Wonderful Book Review

I know I said I wasn’t going to read any more Walking Backward book reviews, but fellow author Kate Jaimet sent me an email this weekend congratulating me on my review in the Globe & Mail, so I just had to check it out. (I was wary of opening the page, but Kate’s congratulations spurred me on.)

And…wow, it is amazing! It’s a long and thorough look at the book that ends with the words, “…a wise, rich novel, wonderfully compelling for children and adults alike.” What a glorious sentence for an author to read about her first book! My husband has been quoting the review all day, calling everything I do “honest, charming, wise.” (As in, “Good coffee, Cath. It’s honest, charming and wise.”)

Strange, but my first thought was, “I wish my mom were alive so I could send her a copy.” I will have to settle for showing my children, but it’s not the same.

I’m going to post a copy of the review on my motivational corkboard. That should push me through at least another 20 pages of my novel-in-progress.

For now, I promise my next post will not be so self-centred. I’ll write about the fun I had at Kate Jaimet’s launch of Dunces Anonymous and Barbara Reid’s art demonstration/book signing of Perfect Snow (just as soon as I take the photos off my camera).

New Discouragements and New Motivations

A friend of a friend has gone into the same large bookstore three times to request my book, without any luck. The store had two copies in October–each store in the chain seemed to receive two copies of my book–but when those were quickly sold, they didn’t order more. The clerk who received this woman’s third request for Walking Backward responded with, “No we don’t have any more copies, but we’ve had quite a few requests for it.” End of sentence. The woman said, “I want to buy it! Are you going to get some in or not?” But that issue seemed beyond the clerk’s sphere of influence, and all she got was a shrug. 

I did not expect my book to be in store windows, or even on the shelves with the cover facing out. But I did expect customers to be able to buy it if they asked for a copy. As if it’s not hard enough to write a good book, then find a good publisher, then get a bunch of good reviews, the book stores have to add a whole new level of difficulty to the process. And if friends of friends can’t find it in stores, what are the chances that total strangers might browse by it? Slim.

So that’s a brand new disappointment that a first book can bring… I hope any new authors reading this have better luck with bookstores.

On the other hand, I have been absolutely blown away by a brand new motivation that my first book has brought me: readers! My daily life is suddenly peppered with praise.

Walking Backward book cover
Walking Backward's readers are my best motivators

Take this weekend. On Sunday my youngest son had a group of friends over for a pizza party. While arranging the drop-offs, one mom said, “I finished your book and I just loved it.” (True, she is a friend, but she really meant it.  She teaches high school and hopes to introduce the book to her class.)

In the middle of the party, a neighbour stopped by with a card that praised my “beautiful book.” (She has passed it on to her teenage grand-daughter, who is an aspiring writer.)

Then at the party’s end, a young teenager who came to pick up his little brother said, “I’m halfway through your book. I like it a lot. By page ten, I was laughing out loud. Is there going to be another one?”

Wow. This never happened before. The best I had was, “Still working on that book?” by the few acquaintances who knew I wrote fiction. I never got the feeling that anyone was eagerly awaiting my next story. But now I do. And it is the greatest motivation I’ve ever known.

I am blazing through my new book, anxious to get to the computer each day and tell my story as best I can.

I’m going to send a word of praise to every author whose book I’ve loved. I’ve never done that kind of thing–but I will from now on, because I know it will encourage those writers to keep writing. It will make all the discouraging roadblocks seem pretty flimsy.

Book Launching Afterword

Walking Backward book cover
The gorgeous cover of Walking Backward

Now that I’ve had my first book launch–which everyone tells me went very well, though I was so nervous it’s a bit of a blank–I thought I’d pass on three bits of advice for future launchers.

First, you need more set-up helpers than you think. Bank on unforeseen delays. (It took me half an hour to cart everything from my car to the party room.) These delays will leave you twenty minutes to set up a room for a party of sixty people. Not good for stress levels.

You don’t want to have to choose between laying out refreshments and hanging up decorations. You need extra pairs of hands so that you can do both. Over-preparing works well–with several activities for children, a variety of refreshments, lots of things to read and admire on the walls–but it requires a lot of set-up time at the venue itself, not just at home in the days beforehand. Ask several friends to come early.

Mingling at the launch
Guests mingling at the Walking Backward book launch

Second, you will be stuck in the book-signing chair for pretty much the entire event. This does feel special, but it means that you’re not out in the room mingling with your guests. Don’t think of this as a regular party where you can pair people up and introduce friends with common interests and catch up on things with your old colleagues. Forget it–you’re in a chair absolutely clueless as to what else is going on in the room. Your great-aunt who takes a pottery class may or may not meet your neighbour who teaches a pottery class. It’s out of your hands. Plan on an after-party if you want to make this a social event for you.

On another note, though, don’t feel bad for those guests who came out of their way to your launch but never really got a chance to talk to you. (If they buy your book while they’re there, they can talk to you in your book-signing chair.) It’s the nature of book launches. A quick hug and “thanks for coming” before you’re tied to the chair is all they can expect.

Third, this is definitely a social event for everyone you invite and, as tends to happen when people are not paid for their labour, the friends you assigned duties will forget about them entirely once they’re having a good time meeting people. Your cake-cutter will be flirting while your cake sits intact and uneaten. Your photographer will crack jokes with the camera around his neck still in its case. Children will help themselves to coffee (double doubles) while your server catches up with an old girlfriend. And whoever you put in charge of the kids’ table will be on the opposite side of the room while stacks of colouring pages and mazes lay undiscovered by the crowd of children.

