“The Slilent Treatment” – Writing Prompt, 2014-8-20

Our second prompt last night at the city library’s main branch was “Silent Treatment.” Readers in order were Philip, Abbey, a new girl whose name I cannot remember, Megan, Scott, Neil, Sally, Max (female and not short for Maxine), Hendrine, Elsa, and me, John. The six women slammed the four men with their sexist prose, poetry, and historical account *grin*, so I was happy to finish with this little [unedited] piece ;) 

“What are you doing Phil?”

“Huh? Oh, checking out the dog house.” He’s on all fours with his head in the thing.

“Good Lord, no, we are not getting a dog,” Megan says. “We don’t have room in the house for us.”

“I don’t want a dog,” Phil says. “I’m checking out its construction.”

“Get up off the floor already,” she says. “You’re embarrassing me.”

“What?” he says, his words muffled by his new enclosure. His head is shoved in as far as it can go. His stalwart shoulders won’t fit through the entrance.

“Jesus Phil, get your ass out of there!”

Phil pulls back and slowly stands. “I don’t understand,” he says. “I can hear you just fine from inside this one.”

Phil turns and walks towards the power tool section.

The Plains Of Mordor — when your assassination targets reveal themselves.

If you’ve stumbled across this post, I am editing a novel. At this moment I have edited 99,254 words of my 120,620 word manuscript. A week ago I was around the 90k mark, but there is some deception in the numbers. At that time the manuscript contained 120,000 words, but I have added much, maybe 4,000 words. If you do the math, this means I have also deleted some 4,600 words. I have many more words to delete to get to the 100,000 target arbitrarily assigned new authors.

Honestly, I tried to delete as many words as I could over this summer. Seriously. Really I did. But almost everything I worked on ended up growing. All my writing was needed. During this last week, my opinion of much of my story has changed.

I now work on the final leg of my journey, the Plains Of Mordor. What a dreadful place it is too. The land is barren and sere, it’s covered in odd-sized boulders and rocks, and it crawls with ugly orcs. It is the land of the dead, and all of those necessary passages I kept are now haunting me. They scream in my ear “why didn’t you continue with me?” or “that’s not what I was going to do!” or “I’m so fecken bored, just shoot me, please.” So much of what I have written is now showing itself to be wrong, and it has drained my mind. I want to lay down and never see this piece of shit ever again.

Except today I edited a wonderful scene. I trimmed it nicely. I removed the extra curls, trimmed the eyebrows, and plucked its nose hairs. It is now clean and presentable and a strong component of a great story. Never mind the rest of the story doesn’t quite support it. What I knew would happen is happening, but it’s still painful.

My plan is simple and straightforward. I am going to edit the rest of this story as best I can. I know the ending is fairly true, so I will clean it up as best I can. I will slay any useless children. I will slit the darlings’ throats with a clean, sharp fish-knife. I will toss the remains in the ditch and laugh.

And then I will start over. I will bring a shotgun this time, plus a crossbow, a sabre, an M16, a Luger, a Remington 9mm, and an American policeman’s nightstick. I will search out and destroy these evil little demons. I will root them out and assassinate their sorry asses right out of my story and replace them, if necessary, with the handful or less of emptiness left behind.

f somebody wants to buy me one of these, I won’t complain. I may need it.

Back to work.

Novel Progress [2012]

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I’ve been busy this summer, writing-wise. Otherwise it has been pretty slow and laid back. I am unemployed and off of EI, so we are living off my wife’s salary only. We have also moved into an apartment in the city, and our daughter, who began her first full-time job in May, and her boyfriend are renting our house from us. The housing market sucks around here, and we have some foundation work to complete before we are ready to sell. Call it an experiment. So far, all tests are positive.

I decided to use this downtime to focus on a novel. Every day that passes I feel more comfortable with my abilities as a writer, more confident in my abilities to write a readable novel. Hell, let’s cut to the chase. I think I can write a best selling novel, and I think I have two in my portfolio, maybe even four.

Okay, pop the balloon head.

Seriously, I do think I am approaching take-off, that point where one of my novels can be pitched to an agent. And I’ll get this off my plate right now: I have zero interest in self publishing. None! I believe a novel placed in front of readers needs a large amount of care. Novels not only need a great amount of effort by the author, but also a great deal of editing, story and copy. As an avid reader, I want a quality book in my hands. I do not read trash. At least not often. And when I do, I give the book the review it deserves. I think my worst rating this year is two stars, but blame that on my prejudice against werewolves.

