Seven

If seven is a perfect number, it’s been accomplished this fall: seven reading/launch events for All That Belongs and in its wake, a grateful and satisfied weariness. It’s been quite a year.

It was just ahead of my January birthday that I got the call from Turnstone Press saying they wanted to publish the book, and since there was an opening in their fall list, we could — if I chose — aim for a fall release. That sounded overwhelming; usually there’s more lead time for the processes post-acceptance, even when the book is already written, but why not? I would make it a priority. So we did it, the entire team (editor, copy editor, designer, proofreader) and me bending into the required tasks.

Writing and publishing are no stroll between the roses. My first instinct when people tell me they want to write — whatever it may be — is to persuade them otherwise, which of course I don’t actually do because maybe they just have to, maybe it’s their vocation too, what do I know about their necessities? Or the story maybe only they can tell.  I’m not quite done with writing myself. But what I’m trying to say is that while there’s a great deal of joy in it — for me writing itself is mostly a pleasure — there are other parts that are more fraught.

unnamedThere’s the very competitive quest for readers, which begins with somebody saying Yes, we want to publish this. A quest that can never — statistically speaking — be assumed, unless one is famous. Another scary spot, at least for me and probably many writers, is that space just after the book appears and there’s nothing more to be done and it is what it is and then one wonders if it will live on for a while or languish in warehouse boxes? And then putting oneself out there in public events and on social media, inviting and announcing and hoping not to annoy by overdoing it and hoping people will come and hoping people will buy and hoping people will read. Hoping the first, perhaps only major review, will be okay. (It was.) It’s a vulnerable time. (And if I/we sound insecure, yes, that too.)

But. done for now. (Until spring, maybe in Ontario). And so I want to round off this year that I still can’t quite believe actually happened with saying Thank you to Turnstone for producing the book, then setting up the joyous Winnipeg launch, and subsequent readings in Saskatoon, Calgary, and Vancouver, and to friends in my childhood hometown of Linden for a truly delightful time together, and to the folks at the Mennonite Heritage Museum in Abbotsford and friends and family here in Tsawwassen and Ladner, and to the writers I was paired with at several of the events. Some were small gatherings, some large, and each had a story. (Including finding myself wandering around downtown Vancouver looking for the bookstore whose address I had typed wrong into my computer and thus thoroughly lost!) I’m grateful Agatha Fast let us use her art for the cover, which people are loving. I’m also grateful to Kerry Clare at Briny Books for the honour of being one of her fall picks. (Here a short interview she did with me.)

And grateful to you — you who attended or bought or suggested All That Belongs to your library or book club (including an invitation to meet you by Skype) or put under the Christmas tree for someone else or read. Or just generally shared my happiness about this year.

Road trip diary (# 7)

On the Coquihalla Highway

This will be our longest day of driving, and our last, and this the 7th and last diary post too. (Seven being a perfect number and all.) We decided to drive the Water Valley (near Calgary) to Tsawwassen (near Vancouver) stretch in a day; we two old horses are smelling the taste of home (sweet home)!

In terms of All That Belongs, yesterday was a great day. We drove from Red Deer to Linden for an early afternoon coffee and reading. There were fourteen of us around a long table at Country Cousins restaurant, enjoying pie and conversation. I grew up in Linden and remain connected to a few people there, as well as in nearby Three Hills. Eunice, my longest friend (with mutual Linden origins) and a dedicatee of the novel, drove down from the Edmonton area.

We went around the circle and everyone introduced themselves and said why they were there — connections in other words. This was fun, for the memories it provoked. Then I talked about the book a little and read a few pages, and of course I just happened to have some along to sign and sell.

In the evening, I was privileged to participate in the Flywheel reading series at Pages on Kensington in Calgary. A good crowd assembled. I was impressed with the energy in the room. I think it’s wonderful when bookstores partner with writers in this way. The other readers were Kate Flaherty, Laura Swart, Jacqueline Turner, and fellow Turnstone author, Su Croll, with her new book of poetry, Cold Metal Stairs, about her father and lewy body dementia.

Then it was on to my brother John’s, where we stayed early in the trip. We talked till midnight or so and in the morning Barb sent us off with a hearty breakfast of bacon and Ruehrei, which is a kind of scrambled egg but with flour in it. Like cut-up pancake. We all grew up with it. She said her mom paired Ruehrei with sardines, but even as a child she thought this a bad match!

Now here we are, curving through rock and pines, and soon we’ll emerge to Hope and the Fraser Valley, and we’ll stop for a sandwich, and then drive the final kilometres. My heart and mind are full of gratitude for the past two weeks, and also for all of you who have read along.IMG_7342

Road trip diary (# 6)

Today we continued west along some of the very narrow red lines on our paper map, meaning the road was paved but minor and narrow. At least at the beginning. We wanted the straightest route west from Saskatoon to Red Deer, where we’re staying this night with my brother Victor and wife Doris. It took us through farm country, the landscape slightly rolling. The sky was cloud filled and it was the clouds that seemed to draw us forward. I wish I had words for clouds. There’s so much variety in them, so many different shades of white and grey, so many effects

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(l-r) Katherine, Dora, Sarah (photo courtesy Turnstone at Facebook)

Last evening in Saskatoon, I read with Sarah Ens and Katherine Lawrence in an event Turnstone Press billed “an evening with memory seekers.” We’re all Turnstone authors, Sarah with a book of poetry (The World is Mostly Sky) to be released next spring, and Katherine with a book of poetry (Never Mind) a couple of years back. We read from our work, they graciously giving me the longest time because my book is the newest, and then, with Sarah moderating, we discussed a series of questions about memory. It was a good discussion, in my opinion, and the preparation for it was interesting to me too. I haven’t thought about memory as idea in relation to All That Belongs, though it’s a big piece of it. I suppose I thought more to remembrance as activity and to the content of what Catherine remembers, which came to me as the “story” being told.

Memory is fraught with partiality and unreliability. And yet within it, we three agreed, lies potential for authenticity and even transformation. We also talked about the value of documents and objects, as well as the impact of technology upon memory seeking/keeping.

Leaving Saskatoon I couldn’t help thinking of memory fragments of the short period we lived in that beautiful city of bridges back in the early 1980s. We moved there on account of work and planned to stay, but work took us away again. We had two young sons at the time. In the busyness of life with preschoolers, I signed up for an evening course in Canadian literature at the University of Saskatoon. I remember driving down 22nd Street in our leased Grand Marquis (actually the nicest car we’ve ever had) on my way to the university, the boys safely in the care of their father and me free of them for the evening, listening to CBC-FM which at that time played mostly classical music, a memory which remains with me as a sensation of luxurious happiness.

Driving into Red Deer late afternoon we managed to get rather hilariously lost, but eventually we got to my brother Victor and Doris’s place, where we enjoyed a delicious supper and visit with them and some of their grown children.