July 25, 2007

One Hundred Minutes of Solitude

Loneliness is simply a misunderstanding of Solitude.

I’m not sure where I first heard that phrase…I think it might have been from a woman who was once a nun. In the past few days, I’ve grown to realize that many people don’t have a grasp on the meaning and importance of solitude.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines solitude as:

Pronunciation: 'sä-l&-"tüd, -"tyüd
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French, from Latin solitudin-, solitudo, from solus
1 : the quality or state of being alone or remote from society.

Also – solitude, may imply a condition of being apart from all human beings or of being cut off by wish or circumstances from one's usual associates.

Let me start by saying this – I love my readers! I love that so many of you feel connected to Dora’s tale and to The Birth House. And, I have loved giving readings in so many amazing places and have loved getting the chance to meet so many of you. Just ask my publicists – they often have to drag me away after readings…I’d chat away for hours if they’d let me.

But here’s the thing…
By the end of last summer, the drop-in visits to the house got to be a little crazy. On sunny weekends, we’d have several carloads a day. Well, it seems that the by-chance knocks on the door are ramping up even more-so this year, and they are coming right as I’m trying my best to pull myself away from the world to write the next novel and my first stage play. So, while I wish you well as you happily wander around Nova Scotia on holiday, I’m afraid that I must retreat into a summer of solitude.

To be honest, I knew this about myself going into the summer, and I even painted a sign to put by my door.

When several visits happened back-to-back, with no attention paid to the sign, I asked my husband – “Isn’t it clear?”

He hugged me and said, “People don’t get solitude these days. Maybe you should have put, Author at Work.”

“I have a problem with the word, work. It’s a dirty word. It's ugly sounding. It’s not really what I do. I let things flow, I mull, I ponder on paper, I consider, I weep, I gnash my teeth, I sigh, I scheme, I cheer for the underdog, I follow my characters to the ends of the earth.”

“But if you don’t put work, then they think you’re available. By using the word solitude, you’re just feeding into the perception that writers don’t work.”

Let the gnashing of teeth begin.

The other morning began like this:

I put the solitude sign outside the door in a visible location.

I begin to rock out to some ABBA while doing the dishes.

A knock on the door.

I realize I can’t get out of it, because the visitor has looked in the kitchen window and seen me doing the dishes.

I go to the door.

A woman in her 60’s has her hand on the doorknob, ready to open the door and come on in. She gruffly asks - “Are you the woman who wrote that book?”

“Umm, yes.”

“Well, my daughter’s read it.”

(She doesn’t have a book in her hands, or I would have offered to sign it for her.)

“That’s nice. Tell her thanks for me.”

“I haven’t read it yet – I’ll wait to get it from her, (pause) I guess.”- another pause. (Was I supposed to have a book ready for her unexpected visit?)

“I hope you enjoy it when you read it. Give your daughter my best.”

She then goes on for quite a while about how far she’s come, how her daughter would never forgive her if she didn’t stop and so on, and somehow, by they end of it, she leaves me feeling like I let her down, like I wasn’t what she expected.

I tried my best to be gracious while the dog was crazy-barking and my six-year-old was hollering out that he “needs his lunch, now.” I smiled, I extended my dish-pan hand, I waved good-bye. Then I spiralled into an afternoon of sputtering, “what did she want from me?”

Last October at a fancy cocktail party in Toronto an editor for my Canadian publisher came up to me and exclaimed – “you’re so giving for a writer, it’s incredible. You really make yourself available.” I took it as the compliment it was meant to be, but her words also made me pause. I knew what she meant, but I also realized that I hadn’t really taken the time to figure out what “being available” would mean to my writing.

During long, anxious pre-publication days, writers dream of holding their first novel in their hands, of giving readings, and of meeting readers and exchanging meaningful conversation about story, process and craft. In all my daydreaming, I never imagined I’d have people hanging out car windows snapping photos, or knocking on the door. Wow.

I hate disappointing people. More than that, I’m really squeamish when it comes to being mean. (Mean people suck.) While, I’m not going into complete hiding (there’s the website, email, the blog, facebook, etc.), I desperately need some solitude. Short of hanging a sign that says: Go AWAY! I sat down today and chalked up a new sign. I’m hoping this one will take.

By the way – I’m wondering what would you do?

Any advice?

What would your sign say?

July 04, 2007

June 2007 Scrapbook

June took me to Toronto for Booked!, Book Expo Canada, and the CBA Libris Awards.
It was a fantastic few days...I even got to meet and read with Jeanette Walls. She's very sweet and we spent a little time swapping stories about our "Oprah moments." (mine, oh-so different than hers!) I've since started reading The Glass Castle. Wow, what a life.

Chatting with readers and signing at Booked! in Toronto.
I loved this woman in green...(You'd think we'd called each other to plan our outfits!) She had just finished reading The Birth House a couple of hours before the event. What a treat to talk to her so fresh from the read!

