I once heard a writer describe life as a writer as being kind of bipolar in terms of sociability.

You need SECLUSION in order to write, to delve deep enough to actually write anything worth while, but you need SOCIETY and SOCIAL STIMULATION to have something to write about.

I know I’ve often felt it.

The last few days I was in quite the funk actually.

And now I think I know why.

I hadn’t had any ‘shop talk’ for a while.

I have learned–the hard way–that it’s really much better if I DON’T burden my family with minutiae about writing. Their eyes glaze over, they look at the clock on the wall, or their watches (if they’re wearing any) and they keep an eye on the kiddies bopping about in the hopes that they’ll provide a satisfactory diversion that can blessedly change the subject.

Of course they don’t share my passion.

Just as I don’t always share theirs.

So I’ve learned not to foist this stuff on them.

Tonight was a different story!

I went to a book launch!

I hadn’t been to one for AGES! And this was for a dear friend of mine, Gillian Chan, who now happens to live in the very town that I grew up in, Dundas, Ontario.

I first met Gillian when her son was a few weeks old and she brought him, in a baby car seat, to the Humber college conference I was attending because she’d been asked to speak. That baby’s seventeen now!

Her first book was called Golden Girl, published by Kids Can Press (the makers of Franklin the Turtle series, Elliot Moose and now Scaredy Squirrel) a very reputable Canadian publisher!

Golden Girl blew me away! It is INGENIOUS!

Basically it’s a set of linked short stories. The kids appear in each others’ stories and it’s intriguing to see the characters from different angles.

I told Gillian that I couldn’t believe the publisher had named the book Golden Girl. I still think that the title story is actually the weakest story in the whole collection–and yet even it is amazing! I still often think of that bitter narrator in that story!

Basically in Golden Girl, Gillian Chan takes an atypical look at the stereotypical characters that populate high schools, and gives them all a thorough twist!

I simply can’t say enough about that book!

The story Ellen, Elena Luna will break your heart! And then, later, when her character reappears in another story and what she does…oh, it’s a big OOMPH! A wack to the stomach!

Absolutely loved it!

Well, ever since then I’ve been a huge fan of hers. And often Gillian has these book launches and then invites people from out of town (like me and some other author friends) back to her house for dinner.

I don’t do book launches any more. One of my editors once said that the money’s better spent in other forms of marketing, and I agree. But it is nice to have a party when a book comes out. And I do love to go to Gillian’s!

Anyway, went down to Dundas to Gillian’s launch and met some old author friends whom I hadn’t seen in about four or five years!

And oh how we talked!

Creative process and current projects, and research and school visits, and grants and gripes and future conferences we wanted to attend and even what were the best GPS systems!!!

And no glazed eyeballs whatsoever in sight!

The food was good, made pine tarts for the occasion. They were a HUGE hit!

And leaving, I felt chippier than I had for a long time.

At the moment I have two aspiring authors I hang around with. Both are young mothers and school teachers and one just moved to Qatar for two years (hey Sajidah!). The other is busy with her students and her young boys and hardly has time to write–not surprisingly.

No writing means there’s not much point getting together–so we haven’t.

Sylvia McNicoll, one of the ladies at Gillian’s launch even blogged about book launches. You can read her comments here: http://sylviamcnicoll.blogspot.ca/2012/09/tentop-secrets-of-great-launch.html

One thing I didn’t tell Sylvia about was WHY I don’t do book launches any more.

I guess I should go ahead and spill the beans.

It’s because I’m still TRAUMATISED by my first book launch!

At the time I only had two books published: Bedtime Ba-a-a-lk  and The Roses in My Carpets.

Bedtime Ba-a-a-lk is a ‘fun’ fanciful sort of book and The Roses in My Carpets is a poignant tale about my Afghan refugee foster child.

I’m sure I’ve already said this in some past blog post but it bears repeating, that when I first got published I actually thought that the whole world would stop what they were doing for at least a few moments and NOTICE MY BOOKS!

