I taught my last class yesterday evening.
Forgive the giddiness. There’s a whole boatload of giddy-making news today.
Let’s start with Alice Munro. You’ve already heard, of course, but she earns top billing, because NOBEL PRIZE! Awarded today to a woman from a small town in Ontario who has spent her career here in Canada quietly writing short stories. She rarely makes public appearances. She is the opposite of someone who seeks the spotlight. And yet the light seeks her out. I’ve seen her read and speak twice, rare occasions that remain vivid in my memory. A year ago, I was asked by the National Post’s books editor to review her last book, Dear Life, and I accepted, in fear and trembling and excitement, because it seemed the opportunity of a lifetime: to write a tribute (hardly a review) to an author whose work I’ve admired, loved, and read and re-read for comfort and pleasure for the better part of my life. (Who Do You Think You Are? whispered to me as I worked on the piece, and whispers to me now as I re-post it, but there it is. I’m a fan. If Alice Munro were a hockey team, I would know all the stats.)
Now, I’m going to share some other news in entirely un-Munrovian fashion (first of all, by sharing it) with a tweet I saw this morning:
“@HouseofAnansi at #fbf13 hit it out of the park w / 3 sales of @carrieasnyder new bk #GirlRunner in Holland, France & Italy on same day. Wow!”
To interpret for you: House of Anansi is my Canadian publisher, currently attending the Frankfurt Book Fair, and, yes, they’ve sold the rights to Girl Runner in three more territories: more translations! Wow, indeed. My family is looking forward to celebratory meals of Italian, Dutch, and French specialities. Suggestions welcome. Spaghetti, gouda, and baguette with stinky cheese? (I said no to Albus’s request for pizza, unless it’s a non-north-Americanized version.) We’re going to start preparing and eating these meals at home, however.
And now, back to work. Revisions, revisions, and prepping for class tonight where I’ll be talking about … revisions!
Yesterday evening, we celebrated my US deal. I took the family out for hamburgers, in part because that seems like quintessential American food, and in part because Albus has been dying to go to this place called The Works uptown, which exclusively serves burgers.
I tried to impress on everyone the hugeness of this celebration, and even attempted a little speech (no one noticed), but the milkshakes, extensive topping options, and general excitement of eating out was far too distracting. So I sat back and enjoyed the whirling conversation. Afterward, we popped into Words Worth Books to browse and splurge. (I picked up Erin Bow’s brand-new, just out YA novel, Sorrow’s Knot, which looks as deliciously darkly scary as her first.) And then we wandered home and everyone was so thoroughly stuffed and wiped out we just went straight to bed.
Everything about this outing was a delight.
Here’s the most delightful part. We’ll get to do it again — only next time, we’re going out for fish and chips and mushy peas. (!!!!) Can you guess? Unbelievably, amazingly, overwhelmingly, I have more news to share.
The rights to Girl Runner have been sold in the UK (and Australia) to another terrific editor: Lisa Highton, who is the publisher of Two Roads, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton. Yup. I’m over the moon, and have been re-reading somewhat compulsively the press release Lisa prepared yesterday to announce the acquisition, which says, in part: “GIRL RUNNER is a brilliantly evocative story of time and place with an unforgettable heroine.”
Kevin and kids are already plotting to hitchhike along on any future tours to the UK.
So here are the pub dates, for those who are wondering:
September, 2014: Canada (and Australia, I think)
Spring 2015 (tentative): US and UK
I don’t know why, but wandering through the bookstore last night I felt enormous excitement to imagine my new book on the shelf, wondering what its cover would look like (a different cover in each country?), wanting to pick it up and feel its weight in my hands. I think my party planners and I are going to have to out-do ourselves for the launch this time around (and that’s saying something). The fun of bringing this book to life is still ahead of me. And a footnote in all of this is that I’m getting to work with these amazing, accomplished women — Janice Zawerbny and Sarah MacLachlan at Anansi, Claire Wachtel at HarperCollins, and Lisa Highton at Two Roads, plus my agent Hilary McMahon who’s been with me now for nearly a decade. It’s pretty darn wonderful.
In other news, undeterred, and inspired by a post I found on the ever-reliable internet called “The Crisper Whisperer: How to Handle Eggplant Overload,” I ordered the half-bushel of eggplant, and half-bushel of tomatoes. Because a) I have masochistic tendencies, b) there’s room in the freezer and c) you’ve got to take your chances when they come.
I’m a bit distracted this week.
I’m up early, I’m exercising, I’m napping, I’m ferrying children to activities, I’m sitting with good intentions at my desk, I’m making lists and plans, but my attention is a wanderer. I’ve found myself dissolved in tears. I’ve found myself bizarrely flat with calm, and the next moment zapped with elevated emotion.
