Friday, December 31, 2010

Sexy memoirs and money

Maybe it isn’t such a good idea to take a writing holiday, or I should say a holiday from writing. I have begun to feel as if my novel is complete, that the work is done, and my characters are off on their not-so-merry ways living their own lives without my assistance. But even if they are doing just that, I am not done with them. Hopefully, they will have lived a few weeks without me meddling in their lives and come up with some stories of their own to share when I return to the keyboard. I will position my hands over the keys and they will tell me what to write. 

In the meantime, I am considering things such as grants. This notion of “second draft” or finished novel (!) has me a little intimidated. I have shared here that I once believed this part of the process to be a little clip here, an adjustment there, and we’re done, but that now I recognize the dedication and attention required to construct this puppy. As I weep and wail and tear my hair, crying, how will I manage such a thing with a teenager to wrangle, a business to run and a household to maintain? 

I gaze longingly at various author’s notes of gratitude to Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council and other foundations for assisting them. I wonder at Isabel Allende who retires from family duties for months at a time while she writes her books.  Some of the grants available to writers actually seem to be within my reach, if not my actual grasp. One step at a time, there Missy. The definition of a professional writer is someone who has received monetary compensation for their efforts. Hmm.  I have been paid for every piece I had published... in copies. Unfortunately, copies of quarterlies and anthologies have very little nutritional value, and landlords shake their heads sadly... So now, I am researching the market for publications that pay for short prose. It’s time to polish up some of my shorter pieces and write some new ones. It’s just hard to shake my head free from Simon and Beth and Katie, my Weather Vane characters.

However... I do have an idea for an ersatz memoir that has me excited. A fictional memoir of lovers with a modern twist. It won’t be dewy-eyed and tremulous, I can assure you, but I can’t divulge the “twist” just yet. 

I used to have a friend who was extravagantly talented, had dozens of brilliant ideas and truly remarkable creative gifts. But for years, she wandered through these ideas, dabbling and fretting, unable to focus on one thing long enough to land and see any project through to fruition. I don’t have the kind of talent that woman has, but I am grateful to have it clear in my mind what thrills me, and how I want to use the abilities I do have. The other day I noticed two stunning paintings hanging for sale in a local cafe. Painted by this woman. And I did my little internal happy dance for her, hoping that this means she has landed... and knowing that she did land, at least long enough to produce these two works. Whether you balk or leap doesn’t seem to matter if, at last, you put your hands to the task and get ‘er done. 

I may not have the luxury of days alone in which to research and write, but write, I do. And if I make the effort to send out what I’ve written and keep doing that, even as I fill a box with rejection slips (in my twenties I papered an entire wall of my apartment): sending and waiting and resending, I am certain that compensation will come, grants will come, an agent will come, publication will come... It always comes back to the writing, though. The end won’t arrive without the means. And the money means is useless without the written means.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

the time in between

As I wait for my manuscript to come home from school, I have been holding up pieces of it to the window and to the mirror. I watch light sparking off its facets as it turns in my hand.

Some of the sparks have caught fire.

Here are some of the secondary characters getting ready for a Christmas party... this passage is unlikely to show up in the novel, but it was fun to play with their voices.