So when my school term ended in late June — I’ve been teaching part time at our community college — I began to stick my head back into my 2012 NaNoWriMo effort. I cannot accurately describe all the work I have done on this story, but I know it is a lot. 50,000 plus words were originally written in November 2012, and in the time since, it has grown to 115,000 words, give or take, as of July 1, 2014. *If you are an agent and are turned off by seeing NaNoWriMo, please do not be. I treat Novembers seriously. It is a convenient time to write, and the group support very helpful. We — me and a few other keeners who hope to get, err, plan to get published — are actively planning our 2014 novels now. Brainstorming mostly. I have almost nothing concrete in my notebook, and frankly, I didn’t in 2014 either. But that’s not my point. The point is I write seriously, and NaNoWriMo for me is a serious project kick-off. How many times have I heard authors say “I wrote this story quickly, in a couple of months?” And the audience says “ooh.” It’s impressive to write 50,000 words in a month if you are a published author but not if you are a hack writer? *end of rant*

I began by writing about my story. It is a complex tale with many subplots and themes interacting. I created a page for each and cross-linked them all. Funky graphs. Various colors of fountain pen ink. Stabbing, paring, dodging, and reconciling. Two weeks later I was still happy with my story but with notes. Gaps and danglings. Dead ends and stupid wtfs. No darlings though. I’m that good ;)

I am now deep into editing. I just finished off 90,369 words of 120,000. Yes, I have added 5k since July 1. And I am learning a lot about my writing. I think too much and direct the stage too much — he feels, he watches, he thinks, he looks. He edits with a heavy pen and a light heart.

I have a big stickler of an issue though. I introduce a main character late in the story and another after her. It pains me to leave them so late, but it kills the story to bring them in earlier. I think. I did manage to bring him, the second character, in much earlier, and I am real happy with the scene and placement. But I cannot bring either in sooner. Let me describe it another way that might make sense. I have two stories. I have the internal transformation — let’s call it becoming a wasp from an egg — and I have an external story, an in your face, dramatic story — the wasp saves the nest. These two characters belong more in the second story, and if look at the second, external story on its own, they are introduced early. But if you look at the lead up, the egg-to-wasp story, they play more minor roles, so they come in late. They cannot show up until the threats to the nest appear, really. I think. Anyway, that’s where it stands, at 90.4k of 120k words and less than three weeks left to my self-imposed deadline.

Then it’s beta reader time. They are lining up to read it!

I only wish the agents and publishers were lining up.

*** If you are local, I think I am going to read a short scene at Bernie’s open mic night in September at the Arts Centre. It’s a head twister ;) ***

Straightening Out My Crooked Manuscript

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If you try to write novels, you know what my title means. You have finished a couple of drafts, the first a whirlwind of creativity and the second an attempt to fix holes with plaster. But now the story has problems. It begins well enough and ends superbly. If you could publish the first four chapters and the last three, you’d be on the NYT bestsellers list. But of course you can’t. That middle section is a cloudy, muddy cesspool.

We try to fix it. We think we have a plan. We sit down with the first scene and begin reading it with the intention of making changes. The scene feels okay on its own, but when you sit back and think how it fits in the story, you don’t have many concrete thoughts, good or bad. Your mind goes nowhere, so you go there as well. You pack it in and go do something else like work on a short story, a blog post, a rebuttal to the latest vegan science, replies to anti-climate changers, anti-vaxxers, anti-whateverers, a rebuttal to any extremist’s post on whatever topic, or maybe play a 32 hour game of Civ V.

Our stories got in this state by our own excessive creativity: it would be cool if Mr. Protagonist did this or that or maybe joined the Brazilian football team. Apparently they let anybody play for them. And this Germany-Brazil game is a good analogy of the state of my novel — a disaster of national proportions. How do we fix it? How do we make sure it all makes sense, flows progressively and logically, all of the unnecessary verbiage is removed, and all of the black hole gaps are filed in. No traces of angst are left. Nobody can see the panty lines or skid marks of your novel. How do we sort it all out?

I decided to perform some technical analysis. TA is structured, objective analysis of a situation and often involves numerical indicators. I did not use any statistics. I examined my interfaces. I will describe what I did in point form so you can easily use this as a checklist if you wish.

