Day 871 – Frozen

FrozenI’ve been frozen this week, both literally and literally.

Here’s what the temperature was when I put the kids on the bus on Monday. For all you US readers out there, -36 Celsius is just about -36 Fahrenheit — the “sweet spot” where they meet up is actually -40. Either way, it’s cold.

More importantly in terms of this blog, I’ve also been frozen writing-wise. I’ve put myself in a bit of a corner. I’ve put a deadline on this draft, though I know the book isn’t ready yet to send out to people. I could have something finished by January 31 — and I will have something finished. But what it won’t be is a ready-to-read Draft 2. So of course, to combat the problem when I realized this, what I did was push it behind the tin of tea in the corner of the counter and forget about it for a week. I hear this is quite normal for writers, especially those who only drink tea on occasion and therefore won’t be constantly reminded by the sight of the manuscript every time they make a cuppa.

Anyway.

Canada ReadsHad some chai tonight, saw the poor thing just sitting there, and decided to do some work on it. Was inspired too by going to a Canada Reads event here tonight, where Jane Urquhart and Richard Wagamese (click the image to enlarge), both up for the next Canada Reads book of the year, did a reading and answered some questions. They are from Northwestern Ontario originally, though both moved away a long time ago when they were kids. I wonder if they consider themselves to be Northwestern Ontario writers? Likely not, though they obviously have an affinity to the area since they both have used the region in their books. That would have been a good question to ask during the Q&A.

So Draft 2 — still in the works, and likely will be into February. But when my deadline whooshes by me next week, it won’t be a total loss. I’ve put more time into the book this month than I have for a while.

Here’s to more.

~Graham

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Day 863 – Another Gatsby Film Flop?

I have not been a fan of The Great Gatsby translations to the big screen. The closest, I think, was the Robert Redford and Mia Farrow one in the 70s. It was a product of its time, which is to say it was overly dramatic. I loved Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway though — he nailed it.

So when I heard there was a new one coming out, I was excited, but cautiously so — especially when they announced it would be in 3D. Leonardo DiCaprio seemed like a reasonable choice as Gatsby. Tobey Maguire, well, I could see that perhaps he’d do a good job. (I still see Waterston in my head…)

After seeing the trailer though, I’m getting prepared for a letdown. It seems highly stylized, even mashed up with the music they are playing. It’s decidedly not Jazz Age, but then using the music of today certainly gives you a better sense of what they felt in 1925, when that music was new and fresh and electrifying, instead of old and 1920′s-ish like it feels now. Musically different, but maybe emotionally a better reflection of the time.

DiCaprio seems way too sure of himself as the title character. In the book, Gatsby is always questioning himself. Yes, he’s driven, yes, he knows what he wants. But you can tell he’s outside his element, still “faking it ’til you make it” long after he buys the mansion. At every turn, he’s looking to Carraway for affirmation at every little detail. In the trailers here though, you’d think he might be reprising the role of Howard Hughes, cocky and in control.

I’ll go watch it, of course. I’m hoping that the marketing department has glitzed it up more than it’s worth.

Got some solid time in today on my own novel. Should have Part 3 complete by tomorrow. Then on to Part 4.

Word count keeps going down… and that’s a good thing at this point.

~Graham

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Day 862 – Why You Need a Professional Cover for Your Novel

Bad Book CoversI think I’ve mentioned here that I’ve been looking into self-pubbing as a possibility for my book. I’m not convinced this is the way to go, but if nothing else, I find it fascinating to do a bit of research into self-publishing and get myself ready in case it happens. A lot of it I’m familiar with through the stuff I do in my day job. Some of it is brand new, like all the layout and coding involved with formatting for various ereaders.

One thing that I’m not sure authors understand enough is how important the cover is. It’s one of the top things (after writing a good book) that bloggers blogging about self-publishing talk about. Yet there are many, many examples of bad, bad covers, like in the image above. Some are definitely worse than others, and I’m not going to call any out in particular. Some obviously had a lot of work put into them, even if the results don’t match the effort. Honestly, if you could only pick one book seeing nothing but the cover, which would you choose, any of the above, or this one:

Gatsby Dust JacketThe point is, people do judge a book by its cover. Quite literally. If you are self-publishing, you want to give yourself the best chance possible to have someone pick up and read your book. For many, the cover is the first contact they’ll have with your book. If you don’t hook them then — or at least pique their interest a bit — you’ve lost a big chance at a sale. Even if you have just written the best novel since The Great Gatsby.

