Should Your Children Read Your (Adult) Fiction?

Picture of a box of the short story collection Smells Like Heaven by Sally Cooper

Can We Read It Yet? 

This week ten copies of Smells Like Heaven arrived in a box on my doorstep. I waited until my children came home then filmed them painstakingly taking turns opening the box with an old steak knife. When they took out the books, they looked even happier than me, not an easy feat. I’ve found the cover gorgeous since I first saw it but holding the object in person and seeing all the little touches not picked up by the two-dimensional jPeg took the experience to another level. I crowed about the red spine, the pretty splotches on the back cover. I clutched a copy to my chest.

Then I noticed my 8 year old daughter scanning a random story in the middle and blurted, “You can’t read it yet!”

“When can we?” my 10 year old daughter asked.

I mumbled a few ages: “18? 12?” then changed the subject.

What About When the Rest of the Family Reads It? Launch month (yes, it’s arrived!) represents the turning point when the book ceases to belong to the author. Others will read it, form their own relationships with it and, it is hoped, take the stories into their hearts. I’m used to this wrenching, this letting go. I’m even used to (sorta) my parents reading my stuff. My mom read my first book in a day then called me in tears. My dad hasn’t spoken about it, but I’m assured that he’s read it.

My children are another matter. The thought of them reading my book adds a new level of feeling exposed, as if I’m revealing something intimate and adult about  a world I might protect them from otherwise. I do write for adults, though some of my characters aren’t much older than my daughters. The stories are complex and resemble the kinds of stories I might offer to them in glimpses in our conversations.

How Do Memoirists Handle This Conundrum? This week I went to my first Graphic Novel Book Club at Epic Books. The book we discussed, Calling Dr. Laura, by Nicole J. Georges is a graphic memoir about a woman coming out to her mother after finding out a secret about her “dead” father. We discussed whether Nicole Georges would have shown the book to her mother. Hard to say. But I admire Georges’ fearlessness in creating it, and her vulnerability, both necessary qualities when writing memoir. Fiction, too.

What Would Alice Munro Do? Alice Munro once wrote: “A child’s illness, relatives coming to stay, a pile-up of unavoidable household jobs, can swallow a work-in-progress as surely as a power failure used to destroy a piece of work in the computer.”

While I don’t tend to write when my children are around, my writing has shadowed their lives since they were wee. My choices first to return to teaching after motherhood then to leave my teaching job altogether have informed how and when I write, but this book is proof that motherhood hasn’t derailed my writing. Quite the opposite.

Why should I feel awkward about my children reading my stories? They’re sophisticated consumers of story. They would ask about what they couldn’t understand.

Would I give my daughters this book if another writer had written it? No, not yet. Soon. And that time is coming fast.

What I’m Into These Days: Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt (esp. episodes featuring Tina Fey); Sopranos rewatch; graphic novels; Sparkling Water; exploring my city on my bike; contemplating quitting sugar; A Tribe Called Red.

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Artist Life Hacks

“I have a finite time on earth. I’m not interested in coasting through it. I want to be invested.” Bryan Cranston, A Life in Parts

Last year I started connecting to my local arts community in a big way by signing on as a Senior Editor at Hamilton Review of Books. I’m loving everything about this gig from the review-writing to reaching out to  writers to planning our issues to copy-editing the reviews (yes, even that.) What makes me especially proud of the HRB is that we pay our writers. (And we do so by putting together unique fundraisers.)

On the other end, as a writer, I’m committed to getting paid now (though it took me a long time to get here.) There is a place for writing for free, and I’ve done it. It is a good way to get examples of your work and to beef up your bylines. There comes a point, though, when exposure isn’t enough. It’s the expectation that an artist should work for free that rubs me the wrong way.

As Andrew Simonet writes in Making Your Life as an Artist: “Making a sustainable life means depending on your community, calling on your network, something many artists don’t do enough.”

What I’m into these days: HBO’s subtly nightmare-inducing The Night Of; the raunch-but-real buddy comedy Broad City, so-real-it’s-almost-not-funny Veep, the self-soothing music of Nashville, Bryan Cranston’s artist’s life hacks; Joyce Carol Oates’ histrionic Blonde; vegan cookies. Bedtime reading:  Roald Dahl’s The BFG.

 

Found Objects and Launches

Buy More Art

This week I visited some neighbours’ studios on a local artists’ tour and found the above sign propped on the kitchen counter at a house around the corner from me. My mom bought me a resonant work of art made of found objects (including linoleum from the city where I went to university). We would have bought much more art if we could have. My 8-year-old daughter has committed herself to saving up to buy art and was inspired to make this piece out of Battleship pieces, paper clips, earrings and buttons. (Oh, and a piece of wood which may or may not be part of our disassembled sauna):

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Launch-o-rama

The weeks leading up to a book’s launch into the world can be heady and weird. Suddenly people are talking about your book instead of wondering why you never leave the house or answer the door during the day. Smells Like Heaven is lucky to have two launches on the horizon: one in Hamilton, the city I now call home, and one in Toronto where I lived and worked for over a decade. The Hamilton launch takes place on June 20. Here’s a poster for the Toronto launch:

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Speaking of launches, our magazine Hamilton Review of Books has not only just released its second issue but is hosting a panel and fundraiser next week called “It’s Great and I Like It.” Why are we fundraising? So we can pay our writers! Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 12.57.49 PM.png

Postcards and Pups

Last week this stack of postcards came, a precursor to the thrill of holding the book for the first time, a moment which is now mere weeks away.

The postcards were great swag to hand out at the Hamilton Public Library reading on April 22.  Every reader was strong and distinct and I was thrilled and grateful to see some friends in the audience as well as some of the Hamilton Review of Books editors. The turn-out was strong considering it was a super-sunny day and Monster-jammers had crammed the downtown streets.

Speaking of Hamilton Review of Books, the second issue, which went live this week, is jam-packed with fantastic content, including my review of Rachel Cusk’s novel, Transit here.

Events are lining up: I’ll be on a panel about self-promotion at the Paris branch of the Brantford Public Library on May 13, on a panel about writers’ contracts and a reading at the CCWWP conference at UNB on June 11, interviewed on GetLit on June 15, and launching Smells Like Heaven at Bryan Prince Bookseller on June 20 at 6 p.m.. More details to follow. All are welcome.

It’s book launch season all over, and I’ve been lucky enough to make it out to a couple this week, for Gary Barwin’s No TV for Woodpeckers and John Terptra’s Mischief and for my friend and former colleague Antanas Sileika’s memoir, The Barefoot Bingo Caller, a launch which was especially fun for me as it offered the chance to connect with lots of people from my teaching days at Humber College (and involved bingo calling!) Though I’d allowed myself two hours, I made the QEW Hamilton-Toronto trek in less than 45 minutes, so I had time to see the famous High Park cherry blossoms and meet the incomparable Haggis, a recent Mexican rescue who’s so famous now he has his own Facebook page, The Haggis Report.

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Smells Like Heaven

It’s official! Smells Like Heaven, my third book, is coming out with ARP Books in June. Here’s a peek at the publisher’s description:

Set in the fictional town of Fletcher, the connected stories in Smells Like Heaven span thirty years. Fletcher is a town the characters strive to escape, but keep returning to, as they stumble through life searching for ways to connect and transcend their claustrophobic pasts. Following two sisters—Devon and Christine—as well as their friends and lovers, Smells Like Heaven exposes the core of what it means to be transformed by love.

Check out their website here