1. I wrote a one sentence description of my story in this form — Protagonist learns to do this instead of that.
2. I reviewed all my scene headings and wrote a list of my subplots. I ended up with nine.
3. For each subplot I wrote
a. A description
b. Its pros
c. Its cons
d. Its character building contribution
4. Constructed a matrix to cross reference all subplots with
a. Relationship (echo, foil, etc.) *my knowledge of such descriptors is thin
b. Whether the current line contributes tot he cross-referenced line.
c. Conflict arising from plots meeting either against each other or in support of each other.
5. On the back of the page I wrote a paragraph for each line-line relationship. I labeled them 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, etc. I tried to write how this relationship should work.
6. I recorded any gaps in a list

I spent time on this. I did one sheet a day and I thought deeply about these lines and relationships. They say you should have no more than three subplots, so nine is way too high. But, bear with me. I think I extended the definition of a plot. At least three of these are more rightly called themes. Others, while they do have events, do not flow like plots. They are more like objects or symbols. When I filtered it all down to their exact definitions, I really only have two full subplots, maybe three if I stretch it. Regardless of definition, I examined my manuscript from nine different angles or dimensions. It feels like I examined a house I want to buy from all possible angles — roof, basement, walls, rooms, electrical, plumbing, heating, windows, doors, landscape, etc. Do these rooms fit this house? Do these trees match the shape of the house? Are there enough electrical outlets? Too many? Are there enough baths? Too many? What happens if my kids come home to live with us and five of us need to take showers every morning? Will that work? Is it realistic? One gets to know one’s house by asking such questions. One gets to know one’s manuscript by asking such questions.

You have a tough, mangled manuscript? Ask hard questions. Identify its important aspects (subplot, theme, symbol, motif, etc.) then ask how each aspect interfaces with each other aspect. Document gaps as well as pointless prose, though that will likely come out as you edit. Learn your story from the inside out by looking at it from all possible angles.

Tomorrow I edit!

Grandma’s House

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Poetic Asides Prompt #268

Just think, If you’ve been religiously following Robert Brewer’s blog since inception, you’d have written 268 weekly poems by now.

This week’s prompt contained multiple words. We only needed to use one of them.

toast
pop
right
paper
howl
little

Toast and pop brought me immediately to my grandmother’s little house on E. Front St. in Wauzeka Wisconsin. I have not been in it since maybe I was about eleven or twelve years old, 1972 or 1973. My brain cells from that era are AWOL. It wasn’t anything special. It was small and cramped, and its bathroom was always in shambles, but it had a yard with a chestnut tree in back and a line of climbable maples in the front. It had a large propane tank we could climb on and a garage we could get in trouble in. The backyard was annually flooded by the Kickapoo river which we were not allowed near. For good reason too. It was brown and deep and if you fell in, they likely wouldn’t find you until New Orleans. Pft! The black trains ran by at night, and our only other pastimes were watching TV and playing cards. The Rockford Files, the lowly Milwaukee Brewers, the state news, cribbage, Euchre, Crazy Eights, and later Bridge were rituals. Cousin Mike — Grandma raised my cousins — might play his record collection of Dylan, CCR, Jethro Tull or one of his innumerable more local records such as Mason Proffit’s “Come And Gone.”

Coke and Pepsi were staples, along with popcorn, chips, and the new Tang. One of my younger brothers called Coke Coca Cola pop and the other called Pepsi Pessi-Cola pop. We celebrated the treats like any good 70’s family and turned these names into car-chants and we drove down highways 14 and 133 from Madison for the weekend. Is it any wonder I became diabetic a few years later? Don’t even bother with your retort that sugar doesn’t cause diabetes. I am not sold on that defense.

Card playing was pushed as safe, family entertainment — which it is — and while smoking and alcohol were not front and center, they were not exactly hidden. They tended to come out later at night when kids were sleeping, and only when company were present, which they always seemed to be. The 70’s homes were much more social than today’s. Grandma was the school librarian and English teacher. Dad taught the Hornets music for a few years until moving on like most teachers did then. A couple of years ago I stopped to chat with an older tourist at the Saint John City Market who wore a Wisconsin shirt. Turns out he was a music teacher from Praire du Chien, a few miles away and knew him. I whipped out the cell phone and they chatted a bit before he headed back to his cruise ship. Small world, 2200 miles away.

Grandma’s house also had bats. She hated the little demons with a passion. Always tried to scare us with her story of swatting 300 of them one night with her broom. One would squeak into her kitchen through a little hole and just as its legs waddled through, *whap*, she would let it have it. 300 little black demons piled up on her kitchen floor in a Wauzeka legend. We three boys and cousins Mike and Danny would stand out at dusk with busted tennis racquets, splintered baseball bats, and rolled up Mad Magazines and try to bash the little buggers as they orbited the house. Then we’d wail on each other until the referees jumped in, bathed us, and send us to he kitchen for card playing lessons — they taught us how to play, and we thought we were teaching them our own wisdom. Eventually family friends, fellow teachers, sweaty old farmers, and perhaps a local farm laborer dad had befriended, would trundle in with their beer, chips, and maybe a bottle of whisky which would be hidden until we disappeared to bed. The kitchen would soon fill with bodies, stories, and laughter. As young heads nodded and chairs became scarce, off we’d go to our beds upstairs.


