Keeping it Real
The hometown launch for my book has occupied my mind for weeks. Last night, we did it. The Bohemian Cafe in downtown Kelowna, with its red walls and warm lights, was full--old and new friends, teaching colleagues, librarians, fellow writers, and family, down to cousins once removed. My Grade 10 English teacher, Tom Potts, was there, and nearly made me burst into tears when he remembered a story I wrote at age 15 (that wouldn't be the first burst recently, I have to say). I've had some excellent and encouraging teachers, and he's one of them. I thought of Daniel Boone learning to read and write with his sister-in-law, clearly a memorable teacher too.
The inimitable John Lent hosted for us. I'd hoped to talk him into reading one of his poems, but no such luck. Almost got him into a Benedict Cumberbatch mask, though. I ended up making a last-minute choice to read from a chapter about Daniel's courtship of Rebecca. More singing! The album is going to drop anytime now.
I was especially happy that my friend Mary Ellen Holland was there. A helpful critic and reader of drafts, as well as a brilliant teacher, she also has a Ph.D. in Fairy Godmotherhood. There's nobody quite like her. (She's going to hate this.) So much goes into writing a novel; so many people help with ideas or readings or talk about anything other than writing. On this book tour, I've been lucky to see my editors and agent, and now my homies. Thanks, everyone.
Wives and Daughters
I'm still gobsmacked--as the Brits say--that the book is out and in readers' hands. It's an odd, warm rush to hear what people think, whatever it might be. I'm delighted by readers who have been taken over by the characters and story, as I was when I started putting it together. I love the way a book can inspire love, rage, and sweat in a group of strangers.
A few people have been asking about Rebecca, Daniel's wife, wanting to know more of her story. I wish the first-person narrative and the time frame of the book had allowed me more room for her voice. I loved writing her. She came to me with relative ease, stepping straight into my mind. Not much remains of the actual Rebecca, beyond a sparse description of her as tall, dark-haired, dark-eyed. Like Daniel, she grew up a Quaker. After her marriage, a passing missionary remembered finding her in a very hard position, trying to keep home and farm running as well as looking after her many biological and adopted children, with Daniel away on a long hunt. It's not difficult to imagine how frightening life must have been for many women in these positions, and how brave they were.
Rebecca and Daniel had ten children. Four of them were girls. Jemima, the second, is another major character in my book. She seems to have been a spirited and energetic child, as accounts of her running off and riding horses into deep rivers suggest. I ended up basing her character on my daughter, who was born just as I began the first major rewrite of this book. My girl, too, will face down anyone, and anyone who's read Raising Your Spirited Child will know exactly what that euphemism entails. I remember long murky nights of feeding and rocking and thinking about the eighteenth century. So putting her into Jemima is a little thank-you to her for sharing her mother with the frontier.
Rebecca and Jemima will be back in the sequel, where history allows them more time onstage. I can't wait to have them back.
Happy Valentine's Day
Just Do It
At an airport again, Vancouver this time, heading home. I'd almost forgotten how much I love this city and its metallic rainy pavement scent. Walking around, I kept having the prickly sense that I was about to run into myself. The ghost of my younger self. I lived here for five years as a student . . . which wasn't all that long ago, was it? Come on.
I had fun doing a few radio and podcast interviews here. The drinking was not quite as hearty as it was on the Toronto leg of the book tour, though publicist Trish and I had some lovely wine (I think I need to start another blog, which will just be a record of my drinks). The big event was last night at the Vancouver Public Library, hosted by the excellent Hal Wake of the Vancouver Writers' Fest. I was lucky to read with John Vaillant and Marianne Apostolides, both of whom are brilliant writers and readers, qualities that don't always go together! It was exciting to hear John's very tense passage from The Jaguar's Children, and Marianne's beautiful, sinuous Sophrosyne. I can't wait to read more for myself. Our books are so different, but are all in the first person; we had a good discussion about anxieties related to taking on others' voices, and how to get over that. Our answer seemed to be that you have to just do it, to coin a phrase.
I did sing! Even in the presence of my rowdy and supportive family members who came out for the evening, having offered me fashion advice first, and some old friends who were there too. Didn't Ted Hughes say something about family being a conspiracy to keep you the same all your life? Well, my family accepted me talking in Daniel Boone's voice without too much complaint, although one sister did remark afterwards that I sound more "Kelowna" than I used to. I'm sure she meant more "Kentucky."
It's the official on-sale date for my book, and I'm awfully excited about it. I've seen it on display in a couple of stores now, which makes me want to laugh somehow! It's been a long road since I had the idea for it about six years ago.
