Three years after going up into Northern Ontario with my school, I went on a family car trip to Prince Edward Island. It was 1974. I kept another chronicle, this one with post cards glued in. I threw that out long ago but still have a few notes.
Mom said, “One of you kids will have to come in the front seat.” So we were quiet the rest of the way.
Deadline: We are halfway to Montreal from Kingston and I just saw an old train station! End of Deadline.
Martha came out to where we were and picked up an Ajax bottle and a stick and started whamming the Ajax bottle with the stick. Soon me and Bobby went back and caught smelt. Of course we threw them back. Martha thought we ate them.
We were arriving in Charlottetown and we never got there because we never got the right course. Well, we were turning around and dad backed the car right into a ditch and there was a house right there. The man came out and told us about more accidents that have happened there. Soon the tow truck pulled us out of the ditch. It was probably easy.
It rained so-so-so-so hard that you could barely see through the windshield. It was raining so hard, some cars had to stop. But my dad kept going.
The next day, I woke up with the dog on my bed and the door was open! Well, I had breakfast.
I am deep into this blog now (eight years and 1,250 posts) and so this is as good a time as any to finally take a swing at that. What is this blog? Why am I doing this? My writing process! Let’s see if I can narrow that down to a few tips.
ONE: Your process is a personal thing. You can’t just do what people tell you to do. You have to figure out your own process. Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond Series, wrote every morning and then went for a swim. Woody Allen writes longhand. I text myself notes on the fire escape.
It can take forever because I am all thumbs (literally) and the typos and formatting are an issue, but I feels like it works. (That said, whatever you do, don’t email yourself notes from the same account as that confuses Gmail, which then labels all of your emails to yourself as junk.) You just have to figure out routine works best for you.
TWO: Maintain a work ethic. Like my father always said, “Life is work. If you don’t like work, then you’re going to have a tough time in this life.” Writing doesn’t happen by osmosis. You have to do the work. There is just no getting around that.
THREE: Watch what goes on around you in life. Look at the details – how people move their hands, how they walk and scroll, how they look back at you – and write it down. The best characters (read: biggest fuck-ups) are right in front of you.
The only problem is that people are all boring as hell in the end and you’ll have to clean that up – in other words, make it fiction.
FOUR: Move around. Do something. Get outside. A moving brain is a thinking brain. Go for a walk. Take a hike. Go jump in the lake. (More advice from my father.)
The more you move, the more your brain gets going. It’s called kinetic thinking. This is especially important when you’re stuck in the story. When you start to move around and think about that – the moving that is – the narrative solutions tend to pop into your head.
FIVE: Write what you know. Write the exact thing that is in your head. Write it. Name the names. Name the jerks you know. Describe them exactly as they are.
Don’t worry about what anyone might think. Not your partner, not your mother, not your kid, not even you. Nobody. That’s the prime stuff, the lunacy of people. Let yourself go nuts on that. That’s where everything is to be found.
SIX: Review and edit. And then edit it again. And when you’re done that, you guessed it. Edit again! Maybe then you might be ready for an editor.
SEVEN: Do the research, whatever is needed. Read up on the backgrounds of everything that you can. Visit the places. Do it for anything that comes up, the park that’s outside the building, the people walking past, the plane overhead. Read about whatever it is.
The most fulfilling reading will always be non-fiction – even if it is fiction. Biographies, the most fictitious of all, are the most revealing. Tales of exploration too. Those are the fullest.
EIGHT: Don’t listen to any of the experts. Screw them all. They are writing about it because they don’t know any better. Like me. Forget about the plot points. Disregard character arcs. There is no structure to any of this. Let your story unfold as it is. Let the characters live their lives.
Listen, I understood from the beginning that the pandemic was going to be a tough thing. I knew that I would have to stay indoors, wear a mask and carry on the good fight against depression and gloom.
What I didn’t know was that the rewards for The Aquarist Club (Level 793 of Fishdom) would be basically nothing.
Truth be told, I expected that I would have to grapple with the horrifying statistics of so many deaths, to talk with friends and colleagues suffering through their grief and, indeed, only be able to attend my mother’s funeral on-line.
But if The Aquarist Club is going to take 35 levels to achieve, including four timed rounds, five Hard Levels and three Super Hard, there would have to be more than a Bonus Hammer and Bonus Hand. Right? At least three times that, ten times!
And even if my knee replacements have been delayed another week and I have to do the Covid test again and a Cat Scan to find there is bullshit in my lungs, and then have to self-inject blood thinners into my gut twice a day, I can do that. I can.
But…but if you have to decorate an entire Aquarist Club with rugs and chairs and pictures and everything else, there absolutely has to be more than an fucking sailboat as the premium reward.
The ongoing racism of this conflicted country was inevitable too, as was the social upheaval, the protests and anger at least a hundred years overdue. I wasn’t even surprised that I lost my job, like so many other people did, even if the Values & Beliefs Chair went too far and called me discriminatory – not in the good way. And I can cope with all of this. I really can.