Grandma’s house means bats
The little black screechers invade every summer evening
And we little ones howled all the way to bed
Until we learned how to play cards
Until we showed we could win at crazy eights or dirty clubs
We had to go to bed before the serious fun started
A kitchen full of grown-ups eating popcorn and drinking
Coca-Cola pop, Old Milwaukee, or that other stuff they wouldn’t
Bring out until we finally went to sleep
And even when we snuck down to peek
We were too young to read its dark, mysterious label
On that shiny, large clear bottle
We were pretty sure we saw its cousins lying shattered in a ditch

Who Are Novelitsts Really?

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Today I am exploring the attributes of a good writer. I want to distinguish between things good writers do and things good writers are, their qualities. A successful novelist needs to be able to sit and work, but does this describe the writer? Am I someone able to sit and work hard on a single subject for long hours? I think this describes actions good writers do, not things good writers are. Adverbs versus adjectives. As I research this subject, I find many articles that prescribe activities writers must do to achieve this notion of greatness, but very few discuss what characteristics these writers inherently possess. In The 6 Unique Traits of All Remarkable Writers, Demian Farnworth discusses actions rather than traits:

1. Remarkable writers have the ability to size up content
2. Remarkable writers are able to connect the dots
3. Remarkable writers can express ideas clearly
4. Remarkable writers can write in their head
5. Remarkable writers read with a deep purpose
6. Remarkable writers swing the snow shovel

There is a subtle distinction here, but when you examine each in detail, you do realize these describe actions a writer must perform: she or she must size up content, connect the dots, express ideas clearly, write in their heads (write constantly), read with deep purpose, and swing the snow shovel (work hard). These are actions, not traits.

Compare to a photo I discovered posted by Random House on Facebook.

1970511_688658191199175_367251547_n

On first read this image seems rather tongue-in-cheek, a parody of who novelists are. Stereotypical profiling. We read it, smile, and brush it off. We do not wish to think of ourselves as socially inept losers of this game of capitalism. But isn’t this image more or less true? I tally Seven of Nine for myself, my own personal debauchery:

Seven Of Nine

But how unique are these traits? I’ll bet the same images can apply to just about any profession. I know for a fact that accountants are way more screwed up than novelists, if this is the benchmark. And computer programmers live in their own, higher (lower) realm of pathos.

Joyce and Jim Lavene offer some corroboration in their book The Everything Guide To Novel Writing with a list on page six:

Beyond working hard to get their writing published, there are other characteristics that seem to define successful novelists:

* Focused enough to finish an entire book but restless and unhappy in other work
* Strongly creative, usually in more than one art form, despite childhood admonitions to be more practical
* Tend to have many different jobs in their lifetime. (Others interpret this as lack of commitment, but writers see it as research.)
* Have problems with being labeled as “dreamers”
* Have a burning desire to tell a story and can see their story played out before them like a movie.

Consistent with Random House’s cartoon image, but are these valid? I spend a lot of time thinking about cause and effect, especially with nutrition and health. I won’t go into that rat hole today, but let me say that often we interpret symptoms as causes. I will rapid-fire my comments. I don’t want to write a whole book on this, not yet.

> I am focused enough to finish work because I enjoy it.
> Creativity is hard work (Csikszentmihalyi).
> Because our ideal job (writing, painting, sculpting, etc.) do not pay.
> Because our ideal job (writing, painting, sculpting, etc.) do not pay.
> Isn’t this the crux of it?

If all it takes is to love to write, wouldn’t we all be Stephen Kings, John Irvings, or *cough* J.K. Rowlings?

I think it is clear that successful novelists do live on a special plane of the writers dimension. With the risks of delving into things writer’s must do again and into areas I have not yet fully explored, I will give my own list of things writers must be or be capable of:

* Lavenes’ “Have a burning desire to tell a story and can see their story played out before them like a movie.”
* Delaney’s “The talented writer often uses specifics and avoids generalities — generalities that his or her specifics suggest. Because they are suggested, rather than stated, they may register with the reader far more forcefully than if they were articulated. Using specifics to imply generalities — whether they are general emotions we all know or ideas we have all vaguely sensed — is dramatic writing.
* Innately feels conflict, tension, and draw. They know their ambiguous suggestion raises questions and they play it to its max.
* They feel the emotion and are able to match their sentence form to their emotional content.
* They can become their characters and live in their fictional world.
* They can write images, typically subtle and subliminal.

