I’m late to the Springsteen party. I got obsessed with Dancing in the Dark a couple years back. Mostly that line: I’m dying for some action, I’m sick of sitting around here trying to write this book. Tell me about it, Boss.
Last week I watched a couple of documentaries about Springsteen. A BBC one called Glory Days, and The Promise: The making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. And the way he spoke in those films about his artistic processes, and also about fame and intrinsic self-ness, and trying to protect that thing that makes you an artist when everyone wants a chunk of you–that just set me on fire.
And so the next thing I knew I was buying a ticket to see him play in Moncton.
And now I’m like a kid with her first crush. On the drive home from Moncton Monday morning I listened to his tunes cranked loud with the window down. Probably pressed repeat on Dancing in the Dark twenty times. Ridiculous. But irresistible. Part of it is his affability, his control, his generosity on stage. More though, it’s his uncanny ability to put his finger exactly on the themes and ideas that consume me right now.
His songs are exactly what I need as I go deeper into Fallsy Downsies. The themes of economic dissolution, small towns falling apart, the ways in which industrialization fucked up everything. And then too the yearning for escape. I check my look in the mirror, wanna change my clothes my hair my face. The longing. Evan and Lansing. And Dacey always on the go, taking risks to feel alive.
Oh, sorry. I just wandered off to watch some live footage on YouTube. See? Kid with crush.
Alright, look, obviously, the dude is a superstar for a reason, all tight jeans and charisma. But also hard work and depth and an innate understanding of the human condition and all its attendant frailties.
Thing is, you just never know where you’re going to find your connection. Could be in a grassy field in Moncton with thirty thousand other fans. Could be at the wheel of a rental car at 7 in the morning, trying to find the right highway to get home, window down even though it’s kind of too cold, wind pushing your hair everywhere, infectious synthesizer hook and words that knew what you were thinking even before you did. Both perfectly content and endlessly yearning.
It’s just exactly what I need right now. Even if we’re just dancing in the dark.
My brain loves to solve problems. It’s pretty much what my brain was put on this earth to do. Let’s see, we have two chicken thighs, some leeks and a bit of white wine. What can we make out of that? How about braised chicken with creamy leek sauce? That’s basically my brain in heaven, right there.
And it’s a great thing when you’re writing a novel. Just chugging away in the background all the time, my brain is working on solving my book’s problems. How do these characters all end up in the car together? What is Lansing trying to hide? How does Evan find out? When I’m washing my hair, or out for a walk or slicing leeks, I am solving these problems.
But here’s my current problem: I am so deep into editing a book for someone else, my brain is busy solving that book’s problems instead of my own book’s problems. Which means the little flame of Fallsy Downsies is getting ever smaller. Which is not good. Gotta edit faster — and breathe sentences of my own onto Fallsy Downsies. Last week, Steven Bowers was in town, and I read him some scenes. He loved Homing so much he named an album after it, and some of his own experiences on the road suggested some of the material for Fallsy Downsies, so I’ve been really keen to share it with him. He seemed to love what I read him — and hearing those scenes out loud made me long to be back in that world. This time last year I was fully immersed. That mini-sabbatical can’t come soon enough — but meantime, I’m gonna have to build that fire on my own. So…I guess I’m off to write a scene right now. How’s that for problem solving?
I am managing to jam out pages in spurts, here and there. Astonishingly, this includes seven pages written one morning while I was on vacation at my mom’s house, a place I find notoriously distracting and hard to write in. But I feel a bit on fire right now, and I am trying to get the damn thing done by the end of February, which is way too ambitious, but hey, what the hell. It’s good to have a goal.
It has come to my attention that I will end up with a week’s holiday I need to burn off by the end of March, and since I can’t take time off during ratings, I’ll have to use it in January or February. So looks like maybe a week in February for writing might be possible. Very exciting.
In fact, most things feel possible right now. It’s been awhile since I had that percolating feeling, especially about writing. It’s a nice place to be sitting. How about you?
First, some business remaining from last time: in the wake of that last post, pretty much every week, someone has taken the time to google something like: stephanie domet beautiful great writer. Which makes me laugh every time. I have a thick skin — you couldn’t not in my line of work — but I have to say I love the good and open hearts that beat inside my friends. You are lovely, lovely people. I appreciate your lavish praise, and will do what I can to be worthy of it!