Everything was perfectly planned: prosciutto and figs, wine soaked goat cheese, smoked salmon and chevre. Champagne chilling, punch made, with a non-alcoholic one for the teenagers, the music was chosen – not too heavy on the Christmas theme. Some U2, Van Morrison, a little Hip, and then some Ray Charles. I loved my new Boise sound system with the iPod dock. It meant I didn’t have to think about the music all evening. Lots of candles in frosted holders and a light touch of festive red. I tried to get Dallas to help, tried to engage her, but she either lay on the couch watching MTV or went outside to smoke. I even asked what music she would like to include on our little playlist, but she just shrugged and said she didn’t care. It’s all good, is what she said. That’s terrible grammar. Sometimes I think I would go insane if I did have a child. If they turned out like her. She makes me so tired and sad. I’m trying to help out my sister by letting her stay, but it’s costing us to have her here. Especially now. When the second implant hasn’t taken. I don’t think I can do it again. Not when I look at her.
Auntie keeps putting on that fake little smile and goes all teachery on me. All like happy and cheerful and then she goes all spazzy and starts crying and runs off to her room. Like how am I supposed to say, oh yeah, like let me help you with those little stupid pieces of whatever that stuff is, when any minute she’s going to throw a hissy fit and tell me how much she loves me and I don’t even appreciate her. I don’t give a shit about her stupid little party for her stupid friends. They all think I am like all hot for these old guys. I just like to watch them get all stupid and scared of me.
I don’t know why Dallas is always watching me. It feels a bit like one of those creepy movies where some innocent guy gets set up by a supposedly innocent girl. That maybe Becky is going to find a pair of her blood stained panties in my drawer, like in that movie with Rebecca deMornay. Dallas taunts me when I sit in a chair across the room, or on the far side of the kitchen table. I’m pretty sure she left the bathroom door open on purpose. I don’t want to see her like that. When I try to talk to Becky about sending her home, she cries and says I’m not supporting her. I hate how much this treatment is changing her, changing us. I hate how much she is suffering. But you’d think I had just slapped her when I suggested we consider adoption. We’re too old, she screamed. I don’t think we’re too old. She is only thirty-eight. I can’t think of her as being too old for anything. She has done so much planning for this party. All she’d let me do is pick up the flowers. That’s how it is. Clearly marked territory in our home. Sometimes it helps. Then the borders suddenly change and it’s a minefield. I think I’m supposed to stay out of the way, and I find out I was supposed to take out the garbage. But we never go to bed angry. Never. She will always come into my arms once we are in bed. She puts her head on my chest, her soft fine hair trailing down into my armpit, and she speaks. Sort of away from us, but real. I don’t talk much, but I really like that she does. She puts it all together in a way that makes sense. And then, when she cries I don’t feel so helpless. Because I get to hold her.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The fermenting process - waiting to begin again

While I wait for my first draft to come back from its visit to my teacher for editing, I have been in an odd suspended state. I had intended to write a little freefall as well as play with ideas and metaphors for the novel, so that I would be ready when it came home, to spruce it up, revise and invigorate... but it’s as if I went to sleep. I wake up in front of the blank screen, with the vertical black line popping in and out of the page, reminding me that I haven’t written a word. Bum is in chair, hands are hovering over the keys, mind is drifting down the river.

I go to my old journals for some inspiration. The only thing that is clear after reading through one journal from 1980 is that I’ve come a long way since then. I found one or two snippets buried in the endlessly vague and obscured poetic rants, so it wasn’t a total waste of time. For instance, I like this: I’m not afraid of your infidelity, only of your indifference. Someone will say that in either this book or the next... But that doesn’t launch me into anything and I’m left with the phrase dangling from the page with no support.

For someone who boasts of not being able to stop, I am definitely stopped. Paused. Somebody push Play, please. Or Record. I have excuses, but there is a humbling realization that for the last year I have been extremely fortunate in my circumstances. I live with my teenage son and a half-wild dog. For my living, I am a self-employed bodywork therapist. Once a week I take my four-year-old grandson for the night, and take him to kindergarten in the morning. In other words, for the most part, I make my own schedule. On Mondays, I will drive my son to the bus and go home to write for a couple of hours. On the weekends, I wake up early and write for a few hours before my son gets up. If I have an hour between treatments at my studio, I can open my laptop and write. My son has singing lessons followed by karate lessons – that gives me three hours to write. You get the picture: I have loads of uninterrupted time in which to write. And I have. Written, that is. But for the last few weeks, since I submitted my first draft, I have had houseguests, and I have discovered that is very difficult to focus when there are people in the house. Whether or not they are actually in the same room.  So now I am more inclined to sympathize with others who claim they can`t find space or time to write. Admittedly, the normal set-up of my life is just that – set-up. It is intentionally designed the way it is to maximize writing time.

Now, to insist to myself that my scrawling is more important  than anything, and that when my son dances in front of me with the latest awesome zombie move from his Xbox game, it’s all right to smile blankly and return my attention to the keyboard.

Alan Watt is brilliant in his newsletter about the writing process. There can be no transformation without a surrender, he says. That’s what I’m talking about. 

