Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


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Opposte of Shame

Was My Face Red

Do you ever feel waves of retroactive embarrassment? I’m more embarrassed now by events that happened decades ago than I was at the time. Given a prod, I’ll replay those situations in my mind and I can feel my toes curl.

My favorite column in Calling All Girls, a pre-teen magazine back in the 60’s, was called: Was My Face Red. Readers would write in with their stories of humiliation.
Sarah and I would collapse in merriment on the sidewalk, reading these letters aloud. We were 9 years old.
When I started out writing a novel, I hadn’t a clue. I was 22 years old and living in New York City, filling up notebooks. Something about a pioneer woman based on Susanna Moodie overlapping with a young woman living in the East Village in the present time. That’s all I can remember. Blessedly. I typed it up. I didn’t revise. Then I sent it off to an eminent editor whom I’d met while working for the Writers Union of Canada the year before.
Of course he turned it down. I doubt that he got past page ten. I’m flinching right now as I write this.

A friend who worked for Harlequin Romances told me I could write one, make quick money, and support my ‘real work’. I gave it a whirl, still living in Manhattan, typing at a drafting table while looking down on 27th street at the pushcart boys working in what was still called the garment district. I showed my effort to a freelance editor in Toronto with high hopes of solving my financial problems. He brought it back to me and could hardly look me in the eye. ‘Not bad enough for a Harlequin nor good enough to be a real novel,’ was his judgement. Was my face red.

Only with A Certain Mr Takahashi did the light begin to dawn and I re-wrote that sucker 20 times over a period of five years – and sent it off to the Seal Book Award. I won. Glory be. I needed those failures to teach me not to send off uncooked manuscripts to professional editors.



That fear of rejection--well, I hate to tell you, but it never goes away. In fact, as the stakes get higher you might feel even more fear. But you will have the courage to face the fear and get on with it. What's the worst that can happen? It's not death or sickness or losing an arm or a leg. It's just feeling like *&^%$ for a few hours.
In other words, your fear is one hundred percent normal.

I can appreciate your honesty about your past writing endeavors, and it is extremely encouraging for a young writer such as myself.
I have a mild fear of rejection (alright a tad more than mild), and it is comforting to see even very successful writers were too, turned down at one point in their writing career.

I read an interview once, where a business man stated that his success was from making good decisions, the good decisions were based on his experience, and his experience was gained from bad decisions.

Thank you for sharing your lessons learned!

Hi bg.

I'm laughing. Sorry. 'takes up a large part of my brain'. I suspect that revisiting trivial humiliations speaks of having an active imagination. It means you can re-enter scenes with full heart and mind and feel it all over again. Say, isn't that what writers do?

Thanks for your comments,

Hi Joan: Those truths are always a bit tough to take in. Let's face it, when we show our writing to anyone, friend or foe - or publisher- we secretly hope that they will think it's great. Even as we protest that it's 'just an early draft'. Yes, you are right about multiple revisions. Thing is- it's the last teeny but hugely important revision or two- when you can hardly bear to look at the damn thing again--THAT is the revision that separates from unpublishable to publishable.
Thanks for your thoughts,

Ann, I can relate, I too had a submission bounced back with some 'truths' told to me. But.... I kept my chin up and took on the challenge to never do that again. I am learning that several rewrites isn't enough.....and several years? Well, I am pleased you said it took five years. I am approaching the fifth year on my book and don't feel quite so bad.

Do you ever feel waves of retroactive embarrassment?

Why yes, all the time. Takes up a large part of my brain. The toes curl yes and then squishing the eyes closed really hard or grunting out the bad thoughts.

over trivial things mostly not hard won efforts.

it must feel great to have all your hard work be rewarded and recognized. congratulations!

I hope I get to feel that one day too.

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.

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Ann Ireland

Ann Ireland is the author of A Certain Mr. Takahashi, The Instructor and Exile. Her most recent novel is The Blue Guitar. She lives in Toronto.

Go to Ann Ireland’s Author Page