Day 850 – Doing Some Ironing

Smoothing out the wrinkles I created over the past few days. Taking longer than I thought, though this chunk does represent 15-20% of the final word count, so it is no small thing. Should finish tomorrow, and then insert back into main manuscript (Draft 2i — this edit is designated as Draft 2ie, for those keeping track).

It occurred to me yesterday that the secret to writing a great novel would be to take the thing that scares you most, the thing that brings you the most happiness, the thing that brings you the most sadness, a person or action that you admire most, a spiritual symbol that touches most, and then somehow string them together in a narrative. And to not back down when telling it, just balls-to-the-wall, in-your-face writing that slaps you across the cheek like a big, wet fish.

~Graham

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Day 849 – The Sticky, Icky Middle

Looks like rearranging Part 2 is going to be a bit more difficult than I thought. I did some massive cutting today, but it seems that along with sewing up the remaining chunks, I have some important bits lying on the floor too that I have to wade through and stuff in the cracks. Problem is, it’s like doing an autopsy on a whale — I’m not above it so much as in it, which is making it difficult to see the bigger picture and the detail all at the same time. I’ve sketched out a scene list to help — and it has helped — but it is the little puzzle pieces that need to be placed into order so carefully that are giving me the most trouble. I’m going to have to give it a hard read for continuity once it’s done, just to make sure there aren’t any gaps or bumps.

Who ever said writing a novel was easy?

A note on the nuts and bolts side of today’s work: did some of it at my son’s hockey practice. Luckily, the rink he was at has WiFi and a nice, comfortable, warm area to work in with tables that overlook the ice so I can watch and work at the same time. I was using an iPad with a Logitech bluetooth keyboard and Quickoffice as the word processor. I’ve recently put together this ensemble, and it is actually pretty good for writing on the road.

What it’s not so good at though is editing. I had a lot of cutting and pasting to do today, moving blocks of text around to different scenes, and moving other blocks to the end as leftover. That meant pushing on the screen over a word, selecting “Select”, and dragging the highlight corners over vast swaths of content, cutting it, and pasting it in its new destination. Honestly, I think it may be one of those things you could get used too, but it would never be as quick and efficient as using a mouse. Love the iPad and the keyboard, though not so much love for the touchscreen in this case. Guess that’s the difference between consuming and creating content on a tablet…

No real word count to report today since I’m still in the middle of rearranging. It will go down though by the time I’m done with this section. That’s a good thing, because I need some more room for Part 4…

Overall, very happy with the work I did, even if I still have more to do than I figured!

Until tomorrow,

~Graham

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Day 848 – #NaNoWriMo? Make that #MyNoFiMo!

Did you have a nice Christmas/holidays? A nice New Year’s? Survive the End of the World? Wonderful time in our home, and I actually had some time to spend with the family without nipping down to the office too often. Now though, I’m easing back into work — including work on my novel.

At the risk of sounding unpopular, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that November has to be one of the most ridiculous months to have National Novel Writing Month, or #NaNoWriMo as it is now affectionately called in the Twittersphere. December would hands down be the worst with everything else that is going on: Christmas, kids’ recitals, parties, and the last minute rush to get everything done before Christmas and the New Year. September would be a poor choice too. But after that, is there a worse month than November?

So what, pray tell, would be a good month? July and August would both be fairly good for me – work tends to be slower then. True, there is also the draw to be outside, and family vaca stuck in there somewhere, so those two might be less than ideal. March would a good choice I think.

But in my mind, the absolute best choice is January. (Did you see that one coming?)

Ah, January! Probably the most hated of months. It’s cold, for starters – at least in my corner of the 100 Acre Wood. It also has a weird mixture of guilt and repent with New Year’s Resolutions made and discarded. It’s bleak and white and depressing. But it also tends to be slower work-wise, and there is definitely less incentive to be frolicking outside… every cloud, silver lining, all that.

