Posted by: oneyearbook | December 8, 2009

Getting it done

I can’t decide if this article (on CNN.com, but apparently brought over from Oprah.com) is depressing or inspirational. I knew (in fact, I talked about it a few posts ago, I think) that it took Junot Diaz a long time to write Oscar Wao. And I knew that he threw out a lot of pages along the way. But in the article he goes further into that process, and it sounds like writing that novel pretty much ripped his life apart. Sure, he went on to win the Pulitzer (and the Rooster, yay) – but in the meantime he spent almost a decade hating everything he did and tearing his hair out about it. Depressing. But inspiring, I guess, in that he eventually overcame.

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Posted by: oneyearbook | November 30, 2009

Map

This one was in my Dad's collection

This one was in my Dad's collection

When I was a child I particularly liked my father’s collection of high fantasy novels – Terry Brooks and David Eddings paperbacks, mostly – which were to be found about the house on various shelves. I liked them, not because I wanted to read them (though when I was a little older I would go and read them) but because of their covers – bright colours, wonderful creatures – and their maps. I really liked to pour over the maps in his fantasy books. Amusingly this is one of the reasons he likes them as well, and has been heard to say a few times that he really only likes books that have a map at the beginning. (To be fair, he also likes Pride and Prejudice, which has no map at all. But probably he thinks it would be improved by a map.)

Anyway when I was about twelve I had a period where I was obsessed with drawing maps of fantasy kingdoms. I loved making those crazy coastlines and inserting ruined temples and thick choking jungles and impenetrable mountain ranges. As an offshoot of that I wrote the beginnings of some pretty bad fantasy novels; and then I gave up on both the novels and the map-drawing. I never gave up on reading books with maps, though. I still like it when they have a map.

All this in lead up to say, I have drawn a map of the imaginary-but-grounded-in-reality island on which my novel takes place. I didn’t do this with the intention that it actually be in the finished book – though my dad might argue for its inclusion – but rather for personal reference, so I’d know how far people were going on certain journeys and what geographic relationship various people’s homes had to each other. And now I’m going to share it with you. Enjoy, map-lovers!

Map of Salishan Island

Map of Salishan Island

 

Posted by: oneyearbook | November 29, 2009

How to

So I’m a bit behind on this – this article has been making the rounds of the Internet in a flurry for the last couple weeks – but I just got around to reading it recently so it’s still fresh for me.

I really like reading about how writers do what they do; my favorite part of short story anthologies is the bit in the back where the writers talk about the process for that particular story. (And if anthologies don’t have that it makes me sad.) So the article’s like that times a whole career instead of just one story which is fun.

Highlights:

Idiosyncratic methods – Nicholson Baker has a series of highly entertaining methods for writing: first he’s talking into a voice recorder, then he’s growing a beard and videotaping himself rambling for 40 hours. I like this sort of dedication to finding a unique process. I also like his beard. Richard Powers writes while lying down and talking into voice recognition software. John Wray wrote Lowboy while riding the subway in New York constantly. Perhaps I should get into my island setting by riding the ferry? Too similar? Maybe I should write out in the woods, or in a farm field, or a barn. A barn actually doesn’t sound too bad. One of my characters lives in a barn.

Surprising number of people – Orhan Pamuk, Kazuo Ishiguro, Michael Ondaatje, Dan Chaon, Amitav Gosh, Russell Banks, Edwidge Danticat – were specifically described as writing first drafts by hand. Is it meaningful that they are almost all men? Only Danticat among the women that I noted mentioned longhand writing. I tried writing by hand the other day. I went to the library, which has no plug for my laptop. I wrote about four sentences, realized that I couldn’t really read what a couple of the words said, and went home again. Anyone who’s ever seen my handwriting knows why serious longhand writing would be a disaster for me. As a reporter I always had to transcribe my interviews immediately or risk losing 50 per cent of the words.

Failures: lots of talk about failure, about manuscripts that didn’t work. Kate Christensen has apparently had to throw out whole drafts of four novels; Margaret Atwood has abandoned two books partway in; Junot Diaz threw out 600 pages of Oscar Wao before really getting going. This makes me feel better.

