Road trip diary (#2)

Tuesday, October 1. Regina, Saskatchewan

After two days of driving we’ve arrived in Regina for the night. Monday, the highway through the mountains was clear in spite of the weekend storm — “historic” for September — that swept into southwestern Alberta, and we travelled well. After Golden, where the Rockies are especially large and majestic, the snow had given them an austere and hoary look and the pine forests were snow-iced too; it seemed Christmasy. I’d anticipated, ever since planning this trip, our happy emergence out of the mountains into the foothills, and there it was, the broad rolling terrain and the big sky, but I’d not anticipated winter upon it. Not now! Autumn yellow trees poking out of snow just looked odd.

IMG_7323We had supper and stayed the night with my brother John and wife Barb at their acreage in Water Valley. Their house backs onto pines, and these too were beautifully hung with snow, and being in the country it was a very dark and quiet night. John had a wood fire going while we caught up on our respective lives and health and families and also reminisced about some incidents during our childhood in Linden. He recalled how he and other boys ran down the hill into the valley to see the horrible accident that befell two men working on storm sewer installation, when the earth caved in and buried them. For him, the watching of efforts to dig them out, remains a vivid memory, but I think of the families to whom these men belonged (strangers to the community). That day must have been world-changing for them.

Today — Tuesday —  we drove in white for some hours, eastward through Alberta, the sky white, the earth white, and for some time into fog as well, but eventually the aspect of the earth changed and by the time we reached Moose Jaw, it was all the expected prairie autumn tones of early October, and that prairie sky loaded with clouds in a great variety of blue and grey, and the feeling I was feeling was familiarity and it was a very good feeling indeed.

I’ve been reading, when it’s not my turn at the wheel, The Art of Leaving by Ayelet Tsabari. It’s a memoir in essays by an Israeli woman of Yemeni background who leaves her home in Tel Aviv for travel and work in a great many places, and for a great many relationships, undone it seems by the death of her beloved father when she was a girl. “[L]eaving is the only thing I know how to do,” she says at one point, “…the ritual of packing up, throwing out or giving away the little I have, packing and taking off.” Tsabari is an excellent writer, but I’m showing my age I suppose if I say that I’m reading her restlessness with a kind of impatient ache on her behalf. But I’ve got half the book to go and lots can happen yet.

Saturday night, before the trip, I stayed up late to finish Michael Crummey’s Sweetland. I know, I know, it’s not his most recent, shortlisted for the Giller, but it’s the one I was reading. And it’s very good, and I had to think, in comparison to Tsabari’s experience, that novel could be subtitled “the art of staying.” The character Sweetland, who’s always lived on the small island off Newfoundland with the same name as his, except for a brief foray for work in Toronto, stubbornly resists the government’s wish to re-locate him to the mainland, along with the island’s other remaining residents. I’m fascinated by the idea of living in the same place all one’s life, which I myself will never experience. But I know some who have and I should probe this with them.

Off and on I keep thinking too about the recent death of Andris Taskans, founder and long-time editor of Prairie Fire. The arts community of Winnipeg is in shock and grief. He was such a vital part of it. I claim no close friendship with Andris, though we knew one another, but I felt his encouragement and support for he published a number of my stories over the years, and I sensed his kindly character in our various encounters.

Well, nearly done this ramble, diary dear, but what a surprise when we were “seeking” for CBC in Saskatchewan and the very first thing we heard when we found it was the name “Dave Schwab” and sure enough, the Dave Schwab we know, describing his harrowing encounter with a bear.  

Road trip diary (# 1)

Sunday, Sept. 29. Merritt, B.C.

I want to keep a bit of a diary of the road trip, destination Winnipeg, for the launch of All That Belongs, and after that, on the homeward journey, me and the book at several stops. My blog readers, if interested, are welcome to follow, but if not — no problem either, for I’ll never know!

My copies of the book arrived Friday. Strange, it was, holding the novel as object. I was surprised by its plumpness; in my mind, the story is a relatively slender thing. Today it got its public initiation, at the fiction stage of the Word Vancouver Festival, where I read in a slot called “Complexities and Complications,” together with screenwriter Ken Hegan, currently the Vancouver library writer-in-residence, and Alex Leslie, author of We All Need to Eat, a poetic collection of linked stories. Our moderator was the vivacious writer Maureen Medved.

The reading went well, I think, the audience small but fine. Our discussion after we each presented concerned the complexities of the writing endeavour. Asked for advice for writers, Ken spoke of persistence and Alex spoke of focusing on one’s own necessary work, not drawn off by what others are doing. Since we’d run out of time, I agreed with both!

