Category: Writing

Better than dreaming: launching Juliet

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party venue, yesterday afternoon, pre-cleaning

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party venue, one hour later

Let me tell you about the party. Ah, the party. The party!

All of my dreams last night were an extension of the party. It was like I got to drift through its pieces again as I slept, moving around the room, standing on stage, hearing the song being played to a still room filled with people. What I’d hoped for was to create a moment we could all share.

Good grief. I was so nervous before it was time to read. So nervous my teeth were chattering. Every clump of people I greeted, I blurted out “I’m so nervous! Gah!” or some variation on the theme. I was grateful for the distraction of laughter and silliness. And then it was showtime. My publicist introduced my editor who introduced me. My editor’s words had a weirdly calming effect. I stopped shaking. I could feel myself preparing — and prepared.

Stepping on stage. I was surprised by the lights. I couldn’t see anybody. I could hear and sense and feel, but not see. I felt so happy to be there. There is no other way to express it. Pure joy. As I read the words, I felt as though I was also standing apart, observing, watching, savouring. I thought about the years of work. But I also thought about how it had seemed this occasion might never happen, how I’d fallen down and gotten back up again, considered giving up, but been somehow unable to. I thought about the friends who believed in me — many of whom were there last night. I thought about how lucky I was to be reading these words out loud, to a room full of people who had come just to hear them. Actually I can’t even express my feeling of great fortune.

On stage, I felt like I was doing my job. That sounds pedestrian. It’s not. I felt like I was doing the job I was meant to do. My job is to bring everyone along to a different place, in their imaginations, all of us together. A writer standing on stage and reading is asking of her audience a huge favour: have faith in my words, take a leap with me, come along.

That’s what I wanted. And it felt like that’s what happened. Thank you, generous room of listeners.

Afterward, signing books, only occasionally forgetting a name, I kept wondering at how effortless it felt. I mean — everything. The nerves beforehand were as they always are. It’s been a long time, but I used to act in high school and university. I’d feel the same way. Eaten up with anxiety, just get me on stage, please. There is something magical about being on stage. I feel so free. Free to be myself, or some comfortable projection of myself. I can hardly remember anything from the hour or so before reading, though everything was perfect, the room was insanely beautiful (thanks to the incredible efforts of my party planning committee — Zoe, Rachel, and Nathalie), so many people kept arriving, drinks were offered and many well wishes, yet it was a total blur.

But time on stage was so different — it seemed to stretch and expand. I could relax into the moment, drink it all in. I can’t explain it. I guess that’s what I mean when I say it felt like I was doing my job. The very definition of work/play.

When I came off-stage, I was greeted by an absolutely bursting AppleApple, whom we’d let come along. The pride in her face — I wish I could have stopped time and drunk it in. And then it was on to book signing. The bookseller (Words Worth Books) sold out — every last Juliet. The party planning committee seamlessly took down our event’s decorations and packed up, and at 10pm the club opened the doors and their DJs started spinning, and those of us who felt like dancing stayed and danced until finally the place was completely changed. From intimate candlelit book launch to grinding club floor. And then it was time to go home.

“You throw a good party!” someone shouted to me on the dance floor. And it felt like, yeah, this was a good party. Listen, I will happily throw a party like this, say, once a year, if you’re willing to come. As far as readings go, it will be hard to top. I ended the reading by playing the song, the lullaby I wrote for my character Gloria, who is a musician and performer herself. I didn’t say it was me singing; I introduced it as Gloria’s song. One of the most thrilling parts of the evening was hearing from so many people that they LOVED the song and could not believe it was me — and where could they get a copy? I don’t have an answer to that yet, though the song is embedded in the ebook, within the story to which it belongs. Frankly, I’d like to record more Juliet songs and put together a little EP and make that available in conjunction with the book. But that’s still a dream.

Last night. Last night wasn’t a dream. But it felt like one. I couldn’t have imagined a better celebration for the book, the perfect punctuation mark for all those years of work.

:::

I didn’t take my camera along. But my friend Nancy was snapping photos all evening, and she promises to send me the best and I promise to post them here for you.

