Saturday, August 15, 2009

Book Birthday

My book, *Once*, launched on September 15, 2008, which was certainly one of my favourite days in history. I'm celebrating my book's birthday a month early for a couple reasons. One is an actual human birthday to celebrate this September 15, and another is that another book is launching on that day. Back and Forth by Marta Chudolinska, a name and a project that might be familiar because my own book cover (see top right of this page) is an image taken from Marta's book. I am very glad she and I will be sharing a launch date.

Also, I had planned to move forward from doing all my readings from *Once* after a year, but I find myself a little eager on that front. With this early birthday, my next reading, on August 19 can be included in my new year of new readings. Not that I'll refuse to read from *Once* if asked--or indeed, if inspired--but in general, I'm excited to do other readings after (most of) a year of *Once*.

Oh, but what a year.

Six or so months before *Once*'s debut, I was talking on the phone about some publication matter with the book's editor, John Metcalf. It was early on a Sunday morning and I somehow wandered from the topic at handonto the various insoluble problems with my life. My tone may have veered towards self-pitying. John assured me that publishing a book would improve my outlook on my life as well as my life itself, and that I should somehow arrange to not entirely lose hope until the thing was in the world. I had accomplished something, and once I was able to hold it in my hand, I would feel it.

When I remained forlorn and unconvinced, John wound up making and mailing me an inspriational poster featuring an Impressionist art postcard of a child being held firmly by the hand, captioned "pre-book Rebecca" and one of a beautiful Impressionist lady lounging contentedly, "post-book Rebecca," which is taped to my coat-closet door to this day.

I don't know if I've fully grown up this year, but I truly have some amazing moments, and been more thrillingly rewarded than I ever thought possible for something I would really have done anyway. And the freedom that came with the book was the freedom, and encouragement, to do so much.

I read in a rainstorm. And on the radio. And to teenagers, UofT alumni, people in 7 cities, my high-school creative writing teacher, people stained with walnut juice, people with kids to get home to, people who weren't listening, packed houses, almost empty rooms, writers I adore, my family, and people who didn't care at all. I followed a slam poet, rave art, writers I adore, and lunch.

I was given lunch, dinner, breakfast, drinks I didn't want, masses of cheese (why cheese, always, at the readings?), the spare bedroom, this really delicious kosher cookie, souvenir coffee mugs, mints, notepads, a fountain pen, flowers, poetry journals, a map of Winnipeg, hugs, and a pizza made out of Playdough. Also, occasionally, payment for readings.

Once, my status as a writer got me invited to an extremely fancy party. The invitation specified that I was not to bring an escort. "Ah, they want people to get to know each other," I thought, and, at the appointed time, I got as dressed up as I am capable of, went across town, had my named checked at the door and entered the fanciest, most enormous party I'd ever seen. There were likely 1000 people there, and not one of them talked to me except the bartenders. I saw some stunning fashion, eavesdropped and some fascinating conversations, had one drink, several impressive canapes (cream soup in a shot glass!), and started the trek back across town after 20 minutes.

I signed books like a star! I got to meet artists and writers and musicians and booksellers and publishers. Once a friend went on a (ultimately unsuccessful) blind date and the last book the guy had read was mine. Once a friend of a friend's wife (unknown to me) got my book for Christmas. Once, someone struck up an (interesting) conversation with me because he recognized me from a past reading. Once, I got interviewed on CBC's Sunday Edition, and strangers Facebook'd me to say they'd liked it.

When people were snide in that oh-really-a-writer? way, or even some other non-writing way, I took great great pleasure in not telling them one thing about *Once* or its reception. Good news is deserved only by good people.

*Once* got reviewed across the country--not everywhere, but enough that I was dazzled and that occasionally, when someone saw my book they would say, "Oh, I've heard of this." And better, reviewers often seemed to understand whatever it was I was trying to do: I couldn't always believe the praise or even the criticism, but I was so thrilled when they described the work in words I would have used. Also, the idea of someone caring enough to read my work thoughtfully and then try to offer an estimation of what was going on was deeply deeply rewarding. And, ok, let's be honest here: the other best thing about positive reviews was, for me, reading them aloud over the phone to my parents. Good people deserve good news.

I got hit on, gently mocked, toasted, ignored, lost, hugged by strangers, soaked in the rain, locked out of the reading space, and tangled up in my own feet. People told me that certain stories in my book *must* be about my own life, that certain stories were in fact about them (the reader). that several stories were far better than the rest, that every story was brilliant, that they didn't really like it that much, that they didn't get time to finish it, that the book is very different from me personally, that the book is exactly like me personally, that they don't really like any short stories so I shouldn't take it personally, that it should have won the GG, that I would have a hard time topping it, that they'd lost their copies, and that they always knew I could do it.

I had my portrait painted, was the subject of a slideshow, was on the radio (twice), was interviewed about writing and childhood and beer and Jewishness and inspiration, got to teach teenagers to write stories, got to speak on panels, introduce another author, judge writing contests, attend fancy parties, was filmed and tape-recorded and photographed, and had reason enough to wear all my nicest clothes at least a few times each.

I wrote a book. A year later I sort of believe it, and modesty is all well and good but I am so proud of *Once* I can't even tell you. After a year of readings and three (ish) of writings, I still enjoy reading my own work and think that maybe I really did manage to do something good and interesting with the short story form that I love so much.

I'm writing another book, and it's hard and messy and confusing and full of backwards turns and really some days nearly impossible. But I do get to sit down at my desk with the knowledge of the above, which is an inestimable gift to my confidence, patience and ambition. Yet another thing I'm grateful for.

I am also grateful to everyone who read the book or a story from it in a journal or in workshop, who came out to see me read, who offered a kind or (constructively) critical word, or said I looked just fine and no one could see my misbuttoned sweater behind the podium. When and if I get this second book published, I'll get to do another acknowledgements page, thank goodness--I'll owe even more thanks by then.

Happy birthday, *Once*. May you have many more on library and book-buyers' shelves.

Not only real but beautiful

1 comment:

a.leslie. said...

what a loving love letter to your book. enjoyed reading this.