I think about dirty diapers and not being able to conceive, about being too obvious and being too subtle, about metaphors and analogies, about authorial interference and limited voice, and I read this and that novel, like a miner. Everything is heightened now since my admission that I am a writer. Every word spoken within earshot, gesture perceived, every misunderstanding, and threat of conflict; every reaction begs scrutiny. A cigar is never just a cigar.

I am taking this time in between writing the novel and writing the novel, to read. Sue Reynolds presented me with The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga, after I told her that I was having difficulty burying myself in any of the many novels piled beside my bed. And oh, my, what an instant delight. What is particularly remarkable is that the book’s main POV is that of a twenty-nine year-old woman. That is only distracting because the author is a man, not because there is any moment when the reader doesn’t feel they are in behind the eyes of such a woman. Amazing. Seamless. It’s a perfect opportunity for me to study voice. And to be reassured that one can get inside a character of the opposite sex with tender intimacy.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wide or Deep? -

I have several options now. Or at least I thought I did. With fire singeing my ass, I consider immediately beginning the next novel, alternating my time with re-writing this first beloved work. I want to go on every retreat for a five hundred mile radius, the New York writers’ conference in January, Hockley Valley with Barbara Turner in March, Banff in the spring, and the Humber School in the summer. I look in the mirror and shake my head. I look at my bank account and cry. 

On my back in Srvasana in yoga, I sink into stillness, my spine in intimate relationship with the floor. I breathe. And then I return to my work. 

On Tuesdays, I give massage treatments in Toronto, with a two-hour drive home in rush hour traffic at the end of the day. My dear friend, Lucinda, accompanies me for most of these treks home, ever since I invested in a hands-free headset. She is a writer, free-lance editor and a kick-ass friend. She is my Zen stick. In the beginning, when she gave me solicited feedback, I wished I could un-solicit it. It was tough, and I would fight her, defend myself, spiral into paralysis, suspect her of any number of nasty intentions, and then work through whatever scene or issue she had brought to my attention, and see that she was correct; was in fact, pointing me in a direction where the flora was bountiful and the fauna had meaning. I was tender and new and took everything personally. 

Now, these conversations are thrilling. Lucinda has an eye and an ear that look and hear into deep soul truths. A cigar is never just a cigar, I’m afraid. She suggests that I want to do all these things all at once because I am afraid. Now, I don’t try to pretend that I am not afraid. But naming it caused a shift. Relief. Yes, I’m afraid that it will be too difficult, afraid of exposure, of success, of failure, and so on. And the more I work at this, the more afraid I become. Such an intense responsibility. To complete it, to promote it, to answer for it, to explain it. Me. Myself. And I. On trial. This is literary fiction after all – it means something.

And so... in our conversation, when I spoke of working on the next novel at the same time as rewriting this one, dear Lucinda grew silent. How will you do that? she asked at last.  The rewrite will require more attention, focus and work than the first draft. My turn to grow silent. What? She urged me to consider that every scene needs to be perfectly crafted and deeply understood by me. What good would there be in having a second novel come out on the heels of a so-so first novel? Time to get my priorities straight. Oh yes. After the initial internal moan, I recognized that once again, that girl has the perspective I lack. Or haven’t yet developed. My optimistic temperament tends to colour everything in pretty shades, and this was no different: I imagined that the second draft was going to be a walk in the park, followed by a picnic. Hard work? Not my favourite kind of work. However, writing IS my favourite kind of work, so I’m rolling up my sleeves in order to give this, my first beloved novel, everything I have to make it exquisite. To make it sing. To make it resonate. To make it... well, you get the picture.

I can’t quit my day job just yet, but I do need to curb my appetite for all things literary. A critiquing group: check, Ontario Writers’ Conference: check, monthly Sanctuary Sundays: check, writing with friends once every two weeks: check, long solitary hours perfecting my work: check. Everything else: unchecked. Thanks, Lucinda.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Now what? - after the second first is complete

