This just in – the Giller Prize has doubled to $100,000! Not a bad haul for a Canadian writer.
Ah, the Giller. Perhaps not the most prestigious literary award in Canada – the Governor General’s award will likely always be that – but I think the Giller my favourite. The award show actually does make for compelling TV (if you are at all interested in reading, of course).
But it’s also freer. I think the GG is about fretting over exactly who is the all-time best writer in Canada (at that moment), worrying about whether or not so-and-so has been recognized yet, and, in short, getting it right.
The Giller on the other hand is more about celebrating new Canadian literature. You’re much more likely to get first-time writers vying for the top spot because they have a good book, not because they’ve been around for long enough. And even then, it may not go to the absolute “best book” because reading is, of course, a subjective thing. So you get a lot of, “Well, I would have picked this one” but at the same time you’re less likely to argue that whoever does win didn’t deserve it.
I also like the process. You get the long list today. You get the short list in a couple of weeks. Then the winner a month later. It builds up, gives you time to get familiar with at least some of the books. Most of all – and this is so important in Canada – it puts the spotlight on a number of good writers who may not have had the concentrated exposure otherwise. That’s the real importance of any Canadian award of course, promoting Canadian writers at home and abroad.
This year has special significance for me – I actually read one of the long-list books before they list was announced, which has never happened before, I don’t think.Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu was a good read – and spooky too. Not as in horror, but as in his ideas and even the story is so much like my own WIP. Even the title echoes a title of a former WIP of mine from decades ago.
Books have weight. Boy, does that ever come into sharp focus when you have to move a few thousand of them…
It’s been a while since I’ve read a manifesto from the latest fanboy burning their books in favour of a new Kindle or Kobo, and ceremoniously (or unceremoniously) sledgehammering their bookshelves down off their walls. We’ve seemed to hit some sort of equilibrium, or perhaps an uneasy truce. In any case, it doesn’t seem that the Kindle is going to strike the coup de grace against books anytime soon.
I’ve always been skeptical of the ebook revolution. 10,000 books in the palm of your hand is hard to resist, I’ll give you that. Until you actually get it in your palm. I’ve never much liked electronic readers. I’ve borrowed my son’s Kobo a few times to try it out, and I’ve got both the Kobo and the Kindle apps on my iPad. I do like the portability, and if this was back in my heavy travelling days, I’d be drawn to the fact that I wouldn’t have to carry 8-10 books in my backpack, stocked up like a literary camel between far-flung English bookshop oases. On the other hand, I’ve never worried about someone sitting on my paperback if I put it down to do up my sons’ skates…
For me, the delivery system (that is to say, a book versus an electronic device) affects the reading, which in turn affects the enjoyment. I don’t get as immersed in ebooks for some reason. Perhaps part of that is the fact that I have it balanced in my left hand with my right hand hovering and swiping every few seconds like a trapped hummingbird bouncing off glass. It’s not what you’d call… relaxing.
Recently, I’ve been moving literally a lifetime of books – thousands of books of all descriptions. Contemporary novels, spy classics, firsthand accounts from WWI and WWII, coffee table books, encyclopedias, history books, science books, art books, biographies, text books from the 50s and 60s, Far Side comics. Some are fairly valuable. Some are falling apart and have no value at all. At least not monetary. Every book was loved though, to some extent, either on its own merits or as part of a collection.
Moving all these books on a Kobo would be much easier, for sure. But where would the emotional connection be? Where would be the tactile, the smell of the pages, the muffled clap when you close it? All of these things would be gone.
Books and reading are different. Lovers of reading, perhaps, can happily while away the hours with a Kobo in hand. But for lovers of books, the sensation and experience is much different. I know that puts me at risk of sounding like a Luddite, but I’m not saying that ebooks are evil. Far from it. They have their place. I remember wasting hours in university scanning back to all the books I skimmed as research for an essay, trying to find that one passage that, at the time, I didn’t realize was perfect. Now, I would just enter a few keywords and boom, within seconds I’d be able to locate it.
eBooks may have their place, but not in my heart. Writing is (usually) about emotions, and books I think are perfect containers for writing because it helps that emotional connection in a way that bits and bytes will never achieve. It kills me to part with the ones I have to part with, and yet it kills me to store the ones I just can’t let go. Flipping through, sorting, boxing — every single book tears free another fresh emotion.
Lo verily, I will never feel that way about an ebook.
My life and work would not be possible without computers, without the Digital Age. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition, though. Cars are great, but they don’t have to deny you the simple pleasure of walking through the woods. You can appreciate the ease of use of digital tools (or even read a blog), and at the end of the day, still sink back and enjoy the wonderful corporeal feeling of a good book opening in your hand.
I have a feeling more than a few of you know exactly what I mean.
[Addendum to Original Post]
I should have mentioned that although I already had the idea for this post, it was certainly coloured by Tom Chandler’s recent experience with a book (and the death thereof). eBooks will never die — until the electricity goes out.
PS – I stumbled upon this quite serendipitously during the writing of this post. Made me laugh.
Well, a lot has happened since we last talked. To get to the elephant in the room – yes, the novel is still alive, though it is mostly asleep. I poke at it every once in a while to make sure it’s still breathing. More on that another time.
First, I want to tell you about a revelation I had. Last Monday, I went to a Master Class by Robert J. Sawyer, part of the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) at Lakehead University. It was a small, intimate class of perhaps 30-40 people, and in it Sawyer talked about theme and science fiction – or really, how science fiction does such a good job of handling theme. I’m not sure it was his intent, but after attending I’m convinced it is one of the best genres for doing so. Science fiction, he argues, takes thematic metaphors and allusions, and turns them into literal constructs. Like in Planet of the Apes, where the very real species divides between gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees (and humans) is meant to be an allegory for race relations in the United States during the 1960s. Very thought-provoking, and made me think about how I’m constructing my own (not science fiction) novel.
