Remember that time we used to blog?

WOW.

We literally took forever off.

Okay, well not literally. But it sure feels that way. Our last post is dated October 8 2015. Last year. Almost 8 months. That sounds ludicrous as I type it, but it almost seems further away than that somehow.

Tonight, I can’t sleep. Sometimes when I can’t sleep I try meditation, or I read, or attempt to wake up one of three of my pups to tell them I can’t sleep, or I stare into the abyss until I drive myself absolutely mad and can’t stay in bed any more.

So tonight I can’t sleep and this is where the not being able to stay in bed any more part kicks in and I found myself here in front my keyboard wanting to write, but not wanting to work at one o’clock in the morning.

We’ve been talking about our blog, our baby, a little bit here and there in passing, and a lot more lately in focus. We get the odd message too now and then from some of our loving readers (Hi mom!) that say they miss our posts. I figured, what better way to try to write my insomnia away than by writing a post committing us to it again?

We have had the most CRAZY, INSANE, OVER THE TOP break though. SO much has happened in the past seven-ish months.

I know each of the sisters would prefer if I not spoil their pool of blog post ideas as they are probably the most full they’ve been since we started; also I know that each piece of these past months will require and deserve their own posts.

So YES, we’re back!

However, each of our lifestyles have shifted in new ways, presenting new challenges – it is time for a change for us as a Sisterhood with this baby of ours. (Side note and just because I am a proud sister and AUNTIE again – there were literally babies during our break!!! We will for sure see posts from Jacqui and Kim regarding said babies – promise)

We’ve figured out a way that we can try to do it all – we do love our little community of readers and miss writing about our lives, and our thoughts and our ‘things’ that we deal with by sharing. We loved how connected it made us feel to each other too.

sisters

While we’re not quite set on a ‘schedule’ just yet, writing will happen! Keep an eye out for our posts – check out our Facebook page too if you’d like! Hopefully we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other.

There – I think I can sleep now.

Hope you all have the best Friday! I will for SURE need the most coffee ever.

~ Toni

 

Writing…with children

I want to be a novelist. I want to see my books on the shelves of bookstores. I want to talk to people about the stories that are in my head. And I want to do that as my job. That is the dream. It’s a lofty dream. And it’s all the more complicated because I am a writer…with children.

Kids make everything messier.

Leaving the house is infinitely harder and requires complex terrorist negotiations.

Eating a meal is fraught with flying food and temper tantrums about broccoli touching potatoes.

Going to sleep is a perilous activity that can be interrupted at any time by puking, screaming, or banal updates, such as, “I woke up.”

Even simply moving around your house is now an obstacle course with hard plastic or pointy wooden toys ready to stab you at any moment.

Kids make everything messier.

Me trying to be a writer is no different. Writing my book has taken me almost 5 years so far. And while great novels often take a heap of time, mine is taking so long because of children. Children being born. Children not sleeping. Children not stopping. All the children all the time.

If I could sit down and write my novel in larger chunks of consistent time, I feel like it would be more cohesive (I’m dreading reading it all at once…all in a row…oh, the horror) and that it would probably be DONE by now. Or at the very least, in a third or fourth draft phase.

My book is being written, though, and I feel it’s because I’ve come to accept that writing with children comes with its own set of rules. Here they are (as I know them):

1. Be prepared to write at any time. 

I write at night after the babies go to bed. I write first thing in the morning when I can convince myself that writing is more important, more dear, than a couple more hours of sleep. I write in the morning, when Isaac and Lillian are still getting along. I write during nap time under Lillian while she watches a movie during her quiet time, until I ultimately fall asleep because I’ve stopped moving. One piece of advice that is given to writers is to set up a routine, to write at the same time every day, but when you’re writing with children that golden writing time is a moving target…and you’ve got to hit it when you can and nap when you can’t.

In the morning, when everyone is still in pyjamas.

In the morning, when everyone is still in pyjamas.

2. Be prepared to be joined. 

There is nothing my babies love more than to join me in writing. When I pull out my computer, they also want to pull out their toy laptops. When I’m writing by hand in my fancy journal to plot out my book, they also must have fancy journals. And when I’m editing my paper copy of my written words in my binder, they also want to write and print and colour in a binder as well. I make sure that whichever way I’m writing at the time, they also can join me…otherwise, they might try to join me in other ways…

Isaac...helping...

Isaac…helping…

Lillian sharing her writing with me.

Lillian sharing her writing with me.

Sophie and her masterpiece.

Sophie and her masterpiece.