My manuscript is printed and hole-punched and nestled into three brand new binders, and waiting for next Wednesday. That's when I will hand it over to be read and critiqued by my lovely mentor, Sue Reynolds.
I'm feeling much more confident now, that I have a solid first draft, than I was the first time I had a first draft. My characters are more vibrant. I've sorted out quite a few technical issues, time lines, and added some metaphorical images.
A doorway seems to have opened, with the completion of this draft, to new images and ideas. It was as if I was behind a wall, groping for a crack to get my nails into, in order to imagine how I could present certain developments. I had all but given up, surrendering to the notion that it was as good as it gets, and I sat down on the step with my chin in my hands. I heard a creak behind me, and turned to find the way not only clear, but wide open to a whole field of idea flowers.
So I will hand this thing over, as I continue to give ink to these blossoms, and look forward to the creation of a third first draft. Or perhaps I will grow very bold, and call it my first rewrite!
Here's a sample:
“Let’s walk up the hill on Waverley,” Simon said, pointing. “Then we can cut over and catch the bus further north.”
 Katie let go of his hand to search through a bin of discount clothing outside a shop on the corner. Simon looked up. “We’ve got us some Nimbostratus company. Let’s go.”
Katie followed his gaze and reached for his hand. They began to walk briskly up the residential street when a shreeing sound was followed by a loud thud and the crisp tinkling of splintered glass shattering on the pavement.
They turned to see a rusted Ford Tempo bent into a row of newspaper boxes, their colourful tin sides hugging the right front corner of the car. Simon heard a child’s shrill cry coming from inside the car.
As they peered into the car, Simon could see a baby strapped into a seat in the back of the car, and in the front sat a longhaired man in his mid-twenties. There was a cut on his forehead over eyes that were glazed open. As Katie flung open the front door to speak to the man, Simon opened the back door and examined the baby boy. By the smell it was obvious that the child needed changing. After unbuckling the screaming baby, Simon lifted him out. The child was soaked through to the skin, dressed only in a sleeper.
As he undid his jacket to tuck the baby inside, Simon turned to find Katie bent into the front seat. “I’m going to get an ambulance for you, but is there someone we can call?” She paused. “Do you know where you are?” Another pause. “We’ll just say you had your seatbelt on. Are you hurting anywhere besides your head?”
Backing on to the sidewalk, Katie dug in her jacket pocket and pulled out a phone. She said to Simon, “I’m calling 911.”
He was bouncing the baby as he peered into the car in search of diapers. “What’s with the guy?”
With the phone pressed to her cheek, Katie answered, “I think he’s in shock. He’s just staring... yes, ambulance, please.”
While Katie described the situation, Simon reached across the baby seat to a pile of clothing, but found no diapers. A crowd was beginning to gather. “Has anyone got a diaper for this baby?” he called into the crowd.
People shuffled aside as a woman pushing a stroller came forward. “It’s a size five,” she said, handing him the diaper.
“Doesn’t matter,” he murmured, walking to the crumpled side of the car to lay the baby on the back seat. The baby had stopped crying and when Simon took him out from under his jacket, he saw that he was falling asleep. “Sorry, little guy. We’ve got to get you cleaned up here.” Picking out a clean-looking baby blanket from the pile, Simon undressed the boy and wiped away the dried feces as best he could, before putting on the bulky diaper and wrapping him in a sweater from the pile. The sound of sirens getting louder made him put the baby back in the envelop between his body and his jacket.
“Is he drunk?” someone was asking.
“No,” said Katie. “I can’t smell anything.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

Beginning (again) - preparing for the second plunge

I’m all about the fun. And for me, writing is mostly fun. I have been struggling with the chronology of my novel – what happens when, as well as where I want to put it in the story. In the first flush of writing, there were flashbacks within flashbacks, which I thought was complex and clever, whereas it turned out to be just plain confusing. Not to mention that I had major flashbacks inserted into a love scene. He stroked her silky thigh and thought about the time when he was five and... well, maybe not quite that extreme, but it did knock the reader out, and caused a bit of a shock three pages later to find them back in bed doing the deed.  
The chronology and the issue of how to make my character sympathetic, when to the reader giving up his daughter rendered him instantly stupid and self-serving, were the aspects of this book that kept me staring at the ceiling.  When these problems made me wonder about my own naivety I would invariably meet yet another man to whom this sort of situation was happening. Last April, I went to Amsterdam to visit an old sweetheart and encountered three men who were unable to take part in their children’s lives. One of these men had made a documentary, wherein several more such men were profiled. Yes, some of these men had surely messed up, made mistakes, but essentially, they were good guys whose children were being punished for the sins of their fathers. It made me wonder about the disempowerment of women that withholding their children was the best form of retribution, and it made me question my own constant struggle to make my son’s father part of his life. It made me consider many things, but most of all, it fuelled the urgency to get this book written.

