Say you've read The Juliet Stories. Say you've liked it. Or even, like this reviewer, say you've loved it. You think others should read it too. And you can't wait to read the next book by this writer. Dear Reader, if this is you, please consider. There is much you can do to help. Small things. Practical things. Things that could make a huge difference in the life of this book.
Here are some ideas:
* Review and rate The Juliet Stories at the big online bookstores. You know the ones. (Visit here and here.) Positive reviews and ratings help move the book higher up in the rankings and bring it greater visability. (Negative reviews don't help; if these exist, rate the review itself as unhelpful.) As of this writing, The Juliet Stories is sitting #81 in the category "Short Stories" on a major bookseller's site. That's pretty awesome. Just imagine where it could go with your support.
* Ask for The Juliet Stories at your local bookstore. If they don't have it, tell the owner/manager/book-loving-employee why they must. Here's the thing. The big box retailers, Costco and Walmart, sell bucketloads of books, but my publisher can't afford to send my book there. Not yet. Not unless word-of-mouth spreads sales like wildfire. Big box retailers aren't really bookstores, and they treat books like any other piece of merchandise, expecting it to sell itself -- and within three weeks upon arriving or they return it. Big box stores tend to return lots of books to publishers, often damaged -- and in Canada, they do so without any cost to themselves; the publisher carries the burden of all unsold books (yes, it's crazy, but that's another story). Right now, it isn't practical to place The Juliet Stories in the very lucrative big box store market. So make sure your local independent has it. Or your mall's Coles. Or the Chapters on the outskirts of town.
* If The Juliet Stories is already at your local bookstore, hurray! Tell the owner/manager/book-loving-employee how happy you are to see the book, and how much you like/love it. Make sure the book's cover is visible, facing forward on the shelf.
* Buy the book. Sounds obvious, and you already have, right? It may surprise you how often this practical step is overlooked.
* Tell your friends about the book. Heck, tell strangers. Word-of-mouth does wonders.
* If you have a book club, suggest The Juliet Stories for an upcoming pick. If you live near me, ask me to visit your book club -- I'd love to, and I will. (And I promise not to cry, drink all of your wine, or answer in monosyllables.)
* If you have a blog, write about The Juliet Stories. Or interview me for your blog. If you're on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, post about The Juliet Stories. Tell people why they'd enjoy the book. "Like" The Juliet Stories' Facebook page.
Dear Reader, Virtually all of this holds true for any book you love. And virtually all writers are just like me: hoping their offering gets found and read. Spread the love.
One more thing, Dear Reader. I can't tell you how glad I am that you've found and read Juliet. Truly. Thank you.
nacho party; sorry, people, I had to crop us out; we did not look good
**Monday's menu** Take-out Chinese. For family day. I made steamed rice too.
**Carrot count** Zero.
**Tuesday's menu** Split pea soup with bacon. And carrots. Bread and cheese.
**Carrot count** Four or five. Not nearly enough.
**Wednesday's menu** Black beans. Baked rice. Tortillas. Cabbage salad with grated carrots. Roasted carrots with thyme. Toppings for beans and rice.
**Carrot count** Lots! They took forever to peel, but they all got eaten.
**We love company** Invited two of my brothers to join us. That was fun.
**Thursday's menu** Carrot/parsnip soup (recipe from a friend). Fried kale (should have added grated carrot; forgot). Baguette. Cheese.
**Carrot count** Two pounds. Success!
**We love company** Albus invited a friend to supper. When I said what was on the menu, he said, "It sounds like something my mom would cook!" Knowing his mom, that is a lovely compliment.
**Dear Parsnip** So much peeling! So skinny! You are not a vegetable I can fall in love with. Maybe we could be friends, but ...
**Friday's menu** Crockpot black bean chili with hamburger. And carrots.
**Carrot count** A few. Starting to feel less panicked about using up carrots -- we've made a good dent.
**Leftovers** This used up three separate containers of leftovers, two of rice (from Monday and Wednesday) and one of black beans. Plus it was quick, easy, and tasted fabulous.
**We love company** Kevin's mother arrived to join us for Book Launch Weekend. She complimented the chili. The chef was pleased.
**Saturday's menu** Sweet potato coconut soup. Fancy cheeses. Baguette.
**Carrot count** Zero.
**We love company** Kevin's mother was with us. My publicist and editor had a bite too, when they stopped in from Toronto just before we all went to the book launch.
**Good reviews** "This is the best supper ever!" "Can I try the stinky cheese?" "I LOVE stinky cheese!" "More stinky cheese!" (The only problem with this: I LOVE stinky cheese too. And it's expensive!)
**Weekend kitchen accomplishments** Four loaves of way-too-rustic-looking bread. Too much whole wheat flour, proportionally.
**No cooking-with-kids this week.
**However** We did have a Nacho Party on Sunday afternoon to use up the massive bag of tortilla chips I'd ordered for the launch. Apparently 5 kg is a helluva a lot of tortilla chips. But I might order that much again, just to have an excuse for another party.
**Recipe for a Nacho Party** Essential ingredients: One giant bag of tortilla chips. Cheese to grate and melt on top. Sour cream or crema. Salsa. Excellent but optional additions: Freshly cooked black beans. Pickled jalapeno peppers (mmmmmm). Cilantro, green onions. (Any more suggestions to add?)
Let me tell you about the party. Ah, the party. The party!
All of my dreams last night were an extension of the party. It was like I got to drift through its pieces again as I slept, moving around the room, standing on stage, hearing the song being played to a still room filled with people. What I'd hoped for was to create a moment we could all share.
Good grief. I was so nervous before it was time to read. So nervous my teeth were chattering. Every clump of people I greeted, I blurted out "I'm so nervous! Gah!" or some variation on the theme. I was grateful for the distraction of laughter and silliness. And then it was showtime. My publicist introduced my editor who introduced me. My editor's words had a weirdly calming effect. I stopped shaking. I could feel myself preparing -- and prepared.
Stepping on stage. I was surprised by the lights. I couldn't see anybody. I could hear and sense and feel, but not see. I felt so happy to be there. There is no other way to express it. Pure joy. As I read the words, I felt as though I was also standing apart, observing, watching, savouring. I thought about the years of work. But I also thought about how it had seemed this occasion might never happen, how I'd fallen down and gotten back up again, considered giving up, but been somehow unable to. I thought about the friends who believed in me -- many of whom were there last night. I thought about how lucky I was to be reading these words out loud, to a room full of people who had come just to hear them. Actually I can't even express my feeling of great fortune.
