If anyone thinks Calgary is all pancake breakfasts, politicians in Stetsons, and dubious animal handling ethics, they don’t know Calgary. It’s home to a great literary arts scene–poets, writers, literary mags, university programs, the whole package. It’s a pleasure to get to travel there as part of my own book tour. Last night, I was part of filling Station magazine’s Flywheel Reading Series along with fellow writers Erin Emily Ann Vance and Bren Simmers. It was the first time this tour I wasn’t either sick or late, making the event a triumph. I had a great time, was the subject of some horrible photos as I hammed my way through my reading, went back to the hotel, ordered room service with my sponsor (my husby), and crashed. Thanks, YYC!
After spending the summer terrified, plunking through oral presentations spoken all in Chinese, this fall’s chance to appear in public, speaking to people about my novel in my native language seemed like a breeze.
But there’s precious little in life that turns out to be easy. The week of my book launch, I came down with a cold. Grownups muscle through colds all the time. It’s not heroic or dangerous. However, my family, the MacKenzie family, has a talent for coughs and colds. We cough until we gag. We cough so loudly little children cover their ears. We cough until the blood vessels around our eyes break, giving us a scary petechiae–a rash of red-brown flecks on our skin. In the late 19th century, one of our great-great-grandmothers lost nine of her eleven young children to influenza. I’m not convinced there’s any such thing as a man-cold but I do believe in the Mac-cold: the MacKenzie cold.
So I turned up at my book launch at Audreys Books in Edmonton with a Mac-cold. I arrived still embarrassed about having to leave a lecture earlier that afternoon to go hack in the privacy of a stairwell. All the hopes I had for the event had been reduced to one simple goal. I wanted to make it through the reading without a spectacular, face-bleeding coughing spasm. All that mattered was breath.
I took my medicine, prayed, took comfort in the goodwill of the family, friends, and colleagues who came, and accomplished my reading in a low, smoky but cough-free voice.
Then I came home and crashed, just like the computers at the store.
From the fog of medication and illness, I missed a few event details that would have been nice. I couldn’t taste any of the cake my sister made for the guests. I also failed to set up any proper photos and am left with phone-shots to document the night.
That’s okay. Someone with a Mac-cold is best seen through a fuzzy screen at a far distance anyway. And the more adversity, the more thankful I am to be in the position to be headlining the launch of my own book, for the second time, in a venerable space, surrounded by people who wish me well.
Thank you, from the bottom of my lungs.
It had family, friends, librarians, my childhood bestie, a surprise appearance, great food, fresh flowers, surly teenagers, pretty babies, a local literary mainstay, and a book. Our book launch party had everything.
Last night, in my current hometown of Lacombe, we did indeed launch my first novel, Love Letters of the Angels of Death. Fran Kimmel introduced me, I read the first two sections of the book’s first chapter, and the rest was just love. I imagine it was kind of like being at my own funeral – which, if you know me or my book, is wonderful.
My thanks to everyone.
Yes, this is me, asking you out.
Next Thursday, I’m having a party to launch my novel. Whoever you are — whether you know me in person or not, whether I can see your house from mine or not — consider yourself invited (unless you are a child who is old enough to walk but not old enough to keep your mitts out of the punch bowl and sit and listen to Auntie Jenny read stories about dead people).
If you can’t make it to the Lacombe launch party, I’ll be reading in Red Deer at Sunworks on Friday, September 27 at 7pm. And if you’re a big city type, I’ll be reading in Calgary at Pages Kensington as part of Filling Station’s Flywheel Series on Thursday, Sept 12 at 7:30.
Look, I’m delicate and socially awkward. Come see me.
The countdown to the release date of my novel, Love Letters of the Angels of Death, has passed the point where the time is measured in months and moved to where it’s measured in days. Look, it’s right there in the column of widgets beside this post. The moment has come to start opening the windows on my advent calendar. The book’s release date is practically here.
In preparation, my literary fairy-god-sister, author Fran Kimmel, came along last week and held my hand as I booked a venue for the novel’s launch event. It’ll be happening here, in the small-ish town where I live, on August 29. The timing – a Thursday night right before the last long weekend of summer – is terrible. I know that. It won’t be convenient for anybody. In my head, I’m already composing the passive-aggressive email I will send to all my first degree relatives living within a 100km radius of my house. The message will explain that, while I will try my best to act like a grownup, if any of my nearest and dearest skip my launch party, I might be stuck thinking very, very hard about their absences for a very, very, very long time.
Yes, I’m fighting against an inclination to take the book’s release and launch far too seriously. I keep coming back to that line from the sappy radio follow-your-dreams pop song that made me cry in the car on the way home from the venue last week: “I don’t want to waste this.”
In what was probably not a great moment in Feminism, I spent an hour in my closet trying to figure out what to wear to the launch. My closet is usually a happy place. It has everything from thrift shop finds to fancy satin bridesmaid dresses. But nothing seemed quite right.
I thumbed through the hangers and thought about Trish – one of the many weekend editors I freelanced for at a car-crash of a boomtown newspaper during our years in the north. She was tall and what someone writing a romance novel might call “willowy” – burgundy lipstick and dark, Morticia Addams hair. She wasn’t satisfied with the mug-shot the last editor had been printing beside my columns and called me down to the office so she could take a better one. When we met, she pulled her elegant spider-leg eyebrows together and tried to imagine my face in her new, fabulous arts-chick vision of the newspaper. All she said was, “Oh, you’re such a mom.”
At the time, I hadn’t yet turned thirty and I had three children under the age six. I hadn’t slept through the night in years. I didn’t own any clothes that couldn’t be tossed into a washing machine. The lipstick I’d put on in the rear view mirror minutes before had a distinct rouge-on-the-dead look to it. I typified the shabby, faded waste of talent this lady (who did become a friend of mine) called “a mom.”
There are a host of arguments I could make for why she was wrong and why she was right and why looking like a mom can be glorious. But in the closet, a month before my book release, none of that mattered very much. I was mired in one of the shallower depths of my consciousness – one that dreads anyone seeing me at a podium with my novel and thinking, “Look at her. Oh, she’s such a mom.”
In passing, I mentioned my wardrobe silliness to my publisher. I think a part of me wanted her to send me a uniform – a matching Linda Leith Publishing t-shirt and cap, maybe even an apron and hairnet. Instead of sending me a kit, Linda’s advice was simply to wear something that made me feel terrific.
Something terrific would be something I could forget about – something that could fade into the tone and rhythm of the reading and talking and celebrating I’d be doing during the launch. And I was beginning to form a vague, shadowy notion of what that might be. Ever since I signed the publishing contract last winter, I’ve been slowly dressing more and more like someone who’s written an artsy, Gothic love story because – dangit — that’s who I am. I knew the spirit of what I wanted to wear but couldn’t yet read the letter of it.
My glamorous sister-in-law understood. We’ve been together for over eighteen years. That’s her entire adolescence and adult life. She sees me from an angle similar to the one her brother, my husband, uses to look at me – one that somehow makes me appear genuine and beautiful and at the same time, one I hardly recognize when she describes it to me. She took me to her favourite jewelry shop – the place where a nice old hippie guy once diagnosed me as psychic – and helped me choose a pendant I could use to anchor my launch-day wardrobe.
It’s set in silver and shaped like an eye – a blue eye like my eyes, my husband’s eyes, and the ten blue eyes I assembled from the atoms of my own body as the mother of our sons. There — that’s me.