3. Be prepared to be interrupted. 

Life doesn’t stop just because you need to finish a thought, follow through an idea, or wrap up a section. Children don’t look at you and see you sitting and quiet and pensive and decide, “I’m not going to bug her. She looks busy.” They think the opposite, in fact. They see you there, with your super exciting looking pens and paper, with your coffee that might still be hot, with your eyes closed, maybe, so you can drown out the outside stimulation and focus on the voices in your head, and they say, “This is our moment. This is the time to sit on her, lick her, ask her to help me with my craft, my game, the voices in my head.”

Isaac helping me write this blog post...on my lap...with his blanket.

Isaac helping me write this blog post…on my lap…with his blanket.

4. Be prepared for your solo writing to be a compilation. 

When I was in my writing class, we were tasked with providing critiques of the other writers’ work. I would often have to hand back copies of their stories with Sophie’s scrawls all over them, because she wanted to help. Everyone was lovely and said it made the critiques more charming…but in truth, I wonder how many authors would put up with that kind of nonsense. In my fancy novel-planning journal, you will find crayon, marker, pen, pencil and stickers, all from each of my children. And I like to think of it anthropologically, that when my biographer goes through my notes, or when my planning goes viral, like Ms. Rowling’s, they’ll see that I was writing with children. And that that is not for the faint of heart.

Stickers from Sophie...to help make my book look beautiful. Success.

Stickers from Sophie…to help make my book look beautiful. Success.

5. Be prepared for all the rules to get tossed out the window. 

If there’s one thing I know about child-raising, it’s that the rules change, sometimes moment to moment. I’ve had to come to terms with this in my own writing life, and it’s been a hard pill to swallow. I have all of these ideas and all of these words and the characters are screaming and want to be let out, but they can’t because I am a full-time mom, both in work and at home. It’s what I do. And that means that sometimes I’ll get to write on consecutive days. And other times I won’t be able to write for weeks, or even months. That sometimes I’ll nail writing in my scriptorium that Ben built for me in our laundry room and others I’ll be at the dining room table. That some days I’ll have energy and creative fire, and others I’ll want to nap with my free time. It’s the way of parenting, it’s the way of life with children, and it’s the way of writing. Sometimes things go exactly as planned. And others are so far from any plan you wonder if you’ll ever get back on track. At the end of the day, though, I’m a writer. And whether it takes me 5 years or 10 years to finish my book, I will. Because how else will I ever shut the voices in my head up?

~ Julia

Roses

A while ago I posted about entering a short story contest. I meticulously read over the rules and discovered that if I shared my story here, online, I would be eliminating my chance at winning. So I didn’t. And today I got confirmation that I didn’t make the longlist. Boo.

In better news, I can TOTALLY post my story here now. 🙂 Thanks for reading it. Thanks for reading our blog. And thanks for putting up with this navel-gazing post. Happy Friday!



Roses

A short story by Julia Mills

Taken by our talented Andreah

Taken by our talented Andreah

Grace walked away from downtown, taking the sidewalk around the bend in the road out to where country touched the edge of the village. She looked into the windows of houses she passed, noting empty dining room tables, bowed heads of women washing dishes, a foursome playing cards, and a thin old man sitting reading under a light as if he were an exhibit.

She stopped at the last and grandest house on the street. Large and sided with white, the house had black shutters and a wraparound porch bordered by rose bushes and precisely trimmed shrubbery. Two rocking chairs and a child’s tricycle sat on the porch. Some of the large windows were lit and some were dark, but with no obvious pattern. The house belonged to Mr. Frank Hunt, the sole lawyer in town, and his wife, Muriel, president of The Horticultural Society.

Grace had stolen away here a few times before, always after dinner had been cleared away, needing to escape Robert’s two-year old demands, John’s silence as he worked at the dining room table, and the one that was missing, her dead baby, Alice. On those other visits, she had clipped a few of the prize-winning roses to bring home, but it hadn’t seemed to make a difference. They were beautiful, adorning her mantle, her nightstand, and the bathroom counter, but they weren’t enough. Grace wanted one more bouquet, large enough to fill the centre of her dining room table.

She walked to the side of the house where she had left her gardening shears, and made her way to the first bush. It looked like the roses were on fire, a burnt red orange. The shears made quick, clean work of clipping the blooms; the first time she had come she didn’t have her shears, just her hands, and she had to twist and break each stem. Grace clipped a half dozen of the orange roses, dropping them to the ground as she went. She’d gather them all afterwards. Best to keep her hands free to cut now.

Next was a bush heavy with red blooms, their deep blood heads droopy with the weight of their petals and fragrance. It reminded her of the colour of her underwear when they were first trying to have a baby, making love and holding their breath every four weeks, hoping that it would take, that this time was the time.

