Sunday, September 13, 2009


I had left church around 1:15, having made my excuses from the 2-year church anniversary party with the rest of the gang. I had wanted to get stuff done - a little editing, a little shopping, a little cleaning and lot of organizing. And I wanted to BE in certain places, despite the traffic.

And the funny thing is, I ended up taking a completely different route from the one I should have taken, just to get back to Decarie. Roads I thought would take me there didn't, so I ended up taking a couple of detours to get where I wanted to go.

I was driving along, minding my own business, when I realized that, as I was going through the intersection, I would have to stop IN the intersection - and stop very abruptly. So, I held on and came to a quick but safe stop - not even so quick that my tires screeched or anything. It was just one of those stops that makes the engine go down and the back end go up, until you come to a complete stop and everything settles back down again.

And then, as I usually do under these circumstances, I looked in the rear view mirror.

I had just enough time to think - simultaneously: "Oh no!" "Oh crap!" "Here we go!" "Why me?" "What am I supposed to do again?" "This should teach me to be more patient," "This is gonna hurt," and "I shoulda gone to the party with everybody else."


Followed by BANG.

I was the monkey in the middle.

My first accident in Montreal, and there was absolutely NO possible way I could have avoided it. I didn't know what to do, I didn't know if we should call the police, I didn't know if I was going to have to do everything in French...

Three cars, three drivers, and a surprisingly tame flow of traffic! Cars simply sat in the intersection, waiting for the three of us to pull off to the other side - and it took me a few long seconds to realize that's what they were waiting for me to do. But no one honked horns, not one gave us the finger...on the other side, no one stuck around as witnesses, but that was all right, because the police told us they weren't coming, and to just contact our insurance agencies.

The guy in the lead, driving a white Mitsubishi, took the least of the damage. He was able to reach down, brush off some dust transfer and pop the fender back where it belonged. My car's front end was very gentle and apologetic to his rear.

Me, I took damage on the front bumper so that the passenger's side headlight looks like it's bulging out. The back fender took the worse damage. If it wasn't so well jammed, it would look like it's falling down. I have a dent on the passenger's rear quarter panel, too, though I have no idea why. The trunk is dented too, and the license plate is now more bent than ever. But the trunk opens and closes. (And imagine my surprise - I had been headed out to Ikea to buy a laptop tray for writing in bed - and guess what I found in the trunk! I'd forgotten my mother had bought it for me already! It's been in there for a couple of weeks!) And my purse exploded - but fortunately, it was one of the car's rare CLEAN days, so I didn't have too much flying debris.

The guy behind me, though, can barely drive. The front end is smashed in like a broken nose, and it was dribbling coolant all over the road. He wasn't happy, to say the least, because he knew exactly whose fault the accident had been - and he just wanted to go home. But irony of ironies...we'd had our smash-up three doors down from a garage and a manned tow truck.

And I realized: this is my third accident. The first and worst was when Sarah was in the passenger's side and I was t-boned on that side (so hard she actually bounced off and hit again), and that had been a white Sunfire. The second accident was more annoying than anything, and that had been a white Cavalier. This accident involved not one, but TWO white cars. I'm developing a superstition against white cars!

(And realizing this now: scramble the letters of WHITE and you get WE HIT!)

It was a most civilized exchange: we all traded license, insurance and contact information, asked each other if we were okay, and in our own languages and religions, I think we all thanked God there were no injuries. grievous injuries. Tomorrow I'll hit the clinic to see whether or not I've really sprained my pinky finger or not, but I somehow doubt it. I can't make a fist and I can't lay my hand flat, but I can type. (But then again, I've walked on sprained joints and typed with broken fingers, so this is no challenge.)

So tomorrow, I'll go to the garage and the clinic, and afterward, go to choir practice as was the plan, and I'll spend a little extra time at the prayer meeting.

I don't think you can walk away from something like this without taking something away with you: last thoughts before the ka-bang, I guess. I was in such a rush to get somewhere today, and I can't even remember why it was such a big deal at the time. It's like the mad impetus to BE somewhere at some specific time was knocked out of my head, and all that remained was a single thought: thank God no one was hurt.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Relative Peace and Quiet

I know! I should be cleaning! But this is just so much more fun, and it's something else I can cross off my to-do list today.

I've been thinking a lot about what I write, for whom and why - and, at the same time, what I don't write, and why.

I'll pose the question back to you, at the end of this post.

So, yeah...I'm getting caught up on some old posts, writing about things I should have written about weeks ago. Like...staying at Aunt Shirley and Uncle David's place - almost a month ago, already!

Imagine, sitting out on a patio in the middle of the country side, surrounded by the sounds of crickets and cicadas and the gently falling rain - and writing! Unfortunately, all that peace and quiet is incongruous with writing about werewolves, guns and other nasty creatures, but the experience was quiet enjoyable, just the same!