So that’s why I’ve decided to make it my own Novel Writing Month. Or, more to the point, My Novel Finishing Month – #MyNoFiMo. I hereby declare that by January 31, I will have a completed version of the second draft, no matter what it takes.

Here’s where I’m at to date:

  • 87,189 words (of approximately 100,000)
  • Part 1 (of 4) complete, Part 2 mostly complete, Part 3 in Draft 1 form, Part 4 sketched out in my head, with the ending already written

Here’s what I’m working on next:

  • Cutting huge swaths from Part 2 for word count, then sewing up the bits to (hopefully) make a coherent (and exciting) set of scenes that lead seamlessly into Part 3. I don’t anticipate many changes there, before leading up to Part 4 and the Grand Finale. Yes, one month should do nicely…

So, be prepared for a bit of wine somewhere in the beginning of February in celebration, if you live in the vicinity of my kitchen. I have a special bottle that I’ve put away for the occasion… Then, I’ll be putting the word out for readers shortly after. Stay tuned if you’d like to be on that list.

I’ll be updating this blog daily to keep you posted of my progress, chalk full of word counts and writing notes.

On to some cutting now…

~Graham

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Her Name Is…

The dream is always the same, though I don’t know it’s a dream until I wake up.

Her Name Is

I’m in a crowded café-slash-bookstore. A used bookstore. I think it’s actually the Cronos Café , for those of you familiar with Thunder Bay. Except that it’s not Cronos in my dream.

Anyway, there are people there, and somehow I sense they are there for me, though at that particular moment, I don’t know why. Then one of them – a woman, elegant and modern in an 80s way, vaguely familiar (hell, everyone in Thunder Bay looks vaguely familiar) – moves up from the crowd and we turn and stare and they get up on some sort of stage with a podium, which I didn’t notice until that exact moment. People smile at me. I am wearing a woollen scarf and a woollen coat, and I think I look cool. There is a chill running up my leg from the door.

The woman at the podium opens a book and starts reading a passage. I never recognize – or even remember – the words when I wake up, but at the time I know that these are my words from my first novel, just published. The crowd is hushed. At first, the silence is in anticipation, but then it seems in my woollying mind to be more in embarrassment. The woman keeps reading, oblivious to the fact, just as she’s un-self-aware of her own retro-happening hair, makeup, and clothes (though I think she looks nice, even if she’s trying too hard…)

Finally, the words come to an end and get sucked into the void of silence. Someone starts to clap, and then stops, awkwardly. Then someone else says, “We waited two and a half years for that?”

I laugh nervously. At first. I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve just wasted everyone’s time. Maybe I’ve wasted my own time. I sink into myself, sort of that tunnel-vision thing as you fall away from the world, at least mentally because your mind is going to snap if it stays conscious for a second longer.

Then I just laugh, and laugh, and laugh. I walk up to the stage, grab the book from the model’s hand, and start reading myself. Not the quiet, introverted words I would normally have. I turn those syllables inside out, so they’re big and booming and thunder against the glass of the café. I belt it out, almost comically and bombastically (honestly, that’s where my mindset is centred, just to get through this damn thing), but I pull it back just a titch so that it is meaningful, soulful, alive.

And then I finish the reading, and there is silence again. But good silence. Followed by grandiose, crashing applause.

And then I wake up. And I wonder if there resides in anyone in the whole wide world but writers the ability to hold both extreme delusions of grandeur and profound, debilitating self-doubt at exactly the same moment.

~Graham

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A (‘nother) Case For Bookshelves

I’m no Luddite — I see the writing on the wall (or perhaps more aptly, not on the wall…) The physical book is giving way to ebooks. For the most part, there are many advantages (which we all know, so I won’t rehash here…) But there are some disadvantages. Here’s one Malcolm Gladwell came up with, which I really like:

“…it’s so important to have physical books. When I see my bookshelf expanding, it gives me the illusion that my brain is expanding, too.”

