Saturday, 15 July 2017

stretching myself

Funny couple of weeks it’s been. 
I’ve finished the new book. Pause for applause. Not a sausage. (Apologies, Spike Milligan.) The reason I’m writing this is because the first draft of the story – and that’s all we’re talking about here, the first canter round the paddock -- has taken me just the longest darn time.  And it’s not been easy writing.  Way better to look back on now than to live through then. I couldn’t seem to get it done.

This is not my first, or even fifteenth, rodeo.  I am no stranger to deadlines.  So why was this book so hard to finish?  I liked the concept hook, and was comfortable and confident in the cosmology of my world.  But the last knot or two of story simply would not unravel.  

The others were done – even Lesley who has another big book series on the go – and I was still at it.  Family holidays were approaching fast.  The days dwindled down to a precious few.  June. July. (Apologies, Kurt Weill.) And still the story wouldn’t end. I drank coffee, refused invitations, eschewed sleep, finally sinking into the frenzied dream-writing state of my university days.  
In the twenty-four hours before my plane left, I must have written 10,000 words. I wrote, discarded, wrote some more, and some more, packing suitcases, finding passports, and gulping peanut butter and apples in between sentences. At 11:30 pm, with my daughter sleeping over so we could head to the airport together, I poured my eleventy-third coffee and sat back down at my desk.  When I emailed the completed first draft to my editor, it was 2:30 am.  The plane to Tokyo left five hours later.

Whew! And also, WTF? Memories of all-nighters past.  I am way too old for this shit.What the heck was going on? Why was this one trickier than usual?
Glad you asked.  I wondered too, and I think I have the reason.The last time I ran late and stressfully was Ink Me, the first of the ‘7’ books. I was the last guy writing, the one holding up the line for everyone else.  That book stretched me.
As a story-teller, I’m usually a first-person smart-ass. That’s my comfort zone.  Bunny, the hero of Ink Me, was a switch.  Though he’s a lot like me, he writes a phonetic slang that took me the longest time to regularize and standardize. By now (I’ve written 3 Bunny books) I move from his head to the page easily, but it took me a while to find that path.
And this new book is another stretch.  I’ve never had an in-your-face narrator before.  Sooo easy to drift off story and get lost.  I spent a lot of time reining in the narrator, trying to focus less on him and more on Archie the hero. Archie’s a lot like me, but I find it hard to describe myself from the outside.
Is the book great?  Not even close.  It might get closer over the next few months. My editor has said some positive things, but she’s a nice person and she knows we have to work together.
Great or not – and it may never be great – the book is me stretching myself.  And that’s why it took so many hours and sighs and cups of coffee. 
If art is failure (thank you, Samuel Beckett) I have tried hard to fail in a new way.

By the way, Tokyo is astounding. In case you were wondering.  I’ve been back a day and I am still adjusting to Toronto, that quaint little town.  The only pic I took is one of my kids sleeping in the airport.  This isn't it, but the image is darn close. 

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