Author Questionnaire

I just posted the following at my Chronicles of Aging blog, the place I notice the ins and outs of living this stage. Since it concerns my work as writer, which I sometimes talk about here, I’m sharing it in this space too. (My apologies to those who follow both blogs for the repeat.)

I just spent several hours filling out an author questionnaire for Turnstone Press, publisher of my next novel, All That Belongs. They need information to market my book. A long string of questions. Basically, who am I, what have I done, where have I lived, who do I know?

It wasn’t my favourite assignment of the week but of course I did it. It’s among the things you do after the euphoria of a manuscript’s acceptance wears off.  But it felt peculiar, vulnerable, like taking a slow 360 degree scan of one’s life, to see if anything’s still relevant. Fortunately I have an up-to-date CV I could use for my publishing history. I was also glad I could think of several places across the country where a cluster of friends and relatives might be interested in me and my book. (Glad too for a big family.)

There were questions about the work itself. A description in my words? Themes? What do I think people will like about it? (So I can’t hide behind “I hope they’ll like it”?!)

What about its inspiration? This was my answer:

I clearly remember sitting in the sun near my local library when the character of Uncle Must–a mysterious and haunted man, a kind of Desert Father, equal parts faith and fear–dropped into my head. Then, like the narrator Catherine, I had to figure out who he was and what he wanted, and who she and the other characters who soon gathered around her were and what they wanted. I was interested in the whole concept of shame as well as how the past remains with us and what we do with its legacy when we would rather turn away than embrace.

Now I’m going to reward myself with a break and go read someone else!

What book could I be?

Over at the blog “Considerations,” David Warkentin tells how he recently spent a couple hours in the library of Douglas College, being a book. It was part of  the Living Library, a movement designed to “promote dialogue, reduce prejudices and encourage understanding” amidst the diversity of our pluralistic world. It’s all about “engaging people,” he explains, “instead of just borrowing books.” David chose the title “Engaging Our Stories – Living Amidst Spiritual and Religious Diversity” for his book-self, and people could “borrow” him for up to a half-hour to discuss anything related to his topic. 

This sounded like a wonderful idea, and it got me thinking. What book could I be?

Most days I’m not an expert at anything, but I imagined for a moment that I might land in the “how-to” section of the library. Next I had some fun at my bookshelves, perusing them for what title(s) I might choose for myself. Here’s what I came up with — borrowing only the title, please realize, and not the contents! 

1. On the writing life.

Let’s see… How about Great Expectations (Dickens), or, continuing the metaphor more realistically, All Things Are Labor (Arnoldi). No, that just sounds pretentious. I think Wilderness Tips (Atwood) should do it here.

2. On marriage.

Well, besides 35 years of experience, what do I know? Two Solitudes (MacLennan) for starters. Marriage is good and definitely worth the perseverance, though, so let’s call me-on-marriage The Progress of Love (Munro).

3. On parenting.

Oh my, the possibilities are endless here! Expensive People (Oates), or Here Be Dragons (Newman). A Multitude of Sins (Ford) — mine, I mean — and then they’re Gone with the Wind (Mitchell). On balance, though, A Good House (Burnard). But it all comes down to two pieces of advice:  See the Child (Bergen) and Mercy Among the Children (Richards).

4. On the life of faith.

Well, that’s The Heart of the Matter (Greene) and some days, Such a Long Journey (Mistry). But perhaps what I’d like to get at is mystery and very life itself. How about Breathing Lessons (Tyler)?

5. On becoming an “elder” (chronologically, that is, not a position in the church).

Just at the very beginning here, so what I know so far is Independence Day (Ford), and The Reprieve (Sartre). Also a chance for Final Payments (Gordon) in a metaphorical sense, though when the recession eats at our RSPs, literally too. One faces ahead The Remains of the Day (Ishiguro), finds oneself in The Summer before the Dark (Lessing). The dark of death, yes, but only as transition. On, on, on, then, to The Radiant Way (Drabble).

(Thanks, D.W., for the idea!)

Crossing the Disraeli

It wasn’t exactly the Rubicon, but crossing the Disraeli Bridge last winter on my first day back to work after a year and a half away seemed momentous. It was a very cold morning and everything was slow, the car crawling through exhaust and spumes of smoke spilling out of chimneys like foam, and there ahead of me, our small city’s small cluster of high-rise towers. One of those dark, tense mornings, the roads clogged and everyone cautious, and enough time to “feel” the progress of dawn, from deep blue to milky blue sky, trees thick with their bare branches against it.

I was exhilarated that morning in spite of the traffic — about being alive, and warm in the car, and thinking how much I love this city and listening to songs nominated for a playlist of 49 best Canadian songs to present to incoming president Barack Obama (K.D. Lang’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Alleluia,” for example, and Ian and Sylvia’s “Four Strong Winds,” and a song by Blue Rodeo). And yes, going back to work after retiring once, now that I’d decided I’d do it. “It’s only a year,” a friend reminded me. 

Winnipeg sits on land as flat as a chopping block, but the Disraeli rises to cross the Red River, and marks the “hilly” spot for me where I can see downtown and remember my city-love. This year, it was also a kind of halfway marker from our house in North Kildonan to the offices of the MB Herald. 

Driving back at day’s end the bridge was a marker homeward, and had I been in some horse-drawn conveyance, I suppose that’s where the reins would drop and Black Beauty would know the way alone, and probably pick up the pace to boot. 

Now, re-retired, it’s a true crossing back. Then: editor; now: writer. And no matter what Madam Editor said in her last post about writers still being needed, on this side of the Disraeli, wariness over editors returns. Will they want it? Like it? Change it? 

We definitely need each other, editors and writers do, but the priorities are different and there may be a power struggle, or nervousness at least, until you know one another well. I’ve had mostly good experiences, but there was that story that came to me in its published form with its verb tenses changed, and that experience of re-reading something of mine in print and thinking, my lands, I must have been asleep, that doesn’t sound like me, only to discover it wasn’t me but the editor. On the basis of such few and flimsy episodes I’ve become one of those writers who drives editors crazy, insisting she has to see the revisions (please). Most good editors, if they do anything substantive, show them anyway. Then again, what’s the definition of substantive? (Naturally, you do want the errors and foolishness caught.)

But before I engage in too much writerly insecurity, I’m taking a rest — to read and catch up on housework (and blog of course). I was already complaining to some writer friends that the inspiration to work at my (interrupted) short stories appears to be absent. The same friend whose advice helped me above, had some for this side of the Disraeli. “Of course the inspiration isn’t there yet,” she said. “That comes AFTER the rest.”