October 25th, 2009
I’ve been waiting to review Labor Day until my interview with Joyce Maynard was posted over on our company blog, The Savvy Reader. Then, all of a sudden weeks go by and I haven’t managed to type a single word let alone post any book reviews. Thankfully, I’m only behind by about three reads so it’s not that bad.
The novel takes place in a small New Hampshire town during a moment when all of the main characters are on the cusp of major changes in their lives. As the hot, uncomfortable last weekend of summer begins, Henry, who’s thirteen, and his mother, Adele, head out to get school clothes. For most, it’s an everyday kind of errand, for Henry and Adele, it represents a rare moment when she actually leaves the house.
While they’re at the store, Henry comes upon a bleeding, baseball cap-wearing stranger who asks for a ride home. Turns out Frank’s an escaped prisoner who takes refuge (and hostages if we’re being entirely correct) at Adele’s. There’s an element of suspended disbelief here, it’s Maynard writing the novel, and not McEwan, and while Frank might have committed a crime to get in jail, it’s never apparent he actually belongs there. There’s an element of Shawshank to his backstory, which gets unraveled over the course of the time he spends purposefully sequestered with Henry and Adele at their house.
The tumultuous relationship between Henry and his parents (who are divorced; his father’s remarried with a stepson and a new daughter) is necessarily exacerbated by Frank’s illegal presence. But not in the ways that you would expect. They’re not in danger. And the fear comes from the impending change more so than anything else. Maynard told me that she wanted to write a novel that looked at how this thirteen-year-old dealt with the sex lives of his parents — while he’s on the cusp of his own. This journey, or realization might be a better word, starts Henry off on the dangerous path that forces the unlikely situation to its necessary conclusion.
There’s an urgency to Maynard’s novel that echoes its tight timeframe. The major action of the book all takes place over those few days and the constraints of time drive the story. In turn, this makes the novel utterly readable — the perfect title to sit down for a couple of hours in an afternoon to finish, a book utterly meant for a “book-a-day” challenge. In some ways, the book reminded me, in setting only, to John Irving and Elizabeth Stout; story-wise, there’s a little of Ann Patchett’s Run in this book. Overall, the achingly and lovely last passages of the novel brought tears to my eyes.
June 21st, 2008
It’s been a busy Saturday. I got up early with my RRHB as he went off to work for about the hundredth weekend in a row (save for the last one when we were in NYC), watched Swingtown, which I’m enjoying more each week, ate some yoghurt, and decided it was now or never in terms of the gardening.
Wait. Does everyone know how much I hate gardening?
So it’s me against the weeds that grow in between the gross patio stones on our front yard. The outside of the house will be the last to get fixed up and because I never see it when I’m inside and the renos are making me mental, I don’t usually bother with it. Like, at all. But today I was out there pulling all the weeds out and sweeping. And then I tackled some of the back where our neighbour had planted some vegetables. Seeing as I want to eat the lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes, I thought I had better do some weeding out there too. I lasted about an hour and a half, all tolled. By then I’d had enough.
Back inside to make some toast while I watched the bits of The Departed that I like. At which point I felt guilty for watching TV and started puttering.
Wait. Does everyone know that I love puttering?
I’ve been trying to search down some old writing to see if there’s any value in trying to finish the two serious books I started before the one that’s currently with my editor friend. But since I have only hard copies of everything, and they’re spread from here to who knows where, I went through piles of old writing today. Here are some things I discovered:
1. The clinical “our plan” notes from my shrink when I was bonkers about 10 years ago. They are awesome. From basic things like: “try to eat 3x/ day” to “if feeling very depressed, out of control, suicidal, etc, come to Emergency Department.” Can I just say that about 2 weeks later I took a whole pile of sleeping pills, not to kill myself, but simply because they had stopped working and I wanted nothing more than to sleep. It’s the craziest the prednisone has ever made me. Coupled with my own inner-wackiness, I am lucky to a) have survived and b) to have had a doctor that was kind enough to give me this plan that pretty much saved my sh*t at the time.