And then, at some point that first afternoon, I was deep into a scene about sneaking around town, chasing a potential cannibal, when all of a sudden I felt a gentle pressure on my foot. I looked down and nearly jumped out of my jeans.


What is it with me and chipmunks?

And then, later in that same week, family descended on the Nortcliffe country home - my oldest cousin Andrew and his wife Julie (my cuz-in-law), and their baby, Skyler (pictured left); my youngest cousin, Tim and his sister, Jen, with her son Titus; my middle cousin Heather; plus Aunt Nancy, Aunt Sandra, Aunt Shirley and Uncle David, two country neighbours (one of whom I babysat when she was only 2 years old), and me, all on one mosquito plagued porch - at least 14 people on that porch, and 16 simultaneous conversations. And what was I thinking about? Werewolves and biting people. (I'm not particularly good around crowds of any sort, including family gatherings.) However, socializing and writing are mutually exclusive, so, writing waited. And I didn't bite anybody! (On the right, that's me not biting Skyler. Below, you see Titus introducing Skyler to the world of books - especially books about one's family. Good job, Titus. Good job.)

But it really made me think about what I was doing, and why. What I wanted to do was write; but at the same time, I knew I should be socializing, because I never know when I'm going to have the opportunity again! That's the thing about writing: you can't write about people unless you spend time with them, but you can't write without spending time alone!

And then I started to think about the material itself. I've talked to my friends (and fellow writers) about this too. Part of me wants to write the story the way it wants to be written - and the other part of me never leaves church - nor the family.

Because of that, there are certain scenes I want to write, but I won't, and there's a certain level of detail I could achieve, but for decency's sake, I avoid.

Because of that, there are certain words I want to use - words that would, I think, be appropriate in some circumstances (when you hear a gunshot, sometimes a gasp isn't good enough!) - but I've promised kith and kin I won't use them.

And there are stories I want to write - true stories I want to write - but I can't, because I don't want to bring about dishonour on my family. And there are some stories you can't - and shouldn't - fictionalize.

So, here's my question back to you: should you write whatever you want, irrespective of what others (specifically, your family) might want you not to write? Or should you heed their concerns and tone it down?

If you're serious about getting something published, do you write it for your audience, for your family, or for you?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Anatomy of the 72-hr Novel, Part Two

...wherein we discuss the dangers of the 72-hr writing marathon: the top 10 list. Bear in mind: this is just my own personal experience, and timing was everything.

10. I do more stupid stuff than usual, and that's saying something! I can't recall all the dumb things I did, but one stands out in my mind. I wobbled into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, and I started talking to someone. During the conversation, I put the grounds in the coffee press, poured in the water from the kettle, waited the requisite amount of time, pressed the plunger all the way down and poured the coffee. I offered it to my new friend, so she could have a sample before I downed the rest of it. "Smells good," she said, "except it's cold." Hadn't even remembered to turn the kettle on first. Good thing I let her drink it first!

9. Flashbacks. Writing that book was such an intense emotional experience that it became very, very real to me. I would be walking across a street, and I would suddenly be surprised that there was a street there. I'd lapse into silence for long stretches, staring off into the distance, even in the middle of a conversation. Music would trigger flashbacks. Snippets of conversation would trigger flashbacks. I had been there, in that world, and at the end of the 72-hrs, I had culture-shock in my own world.

8. Jumping the gun. When you're still glowing about the whole process - and the product - you may be inclined to believe it's the best thing you've ever written. (For the record, it still remains the best first draft of anything I've ever written). I jumped the gun once because I'd sent off the second draft to Verna before letting my first readers attack it - and now that I'm working on draft 4, I've had to ask her to recycle the manuscript I'd mailed her. And - speaking of jumping the gun: a follow up to a previous post! You remember the publishing house that remembered my name? They asked for more material! It's only been three weeks! And same thing again - they have draft 1.2, and I'm still finishing 1.4 - so I have to send them the first few pages again.

7. And why, pray tell, have I worked on so many drafts? Sequel-itis! Sheer momentum thrust me into sequel (8 days, and there's the sequel, such as it is). But because I know now where the trilology is going (yep...trilogy...November is my next vacation.) But stuff you do in later books means you have to go back to earlier books to add in vital clues or change the way people look or act or whatever. And from sequelitis, you get...

6. Edit-itis. It's when you just can't stop picking at the manuscript(s), and it occupies your every waking thought! You just can't let it go. You send off your mansucript to multiple first readers, fretting about every comment, kicking yourself for the little errors you've made - and this is the final stage of...