Scores of crows in the trees overhead

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We’ve got flocks of crows in the neighbourhood. Occasionally, they choose the trees in our yard and gather in the bare branches. Even when they are silent, their wings rustle heavily, a sensation of suspended watchfulness. It’s hard not to think of them as being a sign. Though of what? I often hear them calling loudly in the early morning. On a less poetical note, their poop is everywhere.

This early morning my alarm went off, and I thought, no, I don’t feel like swimming. I’m fighting a cold that has claimed part of my voice, and I’m on the mend, and somehow submerging my head in cold water for an hour didn’t seem terribly wise. So, as my friend Nath would say, I “logicked” myself out of getting up, turned off the alarm and napped restlessly for another twenty minutes. But I couldn’t return to peaceful sleep. Apparently I’ve now trained myself to be AWAKE at 5am, alarm or no alarm. Exercise every day was the mantra that shoved me out of bed. I didn’t feel like going to hot yoga, but went anyway. I wanted to be doing something that amped up the lungs and the heart, rather than strengthening and stretching and being all zen and calm and whatnot.

This will be good for you, I told myself.

And I won’t deny that it was.

Sometime in the future, however, I can imagine rising early to write. Yes, it’s early, but I feel so AWAKE. The house is so PEACEFUL. I could write for four hours and it would only be 9:30 or so. Then I could nap. Then I could meet someone for lunch. Then I could exercise. Then I could write some more. Then someone would make me supper. And do the laundry and the dishes. (The children would be able to care for themselves.) Wait, this is turning into full-fledged fantasy.

Clearly something at which I excel.

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small crow

Here is the crow just landing, or just taking off, from the larger photo above. The wings are a blur. There is something about the colour and tone and the scratchiness of the branches that looks like brush-strokes on mottled paper. The density of the silhouette.

This morning I’ve been taking pencil to page and crossing out words here, pointing arrows there, timing myself reading passages out loud and noting the times down. I’m turning this copy of Juliet into my reading copy. I’m not sure whether I’m just landing, or just taking off.

Is this what Alice Munro would do?

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People are starting to read The Juliet Stories. I know this because of the odd unexpected message appearing in my inbox, arriving in out-of-the-blue moments, an old friend saying, Hello! with excitement. Part of me wants to share the messages with you. Part of me feels awkward and reticent. Is this what Alice Munro would do? (She is the height of writerly grace, in my opinion.) Um, no, is the obvious answer. But then, publishing is such an altered world, altered even since Hair Hat came out eight years ago. Eight years ago, who had heard of “social media”? I’m a writer who works in an old-fashioned medium: the Book. But I’m also a blog-writer. Occasionally I’ve wondered whether blog-writing itself is my accidental calling — this brisk, confessional, and immediate form of communication.

The writing of a book requires such different mental mechanisms than the writing of a blog. It requires patience to somehow co-exist with impatience. There are intricate pieces to be held inside the mind, waiting for a chance to be written out, puzzled out, put together. Blog-writing, for me, is freeing. It’s like opening a window. Book-writing is exhausting. It’s like mining underground with a trowel.

However, the reading of either book or blog should not be exhausting. It should be compelling, thought-provoking. Perhaps in different ways, and on different levels. A blog is more like a snapshot. A book is more like a movie.

And this writer is awful fond of ye ole simile.

In conclusion (she pontificates), I’m glad both mediums are available. I love blogging. And I think, yes I do, that the book is nevertheless my form, too. And I hope you will read The Juliet Stories and agree. Therefore, I will do as Obscure CanLit Mama would do, and share some of this out-of-the-blue love with you. It’s too sweet not to.

:::

It was approximately 5:30am this morning, and I was wearing bike shorts and eating peanut butter on toast in preparation for a spin/weight class, when I opened this message from a friend, sent at midnight:

I’ve just finished [Juliet] and my head is reeling. It’s marvellous. I could not put it down. It’s the best book I’ve read in a very long time. I read 150 books last year, and this stands out above all of them.

You know what the best thing is? I feel like it was written just for me, like it’s bespoke fiction. It’s all the things I love, Munro’s Del and Gallant’s Linnet among them.