On stage, I felt like I was doing my job. That sounds pedestrian. It's not. I felt like I was doing the job I was meant to do. My job is to bring everyone along to a different place, in their imaginations, all of us together. A writer standing on stage and reading is asking of her audience a huge favour: have faith in my words, take a leap with me, come along.
That's what I wanted. And it felt like that's what happened. Thank you, generous room of listeners.
Afterward, signing books, only occasionally forgetting a name, I kept wondering at how effortless it felt. I mean -- everything. The nerves beforehand were as they always are. It's been a long time, but I used to act in high school and university. I'd feel the same way. Eaten up with anxiety, just get me on stage, please. There is something magical about being on stage. I feel so free. Free to be myself, or some comfortable projection of myself. I can hardly remember anything from the hour or so before reading, though everything was perfect, the room was insanely beautiful (thanks to the incredible efforts of my party planning committee -- Zoe, Rachel, and Nathalie), so many people kept arriving, drinks were offered and many well wishes, yet it was a total blur.
But time on stage was so different -- it seemed to stretch and expand. I could relax into the moment, drink it all in. I can't explain it. I guess that's what I mean when I say it felt like I was doing my job. The very definition of work/play.
When I came off-stage, I was greeted by an absolutely bursting AppleApple, whom we'd let come along. The pride in her face -- I wish I could have stopped time and drunk it in. And then it was on to book signing. The bookseller (Words Worth Books) sold out -- every last Juliet. The party planning committee seamlessly took down our event's decorations and packed up, and at 10pm the club opened the doors and their DJs started spinning, and those of us who felt like dancing stayed and danced until finally the place was completely changed. From intimate candlelit book launch to grinding club floor. And then it was time to go home.
"You throw a good party!" someone shouted to me on the dance floor. And it felt like, yeah, this was a good party. Listen, I will happily throw a party like this, say, once a year, if you're willing to come. As far as readings go, it will be hard to top. I ended the reading by playing the song, the lullaby I wrote for my character Gloria, who is a musician and performer herself. I didn't say it was me singing; I introduced it as Gloria's song. One of the most thrilling parts of the evening was hearing from so many people that they LOVED the song and could not believe it was me -- and where could they get a copy? I don't have an answer to that yet, though the song is embedded in the ebook, within the story to which it belongs. Frankly, I'd like to record more Juliet songs and put together a little EP and make that available in conjunction with the book. But that's still a dream.
Last night. Last night wasn't a dream. But it felt like one. I couldn't have imagined a better celebration for the book, the perfect punctuation mark for all those years of work.
I didn't take my camera along. But my friend Nancy was snapping photos all evening, and she promises to send me the best and I promise to post them here for you.
The kids are sensing the vibe, which brings out different responses in each. AppleApple wants to help. Albus is extra-thoughtful. CJ keeps giving me kisses. Fooey is extra-rebellious. I think they're all expressing the same thing though: Say it's okay, Mom!
It's okay, kids.
What's happening tonight is just a party. I mean, it's a big party, for me. But still, it's just a party. If I can hope for anything, it's to be relaxed and comfortable and to embrace the moment. I hope the words glide off my tongue during the reading. I hope to remember everyone's name -- I really really hope for that.
What else to hope for? All of the above seems quite enough.
Yet I could go on. And on. I hope not to discover something's been stuck in my teeth all night. I hope not to trip walking onto the stage, or off of it. I hope my foot stays out of my mouth. I hope my hair dries pretty. I hope my voice hangs in. I hope my kids are good for the babysitter. I hope there's not a blizzard. I hope my hands don't shake. I hope I remember how to sign my name.
Oh yeah. I hope to have fun.
I hope to have fun.
I hope to really really really have fun. That too. That most of all.
We've got flocks of crows in the neighbourhood. Occasionally, they choose the trees in our yard and gather in the bare branches. Even when they are silent, their wings rustle heavily, a sensation of suspended watchfulness. It's hard not to think of them as being a sign. Though of what? I often hear them calling loudly in the early morning. On a less poetical note, their poop is everywhere.
This early morning my alarm went off, and I thought, no, I don't feel like swimming. I'm fighting a cold that has claimed part of my voice, and I'm on the mend, and somehow submerging my head in cold water for an hour didn't seem terribly wise. So, as my friend Nath would say, I "logicked" myself out of getting up, turned off the alarm and napped restlessly for another twenty minutes. But I couldn't return to peaceful sleep. Apparently I've now trained myself to be AWAKE at 5am, alarm or no alarm. Exercise every day was the mantra that shoved me out of bed. I didn't feel like going to hot yoga, but went anyway. I wanted to be doing something that amped up the lungs and the heart, rather than strengthening and stretching and being all zen and calm and whatnot.
This will be good for you, I told myself.
And I won't deny that it was.
Sometime in the future, however, I can imagine rising early to write. Yes, it's early, but I feel so AWAKE. The house is so PEACEFUL. I could write for four hours and it would only be 9:30 or so. Then I could nap. Then I could meet someone for lunch. Then I could exercise. Then I could write some more. Then someone would make me supper. And do the laundry and the dishes. (The children would be able to care for themselves.) Wait, this is turning into full-fledged fantasy.
Clearly something at which I excel.
Here is the crow just landing, or just taking off, from the larger photo above. The wings are a blur. There is something about the colour and tone and the scratchiness of the branches that looks like brush-strokes on mottled paper. The density of the silhouette.
This morning I've been taking pencil to page and crossing out words here, pointing arrows there, timing myself reading passages out loud and noting the times down. I'm turning this copy of Juliet into my reading copy. I'm not sure whether I'm just landing, or just taking off.
People are starting to read The Juliet Stories. I know this because of the odd unexpected message appearing in my inbox, arriving in out-of-the-blue moments, an old friend saying, Hello! with excitement. Part of me wants to share the messages with you. Part of me feels awkward and reticent. Is this what Alice Munro would do? (She is the height of writerly grace, in my opinion.) Um, no, is the obvious answer. But then, publishing is such an altered world, altered even since Hair Hat came out eight years ago. Eight years ago, who had heard of "social media"? I'm a writer who works in an old-fashioned medium: the Book. But I'm also a blog-writer. Occasionally I've wondered whether blog-writing itself is my accidental calling -- this brisk, confessional, and immediate form of communication.
