It’s a good thing I promised to say something about the launch of my book, because I’ve slipped back into regular mode, meaning it feels somewhat distant already, so why go on about it? And we’re having wintery weather at the moment – yes, that’s snow caught in the grass – when just days ago, pre- and launch days, that is, it was gorgeous autumn. As if in the meantime a season has come and gone.
It’s good for me, though, to remember and also explain things to myself, and in addition, Shirley Hershey Showalter, in a FB post, said, “I hope you’ll describe what it’s like to launch,” so here I am, on about it. (She’s very close to completing a memoir manuscript for which she already has a contract, so her launch lies soon ahead of her.)
For me, then, and Shirley, and anyone else interested, this is about the launch of my collection of short fiction, What You Get at Home, last Tuesday.
Two parts, private and public. My emotional relationship to a manuscript shifts throughout the writing and publishing process. There’s First Draft intimacy, even elation; Revision’s commitment, collegiality as it were; Submission’s weight of hope and expectation (often too much for the poor thing to bear); Editing’s probing and questions and surges of fresh joy as I push in for bits of improvement; and Proofs-reading’s wavering, its huge desire to start over again here and there – now that it’s entirely too late – which my publisher assures me is completely normal.
Once this book was at the printer’s and the Oct. 2 launch date neared, I felt an intense mix of excitement and fear. A sense of vulnerability. When I first had the book in my hands last Friday afternoon, however, some of that intensity settled. I’m not sure I can explain it, but the small rituals of my private launch were a snapping-shut of something, as if I could see the book as separate, a kind of object or other being, and was reconciled to it. So this is it then. I like it very much, so I don’t mean reconciled as if there was a conflict, but more like seeing it as neither more nor less than what it was, and content now to set it on a bookshelf. Some vulnerability remains, of course it does, which adheres to me because my name is on it and it’s my work, but I can more easily shift it away; the book is on its own and will have to do its own reconciling work with readers. That’s not really within the range of the possible for me anymore.
I was glad that I could read from the book that same evening in Neepawa. I was given enough time to read a complete story and felt, from the listening coming back to me, that the story had worked. All of which tightened my sense of closure with this other thing, my new book, my sense of, Off you go now, but just between you and me, I’ve got your back.
Well, enough of that, and onward to the public piece of it.
Three decisions. I had to chuckle last week when I met Faith Johnston, who’s launching a new book shortly as well, and she whispered, “Have you decided what you’re going to wear?” She must have spent a couple of hours like I did, reviewing my closet, trying things on. The black and white outfit I’d worn at my last launch, while still in active use, wouldn’t do, of course. It would have to be the teal blue jacket, then, and never mind that I’d worn it reading at the Mennonite(s) IV writing festival in spring; Harrisonburg, Virginia is a long way from Winnipeg.
Besides what to wear, two other decisions remained – what to say, and what to read. Once they were made (and written down and practiced), I could relax and look forward to the evening. I even had time, the day of, to get a quick response off to CBC Manitoba Scene which had requested an excerpt of what I’d be reading and set-up of same, and to drive out to St. Benedict’s to walk the labyrinth.
What I would say, for about 10 minutes, was a series of acknowledgments: thanks to my publishers, editor, magazines who had previously published some of the stories, my friends and past writing groups, the cover artist, my supportive family and husband. A mention of my parents, too, Tina and the late Peter J. Doerksen, to whom the collection is dedicated. I also talked a little about the collection itself.
What I would read, for another 10 minutes, was some excerpts from the title story, which say something about reading, and seemed appropriate for the audience that shows up at a launch. The story concerns Liese, a woman who moved to Canada in the 1970s when she is in her twenties and then is surprised by episodes of homesickness some ten years later.
It begins like this:
She remembers how she discovered a book by Anne Tyler, discovered it by accident. How reading that book became a story of its own, like a nesting doll hiding other stories inside it, earlier ones she’d almost forgotten. She remembers how it helped her, how it did the good work a book can do.
Overwhelmed with gratitude. Once there, Tuesday evening, at McNally Robinson’s Booksellers, seeing friends, seeing the atrium fill up, I was simply overwhelmed with gratitude. I was grateful for those who had come and for all that my connections to these various people represent. I got a wee bit flustered during a short Q & A (I simply must figure out a decent answer for what motivates me to write, because it’s a frequent question) but the talking and reading went well, I think. I quite like reading publicly, actually, more than talking, and wish I could do an audio version!
Lots of people stuck around for the wine and cheese and tea and coffee and lots of them bought books and then it was finished and the McNallys events coordinator, who’d introduced me, rolled up two posters announcing the launch and gave them to me and we left for home. And since I’d been busy signing instead of having wine and cheese, H. and I stopped at McDonalds on our way and we had ice-cream cones. I was still a little high, I’ll admit, and the next day too. But now it’s Friday, and I’m off to get my groceries for tomorrow’s turkey supper (our children from Toronto are coming home, yay!) and it all feels wonderfully back to regular.
P.S. Thank you to Tony Schellenberg, who graciously gave me permission to use his photos in this post; you can check out his work at the site listed on the photos. And to any readers who couldn’t attend, or don’t live in Winnipeg, I’d be delighted if you bought and read the book. Encouraging your local bookseller to stock my books is a great first option, but Turnstone Press, McNally’s online, and Amazon are also excellent places to shop. Thank you!