The handwriting is on the wall

So, it’s going. Not at the pace at which I’d hoped it would, but it is going. We went to Moncton and Amherst last weekend for a belated Christmas visit, and Kev’s step-grandmother died while we were there, and so the visit was extended and expanded and hugely emotional. I’m glad we were there, but it was tough, and I tried not to think too much about the days of writing I was missing.

We got back to Halifax on Tuesday afternoon, and I’ve had a good day and a bad day since then. Yesterday was just vile. I was all at sea with Dacey Brown. What is her purpose? What drives her? If you know, please drop me a note, because I couldn’t find any of it yesterday. I wrote a miserable and plodding six pages and then hung it up for the day. This morning, I woke up thinking about a scene I want to write, a scene about which I know all the important stuff and have only to embroider the fun parts. I put on a pot of coffee while Kev stayed in bed, and instantly pounded out six pages without thinking or pausing. I am imagining the rest of the day proceeding apace. And I’ll write Saturday and probably Sunday as well, just to make up for missed days earlier this week and late last.

I’ve been writing across the street at the neighbours’ house, and that’s been great. Whatever conversations might happen over there have nothing to do with me, the cats are not my concern… I am able to just sit and write. The view is boring–it is of my parking space. So I look out over my own car, most times. It’s perfect. Great to be able to cross the street and go to work. Yesterday I made a cup of hot chocolate and put it in my travel mug, filled a big mason jar with water, took my duvet slippers and tucked in. It would have been perfect, had the writing gone better. I will leave that part of the book for now and just move on. Come back to it later. Just a first draft. Doesn’t have to be perfect.

Someone asked about the writing by hand. A variety of reasons. Among them, the unreliability of computers, which can crash and take with your entire manuscript. And yeah, you should back up your stuff, but I don’t know anyone who does. Also, we have only one computer and Kev works from home as well, so it’d be a battle royale every day. And most important, I’m a better writer when I write longhand. I am a very fast typist thanks to my years as a journalist. So I can type almost everything I’m thinking. Thing is, it’s not all gold. Most of it is not. By hand, I can really only get the best parts, the distillation of my ideas. At least, I think it’s the best parts! Hope so! Anyhow, it seems to be the right process for this particular book.



Batting clean up

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.

Common thread

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!

What’s in my head, out

Oh dear, not much writing happening lately, I have to say. The fall has been a blur of work-related outreach events (that is, lots of hosting of fundraising dinners for various organizations, the CBC open house, The Howe Symposium and Scrabble with the Stars), helping Kev get his fall tour organized and underway, a bit of travel (mainly flying to Toronto to surprise Kev in the midst of his fall tour) and…what else? I’m taking Italian lessons again, which is mostly an exercise in humility as my classmates all seem to be able to speak in paragraphs and I can barely say Io mi chiamo Stefania without stumbling, but what are you gonna do? You know? October also brought a successful Blowhard Presents, on the theme of Flying Solo, and early November brought a less-well-attended, but no less successful (for hugely different reasons) Porkpie. I also spent most of my free time cooking huge amounts of food and putting it in the freezer. The local produce has been extraordinary this year, so there’s that. But also, I figured if I cooked a bunch of stews and soups and chillis and the like, and popped them in the freezer, it would serve the dual purpose of preserving the goodness of the harvest, plus ensuring that we don’t starve to death when we’re living off a three thousand dollar grant for two months…and that neither of us will have to take time out of our creative projects (Kev’s likely to be writing a new album by January) to make supper. So the kitchen has been a storm of activity this fall as well.
So, not a lot of writing going on. But, a lot of thinking about writing. And for me, that’s a huge part of the heavy lifting anyhow. Next weekend, The Common is going to a lovely and well-appointed retreat on Herman’s Island…and I expect to get some good work done there. It’s time to start thinking about structure, I think. I want to lay out the pages and scenes I have so far and write the parts I need to write in between so that I have a real sense of what’s there and where we’re all going. I have some scenes with Dacey on the bus–I read them the other night at the tiny Porkpie, and received really lovely feedback from the little group there. I am keen to get them all into central Canada, into the same vehicle, so that things can really start to happen.
I’m worried, a little, about the winter. I worry about my tendency to procrastinate. I worry that I won’t really have enough time to get it all done. But maybe if I can get a good start on things next weekend, I won’t feel so nervous about January. Even if I only write two thousand words a day, which is more than do-able for me, I’ll end up with fifty thousand words by the end of the first month. Then I’ll spend two weeks in the car on tour with Kev, which should be the perfect time for a road-trip-reset, and then I’ll have ten days or so to finish up that first draft. In ten days I can knock out another twenty thousand words.
So crazy to think of it in those terms. But watching friends take on NaNoWriMo, and remembering the pace at which I wrote Homing that miserable Winnipeglian November in 2003–it all seems possible, frankly. I’ve done this before, and I can do it again. The first draft is just the first draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be finished. Then I can rewrite in spring and see how we go.
Right? Right.
Two thousand words a day. Anything more than that is gravy. I’ll have to figure out how many pages that is for me in long hand. I get so obsessed with stats and numbers. Anything, I guess, to distract me from the actual writing. Absurd, but true.
What is that, anyhow? So long as I can manage not to just clean the vegetable crispers instead of actually writing, it’ll be fine.
Of course, there’s a simple solution to all of this. Just write it. Just put the words on the paper and it’ll get done. I have huge affection for my characters, lots of engagement with my themes, and a clear sense of where it’s all heading. There’s nothing to be afraid of, here. In fact, my head is so full of the characters now all the time, it’s a wonder I can do anything else with my time at all.
What do you do when you’re staring down the barrel of your first draft, spending more time worrying than writing? How do you solve it? I’ll take any and all encouragement you care to offer.
I’ll definitely be calling in a gift Sue Goyette left tucked under a plate at my birthday party/Toasted Tomato Sandwich festival this year. It was a certificate entitling me to a session of encouragement/ass-kicking. I’ll save that for early January. It’ll be the perfect way to launch, I think. An ass-kicking from Sue Goyette. What better gift, I ask you?