The writing of a book requires such different mental mechanisms than the writing of a blog. It requires patience to somehow co-exist with impatience. There are intricate pieces to be held inside the mind, waiting for a chance to be written out, puzzled out, put together. Blog-writing, for me, is freeing. It's like opening a window. Book-writing is exhausting. It's like mining underground with a trowel.
However, the reading of either book or blog should not be exhausting. It should be compelling, thought-provoking. Perhaps in different ways, and on different levels. A blog is more like a snapshot. A book is more like a movie.
And this writer is awful fond of ye ole simile.
In conclusion (she pontificates), I'm glad both mediums are available. I love blogging. And I think, yes I do, that the book is nevertheless my form, too. And I hope you will read The Juliet Stories and agree. Therefore, I will do as Obscure CanLit Mama would do, and share some of this out-of-the-blue love with you. It's too sweet not to.
It was approximately 5:30am this morning, and I was wearing bike shorts and eating peanut butter on toast in preparation for a spin/weight class, when I opened this message from a friend, sent at midnight:
I’ve just finished [Juliet] and my head is reeling. It’s marvellous. I could not put it down. It’s the best book I’ve read in a very long time. I read 150 books last year, and this stands out above all of them.
You know what the best thing is? I feel like it was written just for me, like it’s bespoke fiction. It’s all the things I love, Munro’s Del and Gallant’s Linnet among them.
Glorious, Carrie. Just glorious. I can’t wait to tell people about this book.
And I was in the whirl of supper prep, taking a quick breather in my office, when I discovered this message yesterday evening:
Good lord, Carrie. I know I should wait until I'm done, but I've just finished the first part of the book, and am exploding to tell you how splendid it is! I guess when I start a book by someone I know & care about I am always a bit nervous. What if I don't like it, what if I think it could be better. But THIS book is a revelation. Carrie, it is just so damn good. Each story is vivid and gripping, and filled with tension and wonderfully flawed and alive characters. The prose is smart and crafty and clear and evocative ...
And I was sitting down at the computer with my cherished morning coffee, today, when I read this tweet from Sheree Fitch, an accomplished writer for children and adults, about whom I blogged not long ago:
Finished #TheJulietStories. Rhapsodic,original,heart-piercing,luminous #novel. #brotherlylove in allways #Thankyou.
How does this make me feel? I don't even know, honestly. Relieved. On the verge of tears. That feeling of it was worth it. I've got to confess, I was feeling nervous about the launch party on Saturday, but with these messages fluttering in my mind, I'm feeling the excitement. I'm feeling it!
Oh! And at the party, we may even debut the new song!*
*not live; my voice is not up to that
One more thing before I sign off today. The New Quarterly has a lovely post today about The Juliet Stories. As you may know, four Juliet stories debuted in TNQ, in somewhat altered earlier forms, and the magazine has packaged them together in digital format. It's like Juliet memorabilia. (!)
They also have three writing contests on right now, one for Occasional Verse (ie. a poem written for an occasion, like a birthday, or a book launch ...), one for Personal Essay, and one for the Short Story (hm, maybe I should enter?). Each prize will bestow upon the winner $1000. Details here. Spread the word.
Run, run, as fast as you can. That snippet of verse is in my head, running too.
I ran this morning. I lost track of the time and we ran for forty minutes. A bit over my limit of 10-15, but my hip felt okay. Not perfect, but okay. Then I went to my physio appointment where we looked at video of me running on the treadmill last week. Fascinating. To see my stride slowed down. To see my right foot turning out on every strike, and my hip drop at the foot lifts (both sides). "Wow, my calf muscles look so strong!" I said.
Apparently there's a reason for that. My very strong calf muscles have been providing the lift for my stride rather than the much larger glutes, which should be engaged to a far greater degree. It may not even be a weakness in the muscle, but a habit formed. I will need to teach my body to use different strengths.
I have a brand-new mantra. It's very small.
Exercise every day.
Doesn't matter what. Just so long as every day I do something. This injury has opened to door to new activities. So maybe I do my strengthening exercises after a short run. Or try a Pilates class. A recent article in the Globe and Mail reported on a rather remarkable study of 40-year-old to 80-year-old triathletes. The difference in muscle tone and size was virtually indistinguishable between the 40-year-old athlete and the 70-year-old athlete. A sedentary 70-year-old, on the other hand, had significant decreases in muscle mass and increases in fat tissue around the shrunken muscles. The exercise needed to be four to five times a week, and needed to involve the entire body: cardio, strength training, and weight-bearing exercise in equal measure. The message is not eternal youth, in my mind. It's that we can and should use our bodies all the days of our life.
Rather than focusing on injury, I'm going to focus on ability. If I can learn how to swim at age 35, I can learn how to retrain my running muscles at age 37. I'm confident.
And I'm running late. Again. Run, run, as fast as you can.
This was meant to be a post about our Family Day hot-yoga-in-the-living-room experience, wherein we turned our living-room into a hot yoga room using steam, a heater, and sunshine. Photo above. Family Day at our house has translated into "Do Everything Together Day." I struggled a little bit with this notion, but I was the only one. I tried not to be a spoil-sport. And slipped away to my office for a few breaths alone only a few times ...
**Monday's menu** Sweet potato coconut soup (crockpot). Bread. Cheese.
**Veggies** I think there are enough veggies in the soup to skip the side. This recipe is a winner every time.
**Tuesday's menu** Chili in the crockpot (with hamburger and spinach). Baked rice. Tortilla chips.
**Rush, rush, rush** Eaten in the half-hour turnaround between swim lessons and soccer. I love the crockpot for it's ability to turn out hot meals on days when I'm out of the house from 9-5.
**re hamburger** I've been buying one package of local, organic, drug-free hamburger on occasion. I have no explanation/excuse. Clearly we are not vegetarian, at least not entirely. But we do continue to eat meat sparingly. She says, and then remembers Thursday's menu. Ahem.
