Wednesday, January 18, 2023
Little Loops and a Big Loop
Thursday, December 29, 2022
The ABCs of 2022
Did another year just happen? I mean, it would seem so. I have flipped the calendar pages myself. I’ve watched the days go by, one by one, and I didn’t notice us skipping any of them so I’m not going to go so far as to say I don’t believe another year has passed but...can you believe something and not believe it at the same time? I think so?
That’s where I’m at with 2022. I believe it happened, I just don’t believe it happened.
If, however, it turns out that it did happen, then I guess these are some of the notable things that happened in it:
A - Alistair! My sister had a baby and he’s great. Sully is his number one fan, which actually surprised all of us—when Elise had her first baby, Adelaide, Sully would not go near her. He would stare at her curiously from across the room. I’d say, Sully, come sit with me and hold her, and he’d shake his head, his eyes huge. Don’t get me wrong; he loved her, he was just terrified of her. I think he was afraid of how absolutely tiny she was—which is fair! Babies are super small, and they do come across, whether they mean to or not, as kind of fragile and intimidating. He wanted to look at her but from a safe distance. And he was like that, at first, with Alistair too, until the weekend Elise came to stay with us. Alistair was a little over a month old and he had these very wise, searching eyes that would just lock on you, like he was really trying to connect with you, and one evening he looked at Sully like that, and he got him. Sully came over and sat beside me and put his hand on the back of Alistair’s sweet round head, like he’d been put under a spell, and we sat like that for over an hour. Sully marvelled at him. He was astonished at every feature, delighted by all the usual baby things, the gassy smiles, the startle reflex. And even months later, the shine has not worn off. I think it’s cute.
B - Book 3: My agent submitted my third book to my publisher at the very, very end of 2022. Fingers crossed for good news on this front in the new year. Briefly, some book FAQs: Yes, this book has a tentative name and no, I’m not saying what it is because it’s probably going to get changed. No, it’s not finished finished—we submitted it as a proposal (not something generally done in fiction but that’s how my publisher works with their existing authors). Also, people keep asking me what this book’s about and I’m just forever doing that fish thing where my eyes get big and I open and close my mouth a lot. So here: It’s, like, a book about the end of the world, but it’s also kind of a rural Canadian slice-of-life family thing. So, Stuart McLean but sci-fi. It’s really weird but kind of also not very weird. And okay, that’s it, I’m done talking about it now.
C - Covid. We finally got it. It was weird! What a weird, weird thing.
D - Dined on a lot of patios. Hit Fat Badger, Vic’s Tavern, Bar Willow, Skye, Hampton Hub, probably others I’m forgetting.
E - Sully turned eight. This is another thing my brain refuses to believe in the face of overwhelming evidence (not the least of which is that I haven’t given birth in eight years). He’s in grade 3, he loves building complicated motorized machines with his LEGOs and reading comic books and playing games and he’s very funny and smart.
F - Fall Ball: Sully had his first organized sports experience and it was the best. I loved—loved—watching him go out and meet people and work so hard and have so much fun.
G - Got a plaque from my publisher to commemorate selling 100,000 copies of Sorry I Missed You. The milestone itself happened in 2021 but the plaque came in 2022 and I don’t have anything else for G so I’m using it!
H - Had to clear a lot of snow. Barclay officially added me to his payroll this year so now I’m his employee? And as soon as he did that the skies just opened up and started dumping stupid amounts of snow on our town. (I mean. We also hired another guy this year who clears way more snow than me and I’m pretty much second string now but I reserve the right to complain anyway.)
I - I said goodbye to my wonderful Grandpa Martin. Losing a grandparent is always such a strange thing—they’ve always been there so you never think they won’t be. His funeral was really beautiful though, and it was so good to see family I hadn’t seen in a long time.
J - Just year of big changes. This is very vague! That’s okay! The internet doesn’t need to know all my business.
K - Killed a spider with a shampoo bottle, have not yet moved the shampoo bottle. No one else in my family has moved the shampoo bottle either. Maybe we are okay with that shampoo bottle sitting in that corner of the bathroom? Maybe I am the only one who has noticed it? Does this gross you out, that I have not cleaned under that shampoo bottle in a long time? Why do you even care? It’s not your house. Stop caring about other people’s houses so much. How long do you think it takes a spider to decompose and stop existing after you kill it?