I'm at the airport again, on my way to Vancouver as the little tour continues. Made it through security, and attendant massive queues, twice. Don't ask. I'll tell you about other things when I arrive.
Curiouser and Curiouser
At the airport now, planes are shunting around in the light snow, and the PA system is playing Marilyn Manson. So it's come to this.
It's my last afternoon in Toronto. I'm eavesdropping in the waiting area at the gate. A woman a few rows over is leaning closely in to her friend, making emphatic chopping motions, saying, "I'll be LONG gone." A baby appears nonplussed by her bunny suit. A small boy is crouching his way from another set of seats towards said baby like a tiger. A couple just kissed twice, and looked tired and sad.
I must say, I'm a little sad to be leaving. My last event here was a couple of hours ago, a radio interview on SiriusXM's The Ward and Al Show. It was joyful. I hope I did the rapid-fire hosts justice--we talked about fur hats, anti-vaxxers, a short-story versus novel smackdown, and, oh yes, my book. It was a good time. I didn't sing, but at one point, Ward opened All True and read part of chapter nine in a falsetto.
I'm looking forward to finishing Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch on the flight (I have an essay on this in the works), and to continuing the book tour in Vancouver next week. And the waiter who served my late lunch just now asked me to go to Chile with him, so there's that option.
Last night, reading at the Toronto Library in front of some 400 people, I sang a little.
It was uncalled-for. I'm tone-deaf. I was reading a section of my book in which Daniel's friend Hill, a musical type, sings a few lines twice. I'm not one for rehearsing madly, and I hadn't looked over that part too carefully before I set out. I'm also not one for singing beyond the car, occasionally, on a bright day. But standing at the podium, reading along, I saw those lines approaching. And when I hit them, I sang them. Sorry, Toronto, and thank you for your forgiveness.
So, nobody needs any more of that. But it did set me thinking about inhabiting characters. Hill sings, so why not sing for him? It actually felt quite natural to do it.
I thought about it again today, when Knopf / Random House held a reception for a few of us who have new books coming out: Jane Urquhart and Connie Gault were there (I tried to contain my foaming inner fangirl again--I got signed copies from them both!). There was *no singing*. We each spoke for a few minutes to an audience of media, bloggers, booksellers, and publishers. There was more wine, I will confess, and it was a great time. Afterwards, Connie and I agreed that it's quite a feeling to talk about your story with a roomful of people who accept it. The generosity of readers and potential readers, their interest and questions, is uplifting.
The three of us write about history and loss in these books, and we all spoke about our desire to resurrect characters and places--to blow life back into them--to make them real, and make them ours. And make them sing, if they need to.
Toronto is my life in a parallel universe. Hotel room to myself, lots of events, meeting other writers and editors, uh, drinks . . ..
I just had lunch with Anne Collins, my editor, Amanda Lewis from Random House Canada, and Lynn Henry from Knopf Canada. It featured an abundance of kale, and a set of tiny desserts on a platter, which hit me straight in the heart. The rustic wood platter looked like it could have been out of one of Daniel Boone's cabins, too.
Even better than dessert was the talk about the difference between writing and editing. Two different skills, and it's rare to be accomplished at both. We discussed how editors can see what the writer is trying to make, often before the writer herself can--editors are able to look through the weeds, as Anne put it, to the shape of the thing itself, rusty and hidden as it may be. We went on to talk about the way some authors need to see the story before they begin (these are the people who map things out on the wall with post-its), and some need to write out a big mess before they can see the story (that's me).
I feel unbelievably lucky to have had such generous help with my book--Anne for all her careful work on the drafts, Amanda for picking it out of the pile in the first place, my agent Denise Bukowski for her belief, and now Lynn for her insights. This isn't just the BC wine talking. Cheers.
I've just finished reading part of All True at the Toronto Public Library's Eh List evening. A sexy part! My editor suggested I read a section from Daniel's teenage courtship of his eventual wife, Rebecca. If the ed. wants romance, romance she shall have. Reading aloud, it was fun for me to hear Daniel's voice at this point--though through my own voice--as I've never read this chapter out before. I can hear his turns of speech, his rhythms, so it came out pretty readily. Relief.
The room was icy, but 400 intrepid people turned out on the slushy evening, and I didn't have much time to sit and think, so the nerves didn't have a chance to jangle too badly. I was lucky to be up first, as I then got to sit back and listen to Miriam Toews discuss her books and life. She is a generous writer who radiates calm energy from the stage. And so beautiful.
And then my charming publicist and I went out for dinner and mojitos, and the rest is silence. Mostly because it's a little blurry.
I'm the author of My Name is a Knife, All True Not a Lie In It, and The Old Familiar.