It was a year ago, tomorrow, that I got the news about Juliet being a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. Strange that this same season, a year later, should occasion another, altogether different heightened career moment. I note also that apparently it’s been a year since I last got a haircut. What with all the glamourous travel, I splurged. But I haven’t had a good excuse to get one since, and may have inherited a few parsimonious personality traits that will prove impossible to kick. The children enjoy mocking me for my regular (and joyful) 50% off purchases at the grocery store (“Really, Mom? Fifty-per-cent-off yogurt?” “What? It’s organic!” “When does it expire?” “Everyone knows expiry dates are inaccurate!”) Which is a roundabout way of saying that I’d like a haircut, but need to convince myself that there’s a good reason to get one.
This morning marked the start of what promises to be a new era in our lives. AppleApple has begun early morning swim practices, thrice weekly. I woke her at 5am on the dot. She was excited, ready to go when her ride arrived (thank goodness for carpooling). I set off through eerie fog on a brisk walk, punctuated every eight minutes by one blissful minute of running. I was alone in the neighbourhood except for the man on the bicycle who was scavenging bottles from people’s trash. He said good morning, and I felt ashamed for having been afraid, momentarily, of someone up so early, working so hard.
I managed an hour’s exercise. A shower. A breakfast of poached eggs on buttered toast. All before picking up my swimmer and her friend from the pool. AppleApple devoured two bananas on the (short) ride home. She had to leave for school, and running club, while I went for a nap. Oh boy, did I need that nap.
I’m worried about her. I hope she will learn to nap, or to go to bed early. This is a big challenge, and much as I love early rising, it works only when lost sleep gets replaced.
Other sports currently being practiced by my children: football (Albus, who’s up at 6:30 twice weekly for practice); karate (Albus); swimming (CJ: “We did dolphin jumps!”); gymnastics (Fooey). And we haven’t even started soccer.
So … distractions. Work. Edits. Revisions. Readings. Reading. Teaching. Ferrying. Truck needing repair (again!). Vertigo. Permission forms. Agendas. Signatures. Homework. Piano practice. Field trip volunteering (what was I thinking?). Local food (why am I irresistably drawn to ordering a half-bushel of eggplant for pickup on Friday? Along with a half-bushel of tomatoes? Talk me down, someone?).
Tonight, the start of what I can only hope will become a mini-tradition. I’m taking my family out for hamburgers to celebrate selling the US rights to Girl Runner. We should have celebrated the Canadian rights with … pancakes and maple syrup?
When I was growing up, I planned to be a writer. I would say that I dreamed of being a writer, but that’s not entirely accurate. I did dream of it, but not in the fantastical way I dreamed of owning a horse farm or of living in a straw bale house off the grid with a homeschooled brood of offspring. Instead, I planned for it. I would become a writer. I remember a very particular moment of clarity, in my parents’ house, in the bathroom (where as a self-absorbed teenager I spent many an hour gazing into the mirror), when I declared to myself that this was what I would do: I would write books.
I aimed myself at the goal with relative consistency after graduating from high school, though I floundered around a bit, seeking the right degree (theatre? music? playwriting? history?), and it took me until I was 19 (almost 20) to declare a major and work away at it like a person possessed: English literature, of course. At night, I would compose poems on my pre-Windows laptop, eyes closed, drumming out the day’s events through my fingertips and transforming the swerving emotions and experiences into imagery, metaphor, allusion, relishing the splendor of language.
I am often asked for advice on how to become a writer. Write, is what I say. And read. Write because you love to. Write what you love. Write as often as you can, doesn’t matter what: dream journal, cooking blog, poetry scribbled in the margins. And read read read for the love of it, too.
Reading for a degree in English literature can kind of kill the love, for a few time-crunched years, pencil clutched to underline key sentences and scribble down themes for future essays and exams. Nevertheless, reading widely, reading work you wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to, can only be a good thing in a cumulative way. I finished the degree, applied for grants, and went happily off, like a heat-seeking missile, to do graduate work, also in English literature. I was thinking I would do a doctorate and secure myself a job. But things were looking pretty grim for doctoral candidates in English literature back then, and I swiftly grasped that there was only one valid reason to go on in my studies: if I really loved it, then yes, I should. Otherwise, it was time to thank academia for my two excellent degrees, and figure out how to become that writer I’d planned to be.
Skip ahead. Skip over the boring bits, the hours and days and months and years spent writing and reading, and, of course, believing. At the age of 29, my first book was published. It took another eight years to write a second book worth publishing. By that point, I’d lived out the reality of being a writer. I’d been home with young children for years. I’d found paid work here and there as a freelancer and “mommy blogger,” which afforded me babysitting, which afforded me writing time.
I kept circling around the question: do I want to be a writer?
Wrong question, as it turns out; misleading, distracting. I already knew the answer: yes, I wanted to be a writer, and had proven that I could be. The real dilemma, the one much harder to face, and more personally painful to articulate, was whether I wanted to continue being a practicing writer if I couldn’t make a living at it. And the answer to that, I began to recognize, was no.