Dan Chaon says: “I used to think my average as a short story writer was one completed story out of every 20.” This, also, makes me feel better.

What will I say if I am ever famous and asked to contribute to one of these? Unfortunately I think my methods, which involve sitting in a chair with a laptop computer, do not make for entertaining reading. Maybe I will make something up and pretend that I write in a zero-gravity chamber or something.

Posted by: oneyearbook | November 25, 2009

Winners

Well, my guess about Annabel Lyon winning the Giller didn’t come true – but she did manage to avoid the “curse of threes,” winning the third of the major Canadian fiction awards she was shortlisted for (the Rogers’ Writers Trust Fiction Prize, which was given out last night.)

Also at that link, news that UVic creative writing MFA student Yasuko Thanh won the Journey Prize, a $10,000 Canadian short story prize, for a story called “Floating Like the Dead.” Congratulations to her – and to UVic, which as the newest MFA program in Canada, will probably benefit from the exposure.

Posted by: oneyearbook | November 21, 2009

Come to life

Weird thing happened today with the writing. I was working on a fairly pivotal scene that happens to take place on the shore of a pond. I have written, in the past, three scenes that take place at this location, although I don’t think all of them are going to be retained when I finalize a first draft. But anyway – in a writing sense, at least – I have been there a number of times.

So today while writing I was trying to think of new things about the setting that hadn’t been described yet, and I thought to myself, well, I can’t think of any so maybe I should just go down there and take a look, maybe some photos. This was followed by a very long moment in which I tried to place the pond in the actual geography of the area that I live; found that I couldn’t; and realized that I had somehow come to completely believe that this spot, invented by me, actually existed.

Ack! The book is coming to life! Or am I being sucked into it! One or the other. Soon I will be found to believe that my characters are real people, and have to be stopped from calling them up on the telephone for a quick chat.

Posted by: oneyearbook | November 20, 2009

That’s a relief

Today Bookninja pointed me over to Peter Darbyshire, who had selected the following quote out of a Wall Street Journal interview with Cormac McCarthy:

“I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.”

Hmm, yes, well … actually, Cormac, that inspires me all the more to write shorts. I’ll keep those years and my will to live, thanks.

Posted by: oneyearbook | November 19, 2009

In which I ruminate about baking and writing

My Bread

My Bread

These here (in the photo) are slices from the first official loaf of bread I have ever made. It is 100% whole wheat, I got the recipe off the back of the whole wheat flour bag, and it’s … well, kind of dense, actually, quite chewy, but flavourably satisfying. Making it was harder than I expected – the dough required a huge amount of kneading, and when my hands got tired after ten minutes I switched to pummeling it with my elbows, like a sort of deep-tissue massage.

Now, this is not to say that I’ve never made a bread product before – I’ve made focaccia many times before (and it’s really good) and I make a mean pizza dough. It’s fantastic. Thin crust, 25% whole wheat, great flavour and crunch, stands up well to the ingredients, etc. The first time I made those two, they didn’t turn out perfectly – yet now, I find them quite easy.  I can only imagine making loaves will get easier, and tastier, with repeated attempts.

Yes, my friends, you have found the first of my baking/writing metaphor crossovers – the more you do it, the easier it should theoretically get. And yet! I have heard that even on their fifth or fifteenth book, writers are often faced with the feeling that they have absolutely no idea what to do and should probably not have become writers in the first place. I imagine this not true of bakers. I hope it is not, for the sake of bakers, because they bake a lot more loaves than any writer writes books. (Except James Patterson. He’s got the writing equivalent of a stand mixer, or maybe even a bread machine, at home to help him pump them out.)

Also problematic: baking provides us with both a recipe and (via the grocery store) the basic ingredients. With writing I’ve got to grow everything from scratch, and then mill the wheat, and then come up with a recipe that I think will form up under heat. Complicated!

But it does give me an idea for a product:

$9.95 for a package

$9.95 for a package

Posted by: oneyearbook | November 13, 2009

Shorts

Apparently, short stories are coming into fashion right now, so I guess my plan to really educate myself about the form comes at the right time. I have pledged to read two short stories a day for the foreseeable future, and hopefully this will fill the rather glaring gap in my reading education. (If you had asked me to name a good short story last year I’m not sure I would have been able to come up with anything. Oh, maybe “The Lottery,” which is pretty famous, and which I have, in fact, read.)