**Wednesday's menu** Red sauce with basil and tofu. Spaghetti.
**Easy-peasy** Whipped this up after piano lessons. Thank you, home-canned tomatoes and frozen basil.
**Thursday's menu** Baked beans in the crockpot. Hot dogs. Store-bought buns. Confetti kale (fried kale with grated carrots).
**I know, I know** This is weird meal for us. We rarely eat hot dogs and when we do it's summertime and they're on the grill and they're local and nitrate-free. These were yer basic tube o' sodium & fat. Here's the story: AppleApple went to an outdoor education centre on Thursday, and the children were invited to bring hot dogs to roast over the fire. We bought last-minute grocery store dogs. She took two. Which left us with a package of hot dogs minus two. Just enough for supper, so I made a theme meal of it. I personally skipped the dog and ate beans on a bun with toppings. A couple of the kids tried that out for their third helpings, with ketchup, mustard, relish, etc. It was okay. But the confetti kale was fantabulous.
**Friday's menu** Church supper. Spaghetti with meat sauce. Green salad. Cookies and squares.
**No dishes** 'Nuff said.
**Weekend kitchen accomplishments** Four loaves of bread. Batch of middling carrot muffins. Vat of turkey stock to freeze.
Fooey with her orange tea
**Cooking with kids** Fooey's menu for Saturday's supper: Chinese theme. Cod fish cakes (these were really good!). Orange tea. Miso soup (technically Japanese; but an easy favourite). Ginger and snowpea noodles. Ginger chicken. Fruit with chocolate sauce.
**Please help!** We have an excess of carrots in the crisper! In fact, carrots have entirely taken over the crisper. What's the solution? My carrot muffins were an utter failure (my muffins always are; maybe I'm over-mixing?). Carrot soup? Carrot cake? Tossing grated carrot into absolutely every dish? What's your favourite carrot recipe?
I was glad to have a companion for yesterday afternoon's rather odd errand -- I'd heard the book had arrived in our bookstore uptown.
"I'm feeling kind of silly about taking my camera into the store. 'Hi, can I take a picture of my book?' What do you think?"
"Of course you should! It's your book!"
I was surprised to find copies smack-dab in the front window, too. The article in the window is from yesterday's local newspaper; an interview. Inside the store there was a poster about the launch party this Saturday.
I'm trying to figure out how I feel about all of this. I'm not taking it for granted, not at all. It's lovely. That's what it is. It is a lovely experience running alongside the rest of my life.
Yesterday, the rest of my life revolved around selecting disastrous areas of the house (they are all disastrous, so I decided to make the job manageable by focusing on one at a time), and sorting through the accumulated minutiae, organizing, and then vacuuming.
Is it just me, or does "before" actually somehow look better, more welcoming, filled with life, etc., than "after"? Whatever. Those photos represent hours of labour. I was pretty grumpy by the time we got to the uptown photo errand. And I missed my chance to go to yoga class. And no make-up yoga today because Kevin's working in Toronto. And tomorrow is Family Day which means the pool won't be open early. And And And.
So, yes. It's lovely to find the mundane interrupted by the unusual.
Short post this morning. Because I MUST CLEAN THE HOUSE. Someone has to do something lest the crumbs start plotting a takeover. And the house is on my mind. Or perhaps more accurately in my subconscious. In the last week I have dreamed about the house, in one way or another, every single night.
The dreams are all essentially the same, though the details change. But the essential thread holding them together is that our house is not our house. We have moved to a different house, inevitably a house in sad disrepair. We've sold our house and now regret it terribly but it's too late. We can never go home. Or, we return to our house but it is changed, and not for the better. We stare at the front window, broken and boarded up. We wonder why someone has torn the numbers off our house and spraypainted new numbers onto plywood. We feel desolate and confused.
In last night's dream the children had to go to new schools with crowded, noisy classrooms. They had to walk long distances to get there. They were struggling to fit in.
I'm no dream analyst (okay, I'm an amateur dream analyst; it's an unavoidable side gig as a writer), but this speaks to me as fear of change. Fear of the unknown. That sideways wandering into a life that is just a little bit different from the known, comfortable, and familiar. The way a seemingly insignificant change can tip us off kilter. Not all change is chosen. What happens when we come back to the house and discover it is not the same house? Remember that feeling of going home for Christmas those first few years after leaving home, as a young adult? Remember the dismay and sadness? Realizing we couldn't go home in the same way--also that we didn't want to, but that we missed what was gone forever.
This morning, CJ came into my bed to tell me another Cookie Monster story ("I think this will be a short one, Mommy.") And when that was done, he said, "I forgot! We need a snuggle." And when a snuggle had been had, he hopped down and headed for the door, paused, turned: "I will remember this snuggle forever, Mommy." Little feet trotting down the hallway. Stopping. Returning. His face suddenly sad. "I won't remember this snuggle forever," he said. "You can always come back for another snuggle," I reassured him.
Because that's what we do. We reassure our kids. Even while we're thinking, man, that is so damn true. You won't remember this snuggle forever. Neither will I. It's a pinprick of a moment in a wide life. I mean, it's a good pinprick. But it's here and gone. Change, change, ringing like a bell. And we're opening the door to a house that is familiar, but not ours.
A more cheerful post to come, very soon. Meanwhile, I will test out the theory that tidying, vacuuming, cleaning, and baking will put the dreams to rest, at least for a little while.
I've been reading A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh to the kids before bed. Lights have to be out by 8:30 in the little kids' room, so some nights that means we don't get much read. When the big kids were little, we read through the classics before bedtime: the Little House on the Prairie series, Charlotte's Web, Roald Dahl, some Narnia Chronicles, the entire Harry Potter series (Kev read those to the kids), Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and more I may be forgetting. The little kids are now getting old enough to hear these stories too, but our schedules are so different just a few years on. Evenings have shrunk to make time for extracurricular activities. Sometimes bedtime rituals amount to little more than toothbrushing and tucking in. Lights out.
So when I picked up Winnie the Pooh a few weeks ago, it seemed like the bare minimum. The bar was set pretty low. What I've seen is how all the kids crave this time. Crave being read to. It started with the two littlest. The older ones were just passing by in the hallway when they heard laughter: "What's going on in here?" Room was made in the bunks for them too.
When I looked up from the page last night I saw the most beautiful picture. The photos do not do the scene justice. CJ likes to lie facing me, hands holding chin. Albus brought homework, listening in with one ear. AppleApple was giddy with laughter. Fooey was half-asleep, content and warm under the blankets.
