Something I've been thinking a lot about lately turned into something I wrote about. You can read it over on Medium - There is a boat. (And if you do like it, share it and please hit the heart button under the piece to recommend it! Every heart helps.)
Over on the great website 49thshelf.com, my novel was named Can't Miss CanLit and my writing compared to Alice Munro. Sheesh! So happy to share the list with other amazing Canadian writers. Go ahead and root for the underdog, we deserve a few cheers. Check it out:
Hey, I'm back with something to say and it hasn't been six months since the last time! That must mean that I have more time than I know what to do with. Or it means that one of my kids is sick and I didn't get dressed today and I'm spending that extra fifteen minutes here.
Things are going pretty well with the second novel. I am finding it surprisingly easy to rack up a good word count every day. It feels weird, actually. Maybe it's because it's been a long time since I wrote novel-length and I'm not fussing (as much) over every word like I do with short stuff? Or maybe it's because it's a first draft and I'm not worrying about the details as much as I do during other drafting rounds? Or maybe it's because I'm writing with a solid scene-by-scene outline this time, an actual map of where I want to go and how to get there, unlike last time when writing my novel felt like Emile Hirsch looked when he acted his final scene as Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild? Or maybe I'm just writing easy sentimental garbage. In any case, I'll find out sooner than I was expecting to because at this pace, I'll be done my first draft in a few months.
I haven't been posting here with any regularity because it's always the last thing I turn my writing attention to in a day and lately my days are filled with novel 2.0 and short stories (and it all has to happen in the two hour window of baby nap). I am happy to report that the novel is actually progressing and two stories are done and submitted. Hopefully, in six months to a year I will have good news to tell you about them! Anyway, just wanted to say that the blog is still banging on, just not with any semblance of a rhythm. As a bonus for checking in, here's a quick list of books I've really enjoyed reading in the past year, in no order at all. If you've read any of these, please share your thoughts, good or bad (bad is always more interesting!).
A short little piece I wrote many many months ago, about the heaviness at the end of love, is up at Flash Fiction Magazine. Check it out if you have two minutes to spare!
A number of years ago, I read a book by a writer about writing and the gist of one of the chapters was that if you were not compelled to write every day, then you weren't really a writer. I accepted this as truth, probably because I was at an impressionable age, and also because the romanticism of the idea appealed to me. Thereafter, every day when I didn't or couldn't write made me feel like I was just a literary pretender. I still feel it. Whenever people ask me how my second book is going, and I have to admit that it isn't really, not since before the littlest was born, I feel like such a hobbyist.
I have good intentions. Each morning I really do believe that I'll be able to sit down for an hour at least and get some writing work done. And by the time 9 pm rolls around and I still haven't spent any time writing, all I want to do is drink my glass of wine and fall asleep. Someone once suggested I wake up at 4:30 in the morning and work for a couple of hours before the kids get up. And that was such a genius plan. All the way up until the alarm went off. Obviously, I have to get real. I am not going to have a regular productive hour to myself every day, not if I also want to be any good at keeping my kids healthy, safe and entertained.
Does that make me a fake writer? I don't think so. I think it makes me a writer who, like so many other writers trying to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables, has another job that eats up most of my daytime hours. Whoever wrote that chapter about real writers having to write every day must have been a very well-paid professional.* But, if I don't ever write, then nothing gets written. (I don't have the square footage for infinite monkeys or typewriters, after all.) So, how to go about writing this second book?
If you came here looking for some revolutionary new writing technique, I am about to disappoint you. This is the incredibly mundane answer I've come up with: Open the W.I.P. file. every morning. Whenever a few moments are available, work on getting down one pretty good sentence. That seems like something I can accomplish. And now, when somebody asks how things are going with the second book I can at least say, "Slowly."
*Unfortunately I can't remember who wrote it, or from what book.
I read an article a few months ago with the very best title: Stop Using Poet Voice. It's a must-read for anyone who's ever been to a literary reading or had the intention of participating in one. If you don't know what Poet Voice is, be very glad, and then read this description from the article.
