When it rains...

A writer's life is a solitary one, filled with strange days, sleepless nights and constant self-doubt (and if you happen to be a writer's new wife, multiply these afflictions by a factor of ten).

But then, if you are lucky (if you have written a good book, yes, but more importantly, if various prize juries have taken notice of your book, for whatever reason), your book begins to take on a life of its own once it's published, and all of the struggle and angst just disappears.

This has happened to me over the past few months. Today, I found out The Chimps has been longlisted for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. And last week, I found out it had made the shortlist for the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction.

It is difficult to overemphasize how good these two nominations have made me feel. Partly because I 'd desperately hoped I would be so lucky with my first book (which I wasn't), and partly because I'd just sort of assumed I wouldn't be so lucky this time around (because I wasn't the first time around). How strange it is that our expectations are often so incongruent with reality.

I don't know whether I should laugh, or cry, or celebrate, or feel badly for all of my fellow writers who haven't made the cut this year but might well do with their next book, or the book after that. Well, ok, I do know what to do: I will celebrate. I will celebrate well, with frozen vodka and good cheese. But not without reminding myself this good feeling is transitory, just as the bad days and awful nights are, those nights when you can't sleep and you can't write and all you're doing is keeping your future wife awake with your tossing and your cursing.

Here's to the chimps of Fauna. From hereon in, everything is unexpected.

(photo credit: Toby, by Jo-Anne McArthur)

An Author’s Best Friend

No, I'm not talking about cigarettes, or alcohol, or late nights at the local watering hole. I'm talking about my dog, a stubborn, hilarious, barrel-chested wheaten terrier named Max. I have just finished writing my second book, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, and in doing so, I have learned a heck of a lot about chimpanzees, about their ability to recover from traumatic experiences, and about the human capacity to help those in need. But I have also learned something about Max.

For the past 12 months, I have followed a rather predictable morning routine: Wake up, see Samantha off to work, walk Max, make coffee, enter study, sit down at computer, start writing. And every single day for the past 12 months, as I've been making my coffee, Max has walked into the study, sat down under my desk, and prepared himself for a long day of napping, dream-howling and staring out the window at my feet.

Sam calls this whole process, "Max going to work," and although I take issue with the particulars (i.e., Max has never written a word), I must admit that there is something very soothing about having another living, breathing soul beneath you as you struggle to string the words together.

Everyone knows that writing is a lonely pursuit. You spend your days locked inside your head. You spend your nights dreaming about prison-breaks. But over the last year, the one thing I've never been is alone. Max has been with me for every sentence and every paragraph. We even rented a cottage last spring, in the hopes it might jar me out of a particularly paralyzing case of anxiety. Max came with us, and although he had acres of lakeshore to explore outside, he spent much of his time sleeping beneath the ping-pong table that doubled as my desk.

Not long ago, I finished writing the book. And the next day, for the first time in recent memory, I had nothing compelling me to sit down at my computer. I saw Sam off to work. I walked Max and made my coffee. And then I flipped on the radio, sat down on the couch and proceeded to bask in my newfound freedom.

Until, that is, Max appeared in the doorway to the study. His head was tilted to the side in that classic wheaten tilt, and he had a very confused look on his face. Then he started to whine. I got up to see what the problem was - perhaps he had no water - and as I did so, Max ran back into the study, his toenails clicking on the linoleum, and threw himself under the desk.

I went back to the couch, but only to flip off the radio and retrieve my coffee. Then I returned to the study, sat down at my desk and proceeded to surf the internet, searching for nothing in particular, until I was sure Max was soundly asleep.

“If by force you make a creature live and work like a beast, you must think of him as a beast, else empathy would drive you mad.” - John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

"Max and me"