"What time does the clock say?" I ask the kids, and one of them will usually tell me honestly. At 8:30 the last paragraph gets read, the page turned down, the book set aside. Lights out. When we're done with Pooh, I will pick out another book, for sure.
Aside: Albus is bored with the books he's been reading and re-reading, and I want to tweak his interest again. Any suggestions? He's ten and a half and capable of reading quite complex chapter books.
Today I spent an hour at physio, working on strengthening exercises. I also ran on a treadmill for 8 minutes and oh my goodness how I wished it were longer. But I'm supposed to continue doing what I've been doing -- slow, short runs -- for another week.
Today I did not get up early for a swim. I read for an extra hour last night, and slept for an extra two hours this morning (7am versus 5am; makes a big difference). While I regretted not starting the day with momentum, I need to get work done, and with physio knew I'd be hard-pressed to squeeze in a nap too. Brain must function.
Yesterday, I read this post from the Afterword on the fraught business of publicizing one's book, by fellow Anansi author Robert Hough (and now I must read his new book!). Today I am working on posts for the same venue, to run next month. Topics are wide open, which is rather daunting.
Also, today, I am thinking about the time I have to write. The actual literal time that is available to me. Next year CJ starts kindergarten. But it won't change my life very much. Except for Tuesday afternoons when the two of us are home together, he is either in nursery school (mornings) or with a caregiver (afternoons until 3pm). My work day ends at 3pm. That will change very little when school starts, or going forward for years to come. The school day is really very short. Several afternoons a week, I pick the kids up for after-school activities that require me to organize and ferry them around (swim lessons; piano lessons). On the other afternoons, perhaps I could shut my office door, lay out snacks, and let the kids fend for themselves until 5pm, in order to gain a full working day, but ... would that work? Here's the thing: by 3pm I'm revved up and working well creatively. It's painful to shut it down at that moment, day after day. Starting earlier is not an option, not if I want to work out before dawn and see the kids off to school.
How do people work full-time? How? I want to know. I want to be able to do it too. I'm sensing there are no easy answers, just more compromises. So I will count my blessings and be grateful for the time I've carved out. (This is worthy of a larger post. When I finish the biography of Mordecai Richler, which I continue to read as if mining for hints and clues to writerly success, I will get to that larger post.)
**My mom likes my book. Actually what she said was, "I love it; couldn't put it down." (I gave her a finished copy yesterday afternoon; I hadn't shown the book, in progress or finished, to my family before now.)
**Inspiration. While at soccer last night, I opened a message from my wise editor. She suggests I stop worrying over the launch of The Juliet Stories and get to work on the next book instead. I really really really like that idea.
**Valentine's day. Kevin surprised me. He pulled off a romantic evening despite swim lessons, soccer games, and me still doing the dishes at 8pm.
**Helpers. CJ helped me with those late-night dishes. It was his stream of cheery curious chatter that helped the most.
**Friends. Friends who plan parties. On my behalf. Friends who walk instead of run. On my behalf. Friends who get up early too.
**Naptime. What would I do without those twenty minutes of bliss every morning? The kids leave the house. The house is quiet. I lie down and sink into rest, I dream, and then and just as easily drift out of rest and dream, waking gradually, gently, fortified.
**Plans. A day in Toronto meeting old/new friends! An after-school forest program coming to our neighbourhood (maybe)! Friends who are planning big birthday parties! Overnight babysitting exchanges! Kundalini yoga! March break! Summer road trip!
Every Monday morning my alarm goes just after 5am and I wonder, why am I doing this? Less than two hours later, I'm showering after a good swim and the answer is loud and clear, because it makes me feel terrific. And just like that the new week begins with good energy and a sense of momentum.
This winter, I've really pushed the early morning exercise, aiming to rise early at least four mornings a week. Last week it was five. Surprisingly it was not that difficult, though it did result in an unplanned crashed-out nap on the counch at 7:30 on Friday evening. Still. Worth it? Yes.
I took this photo on Sunday afternoon following my second post-injury run: sixteen short minutes of snowy bliss. I felt just like this: like I was flying, like my feet weren't even on the ground. Monday morning, after the swim, I went for my first physio appointment and the news was good: dedicated strength work should balance out my muscles and make me faster and stronger in the long run (pun intended). I've been feeling rather down on myself, questioning whether I'm too old, whether my quest to become fitter and faster has hurt rather than helped me. But that wasn't the physio's take. She sees me as an athlete who needs to focus and hone my training in order to support the good things I'm doing for/with my body. It isn't silly to dream of getting faster. It's a perfectly natural goal, and achievable too.
Momentum. Sometimes I think sheer will can get me anywhere. Sometimes I know that's bull. But will does wonders. Sometimes I feel arrow-sharp, aimed at a goal. Sometimes I feel indecisive and anxious. But even on the most indecisive morning I can get up early and swim, and I do. That's the sheer will I'm talking about. And if nothing else, it gets me off the ground.
**Monday's menu** Corn and white bean chili (crockpot). Fried kale. Leftover rice and quinoa.
**Thanks to** the LCBO magazine for the chili recipe. Kale was supposed to be included, but I cooked it separately. It was delicious (the kale, I mean).
**Tuesday's menu** Beans and rice and tortillas.
**Swim lessons + soccer** This has become my go-to meal for our tripleheader evening of swim lessons, Soccer Girl's practice, and Coach Kevin and son's soccer game. Throw in some salsa and cheese and wrap it up, and everyone's happy. Well, as happy as everyone can be when everyone is being rushed about mercilessly.
**Wednesday's menu** Leftover soups (miso, chili, and harira). Toasted pita chips (homemade). Crackers and cheese. Green salad with mustard dressing.
**Family time** We always relax on Wednesday evenings. We have time. The pita chips were a hit: made by brushing stale pitas with oil and sprinkling with salt and paprika and cumin and baking at 400 until crispy. Good conversation.
**Thursday's menu** Pasta with pesto. Hummus, falafel, kim chi.
**Chef Kevin in charge** I took AppleApple to her goalie practice, which happens over the supper hour, so Kevin made supper using pesto frozen last fall. He kept it hot for us, and for me added a little side plate of kim chi, hummus, and falafel, which was crazy delicious. The kim chi is made by a waiter at our favourite restaurant -- he knows I love kim chi, so he gave me a jar the last time we were there. It is so good, I don't know what I'll do when I'm through.