5. The fall from grace. Shortly after I came back from the marathon, my very good friend and role model Mady Virgona bought me a copy of Ian McEwan's Amsterdam. It had a very grounding influence. It's about two main characters who think far too much of themselves, including a "great" composer who, in his attempt to create an original melody, spends every waking moment indulging in and obsessing over his work - *spoiler alert* and his "masterpiece" ends up being a great big piece of crap. Amsterdam, plus some much needed feedback from my first readers, made my euphoria go away, leaving me very much adrift. It was not the inspired work of awesomeness I'd thought it was. The book became just another manuscript to work on - another unpaid job. I was starting to see the flaws, and I was losing the manic joy that had propelled me through the first two books.

4. Disruption of one's normal routine. That's a soft way of saying I was reluctant to socialize, and I kept forgetting to brush my teeth, shower and/or wash the dishes. At that point, I had to put everything aside - I had to make the thought of writing or editing unappetizing, in order to dislodge myself from my seat and do something else.

3. Exhaustion. Simply put, by the time I got back to Toronto, I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. That's what you get for writing 55,000 words in 72 hours - especially when you get so wrapped up in the story itself. I was sick for 10 days afterwards, and I had to take time off work to get body and brain together again. I needed to detox.

2. The Blues. Not depression in the clinical sense - it didn't last that long. But it was bad. I would cry at inappropriate times, I couldn't get myself moving, I didn't want to do anything at all (washing dishes, showering, brushing teeth...). But at the same time, there had already been precipitating events at work before my trip to Toronto, during my trip to Toronto - and a killing blow when I returned from Huntsville. It had been just little things, but sometimes, that's all it takes. I started question why I was in that day job at all - I was terrible at it, everyone else was better at it than me, no one appreciated me - blah blah blah. Why should I be working at a job that suddenly revolted me, when I could be doing something I was actually good at - namely writing? Fortunately, I have an awesome boss (Ian Cruickshank) who talked me back from the ledge so well that when I "fell from grace", at least I still had my day job, and I remembered I actually liked it. And it was a bittersweet return, when I was well again. In order for me to return, everything had to change, and I had to set a deadline for myself to get out of the role I'm in.

1. Withdrawl. Would I do it all over again? Yes - absolutely, no question. But from now on, I'm always going to be trying to beat an extreme record, and it will only get harder and harder every time. Anything short of euphoria will be a let down.

But at the same time: I know what to expect now. I'm prepared now. And gosh darn it, now I have an incredible record to beat, and i'm determined to do it.

And best of all, I get to see all those crazy people again! Friendship, camraderie, jokes, laughter, and hope. I was not alone. There were others out there with me, and it was for a good cause. What more could I ask for?

And I know that when I go in there next, the book that comes out with me is not going to be perfect - but darn it...that's not the point.

The 72-hr novel is not a novel at all.

It's a story in itself.

Anatomy of the 72-hr Novel, Part One

...wherein we attempt to describe the experience and product of a successful 72-hr novel-writing marathon.

The temptation. This may come in the form of an advertisement in your local newspaper, chat rooms, writing groups or on Facebook. In my case, I took a wrong turn on the information superhighway, and instead of exiting at "3-Day Novel", I took the "Muskoka Novel Marathon" off-ramp and discovered a charitable event! I admire what they're doing. Literacy, computer skills, numeracy - things most people take for granted, but for others stand between themselves, and employability. Check the link. I really support their efforts, and I'll be asking for your help next year.

The daring urge. This is the moment in which you decide to chuck your hat into the ring. May be accompanied by such outbursts as "What am I doing?" and "Am I crazy?!" and often, incomprehensible giggles.

Cold feet. This is usually accompanied by feelings of self-doubt, guilt and fear. You may also experience strange stares from family, friends and acquaintances, some of whom may agree, "Yes, you are insane."

The story idea. This may come before you sign up for the marathon. It may come after the marathon. It may not come to you at all, even during the marathon. Fortunately for me, I'd had an amazing story idea come to me fully formed, in a dream, about three months earlier.

Preparation. In my case, I had driven in from Montreal (thinking about the story), spent a difficult week in Toronto (thinking about the story and not about work), then drove from Oshawa to Huntsville through farm country, rolling hills (thinking about the story) - and at last, into the Muskokas themselves, where inspiration lives. Where else to set a story about werewolves, but in a land of trees, water and rock? Add to this classical music, the whispering, swelling and crashing masterpieces - and to this, one moment of suspended silence, where all chattering mental static suddenly lifts, leaving just one thought: "I can do this."

The initial meet and greet. This is the moment in which you swallow all fear and march in through the door to sign in and accept your registration loot bag, then trundle down to the lunch room where twenty or so others are waiting. If this is your first marathon, you may note that some writers will reminisce about marathons past and compare track records (often explaining away absences and commenting on the new locale). This is also the moment in which you realize that, regardless of your idea or genre, you are among like-minds - which is probably one of the most potent of all the marathon experiences. And it's also the moment when you realize...I might just be able to do this.

