Road trip diary (#4)

I’m still “keyed up,” which is a word I remember my parents using for excitable children, because tonight was the book launch, and I was nervous, but it went well, and it’s done, so here I am to put it down. Feeling grateful. About 120 people attended, which is a terrific number. It touched me to see people from many parts of my earlier life: fellow writers, friends, cousins, former work colleagues, and some friends of friends. It’s no small thing when people come out in support and then take the time to read one’s work. (It’s not as if there isn’t plenty of other reading material in the world.) And the carrot cake was delicious too!

35503-PbN-75-fall-winter19-20-cover-web_600_757_90Mid-afternoon I learned that All That Belongs is featured on the cover of the current issue of Prairie Books Now and that a review of the book had appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press today. Both were lovely surprises. I haven’t seen the PBN article yet or read the review but my sources told me it was good, which was enough to get me through the evening without worrying about it. Some writers don’t read reviews, either good or critical ones. I’ll read this one eventually, but today was not the day. I needed to focus on the evening event.

H. and I had a great visit with long time friends over breakfast in the morning, and yesterday we had excellent visits too, with my elderly aunt, a cousin and some of her children, and a niece and her family. This afternoon I attended Faith in Form where friends Sarah Klassen, Angeline Schellenberg, Joanne Epp, and Sally Ito were among the presenters. These women have been writerly companions for me. So these days have been filled with goodness and tomorrow we’ll go to our former church and do more visiting with friends. But truth be told, the main deal in this diary entry is that the first and biggest launch is over and on account of that I’m relaxed and relieved and happy in equal measure.

 

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.)

Oh, the places I’ve gone…

At the Shell station cafe where H. and I stopped for an ice cream after a walk on the Point Roberts beach, I spotted a “take one, leave one” shelf of books. Although I had nothing to leave, I scanned the titles.Turn Right at Machu Picchu caught my attention, so I took it. I would bring it back or leave another — next time.

By this small chance, this small curiosity, I was off to Peru, following author Mark Adams as he followed in the paths of Hiram Bingham III who was credited, though not entirely accurately, with “discovering” that Inca site visited by thousands of tourists today. I have never forgotten reading for some literature course — it must have been in university — Peter Shaffer’s play The Royal Hunt of the Sun, the magnificent Atahuallpa Inca betrayed by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. I’ve taken the slender book with its blue cover along to every place we’ve lived since, on account of its first impact on me, and now I opened it again, saw my markings, my underlinings, and re-read the play, travelling not only to a place but to the past — a time of confrontation between two civilizations but my own past as well, and my encounter with a powerful and unsettling text.

“I like to read in a literary stream of consciousness, unplanned, meandering, one book leading to another in an organic fashion that I need not think about too deeply,” blogger and reader extraordinaire Kerry Clare wrote some time ago. “[F]or the most part, I let the books decide.” And so it is for me. I do plan, but books assert themselves into these plans, and I’ve noticed the meandering lately, and the places I’ve gone — a stationary version of Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go! Reading is an experience of time and place, just as physical travel is. If I had a so-called bucket list, Machu Picchu would not be on it, for I feel satisfied with having been there via these books and, while reading, looking up internet photos of the details. (Much as I’ve walked the Camino several times from my chair and feel it will have to be, at my age, enough.)

After Peru I went to northern England in an enactment of Old Briton in Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, drawn there by hearing Moss speak with Eleanor Wachtel, and similarly, per a Writers and Company (CBC) conversation, to Germany during the Second World War and beyond (into the complicated coming to terms with it) with Nora Klug. Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home was a journey of text and graphics that made me unable to read anything else for several days after. Some books are like that: they fasten me into themselves so thoroughly in a kind of awe or vast sorrow or mystery that by the last page all I hear are its echoes and I just have to stay in that space for a while, listening still.

In a thrift store I found a pristine hardcover copy of Helen Humphrey’s first novel, Leaving Earth, and for a time I circled Toronto with two daring women aviators, back in the 1930s when such feats of daring and panache were all the rage. I was astonished at the poetry of Humphrey’s narrative of this long, long circling. I also found the autobiography of Madeleine Albright, U.S. Secretary of State during Bill Clinton’s second term, and I read Madame Secretary, unsure why, for I hadn’t intended on such a book. But the book decided. It informed me and gave me context for what’s happening in American politics now, and because bile sits in my throat on account of the current scene, perhaps I needed an intelligent knowing voice, like draughts of cool spring water, to ease the discomfort.

I began Pulitzer winner The Overstory by Richard Powers and loved it — it gobsmacked me, as they say — until page 260 of 500 pages and then I felt I’d been immersed in trees and the story enough to know it and simply paged through to the end. But I did read — entirely — Ariel Gordon’s book of essays Treed, because I love the cover and because I know Ariel and because the book took me back to Winnipeg, where we lived for nearly four decades, and its marvellous canopy of trees. And not just to the trees of Winnipeg, but to mushrooms and Banff and rural Manitoba. I’m fond of trees, though I don’t know their names half the time; I like to touch their bark and even mutter to them if no one is around to see or hear, so the tour with Ariel, who is even fonder of trees and much more knowledgeable, was a fine education and pleasure.

These are some of my recent armchair adventures. And you? Where have books taken you this summer?