Anyway, during the Q&A I asked Sawyer about social media – a question I’ve been asking writers lately when I’m at these types of events. Specifically, I saw a show years ago where he stated something to the effect that for every minute he is writing a blog, he is not writing a book. This was of course at the beginning of the “revolution” of writers “engaging” with their readers, and you could tell there was a certain amount of frustration in his voice about the whole thing.
I asked him if he still felt the same way, now that engaging readers is almost expected of authors. He said yes, but clarified (and I’m heavily paraphrasing and internalizing here) that he likes blogging and social media, but it takes time away from his work. He has a finite writing limit – he mentioned four hours per day, but I’m not sure he was just throwing out a number – and blogging takes away from that finite number. After four hours, the well is dry and you have to wait until the next day.
So of course, for a guy that writes for a living during the day (usually more than four hours), I took this to mean that I shouldn’t be writing a novel at all. Or I should find another job – not an appealing thought though. What am I going to do, sell TVs? I think not.
Here’s the revelation – it’s okay to feel overwhelmed with writing a novel. It’s okay to put it aside and say, “Today will not see my best writing, after everything else I’ve written.” Won’t get the novel written any faster, but should alleviate some of the guilt…
Okay, now I’m taking away from work writing AND the novel. Back to work.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently editing what I have so far, and locking it away in a separate file marked “Your Eyes Only” — which will mean anyone’s eyes but mine. It is time to get some feedback. I’m realizing that I’m a little rudderless right now, and the reason I’m rudderless is because I’m not sure I’m going in the right direction, and that I won’t know if I’m going in the right direction until I get a 10,000-foot view of the thing, but I can’t do that myself because I’m stuck on this boat, right here in the action (i.e. “too close to the work” to use the technical term) so I need someone else’s — or several other people’s — perspective.
So yes, I am going to send it out. Problem is, the last section of the book isn’t even written in first draft yet. That’s because I’m not quite sure how to resolve the conflict. I’ve already written the last 10 paragraphs or so — I know what to say after the resolution — but my plot ideas seem to be mostly falling apart.
In any case, it might be fine if people read the (essentially polished) first half of the book — I think getting some input will help the process of nailing the ending down.
It’s an age-old question for writers, and one to which I know the answer in my day job. I can’t really describe it — I just know it’s done, much like you know when an episode of The Simpsons is done, or a piece of toast.
But this novel thing — it’s different. I started polishing the first two scenes — again. I like it, yet I’m obsessed with getting it absolutely right. Maybe it’s a confidence thing, and once I have a few of these under my belt, I’ll naturally know when it’s done too. But until then, I think I need some feedback. No, scratch that. I’m ready for feedback.
So I started a new file today:
Novel Draft2l Final 130414.doc
I polished the first two scenes, then cut and paste them into this document. Which I won’t read again until someone else does.
Total words: 6,952. I’ve restarted the counter on the right to reflect this. Looks pathetically short after all this time. But how do you measure the progress of a novel? Word count? Time spent? Day required to generate that time spent?
In the end, I think there is a start date and an end date. Everything in between is Schrodinger’s Cat scratching to get out. (Or not scratching to get out. Depending.)
Either way, I’m officially calling this day the first day of the Final Stretch. The question I’m pondering now is, do I let people read it before I have the whole novel copy and pasted into that file?
I started from the beginning again recently. Put another hour and a half in this morning. Crafting. Trimming. Polishing. I like this book. I like the intricacies (I think I’m) weaving into the story. There is a lot more give and take between the two main characters than I thought there was at first, a lot of subtle undertones. Is it enough? I’m not sure about that… Others will tell me, I hope. That’s one thing that I’m still working on — unlike my day job writing, I’m still not 90% sure whether this is “good” or not. It’s humbling (in a good way) to have to rely upon others’ viewpoints to get me through this.
But as I say, I like it. That’s a start, I suppose.
I wrapped up my #MyNoFiMo / #NaNoWriMo on a positive note. I didn’t get Draft 2 done, but I got a lot more finished than I might of. Okay, I admit: I can’t help but feel like perhaps I failed… Hey, any time you set a hard deadline and blow it, that’s a failure. I wonder though if the failure is in the making of the deadline itself, rather than in the blowing of it? I know there are some people who say they can put a deadline on art, but I’m not convinced. Some of my favourite writers have a strong disdain for deadlines. Not sure the logical conclusion is that they are better writers because of it, and therefore I should emulate their bad habits so I can become a better writer. But it’s the conclusion I’m going to go with at this particular juncture.
So I’m going to take this as a win. I’ve been getting back to writing regularly (including tonight) so although I’m still not quite done Draft 2, it is coming together nicely. As art should.
Here’s where I’m at: I’m just entering the final section of the book — Part 4, as I affectionately call it. The main character has just had a major epiphany at the end of Part 3 that will send the story in a whole different direction. I’m very excited with this, as it comes largely unexpected. Check that — I knew he had to have a change at this point, but the problem was what change, and how to show it. After writing through it, the answer came fairly organically, and therefore is more believable.
That’s the hope at least. We’ll see when the reviews come in how successful I actually was.
Planning a few changes for this blog as well. Still way too early to go into any great detail… these changes will take a few weeks at least to put together. But, since I’m trying to journal rather faithfully what’s happening in all aspects of my novel writing process, thought I’d mention it.