The first ten pages. In our case, we tracked every ten pages with a slip of paper, stuck to a window. Me, being overly competitive, I absolutely wanted to be the first to stick something on the window. I did it, but only by mere seconds! Martin Avery was a very close second. Trust me on this: setting hourly goals helps you. It also helps to set landmarks, too - reach this point in the plot, grab a snack; reach that point, go for dinner with friends. Give yourself something to go to, and you will get there.

The first night. Don't expect to sleep. Bathing will help you to relax, physically, but don't expect your brain to turn off, because you are too danged excited about the whole experience!

The wall. It comes sooner than you think! For me, it happened Saturday afternoon, after I blasted through page 100.

The energy surge. Pick your poison: Rockstar, Red Bull, Monster...Surge at your own risk.

The wall. It keeps coming back. The second time you run into it (often coinciding the crash that follows an energy drink), you realize this is not just a contest: it's a true marathon.

The second night. Don't expect to sleep, especially if you leave the night on page 150, in the middle of your story.

The wall. It happens earlier and earlier in the day. Once you hit it, either you get your second wind, or you just keep pushing against the wall. That's what a marathon is.

Bonding. It happened for me, and maybe it happened with others, but sometime between Saturday and Monday morning, I developed a heart-swelling affection for my fellow writer. Every idea was brilliant, every person was a treasured piece of humanity, every foible a delight...And the friends I've made - people just starting off in their writing careers, some well-established, some peers like Paula Boon who is in the same position as me - agented and just so STINKIN' close to a break-through...I could name all my new friends alphabetically and in the order I met them, but this post is already long enough! Yikes!

The wobbles. From Saturday afternoon through Monday morning, I looked like I was trying to walk across the deck of a ship in a storm-tossed sea. Nothing was quite real anymore. Someone would make a comment, and my brain would add, "She said." Characters in the book became indistinguishable from the other writers. At one point, I swore I knew what people were going to say, a moment before they said it - the way an idea preceeds the written dialogue. This may also be indicated by the urge to say punctuation where appropriate. "This is such a good sandwich exclamation point," for example. Oh, and midnight office chair races are obligatory! Betting is optional.

The wall. After a while, you just feel punch drunk. You may laugh for no apparent reason. Or worse, if you have an apparent reason to laugh, you may start sounding like Barnie Rubble. Ask Amy Caughlin and some of the other girls - they witnessed it!

The third night. Try all you want, but you ain't sleeping, because you're about to have...

The moment when you realize everything you've written is absolute CRAP. Self-explanatory. This will occur in small bursts throughout the marathon - if you let it. For me, there was one big moment: about three quarters of the way through when I realized I had painted myself into a corner. Fortunately, this was quickly followed by...

The euphoria. Writing at that speed, your brain is forced into making snap decisions, and you're more or less witnessing the story, more than exerting a creative will over its evolution. Things you didn't even think you were thinking seem to just appear on the screen; you enter their world, listening to the sounds in their background, feeling their sun on your face...Suddenly you bust through the mental block, you see your way out of the plot hole - it's your Aha! moment, when it seems perfectly obvious, and why didn't you see it before? You chase down the idea, nailing it into place with each click of the keys...Characters speak their own lines, saying those profound things that advance the plot and add depth to their personalities - things that never made it to your note pages - things you could never imagine yourself writing even if you had all the time in the world! Imagine, watching this accelerating story unfold, trying desperately to write fast enough to keep up, and then, then you type what you hear: a character's perfect line, a line that you thought was meant for the other characters, but you realize the character was telling you something that you've been ignoring all along - You drift to a stop, breathless, stunned, staring at the screen, and you seep back into your own world, realizing just how far you had gone, how you had completely disconnected from your own body and time and space. The purest creative moment.

The glow. After all that frenzied writing and wrestling and spontaneous thought, it's done. The baby is born and put to bed. You can't breathe without sighing as you watch those pages emerge from the printer, one after another. No matter how good or how bad the work is, what was most important was the experience - the intensely personal and private moment of emerging from your own logical mind into unadulterated creativity, perfectly safe in the midst of your fellow artisans - people who know what you're going through, people who know when to stop you and pull you back from the brink - people who tell you they're leaving for the pub and you're coming with them! Everything seems cushioned, subdued. Walking and talking become a burden, and exhaustion settles in, erasing everything but the soft smile on your puffy face.

The addiction. You plan your vacation time around the next marathon.

Stay tuned for Part Two - the dangers of the 72-hr Novel Marathon.