BTW, this Jane Mount style of bookshelf illustration is becoming popular all of a sudden — and I love it. She offers a custom painting with five of your favourite books (what writer — or reader for that matter — wouldn’t love that for Christmas?)

Here’s the whole article with the Malcolm Gladwell quote:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/whats-on-junot-diazs-bookshelf-and-malcolm-gladwells-and/article5370351/

~Graham

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Caught on Tape! Fitzgerald Writing “The Great Gatsby”…

…or technically I guess, film. This is supposedly Fitzgerald writing The Great Gatsby, though I’m not sure how you would authenticate a claim like that. Still, it’s obviously Fitzgerald and he’s obviously writing. Kind of exciting in itself (if you’re into that kind of thing…)

It’s part of a longer montage of photos and home movies, but you can skip ahead to about 2:20 to see the action.

~Graham

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Going (Back) to Sugar Mountain

Victoria-and-Syndicate

Thunder Bay isn’t exactly a Mecca of the creative, like London or New York or Paris where you can’t flick a fountain pen without globbing indigo on something of literary importance. I guess though that’s true of most small towns.

But there are a few things that happened here. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle owned land in the south side once, and – I’m assuming – jotted a few words down in his journal as he passed through. Sheila Burnford wrote The Incredible Journey in nearby Pass Lake.

The north west corner in full, where the edge of the Victoria Hotel stood. The mock streetlamp is probably pretty close to where the real one once stood.

And Neil Young wrote Sugar Mountain here on his 19th birthday, 48 years ago, on November 12, 1964 at the Victoria Hotel.

The Victoria Hotel doesn’t exist anymore – it got swallowed up in a mall called Victoriaville, which was designed to revitalize the downtown Fort William core. By most accounts, it did the opposite – our own homegrown Chapples department store went under soon after, and many of the businesses once so vital faded away.

(In all fairness, they likely would have anyway – downtown Port Arthur, the other half of the now-amalgamated Thunder Bay, isn’t fairing much better…)

I was taking the above picture of the faux streetlamp representing the corner of Victoria and Syndicate avenues when a passerby mentioned I should have been taking the picture years ago when it actually looked nice (like here — full story here). I agreed, and told him that was kind of the reason I was there – to remember the past, and mark the writing of a great song.

It’s difficult to imagine what the building would have been like back then, what Neil Young would have been back then. Writing away all 126 verses (or whatever the total number was) of the song, under the stairway. There’s no way you could know it from the song itself, but apparently it is about the fact that he could no longer go to his teeny-bopper hangouts back in Winnipeg with his girlfriend and his bandmates, because it was strictly 18 and under.

“You can’t be 20, on Sugar Mountain…”

Why was I there? Why was I standing on the street corner – that wasn’t even a street corner anymore – staring at not-a-hotel, trying to imagine what the scene looked like so long ago?

It’s that age old question – why are we drawn to spots like this? The easy answer has always been, to touch greatness and hope some of it rubs off. It occurred to me that it might be something more. Writers, and creative types in general, tend to be a curious bunch. (Inquisitive I mean, not odd – though there is that too…) It’s a time and place we can pin down, and we want to muse on what it might have been like.

So does the curiousity make the writer, or is it the other way around? Hmm. I don’t know. I suspect though that it isn’t so much a chicken/egg proposition as a motor/wheels thing – the car ain’t gonna run without either one of them.

There’s also the social thing to literary pilgrimages like this too, like touching the pyramids to make a connection with some worker who lived 5,000 years ago. Strangely though, I didn’t really feel any connection to Neil Young. Perhaps if I’d laid my hand upon a chair he was sitting on, or putting a foot on those steps… Is that why grave markers are so important, so we can touch and feel connected to lost loved ones who aren’t with us anymore? I remember all the neo-hippies at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, with everyone sitting around Jim Morrison’s tombstone like it was just another player in a card game. Takin’ a hit or swigging back a fifth of Jack and pouring some on the Lizard King’s grave. That can’t be a real connection though – many of them weren’t even born when he died, and certainly none of them that were there that day had met him. So what is the connection to? Some imagined ideal of what the world was, something that is missing from our lives?