Fallsy Downsies, and getting up again

Oh I am a bad little blogger. But as the season winds down, and what’s left in the garden begins to wither, and my crankiness begins to bubble, I realize it’s time to write. The government is helping with that… Nova Scotia very kindly gave me a small grant to finish Fallsy Downsies. And my employer kindly granted my request for a leave without pay. And if Canada Council can make it a hat trick, my cunning plan will come to fruition by the new year. Actually, even if the Canada Council declines to give me anything, I will still take January and February off to finish the first draft of the book. They will be lean months, and I will be available for freelance editing projects as a result, so keep me in mind!

But honestly, the thought of having two whole winter months in which to write and write is quite intoxicating. The pile of notes and scraps and scenes grows, Lansing and Evan and Dacey continue to take shape in my imagination, and the cold days approach.

So all the people who say to me: when will your next book be out… I still don’t have an answer for that, but at least it’s one step closer to being actually written.


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.

Obsession and Satisfaction

When I have it in mind to do a project, it is all I can think about. It was like that with Homing, when I was writing the first draft, though in that case I was obsessed with the statistics of it, how many words I could write per hour, and how many hours per day, and how long I could reasonably put it off and still finish by the end of November. NaNoWriMo and all. My god, six years ago right now I was just being ribbed by a good friend about my character who didn’t seem to want to leave the house, the ghost who seemed to be hanging around the library and the wafer thin plot that didn’t seem like it was going to be able to bring them together at all. She laughingly suggested homing pigeons. Maybe it desperation, or maybe divine inspiration. Doesn’t matter. I bit, and here we are.

Anyhow, while Kev is out of town, I have been passing the hours and days and weeks with cunning plans involving furniture placement, reconditioning and repurposing. This, I could do forever and be happy happy happy. Today, I recovered an ottoman. A truly ugly one I bought for four dollars at Value Village. I bought it a nineteen dollar curtain and some swish new legs, tapped some finishing nails into ‘er, and whaddya know,  I have a fabulous new foot stool. I couldn’t be happier. It’s not like me to actually finish a project, but there’s one done. I also painted a wall in our kitchen with blackboard paint… that one’s finished too. And I moved around eight pieces of furniture in all… no, sorry, ten… and those projects are not quite finished. Too many ripples with each piece. Gotta take everything out of it. Decide whether it’s being kept, trashed or given away. Find a new place for it, make sure it gets to the garbage or into the charity bin, depending on what you’ve decided. Sweep behind each piece you move because holy god, what breeds under credenzas these days? Arrange the piece just so, and fill it up again.

And so I am almost done. I have all this orphan stuff lying around, and I am going to sort it out tonight if it kills me. Which it might if those dust bunnies mass together and rise up.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I think I’m nesting. The bun in my oven is Fallsy Downsies, and I think this frantic and furious nest-feathering is the novel’s way of telling me it’s ready to be written.

Which is great news because my vegetable crispers could really use a cleaning, and I find nothing can keep me from writing once it’s time to write…nothing can take me back to the procrastination stage…except a vegetable crisper in need. Lock up your crispers, people, I’m about to write.


Got up this morning with much reluctance, flowed like molasses in January to the table to write…and managed to get a nice little road section with Evan Cornfield and Lansing Meadows. Clear articulation of Evan’s goals and fears. Lansing crusty, as per usual. Plus, I found some writing I apparently did in June that’s maybe pretty good, and is going to get an airing tonight at Porkpie. So if you’re in the mood for some delicious fresh-baked writing, Porkpie is the place for you. The Company House, Gottingen and Cunard, 7pm. Five bucks at the door, cheap wine once you’re inside.


Just a quicky. I am reading at Porkpie Four tomorrow night at the Company House. You should probably plan to be there. There’s a pile of great writers on the bill, and I’ll be reading something brand new. So new it hasn’t been written yet! Whee! A new little chunk of Fallsy Downsies, coming your way in less than twenty four hours. Gotta go!

Worth the drive to Yarmouth

Had a lovely time in Yarmouth yesterday, despite the long solitary drive there and back (seven hours round trip). The Library people I was there to talk to were great, great, great. They asked really thought provoking questions and they seemed to really enjoy the reading. Lots of them bought books and stuck around to chat afterward. It was exactly what you’d hope for if you’d driven three and a half hours on a rainy Saturday morning and had not much to look forward to but a three and a half hour drive back.

It was nice to take Fallsy Downsies out for a bit of a walk as well. I read them a short section about Dacey Brown and her dream life. I love the image from one of her dreams, in which she is driving two cars along a sere winter road. She lurches a few feet forward in one car, hops out, goes back for the other, brings it forward, and on and on. I feel like that so much of the time with writing and working. These twin lives, each of which I seem to need, neither of which I’m willing to abandon, and so they lurch ahead slowly, so slowly, one getting momentum, then stopping for the other.

The talk I gave was nominally about balance, which is hilarious, considering it’s the thing I struggle toward most. But maybe that made me a good choice for the conference. I’ve certainly thought about it a lot, that’s for sure.

Anyhow, onward to the next: Mount Saint Vincent University on Tuesday night, then Porkpie Four on Thursday. I am going to try to write something new for Porkpie.  Not sure what, nor about which character. I guess you’ll have to drop by the Company House on Thursday to find out, yeah?