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.
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.
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.
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.)
|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.
This morning I felt like disappearing into music. I searched around for Lindi Ortega’s version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” and for some reason also felt like hearing Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” and I landed for awhile on Danny Michel’s beautiful and joyful new album “Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me.”
I prepped for a reading I’m doing tonight here in town, in support of the launch of Waterloo’s own brand-new Wild Writers Festival.
I worked on a grant application.
All the while, I avoided the internet. Because this morning was the announcement of the Governor General’s Literary Awards, the last major prize listing of the season here in Canada. I wasn’t sure I could bear the disappointment; well, that’s not true. I knew I’d be fine, but I knew, also, that the emotions would be unpleasant. It would suck. I was irritated with myself for feeling that way, so I plugged into headphones and listened to a soundtrack of my own creation, which seemed to answer perfectly whatever it was I was lacking. Suddenly I said to myself, hey, let yourself believe you could be nominated, right up until you find out you’re not. Why not? Why not be hopeful? The worst that could happen is that you’re disappointed, and at least you’ve spent a little while in happy fantasy.
Why be afraid of an hour or so of happy fantasy?
So I let myself go, in the music, and got to work.
And then, just after 10am, I saw that my inbox had suddenly filled up with messages. Could it be??? The first message I opened was from Jared Bland, senior editor at Anansi. It was titled: congratulations! And it said simply, “I just saw the wonderful news about your GG nomination.”
What happened after that is a blur. I’m pretty sure I started crying and laughing and shouting all at the same time. I know that I leapt up and scared the dogs, who had been sleeping peacefully in my office. I was shaking so much that I almost collapsed. This is not an exaggeration. “I can’t believe it!” might have been the words coming out of my mouth, over and over.
I wanted to tell Kevin — instantly. But I’d temporarily lost the ability to use my cellphone. When I finally got through to him, he had no idea what I was saying for the first minute, I think because my words were essentially nonsensical.
So, dear reader, that is what it feels like to be nominated for a literary prize. It feels dumbfounding and it feels thrilling, and it makes a mess of one’s physical and emotional self for a smallish moment in time. I’ve since collected myself. Mostly. I’m not even sure I should be blogging under the influence of such heady emotions. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life (other than that I really shouldn’t start a sentence with the phrase “if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life”), it’s to jump into the good moments with both feet. Dive in. Get submerged. Be joyful. These occasions come rarely and the time to celebrate and savour them is while they’re happening. Don’t worry about looking like a giddy fool! Be giddy, be foolish.
So I’m being giddy. I’m being foolish.
Oh, oh, oh, and I get to read at the International Festival of Authors with the other nominees in Toronto on October 22nd!!!! And let me just say a few words about the GGs themselves. I’ve been a fan since high school. Basically all of my favourite CanLit authors have won the GG. I’m a nominee, not a winner, but it’s like dipping my toe into the waters of Canadian literary history. It’s like being a tiny part of it. I’m blessed and I’m damn lucky.
Also, I have yet to see or hug anyone in person since the announcement (aside from dogs), but I’ve been loving the emails and phone calls and texts and FB posts. (Like this one, from a friend who lives near Kingston, Ontario: “[My husband] and I are at Boston Pizza in Brockville and your book is on the T.V.”) What more can I say? (I’ll think of more soon, I’m sure.)
Yesterday evening, I did something I’ve never done before. I went to a local big-box-bookstore and sat at a table just inside the front doors, behind neatly stacked piles of The Juliet Stories and a little poster that said, “Meet the Author!” All of this had been arranged in advance, of course, but I hadn’t really known what to expect.
In the opening moments, I had the sinking feeling that it would be humiliating in the way that certain exercises in one’s literary life can be — readings to which not very many people turn up, or readings to which many people turn up to hear the other person on the bill, leaving one sitting behind a stack of books that no one is interested in buying because they are all lining up to have the other person sign his/hers. Yes, this has happened to me. If you’re a published writer in Canada, it’s probably happened to you, too.
I’m not complaining. Like Margaret Atwood says (and I paraphrase), “Don’t whine. You chose this. Nobody made you be a writer.”
In any case, as the evening proceeded, I discovered quite a lot to enjoy. I smiled at everyone who walked through the doors, and almost everyone smiled back in a seemingly genuine way. The few who didn’t interested me too: they would pretend not to see me at all. Approximately a fifth of all customers were immediately drawn to a lamp that was also in their sightline. (I had to check it out too, finally, and it was quite pretty; but no one actually bought it.) I started to feel more comfortable in my role as “Meet the Author.” Strangers approached and bought the book. My mom arrived and bought two copies! (I was embarrassingly excited to see her, as that was early on and I was worried no one might actually approach.) Acquaintances from Twitter and Facebook dropped by too.
Almost to a person, those who came up to talk to me approached in the same way. Enter customer through front door. Smiles exchanged. Customer takes second glance at table. Customer heads off into greater store. Fifteen minutes later (or so), customer returns, pauses beside table, touches a book. I stand and ask if they’d like to know more. We chat, often at length. I sign book.
One woman had never met an author before. Several had children who were curious to know more about making books. “Do you have a really big printer at home?” One woman laughed at everything I said as if I were wonderfully witty (I’m not). The only person who approached, chatted, and didn’t buy the book was also the only man who approached (other than the fellow who thought I was a store employee and wondered where to find books on Japan). I got the biggest smiles from the men, on store entrance, but only one returned. Maybe most men don’t read fiction? Or maybe they don’t read fiction with a girl in a bathing suit on the cover?
All in all, it was a genuinely pleasant evening, and I’d sign up to do it again without hesitation.
I haven’t read from The Juliet Stories all summer. May and June were heavy with readings and appearances, and it was a relief to take a little holiday. But readings start up again in September, so it seemed wise to reacquaint myself with the words on the page — which is what I did during the slow moments yesterday evening. It reminded me why I’m doing what I’m doing.