Snake Cake at Walking Backward Book Launch
The snake cake at the Walking Backward book launch

And, strangely, it’s all good. It will all sort itself out. Someone will eventually beg you to cut the cake. Someone else will take a couple of great photos and email them to you later that evening. The kids will be so happy drinking coffee they won’t care that they missed a few activities. The mixed CD you forgot to play will be the perfect background for cleaning up. And you’ll realize that those few things you’d planned to do but totally forgot weren’t really that crucial after all. Everything sorts itself out.

Then you’ll go home feeling high. A few hours later, one of your guests will call to tell you she just started reading your book and she loves it. The next morning you’ll get an email from another guest who read it all the way through and loved it. You’ll run into someone in the grocery store whom you didn’t even know was at the launch and he’ll tell you what a good time he had and how he loves your book.

And you’ll feel satisfied, and ready to finish your next book.

Book Launching

I’ve been taking my time planning the launch of Walking Backward, to be celebrated at my local library on November 1st. Take note, all budding authors: don’t try it alone. It’s a surprising amount of work, so get as many people to help as you can.

My publisher, Orca, designed beautiful invitations, saving me from having to cut-and-paste construction paper and break out my stencils. The invitations look gorgeous–if I could figure out how to add pictures to this blog, I’d prove it.

My local bookstore, Michabou, is coming to help with book sales, saving me from carrying a cash float and pestering guests for change for a twenty.  They’re passing flyers onto their customers in the days preceeding the launch, too, to help spread the word.

The library is giving me a gorgeous room for the launch party, saving me from having to clean my house. They’re also inviting councillors and other municipal movers and shakers to come (true, it’s unlikely the mayor will come, but it’s nice to ask him and I’m too shy to ask him myself). 

My talented friend Anni Preslawski, a local singer-songwriter, will perform two songs at the launch, including one she wrote at the passing of her beloved aunt. It’s a great song, sad and haunting, and it fits well with the feelings of grief in my book. Fortunately, Anni will sing a second song after it, giving me time to dry my tears and get a grip on myself before I have to sign any books.  

For refreshments, we’ll have fruit, cookies, coffee, juice, and a giant snake-cake. (That’s a cake in the shape of a snake, not a cake made from snakes.) My sister Sharon will help with coffee and tea; my teenage son will cut the cake. My younger son Daimon is in charge of bookmarks. And my husband Geoff will take photos and clean up any spills.

I’ll have the room decorated with posters about phobias, quotations about walking, and paintings from kindergartners on the themes of “what scares me” and “what makes me happy”. (These are not random themes; they relate to the book.) There will be markers, crayons and paper for guests of all ages to draw their own pictures. We’ll have background music and party games including a phobia quiz and name-that-walking-tune.

The only thing I’ve yet to figure out is what I’m going to say. But since I have so much help in other areas, I guess I`ll have to take that on myself.

Fictional Emotions

A friend of mine was surprised to read my last enty, in which I confessed to being deeply moved by a song about a lost cat. She has known me for years and never seen me cry. That’s because I don’t cry, except at the odd movie or song. Don’t get me wrong: I like to cry. It’s relaxing and good for the eyes. But tears either come or they don’t, and at this point in my fortunate life, they just don’t. My friend asked, “If you can’t cry about your life, how can you cry about a fictional cat’s life?”

For that, I have three answers. First, my life is a lot happier than that lost cat’s. Second, there are reasons to pull myself together to face life’s challenges, but there’s nothing I can do for fictional characters, so I might as well fall to pieces over their fate. And third, it’s not the cat I cried over, it’s the story and the sorrow-filled universe the story is played out in. It’s  every sad feeling everyone ever felt.  

But still, that’s not enough to explain it. Why would I cry over a fictional lost cat and not cry over real cats subjected to fates worse than death? Why would I cry over a tragic love story in a movie and not cry over a friend’s divorce?

I’d like to learn more about the connections between fiction and emotion in our strange species. 

Take love in its infinite variety of fictions. How can you feel intimately connected to a character in a book? Who hasn’t felt love for a character in a movie? Some people feel a stronger love for celebrities than for the real people in their lives, but even the most grounded of us fall in love with fictions. Think of that first encounter when you hit it off with someone.  Aren’t the emotions awfully sharp then, when love is mostly fictional?

Think of hatred, the kind that entire groups of people feel for other groups. You can’t get that kind of hatred without a good dose of fiction, can you? Fear, too. The stories we tell ourselves about what might happen feed our fears. For all I know, there aren`t any emotions that don`t have a story at their source.

I`m not a believer in catharsis. Anger builds anger, fear builds fear, and hatred builds hatred, just as love builds love and joy builds joy. You can’t release your fear by wallowing in it. Ask any hypochondriac. Venting anger just makes me angrier. And laughing makes me happy. I don’t watch a comedy and laugh with friends, then go home feeling sad, having vented all my joy. Emotions snowball. (That’s how the fictional lost cat got to me.)

I’m glad that my first children’s novel is full of humor, despite its dead mother and breaking hearts. Humour in the face of sorrow and adversity is something I’d like to snowball among 12-year-olds. Come to think of it, I’d like a little more of it in my own life. So should I stop listening to sad songs and reread my book? Nah. But I might listen to the Gypsy Kings for a while and see what happens.

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