Last fall, I decided to switch career paths. I applied to midwifery school. (I also worked frantically on a new novel, feeling the urgency of time ticking down.) This wasn’t a decision taken quickly or lightly. I knew what it would mean: I wouldn’t be writing books, at least for the length of the degree, possibly longer. A book is the product of time and space and does not simply appear in a burst of inspiration; it’s a long-term gamble, is what it is. That’s what being a writer is, too. And my appetite for gambling was waning. This does not seem strange to me. The timing seemed ripe for a change. My youngest would be going to school full-time. I’d put my eggs in one basket for two decades, practicing a particular craft, gaining experience and technical skill, and earning praise from peers, without ever making a living at it. In most professions, this would be a bizarre and depressing outcome: imagine a doctor with two decades of training being unable to earn a living. It would be a sign of personal failure; this would have to be an exceptionally bad doctor. But in the arts, it’s practically expected, and we all understand that, even if we don’t speak openly about it. It’s the price of admission. You get to be a writer, but it’s for love, not money.
I love writing. But I wanted to support my family. I wanted to give us some stability, to take the pressure off my husband as sole provider, and, yes, to experience the reward of working in exchange for a paycheque. It was time to a get a job-job (or, more precisely, to train for a new career). I was excited and I was ready for a change — eager, even.
And then the novel I’d been working on sold here in Canada. This happened literally on the very same day I received my acceptance letter from midwifery school. I was kind of a mess.
It felt like the intersection of two possible lives. In one, I was a writer, still doing work that would seem relatively unstable to anyone with a job-job, but many steps closer to earning a living. In this version, I would be building on the foundation I’d worked so hard to lay. In the other possible life, I was starting from scratch, a student in the process of becoming a midwife, also a long-held dream. The decision was agonizing. It took weeks of “discernment” (read: long circular conversations with friends and family; thanks, friends and family), and I questioned myself repeatedly after turning down my place in the program. But there was fresh work to be done. I rolled up my sleeves and revised my new novel. I prepared for my first teaching job.
Summer trundled by. I loved sitting my office and working all day. It felt right, as it always has. It feels right.
At last year’s Wild Writer’s Festival, I was on a panel that included Alison Pick, and she was talking about her decision to work as a writer. She recalled that she’d just been hired at a job-job when her first book sold, so she was able to turn down the job-job and keep writing, and she’s never looked back. Every time she’d start thinking, uh oh, I’m going to need a job-job, something new would come along.
As far I’m concerned, that’s living the dream. Keeping at bay that wolf at the door.
So I’m publicly updating the plan I had as a teenager staring at herself in the mirror. Seems about time. What I’m planning seems no more unlikely, delusional, or ambitious than the original dream, which was, I’ll be the first to admit, highly unlikely, delusional, and ambitious. So here goes. Dare I say it out loud? I want to be a writer whose living is sustained by her writing. I want to be a writer who keeps getting to sit in her office and write, day in, day out, day in, day out. Oh, the places I’ll go in my mind.
Yesterday evening I remembered that someone from The Cord (the WLU newspaper) had emailed with a few questions a couple of weeks ago. I kind of forgot about it, what with everything I’m forgetting about these days, but when I was answering some other interview questions last night for a CBC site on blogging, it must have twigged my memory. Hey, I thought, I wonder what that other interview was about. A quick search, and I found the paper’s “Best of Waterloo Region” poll, clicked on “Best Local Author,” and there was my own half-smiling face. What the? I had to call my kids in to check it out. The ones who were still awake and should have been in bed. I’d been helping with homework, which has been a nagging theme for these past couple of evenings.
“Mom, could you just proofread this for me?”
I like to help, but less so at 9:30 at night, and even less so when a project is not truly at the proofreading stage, but rather at the “I’ve made up a few facts that I think sound cool” stage. I am currently conducting late-night mini-tutorials on proper research and use of a bibliography, in between lectures on capitalization, the differences between there, their, and they’re, and have you ever heard of a comma? I’m a really patient teacher.
No, I’m really not.
Here’s what I wanted to show you. I’ve got essays in two new anthologies out this fall, plus in the summer issue of The New Quarterly. I’ll be reading from The New Quarterly piece on Saturday at Word on the Street. Find me at the Walper, 4pm. The Waterloo launch for How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting is on Oct. 3 at the Clay and Glass Gallery, 7:30pm (get in touch if you’d like to attend that one, please!). If I had the energy or wherewithal, I’d also organize a local launch for Have Milk, Will Travel, an anthology of comic stories about breastfeeding, but right now I’m overwhelmed by the every day stuff. Like vacuuming the bedroom, cleaning paint off a dog, supervising piano practice, and picking up my swim girl who is home now and eating supper, which I left on the table for her and therefore still needs to be cleared when she’s done. (Supper = fish tacos! Fish tacos = zero complaints!) I’m just pleased to be squeezing in a little necessary, happy-making blogging and book-styling before bedtime.