L - Live music: another year of much less of this than I would like. Like, much less. I went to Folk Fest and I went to the Cathedral Village Arts Fest and I went to see our neighbor’s band play their first gig. Those nights were lovely and I just want so many more of them!
M - Made headway on the basement renovation. We now have a functional TV room and even hung a picture on the wall the other day. Progress is so slow because there’s so much else going on around here, but it’s HAPPENING.
N - New York Times: Sorry I Missed You was an answer in a puzzle in The New York Times, which meant that my name appeared in the answer key, which felt like a very big deal for me. I would never have known this if not for a friend who lives in the States who regularly does the puzzles in the paper on Sunday mornings and saw it and sent me a picture of it. Thanks, Sarah!
O - Okay, you guys, as of the last week of the year, I have officially hit 107 *consecutive* weeks on my workout app. I’m not ripped or anything but I’m ~*~consistent~*~ and I feel proud of myself.
P - Panel: I spoke on a panel of authors at the Sask Writer’s Guild annual conference in October. It was my first in-person author event since before the pandemic and it was really sweet to get to do that again. Lisa Bird-Wilson was also on the panel and I embarrassed myself by, upon meeting her, calling her by the name of the main character in her book, which I was reading at the time. Maybe an author rite of passage?
Q - Quite a few falcons moved into our neighborhood this summer and we were so excited about it. Barclay’s favorite bird is a peregrine falcon, which is why he named his business after them, and yes we are nerds and we don’t even care. I got our family a birdwatching class for Christmas. Come at me, as they say, bro.
R - Read way fewer books than usual. Started a lot more than I finished—and it’s not even that I don’t intend on finishing all of the ones I started, I just kept getting distracted.
S - Scarlett turned six. She’s a New Year’s Eve baby so I’m writing this before she technically turns six and it’s messing with my head. But it will be true by the time I hit publish! She is working so hard at school and goes around living with so much gusto. Her heart is bigger than anybody’s.
T - Thirteen: Barclay and I celebrated 13 years of marriage! That is a lot of years and also not very many.
U - Up in the night a lot. I always thought that when your kids turn one you would get to sleep through the night again. This has not been the case for us; both kids, now 6 and 8, wake up every night at least one time, usually more. We are tired.
W - Weighted blanket. I bought one! I love love love it. I want another one. Maybe three more! Ugh I wish I was under it right now! (I am not; I am at the library and didn’t think to bring it with me.)
X - XXXV: I turned 35 this year. You may remember me absolutely FREAKING OUT when I turned 30 because 30 felt ancient to me, but 35 feels young. I am fancy-single-New-York lady-in-rom-com age. I am not actually a fancy single New York lady, but being the same age as one is soooo glamourous.
Y - Yes! The return of coffee shops to my writing life! I had been writing from home because of Covid being everywhere, and I still mostly write from home because Covid is still everywhere but…sometimes you need an hour or two in a coffee shop to jump start the ol’ creativity.
Z - Zero big trips, but lots of little ones, to visit family and friends. Brandon, Swift Current, Medicine Hat, Dafoe, Frontier.
That’s it, I think. It was a big year, in a quiet way. I liked it. It was a good, big, quiet year.
That is, if it actually even happened.
Friday, December 09, 2022
The Nude Cafe
I’m at The Naked Bean this morning, working on my book. If you’ve been around here for a while, you know about the Bean, about how I used to always forget what its actual name was and refer to it as The Nude Cafe instead, which makes it sound like a very different business than it is, and about how I used to come here every single Wednesday morning at 6:30 AM to write.
Sully was a baby when I started doing this. He was a baby who didn’t sleep unless you were holding him, and he didn’t much like being awake unless you were holding him either. So, like, I got a lot of snuggles in that era, but typing? Words? On a laptop?
At some point in that hazy season, a friend invited me out for a 6:30 AM coffee date before she went to work one day, and when I got to the coffee shop and saw that it was quiet and dimly lit and, most importantly, that my sweet loud baby was not there, I saw that it could be a good place to clear my head and get some words down. My father-in-law started coming for breakfast on Wednesday mornings; he held Sully and visited with Barclay and I began to faithfully sneak out of my house to write at the Bean. I’d listen to The Zolas in my Skull Candy earbuds and eat my ProBar and drink my small medium roast coffee. There was a couple, who I affectionately referred to as the Loud Talkers, who consistently showed up at the same time as I did and sat at the table directly beside me (somehow I never found them distracting; they were the brand of outrageous that I found to be a constant source of inspiration). I became a Regular, something I had never been before. The barista knew what I was going to order before I ordered it, even though she didn’t know my name. It was all perfect.
