Bio Tuesday: More on “The Sacred Whore”

The first draft of The Sacred Whore was written in Paris (Spring, 1987) & Saturna Island (Fall, 1987). I walked down the road almost every afternoon to the lighthouse to see the passing Orcas and only ever saw the local seal. I wrote the second draft in the basement of my mother’s house in Toronto, printed it, after a mother month-long edit at my family cottage in Ahmic Harbour during the 1988 Canadian Election debate (John Turner, Ed Broadbent and Brian Mulroney) on a dot matrix that took over seven hours to complete. I wrote the screenplay in San Francisco after watching David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, as a housemate, Lisa, muttered, “That was just fucking weird”. The novel was my first and last piece accepted for a full read by an agent, only to have no response in the end.

Bio Tuesday: The Sacred Whore

The Sacred Whore is my first novel, the story of a group of prostitutes who kidnap a college basketball team to air their views on the dismal morality in the United States. It has its moments, mostly characters realizing themselves. But more than that, it was the dogged focus of getting those 446 pages written. And then transcribed to 706 pages, typed, double-spaced. And then edited down to 432. And again down to 365. And then adapted into a screenplay. And to have both rejected again and again. A harbinger of what writing would come to be.

Blog #1,000

My first blog post, 1,790 days ago, was on Christian Marclay’s The Clock.I have posted 999 times since, each somehow related to “my writing process”. Notes on The Bachelor and Hurricane Sandy drew the most traffic. Details of my actual process attracted the least. What’s next?Another 1,000, I guess.

How I Have Written

Many years ago, I was keen to pursue creative writing at the graduate level. I had been out of college for a few years and just completed the first draft of a novel, The Sacred Whore. IMAG2334The genesis of the book had come to me in a flash – a gang of prostitutes kidnap a basketball team so that they can air their views on the declining morality of America – and one of the characters, Chantal, had fought against being removed from the narrative after I had done exactly that. HitchcockI went back and realized the story was all about her; she was an epiphany. Flawed as it was, the book did have moments – to say nothing of Chantal – and I was enthusiastic at the prospect of work-shopping my prose.

And then I met Ben, a friend of a friend, who was registered in such a program. IMAG3730Ben waxed not-so-eloquently about his attempt to re-invent the novel and went on and on about that. I couldn’t get away from him fast and far enough and promised myself I would never be stuck in such conversations again.

And so instead of pursuing my work in school, I planted trees in northern British Columbia, bicycled across France and Spain, edited closed captions for sitcoms and soft-core porn, did the biking again, coached pee-wee hockey, taught high school English, started a film festival and wrote copy about toilets, all of that to buy time to write. 2012-10-13 15.02.29And write I did – in Paris, Dublin, Toronto, Vancouver and New York, in apartments and houses, notes in the post office, on menus and tickets, in transit, in journals, on computer after computer, saving copies, emailing myself additions to text – putting everything together, always in isolation. Newfoundlabrador2010 064I have a clear sense of who I am as I write. It’s just me and the words coming out of my head, a long wavering stream that I sometimes catch and can feel crystalline within, almost exactly like that. My writing grants me understanding, gives moments where life isn’t just chaos and missteps. IMAG1183It allows me to consider and process, search through thoughts and events, my reactions and those of others, their expressions, and find the words that make some sense. The book is my focal point – the concept, the research, the going back and starting again, a character suddenly there, the honing and culling, the letting go and bringing to an end.

Airplane Window

I was on a long flight, the in-flight movie about hapless criminals, depressing. King of Comedy pic 3I stared out of the window, the drone of the plane’s engines coming through the fabric walls, and tried to imagine the ocean below. IMAG2756I pictured the ice bobbing in the swells but had the smell of the plane in me, antiseptic, and nothing of that smell was in the ice, and opened my eyes, the interior lights off, and it came to me, that pristine crystalline moment of a thought, something from nothing, the genesis of a book – prostitutes driving across the United States in an 18-wheeler. trucker-naked-lady-tire-flapThat was it, prostitutes in an 18-wheeler. And west; they were going west. I knew that too. I had my book just like that, in the thin light, timeless, constant, an arctic summer, my hand down the plastic handle, on the plane over the stark Greenland mountains.*IMG_3423

*Extract from Buzz

Channeling Family

When I presented my first novel, The Sacred Whore, to my mother, she grimaced. “Where am I in there?”

"My mother? Let me tell you about my mother" Leon Kowalsji, "Blade Runner"

“My mother? Let me tell you about my mother” Leon Kowalski (Blade Runner)

My family is certainly a grow-op of raw material but it lacks the dynamics needed for a good story. One of my earliest, and clunkiest attempts – Fashion for the Apocalypse – an awkward thing that must stay buried in the backyard, is exhaustive in meandering ruminations and presents family in a tedious and pointless light.

“How’s your dinner?” My mother peered over at me. “I made two extra vegetables for you. We’re having chicken.”        

I looked at my broccoli, beans, tomatoes and potatoes on my plate. “It”s delicious.” 

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

While I’ve stuck with writing what I know, I’ve learned to tighten and hone. From Black Ice:

My mother grabbed the arm of my shirt. “What happened? What were you thinking of?”

“I didn’t do anything! He just stopped breathing.”

“How, Cameron?” My father was across the room, holding my dead brother’s jacket. “How did he stop breathing?”

“I don’t know. He just…stopped.”

 “You suffocated him!?” My mother wrenched my arm up. “Did you suffocate him?!”

My father rolled the jacket under his arm. “Michelle…”

I was surprised how calm he was, how slowly he took my mother’s arm and pulled her back.

“We have to stay calm.”

Ordinary People

Ordinary People

It’s a balancing act, finding those moments, making them into something that is true, just not too true, because that can be really boring.

The New Yorker’s Answers for Everything

The New Yorker is an excellent magazine; the articles are structured, the reviews informative, the cartoons most entertaining. Although somewhat predictable in its observational style – which can read like an extended Jerry Seinfeld stand-up – the point of view is always insightful and clear. new yorkerMost impressive of all is the remarkable diligence demonstrated in research; every stone is rolled again and again.

And yet something is askew; there is a fly between the pages. In being so thorough, so driven for the infallible, the reporting can fail in timbre. With the details pulled apart, the thing is no longer itself; the butterfly no longer flits. Patrick Radden Keefe’s story A Loaded Gun in the February 11/13 issue is a good example of this. While there is much to recommend this investigative piece on convicted murderer Amy Bishop – an effective, albeit predictable narrative, a murder mystery with facts and statements cited at every turn – there are questions that won’t be answered because the dead don’t speak, nor will Ms. Bishop and her parents. Amy BishopHowever Mr. Keefe presses on, substituting these key elements with damning scenes from Ms. Bishop’s unpublished writing as psychological evidence of hidden acts. He specifically cites a scene of a brother accidentally killed by a rock. “He fell back like a toy soldier,” Amy writes. “He never knew what hit him.” Mr. Keefe’s mission was to find what needed finding, whatever it took to close the gaps, to make a good story, and like a good New Yorker writer, he did just that. However in this quest, the butterfly flies too much like a jet. supersonic-business-jetIn reflecting on what Mr. Keefe divulged from the prose of Ms. Bishop, I wondered what he would ascertain about me, indeed anyone, if he were to New Yorker another. As my mother dubiously commented upon reading the title of my first novel, “The Sacred Whore? Hmm. Where am I in that?” Sacred25 years later, I have yet to figure that out. Maybe I’m in there too. I don’t know. But I do challenge the notion that another has the wherewithal to make that determination. No matter how hard the researchers might work, The New Yorker editors just have to accept that they, like anyone, do not always know best.