I have let these issues swirl in my brain since I finished the first draft in July, knowing that I couldn’t begin to write the second first draft until I had these turning point scenes clearly in focus. I start messy, “popcorn style” writing what is juicy and fun, and now I’m finding that I can’t continue like that. I needed to make a clear map. It happened, much more simply than I imagined. Once I set aside a few hours to sort, organize, and plot, it was easy. Now I have a draft I can work with. And all the fun is back.

Here’s one turning point scene, from early in the story:

With my red jacket swinging from my hand, I walked up Walmer Road toward Beth’s house. That red down jacket amused, comforted and enraged me. Danny’s gift when Beth threw me out, the snow still knee deep on the streets of Toronto.
Beth let me in. “She’s still napping,” she said, backing into the living room to stand beside my chair. There were really only three things that I needed from this place: Sophia, that chair and my coat.
I stood in the doorway, my hand on the doorknob. “I can come back in an hour.”
“Why don’t you sit down for a minute?”  Her voice was soft, her dark hair loose, her boot heels sharp.
I hesitated. “Sit down?”
She laughed. “Yes, sit down. I’d like to talk to you about something.” Sweeping her hand in an arc toward the couch, she took another step back, so that her calf was resting against the front of the chair.
She laughed again. “Yes, Simon, talk.” Her tone like the cello’s open A string, a sound you could lay your head on.
I crossed my arms and leaned against the doorframe. “About what? Any chance it’s about giving me back my leather jacket?”
“Oh! Of course. Just a minute.” She spun on the toe of her boot and disappeared down the hall into the bedroom, returning a moment later with my jacket. I wrapped it over one arm and rested my other hand on it, my fingers rubbing divots in its sleeve.
“Thanks. I missed it.” I said this in a straight line.
“I’ve missed my little girl,” she began. “I’ve been thinking that I’d like to have her more often.” Her lips didn’t appear to twist
“Yes, seriously. I think it’s time, don’t you?”
Beth rolled her eyes, spreading her hands, palms up. “Time for her to be with her mother.”
“What are you thinking? Another afternoon?”
“Didn’t you tell me that you’d like to get some weather degree?” Some pride in her voice.
“Certificate. It’s a one-year course with an Honours Bachelor. I’ve wanted it for a long time, ever since...”
A sharp white spark lit in her dark eyes. “I know, before Sophia was born. So you see, it’s perfect.” She took one precise step in my direction. “You can go back to school, go back to work, pay down your debts, and still be there for Sophia.”
“I don’t know, Beth. You still haven’t said what you want.” What I wanted was for Sophie to have her mother be a mother, so that I could set things in motion to make a real life for my little girl. One that wasn’t in a basement apartment.
“Weekends are busy, but my week days are flexible ... So why don’t I keep her during the week and you have her on weekends?”
That was exactly what I wanted. “I don’t know, Beth.”
“Think of it, time to follow your dreams - weekends with Sophia, your days free to study, and evenings to work. Isn’t that perfect?” In the muted May light through mesh curtains, her skin looked warm, not its usual cool white. 
I concentrated on my breathing, its even release and intake, my fingers digging into the flesh of my jacket. One word followed the next on the way out of mouth.  “She needs to come home at least one night a week. It would be too much of a shock for her...”
She stepped closer so that I caught the spicy smell of her that always reminded me of Christmas icicles, frost and cinnamon. Her long white hand reached out to land on my clenched one. Its heat surprised me. “It’s going to work, don’t worry. You’ve done such a good job so far, Simon. It’s time to let me do my job.”
My organs felt like wet tissue paper. Let her? “I’ll talk to Renee at the Soho and see what shifts she can give me.”
“Oh Simon, that’s good. This is going to work perfectly. There’s an excellent daycare in the neighbourhood, and they have space available.  I’ll make the arrangements tomorrow.” Pulling my arms down and away from my body, she moved in to hug me, her breasts hard against my ribs.
I didn’t like the way my cock responded to her. I looked up at the lighting set into the ceiling, its row of quiet lights, with my back pressed into the doorframe, and recalled those same lights blurring in my vision when she’d punched me in the back of the head.  Pressing out my elbows to break her grip on me, I squeezed out from between her and the doorway.  “It’s nearly six. I think I should wake Sophie.”
“I think you should just leave her here.”
“Now? Leave her now?”
“Why not? She’s settled in. We’ve had a good day. Why disrupt things and make her go to your place?” A slight hesitation just before the word, place.
“It’s her home.” I smoothed the front of my jeans as if I had just stood up, aware of her eyes on me. “Not now. Not yet. I have to talk to her about it. I can’t just disappear. She needs to know what’s happening before it happens. Even if she doesn’t fully understand it.”
“Children are more adaptable than you imagine, Simon. I know. She’ll be fine. Trust me.”
On the back of my neck were four rivers of toughened skin, reminders that trusting Beth was not always the wisest choice. My fingers rubbed at these thin scars as I spoke. “I know she’ll be fine. But let’s take this slow.” I took one more step toward Sophia’s bedroom. “I’ll take her home tonight, and I’ll call you when I figure things out.”
Her eyes were wide, catching sunlight from the window. “Make it soon. She needs me.”
“She needs both of us.”
“And that’s what she’ll have. The best of both worlds.”