You can see book covers in more detail on the Lousy Book Covers Tumblr blog.

Another productive day on the writing front, I’m happy to say. Got some solid work in again in Part 3 — just a few more pages until the end. Then, uncharted territory as I start writing Part 4. With half a month left to go, I’m feeling fine.

~Graham

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Day 861 – Where is My Mind?

Great session today. Not a lot of words edited, but I’m happy with the ones I polished. Took my first draft that was raw and crafted it into something a little more cerebral and edgy and symbolic — all while trying not to lose its primal feel. I’ll know tomorrow if I succeeded.

~Graham

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Day 859 – Sunday, Lovely Sunday

Got a lot a good work in today, getting through most of Part 3. A few tweaks here and there, but mostly I like what I have. Gearing up for the end of Part 3 and then the hardest part of this exercise this month: writing Part 4.

Also took some time today to look for professional freelance editors for a manuscript critique. Seems that will be harder than I had expected. If anybody out there knows of a good editor specializing in “literary” fiction (don’t want to be hoidy-toidy about it, but this book doesn’t really fall under any other genre), please let me know!

Been getting nervous about finishing the book lately. Not because it will be finished, but because it means I’ll have to actually show it to people. Funny, haven’t been nervous about people reading my work in at least 10 years, probably more. Maybe this was part of what has been holding me back? I’m not really worried that it will be shite — it’s my first novel after all. It took Fitzgerald two novels and a boatload of short stories to come up with Gatsby.

No, what I’m worried about is friends reading it, hating it, and either trying to tell me they hated it, or desperately trying to not tell me it.

If it’s not to you taste, please just tell me so — it will make it easier for all of us! Trained professional and all that. I can take it.

And if you love it, well, feel free to option the film rights.

~Graham

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Day 857 – Graham Strong, International Book Smuggler

Did I ever tell you about the time I became a book smuggler?

It wasn’t Bibles into Communist Russia (or even Playboys, for that matter). In fact, I didn’t even realize I was doing it at the time. It was back in 1991, when Noël and I lived in Hamilton. One weekend we went to Niagara Falls, NY, about a 45-minute drive (or half-hour in the Prelude) to the outlet mall. Great place when you’re young and kidless and want to spend money… Ralph Lauren, Swatch Watches, and some jeans store, before stopping for a 16oz Porterhouse at Lou’s Pete’s Market, all for cheap.

Anyway, I wandered into one of the bookstores, as I was wont to do, and there was a big stack of Brett Easton Ellis’ new novel, American Psycho. I should point out that this was before the massive bookstores we are used to today, so it did take up a considerable amount of the floor space. I’d watched – and liked – the movie Less Than Zero which was of course based on Ellis’ first novel. So I asked one of the sales women if she knew anything about the book. She said no, but in a way that was very strange, like I’d asked her if she knew anything about killing puppies, even though she did because she happened to be a Puppy Homicide Detective so in fact yes, she did know quite a lot about killing puppies, but from the other side though, so it was nothing she was going to discuss with a civilian and besides, I was sick for even wanting to know about something that should be unknown to any decent human being. (In retrospect, I understand why she was so… circumspect.) Her ringing non-endorsement wasn’t enough to dissuade me, so I picked it up.

You Canadian readers of a certain age may remember that this booked was briefly banned in Canada for its content. Or, at least, it wasn’t allowed into the country until Canada Customs had a chance to review it to make sure it didn’t break any obscenity laws (yes, there is a certain amount of the irony there). It was during this brief period that I had it coming across the border, right there in the back window for all to see.

They didn’t; I got it into the country and later learned of its contraband status. One thing I learned that week: there is no better way of exposing the general public to any obscenity than to ban it. Friends at work were begging me to give it to them once I was finished.