They didn’t.

I’m embarrassed to even admit that now!

But yes, I actually thought my books were that good.

(Actually I still think Roses  is exceptional (masha Allah) but it no longer surprises me that it didn’t create a HUGE splash! Now, that my expectations are tempered with a good dose of reality it actually pleases and surprises me that after fourteen years and a publisher fiasco–Roses is still in PRINT and selling well!!!)

Anyway, I arranged with a bookstore to launch my book. I arranged a nice Saturday afternoon and told her to advertise.

Except for telling three friends, and a few teacher librarians (about fifteen) I DID NOT advertise at all!


Because I literally thought we’d be swamped! The store would get WAY TOO CROWDED!!!

And it would be CHAOS!

But being Muslim–and boy one thing about Muslims is that we’re very hospitable masha Allah–I prepared the snacks!

I can’t remember how many bottles of pop I brought down. I think it was two cases of 2 litre bottles (probably about 8 2 L bottles). And about three bags of peanuts, and four bags of chips, and dozens of plastic disposable cups and napkins, and oh gosh, I can’t even remember but it was a LOT! Filled the back of the van we had back then!

In order to unload all the stuff I parked in the alleyway behind the store and me and one of my daughters came through the back entrance.

The owner of the store was surprised at all the food! She made a comment that people weren’t coming for the food, they were coming for the books, and I thought yes, but we had to be HOSPITABLE!

The time for the launch arrived. I sat down at the table and waited for the THRONGS  to arrive.

My three friends showed up.

And there was a guy at one of the tables who’d moseyed in off the street. I think he was a friend of the owner. He was really enjoying the peanuts.

He finished a plateful, looked at me or my daughter expectantly, we refilled it, and he went back to helping himself.

Eventually he did buy a book. The Roses in My Carpets. 

And with the whole launch I might have made enough in terms of royalties to pay for that bag of peanuts.

As the time passed and no one else appeared, the store manager asked me where everyone was. That’s when I told her I hadn’t invited them because I thought it would get too crowded!


I’m laughing so hard, even as I’m typing this, but I assure you, I was NOT laughing on that dreary day!

I managed to wait till we got home to burst into tears.

Of course it was all my own fault.

I was a victim of my own incredible hubris.

Just because I thought my books were wonderful, didn’t mean the whole wide world would stop what they were doing and take notice.

That was fourteen years ago!


Maybe such a disappointment would have been enough to make some people quit.

With me it just brought me down to reality.

We live in societies that don’t actually value books very much. Not nearly as much as I did, and still do.

Books are too intellectual. And the more ‘deeply intellectual’ the book, often times, the fewer people that actually read it.

We pay athletes more for being able to kick balls well.

Oh yeah, we have our mega millionaires like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King and such, but the vast majority of authors barely scratch a living.

And it’s gotten even worse since I first got published!

I consider myself INCREDIBLY fortunate that now, fourteen years later, I have to pay quite hefty taxes. And that folks value my books and what I’ve got to say enough to pay me to come to the other side of the world.

But basically the reason I don’t do book launches is because deep down I’m always afraid NO ONE that I don’t invite, will show up.

And plus, I often saw authors at various gatherings peddling their books and making other authors feel obliged to buy them. They called it ‘supporting’ each other, but it felt a lot like emotional blackmail to me.

I don’t want people to feel OBLIGATED to buy my book.

And it might still be considerd hubris but I really do want them to buy the book because they simply must have it. That’s why I buy a book. Especially the ones I keep for myself!

Nowadays, if I buy a book unread, like I did at Gillian’s launch, I’ll ask the author to just sign it. That way, I’ll often give it to a deserving youngster.

I’m known within the family circle for giving excellent books! All the parents appreciate the fact that I always tailor the book to the kid who’ll be reading it.

But do a book launch again???


No thanks!