The Things Writers Do To Themselves – Or, That Day I Didn’t Actually Finish My Manuscript

 

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A motley crew of rebel rousers also known as writers and their friends. Find us at a restaurant near you. But only if you want noisy atmosphere you cannot escape even if you try…

A 3-Day Diary of a Writer Once in Stasis

(Before I proceed, just so we’re all on the same page, the Merriam-Webster definition of stasis— “a state or condition in which things do not change, move, or progress“. So, that is where I stood as a writer prior to July and between July end and September end.)

Day 1 – Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

106 days after coming up with a shadowy wisp of an idea for my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel, I typed the words THE END on the last page of the manuscript. Then I quietly celebrated the moment by being silent and allowing this icy cold feeling to course through me and send a chill or two up my spine. That feeling was the climbing-out-of-my-skin motion made by the make-believe souls of my characters leaving the body they had possessed while I wrote. And in their absence, as usual, I was left feeling glum. Not good enough. Lonely. Why did they leave me? I didn’t even think the story was finished yet. Even as Finn’s omniscient narrator wrapped up the telling of the story, I wanted to scream, “NO! NOT YET! THEY HAVEN’T DONE THIS! THEY HAVEN’T DONE THAT!” But once the wheels of the bus start to roll, there really is no controlling it. The trajectory is a surprise only the vast nothingness from which the story arrives knows. At least in my case, where I outline and plan exactly NOTHING. Sure, I will have discussions about what I think will happen next, or things that will take place in a vague as-yet-unwritten future of the story. But they don’t always take place. And then, when I type those solemn door-slamming words THE END at the bottom of the manuscript, I know the rest of the story that I envisioned will never take place. And that makes me even sadder than I was when I realized I had hit the end. After the words have been struck and they glow there like doombabies at the bottom of the screen, you know you can’t fight your way past them. But you also get to see the world of your characters stretch out beyond those words of death. THE END. It is never the end. The unwritten scenes that you toyed around with, spoke of, discussed…they’re still there. They are ghosts forever hanging off the precipice of those two little words. They are phantom limbs, unformed digits, un-lived dreams. It’s very painful to be finished your story and still have material leftover in the end that you thought you would use within the confines of the novel. That leftover material is one of the many things writers look at to cultivate their own self-doubt and self-loathing. That material is the vision not perfectly transformed from thought-scape to page. Those leftovers are the scream the writer lets out after the cold icy surge of release as they let their characters escape their bodies. Not good enough. Failed to reach the vision. THE END. I think of this every time I see the slit on the face of Mona Lisa. Her lips could have been raised in the corners ever so slightly to bring her face into a more beatific smile. But Leonardo da Vinci, in his infinite wisdom, had already announced to himself, ‘la fine‘. There was no going back. My THE END stands sentinel over the blank space below it that cannot be filled.

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Requisite selfie with Mel. Bad Hombres.

Day 2 – Monday, October 24, 2016

I know I didn’t finish the novel. I wrote THE END, but I didn’t finish it. But you can’t go back. Done bun can’t be undone, as Stephen King once said. C’est la vie. So it is written. I spend day hating self for putting those two words at the end of the manuscript. I print out my manuscript and I am in awe over how big it is as a chunk of printed papers. Like, wow. I did that. I overhear Aves streaming from the heavens…or at least from the mouths of crackpot waste-oids singing heavenly verses in dark alleys somewhere in my general vicinity. There is music…and it is celebrating the awesomeness of my thick pile of pages, written in a frenzy of desperation while hopelessly clinging to one unwritten sentence after the other and attempting to harness them down and get them onto paper before forgetting my train of thought. Bam. The rest of the day, after printing out the manuscript, is spent listening to the knitpicking voice in the back of my head whispering, “YOU’RE NOT DONE. YOU’RE NOT DONE!” I sigh. I hold up my impressively thick pile of paper. I say, “Oh yeah? What do you call this?!” I listen as the voice whispers, “A START.”

Day 3 – Tuesday, October 25, 2016

I woke up with a desperate need to delete those two words at the bottom of my manuscript. I had already sent it out to 3 very generous fellow Muskoka Novel Marathon writers. They are acting as beta readers for me…they will tell me what needs fixing under the hood of my novel prior to me releasing it to the critical eyes of editors/agents. I gave myself leeway for once. I purposefully set my cursor to the end of those two nasty words THE END and then I hit BACKSPACE seven times. That’s ALL IT TOOK. The two words vanished into the ether. It was like a Christmas miracle. And then I proceeded to rearrange a bit of my last chapter, to unclose it. To unend it. To youdidntquitegetthereyouhavetogobackinandfixthis. Then, I proceeded to write the last chapter. So my last chapter became my second last chapter and my chapter that wasn’t on the page but was in my brain became my last chapter. Cue the emergency email to my 3 generous beta readers. Plead forgiveness, explain my folly, send the new second last chapter that used to be my last chapter and the new last chapter. Then go out with said 3 beta readers and the rest of the writing posse I hang with from time to time and attempt to forget about the fact that my ugly baby is inthehandsofothers. Then I BEGIN working on the manuscript I put on hold while racing to finish the Muskoka Novel Marathon novel.

