Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writing Through Life Change

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I used to think that writing was an all-alone endeavor: I thought that all you need is a laptop and some time. I don’t know why I thought that. It’s not true, it turns out. I’ve had help. This help has been life-changing.

I should explain the context of this post first: in the past few weeks, my son has more than doubled his tooth count, gone through some sort of cognitive leap that’s making him loathe to leave his socks, and our building owners have noisily gutted the apartments next door. I feel like my brain has been torn into sections. So I’m going to write my signoff post in fragments, and hope that readers can follow. I apologize for being weird, but I’m having trouble stringing ideas together.

So here are all my thoughts. They’re in no particular order, and I apologize for that. (I have a friend who’s always telling me how weird I am – he’s going to love this…)

On being bad at the internet

I’m bad at the internet. I should have mentioned that in my very first post. Historically, I’ve even been afraid of status updating. I’m always concerned that I’ll say something silly that I’ll later regret, or that I’ll misquote myself (because I do that). My partner, on the other hand, is very good at the internet. He writes stuff all the time. He discusses the things he writes, and if he later comes to not believe what he’d posted earlier, he apologizes and moves on the better for it. The internet, he’s always told me, is made for change and evolution. Certainly, I want to be a person who changes and evolves. I’ve always thought that there’s a life lesson in there somewhere, but I’ve been afraid to look for it. This month, I’ve started… well…. something… I wonder whether the internet and I might end up being buddies after all (or at least slightly less wary neighbours).

On Literary Neighbourhoods and Internet Communities

I always (well, sometimes) read about people posting things that make them feel vulnerable, and then getting attacked. But then I got the opportunity to write the guest blog at Open Book Toronto, and I thought, well, why not make myself intensely vulnerable. I’ve never really written in the first person before. I can’t justify my decision to be so open, but I wrote about some of the things that have worried me the most over the past year and a half, and have had me googling the question, “is there something wrong with me?” (to which I have never had a satisfying response from Google or any other search engine). This has been a wonderful experience. I’m not as alone in these experiences and worries as I’d thought, and I don’t think I’d realized how much weight all those fears had carried. I feel better. I didn’t think that I ever would. Again, I’m too tired for life lessons right now, so I’m just going to thank Open Book Toronto readers and the Canadian literary community.

On Help

I’ve had a lot of help. And the list of people who have helped me is rapidly growing. (I’m only including a small subsection here.)

I have a partner who I force to look at everything. I often read aloud to my toddler whose cryptic replies I rely on. (“Did that sound okay?” “No no no no no.” “Should I rewrite it?” “Oh no no no no.”) They’re also the constant presences in my life who make me want to create better things, to work harder, to give everything.

And I’ve had mentors who have helped me in unthinkably generous ways. I’ve sat down in the living rooms of some of my literary idols, and talked about the work and writing in general. I’ve had friends read and comment on my manuscript, an incredible gift that I really don’t know how I could ever repay.

And then my book came out, and that part of the process is terrifying. You need so much from other people. You need a publisher. You need editors. You need shelf space. You need champions. Some more of my literary idols read the finished book and wrote things that I can’t think about without wanting to cry. They didn’t need to do all that, but they did, and it’s right there on the covers so every time I think that I dreamed it, that it didn’t really happen, I can just look at the book again. How can you thank someone for that?

And then even after all that, you still need to find a way to find readers. I’ve been so lucky that I’ve had literary champions, friends and even strangers who were willing to write about my book to try to connect it with possible readers.

On Literary Champions

There are so many dots to connect to get a book to people willing to read it, willing to make the choice to purchase it, to invest hard-earned free time in it. I’m really grateful for literary champions.

There are people who have created reputations not just as phenomenal writers, but as readers and bloggers and journalists too. They’ve created places on the scary internet and spaces in arts-averse newspapers (and I always feel these people have the talent and ambition to be millionaires in any other field, and I’m always deeply grateful that they’re in the arts…) Some of these people took the time to read my book, and to write about it. This is intensely generous. There are so many books to choose from. This is how readers have heard about mine. These other writers didn’t need to do this, but they did.

On Reviews

I love reading reviews. I used to read them as a sort of master class, to hear what other people thought made great fiction. They worked, in all the ways that they’re supposed to work: they got me to really think about form and structure and forward momentum and sentences, and, of course, they often got me to buy the book. Now, my relationship to the review has changed, however, because I’ve become a more active participant: I’m one of those people hoping to get one.

Reviews feel deeply weird from this side of the process. Everyone wants to get reviewed of course, but I also found them scary as well. I worried that I wouldn’t get reviews. I worried that, if I did, the reviewer would absolutely hate the book. (Is this normal? Google seems to have no opinion. I sometimes meet very confident-seeming people, and I wonder about myself.)

The process of getting reviewed is also deeply strange: I created an imaginary world, invited people in, and then asked them to rate the experience. Weird. Because my book used to feel less like a novel and more like a second life.

But then, they’re also so important. I’m afraid of reviews, but I really want to be part of this tradition that’s meant so much to me, and I’ve wanted to be part of the conversation about what novels can do, can be.

On other writers

I’m so grateful for the books that I’ve read in my life. I’ve read such wonderful novels, short stories, poetry, plays, and I continue to read such wonderful things (in book form, in journals, online), and I also feel so thankful for all the writers who have inspired me for so long and have continued to inspire me, who have and continue to expand what I know to be possible.

Thank you also to the wonderful bloggers and memoirists (and Bianca Spence’s lovely short piece in Taddle Creek) that inspired me to want to try writing in the first person in the first place.

On Bookstores

I love independent bookstores. Most of the novels that have meant the most to me in my life have come from the people who work in indie bookstores who knew books so well, and who took the time to talk and to make suggestions. Type, Book City, Bakka, etc. It kills me that my book is in some of these places now. (It’s still a bit shocking to hear about my book in a store, to be honest. It’s so fancy now. It used to be a mess of printed marked-up pages. I still picture it that way.)

On Libraries

So many of the life changing books that I’ve lived with all these years have come from libraries (and librarians). My book is in the library too. I can’t believe it. This was another momentous realization. There are even holds placed on it (although you really can’t convince me that my partner hasn’t found a way to get eighteen library cards under assumed names and place all those holds).

On figuring out where you are

I feel like life has been going so fast lately. Decisions happen so quickly that they don’t feel like decisions at all. They are though. I got to where I am at this moment because of choices that I made, and I do know that they haven’t always been the right ones. It was really helpful to have this month to stop and think and consider writing through life change to really wonder about where I am and where I want to end up.

On thank yous

So those are all my thoughts. The rest are just lots and lots of thank yous. Thank you to Open Book Toronto. Thank you to the Toronto literary community. Thank you thank you thank you.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Alexis von Konigslow

Alexis von Konigslow has degrees in mathematics from Queen's and creative writing from Guelph. Her debut novel, The Capacity for Infinite Happiness, was recently called Arcadia for the connected age. She lives in Toronto.

You can contact Alexis throughout the month of September at writer@openbooktoronto.com

Go to Alexis von Konigslow’s Author Page