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.
Or the other way around, or maybe both. I am on the road right now, as Kev takes living rooms and basements around Ontario by storm. He earned a Home Routes tour and so we’ve spent the last couple weeks together in the car, touring around, playing a concert in a different house each night. It’s been intense and awesome, and I’ve even managed to get some writing done.
More importantly, I’ve had that magic time in the car to let my mind wander and pick through the elements of my story that still stymie me. And I’ve had some important breakthroughs–some insights into what actually motivates Lansing Meadows, and what eventually leads to the rift between him and Evan Cornfield. And even Dacey Brown is moving into sharper focus.
I will be sorry to leave this full time artist life behind in two weeks. Though I hear from afar there are a number of juicy stories unfolding in Nova Scotia, and I feel the pull of daily radio. It’s a tough balance, the two lives, and I will be spending some of my remaining time figuring out how to balance them better. I’ll be back on the air on February 28th. The novel’s first draft won’t be finished–but at least I’ll know how to proceed. And that feels like a huge triumph. A more reasonable, achievable goal is a completed first draft by September, a completed second draft by the end of December. And if it goes my way, maybe publication by fall 2012.
In other news, it looks like Lady Hammond has received first draft funding for Homing, with Tricia Fish screenwriting. This is great news for that team, and I’ll be interested to see what happens next.
So, lots of forward momentum. And, for a taste of what I’ve been up to on the road, here’s a little video from our stop in Kanata, Ontario. Don’t say I never gave you anything.
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.
Nope, not a TV show for kids, nor a book featuring me in a striped shirt and a dopey stocking cap, lost among the madding crowd. It is, however, a popular google search right now. Perhaps it’s what you used to find your way here. If so, welcome! Here I am!
I am taking two months away from my regular gig to tend to my irregular (but much more longterm) gig: fiction writer. It’s how I’ve described myself since I learned how to print, sometime in the early Seventies. This whole radio host thing–it’s a sideline. An excellent, fun and rewarding sideline, but a sideline nonetheless.
Thanks to the province of Nova Scotia, and the willingness of my folk singing husband to eat rice and beans twice a week for the next couple of months, not to mention the awesomeness of my employer for giving me a couple months leave without pay, I’m embarking on a writing sabbatical till February 28th. If you’re here because you miss me on the radio, thanks for your kindness! I miss talking to you, too, but if I don’t get this book done I’ll start feeling mean, and neither of us will benefit from that. I’ll be back before you know it. And if you’re here because you DON’T miss me on the radio, and you’re hoping I’m never coming back, well, sorry about that. But enjoy the next two months!
Feel free to drop me a note in the comments if you have questions for me. Meantime, I’ll just be here, scratching out my sentences and soaking black beans.
Ah, the last day of the year. Christmas Family Fog has barely dissipated–one last family event tonight (Fake Early New Year’s Eve) and then we begin our drive back to Nova Scotia, stopping in Ottawa for Actual New Year’s Eve. It’s been a good break, with actual relaxing. Whole days spent lying on the couch in yoga pants, reading books. Lots and lots of books. It’s been years since I’ve done that. Don’t know why, it’s a completely reasonable way to spend a day. Must try to make that a more regular thing.
On the way to Ontario, we stopped for a night in Trois Rivieres Quebec, a gorgeous little town. We found it under a thick blanket of snow, with every branch and corner lit with sparkly white twinkle lights. We went to a tiny little bar Kev was fond of in his French-band-touring-days, and had a couple of drinks there. In the beginning phase of unplugging for the break, I was able to get a scrap of novel. The beginning, I think. I knew the book wouldn’t start with the beginning I’ve already written, and I’ve been waiting, occasionally patiently, to figure out where the true start might be. I got some good solid glimpses that night, and Kev procured paper for me from the barman, and produced a very smelly silver sharpie, and I managed to scrawl enough down to remember my brilliant ideas. And they still seemed halfway good in the cold light of day. So, that’s good. That’s where I’ll start in January. Very exciting.
In other news, it looks like Homing will be published as an E-book this spring, and at some time in the near future as an audio book as well. Good old Homing. Go Homing! Nice to see that book continuing to live, even while Fallsy Downsies takes shape.
I will be sorry to leave this cosy holiday family cocoon. But glad to tumble into Lansing Meadows’s world for the next couple months.
An amazing weekend retreat, at excellent Herman’s Island, with (most of) the amazing writers who make up The Common. The weather was uncommonly terrific…sunny and bright every day, and warm enough to sit out in a short-sleeved dress, with barefeet and read for an hour or two Saturday afternoon. Everyone made amazing food to share, we ate our weight in potato chips (and conducted a few fine taste-tests featuring some of the more absurdly flavoured chips out there: late night cheeseburger anyone?) (may I say it didn’t taste any different than a mid-day cheeseburger might?), we stayed up late every night, saw at least two shooting stars, and sang songs all night like a transistor radio.