I could write all day on this, but I won’t. It is a topic for a MFA student to tackle fully and logically. I have explored these ideas for my own personal satisfaction (not really), have examined my own values and beliefs (even if I haven’t written about them much), and it is time to move on. No, I do not think writers are only those who experience social rejection. They are not outcasts but walk their own paths, have stepped out of social norms on their own. When you take your own route, you will tend to get lost. Waywardness is a symptom of us doing what we want to do rather than what we are supposed to do.

In the end, I hope we never arrive at a consensus. I like mysteries and I want the question to persist. It’s too early for resolution.

Does Family Count?

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You know, as reviewers of your fiction.

My dad stayed over night last night and wanted to read my work. I gave him the first scene. It took him awhile to get through the 14 double spaced printed pages, but he did. I got back from a meeting at 9pm, and he asked for more — “You aren’t going to leave me hanging, are you? I have to know what happens next.”

Music to my ears, but was it authentic? Though he picked out a type, is he qualified to give an opinion? Was this an opinion? The trouble with my story is you need to read the next forty pages to appreciate where I go with it. We stayed up until 2am and watched game #4 of the Stanley Cup finals. He read while we watched, asked me lots of questions, and we discussed writing. He has a PhD in music composition so can relate to writing notes, themes, objectives, etc. He is writing an opera, so he understands drama as well. His wife (not my mother) also read it. The gave me more “this is good” and “this is definitely publishable” comments scattered throughout our morning of me being a taxi driver for them.

Yeah, it feels good. My limited queries told me they were affected as I’d hoped, even more so in some regards like the interaction with the woman — “they are obviously going to get together.” Well, maybe.

I have so much left to do. I have spent 80% of my effort on the first 20% of the story. “Arrgh!” So much left to do. So many gaps to fill in. So many plot lines to organize. So much theme to apply.

Have I ever said I think I finally understand my story? I think I know who my character is, why he is the way he is, and how he changes, transforms. I know all the drivers. I know how the ship gets on its journey to the center of the earth, all of the obstacles in its path, how it overcomes them, and how it brings the important people home safely. I know how the hero’s journey should play out.

Sandford Lyne says to write affirmations and repeat them until you believe them. Consider this posting a big affirmation for myself. I will complete this novel successfully. I will get it published. It will generate only five star reviews and tens of millions of sales. Yes, it is that kind of book and I am that kind of writer. I write fiction.

The best writers give themselves the most permissions.

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Sandford Lynne has written a very popular book on poetry titled “Writing Poetry From The Inside Out.” Thank you Robert Brewer and the fine participants over at Poetic Asides for the recommendation. I am not recommending this book though, at least not yet. It is a beginner’s book and I am a beginning, ignorant poet, yet the book bothers me. Me. I am looking for nuts and bolts and so far the author has only given his attempted inspiration. I am on page 67 and until now it has all been writing BS — “You can do it!” Pfft. I know that; I just don’t know how.” But on with my point I feel so self-secure about.

In the last paragraph of Chapter #4 the author leaves us with his legacy. When I read it I stopped, and not because it is the end of the chapter. I re-read it and re-read it. I have read it several times now, and I have Googled it. Many have written about his lines on this page number 31. I’ll present his full text since I always seem to skip the most important parts when I truncate.

When I think about it, the happiest, most successful, most fulfilled people I know are the ones who, over time, gave themselves the most permissions — in all areas of their lives. Guided by the compass of an inner truth, they did not wait for others to tell them what was okay to do, or wait for others to tell them which steps to take. Through trial and error, they learned how to experiment with their lives. And maybe this is worth underscoring: The best writers give themselves the most permissions. The happiest, most fulfilled people give themselves the most permissions. The two go hand in hand.

I am writing about this prescription to let it go because it has been a theme with me this past year. I run a prompt writing group, and this is really our one and only theme. Let it go! I have written poetry, essays, fiction, and pages full of landfill. I have turned a few of them into novel scenes and maybe one short story. Time flies. Every Wednesday night when it isn’t blizzarding I let myself go as much as I can.

I think I wrote not too long ago about my Douglas Glover workshop. On the way out he encouraged me with some direct advice. “Let it go!” I don’t know if those were his words; he probably said something more elegant. But that was the message. Let it go. Give yourself permission to go for it, and damn it all, go for it!

But an aphorism is useless without action. Words are just words, unless you are writing them. Or reading them. Yesterday I began my first John Updike read. I’ve been picking up his little novels for over a year now, but I have never managed to hold one open in front of me long enough to let anything sink in. I am notorious for that — reading a paragraph and brushing it off. I a a profligate first paragraph reader and a delinquent last paragraph finisher. I grabbed his short story collection “The Music School.” It was first published in 1962 and is almost as old as I am. Some of the stories, maybe all, are likely older. So let’s start from my beginning, I thought. How bad can this be?