2. A note from Deborah who used to run Chicklit.com that says: “I thought you’d toss off a couple of pages, not sweat blood onto paper.” Aw. Oddly, I have no record of what I actually wrote to illicit such a reaction.
3. A really excellent map to my cottage.
4. A recipe for vegan banana blueberry muffins that I will give to Sam for Sadie.
5. “The Night, The Porch” by Mark Strand that contains these lines: “…why even now we seem to be waiting/For something whose appearance would be its vanishing…”
6. The photocopy of a print from Alciato’s Book of Emblems that represents Hope and Nemesis that says the two “are together at the same time upon our altars, clearly that you may not hope for that which is not lawful.”
7. A print-out of this article from the NY Times because it mentions my RRHB. I have to admit, I recycled this — there’s an online archive.
8. The “how to retire rich” article that our old VP from the Evil Empire photocopied and gave to everyone in the department before he set up a meeting with his insurance broker. He was an awesome boss. The article is full of things he’s underlined and notated. I wish I were lying.
9. The YES checklist. A 12-step program for writers and other bits of wisdom for scribes. And a note that Peter Mansbridge was born in Churchill, Manitoba and this quote: “I’ll never lie to you but don’t think that means I’m telling you the truth.” My take-home from a day-long writing seminar.
10. “Art,” Ken Kesey said, “is a lie in the service of the truth.” Don DeLillo: “Every sentence has a truth waiting at the end of it and the writer knows when he finally gets there. On one level the truth is the swing of the sentence, the beat and the poise, but down deeper it’s the integrity of the writer as he matches with the language.”
May 17th, 2008
I’ve been going through old writing today and picking up threads of stories that I had always meant to finish. Just typed an email to a friend saying that now that I’ve finished one book I honestly think that I’ll be able to finish another and another. But perhaps the sunshine and free time are making me a bit euphoric. Here’s an old poem that I’ve been rewriting this afternoon.
He pulls me away, with
a voice that equals your own,
strips you clean,
and leaves me knowing
incomparable middle class suffering.
Stands there with a strength
that comes from foreign places,
with names I can’t countdown,
places in the mine, places
where I have not yet spent time.
The next one had a reedy voice,
shiny shoes, short tie, lively banjo.
I couldn’t get that song out
of my head, enduring
train ride, a long walk, a whistle.
The fitness in his hands,
cracked, scared, calloused,
that when they touched me,
bear me to run away, a place
by the river, sweater that wasn’t mine.
My RRHB is working again today. And I was going to spend today making a list of all the things I wanted to bring to Paris, but I was going to try to pack lightly, a couple of good skirts, a cute dress or two, and that’s about it. That leaves more room in the suitcase for items to bring home. But I haven’t written a stitch since I gave the book to my friend in editorial and I’ve been missing it. Missing the book. Missing the process. But knowing that it’s such a mess and needs some outside help. I think she’s going to try to get it back to me when we’re back from Paris, and then I’ll start rewriting like a mad woman until the end of the summer. That gives me three good months before my next internal deadline: September 1st. Now the question is: what do I write until then?
May 13th, 2008
So, I’ve become mildly obsessed with Twitter. It’s so fun! But it’s also kind of addictive. I absolutely love the little updates. But perhaps because I’m wicked tired today (I haven’t slept since Sunday night) the whole online world is blurring into one giant fuzzy mess.
Baby steps, right? 4 AM came close to breaking my brain in half after many, many hours of reading, drinking tea, reading some more, closing the light, lying there panicked and awake, until I finally decided just to get up. And while I threw up this morning because I was so tired my whole body was upset, I did manage to get the bits of the manuscript revised enough that I’m only mildly embarrassed to give it to my friend in editorial. She’s going to do substantive edits, and then I’m going to rewrite the whole book for the second time. I figure that’ll take me until the end of the summer (if all goes according to plan) and then by the fall I’ll start preparing myself for the rejection that’ll come along with trying to find an agent.
The book is still kind of a mess. There are big problems with it but for now I need someone else’s eyes and mind to look at it as a whole and tell me where to go next. Even now, I’m amazed I’m still typing.