She clipped all of the blooms off of the bush. When the ground was covered, she moved onto the next, a bush of creamy yellow roses. Grace touched some of the petals, wondering if they were as soft and smooth as they looked. They were. Like Alice’s cheek. Her rosy, beautiful cheek. And then her cold cheek. Blue and empty. Who knew babies could just die in their sleep?

Grace clipped the bush until there was nothing but stubs left and a carpet of yolk and green on the ground. She was breathing hard. She moved onto the next bush. Then the next. Then the next. The sound of rhythmic clipping and rustling filled the back yard, as roses landed on grass.

Then.

“Grace?”

She paused.

“What are you doing?”

She turned.

Mrs. Muriel Hunt was making her way down the steps and into the backyard towards her.

“Grace!” Muriel’s voice was loud and had something sharp in it. Hysteria. Muriel stared at the ground, at Grace’s feet, behind Grace, at her yard. “What are you doing?”

The shears hung in her hand. Then they fell to the ground.

“You are going to pay for this.”

Grace was silent. What was she doing?

“You stay right there.” Muriel turned and ran up the stairs and into the house, leaving the door open, screaming, “Frank!”

Grace sat down on the grass. What was she doing?

“She’s crazy. She’s cut down all of our roses. You better do something about this. The damage is unbelievable. You are going to sue. I’ll have to start all over again. Years of work—”

“Muriel.” Frank knelt down in front of Grace.

“Grace? Are you okay?”

Grace looked at Frank. He’d only ever called her Mrs. Whittier. In town. At church. She used to be Mrs. Whittier. Now she’s Grace. Crazy Grace.

She started to cry, resting her head in her hands, elbows digging into her thighs.

“Grace.” Frank lifted her up and carried her into the house, putting her down on a couch and wrapping a blanket around her. She was still crying.

“I’m going to call your husband.”

Receding footsteps and voices.

“She’s ruined everything. Everything. What are you going to do?”

“Muriel.”

“I want you to do something!”

“Her daughter died.”

Grace lay down on the couch, pulling the blanket over her head, hiding with her warm breath. What was she doing?

Then.

“Grace.” John’s hands and voice.

She pulled the blanket down and looked at him. Oh, his face was so worried. And his hands. He hadn’t touched her in months. Not since she had slept through the night and let Alice die.

“Grace.” It came out like a breath, full of air and defeat. He sat beside her and pulled her to him. Her ear was against his heart.

He rocked, as if she were Robert or Alice. He rocked her like she was his child and he was the parent and he had to be in charge and she was in trouble and he would fix everything.

His voice rumbled up from his chest. “What happened?”

“Muriel found her outside.”

“Cutting down my rose bushes!”

“Muriel.”

“They’re destroyed.”

“Muriel.” Strong, stern, then, “John, I thought you should come get her and take her home.”

“Thank you. I’m sorry for whatever damage—“

“No damage.”

Then Grace remembered. She lifted her head. “Where’s Robert?”

“He’s with Sarah.” John smoothed her hair.

“Sarah? Where’s Robert?” Her own hysteria was rising in her throat.

“In the kitchen with our daughter, Sarah. I think they’re getting a snack.” Frank smiled kindly, sympathetically, pathetically.

John pulled the blanket tighter around Grace’s shoulders. “Let’s go home.”

“I’ll get Robert for you.”

“Thank you.” John stood up, pulling Grace up with him. He adjusted the blanket again, then wrapped his arm around her. Grace leaned into him. She was so tired.

They made their way to the front foyer where they were met by a sleepy Robert, eating a piece of bread and being held by Sarah, a child herself, a miniature Muriel.  

Grace reached out, touching Robert’s hair. John and Frank talked more, but she didn’t know what was said. Then they left, retracing Grace’s steps until they were home.

John left her in the bedroom so he could put Robert to bed. Grace stood there, unsure of what to do, until John came back. John took the blanket from around her shoulders and started getting her undressed.

“Robert is sleeping,” he said, as he pulled her shirt up over her head. He slid off her pants with her underwear. He went behind her and unhooked her bra.

She was naked and cold.

Then he was putting on her nightgown, up over her head, pulling her arms through and the hem down so that her bum was covered. Then he lifted her hair out of the neck and kissed her on the forehead.

It was his turn. His pants, underwear, shirt, undershirt off. His pyjamas, top and bottoms, on. He led her to bed, to her side. He pulled down the sheet and blankets she had cleaned and tucked, put her beneath them and retucked them around her.

He went around to his side and slid in, curling around her, holding her, breathing into her neck, his cold nose pressing into her hair, her bum in the curve of his pelvis.

