Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Met, the Plaza, Assouline and Andrew Kaufman

In New York last week, I went to the Met, where one cannot photograph the art, but can photograph the blossoms and the ceiling.

It was mainly a business trip, but when one has been doing the same job as long as I have, business and pleasure become irretrievably mingled. I visited my friend Helen at the Assouline bookstore in the Plaza Hotel, which is one of those places where culture and myth and aspiration and art all collide in alchemical perfection. We had a glass of wine and talked about A.S. Byatt and watched the carriages on the southern edge of Central Park. I wanted to buy an ostrich egg, or a bronze bust.

When I came home, I went to hear Andrew Kaufman interviewed about his second novel, The Waterproof Bible. We're friends; I've had the pleasure of hearing about this novel before; but it's quite different now that the novel is an object, a thing that exists on its own independent of Andrew's creative mind or the kind of conversation that happens between writers.

One thing that struck me is that Andrew now knows the theme of this novel, in a way that I don't think he did when he began it. I might be projecting; I know I certainly had no idea what the theme of Cossack's Kin would be when I began it. I don't think that way, and I don't think many of my writer friends think that way. Anyway--that's a post for another day. The important thing is that Andrew was funny and awesome, and his book is funny and awesome, and you should go read it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

After the Deathmarch

This is the third time I've finished a novel.

The first one, you'll never see... I was fourteen when I finished it, and it was full of horrors. I had recently watched Romancing the Stone and I remember loving the opening scene in which the writer finishes a book and pours herself a celebratory drink. Since my parents weren't drinkers and I was a kid, all I could find to drink was a decade-old bottle of cheap cherry brandy from the cooking cupboard. It was vile, and perfect.

The second novel is the Dickensian Fantasy for which this blog is named. It's not finished any more--it's back in the shop for a major adjustment--but the night I completed it was a momentous one. I finished late on a Saturday evening, and two very kind friends took me out for a burger, and after they went to bed I spent at least two hours wandering the city alone and wide-eyed.

The third, the just-completed Cossack's Kin, was a bit of a grind at the end--I found myself getting mired in the difficult emotional territory my characters inhabited, and by the time I wrote the last words, I was thoroughly glad to see the ass-end of it. My husband and I ordered Thai food at midnight and fell asleep watching Mobile Suit Gundam.

The common threads of these experiences: I usually seem to finish in the late evening, because I can't stand to leave the end for the next day when I know I'm close. I find I get so wound up that I don't eat, which is counterproductive, as I lose focus and get unhappy when my blood sugar is low; but just try getting me to behave like a sensible adult when I'm in the middle of a key scene.

The fun thing, though, which I'm remembering today: I always have the next project waiting in the wings, and I start to work on it right away. It's symbolic--the finished novel is no longer the favoured child. It's going to make its way in the world now, while I turn my attention to its younger sibling.

In this case, it's Oracle of the Dashboard, and I spent yesterday buying its working music (Wilco, Aimee Mann, Neko Case) and replenishing all the calories I didn't take in earlier in the week. Today I've got fresh coffee and Bosc pears and three kinds of cheese, and I plan to make a beginning.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Novel Deathmarch, Day V: which is the last day

Number of words: ~5000.

Distance to finish line: Nothing. That's right. Toodle-oo, bitches! All done!

Favourite sentence: "Maksim watched the bright light dawning over the aerodrome, and sat very still until the flight was called."

Why it's my favourite: because it's the LAST one, damn it.

Total length of book: ~60,000 words. Short-ish, especially compared to the last one. It will probably get a bit longer with revisions.

Number of hours at the keyboard today: 13

Ibuprofens: 2

Coffees: 2

Sustenance: bread.

Workouts: climbing last night, and I was so shattered that my hands couldn't hold my water bottle. Even an hour later they couldn't hold my beer. Fortunately they were recovered by today, enough to be able to type.

Pretty things: being done.

Maybe later I'll wank about this some more, post my final chapter playlist and expose all the stupid workings of my recalcitrant brain, but for now, I'm so damned tired. And hungry. And... thirsty :)

Novel Deathmarch, Day IV

Number of words Thursday: 5000

Favourite sentence: "She wasn't my girlfriend," Gus said, hanging on to the doorframe.

Pretty things: Stella's hair, jasmine, church windows

Horrible things: a hot plate mounded with melted plastic and scorched food

Distance from finish line: ~10,000 words?

Cups of coffee: 3

End-of-day rewards: dinner at Czehoski, but I was too keyed up to eat much

Last night's dream: a day which began with a full-colour premonition that I was going to lose my eye to shrapnel from a bomb blast. The day included multiple bomb scares, each one causing me to wonder if my premonition was about to come true. It ended with a walk past a swimming pool which contained an enormous unexploded shell, which was clearly about to explode and obviously, finally, take out my eye. Fortunately, this finally gave me enough of a jolt to wake me up.

Grateful feelings: your husband listens while you discuss, at great length, the scenes you've written that day; your writer friend texts you a reminder to turn off your internet connection and get cracking.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Novel Marathon, Day III

Number of words last Friday: 2500

Favourite sentence: "They'd even started to fight like sisters."

Pretty things: alstromeria, a bowl of pomegranates

Horrible things: pepper spray

Distance from finish line: not quite sure, but at least it's not 20,000 words any more

Cups of coffee: 2

Workouts: 1/2 hour of curls, pushups, and not-quite-chinups

End-of-day rewards: Beast, at the Horseshoe, and it was indeed rewarding.

Sinking feelings: once again you've walked into your own drama, and all the lovely distractions in the world won't help you get to the end of it. Nothing for it but to put on that song that always makes you shudder, and think about the year of the dragonfly.

Grateful feelings: your husband comes home from work and washes the dishes so that you can keep working. That's love. Thanks, babe.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Novel Marathon, Day II

Number of words yesterday: 5500

Favourite sentence: "In the hour of the hag, she woke."

Pretty things: a froth of blossoming vines; a former lover in South Africa; aubergines

Horrible things: thumb + exacto blade; a mummified baby found in a mass grave in Greenland

Contribution by Famous & Important Canadian Writer encountered in coffee shop: "green plastic Easter grass"

Contribution I made to Famous Writer's short story, in exchange: correct spellings of "transcendent" and "its"

Distance from finish line: still 20,000 words (it's a moving target)

Cups of coffee: 3

Workouts: 0 (boo--lazy)

End-of-day rewards: Zombieland, Rueda, new Clutch album, cocoa-chili pasta with sweet potatoes, zucchini, corn, tomatoes, leeks and toasted pepitas (because my genius burns through carbs like nobody's business)

Today's Agenda:
  • Chin-ups, push-ups and curls (1/2 hour)
  • Water plants (10 min)
  • 6000 words (12 hours)