Now, onto that. This being September, it’s been back to business round these parts. New radio season, and a recommitment to weekly writing. It was not easy, and it was not overly fruitful, but I did drag myself out of the sunny garden on Saturday and down to the cafe to crank out some pages. Four wee ones (at this rate, the book might get finished by the time I’m fifty), but better than none. I am not stumped, or blocked or any of that bullshit. I just — I don’t know. I am terribly undisciplined. And also kinda busy. Editing two books right now. Helping to plan the Writers’ Federation Fall Into Writing Gala on September 24, which is going to be awesome, and an amazing Nocturne event, about which I’m really excited, called It Was a Dark and Stormy Night — which will basically be an interactive journey through your average writer’s personal hell — I mean, daily life. That’s happening October 15 at the Company House in Halifax. So there’s a lot going on, and that’s all great. But none of it is more important than writing Fallsy Downsies. Though most of it is more fun, let’s be honest. And with other people counting on me delivering — all that stuff FEELS more important.
So there’s that. If you feel like issuing a deadline with some kind of stern consequences attached, please feel free.
And I don’t need you to keep up the flattering google searches but… I’m not gonna tell you to stop!
And finally, here’s a little musical treat. Because you’ve been so good.
Did I mention I’m writing again? I am writing again. Thank you god and Sue Goyette, who helped me unlock myself. She always somehow knows exactly where in the pants I need to be kicked. She looked at me and said, I had a dream about you. You were so sad.
I had to swallow hard then to keep from crying. I do the bravado thing pretty well but she’s too smart for me. She sized me up and said, you need to leave your house to get writing done.
And whaddya know, she’s right as usual. Saturdays now, after the farmers’ market, I take myself down the street to the cafe. I have a hot drink and a cold one and maybe lunch, and I write a scene. It isn’t much, but it’s enough to keep my oar in. To be writing. I write a scene, I take my characters to the precipice and leave them, so that all week I can think about where they are and where they’re going next. And then I get a little tiny cupcake and I eat it on the way home, and I breathe out. Because I am writing.
It will take forever, but I will write the damn novel. Saturdays. If that’s what it takes.
In other it will take forever news, I am “learning” to play the piano. Or, more properly, I am taking piano lessons (I always want to mis-type the instrument as the paino. Which in my ways it is, especially for my neighbours.) I am working on Jingle Bells. It is June. I am sorry if you live near me. Soon perhaps I will move on to Frere Jacques. And won’t that be fun for all of us.
These are the things we do, the practises we build. We play Jingle Bells for half an hour because doing so will help us get better, and move on so that perhaps by December, we will be able to play Sweet Caroline. We write every Saturday so that eventually some months hence, those Saturday scenes will accrue into a first draft, and from there a second and sometime after that into a finished book.
And in between I walk and feel the muscles I’ve neglected stretch out into themselves again. And it’s all practise all of it, always and over and over.
Well, May, here you are, halfway gone, you complicated month, you. May is one of the most crowded months in our family calendar, and one of the most reviled. There’s mother’s day, Jeff’s birthday, Chris’s birthday, Chris and Em’s dating anniversary, Em’s birthday. It used to be a whirlwind of cake and celebration. But then Chris got sick, and added to May got less noble anniversaries like the day Chris slipped into a coma, the day the doctor told us we had to unplug him, the day he died, his funeral. Less cake and way less celebrating. Stupid May. Month that both brought Chris and took him away. Month that made Mother’s Day a complicated joke of a holiday. Month that gave us all so much sadness only heightened by all those years of May gladness. Stupid May when everything is in bloom but all our thoughts are witheredy death. Stupid.
So then you think, how am I supposed to live? Honestly, how am I supposed to go on, in the face of such sadness, but more importantly, how should I comport myself in order to truly honour the memory of someone who wanted so much to stay on this earth? I made a decision, early on, that I was not doing anyone any good by being in perpetual mourning. That if Chris couldn’t be here to live, then damn it, I was going to have to do it for both of us. The sadness helped me up to a point, and then after that, being sad and angry was kind of holding me back. So I cut it out, by and large. Writing a book from those feelings helped too.
And then eight years ago, Jeff and Michelle made the excellent, brave and healing decision to hold their wedding on May 17, Chris’s birthday, the most confusing day of them all. The other sorrowful anniversaries were straightforward. But how could you be sad on Chris’s birthday? It just didn’t make sense. So Jeff and Mich made it make more sense by turning it back into a day of cake and celebration.