The first sentence and the paragraph of the first story — “In Football Season” — hooked me.

Do you remember a fragrance girls acquire in autumn?

Are you serious? Of course I do. I paused while my mind raced back to chasing my wife at university in the autumn of 1979 and remembering her fragrance. My mind continued back to junior high school in 1973 when my interest in girls had exploded open in that young teenage hormonal irruption. The fragrance of girls at the school dances and on the mile and a half walks to and from school each day.

As you walk beside them after school, they tighten their arms about their books and bend their heads forward to give a more flattering attention to your words and in the little intimate area thus formed, carved into the clear air by an implicit crescent, there is a complex fragrance woven of tobacco, powder, lipstick, rinsed hair, and that perhaps imaginary and certainly elusive scent that wool, whether in the lapels of a jacket or the nap of a sweater, seem to yield when the cloudless fall sky like the blue bell of a vacuum toward itself the glad exhalations of all things. This fragrance, so faint and flirtatious on those afternoon walks through the dry leaves, would be banked a thousandfold and lie heavy as the perfume of a flower shop on the dark slope of the stadium when, Friday nights, we played football in the city.

Updike knew his opening sentence would create many of these sensations on its own, but now he directs them towards us. He tells our histories to come alive and be remembered. And then once he has us, at least us knuckle dragging men, he then directs us to the football field. And now we’re all hooked on John Updike.

But was this giving permission in action? What does giving permission mean and how do you know if you’ve given yourself permission? These are questions I ask of my own writings. Am I giving enough?

First, how many grown men would write about the fragrance of young teenagers? How many would write past glancing references and delve into flirtations and implicit inviting crescents? In today’s pedophilia-phobic society? In 1960? Any way you cut it, John Updike explored emerging sexuality without inhibition — at least by 1960’s standards — and went so far as to publish his words. I think it is pretty clear he gave himself permission to explore and write about all facets of the human condition. And the more I read John Updike, the more I fall in love with his free pen. The more I read John Updike, the freer I feel with my own writing hand.

Write on!

The Boy Who Drank Coffee

April is over. PAD is finished. We are back on the regular Wednesday poem schedule at Robert Brewer’s place — Poetic Asides.

This morning’s prompt, “The Boy Who (blank),” put me off. I think it was the Peter and the Wolf imagery the prompt evokes. The last thing I see myself writing is about a mischievous young boy running through fields bored out of his skull and crying wolf. I get enough of these shenanigans at school. So I guess my mind went all gritty on me. I spent time yesterday on my novel and I thought about its setting and title on the way to school on the bus. It takes place in a coffee shop. I was drinking home-ground Brazilian coffee. I took a sip of it as I pondered the prompt. The Boy Who Drank Coffee
fell from the heavens onto my page. Fine, now what? Why would a young’un drink coffee anyway? Maybe he is emulating his father. I hear some impressionable kids do this, imitate their dads — he’s a drunk and a thief so why can’t I be one too? It’s the family business. Well dad drinks coffee every morning, so why can’t he? It makes his father feel good. Maybe it is the one spark in his otherwise dark and dreary day. And maybe the boy takes his response literally. Maybe he thinks it is all the coffee’s doing. Maybe if only he can drink coffee, his life will appear as glorious as his father’s words. Maybe.

The Boy Who Drank Coffee

Four milk and six sugar please
Yes, in addition to what you have already added
I cannot stomach the taste of this black gruel
But my daddy drinks it
And he smacks his lips every morning after that first big gulp
And he remarks what a glorious day it is
Even if it is raining or snowing
Or the sun is not yet up
Or the birds are not singing
And the only sound we hear from the cold kitchen is turnpike whining
So load it up with sugar and milk
I want to experience this fabulous world, for the life of me
I can otherwise not see.

My Signed Novels — [Can-Lit Warning!]

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I don’t know anybody else that collects signed novels, and mine is hardly a collection. Fourteen is a loosing football score – -*update* I added a new one since I began writing this blog. Now it is a Canadian football score. It is not a particularly impressive collection, even if you are a fan of Canadian literature. Nothing rare. Nothing I will ever make money off of. These are not Babe Ruth signed books, this is Canadian Literature. *yawn*

I am a fan of Canadian literature, and in my opinion, we should all be fans of it. The books I read all seem to offer an insight into humanity I do not find elsewhere. I am sure they exist. But not like in Canada. Our little pond is full of big fat fish.