**Friday's menu** Mashed potato soup. Roasted squash. Bread and cheese.
**Injury** I gouged myself whilst peeling the squash and cutting it into chunks. Just what I need, a cooking-related injury. However, the roasted squash with garlic was beyond delicious. Wish there was an easy route to peeling and cutting squash.
**Family time** Another memorable meal, with great conversation. It was fun to have Albus's friend join us, giving us insight into the social life of the grade five boy.
**Weekend cooking accomplishments** Four loaves of bread. Potato tortilla (Spanish omelet) for brunch on Sunday.
AppleApple in her Roman toga (as made by AppleApple)
**Cooking with kids** AppleApple's menu. A Roman feast! Spiced grape juice. Cabbage salad. Barbequed chicken served on a platter with rice and cumin-spiced sauce. Grilled eggplant. Honey-soaked dates stuffed with walnuts for dessert. (Nobody else was required to wear a toga; and my God isn't she gorgeous?)
This morning started at an earlier hour and less pleasantly than anticipated. A certain small soccer player decided she didn't feel like playing for her team this morning. Too early, too tired. The Marshmallows would have to struggle on without her. Except her dad coaches said Marshmallows. And there are scarcely enough kids on the team to make a team when everyone shows up. She had to go. Team spirit. Letting her team down. Being a team player. All concepts not best discussed at 7 o'clock in the morning. The unhappy debate woke the house.
At last, small defiant Marshmallow off to play for her team, I returned to my bed, hoping for a wee lie-in. CJ followed.
"Come for a snuggle?"
He climbed in, sat up with blankets over knees, alert and happy. "Should we have a Cookie Monster story?" he asked.
"Do you want a long story or a short story?"
"Whatever you think." Eyes closed, hoping to drift back to semi-sleep.
"I think a long story."
"Okay. A long story."
He thought for a moment, and then launched in. "One day Cookie Monster didn't know what to do. So he was looking out his window. And his mom was baking something!"
"Maybe it was bread?" I suggested, thinking of the bread I planned to bake this morning.
"No. It was something better than bread."
"Like strawberry blueberry cookies!"
The story continued, with jumping garbage cans and birthday parties and magic birthday gifts and hiding gifts under the carpet, and lots of mms and ohs from the drifting audience.
I am baking bread right now, but maybe I should consider baking something better, too. The two littlest are playing in the snow (we have snow! it's cold! just like winter!). They'll be in before I know it, requesting hot chocolate with marshmallows (and not the soccer-playing kind). Strawberry blueberry cookie recipes, anyone?
This week's unoffical theme has been the free trial. In order to fill holes in my exercise life, I tried out two different classes at two different gyms/studios. It was all about trying new things. I lifted kettleballs. I took an aerobics class. And my specific conclusion is that aerobics classes are not for me. Swinging kettleballs just might be. My more general conclusion is that trying new things is really not that hard. You just show up. You accept that you're the newbie. You might be wearing the wrong shirt (a touch too flashy for this morning's t-shirt-style aerobics class). You don't know where to stand. And apparently you can't get your arms to coordinate with your legs (aerobics class again; really really not for me). You look awkward. At least a little bit.
And that's okay. Just make the appointment, set the alarm, and show up. If it's a fit, you'll know it, and if not, it was a unique experience you'll never have to repeat.
What I learned in this morning's aerobics class is that looking fit and toned is not a powerful enough goal for me; I kind of looked fit and toned even before I was. The luck of genes. Nope, what motivates me is the desire to stay sane, to take the edge off, to channel my nervous energy and competitive nature toward semi-useful ends like marathons and triathlons. It is also a way to inhabit my body and to get out of my head.
Which I need. Pretty much daily.
A photographer came this morning to take a shot to accompany yesterday's interview (it will run a week from Saturday in the KW Record). He seemed slightly disappointed by my ordinary setup: desk, computer screen, chair. He said he'd imagined me scribbling into a notebook reclined in a comfortable chair. He did pose me with pen in hand, which happens next to never since I can't read my own printing. It got me thinking about how the writer gets imagined -- when you think writer, what do you see? Tortured soul? Drink in hand?
Running may be my version of drinking. Here's hoping kettleballs will suffice too.
This morning I had my first interview related to The Juliet Stories. Because the book is so new, because I am not a workshopping writer, because these words have really only been read by my agent and by editors up to this point, I am awfully terribly anxiously hungry for responses. The interview was an early response, a hint at what might come.
And it was a kind response, and a generous one, and I am grateful.
Writers don't get to tell readers how to read the book; that's not part of the deal. But I can't help wanting to hear -- to understand -- how it's met a reader. What happened at that intersection. How the words were received.
Walking home, I passed this empty lot not far from my house. I saw how much sky there was over the lot, and how blue and clear it was. I don't often carry my camera outside with me. I wonder, will I see this empty lot differently for having seen it through my lens?
Over the past few nights and mornings I've watched the moon wax to fullness and begin to wane. In the evening, it stares in the back window of my office as it rises. It is setting as I drive to wherever that morning's exercise is occurring. I get to see the same moon twice, on different days. It's felt like an odd little miracle.
I'm not pulling my thoughts together this afternoon. I'm just writing them down.
And in that vein of randomness, good news to share: Yesterday, my sports doctor cleared me to start running again. Slowly. And in very small doses. I would have high-fived him but he was too busy impressing on me how short short is: ten to fifteen minutes, three times a week. Now that's short. I'm planning my first run tonight, during goalie practice. I will wear a watch. I promise not to push it. I can't promise not to high-five anyone who crosses my path during those fifteen minutes, however. You've been warned.
This morning a very loose tooth came out -- the first baby tooth lost from my little girl's mouth. She was thrilled and yet it was strange. When would the new tooth grow in? When would the next tooth come out? What to do with the teeny-tiny tooth? After some deliberation, she went back upstairs and put it under her pillow.
I felt something the same yesterday. My new book arrived in the mail. I wanted to celebrate. I took goofy photos. I was thrilled and yet it was strange. Part of me didn't want to read the words on the page. So final. So done. I think that publishing a book is the end of something. It's the end of what the book could have been (because isn't there always room for tweaks and improvements? though tweaks and improvements can so easily spin out of control and become hacks and confusions). But, still. It's the end of that singular imaginative process.