That done, satisfied with the event, and grateful, I took the sky train and bus back to Tsawwassen, By 5 p.m. H. and I were on the road, rounding Vancouver to the # 1 and on through the Fraser Valley with its rich banquet-table spread of farms, looking prosperous under clear skies. Passing Chilliwack, I thought, as I always do when I pass Chilliwack, that I might have grown up there, for Dad’s family moved there after he’d gone off to college, and when he married, he and Mom lived there a while too, until he was asked to return to Gem, Alberta, where he’d grown up, to teach in a winter Bible school. Next came the invitation to pastor a church in Linden, another small Alberta community. So we never got back to Chilliwack. But one or two twists otherwise, and I could have grown up there instead of where I did. If so, would I be a different person than I am now? (One can play this game endlessly with history, personal or otherwise, of course.)

Through Hope, the mountains looming too near for my taste. Casting us in shadow. Residents may find them a comfort and shelter, I suppose, but prairie born and raised, they seem vaguely oppressive to me. But then we rounded a curve and the view opened to a panorama of peaks on which the setting sun was glowing pink, the most glorious sight of the day. A gift.

An hour on the Coquihalla, up to Merritt, in the dark by now but the road clear, and here we are, tired and ready for bed in a room at the Ramada. We tuned into the weather channel and it looks like we’ll be driving into lots of snow. But we’ve made a small dent in the journey and tomorrow will be its own day, no point worrying about conditions now.

My writing life, 2019

The use of “birthing” for producing a book has never felt quite accurate for me. My three actual pregnancies progressed relatively smoothly, except for some nausea at the beginning, and the actual births, while grim descents into tumult and pain, were relatively brief for all that, and quickly gave way to joy.

If a parenting metaphor is required, I would say writing a book is closer to raising an adolescent. Who are you, story child? What is it you’re striving to be? I love you, but why are you so much work? What do I need to do to get you through, formed well enough and on your own?

Most of that work for All That Belongs — first draft, second draft, third draft — and a variety of revisions playing with voice and re-arranging and dropping about 20,000 words eventually got done over the course of years, sometimes in fits and starts. I won’t dwell further on the creative highs and lows of all that. For, one day, there arrived the excitement of a phone call from Turnstone Press, which published my previous book (What You Get at Home), saying they wanted to publish this one as well.

Such news is like college acceptance for the close-to-graduating teen, I suppose, just to drag on the comparison a bit, with about a year left of “raising” before said teen is out the door and on their own. And that’s been 2019 so far. For those who wonder about or are interested in such matters, here follow the details!

The team at Turnstone, starting with my editor, has been excellent. The best editors ask questions, push for small additions or deletions in the service of clarity. The best editors come with deep respect for the story that exists and an appraising eye to making it better. One section was too dense, my editor said; it needed “air”. I saw what she meant. (The writer does the fixing work.)

During that process, it occurred to me that the material, which shifts between “pasts”, could be more effectively divided into smaller chapters instead of three large sections as before. It was a good move, I think. (Writers reading this post may know exactly what I mean when I say one does wish that the best ideas would all show up at the beginning, en masse, but in fact, especially for slow writers like myself, they reveal themselves to the last.)

The next step — responding to the copy edits, done by another member of the Turnstone team — was an intense one. Now we were down to commas and single words and fact checks, in a series of file exchanges by email, using Word track changes. Sometimes I objected, but mainly I was grateful for the “catches” and the forced attention to the tinier points of expression.

An email with “cover” in the subject line arrived. Breath held (what if I hate it?) as I opened it. Oh my! Wonderful! (The cover art, titled “Gertrude” is by Agatha Fast).

Whew on the cover then. It runs the emotional gamut, this year of bringing out a book. (Almost as if I were the adolescent!) And later, seeing who’d blurbed the book and my happiness about that. (Writers I admire: Sue Sorensen, Betty Jane Hegerat, K.D. Miller.)

Next, proofreading the set novel. They proofread, I proofread. I read each word aloud so my eye wouldn’t simply supply what it knew should be there. Since text looks different when set for publication, I noticed a few small changes I still wished to make. These were allowed. Emphasis on small. No re-writing now.

Even with all the proofreading, there may be things that slipped through; who knows? I just finished a book, one of the Giller long-listed books, in fact, and caught two typos. Yes, it happens. One hopes for perfect but lives with good enough.

I signed off, Turnstone signed off, the book has gone to the printers.

The final acts await. I’ll be launching the novel, first in Winnipeg (October 5). My husband and I plan to take a road trip to Manitoba for that event, with a number of possible other stops. Then I’ll do some launch events here in B.C. This stage feels fraught and vulnerable — will anyone show? How will the book be received? I do enjoy reading events and am always grateful for supportive friends and readers. And perhaps there will be some book club invitations. (I heard recently of an author attending one via Skype!) Which reminds me that I’m supposed to write some questions for book clubs.

So, still lots ahead until All That Belongs is truly on its own and I can put a copy on my bookshelf and let it be. And kind of forget about it. Yes, one does that too.

Before that, though, I’ll let you know about the road trip and launches and some of my other off-you-go experiences with All That Belongs!  

 

(P.S. For a description and information about the book itself, please see the page devoted to it.)