(photo via Quill and Quire)

The CBA's (Canadian Booksellers' Association) annual Libris Awards night was amazing. Bill Richardson (of CBC Radio fame) emceed the event and kept everyone laughing the whole way through. Lucky for me, his wit and wisecracks also kept my nerves from getting the best of me while I waited for the categories that I was up for to be announced.

Libris Awards lined up and waiting...
(photo via Quill and Quire.)

And, if you haven't heard the news...
We took three for three!

Kelly Hill of Random House Canada won Book Design of the Year for her beautiful work on The Birth House. Yay, Kelly!!!!

I went up to the stage first to accept The Fiction Book of the Year award... (the Quillblog account says it best:)
Accepting her first award – for fiction book of the year – McKay was flushed and giddy, and she charmed everyone in the room by recounting a nice little story about her hometown bookstore. Even before she began writing The Birth House (Knopf Canada), Mckay explained, she would go to the Box of Delights Bookshop in Wolfville, N.S., and she would stare at the shelf where novels by fellow Maritimers Ann-Marie MacDonald and Alistair MacLeod sat flush against one another. “The owner, Mitzi DeWolf, would see me there staring, day after day,” explained McKay, “until finally she asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ I told her I was looking at the place where my first novel was going to be, and for some reason she believed me.” Every time McKay went into the shop thereafter, DeWolf would inquire how the novel was going and would offer words of encouragement. “That encouragement, from a bookseller, really helped me a lot,” said McKay. (You can read the entire account, here.)
Later, I was completely surprised (and pretty much out of words) when I had to go back to the stage for the Author of the Year award! I was also pretty speechless because the person presenting it was Richard B. Wright, author of one of my favourite books, Clara Callan.

(Photo via CBC Radio.)

To top it all off, Bill R. had one more award to hand out at the end of the evening ... a Gideon Bible he'd "borrowed" from his hotel room. (I love this man!)

Not only did McKay win Author of the Year and Fiction Book of the Year, she also won an autographed Gideon Bible from emcee Bill Richardson, who stole it from his hotel room in order to award it to the best acceptance speech of the evening.

The next day I reported to Book Expo Canada for a signing extravaganza. Thanks to everyone who stood in line and had such kind words for me! (Note the name tag. I'm guessing it's for those times when authors are found passed-out in the lobby...so they can be promptly returned to their publisher's booth. *giggle*)
(a BIG thanks to Quill and Quire for this photo too! And if you've never checked out their QuillBlog, you really should.)

July 03, 2007

May 2007 Scrapbook

And now for a bit of an update...

May brought Atlantic Book Week and the honour of winning the Atlantic Independent Bookseller's Association's Bookseller's Choice Award. What a treat to have the award presented by Trudy Carey of Woozles! (If you're in Halifax and in need of books for kids - go see Trudy...)

I took my first trip to St. John's Newfoundland and was treated to a couple of beautiful (premature, I'm told) spring days. I was also fortunate enough to read at the Masonic Temple with Mary Dalton, Elaine McClusky, and Stephen Kimber. The best part of the evening was when our host announced to us just before the reading that the Masons would be "sharing the room" with us, since they needed to prepare for their annual seal flipper dinner that would be taking place the following night. We thought she was joking at first, but by the time she was on her fourth or fifth, "I'm really sorry - there was nothing I could do - I'm just hoping it doesn't smell too...umm...fishy", we realized we were in for quite an evening.

We arrived at the hall to find a black curtain had been strung up along the length of the room. While we read and told our tales, we could hear the flip-flap of seal flippers being cleaned and the jovial grumble of men at work (telling a few tales of their own, no doubt.) I was thrilled to see Joan Clark (An Audience of Chairs) in the audience as well as poet George Murray (of Book Ninja fame and a new collection - The Rush to Here.) And I'm happy to report, the whole affair was fun, festive, and none too fishy.

Ami, Mary Dalton, and Steve McOrmond
at the Atlantic Book Awards

Meeting Mary Dalton was a thrill! I first learned of her poetry through her amazing collection, Merrybegot. She's also got a new collection out called Red Ledger. To find out more about Mary, read this wonderful interview.

The night after the seal flipper affair, I read at the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre Library - what a wonderful crowd of book club members, young mothers, and new readers! Thanks to the librarians for having me.

Next, the June scrapbook...

catching fireflies...

Today while hanging laundry on the line I thought I saw a firefly going by. Hard to say what it was in the daytime, and I was mid-clothespin so I couldn't leap off the porch to pursue it. I've yet to see one in Scots Bay... and I miss grabbing those little floating orbs of glow out of the humid night air.
(On the other hand, I don't miss the mosquitoes of Indiana.)

The last couple of months have felt a lot like catching fireflies. I've been chasing after new dreams, new writing, and myself, hoping to hold light in my hands - at least for a little while. Sometimes I don't get it right, my thoughts and dreams escape my grasp. But, when I do manage to catch them, I bottle them in my head hoping they will pulse and glow long enough for me to get my hands on pen and paper.

Sorry it's been a while. I've been out - catching words, like fireflies.