The dead are the dead, so they don’t feel back. Sometimes even the living are the dead, too. I wonder if Neil Young took any time today to think about writing that song himself yesterday. He of anyone could imagine the feel of that Hotel, the Grill off the main lobby, maybe the smokey corridors and quasi-rock music floating through from the bar next door, and the chilly November air finding its way through the cracks to snake up his pant leg while he sat there, on lonely Sugar Mountain, trying to make a connection to another world of his own, another time, in Winnipeg.

Chances are, Thunder Bay at least flitted through his head at some point yesterday – I mean, anyone who looks back on lost youth at age 19 is probably somewhat sentimental. And if I wrote a world-famous song on my birthday, I’m sure it would cross my mind for many birthdays after.

Tony, the passerby I mentioned above who started talking to me about better times, took me on a mini walking tour of the streets that he remembered. He showed me the old bars, the old movie theatres, the radio station where Neil Young cut his first songs (I knew vaguely where it was; he knew exactly), and the place where the 4D coffee house once stood where Young played with his band The Squires. Tony, I think, was making his own connections, the memories of his old self. So much more vital than simple imagination.

Or is it? Take what you know, take what you imagine what could be, make the connection, and tell the story. But it has to start with a person. The best stories are about people, because the best stories are about ourselves. Do it right, and I think those stories can be as vivid as any memory.

Neil Young left Thunder Bay within year of writing Sugar Mountain to live other stories – Blind River (Long May You Run…), Toronto, and then LA. Randy Bachman told his own Neil Young story in a later song, about Neil and Steven Stills cruising the streets of TBay. And here I am telling my own story. Filling in the details. Making the connections.

Firing our own imaginations any way we can so that we can get our own stories right.

Happy Birthday, Neil Young, wherever you are.

~Graham

The building that housed the radio station, where Neil Young recorded some of his first songs.

Location of the 4D Coffee House, one of the venues where Neil Young played. (Artist's rendering of what the actual coffee house probably didn't look at all like.)

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A Little Snippy…

I walked out into the kitchen and Noël asked me what I was doing ‘cuz I was snipping my fingers in the air like hyperactive scissors (though I wasn’t really conscious that I was doing it) and I smiled embarrassed-like and said that I had just realized I needed to cut a big piece of the novel out in the middle for flow (I think I’ve known that for a while, but I couldn’t bring myself to face it, and I also wasn’t 100% sure of where I had to cut) and it occurred to me that there must be a special place in heaven for spouses of writers, watching their sometimes-insignificant-other drift through the “real” world where they live and breath and vacantly nod “yes” to everything while their minds are in that other world they occupy most of the day that only that writer may pass through to, and it occurs to me further that in Noël’s special place in heaven there will have an extra-comfy chair and a computer that actually works and a masseuse on-call 24/7 who brings Blue Lagoons as a matter of course.

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“…a cutthroat cottage industry…”

It’s Giller night — do you know what you’re wearing to the party? Perhaps not the most venerable of Canadian lit awards (I believe the Governor General’s Award is still that), the Giller Prize is definitely the hippest. Lately, the CBC has been trying to make it even hipper, featuring Jian Ghomeshi as host (non-Canadians may remember him from a couple of years back when Billy Bob Thornton made a total ass of himself on national radio/TV — that was Ghomeshi interviewing…) and a number of celebrity presenters like Rosie MacLennan, Rick Mercer, and Kim Cattrall.