I will start off with my Newfoundland collection. I like Newfy authors. They are possibly the most honest people on the planet. When you read a Newfy author, you often get a deep look into your own soul. Isolation psychology?

> Every Little Thing by Chad Pelley
Every Little Thing

This is not my favorite book, but Chad might be my favorite author. He is a literature pusher. His now defunct blog Salty Ink has been a Can-lit stalwart, and he recently launched a new magazine in St. John’s called The Overcast, Newfoundland’s Arts and Culture Magazine. He has visited us in Saint John at least twice. I have eaten a meal and drank beer and coffee with him. Chad is a literary rock from The Rock, and I am proud to own a book signed by him.

> The Deception Of Livvy Higgs by Donna Morrissey

I enjoyed this book, but it is not on my top ten lists. I attended a workshop Donna ran while she was here, and it and her reading were amazing. Energetic and animated do not begin to describe Donna Morrissey, yet she combines her liveliness with such thoughtful insight. She is an introvert in and extrovert’s clothes. The perfect combination for a writer? A book to remind me that writing is hard work and needs our passion and energy. It motivates me to look at the back of this book.

> Finton Moon by Gerard Gallant
Finton Moon

Gerard has stopped by at least twice. His tours seem to zig zag around Atlantic Canada. Newfs apparently get lost on the mainland. He also ran a workshop here, and I thought it really helped me understand some of my writing. I realized I tend to write to me, and that may not be a good thing; or it might be. Gerrard went to the same University as I did, Acadia, and I suppose we share a bond in it. Stand Up And Cheer, Gerrard. I was at Acadia at the same time as Russell Wangersky. I don’t have any signed Wangerskies, and I don’t remember or know him, but we feel like family to me. Ha. Next…

> The Colony Of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston
> The Son Of A Certain Woman also by Wayne Johnston
ColonySon

I carried Unrequited around for six months. I read it in the car while I waited for my wife after work. Five minutes here, twenty minutes there. It has that slept on the floor of the car lustre. Sorry Wayne, but it’s beat to shit now. I have yet to crack the other book, but I plan on it soon. My reading pile … piles are too high.

Wayne is the funniest reader I have ever listened to. Seriously, he could be a stand-up comic. He is dry and knows a good story. Wayne is an easy read (a compliment), so I should get at it. I also have a few other of his books I picked up but never got signed.

Now I move to the mainland’s authors.

> The Free World by David Bezmozgis
The Free World

This story wasn’t the most exciting, but it was interesting. It is a peek into the life of 1970’s Russian Jews emigrating to Canada (and to the USA and Israel). This is historical fiction that should be read by all simply for its insights into this little written about aspect of our history. I think it has potential to be an important addition to historical literature. David was a fine reader and it was a big crowd, a very enjoyable evening. I am proud to own this book.

> Dogs At The Perimeter by Madeleine Thein
Dogs At The Perimeter

Madeleine has amazing control of the English language. I will admit I expected the stereotypical struggling Asian English. No. She puts everybody I’ve ever known or heard to shame. I sat and listened dumbfounded. Her character’s voice also jolted me. It was first person present tense — similar to the voice I was playing with for the novel I am now writing — and I noticed it jumped around from present to past to inside the character’s head. I immediately felt an affinity with the voice and I bought the book and chatted with her about the voices. She signed it “To John, in celebration of the beautiful present tense.” I cherish this book.

Dogs is an important book. There are very, very few novels about the Cambodian killing fields. This is not about them but about escaping them, coming to Canada, and returning to find the lost … names. People lost their names in those times. To keep one’s name was to associate with the enemies of the Khmer Rouge, to mark yourself as an enemy. The few who managed to flee came with an emptiness that Thein wields expertly and gnaws at you throughout the book. It is not a book about the torture but about rediscovery of self. It is powerful and moving. A very well written and important book.

> The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon
The Golden Mean

I enjoyed Annabel’s reading and was intrigued by her background stories. She has studied Aristotle and this story is largely about her theory he suffered from bipolar disease.

I did not enjoy the book so much. I found it thematic with thin characterization and thinner plot. It was a worthy read. I now view thematic novels as something to avoid, yet I also try to write to strong themes. I think this book has helped convince me a strong plot is needed in a novel. I carry an opposition to MFA style stories, I think, and this book has played its part in me building this wall.