I wrote pretty much all of Valencia and Valentine in that season. I remember sitting down on that first morning and opening my laptop, not a baby in sight, and looking out the window in front of me. There was an empty lot across the street, just a plain old square of grass and dirt. It felt significant and magical and meaningful that as I opened the document and began my story, they broke ground across the street and began a building.
I started writing from scratch, because if you don’t start a book from scratch it’s plagiarism and I don’t do that, and they started building from scratch too, and so it was that I watched my book go up at the same time as the building went up. They put up the framework, I put up the framework. They added bricks, I added adjectives. They put windows in the holes where windows were meant to go and I put plot in the holes where things didn’t add up yet. We put our finishing touches on our respective projects at the same time and my book was published around the time the first few businesses set up shop in that building.
And then, because we had such a good thing going, I wrote most of my second book there too. Sully grew up a bit but then Scarlett joined the family and Wednesday mornings at the Bean went from a necessity to a luxury and back to a necessity again. More businesses moved into the building across the street and the coffee shop got busier, but nothing else really changed.
When the pandemic hit and things shut down, the Naked Bean was one of the places I missed the most. I missed the barista who poured the coffee, I missed the Loud Talkers, I missed the building across the street, which now felt weirdly connected to my writing process. It all felt connected to my writing process, actually. And then it was just gone, very suddenly, closed to the public for our own good. I had to write in my bedroom with the door closed, and for some reason the sound of my kids fighting in the kitchen was not conducive to creativity in quite the same way that the Loud Talkers at the next table had always been.
(I remember one day early on in the pandemic, probably April 2020, driving down Albert Street and seeing the Loud Talkers standing at a bus stop. He was wearing that green fleece jacket that had become so familiar to me and her hair was in her usual low ponytail. They were smoking and I felt surprised, because I had never seen them smoke before—and then I was like, Suzy, you don’t know these people from a hole in the ground, you only ever see them in a coffee shop, of course you have never seen them smoke. But it was weird! It was like seeing long-lost relatives and I felt like I should at the very least roll down my window and call out to them (I didn’t). I was like, how and when did THEY become important to me? I would like, please, a scientific study on the invisible ties created between people who are in regular proximity to one another but who never officially meet. I think this would be interesting. But I digress.)
I don’t even know where I was.
Right: everything shut down. What a strange, surreal thing that was, hey? To just suddenly, on such a grand scale, lose a whole bunch of places and people that you had always thought of as kind of peripheral and realize that, nope, they were important and special.
But I guess—I guess it’s not so strange. It’s a normal life thing, losing things and then realizing what those things meant to you. It’s such a normal thing that Joni Mitchell wrote a song about it years before COVID was ever a thing.
I guess the actual strange, surreal thing is that we were lucky enough to get some of those things back.
I know—not everything came back. Some things aren't back yet, some aren't coming back period. And a lot of the things came back different than they had been before. But I’m revelling, right now, in this one thing.
I have my small medium roast coffee and my ProBar. I turned on my Spotify Liked playlist and, of all the possible songs to come on first, Ancient Mars by the Zolas was the one that came on first today. Victoria poured my coffee and the only thing that’s different about that is that we know each other’s names now, which is a Better Different. The Loud Talkers aren’t here right now, but there is a different Loud Talker sitting behind me talking about—not lying—butt cheeks, and this is an acceptable substitute for today. (I have seen the Loud Talkers recently, smoking on Albert Street, so I have no doubt I’ll see them another day.)
What’s the point of all this? If you’ve been here long enough to know about the Naked Bean, you know that I never really blog with a point in mind. But if I had to think of one, maybe it would be that if you lost something in the past few years but then you got it back, now might be a good time to notice it and be happy about it.
That’s all. :)
Monday, November 07, 2022
Thursday, October 06, 2022
It's been a busy week. But, like, sneaky busy, the kind of busy you don't notice until after the dust settles and you realize that you're not busy and that not being busy isn't what you've been doing for the past little while.