This morning, my little girl lost her first tooth. Momentous. This morning, I stood by the stove, hair wet from my morning swim, and I opened my book and I started to read the words on the page. Momentous. I didn't want to stop reading and the porridge was late getting made. I read with trepidation and some distance, wondering what the words would reveal that I never intended them to, wondering how to let go. Part of me wants to take the book upstairs and put it under my pillow. Oh, for the simple and magical exchange of tooth for coin, old for new. Gentle passage.
If publishing is the end of something, it is also the beginning of something else. Like Fooey, I am asking: What happens now? What happens next? What does the tooth fairy do with all those teeth?
Quiet house. Beans soaking on the stove. All children at school or nursery school. Empty coffee cup. Just breathe.
Every day holds so many in-between moments. January felt like an in-between month. February has the same feeling. Is it because I'm not working on a definitive project that will box up the scraps and tie things together? Last night I dreamed we owned two houses, an imperfect one in which we were living, and a perfect one to which we were thinking about moving. The catch was that the perfect house would take us away from our friends. In the dream, I kept listing off the perfect qualities of the perfect house -- on a lake; huge sweeping lawns; quiet street; a separate guest house -- but it always came back to not wanting to leave the imperfect house we already had.
Nothing about this year so far has been perfect. But it's a frivolous aim anyway, isn't it? Perfection. When I look at the photo above, taken on Sunday afternoon, I see an in-between moment. And I see the potential of the in-between moment. Balance is fleeting, but not elusive. Lift arms. Pause. Breathe.
**Monday's menu** All-you-can-eat sushi. Birthday cake.
**Mama's day off** All-you-can-eat sushi has become something of a family birthday tradition, and Kevin was happy to choose this for his birthday supper. Plus our friend Nath made him a Guinness cake. This saved me from sweating the impossible on a day spent waiting at dr's appointments and running errands.
**Tuesday's menu** Turkey soup (crockpot). Quinoa. Roasted beets.
**Leftover inspiration** We have a lot of turkey meat leftover from the crockpot turkey last Friday. Truth is, I don't much like turkey. Or meat. This soup was okay. People liked it. Just not me.
**Deep purple** A friend texted me to ask what greens would go with quinoa, beets, goat cheese and walnuts. After I stopped drooling I suggested spinach or arugula. And then I got the bag of beets out the cold cellar and roasted them on the spot--because I was already making quinoa (weird coincidence). So I ate a bowl of quinoa with sliced roasted beets and goat cheese and a dressing of vinegar and tamari sauce. Should have committed and made a real salad out of it. But it saved me from eating turkey.
**Wednesday's menu** Harira (lentil soup, crockpot). Leftover quinoa. Roasted beet salad.
**Family togetherness** We actually got to eat this supper together, sitting at the table. Everyone liked the harira and quinoa except for CJ, who ate plain quinoa with yogurt. I dressed the sliced beets with a grainy mustard vinegrette and everyone tried it. A few even liked it and asked for seconds and thirds. "It tastes pickled," said one child. (Pickled is a good thing at our house.)
**Thursday's menu** Mashed potatoes. Creamed turkey. Peas. Cabbage/rutabaga slaw.
**Plus a picnic for Soccer Girl** AppleApple had early goalie practice, squeezed in directly after all four kids had a dentist appointment, so I made her a pita pizza to go. The rest of us enjoyed the meal. It felt very old-fashioned. I'm personally thankful to report that this used up the last of the leftover turkey meat.
**Friday's menu** Mashed potato casserole. Hummus and pita.
**AKA "Leftover Surprise"** Last night's leavings made the perfect Leftover Surprise. I mixed together the mashed potatoes, the smattering of creamed turkey, the peas, added some milk, salt and pepper, spread everything into a buttered casserole, topped with grated cheese, and baked for 20 minutes at 400. Just add ketchup. Everyone loved it.
**Weekend cooking accomplishments** Four loaves of bread. (That's all??? Uh oh. Zero treats. Sorry, kids.)
**Cooking with kids** Albus's turn. Sushi, maki, sashimi. With real sushi-grade raw salmon. Miso soup. (That's a look of concentration on his face, not displeasure. He worked really hard on this meal.)
Yesterday I was writing to deadline, pulling together some notes on the context and writing of The Juliet Stories for the ebook version that will be published alongside the printed book. Ebooks offer flexibility, room for extra material, and mine will also include one of my character's songs. The essay is a short piece with photos scattered throughout. Distillation was key. I think you'll like it.
But this morning I came across a longer meditation on the same subject, written while I was in the middle of discovering this book's potential to be what it has become. So if you're interested in a more detailed, mid-process version, visit "Midwife to Stories." (Interesting also that the story I was in the midst of writing did not make it into book; goes to show how much gets discarded along the way; and how important it is not to worry about whether or not it will be discarded when you're working. You can't get at the story any other way. It all matters.)
Yesterday evening, as promised, I went for a walk in the dark during soccer practice. I walked briskly for six kilometres, which took about an hour; I could run twice the distance in the same amount of time. The air was crisp and cool and more like mid-October than early February. I'd dressed differently than I would have for a run, and I regretted that; I was too cautious. When I go for another walk tomorrow, I will leave behind the heavy winter coat and the big boots. Both completely unnecessary. The good news is that I was able to march without pain; and that being outside had an excellent effect on my body and mind. I'm still finding acceptance difficult -- accepting that I can't run for now -- but there are alternatives and the alternatives can be good, too. Different, but good. If I had to give up running, I decided last night, I would get a dog. I would hike in the woods. I would hike long distances. One way or another, I would cover the ground.
After the walk, I got to watch my Soccer Girl scrimmage for fifteen minutes. As you may remember, she was a rep goalkeeper last season, and will be again this summer. But if you'd happened across the field yesterday evening, you simply wouldn't have believed it. She looked for all the world like a centre forward. She scored four goals, and came close to six. She handled the ball with such confidence, dribbling through defenders, keeping control, biding her time. She made lovely passes to teammates. She waited patiently, using the space on the field, knowing the ball would come to her. It was so fun to watch. Sometimes parenthood is sweeter than anything else on earth. (And it only takes a smidgen of sweetness to make up for the underlying anxiety and vicarious pain that is so much a part of parenthood too.)