This morning I was digging in the attic through old boxes of manuscripts, and came across early versions of The Juliet Stories. Wow. In various drafts, the titles included “American Sandinistas,” “Photograph Never Taken,” “Blackbird,” and, simply “Beautiful Book.” I remember giving that particular draft that particular title because I needed to feel hopeful about the work ahead. I needed to believe in it. I was still two years away from finding the form that The Juliet Stories would inhabit. A long haul, and yet, reading over those printed words in the store last night, it felt worth it. I’m glad that I stuck it out.
This is a very different point in the publishing process, but I need to stick it out, similarly.
I’m fairly certain that everyone who bought a book (with the exception of my mom, and one Twitter friend) wouldn’t have found The Juliet Stories otherwise. One of the great mysteries, as an Obscure CanLit Mama, is how to reach people who might like the book, but who will never hear about it. Which is, let’s be honest, the vast majority of the reading population. That’s why independent booksellers, who hand-sell the book, are so important to writers like me. That’s why friends who tell friends who might tell more friends about the book matter so much. And that’s why I’m more than willing to sit behind a table in a big-box-bookstore smiling at everyone who enters.
balloon-dog, by AppleApple*
*Yes, she made her own balloon-dog. She looked up instructions on the internet. When she explained the twisting technique to me, my brain malfunctioned. That is because, when it comes to engineering of any practical sort, I am the opposite of gifted. She’s thinking she could sell balloon animals this summer at street parties; we weren’t convinced the yard sale approach would work for such a specific product.
Here’s what I’ve learned at soccer, so far. This is purely skills-related. Skip over this section if you’re not remotely interested in playing the game of soccer.
First game: I learned to touch the ball.
Second game: I learned that I was fast. And that this is handy, if you like touching the ball.
Third game: I learned that a pass into the net is as good as a hard shot; likely better. Perhaps not coincidentally, I also learned how to kick the ball without injuring myself.
Fourth game: I learned to run with the ball by kicking it in front of me rather than trying to dribble it at my foot. I also learned how to do a throw-in. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way–during game play, by doing it wrong the first time.
Fifth game: I learned that when heading for the net, I need to turn in toward the middle a lot sooner. Unfortunately, in this lesson I’ve only gotten as far as realizing that I must be doing something wrong. I get the ball, start running up the wing, and then (mostly) lose it because I come up against a defender. Kevin tells me I shouldn’t really be coming up against a defender, but should be making my decision earlier either to turn or to pass.
Maybe in the sixth game I will learn to keep my head up?
While speaking of learning things, here’s an anecdote to make you feel better about yourself.
Yesterday I was at the bank to make a simple deposit, and found myself waiting for ten minutes in a line-up of one (me), while one teller served one client, and several other teller-types walked briskly around in the background avoiding catching my eye, as if to say, I’m much too busy to open up another window here. Is a ten minute wait long enough to start getting truly impatient? Because I was truly getting impatient. In fact, steam was coming out of my ears.
When finally I handed over my cheques for deposit, a transaction that look less than a minute to complete, the teller thanked me for my patience. It felt farcical, like I was part of a reverse psychology experiment. I almost replied, “It would be much more accurate to thank me for my impatience because it’s clear I’ve got none of that other stuff, and you know it as well as I do!”
Oh my goodness, I am not a patient person. It’s the main reason I swear so much while driving. All that time wasted, endless inefficiencies, and being at the mercy of systems not of my own creation.
My goal is to find something good in every situation, to waste nothing, by which I mean to find in any situation something redeeming: educational or funny or comforting or amusingly distracting or morally relevant; but I sure enough wasted those ten minutes at the bank, seething with irritation. What do you think I should have done to salvage the situation?
One more miscellaneous item, relevant today-only, and only if you live in the greater Toronto area. If you pick up today’s Toronto Star, you’ll find a special section on Canada Day, with a bunch of stories and a few photos by me! I’m especially pleased about the photos, though this job has spurred me to make a few minor (and thankfully inexpensive) improvements to my current photo-processing and -storing capacity. I would like to add Photographer to my toolkit of marketable skills, and this is an excellent start.
I see myself as a workmanlike photographer rather than an artistically-skilled one. But I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and that there’s a place for it.
It fits in with my philosophy that there’s a place for all kinds of writing, too; I aspire to be able to work across the genres. I think anyone who writes serious literary fiction should damn well be able to write light-hearted party-planning pieces, and snappy headlines, and generally entertaining well-constructed articles on most any topic imaginable, assuming there’s time to do proper research. These take technical skill, as much as anything else. I also believe that writing across the genres will make me a better literary writer. (My only caution would be: don’t get stuck in a rut, and don’t write the same thing over and over; write widely, if possible.)
And that concludes my On Being a Writer 101 lecture for today.
Hello, weekend. Hello, rain.
I don’t mind. I feel indoorsy today, sleepy. A long run is planned for late this afternoon, but I prefer running in the cool damp than hot hot heat. I’m baking bread. I’m sipping a cup of coffee and opening the newspaper — and finding a review that I wrote on an essay anthology called In the Flesh (read it here.)
That’s an awfully lovely discovery after a weird writing week. (The dinosaur story got sent yesterday; an interview for another story due next week went well; but I got very little work done on my new novel. It’s always easier to set aside work for prospective payment in favour of work for guaranteed payment.)
Above, a photo of my well-dressed recital children. With the approach of summer holidays, we are coming to the end of lessons. Last piano lessons last week. Last swim lessons next week. Highland dance recital next weekend.
(Soccer, however, will go on. And on. No matter the rain. But it wouldn’t be summer without soccer, at our house …)
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