I'm sitting at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee, listening to the new Death Cab CD—which, by the way, is wonderful. It's very Transatlanticism meets Kintsugi with a dash of Plans and a reference to Saskatchewan thrown in there just for me.
Just. For. Me.
"What were you so sneaky busy with, Suzy?" you're asking (I hear you).
Well the mainest main sneaky busy thing was that I sent off a very terrifying email to my literary agent on...Monday? Tuesday? Monday.
It was Monday.
You're thinking, "You sent an email? You think that makes you a busy lady?" (I heard you again.)
Well, so, okay. The hitting of the send button was obviously a one second ordeal, but there was a lot of work leading up to that moment, and a lot of nerves, and a lot of double checking and second guessing. I'm the kind of writer who needs a fainting couch for those moments after I send emails of any import to any person of any import. I would faint the heck out of that fainting couch.
I sent the email, the culmination of many many weeks' worth of stress and work, and then I had an hour of melodramatic fainting couch behavior (minus the couch), followed by a sudden, unexpected burst of creative energy like I haven't felt in ages. I looked around the room for somewhere to channel that energy, and my eyes fell upon the ARC piles in the corner of the living room.
If you haven't been in my house in the past couple of years, you probably don't know about the ARC piles. So: A few months before the pub date for Sorry I Missed You, my publisher sent me 72 ARCs, meant to be used for promo. Unfortunately, they sent me the boxes of books only a few short weeks before the world shut down for COVID, and I only ended up using some of them. So most of them still live here, in my living room, and I haven't known what to do with them. They're not polished, final copies, so I can't sell them. Book bloggers have long since moved onto the next shiny batch of books. And I'm not going to chuck them—they're still books, after all. My babies.
But in that burst of creative energy, I remembered a bit of advice I have been given over and over since I first started writing: the best thing you can put energy into as a writer, besides, obviously, writing books, is a newsletter.
I have often thought about this advice and instantly felt very exhausted and fainting couch-y about it. I already have a blog I can't keep up with; now they want me to write an extra blog and manage an email list and try to compete with all the other people sending out newsletters into inboxes full of newsletters to people who don't even really want newsletters? Ugh.
But, like I said, in that burst of creative energy I thought, does it have to be email inboxes? Does it have to be a blog post? Could it be...an actual letter? On physical paper? How retro! How vintage! How fun! I thought, could I use the Little Free Libraries around the city as mailboxes? I thought of how fun it would be to open a book and find a letter tucked into it. Who among us doesn't love getting mail?
You? Get out.
It's amazing how, when you actually want to do something, when you feel excited about it, how quick and easy it can be. I wrote up that newsletter so fast. I printed off 20 copies and stuffed them into ARCs and then I took those ARCs and stuffed them into Little Free Libraries around my city.
Those of you who have newsletters and are trying to use them to build a reliable audience are definitely weeping and gnashing your teeth at this point. You're yelling, "Suzy! The reason you use email newsletters is so that you can see the data! You can reliably reach the same people over and over and keep track of who's reading! There is a method to this madness!" (I heard you.)
But to you I say: It's like exercise. If you only do exercise you hate, you won't do exercise for very long. If you find something you enjoy, it'll be easier to build it into a habit that yields results longterm. You might not become a body builder that way, but you'll be healthy and happy and AS IF that's not worth something.
And that's how I'm viewing this newsletter thing, and book marketing in general. I'm going to do what feels fun. Maybe next time I'll ask people to send mailing addresses and send out twenty newsletters in real mailboxes. Maybe I'll think of something that has never been done in all of author history and I'll do that. Maybe I'll get all fainting couch-y and do nothing again for a while.
I think that's just fine.
Anyway, that's one of the things I was busy with this week. Since you asked.
And now, I have to go fill a prescription for one of my dear asthmatic children and buy a new clothes horse. Fare. Thee. Well.
Thursday, September 29, 2022
I’m at a coffee shop right now, working away at that stupid third novel, chasing that elusive last word but feeling like it’s a carrot on a stick that never gets any closer no matter what I do. I’m listening to my Spotify library on random and just a few minutes ago a Jens Kuross song came on, from the album Art! At the Expense of Mental Health. I’d never noticed that album title before, but I feel it today.
Amen, Jens Kuross. Hope you’re doin okay.