At home, after a quick pasta supper, Sophia and I lay on the kitchen floor with a wooden puzzle of shapes and colours. I guided her little hand as it struggled to fit the triangle into its red confines. The linoleum was cold through layers of tee shirt and sweater, so I went to my room and brought out the comforter for Sophie to lie on.  As soon as it was laid out, she rolled the width of it, her arms above her head and bumped up against me.
“Roll me up!” she demanded.
I obliged her, loosely heaping the folds of the comforter around her body as she rolled. “More tight!” she called.
“Tell you what... let’s get your jammies on and your teeth brushed and then we’ll bundle you all nice and tight for sleep, okay?”
Once Sophia was settled into her cocoon, her eyelids closed. I kissed each of them, flicked on the starry nightlight, and crept out of her room, leaving the door slightly ajar.

Sophia was two and a half. I needed to go back to work, and I wanted that certificate. I was thirty-six years old. A volunteer radio gig at the university and slinging designer hash was not what I wanted for the rest of my life. And that’s all I had – a half hour environmental spot once a week and two shifts at the bistro while Rosa watched Sophia.  People were graduating, coats were being shed like tight skin, and birds were singing loud and clear. I took two fingers of scotch in one gulp. It burned like sand all the way down. From my bedroom window, I watched the dark still sky between the houses on Crawford Street, and knew that I would let her go.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Stage Fright

Into my inbox a week or so ago, there arrived a notice of an upcoming literary evening in an Oshawa coffee house, with an invitation for writers to read their work. What I wanted to read was my new piece, but I had just entered it in a contest and it was quite possible that first and/or second tier judges for that contest would be present. Ten minutes reading time was allotted for each writer. My short stories are long and I couldn't see a suitable chunk that would stand alone. I scrolled through the Weather Vane manuscript and chose a scene. By the time I took the plunge and offered to read, all twelve spots had been filled, but I was given a standby position.

A couple of the readers didn't show up, so I did have the opportunity to read. I imagined that I wasn't nervous.

Simon has filed for custody. The daughter, Sophia, is four years old. After receiving the proposal from Simon's lawyer, Beth invites Simon to talk about the arrangements and seduces him. They have a night of very hot sex. This scene takes place as he goes out into the early morning:

Sun was a thin silver wire along the rooftops as Simon stepped into the street. The world was greyscale: dirty snow, strips of pavement exposed from the heat of tires, a lone car’s engine muffled in the heavy air. Ice as fine as tissue paper lay over the sidewalk. Across Walmer Road, a crouched shape ran, its head elongated and out of proportion to its feline body. At the sidewalk it stopped, the end of its oddly shaped head touching the ground. Simon approached with caution, a rabid fox, perhaps, although it seemed too small. As the dawn light sharpened the edges of objects and buildings, it cast its light on the creature that Simon now could see was a cat; calico and white with the long slender body of a Siamese. A cat whose head was firmly stuck inside a jar. 