And here we are again. May 17. My amazing older brother would have been 43 today, and doubtless king of the world. He was so smart, he was kind, he was funny, he could play guitar and write songs better than you. He had two gorgeous daughters he’d be in awe of now. Today he’d be sitting back with his lovely wife, watching them go out into the world, making sure they came home in time for cake and celebration.
May 17 and Jeff and Michelle celebrate another year together, their two great kids, the life they’ve built close by family and friends. Cake and celebration. There’s not much more that’s needed in this life.
As for that book, in honour of Chris’s birthday, here’s a piece from Homing, a piece of fiction loosely inspired by Chris and his guitar. Happy birthday, brother.
I am awash on a sea of nostalgia. And a sea of fog. And a sea of anticipation. And a sea of longing. And a sea of momentum. Let’s take them sea by sea.
Last weekend I went to Toronto–nominally for my brother’s birthday and for mother’s day, but really to relive some of my misspent youth, seeing Lowest of the Low at their 20th anniversary show at Massey Hall. I’d forgotten the power of those songs, somehow, songs that were once as intrinsic to my every day as water and air. I was slammed back against the shores of my early twenties in Toronto, a time of huge confidence based on nothing, and massive confusion, a feeling that everyone but me knew the score. I remembered with force endless crushes that came to nothing, a patchwork life made of half a dozen jobs in restaurants, book stores and delivering Now magazine, late nights that lasted till morning. And I remembered the powerful excitement of hearing songs with lyrics that described the streets and bars and cafes where all those days and nights got frittered away. The way a line like: “And I will hold this coin that reminds me of the time when you nearly kissed me blind on Bathurst Street, it’s true,” or a whole song about the Carlaw Bridge, or about taking a walk up to the Only, the way those songs about where I lived crammed themselves into my heart and my head and still won’t go away. And how, after a childhood and youth spent in suburban sameness, a suburb I never saw reflected by name or description in anything I read or heard, unless it was the crummy little suburban newspaper–after a childhood and youth spent consuming stories from elsewhere till you could almost believe stories only happened in English country gardens, in New York City, the deep south and on the Great Plains–after all that, to find my way home to songs that were about my own beloved streets and places, well. I was done. Still am. That band, that band in front of whom I drank and danced and swore and cried and yelled and crushed, that band articulated what up till then I’d been unable to. That stories happen right here, right where you are, and those stories, those stories are worth telling. Those stories need telling. And anyone can tell them.
And I started my Toronto novel, The Pawnshop Blues. Which never came to much, see under drank, danced, swore, cried, yelled, crushed. But some seed was nestled then. And when I was ready to write Homing, I wrote it about the real place I live, the real place I love. Those city stories, those small city stories mean as much, are worth as much, as any story in any English country garden, or on any Great Plain.
So, there’s that.
The sea of fog. Halifax is having one of those springs where the sun don’t shine. I am trying to ignore the outside world, the natural environment. I am trying to pretend it’s merely a long grey hallway I take to get from home to work to downtown to the farmers market and back. But the pretending is wearing thin. It’s hard to feel like doing much when faced with a solid wall of grey, fifteen days out of seventeen. You know?
And so to that sea of anticipation. The sun will return eventually…right? And I will go out into it and pull weeds in the garden and contemplate the annual plan to build a shed–and maybe even do it this year. And I will go for long walks in that sunshine and think thoughts that aren’t just survival based. And Kev will come home from tour. And I will start writing again. And and and.
About that. That sea of longing. And momentum. Those two are linked. The momentum is, unfortunately, not the kind I had in the early winter, when I was writing every day and burning up the pages. It’s the momentum of a quotidian life, with coffee, shower, work, home, supper, magazine, bed, lather rinse repeat ad nauseum. There is no writing there. I have been consumed by my job, again. And I do love that job, oh I do. But my characters are going quiet in the back of my head, and that’s always terrifying. I feel the pressure (from where, I’m not sure, myself I guess) of four years since Homing, what have I done for you lately. I feel the heft of the book I am writing, the knowledge it’s not going to be done soon, even if I were working on it regularly. And it’s a feeling that’s worse than fog fifteen days out of seventeen.
