To Write (A Novel)

As some of you who read this may or may not be aware, I recently finished writing my first novel. I finished several times, actually. I finished in the Spring of 2009 when I scribbled the last paragraph down in my trendy Moleskine book. I also finished in June when I typed the same paragraph into my ancient, British laptop (aint no fuckin iPad, I will tell ya that much). More recently, I finished the novel yesterday when, after two weeks of intense and scrutinizing editing, I handed the novel over to my editor. I will probably finish it several more times in the next few months as I continue (hopefully) to work with an accomplished professional editor. I look forward to finishing for the last time. I look forward to the day that the book is fixed and unchanging and (hopefully) eternal.

It has been a long road. I started writing about three years ago. I remember it well. I sat on the patio of Westhills Second Cup (really, just a cement pad in the spring sunshine) and finished writing the first chapter in one sitting. I remember being surprised by it. The style of the prose, plain, almost Hemmingway like (if I can be bold enough to compare myself to him). It is a wonderful thing to take yourself by surprise. The second chapter was written in much the same manner, in the exact same spot, but it was a very different beast. Chapter two (now, the second part of the novels prologue), was a nod to all of those manic writers I love dearly. Thomas Wolfe (not to be confused with Tom) is there. Whitman is there and Blake too: and Kerouac, of course is there. Upon finishing that chapter, I thought I might be on to something.

It was this blessed assurance that forced me to pull out of the education program that Fall. The decision came much to the chagrin of my family and some friends. Instead of going back to school, I continued to work in the Butcher Shop and write whenever I could. The writing came sporadically– never as easy as those first two days. By the Winter, I had about forty typed pages; I then hit a wall, which stood firm until spring came again.

And then, Victoria. My decision to move here was made as quickly and insanely as my decision to drop out of school. I rode here on a motorcycle I bought from an old man who was allergic to smoke. It was ridiculously romantic; all I had was a backpack full of deodorant and forty pages of rough manuscript. Most of you know the primary motivation for the move, but the thought of finishing the novel on a beautiful, Canadian island also propelled me through them cold mountains.

Upon arriving, I starved. No jobs (a consistent theme in Victoria life). I worked for Kabuki Kabs and ended up loosing more money than I made. Then, Wineworks, making the muse for half of what I earned in Butcher Shop. If not for the beautiful people that surrounded me (one in particular), I think I may have gone back to Calgary, as many have done before and since and will continue to do until the town is under ice cap water. I didn’t write much.

Renewal came last spring. I started teaching ESL; the job energized me and I had access to a printer (very important). Insanity is the only word that could describe my state last spring. I would rise at 6:30, let the dog out, drink two cups of coffee and smoke my breakfast. I would then ride my bike to work, usually the first to arrive, and type out the previous evenings scrawl. After work, I went to pub to balance the overload of caffeine (usually about eight cups of coffee throughout the day… and a few Diet Coca Colas…not much food, either) with beer. I became a regular at the Beagle Pub—even had a designated seat.

I would stay at the pub for a minimum of three hours. It is hard to say if I got drunk or not. A friend once told me that if you drink only one beer an hour, you can safely drive your car home. I took this to heart; not wanting to resemble the other regulars stupors. That being said, I wasn’t eating much at that point. And there were certain times when excitement got the best of me and I overindulged. I am blessed to have an infinitely patient and understanding partner, who endured this insanity, but also helped me to see the danger in it.

The creative height of this period came on a Saturday in April, when, in a ten-hour session at the pub, I wrote ten thousand words. That number is significant to me, because it happens to be Thomas Wolfes best as well. I remember well an account in his biography, a scene where, having written ten thousand words in a day, he paced the Brooklyn Bridge chanting, I WROTE TEN THOUSAND WORDS TODAY! To all who listened. They thought he was mad; he probably was. I stopped short of walking to the Blue Bridge, though the thought certainly crossed my mind. I went home instead and collapsed: exhausted. Most of the words I wrote that day have since been cut. Funny.

By June, I was completely burnt out and uninspired. The novel had been written, but still had to be typed out (anyone who has seen my microscopic handwriting will know what a challenge that is) and, of course, edited. The problem was that I, quite simply, was exhausted. The sight of the manuscript almost made me ill… this feeling lasted well through November when I caught a second (or third, probably fourth) wind. I began to revise, edit and, in some cases, rewrite the thing. My goal was to finish by December 31, a date that was fast approaching. By this time, I was working much longer hours than I had been in the Spring: 8:30- 4:30, Monday to Friday. The weekends were full of word processing. I was excited by the thing for the first time in months. I knew I would finish. I did.

All of this led up to yesterday when, with great relief, I handed over my best draft to my editor, Lynne van Luven. She asked me how it felt, and without hesitation, I said it feels great! We talked for some time about next steps, about the novel itself, and about the process of editing. I am so excited to do the last push toward (hopefully) publishing house. More than that, I am excited to start writing the next novel (I have an idea for it that has been tormenting me during all of the editing).

Some people have the mistaken notion that writing a novel is a solitary thing. Surely, writers need solitude to get things down, but novels would simply not be written without HUGE support systems in place. Most of all, I owe this to Margo.  You have been so patient, so understanding, so kind in every possible way.  MANY characters and themes of the novel were suggested by Margo.  I love you.  Second only to Margo is my mentor Mary.  Mary, you have been there from the very beginning, encouraging, chastising, but always supporting my writing.  This book wouldn’t have been written without you.  My family has also been nothing but supportive.  You have filled my fridge, lent me money, and even driven a van full of my stuff to this island on a moments notice.  Friends.  Good God.  Where to start.  For support, moral and mental and financial.  You have been there; thank you.  Leslie, you pointed me in the direction of a great editor, I still owe you a beer.  And Lynne; already, your excitement and investment in this project is so encouraging.  I look forward to the mere prospect of working with you.  Thank you all.

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