As he squatted, extending his hand to soothe the cat, Simon spoke, “How did you manage that?” But as soon as the cat registered his touch, it erupted into a frenzy of claws, limbs lashing in all directions. Simon had managed to grasp the jar for an instant, and when the cat leapt away from him and crouched again at the entrance to an alley, he saw that one long ear had been released. The jar was still covering all the rest of the animal’s face. Simon stepped closer, clicking his tongue and murmuring. Just as he reached out to the cat, it jumped high and shot down the alley. Simon straightened, pursed his lips, and pressed the heel of his hand against his temple. He stood peering into the dark passageway, but couldn’t see the cat. Fatigue swept through him like sudden wind. His legs felt like mud, and the smell drifting up from under his clothes reminded him of fish corpses with their empty eye-sockets decaying on the beach. He turned back toward the street, toward blue and green cars carrying people to work, toward home. He sighed, and followed the cat deeper into the alley. “Here puss puss. Come here, I just want to help you,” he called. 

Tucked into a doorway, the cat crouched, its head facing out. Simon’s hand snapped out and closed around the jar. The cat’s body jumped and twisted. “That’s it, you pull,” Simon said, as he held fast the jar. There was a soft pop, and the cat’s head yanked free. For a second it was still, its huge eyes reflecting the first rays of orange sun, long dirty ears flared, and then it sprang away, its graceful body a streak of white and gold along the alley’s winter brick.

He watched it go, shaking his head. “What was that all about?” he said aloud. All the way home, he turned over the image of that animal in his mind.

He turned on to Crawford Street, the sun staining the clouds pink and purple. No time for sleep; just a shave and a shower and several cups of strong coffee, and no thinking. No more thinking. Not about Sophia, and please god not about Beth, and not about that cat muzzled and suffocating just for trying to get a little taste of something good.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Literary Affair

Novel Holiday

As I have mentioned, my story is in shreds, new chapters blooming under my fingers with nasty little turns, and the old ones with lines shot through and several different versions of each, some in first person, some in third, and some in someone else’s voice altogether. I guess that would be my voice. I’m told this is the hard part – figuring out the structure. I know the story, I keep saying to anyone who shows the vaguest amount of interest. It’s just how I tell it that keeps changing. This story of the man who relinquishes his child into the hands of a narcissist and realizes his mistake too late, who has “intimacy issues” despite his good heart, is a story I’ve been at now for three years. My labour of love, if you will.  And the words pile up at my feet, until I am wading in them up to my waist, as if through piles of paper confetti. I love this story. I love my characters, even the narcissist, maybe even especially the narcissist. I love writing it; the twists and turns and revelations, how suddenly a possibility will open up so that what I have been labouring with for months, such as how to evoke a sympathetic response when my character makes stupid mistakes, will be shockingly simple to resolve. But sometimes, it does feel like an endless journey. Too many possibilities. Too many changes.

And then... along comes a day of sanctuary, where my beloved teacher offers a prompt to launch a small group of us into writing. And I’m off and away from my novel into a place of my own; territory I know well, the back of my own hand. From a simple memory of a photograph, I write a paragraph that in itself is complete. A mini story. The following day, I transcribe the piece to the computer and an idea blooms. I continue working with the givenc  sentence stem until I have five or six paragraphs that map out a life. And I like it. And it’s done. Finished. Complete. By eight o’clock that evening, I have tightened it up, deleted the superfluous and it is looking mighty fine. Next morning, I send it off to a competition. Ah. The sense of accomplishment is exhilarating.

I feel the same way one feels in the middle of a long chill winter, after a week spent in the sun with toes in the sand. I’m refreshed, restored, rejuvenated and ready to bury my arms to the elbows in the waiting pile of words that is my novel. On second thought, maybe the feeling is more akin to being in a long marriage, that is satisfying and gratifying, but has its trials and challenges, and then along comes the incredibly hot and thrilling affair, that gets all the juices flowing, the sex is fantastic and then its done. No "working things out" or coming to an understanding, or wanting him to change. It's perfect as it is and as it was. Now it's time to get back to the deep work involved in sustaining and maintaining an enduring relationship. In this case, my book. My book. In this case, the affair has served to spice up the relationship. No harm done. It's a metaphor, folks, my wanton days are done. Those of the heart and flesh, at least.