I’ve been working on a new project lately. I say new, but what I mean is old. With a new twist. In 2007 I wrote a short novel called Sebastian’s Poet. I have to be honest, I’m dead critical of all my writing. I don’t usually see good in my words. And when I do, I immediately begin to feel guilty about it. And then Sebastian’s Poet happened.
I wrote SP during my first Muskoka Novel Marathon. I did the 48 hour session that year, and it totally emotionally exhausted me. I LIVED that story as I wrote it. It was pure catharsis. As I wrote down the entire last chapter, I was holding back tears…and occasionally wiping them. That chapter was very lively with celebration. My main character, Sebastian (Sebby) was just home from France with his new caregiver, Teal. Teal was taking to the stage with Gordon Lightfoot and the crowd was going crazy. That chapter was the sweet sigh after my denouement. It made me feel higher than a kite in autumn.
I can’t tell you how many times I went back to SP to try to expand upon it. It was only 42K words when done. I loved it, but I tried extremely hard to find a good home for it. To no avail. Having had other successes that I didn’t believe in as much as I believe in SP, I never really understood how this one kept getting rejected.
Well, then I went toAfrica. Kenya, to be exact. The second I touched down inNairobi, a kernel of an idea came to me. I thought, “Teal is here.” And that feeling never truly left me. As a writer, you have to listen to those urges and feelings that speak to you. Well, I do, anyway. I can’t ignore the voices in my head. And the loudest one was telling me Teal came to Africa…to die.
Teal Landen was my main character’s idol and, eventually, caregiver. The story was set in the Beaches district of Toronto in the 70s-80s. But my mind kept telling me there was something missing. Then it hit me, the story begins inAfrica…in 2009. Teal is escaping the limelight to deal with cancer…and the uncertain future before him. But not only does he escape the limelight, he hides away from Sebby and his brother Renee. And that’s where I get to find out what kind of adults Sebby and Renee eventually became. I have them tracking Teal to a tiny little island off the coast ofKenya. Lamu…the place I fell so in love with, I had its coordinates tattooed on my back. (-:
Writers have to pay attention. When they travel, they need to listen to the places that speak to them. I’ve been to other places, but none have screamed that they wanted to become a part of my fictional world likeKenyahas. So, I went back toAfrica…in my imagination. I placed three of my all-time favourite characters of my own fiction into the beautiful setting I fell in love with. Teal disappeared off the face of the earth and my boys set out to bring him home.
Use what you have. And when you’re finished with it, use it again. There is a whole universe in our memories. The places we’ve been, the people we’ve met, the events we’ve witnessed. Everything is up for grabs. Nothing is sacred. I knew, as soon as my feet touched the tarmac in Nairobi, I would return to Kenya. I knew it would become a setting for my future fiction, and I knew I would one day return in person. It’s in my heart. And now, it holds a place in Sebby’s heart too. And I have Teal to thank for that. He spoke to me in that deep burned out folksinger’s voice of his. As I was staring in wild wonder at my new surroundings, jet-lagged and nervous, I heard him say, “I’ve come back to Africa!” And being his creator, I had to make it so. I had to listen until he told me what happened to him in that land. And when I listened, it just all fell into place. Sebastian’s Poet wasn’t finished yet.
I love this post Kevin. I’ve always believed that one of the most important things a writer can do (besides reading) is travel. This is a fascinating tale to me – of knowing something needed more, and waiting in that state of openness for the “more” to develop.
Thanks for sharing your process in this. (Love the pictures too!)
Thanks so much, Sue!