 

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Selfie at Mongolian Grill Restaurant in Whitby, Ontario. Future Canadian literati, and friends…

Lessons Learned?

  • The end doesn’t have to be the end. You can delete those two words and start over at the ending.
  • Clearly, Leonardo knew this. He wanted the smile we see to be the smile she was left with. Whatever, Leo.
  • Friends who will stop everything and beta read for you are amazing friends to have! Remember to return the favour once the opportunity arises.
  • Don’t settle.
  • The Backspace key is your friend. It’s a modern day eraser that allows you to unend things.
  • 300 pages of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper, stacked one on top of each other, is a goddamned impressive pile of paper when it is filled with words.
  • Stasis does not need to happen. Get your bum in chair and shut the hell up.
  • Mongolian Grill is yummy.
  • Pepsi is better than Coke because it is sweeter. This is also the reason Coke preferrers prefer Coke, because Pepsi is too sweet.
  • Selfie-sticks are handy for capturing a moment, but only if you’re nimble enough not to piss everyone off by taking too much time to capture it spontaneously.
  • Writing makes me happy. And the person I write alongside of also makes me happy.
  • Don’t forget a hat when you’re walking in the October chill, because when you do you’re ears hurt like hell!
  • It’s only the end when you say it’s the end the last time that you say it. Not before.
  • Summer always ends! And it’s not up to us where THE END goes on that season. There are some ends we have no control over. Take advantage of the ones you do have control over. (I’m looking at you, LEO!)
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The weekend away was most productive. I wrote several chapters of my Best Novel Award winning novel I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. And this guy helped me at every step of the way. Even if he didn’t wait for me whenever I stopped to take a picture of the beautiful FALL colours.

 

Take Your Words for a Walk – Live Your Story!

This past Sunday I woke up with a fire in me…a fire that would only be quenched by taking a very long walk through the city that I love.

My motivation? Talk to my characters…or rather, allow my characters to talk to me. I’m finishing up my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel and I woke up knowing that my main character, Finn Barker, wanted to somehow use Kensington Market as a metaphor.

I didn’t fully understand/comprehend where Finn was going to with his idea, but I was willing to give him some rope. We don’t always know our characters’ motivations, but we should always allow them to have them. We should always listen to their musings.

My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to get us to Kensington Market, shut my mouth and stand amid the chaos and beauty and splendour there and listen. Listen to the music of the market. Listen to the light, and the heartbeat, and the motion. And, most importantly, listen to Finn. It was his idea. I was merely the conduit that would deliver him to the setting of the scene he was envisioning.

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Courage My Love has been a staple for wonderful original clothing in Kensington Market since long before I was a punk rocker in the 80s buying clothes there. COURAGE MY LOVE is also the title of a fantastic CanLit Novel by Sarah Dearing (Read it! It’s a beautiful story that I return to often.).

So I jumped out of bed, got myself ready, and drove downtown. As an afterthought, before I set out on foot for the Market from the parking garage at Nathan Phillips Square, I set up a new playlist on Spotify. In it, I had such performers as Charlie Pride, Anne Murray, John Denver, and, Neil Diamond. No, these are not performers I myself listen to. But I knew they played in the background of Finn Barker’s childhood…and I knew intrinsically that he was taking me back in time with this metaphor he was struggling to create. Sometimes writing is the ability to hone a sixth-sense to speak to people who exist only in your head and know what they need/want before they do. The playlist was setting the mood to help Finn formulate his idea.

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There is beauty everywhere you look in the Market. It’s the extraordinary eccentric pulse in the heart of an already extraordinary city.

Once I made my pilgrimage to the Market, with ‘the green green grass of home‘, ‘crystal chandelier‘, ‘thank god I’m a country boy‘, and ‘snowbirds‘ blasting through my earbuds, I attempted to get out of Finn’s way and allow him to take over. And boy, did he! Sometimes you just know what’s needed to unlock glimpses into your story. You just know that taking a backseat to the characters is the only way to grab hold of some of the most poignant vivid scenes.

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Mona Lisa looks down upon the Market from her lofty place above it, and she smiles.

Before leaving the Market, I had a myriad of images and dialogue swirling about in my head. I knew that Finn had wanted to compare the eccentricities of the Market to himself, to somehow explain to his father that the beauty of the Market was that it was an individual and that its individuality was okay. Finn became passionate about the place when he first arrived in Toronto decades before. He wanted to share that passion with a father who shunned anything that stood out as different.