“Poet Voice,” is the pejorative, informal name given to this soft, airy reading style that many poets use for reasons that are unclear. The voice flattens the musicality and tonal drama inherent within the language of the poem and it also sounds overly stuffy and learned. In this way, Poet Voice does a disservice to the poem, the poet and poetry. It must be stopped.
And it's not just poets that read their work like this. Poet Voice is everywhere. I attended a reading a few years back with a panel of authors, one a well-known Canadian fiction writer, the second, a British writer of historical romance, and the third, another Canadian writer whose book was about dissociative identity disorder. Obviously, they presented a range of material (a traumatic stillbirth, a getaway on horseback, a dialogue between the main character's ego personality and one of the alters) but they all read their chosen passages in an exceedingly slow, very nearly monotone. I understand the motivation. We all want to be taken seriously and Poet Voice does sound deadly serious, but it's also incredibly boring and makes us all sound pompous.
But here's the thing. I'm going to read publicly from Fathom Lines at the end of October and I, like so many others, am slightly uncomfortable with the sound of my voice. Obviously, I'll be recording myself a lot in the weeks to come, because I'm a nerd, and to ensure I'm not even close to doing Poet Voice. But give me some advice. I know there are actors and teachers and singers who read this blog occasionally--all of you have normalized the way you use your voice in public. Any tips? My writer buddy Emily suggests that I not use different voices when I do dialogue bits. Hahaha! She's obviously been to some more entertaining readings than I have!
This is funny and kind of related: Nina Millin does a dramatic monologue of Beyonce's Single Ladies. Enjoy!
Word On The Street happened yesterday at Harbourfront. Book lovers came from all around for the bargains, the signed copies, the readings, the chance for one last sunburn before we all head back to our hidey-holes with our book stashes to wait out the interminable winter. It was a fun day by the lake, and even though there were kinks with the new location, all the sailboats made up for them.
(Can I also say how nice it was to be on the other side of the table this year? Being an exhibitor last year was a great experience, and I did sell a decent amount of books, but elevator-pitching is not my favourite, and WOTS 2014 was like the Groundhog Day of elevator pitches for me. It didn't help either that my table-mate was a writer of vampire fantasy with an entourage who kept bullying in on my 36" of table space. H.E.Double Hockey Sticks.)
With Word On The Street's new location came a new feature, a collaboration between sculptors and writers called Sculpting New Reads. Word On The Street challenged four artists "to create a new art installation inspired by the themes of their [assigned] book, using the festival site to engage audiences." (For a great rundown on one of the pieces that was part of this installation, check out my good pal Emily's post Words (and giant pipes) on the street)
I don't know what the other presentations were like, but the one I saw (Newberry/deWitt) needed a facilitator, someone to ask really great questions and get the creatives talking about their work and how artists inspire one another. During the very brief chat following the unveiling of Newberry's Giant Pipe, Patrick deWitt mentioned that the classic fairytales and oral lore of Eastern and Central Europe inspired his new novel Undermajordomo Minor. And nobody was prepared or brave enough to pick up and riff on that idea, to say "Yes! Writers inspire writers, and stories inspire other stories, but can you think of a time when you were influenced by another art form? What about music, visual art, dance?
As a poor substitute to knowing what deWitt's answer might be, I give you mine, and ask yours in return. Nine years ago, I wrote a whole series of poems about VanGogh's Cafe Terrace At Night that thankfully never saw the light of day. (They are so so bad.) My short story Riesenrad is a slightly more successful example. The narrator is loosely based on the woman that Joni Mitchell sings about in The Cactus Tree.
Now your turn. If you've never acted on the inspiration, that's fine too--has the work of someone else ever made you want to write a novel/break out the paints/tour jeté down the hall? And, if you're interested in this kind of thing, check out a great essay by Andrew O'Hagan, Writers in love with other art forms, or just ponder this little snippet:
Half the job of a working writer is to seek and maintain his own affinities. You’ve got to know where to lay your empathy and why. And you’ve got to know how to recognise the kind of material that releases your imagination. You don’t always find those things in other novelists: often, indeed, it will be the artist in the next field, the craftsman, the expert, the sportsman, the hero in another line, who will pump fresh air into the recesses of your talent.