“I’m so sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry.”

“John.”

“Listen. We’ll be okay.” He sounded like he was trying to convince her. “We’ll be okay.” Now he was convincing himself.

The sound of the dark house filled the silence.

“I love you.”

“I love you.”

She rolled over. He held her, her nose being tickled by chest hair poking out over his top, his skin and her breath combining into a damp warmth. Her arm was tucked between them, her hand on his chest. She could feel his breathing change. Quicker. More desperate.

Then she was kissing him. On the mouth. Her tongue looking for his, his finding hers. Then he was pulling her tighter.

Then her nightgown was up over her head and on the floor. His pyjamas were coming off, buttons unbuttoning, pants slipping down.

And then they were one again. Moving together again. Again. Again. Again. Again.

At last.

Then they slept, deeply, until Robert was climbing on top of them, telling them it was morning, it was time to play, it was time to wake up.

It was time.

Now we wait

Well, I did it. I submitted my writing for the CBC Short Story Prize. It was a process that involved taking a 7,500-word excerpt and simmering it down to a 1,487-word short story. It is a brick in the path to achieving my dream of being a published novelist. It is wholly exhilarating and terrifying to have my work out there in front of readers and judges and I’m torn between wanting it to get lost on the way to someone’s desk and winning.

What am I saying? I REALLY want to win! 😉

It’s also November, the month of NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month, which is actually an international movement of aspiring writers who scribble furiously for the month of November in an attempt to complete a 50,000-word novel.

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

It’s extreme writing, where content doesn’t matter as much as word count, and completion trumps coherence, but at the end of the crazy period you have a novel where before there was none.

Last year alone 310,095 participants in 595 regions in 6 continents wrote furiously, trying to attain the elusive and grinding goal of completing their book.

Is this particular writing process useful or effective?

Some could argue that it’s not, that it doesn’t allow you to think, edit, ruminate, let characters evolve ‘naturally’ and it’s a lot of time spent on writing crap versus spending that time crafting actual art.

Others argue it’s a brilliant exercise, used to strengthen the writing habit by getting you to write every day, by forcing you to jump in with both feet whether or not you’re ready, instead of sliding your idea into the back of the filing cabinet for when you ‘have time,’ and it’s exciting when at the end you’ve finished something. As someone who’s never finished writing a novel and is currently on her fourth year of writing this one, finishing a book sounds divine.

And some NaNoWriMo books actually get published the traditional way, like the bestseller Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, and one of my favourite and oft-recommended books, The Night Circus by Erin Moregenstern. According to the NaNoWriMo website, there are over 250 books that were written in the dismal month of November under the word-count stress that have been published. That number alone is enough to give hope to anyone willing to put their fingers to the ink-stained grindstone for 30 days (and then countless days revising afterwards).

So will I be NaNoWriMo-ing? Probably not. Because I legitimately don’t have a lot of time and I’m already torn in three bagillion (a real and accurate number, I tell ya!) directions. Because I’m working steadily and at a pace that doesn’t drive my anxiety through the roof. And because I’ve given myself a more realistic goal that has nothing to do with November and everything to do with the end of 2014. My goal is to finish my book, the first, rough, horrible, not-rushed draft of it, by December 31. 

I feel like this will give me time to rework it and massage it and get it ready to be submitted into the big bad world of publishing (it’s only big and bad to me because it’s unknown and terrifying…I’m sure it’s actually lovely and everyone is super friendly and there’s no pressure whatsoever) (YEAH, RIGHT) by the fall of 2015 when I have more babies in school than at home and more time (HA!) than I have right now chasing a preschooler and a toddler during the day. I’m full of hope. And delusions.

But to everyone who is writing away right this second, who is watching their word count climb, but never fast enough, and who are going to question their sanity multiple times over the next few weeks, especially if they take part in the overnighter where, you guessed it, you write through the night into the next day with other like-minded (read: CRAZY) NaNoWriMo-ers: good luck! I wish you high volume and a solid first draft by December 1.

To those who also submitted their short story for the CBC Short Story Prize, also good luck! I hope I win, but I also hope that the right story wins.

Now, to get back to tinkering with my tome of nonsense. Who knows? Maybe four years won’t have been a waste of time.

~ Julia

P.S. Kim asked for an excerpt of my short story and I really wanted to oblige! I was going to publish the whole story here as my post today, but then I reread the contest rules and that would count as my story being published and therefore automatically disqualified. You’ll just have to wait until next year. If I get shortlisted, my story will be published online and I’ll post the link! If I’m not, I’ll send the story to people still interested. Until then…fingers crossed!