May 7th, 2008
This morning it was impossible to get out of bed. Last night it was impossible to concentrate. If I didn’t know better I’d say I was having a bad disease day, but since the WG is in remission, I can’t blame it. Which is too bad, considering I blame the disease for a lot — like it’s another person living inside of me that I can point a finger at and shout: “This, this is all YOUR fault and what are you going to do about it!”
I’ve been complaining (skip forward those of you who could care less) a lot about being tired. The Super Fancy Disease Doctor has ruled out the disease as the cause. Excellent, yes, but now what? The kidney doctor has always said it’s just a modern-day plague. My family doctor (my my it’s a lot of opinions, isn’t it?) says it’s probably the panic that’s making me feel so tired. Putting your body through all that flight/fight stuff, the pain in my chest, the constant nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach, means that you’re exhausted by the end of each day. And am I ever feeling it this week.
So far this week I’ve managed two pages of edits and with the two-thirds of my manuscript still to go, I’m already a full week past my deadline. But last night I wanted to burn (virtually) the entire project. Don’t worry, I won’t, but the urge to press delete and just get on with my life, accept the fact that I’ll never publish the damn thing, was great. It was either that or quit my job because I certainly can’t do two things at once and this giant split down the centre of my being is perhaps a little overwhelming.
Also, my hip hurts.
Blah complain blah tired blah frustrated blah de freaking blah.
Okay. Now that it’s out of my system maybe I just need to go home and have a nap.
April 30th, 2008
Nada Surf coupled with a decaffeinated latte (it’s all it takes) should keep me awake at least until the end of the workday when I will collapse into a lack-of-sleep lump in front of the television.
My deadline highlights the word “dead” if I keep going at this pace; the panic from knowing that I’m nowhere near finishing my edits and the fact that have trumped the “May 1st” from coast to coast is coming back to haunt me. Four weeks and only 80 pages and I have been working, I have. Tonight is the last night before I give away the book to the three other people in my so-called creative group (which is distinct from my writer’s group in that it includes a supremely talented artist) tomorrow. Commas will be the death of me. So will run on sentences and a change in narrative voice. I want the m/s to hum like the guitar line in “Hi-Speed Soul.” I want my friends to enjoy reading the book as much as I love the drum line in “Slow Nerve Action,” but I’m afraid the book’s more cobbled together at this point than anything else. And staying up until well past the witching hour didn’t help.
It’s hard to shut off your brain once it starts down a creative path that goes something like this:
1. I’ve always hated the title I attached to the book from the beginning. It felt bland and kind of meaningless and I’ve sat through enough publishing-type meetings to know that titles change all the time. Editors change titles too, make suggestions, and often improve what the writer has come up with.
2. Along comes Poetry Month. And catching up with Melanie’s lovely blog where she posted this wicked poem that caught my attention. Hallelujah! A new title is born. And yes, I’ve already phrased my thank you should the book ever, ever be published.
3. But then last night I was reading and rereading the poem and I came upon a whole new structure for the book that will solve all kinds of chronological poems. See, brain, not turning off, and had to crawl out of bed to write it all down. The time I started: 12:30 AM.
4. Also, it’s lovely to welcome someone home that you love, which meant that my schedule for the last week, work, home, cat-tending, quick dinner, editing, ragdoll-tv, was blown away. In a good way, meant that I started working late, ate even later, and went to bed well beyond my normal time. For a girl who has always had trouble sleeping, all that adds up to disaster. Oh, and the organic brownies at 10 PM didn’t help. But they are so good. So good.
5. Fast forward to 2:30 AM and I’m still writing, soundless because I didn’t want to wake up my RRHB who was sleeping in his own bed for the first time in a week. NOTE: the music quest has gone really, really well. So far, I’ve downloaded some Brian Eno that I quite like, added some world music (Ali Farke Toure), and of course, my new obsession, Nada Surf. NOTE REDUX: My RRHB openly mocked the fact that everyone on this earth has heard of this band except me. Keep the suggestions coming, I love them. It’s good to give Wilco a rest every now and again.