So I'm working on a new short story. The second novel is taking a back seat to other things in life. With three kids, let's be honest, the second novel is in the trailer for now. It should be thankful it made it in, this blog apparently, got left on the side of the road!
Anyway, I need to write every once in a while to keep my writing wits about me, to make sure I know more words than "Stop fighting you guys!" and I'm finding it easier to put down a couple hundred words of a short story every few days, rather than a couple hundred words of a novel, I guess because it's nice to feel like I'm making some kind of progress. And, so far, I'm happy with the progress and the writing. The idea for the story came to me a few weeks ago and I've had no trouble (yet) getting pretty decent stuff on paper. I'm almost halfway through. The problem I have is this: some of what I'm writing comes from pretty real life stuff, and I don't mean the news.
I won't play coy like some writers do. I most definitely have put a real person into my writing. More than once. My grandma is a pretty major character in Fathom Lines--names changed/artistic license and all that. She might not have recognized herself, but the way I knew her, my essence of her, it's there. I never worried about her reaction because I knew she'd never read it (I wasn't playing the odds -- she actually told me that she'd never read it.)
This time, it's not a real person that I'm putting into this short story, it's a real situation, and I'm not sure how much of it is my story to tell.
I know I'm being very vague. That's basically all discussions had with a writer about their work ever. Sorry. The best I can do is if you think about it like this: if my story is about a boxing match, I wasn't throwing the punches, but I was close enough to get blood on my shirt. And I don't want to write the eyewitness account. I want to write it like I was in the ring. What do you think? Write it anyway? Scrap it? Write it and hide it in a drawer?
So, I went to visit my book at one of its four homes, at what some might say is its best address, (22 Yorkville, donchaknow) and I found it in a display devoted to Canadian authors. Here it is:
Hey - there's that distinctive turquoise spine! Let's go in for a closer look:
That, up there? That's just a picture of my dream come true! I'm the meat/meat alternative in a Davies-Munro sandwich! Oh, and there's two more favourites, Annabel by Kathleen Winter and Life Before Man by Margaret Atwood!
As if there was any doubt, here's how I left things:
And no, Padma Viswanathan, I've decided that I don't feel bad about stealing your spotlight.* You found a publisher that wanted to print your book in hardcover and you were shortlisted for the Giller.
*That's a lie though. I kind of do feel bad. We're sort of sharing the spotlight though, right? See how I left your book out there?
William Patterson U's literary journal published their online version of Issue 7, titled incidental and a story of mine is included. Here's a pretty good example of how long this writing/publishing thing can sometimes take. I wrote Riesenrad about five years ago, and it got rejected pretty widely about four and a half years ago. So, I put it in the folder marked like this-
( sad face file)
-with all the other stories that nobody loved. Every now and then, I'd take it out, read it, and depending on my mood, I'd either work on it or feel like a total loser-failure for writing such a crap story. Then, late last spring, on some kind of high of self-confidence, I put the newly edited piece into another round of submissions. It was rejected some more and then accepted last fall by William Patterson's Map Literary. Five years this story has been around! And you'd think, that after that many years, it could be a whole novel by now, but no, It's just a short little story about a bad trip (not the drug variety) and a few other sad things. So, check it out at Map Literary if you have ten minutes or so.
Someone has agreed to publish a short-story of mine! The literary journal Map Literary has accepted a story I wrote called Riesenrad. When I find out publication details, I will let you know. In the meantime, you can follow them on Facebook here. They're affiliated with a university in New Jersey ... and lest you think New Jersey doesn't know from literary culture, take a look at this list of great writers who call(ed) the state their home:
William Carlos Williams
James Fenimore Cooper
Yeah for New Jersey!
Unfortunately, in the past four months, I've read a lot of less-than-great-to-me books. (David Mitchell's latest, Bone Clocks, was a .... trip. One that started off really well, but halfway through the journey I kind of just wanted to go home. Boohoo. I was really anticipating a best-of-the-year read.) So, these were the very refreshing stand-outs.
What about you? What have you been reading and loving (or not) lately?
Erin Bedford, writer.