I had a really hard time this morning deciding which shop to come to. I have become very picky. I wanted a fruity cup of coffee (the kind you get at Everyday Kitchen, Happy Hi, or Cafe Royale), but also someplace where I could have something healthy-ish or at least delicious for breakfast (Naked Bean, French Press, Tangerine), but also someplace quiet, with the right atmosphere (Brewedney, Drip, Core). Perhaps someplace I have a gift card for (Everyday Kitchen, Starbucks, French Press) and someplace I don’t have to pay for parking and someplace I won’t run into anyone I know unless the person I’m running into is someone I know kind of peripherally who won’t pull up a chair and someplace where there are enough people to feel like I’m in public but not so many people that I feel like I’m at a music festival. Someplace where the staff is friendly and the music is good but not too loud because I’m probably going to put my headphones in anyway to drown out the people at the table next to me. Maybe someplace where I can look up now and then to see happy folks visiting in the booth across the room, hugging when they get there and before they leave and looking so overjoyed to see each other; I don’t know, it gives me a little vicarious oxytocin hit which I find to be somewhat helpful for creativity. A place with a good view out the window (so nowhere in the east end or Harbour Landing; nothing is less inspiring than the back of a box store). I like a place where other people are on laptops, possibly writing novels too, because I feel like their creative energy might rub off on me, or like their hopes and dreams are contagious.
You can’t write a thing if you’re low on hopes and dreams.
I sat in my car for such a long time, and finally I just had to narrow it down by trying to think of which coffee beans I wanted, and Thom Bargen won. They serve that at Everyday Kitchen so that’s where I ended up. See also: free parking, a good muffin for breakfast, a gift card, a couple of vaguely familiar people, a bit of jovial hugging across the room, some creatives on laptops, quiet music, and a nice view of the warehouse district.
So now: let’s see if it translates to PRODUCTIVITY.
Tuesday, September 06, 2022
Not Working On That Book
I said I was going to start blogging regularly and then I forgot to do it at all for two whole weeks.
It’s okay, shh, shh, I’m here now, it’s okay.
I’m sitting in a quiet kitchen with a cold cup of coffee. (I feel like this is a common Mom of Little Kids trope, the never getting to drink hot coffee. In reality, though, coffee gets cold for everybody at the exact same rate. Stop acting like you’re special, Moms of Little Kids.) The kids are both at school and it’s weird. Seems like just last week* Sully was playing nonstop drum fills in the living room and Scarlett was hanging out on the roof of our garage with the neighbour kids.**
It’s weird, but it’s great. And disorienting. I’ve spent the first few days getting my bearings in this wide, blank expanse of schedule-less time, this absolute arctic tundra of minutes. I could eat lunch at 10 am if I wanted. And the lunch could be an entire box of Gushers if I wanted. I could sit on the roof of the garage MYSELF, if I wanted.
(I don’t want any of these things.)
Hopefully this week, though, I’ll figure out a rhythm involving things I do want—first and foremost, to get into a satisfying, productive writing groove and FINALLY FINISH THIS BOOK. I took the summer off, almost fully. I decided going in that I was going to try to settle into the idea of taking a break—enjoy the kids, read some books, hang out with friends. It was good for me, I think. Sometimes I felt panicky about it, like if I stepped outside of the writing hustle for two seconds it was going to close up after me, like a wormhole, and I’d never be able to find my way back in. But maybe people need breaks? Maybe constant productivity is bad for long-term productivity? Maybe creativity isn’t a wormhole.
Also, weirdly, it felt kind of nice to have an easy, solid answer when people asked me what I was working on. “Nothing at all” is so much easier for me to say than, “AH WELL I’M WORKING ON THIS REALLY WEIRD BOOK ABOUT THE END OF THE WORLD KIND OF STUART MCLEAN BUT SCI-FI? I DON’T KNOW IF THAT MAKES SENSE AND UH AND UH AND UH CAN WE JUST TALK ABOUT ANYTHING BUT THIS…”
All that to say, the break is over and here I am. Sitting at my computer.
NOT working on that book.
*It was just last week, actually.
**I didn’t know that Scarlett had been on the roof of the garage until I overheard one of her little friends say to her, “You can’t tell your mom what we did or I’ll never be allowed to play with you EVER AGAIN.” Kids, man. Fast, sneaky, terrifying.