I already have a number of short story collections on my shelf that I’ve never gotten around to, and I’m tackling those first (along with some that are available on the Internet), but there are reserves on at the library, yes there are. Why have I made this pledge, you ask? Because I cannot write short stories without reading them. If I have not read them I will not know how they work, or how they can work and how they have worked. Apparently I am going to write some short stories, which previously I had claimed I would not.

This week I wrote the first draft of another one, in fact. And it was in the first person! Hallelujah. Good job, short stories. Good job.

Posted by: oneyearbook | November 10, 2009

Giller prediction

When the shortlist first came out I tweeted that I was throwing my predictive weight behind Annabel Lyon’s The Golden Mean. It was an uneducated guess. Apparently indie booksellers think she should win, but that she probably won’t.

Well, the announcement is tomorrow, and I’m going to stick with my initial, uneducated opinion. For one thing, I read a lovely article in which Lyon talked about writing the book (over the course of eight years) at the New Westminster Public Library. I used to live in New West, and my mother used to work at NWPL, and for a while as a child I went there every day after school and sat reading, waiting for her to finish work for the day. My unnatural attachment to libraries dates from that time, I think. (As does my inability to remember that libraries charge fines.) So I feel good knowing that someone wrote a great novel in that library. And so I support it to win the Giller.

Plus she has as blog!

And seems like a very down-to-earth sort of person in this article. These are the sorts of things that help me make my predictions.

Posted by: oneyearbook | November 7, 2009

Noted

I love the concept in this post at MFA Confidential. I love the suggestion (which she’s quoting from Carolyn See) of writing and sending admiring letters, which she calls “charming notes,” to people in the literary industry. Perhaps not every day – I feel like word would get around that you were writing everyone and their dog, you know, especially in this day and age of Twitter and blogs – but maybe choosing a few from each category (authors, agents, editors, so on) and writing to compliment them.

Kate says that it worked out well for her: authors liked being told that people enjoyed their work. One of them, she says, even agreed to read a story of hers. Of course she also mentions the crippling fear that can come over a wannabe writer when meeting someone they’ve always admired, and how awkward those situations can be. When we were at Audrey Niffenegger at the VIWF Katy and I went up together because it seemed easier, because we weren’t sure what to say to her. Then in the end I blabbered out a whole story about how reading The Night Bookmobile (it’s a comic she wrote for the Guardian – I recommend it, you can read the whole thing at that link) made me sad because it’s kind of sad story about librarians and my mother is a librarian, and then I pointed at my mother, who was hanging back in a corner and didn’t know what I was saying about her, and I thought, huh, I should shut my trap. But Audrey just said, “Oh, I’m thinking of writing a sequel to that, it’ll probably be more upbeat,” and all’s well that ends well.

I did have a bad experience with a fav author at a reading/signing event once, though. I don’t blame the author in question for this (I won’t name him, though); it was more a case of my inflating what possible relationship one could have with an author during a two-second signing of a book. I had carried one of this author’s books around a foreign country for almost a year because that book had made me want to go to the country, pretty much, especially to the part of it I ended up spending a lot of time in. So I had that copy of the book with me and while he was signing it I was telling that story. He said something short, the equivalent of “that’s nice,” and turned back to talking to one of the other authors signing at the table beside him. For a bit I was upset about this but then I realized: people must come up and tell him stories all the time, and if he made the effort to engage in a long discussion with each of them, the signing would never be done.

But on the other hand the only time I’ve done something like the “charming notes” it turned out quite well: I emailed Michael Chabon after Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay came out (but before he won the Pulitzer) and told him how much I admired it. I mentioned in the email that I was a big fan of Vladimir Nabokov and essentially implied that I thought Chabon had the ability to come close to Nabokovian heights. He wrote back, quickly, to thank me for my email and to say that he, too, loves Nabokov and that he didn’t think he could be reached. Or something like that – for the longest time I had a print-out of the email in the book but now I’ve gone to look for it and not only can I not find the email but I can’t find the book. Highly irritating. Perhaps it’s a sign: time to write more notes.

 

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