I had an entire scene play out while I walked the Market. I went up and down the main and side streets, doubled back and did it again, stopped in at the lovely Jimmys for a REAL chai tea latte, browsed through the army/navy, squeezed a fruit or two or three. I did all the things! Because I was Finn Barker falling in love with the place he found to be the home nearest to his heart. I was Finn Barker making note of all the things so that he could share them with his father in an attempt to show the man who he, FINN BARKER, really was. It was exquisite. I left myself behind and walked in my story. Glorious.

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Jimmys – a staple for good chai in Kensington Market!

The takeaway here, I suppose, is that, as writers, we should allow ourselves to be crazy. We have so many tools in our toolbox. We should never discount any of them. One of them happens to be a propensity towards eccentricity. Embrace it! If you wake up one day with a notion that you should immerse yourself in place, in people, in time, in what have you, then you should do so. Creativity arrives in a myriad of wonderful and intriguing ways. Whether it be the spark at the beginning of a story that gnaws at you until you pick it up and run with it, or a hint of the perfect denouement lurking on the horizon…do whatever it takes to embrace it. If the occasion calls for it, TURN AND FACE THE STRANGE…

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The writing of my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel I WILL TELL THE NIGHT continues!

Listen Now! The Recordings of My STORYLINES Interview & Play Performance from Hunter’s Bay Radio…

Yesterday, the episode of the radio program STORYLINES, with host CHRISTINE COWLEY, on which I appeared, aired on HUNTER’S BAY RADIO. If you happened to miss that airing, Christine was generous enough to provide me with the tapes…and she has allowed me to use them however I wish to use them. Today, I share them here. In the episode, Christine interviews me briefly, and then the two of us perform my 10-minute play THE SPEECH…with the assistance of narrator Tobin Elliott.

So, here are the tapes. You can listen to them now!

 

In the interview, there is talk of my books, and other writings…particularly BURN BABY BURN BABY. You can check out my books on my AMAZON page…and order them from bookstores everywhere. Click on the image below to visit my page over on Amazon. You can read each book’s synopsis by clicking on the books on the Amazon page:

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Click This Picture to Visit My Books on Amazon!

Much thanks to Christine, for providing me with this wonderful opportunity! Though I didn’t really know what I was doing, I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. I usually write my lines knowing they will come from the mouths of others. It was terrifying and exhilarating to have the tables turned. I’m no actor! It gives one a deeper appreciation of just how difficult it is to deliver lines…couldn’t imagine doing it on the stage!

Thank you, Christine! And thank you Hunter’s Bay Radio. And thank you, Tobin Elliott. And thank you to Driftwood Theatre and their Trafalgar 24 Play Creation Festival, at which THE SPEECH was created!

Find Me on Hunter’s Bay Radio! The Speech rises again!

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This morning, you can find me over at HUNTER’S BAY RADIO! Back in September I went to the Hunter’s Bay Radio recording studio to tape an episode of STORYLINES with my friend-in-writing CHRISTINE COWLEY. Thank GOD we did more than an interview, because quite often I’m a horrible interview subject when it comes to talking. I freeze and forget everything in the world I ever knew…especially when it comes to questions about my books. I’m the worst!

Christine and I, with the help of Tobin Elliott as narrator (reading the stage direction), performed one of my 10-minute plays for the show. THE SPEECH has gone a long way since I wrote it in the wee hours of the night inside a Trafalgar Castle for Driftwood Theatre’s TRAFALGAR24 Play Creation Festival back in 2011. It has been performed or read in several states across the USA, in Australia, as well as in Mumbai, India.

This morning you can actually HEAR the play. Christine and I had a lot of fun recording it…I have no idea how it sounds, so I will have to listen in myself to find out. Hopefully it translates well to radio.

It airs today (Thursday October 6th) at 10:00am Ontario time. You can download the Hunter’s Bay Radio app for your phone in the app store, or you can listen in online at:

HUNTER’S BAY RADIO

 

In Which Way Shall I Procrastinate TODAY? Or, Finish the Damn Book!

I’m doing it again. I have a fantastic opportunity in front of me and I have one job to do prior to taking advantage of this opportunity, and I am doing everything in my power to avoid the job.

On September 23rd I discovered that my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel I WILL TELL THE NIGHT took the Best Adult Novel Award at the Marathon Wrap Up Party. With the honour came a Muskoka chair (Adirondack chair, for my American friends), and an envelope filled with beautiful gushing feedback from the bevy of judges who read the manuscripts and chose mine as the winner.