I’ve mentioned several times in this blog how the Giller — and any literary prize — is like rocket fuel for a Canadian book. I will likely buy this year’s Giller winner as well. (BTW, I don’t have a strong sense of who will win tonight, but I’m going to put my money on Nancy Richler’s The Imposter Bride. With a name like Richler and a title close to Atwood, seems like a good bet…)

In any case, John Doyle at The Globe and Mail seems to have a bit more of a negative view. Then again, he’s the Television columnist, and books don’t generally make for good television. Looks like he has an axe to grind too (perhaps for good reason, if you read today’s column). This is what he said about the Canadian lit scene:

The Giller Prize is great, having bestowed money and attention on Canadian fiction. The people behind it are, to be sure, veritable Medicis of modern Canada. And that’s nice. Seeing as the Canadian book racket is a cutthroat cottage industry, nervous and neurotic about success, sales and, it seems, thin-skinned and combative.

(emphasis mine)

I’m not sure I can get behind this. Yes, there is likely competition among publishers. Yes, I’m sure that the writers who ultimately lose feel bad for losing. But I’ve also seen, through Twitter and other media, publishers support each other and wish each other luck. And the writers who congratulate the winners truly seem happy for them, instead of an Oscar “it’s an honour just to be nominated” kind of way.

Maybe I’m just naive this way. I certainly don’t have an insider’s view.

I do think though that “cottage industry” is the perfect way to describe the Canadian book industry, and now more than ever. The Big Boys are getting taken down one by one, but the smaller houses may hang on yet. If anything, my money would be on these smaller ones who don’t have Bay St. or Madison Ave. rents, who can be more responsive to the market, and who can work with the writers a little more closely. Personalized attention — to the reader mostly, but perhaps to the writer as well to help make that happen — seems to be the thing that carries the day in this Internet Age.

One thing’s for sure, some writer and publishing house is about to win the lottery tonight. And thousands of people will know what they’ll be reading for the next week or so.

~Graham

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The Difference Between Published Author and Not

I’m an occasional reader of Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds. Although I’ve had him in my blog reader for probably around a year, he really caught my attention last week with an interview with Margaret Atwood. Yes, the Margaret Atwood. I mean, wow.

Today he put out a request for interviewee ideas. However, he stressed that he was looking for ideas about other writers, big writers, that he could at least ask — not the average Joe Blow who put out his or her own book. In his own words:

I am quite unlikely to publish interviews with self-published authors unless you have other published credentials or some manner of kick-ass sales numbers or some other success story worth talking about. I apologize for this but the majority of those emails I had to (unsuccessfully) wade through were from self-published authors. It was… not pleasant.

That’s the difference between published and not published, plain and simple. Not that Chuck Wendig is the arbitrator of what’s good and what’s not. But you can imagine that of all those requests coming in, at least some of them had to be total crap. (I’m probably being generous here…)

My point is, the downside of self-publishing is that you automatically put yourself in a league with all those other people who wrote a book on a Sunday afternoon and uploaded it to Amazon on a Sunday night. There is nothing to differentiate you from the next. Even Margaret Atwood, if she had decided to self-publish before she became the Margaret Atwood, would have to slog her way up from the swamp.

Some people get lucky, like Amanda Hocking. Other writers — and there are bound to be other writers as good as Hocking who didn’t make it — will forever be slogging it out.

There is still a stigma to self-publishing and no matter how much that stigma may lessen over the years, I can’t foresee a time when that will become more prestigious than finding a publisher. Any (legitimate) publisher.

Prestige might not be your thing, of course. Sometimes you have to trade that for better sales or more control or whatever. But it is worth noting for those who do decide to self-publish, the onus of separating your cream from the watery milk below is solely on you. Nobody owes you anything. You in all likelihood will be cast in the same light as every amateur self-publisher, no matter how professional and published your book — until you prove yourself otherwise.

Here’s Wendig’s whole post (in case you’re looking for a place to get yourself profiled…)

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/10/25/seeking-new-victims-i-mean-subjects-for-the-interviewers-chair/

~Graham

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