Wednesday, September 28, 2005

My Glass of Quik

I was at The Word on the Street (WOTS) in Toronto on Sunday, a guest of the Sudbury Writer’s Guild / Your Scrivener Press booth in the Writer’s Block.

When I woke up Sunday morning to a steady rain, I wondered if it was going to be a bad day for the event. And a couple of hours later when I was driving in to Toronto, the rain still a steady drizzle, I thought for sure that the day might be a wash.

But at least I had this great book on tape that a consultant the data team is working with loaned me last week. It’s The Breathing Method, which was a novella from Stephen King’s Different Seasons. This was the first book that I’d ever read of King’s and in many ways his finest work. It was the movie Stand By Me that was my motivation for picking up this book to read the novella it was based on “The Body” (thanks, Rob Reiner) and I became hooked on King’s writing from that point forward. Listening to this story, narrated so eloquently by Frank Muller, is a wonderful experience (I still have the second side on the last tape to finish - guess I don’t spend enough time driving - shame on me for taking public transit). I’m particularly impressed with the descriptions of the “storytellers” club the main character hangs out in and the slogan on the fireplace mantel which reads:

It is the tale, not he who tells it.

A thing of beauty. I’m there in the room listening to the stories along with the main character. So, thanks, Leslie, you’re right, even though I already read the story, I’m really enjoying this. And it makes me want to go out and buy more books on tape.

So, the ride in, listening to this book on tape, was a nice departure from standard radio listening, and quite fitting with my voyage to a book festival.

When I arrived, one of the first people I bumped into was the Gentleman Bookseller himself, Eric Jensen. We spent a few minutes sharing baby stories (he’s a new father of a 3 month old boy named Christian) -- like myself, Eric is overwhelmed with joy at being a father and I couldn’t have said it any better than he when he said that the expression bundle of joy is a good one, but doesn’t even come close.

I found my way, relatively easily to my booth, officially became a member of the Sudbury Writer’s Guild (which is exciting - I’ve always been overwhelmed at the sense of community and friendliness of the people of Sudbury. Sure, it’s my old stomping grounds, so I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for it, but the people from Sudbury are just amazing people. The folks I shared the booth with (although Lauren Carter, like myself, no longer lives in the Sudbury area) are no exceptions, and it was a very pleasant day spent with them chatting about books. It was great also, to meet Laurence Steven, the publisher of Your Scrivener Press, and his wife, in person. Good people.

By the end of the day, a day which was filled with wonderful conversation about books, the opportunity to watch people discover Clay Campbell’s box of free “bookcrossing” books which he placed strategically under a tree near our booth, and almost knocking over NDP leader Jack Layton on my quest to find a washroom (he was there, browsing with his wife and looking to be having a marvelous time -- nice to see a political leader out among the people, not handing out flyers, just enjoying a book-lover’s event) -- a last minute dodge prevented me from slamming into him as I deked my way through the crowd. (I did find the restroom station, by the way, in case anyone is worried about me - and no, it wasn’t at all like my buddy Pete’s restroom misadventures in Absurdington)

By the time I got home, I'd started to sum up the day, and, with the joyous details of fine conversation with very interesting people settling into the back of my mind, I focused on two summary details:

1) In six hours I'd only sold 2 copies of my book

2) When I bumped into the editor who'd been seriously considering my novel for these past several months for a Toronto publisher (and from whom the only correspondence I'd so far received was a "love the first 3 chapters, please send full ms"), he told me that while it was really close, they wouldn't be publishing my novel after all.

I thought about how I'd intended to invest the day pursuing self-promotion activities and away from Francine and Alexander. I'd been hoping that time time away from my loved ones would have provided more yield for the sacrifice. Perhaps I'd set my hopes too high.

As often happens, I let these two things haunt my mind, rather than focus on the good things about the day, the new friends made, the colleagues I hadn't chatted with in a while (Rob Sawyer, Nancy Kilpatrick, Edo van Belkom, Douglas Smith), and even the wonderfully constructive comments and feedback the editor had provided on my novel which did include the fact that he found the writing and storyline excellent - there were just some parts here and there that troubled him enough to pass on publishing it.

Thus, by the time I got home, I was ready to have someone mix up a nice glass of Nestle Quik for me. Quick explaination of that thought: There's this old television commercial with a young boy, still in his hockey equipment sitting at a kitchen table with his mom and talking about the game. "We lost again," he says, summing up the event for his mother. She puts her arm on his shoulder, sits near him, ever the faithful listener, and slides over a glass of Nestle Quik (now known as Nesquik, I guess). By the end of the commercial, he has a small smile as the world seems to get better and it ends up an upnote. "I really like hockey" he says.

But, as always, Francine was my "glass of Quik" - offering her shoulder, kind words of support and, as always, her understanding and ability to get to the heart of the matter. At one point, she turned to me and said: "For you, writing is the easiest part in all this." And she was right. Self-promotion was the hard-part, particularly for a writer, who is used to doing all his best stuff in complete solitude. Taking a knife, slicing yourself open and bleeding onto a page (that's what writing sometimes is like), is actually the easy part. But, getting words onto the page, nomatter how frustrating and challenging that can sometimes be, is a walk in the park compared to the act of submitting your work and, once it's published, actually trying to get people to pay attention to it.

As is typical, my conversation with Francine gave me more hope and reminded me that this new round of self-promo activites that I'm engaging in these next few weeks aren't going to be easy, but they are necessary.

And, of course, if things don't go the way I hoped, I have Francine, my own personal glass of Quik, to make things better. God, I love that woman. And "I really like writing."


Pete Mitchell said...

And you're very lucky to have each other. You're a great couple.

And an excellent entry by the way. It's so true, "slicing yourself open and bleeding on the page" is the easy part.

Kimberly said...

I was planning on going to Word on the Street, but I woke up with a terrific headache on Sunday and ended up staying home (no doubt because of the rain!)

And you should be proud of what you did accomplish...two books sold and catching up with old friends is better than no books sold and being there all by your lonesome.

It's good that you have such a wonderful partner in Francine...understanding and supportive. Pete's right, you two make a great couple.

Keep at it Mark, for one day I aspire to follow your courageous footsteps!

Kim :)

Franny said...

That's beautiful Mark! It's the perfect analogy for us chocolate milk lovers.

Michael Kelly said...

Damn! Wished I'd known you were going, I'd have popped by and said "hello." I was there, so I must have wandered by you at some point.