6. Now I’m finally back in bed but it’s 3:30 AM, just the time when Willie Pep wakes up and decides it’s time for him to go outside. Walking on my head, walking on my legs, half-settling on my chest, and I’m out of bed again drinking Sleepytime tea and reading Huckleberry Finn.
7. 4 AM looks and sounds an awful lot like the three hours preceding it. Fluffy duvet, warm socks tucked into jogging pants, lots of deep breaths and I fall asleep finally until 6:55 AM. Now, I can barely keep myself propped up on my desk, but the book is definitely better for it.
Gosh, I’ve been making a lot of lists lately. TK momentarily, a review of DeNiro’s Game, which I loved.
April 23rd, 2008
I am dire need of some new music to write to. Does anyone else out there need a writing soundtrack? I feel like I’ve played every song in my iTunes 100 times and I’m still coming up short. April as poetry month is totally inspiring me.
I finally tracked down the folder that had all the drafts of the poems I worked on during the one class I took with Ken Babstock, many of which were on the computer that was stolen from our house two years ago. In my insanity, I had printed many, many of them up many times, so at least I’ve got copies, and I’ve been going through them tonight. A part of me wants to post all of them, just to see which ones are more successful than others, but I’ll exercise restraint and keep going with the poem a day (I missed yesterday, so that’s why there are two posted tonight).
The air’s warm. The candles smell yummy. We ordered pizza for dinner. And I feel like my fingers could go all night. So instead of posting all of my cycle, 12 poems based on each (you guessed it) month in a year, I give you a highly illegal version of a William Carlos Williams poem that knocks me to my knees every single time I read it:
(William Carlos Williams 1883-1963)
Flowers through the window
lavender and yellow
changed by white curtain–
Smell of cleanliness–
Sunshine of late afternoon–
On the glass tray
a glass pitcher, the tumbler
turned down, by which
a key is lying — And the
immaculate white bed.
February 24th, 2008
So, it seems I may have committed myself to a completely and utterly undoable goal of having a finished draft of the book (see, see how I’m actually calling it a book instead of a long story) finished by May 1st. Having successfully surrounded myself not only with books, but with other writers, we all seem to be egging each other on in all the good ways. I’m still not convinced that I’ll ever finish, but it’s nice to not be alone, if that makes any sense at all.
The candle is lit. The email is all caught up. There’s t-minus a couple hours until the Oscars. My RRHB has done all the laundry. I had brunch with one of my oldest friends who has just become engaged. I’ve obsessed over a certain something. Repeated”The King of Carrot Flowers” about sixteen times. This lead to a little dancing around my writing room. And read two stories in My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, one of which contained this quote from Chekhov:
Repeated experience, and bitter experience indeed, had long since taught him that every intimacy, which in the beginning lends life such pleasant diversity and presents itself as a nice and light adventure, inevitably, with decent people — especially irresolute Muscovites, who are slow starters — grows into a major task, extremely complicated, and the situation finally becomes burdensome.
Perhaps it’s time to start?
October 9th, 2007
What a boring title. But what an exciting class. After working so hard on my own with Humber last year, I’m kind of excited to get back into a classroom scenario this fall with my Novel Writing Master Class through the University of Toronto. It’s a shame that I can’t find enough inspiration to work on my own but find that the structure of a class really helps in terms of deadlines and actually getting things done.
(Case in point was this weekend where we spent all weekend lounged on the couch [with the exception of hospital visits and Thanksgiving turkey and a quick jaunt to the Farmer’s Market] watching movies, TV, and HBO-Showtime dramas).
Anyway, David Gilmour is our teacher, and judging from the first class, he’ll be using the same teaching techniques with us as he did with his own son. I was really impressed with the first class and was even inspired to write a truly terrible first draft of a short story (Gilmour has 4 rules; one of which is to allow yourself the latitude to write very badly) that I shared with a couple friends last week.
Even though I won’t get to workshop as much of the book as I did at Humber, but I’m really looking forward to getting a group’s feedback about the story.