Writer in Residence

In Praise of … Celebrating Success

By Mark Sampson

Ours is a household that celebrates everything. Each year my wife and I mark the following occasions: the anniversary of our first date (March 19 – she gets roses, and we go back to the restaurant where we ate our first meal together); our wedding anniversary (August 11 – we enjoy various trips or fancy dinners); the cats’ birthdays (May and July, respectively – these involve feeding them cheese, which they aren’t normally allowed to have unless it accidentally falls on the floor, which is often); as well as our birthdays, Christmas, Hanukkah, Family Day, Thanksgivings, Valentine’s Day, and, if there’s time, the Two-Four Weekend. We figure life is too short not to be in a near-perpetual state of celebration.

It wasn’t always like this for me. Such an assiduous marking of milestones was something that Rebecca brought into my life when we first started dating, and it quickly became a welcomed addition. Celebrating everything means you always have something to look forward to. As a fellow published author, Rebecca has tried to instill the habit of taking time to savour our literary accomplishments, of which we’ve been lucky to have had several. At the time I’m writing this, we’ve published nine books between us, plus countless credits in literary journals and magazines across the country. Yet, acknowledging success does not come naturally to me. I’m always anxious to downplay what I’ve done and just get back to the writing desk to do more of it. But Rebecca has, over the years, made me see the value of taking a moment to honour an achievement.

One of the most memorable celebrations was in the fall of 2014 to mark the release of my second novel, Sad Peninsula, a book that took two years to research, three years to write, and another two and a half to crawl through the glacial process of getting published. For the longest time, I didn’t think the book – which, set in South Korea, is a combination of historical fiction and an expat novel, comparing the harrowing legacy of Korea’s “comfort women” from World War II to a more contemporary story about the highly sexualized culture of Seoul’s expat teaching community – would ever actually exist. I thought that it would forever remain only in my head, a two-pronged story that was just too complex for someone of my talents, or lack thereof, to tackle. But I did tackle it. I researched it, wrote it, and got it accepted for publication. When the first page proofs arrived about nine months before the novel’s release, I remember pacing up and down our apartment saying, “It’s a thing! Look at this thing! This thing, being a thing in all its thingy-ness!”

And yet, I didn’t feel like celebrating. As paradoxical as it sounds, it was because I had worked so hard on that novel that I felt like I couldn’t take even a moment to pause and revel in its existence. There was a profound sense of anticlimax when Sad Peninsula came out; instead of feeling like the king of the castle, I felt like I was lost in the weeds. My sense was that even if the book became a bestseller (it didn’t) or got nominated for an award (it didn’t) or received buckets of glowing reviews (not buckets, but it did get a handful of mostly positive ones, thank God), that I could never adequately compensate myself for what I’d gone through writing that book. And besides, I’d already moved on. I was putting the final touches on a short story collection that would come out the following spring; I was already fleshing out my next novel, The Slip, in my mind; and I also writing lots of poetry and literary criticism, too. I didn’t really feel like celebrating. I just wanted to go back to work.

Thankfully, Rebecca would have none of it. On the weekend that Sad Peninsula came out in bookstores, we went out to one of those ultra-upscale downtown Toronto hotel bars, the kind of swanky joint that I can – maybe – afford to drink in once a year. It’s the sort of establishment where you’re likely to spot what passes for a celebrity in Canada (Christopher Plummer, Conrad Black, and the like) if you’re there at the right hour. Needless to say, I had many drinks that night (Rebecca was paying), and even discovered a cocktail that has made it into regular rotation at home: the Maple Manhattan. It’s like a regular Manhattan, only with a half-shot of real maple syrup thrown in to the mix. Very Canadian. Very decadent. Every time I have one now, I’m reminded of that weekend, a weekend where my wife took me to a hotel bar frequented by celebrities, so that I might feel like one for a couple of hours. 

When it comes to writing, sometimes success doesn’t quite feel like success. I’m never sure what I expect will happen with a published book while I’m writing it, but I know it never quite lives up to that once it is published. That’s okay. But another thing I’ve learned from my wife is that nobody is going you love your book as much as you do. So when it’s done, and out in the world, take a moment to cherish it. Don’t just get back to work. Mix a fancy cocktail, raise your glass high, and salute yourself. You’ve earned it.

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.

Mark Sampson is the author of the novels Off BookSad Peninsula, and The Slip, as well as a short-story collection, The Secrets men Keep, and a poetry collection, Weathervane. He has published fiction and poetry in literary journals across Canada. Mark lives in Toronto.