I'm blogging under the influence of an excess of restless energy. I haven't exercised since this head cold knocked me sideways on Wednesday ... plus the cavity-filling during yesterday's potential exercise slot ... and deciding to stay up late to watch Groundhog Day last night and therefore sleep in this morning ... which really only adds up to three days of exercise-deprivation. Apparently, three days is WAY TOO LONG for my brain to be stuck inside a sedentary body.
I can see a real dip in my patience, in my frame of mind, in my focus in the absence of a) sunshine b) the outdoors and c) an endorphin-rush.
I can also see the less pleasant aspects of my personality poking out like sharp elbows. The all-or-nothing self. ie. I haven't run for almost three weeks and therefore I will never get back into shape ever again! The doom-and-gloom self. ie. This is worst winter ever. The snappish self. ie. The one slamming the office door.
I need a new go-to form of exercise. Nothing obvious has presented itself, and my attempts to fill the void feel slapdash and ineffectual, ie. I've found myself doing lunges in the kitchen while eating a hardboiled egg or even while doing the dishes (not a very effective way either to do lunges or the dishes; or egg-eating, for that matter). Anxiety is creeping in: What if I've lost my drive? What if I've lost my willpower and my determination? It's circular, of course. The less I exercise, the more anxious I feel.
I'm looking into a membership at a nearby gym. I've scouted another early morning spin class on Thursdays. And I'm open to suggestions.
My daughter has a soccer practice tonight. How I wish I could run in the dark. Okay, I have to accept that for now, I can't. But I can walk in the dark, right?* And I'm gonna. For the sake of everyone around me.
*This walk has been approved by Kevin and the rest of my dear sweet family.
I've given up. There will be no writing this week. There will be, instead, a head cold, dental work, more tests on the creaky hip, appointments, and errands. There will be a PD day (no school for the kids). The laundry will pile up. The suppers will be uninspired. I will also decree some late-night tv watching. Why not?
As for today, as my face thaws nicely post-freezing-and-drilling, I'm going to recline on the couch under a blanket and sink into a book. It stops me feeling sorry for myself, which is the state of mind I loathe more than any other. Yes, it is February. Yes, the rain came and washed away the snow, and then the cold came and froze the slush into lumps of grey. And yes, the sky is the same colour as the lumps of grey frozen everything. And there are flocks of crows in the neighbourhood trees crying and calling. (Let's call them a murder of crows; let's put some poetry into our grey). It's Groundhog Day; I don't know whether the fat fellow saw his shadow, but if he did that means there was sun.
This too shall pass.
I can feel my cheek again. I can swallow this cup of coffee. I can read a good book. Oh, and it's fiction -- Let the Great World Spin. I'd forgotten (briefly) how much I need fiction in my life. Sure, I like learning new things and taking in facts and theories. But nothing is quite as true for the human soul as the world retold through the imagination. Bless the words.
I am not the only Carrie Snyder ever to publish a book. In fact, I'm not even the only Carrie A. Snyder ever to publish a book. Another Carrie Snyder published a book entitled Euthanasia and another on Death and Dying. Folks, that's not me. And Carrie A. Snyder published several books on drawing. How to Draw Horses. You Can Draw Funny Animals. Also not me. And, just speculating here, probably not the author of Euthanasia either. I wonder whether people who find us awkwardly listed together on Amazon or Goodreads assume that the Carrie Snyders are all one really weird person? As an aside, I used to spend a lot of time drawing horses. Badly. I probably could have used that book.
I am currently reading Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann. Stories to break your heart. They kept me up late last night even though I should have been resting my cold-laden head.
I finished The Tipping Point last week. An excellent marketing book, if only I could figure out how to put the ideas into play. How does one tip? How to tip The Juliet Stories from the somewhat echoing chamber of my circle of friends and family (yes, that's you!) and into the broader world? I thoroughly enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell's chapter on Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople. I'm pretty sure my eldest is a Maven-in-the-making, and it was comforting to read about the upsides of this personality-type: Albus is the only person I've ever met who pores indiscriminately over any flyer that comes through the door; he also knows exactly what things cost, and if there's a latest new anything, he's onto it. The interesting thing about Salespeople is that they are able to change the moods of those around them. And their own moods are quite unaffected by those around them. This is what is known as charisma. Though I wonder--are you only charismatic if you're an upbeat person? Connectors are people who seem to know everyone. We all know people like that. I'd like to be a connector, but I'm probably not. I'm terrible with names for starters. If I forget your name, please don't be offended; I have a blind spot. I've forgotten names of people I've known for decades and see on a weekly basis. I wish I were exaggerating. This will be torture at book-signings.
I'm also still reading -- dipping into -- the biography of Mordecai Richler. In my defense, it's very thick! And the author, Charles Foran, is definitive in the extreme, leaving no cocktail party or early rejection letter unmentioned. I can see why he would choose this approach, given that he's writing about a very complicated person about whom others had vastly varying and polarized opinions. But it's a lot of detritus. Life is stuffed with minutiae and a writer's life may have even more, given the writer's penchant for writing things down.
Last bookish musing of the morning ... I had an interesting conversation this morning between a friend and a friend-of-a-friend about the shifts in the book industry, and how publishers are exploring the possibilities within digital publishing -- publishing children's books as downloadable apps for your iPhone, for instance, or creating a multimedia experience out of an existing children's book, again downloadable to your phone. What do parents out there think? Would you entertain your child with a book-app, or a book-related game?
News: Confirmed Juliet-related dates
Feb. 25 Launch party at the Starlight in Waterloo, 7:30-9:30 March 7 Harbourfront reading series 7:30 May 16 TYPE books in Toronto with Heather Birrell 6-9
While I'm excited about the anticipated activity, it also gives me pause. Hurray! Readings! is followed quickly by faint queasiness: Gulp! Readings! A reading is like a race: I'm happy when I'm actually doing it, and I'm thrilled to have done it immediately afterward, but the lead-up is crazy-making.
I'm mother of four, writer, dreamer, planner, runner, teacher, photographer, taking time for a cup of coffee in front of this computer screen. My days are full, yet I keep asking: how can I fill them just a little bit more
-- with depth, with care, with pleasure.