> Attack Of The Copula Spiders by Douglas Glover
> Savage Love also by Douglas Glover
Copula SpidersSon

Doug just finished a stint as the writer in residence at UNB in Fredericton, an hour and a half drive from me. I have emailed him too often, met him three times, and attended a workshop of his. He is MFA through and through, but even so, I was quite effected by his essays in Attack Of The Copula Spiders. This is perhaps the most important book I own. And I am not going to say anything more. Sorry. It’s one of those leading a horse to water scenarios. I am not going to try and make you drink, and don’t even ask to borrow my copy. I now look forward to reading Alice Munro and Ernest Hemingway short stories because of Doug. I now read much slower and more carefully because of Doug. I now read with a pencil because of Doug, I now write paragraphs like this one because of Doug. Nuff said?

I haven’t read his Savage Love yet. As I just stated, I am a slow reader, but it is in the queue behind about a hundred other books.

> The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason
The Town That Drowned

Don’t tell Riel she is an inspiration for me. Of course any local author who gets published is, but she is more than that. She can also write. This is a very well written first novel. There is much in it working against my liking it — a young woman’s coming of age story, a literary bent, more of a young adult story, and I may be the only reader to ever not like the character Percy, but the story works. It really works.

I have heard her speak three or four times. We say hello to each other in the mall and we both smile. She congratulated me when I won second place in a local short story contest. You know? It’s great to have successful authors around you waiting to pat you on the back. It’s important. If I ever succeed at getting published, Riel will get a thank you from me.

> The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam
The Headmaster's Wager

Vincent was an awesome reader. He is full of energy, wit, and well written words, and he was very engaging. Again I have not yet read his book, but it is creeping towards the top of the pile. It is another Asian story, Vietnam during the war. I think it is another important historical story.

> Road To The Stilt House by David Adams Richards
Road To The Stilt House

This is DAR country, yet I have only ever been in the same room as him three times. I have only every read one of his books. I am torn about whether I like his writing or not. On one hand he does so much wrong. “For Those Who Hunt The Wounded Down” read like a mentally challenged twelve year old wrote it, yet it was also captivating. His characterization is paramount.

I think hearing him read helped explain his voice. He reads emphatically. He almost shouts like he is tone deaf. He forces the words on you, and once he starts, he does not want to stop. Once he starts, you don’t want him to stop. When he reads his stories they sound true and clear, like a book you have to buy and read, yet when I read the same passages, I shake my head and wonder what I was thinking. Enigmatic to the core.

Anyway, he didn’t sign this for me. I found it in the stack of DAR novels for sale at Loyalist City Coins. I picked it up, saw his signature, and thought it was worth the $4 they were asking for it. *grin*

> Accusation by Catherine Bush
Accusation

Another book I have not yet read. During her reading it became very apparent her story had lots of parallels to a story I was planning to write for NaNoWriMo 2013. That’s why I bought it. I got it signed just because I bought it and she was there. I cannot say anything good or bad about this book except it is small and easy to carry around. It is near the bottom of my to-read mountain.

> Carnival by Rawi Hage
Carnival

Rawi blew me and everybody in the room away with his reading. When he finished there was absolute silence. He asked for questions, nobody moved, and he almost walked away. I told him afterwards it was because we were all stunned by his reading and he seemed confused, like I was joking. I joke not. He writes like a male Alice Munro. The images he created in my head were layered, grew with the tension of the chapter, and at the end exploded in street themes. I was not planning on buying this book or staying for a signature, but I couldn’t help it.

This reading was also not long after he battled on CBC’s Canada Reads with The Orenda. So he was up there in everybody’s mind. Just writing about this reading has moved it up near the top of my reading list. I think it might get read next. Alice, you’ll have to wait again. *grin*

Perhaps my most treasured signed book.

ADDENDA

> The Name Of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Rothfus

Pat Rothfuss visited us in early October 2013. He spent a day at our local university, UNBSJ, for an event called “One Campus One Book.” The school paid Pat a ridiculous amount of money to spend a full day at the school interacting with students who all received — and were expected to read — his book. Later that evening he spoke to The Lorenzo Society, the university’s author touring platform. And after that, Pat spent another hour or more on a patio bar discussing the publishing industry. He drank coffee and I drank beer. Yes, autumns in Canada are beautiful, mostly. Sometimes.

I was born in Wisconsin and it felt good talking with a homey, but honestly, his book didn’t do much for me and neither did he. I know he has a large fan base, and while I cannot speak negatively of him or his writing in any way, I am just not a fan. I cannot choose what or who I like.

> Child Of Change by Garry Kasparov
Kasparov

In 1988 I helped organize The World Chess Festival held in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. We hosted some 300 of the world’s top players and included a Candidates’ elimination round for the FIDE World Championships. I played several named players including Mikhail Tal who won the first World Blitz Championship. Kasparov came but didn’t play in any tournaments but the Blitz Championship. He put on a simultaneous exhibition and also sold and signed his new book.

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