American Psycho was studied by the media ad nauseum on both sides of the border. Women’s groups in particular were upset with the novel, and other critics dismissed it as a half-masked attempt to cash in on some sensationalism it was bound to generate.

I think I was one of the few people who took the book at face value. I’m not saying I enjoyed it – it was way to disturbing for me to say I enjoyed it. But it had literary value, and not just shock value. I think he was exploring a new style and exploring issues that in a pre-Internet age certainly were shocking, but in a way that there was not way for the reader to feel anything but repulsed. At no time was Bateman painted as a sympathetic character.

Instead, it was a study in human behaviour. What does it take for someone to commit such heinous crimes, over and over again? Is it a sickness? Is it a reflection of society? And to that point, what does it take for someone (i.e. the writer) to even imagine these things, and put them down on paper? Mostly though, I think it was one of those fake-out studies; the real experiment was to interpret results from how the readers reacted to the story, not the story itself.

Whatever the impact/reflection of the book with regards to society, it’s interesting to note that today, 20 years later, it’s a musical http://theater.nytimes.com/2012/04/23/theater/american-psycho-as-a-musical.html?_r=0.

This fall, I read the book Less Than Zero, which as it turns out is much different from the movie – I did not know that. I love the minimalist style of Less Than Zero, though the subject matter is disturbing. You can see where American Psycho came from. However, if you read it as an allegory instead of trying to imagine these events really happened, there is an artful simplicity to it. Disappear Here. Of all the horrendous things that go on in the novel, that is the thing that Clay fears most. It’s a reaffirmation of life, in a sick and misshapen way.

I also noticed a close connection between Less Than Zero and Douglas Coupland’s Generation X. Both deal with the ennui of a generation, though in very different ways. Coupland I think must have been influenced by him, or at least closely identified with him as a writer. I’d have to say that I’m more drawn to Coupland’s relatively sunnier view. Both are good books though, well written, that I’ll likely read again (and in the case of Generation X, already have several times).

In other news, I got two good hours of writing in this evening. Part 3 is coming along nicely. About a third of the way through my timeline, and all looks good so far for the Jan. 31 target date.

~Graham

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Day 856 – Editing Part 3

Now into Part 3, doing some minor edits here and there. Was working on one scene that I thought was funny, but doesn’t seem to be quite working. Trying to bang it out as best I can, but going to have to put it aside for the moment. There is something there — I think the concept is good. Need to work on the execution though.

Found out today that friend-of-the-blog Terry Fallis had not one but two books on the list of Canada’s best sellers in 2012. Quite the feat! Also found out he’s started his fourth book, which he hopes will be out in Fall 2014. Congrats Terry!

Until tomorrow,

~Graham

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Day 854 – Combat Baby

“Combat baby, come back baby. Fight off the lethargy, don’t go quietly, combat baby. Said you would never give up easy. Combat baby, come back.”

Back in the main novel now, with the icky pudding middle now somewhat gelled and some words trimmed (though not enough yet…)

It was a combat, baby. Not just the emotion of cutting all those words (though there was that). Not just the difficulty of essentially compressing the storyline by a whole day (though there was that too). It was really, trying to make sure all the story threads connect again, like connecting all the nerves in a hand transplant. I’m not sure all the extremities are even working 100% yet. At least there won’t be any finger pointing they aren’t.

Officially, this draft is now called Draft 2j, and is sitting at just shy of 83,000 words. Off to Part 3 tomorrow.

~Graham

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Day 852 – Stay Tuned for More…

Another long day, some work done tonight, more to come tomorrow.

~Graham

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Day 851 – Lemon

“A man makes a picture, a moving picture. From the light projected, he can see himself up close.”

Great song — listening to it right now, as I write this. Took the youngest to the Thunderwolves game tonight, which resulted in OT, a broken pane of glass behind the visitors’ net, a shoot out win, and ultimately a late night. I did get some work done once I got home, but my eyes are getting tired and the yawns are coming wave upon wave now, like a big heavy freighter is passing by my shore.

Looks like I’ll be putting in extra time tomorrow.

~Graham

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