And, on top of all that, I got some really good work done. A few thousand words, nothing to write home about necessarily, except that it was such a useful exercise for me. A relief to discover that my big talk is not just big talk, and indeed, my project is still very much alive in my mind. And that I am capable of keeping the pilot light lit from day to day, picking it up, fanning the flames and beginning again. A relief to get some connective tissue done, to get Evan and Lansing well and truly on their way, and to start to lay some of the serious groundwork of their relationship. Ahead, Dacey Brown awaits her chance to escape Grand Falls, New Brunswick. And her chance she shall receive.
I am on fire, I feel, and it’s good.
Also, huge news out of the Atlantic writing pool in general… Gillers and IMPACs for all!
Last night was the Atlantic Book Awards. It was packed in the room. Amazing to be among so many good writers, all from right outside my door. Shandi Mitchell cleaned up, deservedly so. My Anna Quon did not win her category, but since she was competing against Linden Macintyre, who won the Giller, and George Elliot Clarke, who’s … awesome… I think she should feel pretty goddamn great about how she did last night. She seemed alright with it all.
As for me.
Lately I have been writing every day. Not much, and not novelly, but writing, regardless. Kev hipped me to this and I am hooked. So great. I having figured out a few vital character things for Fallsy Downsies, which is wonderful. And more than that, it just clears my head of morning gack, and all day long I think, yes, writing. I like that. It feels good and right. I should do more of that. So that’s positive. It’s been awhile since I felt that feeling, to be perfectly frank.
The excellent Sue Goyette has persuaded me as well to apply for a creation grant. I think I could convince my employer to give me a month off, maybe not all at once, but surely they’d give me some time off to work on my book if I got a grant? I suppose I should check that with them first, but it seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Deadline is May 15.
And then there’s the big trip across the country by car. So excited about that, and looking forward to it for the purposes of the novel. We’ll travel through the states going out and through Canada coming back, so it won’t be exactly what Lansing and Evan do, but it’ll be close. And already I can feel the vistas opening in my head, letting me creep inside my story and hang on for dear life while it expands.
Or something like that, anyhow.
Porkpie is coming up again, finally. Thursday, May 6 at the Company House. Readers to be announced. I’ll be one of them, for sure. Stay tuned.
So, there’s writing, which I find not particularly hard. Then there’s rewriting, which I hate and fear, but am trying to learn to embrace (remind me to talk more about that some time). Then there’s taking something you’ve written, rewritten, re-rewritten and had published and…writing it again.
That’s a real feat. I’ve been wrestling with the treatment for Homing (the movie) for some time now. Lots of reading and thinking and making notes and writing and thinking and rewriting and thinking and then rewriting again. Oh, and some movie watching too. I finally finished the process yesterday around 5pm. I felt roughly the way I did upon finishing the writing of the novel in the first damn place. Triumphant, relieved, terrified, totally tapped out.
What an odd experience to write that story again, same but different. Many things stayed the same, but a surprising number of details changed necessarily. At this point, it still feels very much like Homing the book. I understand that things may yet change in future iterations of Homing the movie, but I feel okay about that at this point. I may have more to say about this some time in the future. For now, I’m just glad I can move to the next phase… sending the treatment to the producers, and chilling out for a bit.
So, you know, mission accomplished, thus far.
In true vacation form, I was felled by a miserable cold. And then it started raining, and who knows when it will stop? So, it’s been like that.
We’ve been a busy couple of vacationers. Kev‘s been working as hard as he can getting his record finalized. Album art, check. Looks great. Got it mastered by the guy he wanted, check, listening to it right now, sounds great. Get it all off to the duplicators, well, that’s been a bit complicated, but we’re getting there.
Last night he took the mastered disc out to the car to listen to it. I couldn’t sleep, despite a liberal dose of cold medication (or maybe because of) and so I slipped on a dress and flip flops and padded out in the pouring rain to join him in the car and listen drowsily. Great way to hear it. Highly recommended. I hope you find at least one great rain storm after you get your copy of Son of a Rudderless Boat, coming soon to a folk festival stage near you (provided Lunenburg is near you).
As for me, I have yet to set hands to keyboard for the purpose of writing the treatment. This is so my MO. I write at the very last minute, and then only if my life depends on it. I can see it all so clearly in my head. I see Leah in scenes that aren’t in the book, but are nonetheless her scenes, scenes that came so naturally, I must have always known I’d need them for some other purpose. And Henry, my god, he couldn’t be more alive to me if he actually lived next door. Don’t tell the others, but Henry’s my favourite.
Anyhow, as with every single vacation here in the Sheridan Homelands, it doesn’t matter how much time we spend, it’s never, ever enough. We have a week left here, and there are still so many people to see, three decks to build (today was supposed to be the day, but see under: rain. Actually, Tuesday was supposed to be the day but see under: ridiculous cold), a CD to pick up and a treatment to write.
If we ever took the kind of vacation that involved flying over a body of water larger than the Saint Lawrence Seaway, how would we ever get anything done? I imagine if I ever had a real vacation, I’d be dangerous.
And how’s your July?