So what am I going to do about it? That’s a great question. With an obvious right answer. I am going to write. Easy to say. Hard to do. I remember those days of my early twenties all that passion I didn’t know how to direct, but one thing I did know was to write every day. And I did. Whether it was going anywhere didn’t actually matter. I was clear enough then just to make sentences on a page, every damn day.
So here’s my renewal of that passion. One scene a week, without fail. One page a day if that works, or the whole thing in one shot, more likely. But one scene a week. And more Lowest of the Low on the soundtrack, to remind me to kick it over. Kick it over.
This is a question I get all the time. What kind of book are you writing? I find this question almost impossible to answer, because really, the answer is, a good one, I hope. After that, what does it matter what other descriptors? And what does the interlocutor mean to do with the information anyhow? What will it really tell anyone about Fallsy Downsies?
The other day, as I made my way into the office, the woman who works the front desk during the day asked me the question. I was late for a meeting, as usual, and had only had one coffee, and so I looked at her with confusion. And she said, you know, sci fi, romance…? This is the other part of the question that stymies me. The genre question. I think this is the only way we have to talk about stories in a broader way, it seems. I mean writers, and constant readers of a certain kind have specific ways to talk about books and kinds of stories. But what I think of as casual readers, and those who maybe haven’t read a book since high school, because it’s just not how they choose to consume narrative, seem to only be able to relate to books and stories by assigning them a genre.
The only answer I have is “literary fiction.” Highly unsatisfactory response. I was once accused, in my bookseller days, of being pretentious. Because I referred to a Jack Whyte book as “not our kind of book”–by which I meant the shop up the street had more a speciality in that area, and would likely have stock, while we had sold through the three copies we’d ordered. The customer didn’t like the implication, and plainly told me so. I didn’t need her to tell me I was pretentious–I was a writer/bookseller in my mid-twenties OF COURSE I was pretentious. It was basically my full time job to be so. Anyhow, older and only a little wiser, answering Literary Fiction to the genre question makes me feel genuinely pretentious.
So, here’s the thing. Why is genre the only way the casual/non-reading public at large can relate to a story?
How else to describe something that is not a mystery, nor a romance, nor sci fi, nor a western, but may have elements of all of those, except maybe the sci fi part?
What’s the point of describing something that isn’t even done? Whose purposes does it serve, anyhow?
Does any of it matter to anyone but writers?
What do you think?
So I’m cruising along, enjoying the time spent with my characters, dealing with Dacey Brown’s unexpected revelation of bipolar disorder, generally digging being a full-time writer and then this week, blammo, I come up against the brick wall of plot. It’s all well and good to have funny characters who are clearly defined and well-thought out themes that fascinate me and bear exploration, but, as it happens, without some action to hang it all on–it’s hard to move it forward.
This has always been my struggle. What happens? For me, usually, the answer is: Not much. And that makes writing a novel really, really hard. So I’ve been thinking about the plots of books I’ve read lately and trying to boil them down. In Annabel, a child is born a hermaphrodite, is raised a boy in outport Newfoundland, and begins to explore femininity with sometimes disastrous effects following a move to St John’s. Basically. Right? Help a sister out. Boil down the plot of a great book you’ve read lately so I can see how it works.
Here’s one thing I realized last night, when I was out watching the excellent Michael Jerome Browne. Fallsy Downsies is short on antagonists. Antagonists create conflict, conflict creates plot. D’oh. How can I have been a writer for thirty four years and still be having the simplest of revelations?
So yeah, plot. Share your insights in the comments so I don’t freak out.
Eleven pages seems to be comfortable to me. It feels like not very much, but most days, it’s where things settle out. Today, eleven pages took three hours, though those hours were broken up with laundry, making baked beans and some staring out the window. Plus, I figured out some things about Dacey Brown. It’s amazing how I feel like I know these characters so well, have lived with them inside my head for two or three years now, have been all up in their business for weeks–and still can have these flashes of OHHHHH, THAT’S WHY SHE’S LIKE THAT. And that often those flashes come not while I’m actually at the desk writing, but while I’m doing some terrifically mundane task, like taking the laundry basket down to the basement. Zing, Dacey Brown does this because of that. Zonk, here’s how Lansing Meadows and Evan Cornfield end up in the States. Zap, something’s gotta go wrong to bring them together, and here’s what it’s gonna be.
It makes it all very crowded and noisy inside my head pretty much all the time, but I guess that’s why it’s good to have a couple months off work to just do this. Because it makes you temporarily insane.