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.