Glorious, Carrie. Just glorious. I can’t wait to tell people about this book.

:::

And I was in the whirl of supper prep, taking a quick breather in my office, when I discovered this message yesterday evening:

Good lord, Carrie. I know I should wait until I’m done, but I’ve just finished the first part of the book, and am exploding to tell you how splendid it is! I guess when I start a book by someone I know & care about I am always a bit nervous. What if I don’t like it, what if I think it could be better. But THIS book is a revelation. Carrie, it is just so damn good. Each story is vivid and gripping, and filled with tension and wonderfully flawed and alive characters. The prose is smart and crafty and clear and evocative …

:::

And I was sitting down at the computer with my cherished morning coffee, today, when I read this tweet from Sheree Fitch, an accomplished writer for children and adults, about whom I blogged not long ago:

Finished #TheJulietStories. Rhapsodic,original,heart-piercing,luminous #novel. #brotherlylove in allways #Thankyou.

:::

How does this make me feel? I don’t even know, honestly. Relieved. On the verge of tears. That feeling of it was worth it. I’ve got to confess, I was feeling nervous about the launch party on Saturday, but with these messages fluttering in my mind, I’m feeling the excitement. I’m feeling it!

Oh! And at the party, we may even debut the new song!*
*not live; my voice is not up to that

:::

One more thing before I sign off today. The New Quarterly has a lovely post today about The Juliet Stories. As you may know, four Juliet stories debuted in TNQ, in somewhat altered earlier forms, and the magazine has packaged them together in digital format. It’s like Juliet memorabilia. (!)

They also have three writing contests on right now, one for Occasional Verse (ie. a poem written for an occasion, like a birthday, or a book launch …), one for Personal Essay, and one for the Short Story (hm, maybe I should enter?). Each prize will bestow upon the winner $1000. Details here. Spread the word.

Today and yesterday

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my view, bedtime

I’ve been reading A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh to the kids before bed. Lights have to be out by 8:30 in the little kids’ room, so some nights that means we don’t get much read. When the big kids were little, we read through the classics before bedtime: the Little House on the Prairie series, Charlotte’s Web, Roald Dahl, some Narnia Chronicles, the entire Harry Potter series (Kev read those to the kids), Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and more I may be forgetting. The little kids are now getting old enough to hear these stories too, but our schedules are so different just a few years on. Evenings have shrunk to make time for extracurricular activities. Sometimes bedtime rituals amount to little more than toothbrushing and tucking in. Lights out.

So when I picked up Winnie the Pooh a few weeks ago, it seemed like the bare minimum. The bar was set pretty low. What I’ve seen is how all the kids crave this time. Crave being read to. It started with the two littlest. The older ones were just passing by in the hallway when they heard laughter: “What’s going on in here?” Room was made in the bunks for them too.

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When I looked up from the page last night I saw the most beautiful picture. The photos do not do the scene justice. CJ likes to lie facing me, hands holding chin. Albus brought homework, listening in with one ear. AppleApple was giddy with laughter. Fooey was half-asleep, content and warm under the blankets.

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“What time does the clock say?” I ask the kids, and one of them will usually tell me honestly. At 8:30 the last paragraph gets read, the page turned down, the book set aside. Lights out. When we’re done with Pooh, I will pick out another book, for sure.

Aside: Albus is bored with the books he’s been reading and re-reading, and I want to tweak his interest again. Any suggestions? He’s ten and a half and capable of reading quite complex chapter books.

:::

Today I spent an hour at physio, working on strengthening exercises. I also ran on a treadmill for 8 minutes and oh my goodness how I wished it were longer. But I’m supposed to continue doing what I’ve been doing — slow, short runs — for another week.

Today I did not get up early for a swim. I read for an extra hour last night, and slept for an extra two hours this morning (7am versus 5am; makes a big difference). While I regretted not starting the day with momentum, I need to get work done, and with physio knew I’d be hard-pressed to squeeze in a nap too. Brain must function.

Yesterday, I read this post from the Afterword on the fraught business of publicizing one’s book, by fellow Anansi author Robert Hough (and now I must read his new book!). Today I am working on posts for the same venue, to run next month. Topics are wide open, which is rather daunting.

