel. I knew the kids had made it home from school minutes after Kevin knew. I knew who had practiced piano, and what was eaten for supper — in fact, the lunch I ate yesterday in Winnipeg, and texted Kevin about, inspired his menu for supper last night (French onion soup). The comforting and comfortable banalities of daily living travel via text, and that really made me much less homesick.
I’ve got all sorts of things to tell you. Instead of blogging, I wrote them all down by hand in a notebook. How old-fashioned is that? Here’s hoping I can decipher my writing in order to tell you all about it.
But not this morning. It will take more than nine minutes to transcribe.
This morning I just want to say HELLO! and happy Wednesday! and life is fascinating and multi-faceted and travel is bizarre because I was there and now I’m here, and there was something else I wanted to say too … Oh, yes. I wanted to share with you the bliss of having a hotel room to myself for 21 hours.
I’m out of time. More soon.
So I’ve had my writer hat on for the past two days. Luckily it’s invisible because I don’t look good in hats, having been blessed with a teeny-tiny head. Maybe I should say I’ve had my writer hair on for the past two days.
In any case, on Sunday, I read at Eden Mills; and we brought the kids along. There was much complaining about being forced to spend the day doing something other than lounging in pajamas in front of a screen. I’m obviously parenting badly. I assured them that Writers Festivals were Fun, but they weren’t buying what I was selling. We proceeded to spend approximately 85% of the car ride being tormented by one child who kept repeating, “I’m bored! I’m bored! I’m boooooored!” I wish I were exaggerating. This monotonous soundtrack was occasionally interrupted by a) the same child hollering, “And no one’s even listening to me!”; b) other children screeching at said child; c) parents trying not to lose it. Fun times.
Luckily, the day was sunny, the townlet of Eden Mills was most welcoming (we were directed to our parking spot by no fewer than seven boy scouts/cadets), and we caught a ride up the main street on a golf cart, which the kids thought was pretty nifty.
Three of four children had never been to one of my readings. This seemed like the perfect setting to introduce them to this part of my job. But for the most part, the younger two didn’t really get that I was working. Eventually, I gave up and removed myself from their company for a few minutes of peace before the reading began — the new soundtrack at that point had become, “Why can’t I just have some ice cream!”(Yes, there was ice cream — see, told you, kids. Writers Festivals are Fun.)
I was reading with Dani Couture and Tanis Rideout, and we strolled together to the site — someone’s beautiful backyard overlooking a little river — which was set up almost like a Greek amphitheatre (minus the stones, and on a smaller scale), with stage down below and audience on the hill above. Upon arrival, I observed that my children and husband were arranged handsomely upon our picnic blanket. But perhaps they were a little too close to where the writers were seated. I could hear that the soundtrack was still going on, although sotto voce. “I want ice cream!”
I was reading last.
And so I sat and watched the slow motion hour-long crumbling of my handsome family. They were pretty well-behaved, all things considered. But I was cursing our parental lack of foresight — really, we should have gotten them the damn ice cream. After all, it was lunchtime, and then it was past lunchtime.
By the time it was my turn to get up and read, Kevin had retreated far away up the hill with CJ, who was quite far gone in ice-cream-starvation-mode. But my other three children stayed to listen.
Afterward, Albus whispered, “That was really good, Mom!” And Fooey wondered whether Ronald Reagan was a real person. And they all said that Writers Festivals really weren’t so bad after all.
So it was worth it.
And then we got ice cream. And hot dogs. And soda pop. “This is full of vitamin C,” one of my brilliant offspring proclaimed. We checked the label. And I regret to report that Orange Crush offers not a jot of vitamin C. It is, in fact, 0% vitamin C.
We were a much jollier bunch driving home, all except for Kevin. The solo-parenting-while-Mom-was-in-work-mode had taken a toll on his ordinarily equable personality. And I, too, had to confess my exhaustion at the end of the day, saying, “I don’t really understand why, because I felt pretty calm all day.” Kevin said, “It takes a lot of energy to look that calm.”
And that’s the truth.
This is turning into a long long tale, and I haven’t even reached day two of Carrie aka Writer. But I shall go on (whether you go on with me, I leave to your discretion.)
Yesterday, I led writing workshops at a camp near Eden Mills. It felt like a real “working mother” day, which is still a bit novel to me. I left the house before the kids had woken. Kevin kept me posted by texts. Four of us — me, Evan Munday, Tanis Rideout, and Angie Abdou — led small groups of high school students in hour-long writing sessions on different subjects. (I did the short story.) The kids were willing to write and share their work, and I found the sessions very pleasant. I also appreciated being amongst other writers, since I spend most of my working hours alone in this office, wearing crocs at one end, earplugs at the other. When we first met, Angie said, “Oh, you wrote that blog on not being on the Giller list!” which kind of made me cringe (this could be what I’m remembered for?), although she was very nice about it. Sometimes, in order to keep blogging, I forget (or ignore) the fact that blogs get read, and that the CanLit scene is pretty small.
Because here’s the thing. I do feel, when I make appearances in my writer hat/hair, like I’m dressing up to play a part. I know I’m not a writer with a capital W. It’s not that I don’t take my work seriously, because I do. But as much as I hope for worldly success, I appreciate the obscurity of my existence.
By the time I trudged, over-loaded and over-caffeinated, through the front door late yesterday afternoon, all of my children had miraculously gotten themselves home from school (this had been arranged with great forethought, but nevertheless seemed miraculous), and they were playing wii. Frankly, only the dogs were excited to greet me. I whipped up supper, hung laundry, supervised piano practice, checked email, we ate together as a family. And then I took the kids to the library and the grocery store — because it turned out that despite their lacklustre after-school greeting they had been missing me, enough to want to run errands in order to spend time together.
We had so much fun grocery shopping, I can’t even describe it. Everyone was feeling silly.
It was the best part of my day.
So here’s the sappy conclusion at the end of this long long post: Nothing makes me feel more accomplished as a human being than being happy with my kids who are happy being with me. Nothing.
(Although I suspect we appreciated each other all the more because we’d worked hard on our own, and we’d missed each other; do other working parents stumble into these puddles of mundane bliss, too?)
totally unrelated photo
Amusingly, I read this article today on CBC Books because the title interested me: “Book blogs we appreciate: the 2012 edition.” Scrolling down, yes, I know that one, and that one, and that one too — hey, what the?? That can’t be right. That’s me!
To sustain the self-promotional links theme, let me add that I’ll be reading at the Eden Mills Writers Festival on Sunday, from 12:30-1:30, along with Tanis Rideout and Dani Couture. We’re being billed as “Young, Hot, and Local.” (!!) I can’t comment. Just can’t comment. Resist the urge to comment, Carrie.
Anyway, Eden Mills is family friendly, and I plan to bring mine and spend the afternoon. It’s a beautiful setting too.
And that’s all she wrote. For this afternoon. Off to the cross-town piano lesson scramble.
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