From that date (Sept 23rd), I had six weeks in order to get the manuscript completed and edited into shape before submitting it to the MNM organization for agent feedback.

Then came a week in which ALL THE THINGS happened…all the things, that is, except the writing of the manuscript I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. You see, I was just too busy to write words. I was hanging with friends at their cottage, I was hanging with the old gang from the Ontario Writers’ Conference–including an entertaining drive from Toronto to Whitby and back with the incomparable Wayson Choy, in which we lambasted Trump as we listened to the candidates’ debate on the CBC, I was schmoozing with the contributors of the upcoming horror anthology Purgatorium, and then I was interviewing said contributors for this blog, and I was visiting my kids and grandkids, and we just HAD to go to the opening weekend of Miss Peregrine! There were a few other things in there, I’m certain. The week flew by and brought me to FIVE WEEKS remaining of the countdown to submission. I now find myself smack dab in the middle of this week and I’m not really motoring through the writing as I should be.

This is WEEK 2! I’m proud to have found yet another distraction!

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My latest obsession/distraction – HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE by Jennifer Niven, the lovely writer who also brought us ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES.

This book will be, perhaps, the death of me. Both Libby and Jack are fascinating characters and I am absolutely devouring their story. I never imagined loving a book as much as I loved ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES. Only Jennifer Niven could make me love something more than ATBP! And if this book doesn’t distract me enough to cause me to squander this opportunity, I’m almost certain something else will come up.

If you need me, I’m just going to be over here attempting to write slightly more than half a book in 4 1/2 weeks, while simultaneously editing said book. It’s a difficult task, but it is also one I should not be taking so lightly. Must. Finish. Writing. The. Damn. Book!

 

The Purgatorio Dialogues – Meet the Writers of Purgatorium Part V

My last visit with the Purgatorium Anthology contributors! Amanda Tompkins is always a delight in person, and I find her endlessly interesting. She makes me laugh and she’s also über smart and tells fascinating stories. I’m really looking forward to her words in Purgatorium. I will not soon forget the motto she leaves us with here…one I think I may take as one of my own. “Expectations are just mind forged manacles”.

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for the release date of this sumptuous anthology of horror! November 19th, Purgatorium will be here!

IN FACT! If you come to BOOKAPALOOZA from 10am-3pm at Durham College Centre for Food/Bistro 67 in Whitby on November 19th, you can pick up a copy of PURGATORIUM…and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to get quite a few of the authors to sign it for you! Bookapalooza is a free event and it’s ALL ABOUT BOOKS! You won’t want to miss it! It’s also the place where the Purgatorium Anthology launches!

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BOOKAPALOOZA

And now, Amanda’s responses to my Proustian Questionnaire…

 

Prugatorio Dialogues – X – Amanda Tompkins

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Curled up in my easy chair, with a good book in my hands, and my dog at my feet.

2. What is your most preferred genre as a writer?

Fantasy

3. What is your greatest fear?

Nothingness.

4. What is your most preferred genre as a reader?

I’ll read just about anything, but Fantasy is my favorite.

5. Which horror writer do you most admire and why?

I’d have to say Mary Shelley. She did amazing work and faced a lot of opposition.

6. What was your idea of horror prior to setting off on this adventure into Purgatorium?

Taking the mundane, the familiar, and making it threatening.

7. What do you consider the most overrate virtue?

Patience. Who needs it?

8. What is your idea of horror now that you’ve been to Purgatorium?

Word count limits.

9. What else have you written?

A few short stories, and several works in progress.

10. When and where were you most afraid?

When I realized that nothing is forever, and you can lose the people you love most.

11. Which talent would you most like to have?

I’d love to be able to read/speak every language.

12. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

Something large and predatory. That probably says more about me than I’m strictly comfortable with.

13. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Being forced to watch a loved one suffer, and knowing there is nothing you can do.

14. What are your three deserted island books?

To kill a mockingbird’, by Harper Lee. ‘War for the oaks’, by Emma Bull. ‘The interior life’, by Katherine Blake.

15. Who are your favorite writers?

Usually whoever I’m currently reading.

16. Who is your hero of fiction?

Atticus Finch

17. What sound grates on you more than any other?

People chewing loudly with their mouths open.

18. How would you like to die?

Ideally, not at all. Realistically, in bed having just finished the last page of a good book.

19. What sound brings you deep joy?

The click of my dogs nails on the tile as he runs to greet me.

20. What is your motto?

‘Normal’ is a subjective judgement call, and expectations are just mind forged manacles.

 

LIFE IS CHANGE

Children become adults. Summer becomes winter. The old pass from life to death. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But to some, life is purgatory. A place of temporary suffering between this world and the next.

In these eleven stories, every painful, frightening transition is driven by a single element.

That element is Purgatorium.

 

It’s coming!