Also, today, I am thinking about the time I have to write. The actual literal time that is available to me. Next year CJ starts kindergarten. But it won’t change my life very much. Except for Tuesday afternoons when the two of us are home together, he is either in nursery school (mornings) or with a caregiver (afternoons until 3pm). My work day ends at 3pm. That will change very little when school starts, or going forward for years to come. The school day is really very short. Several afternoons a week, I pick the kids up for after-school activities that require me to organize and ferry them around (swim lessons; piano lessons). On the other afternoons, perhaps I could shut my office door, lay out snacks, and let the kids fend for themselves until 5pm, in order to gain a full working day, but … would that work? Here’s the thing: by 3pm I’m revved up and working well creatively. It’s painful to shut it down at that moment, day after day. Starting earlier is not an option, not if I want to work out before dawn and see the kids off to school.

How do people work full-time? How? I want to know. I want to be able to do it too. I’m sensing there are no easy answers, just more compromises. So I will count my blessings and be grateful for the time I’ve carved out. (This is worthy of a larger post. When I finish the biography of Mordecai Richler, which I continue to read as if mining for hints and clues to writerly success, I will get to that larger post.)

Things I am glad for this morning

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**My mom likes my book. Actually what she said was, “I love it; couldn’t put it down.” (I gave her a finished copy yesterday afternoon; I hadn’t shown the book, in progress or finished, to my family before now.)

**Inspiration. While at soccer last night, I opened a message from my wise editor. She suggests I stop worrying over the launch of The Juliet Stories and get to work on the next book instead. I really really really like that idea.

**Valentine’s day. Kevin surprised me. He pulled off a romantic evening despite swim lessons, soccer games, and me still doing the dishes at 8pm.

**Helpers. CJ helped me with those late-night dishes. It was his stream of cheery curious chatter that helped the most.

**Friends. Friends who plan parties. On my behalf. Friends who walk instead of run. On my behalf. Friends who get up early too.

**Naptime. What would I do without those twenty minutes of bliss every morning? The kids leave the house. The house is quiet. I lie down and sink into rest, I dream, and then and just as easily drift out of rest and dream, waking gradually, gently, fortified.

**Plans. A day in Toronto meeting old/new friends! An after-school forest program coming to our neighbourhood (maybe)! Friends who are planning big birthday parties! Overnight babysitting exchanges! Kundalini yoga! March break! Summer road trip!

Theme of the week: the free trial

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This week’s unoffical theme has been the free trial. In order to fill holes in my exercise life, I tried out two different classes at two different gyms/studios. It was all about trying new things. I lifted kettleballs. I took an aerobics class. And my specific conclusion is that aerobics classes are not for me. Swinging kettleballs just might be. My more general conclusion is that trying new things is really not that hard. You just show up. You accept that you’re the newbie. You might be wearing the wrong shirt (a touch too flashy for this morning’s t-shirt-style aerobics class). You don’t know where to stand. And apparently you can’t get your arms to coordinate with your legs (aerobics class again; really really not for me). You look awkward. At least a little bit.

And that’s okay. Just make the appointment, set the alarm, and show up. If it’s a fit, you’ll know it, and if not, it was a unique experience you’ll never have to repeat.

What I learned in this morning’s aerobics class is that looking fit and toned is not a powerful enough goal for me; I kind of looked fit and toned even before I was. The luck of genes. Nope, what motivates me is the desire to stay sane, to take the edge off, to channel my nervous energy and competitive nature toward semi-useful ends like marathons and triathlons. It is also a way to inhabit my body and to get out of my head.

Which I need. Pretty much daily.

A photographer came this morning to take a shot to accompany yesterday’s interview (it will run a week from Saturday in the KW Record). He seemed slightly disappointed by my ordinary setup: desk, computer screen, chair. He said he’d imagined me scribbling into a notebook reclined in a comfortable chair. He did pose me with pen in hand, which happens next to never since I can’t read my own printing. It got me thinking about how the writer gets imagined — when you think writer, what do you see? Tortured soul? Drink in hand?

Running may be my version of drinking. Here’s hoping kettleballs will suffice too.

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