But, holy good god, there’s got to be more than 78 lousy gold coins for finishing the Aquarist Club. What does 78 gold coins even buy? A third of the cheapest decoration, if that. And that is simply too much. Too damn much.
Only three days into Phase One of the Great Re-Opening, and I am sentimental for the lock down. Remember when we couldn’t go outside? When the streets looked like a scene from Escape from New York and you could get a train car to yourself on the subway?
Or when the people took to the streets and everything got boarded up and our thoughtful mayor sent us daily notes on who was boss. (It didn’t turn out to be him.)
And, most importantly, how all of this justified my habit of hanging out on the fire escape with a Jamo and Bud. (Peanut butter and jam, we drinking folk call it.)
But that’s all over now. The jack hammers are back. (I actually missed them a bit.) And soon all of those faux New Yorkers will be giving up on their beach walks, soaking in the sublime shades of another perfect fucking sunset, and pretend they never left.
For those who follow my blog, you know that my focus tends to whirl about, citing random words, places and ideas, all in service of the “writing process”. Occasionally I get political, such as my blogs on the horrifying carnage at Sandy Hook and the election of Trump. I wandered into that realm last week with a fake magazine interview with Donald Trump. Swordsmen: Drawn & Quarterly.
The following day, my computer had been disconnected from our wifi service, and when I logged back on, I found the following options:
I was surprised that, first, the FBI were in the neighborhood; second, that they would actually name their wifi “FBI Surveillance Van”, and third that they were monitoring my blog. The third thought didn’t really coalesce until the next day when Facebook rejected my attempt to promote the post on their platform because it “violated their policy on promoting social issues.”
Promoting social issues? Isn’t that what writers are supposed to do? Or is it all code for them being pissed that the Russian hackers breached their sincerity? Whatever it may be, I have another Swordsmen Issue coming up, hopefully as much on point with my writing process as it is with our oxymoronic world, bitted up with bots and lies.
There is a lot of talk going on about change – including blacked-out Instagram posts and demonstrations in the street.
As lovely as compassion and understanding might sound, it remains a fairy tale. The truth of our world is not guided on principles of empathy but by the barbaric tenets of money.
The rich will stay rich and the poor will remain poor, and those nasty little one-per-centers will do everything in their power to keep it that way. Nominal things might be allowed – statues removed, proclamations signed – but nothing will actually change.
Instead they will adopt phrases like “radical compassion” until this thing passes and they can get back to their yachts.
The word adventurer was initially synonymous with gambling. The gambler would yell out “Adventure!” for help at the roulette table much as a modern gambler might yell “Come on, Seven!” at craps.
To be an adventurer was to be without responsibility or care. Quite often ‘adventurer’ was hurled as an insult.
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) spun adventure on its head, using the word to imply bravery and daring. Captain James Cook, sailing 40 years later, would become synonymous with the word, now often meaning one imbued with courage and class.
*Gleaned from Martin Dugard’s Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook.
Martin Dugard’s book chronicles the three circumnavigations captained by James Cook in 1769-1780. On the first of these adventures, he is credited with circumnavigating New Zealand, mapping the eastern coast of Australia and discovering the Great Barrier Reef.
Endeavour slammed hard into a coral reef and ground to a violent halt. A mighty surf pounded against the beleaguered ship, wedging her wooden hull tightly onto the reef. All hands were immediately summoned on deck by a mate’s frantic cry of “Up every soul nimbly, for God’s sake, or we all perish.”
The crew took their cue from Cook and remained calm throughout, pumping the hold in fifteen-minute shifts. Cook ordered everything expendable of great heft heaved overboard. Six of the twelve cannons were dumped, twenty-five tons of fresh water, tons of rocks and ballast. “Casks, hoops, staves, oil jars, decayed stores,” wrote Cook of other items surrendered to the Pacific. And still she stuck fast.
This was an alarming and terrible circumstance. However when high tide arrived, “At 20 minutes past ten we hove her into deep water”. Soon Endeavour was out of danger and heading for land. Cook and the People removed their personal belongings from the ship and prepared to camp on shore. They were startled to find a large chuck of coral had pierced the hull but held fast without pressing all the way through. If that had happened, the ship most surely would have sunk.
For two months, the crew got a taste of what life would have been like marooned in this hostile land. They seined fish, ate kangaroo and sea turtle, marveled at flying fox. They fought the local Aborigines, who set fire to the brush surrounding Endeavour‘s campsite in one memorable skirmish. Cook himself shot an Aborigine for trying to steal sea turtle meat.
Finally, it is interesting note that James Cook is considered the inspiration for both Captain Hook (J.M. Barre’s Peter Pan) and James Kirk (Gene Roddenbury’s Star Trek.