Writing Sex: Divine Sexuality

Apparently there is nothing harder to write than a sex scene. (Wink, wink.) It’s either Henry Miller’s sweat (“she commenced rubbing her pussy affectionately”) or Pablo Neruda’s honey (“I want to eat you like skin like a whole almond”). Nothing in between. And that’s where I aim to come in. (Say no more.)

Dee Sinclair is not just a sex worker; she is a performer. She is featured in my last four books – My Bad Side, Anori, Aqaara and Mina – and embodies what sex in literature should be. In the words of Nancy Qualls-Corbett, she is “the bringer of sexual joy and the vessel by which the raw animal instincts are transformed…and made sacred.” (The Scared Prostitute, Nancy Qualls-Corbett.)

As Dee puts it: You know what I’m good at? I’m very good at balancing at the tip, my orgasm looming, you know, on those tender little nerve endings. And just when I might slide off sideways, before I reach that moment, letting that go and pushing harder, I stop, all taut and stupid, clinging to this moment like it might go on forever and keep it like that, everything at the tip, holding my hips high.

I try to make it a long leisurely thing, really thinking like that, and then slide into my mania again, and all I can see is the sex, just the flesh, naked and depraved, everything like I’m a kid again, and I’m holding it, holding it, staring ahead, lost, my hands digging in, snapping ahead, missing the steps as I come out of a dream and finally give in.

Writing Process: Feel a Thought

Profound understanding is the goal in my writing. To share that with the reader. More simply stated, this might be called empathy. More thoughtfully stated, Saul Bellow put it like this: Only art penetrates what pride, passion, intelligence and habit erect in all sides – the seeming realities of the world. There is another reality, the genuine one, which we lose sight of. This other reality is always sending us hints, which without art, we cannot receive.

It’s not about thinking a thought, but feeling a thought. These are the moments that all of us have which transcend description, indelible moments that mark our existence. I was nine years old the first time I saw the palm trees of Florida out of my plane window. It wasn’t just being in the plane for the first time or seeing the lush green after leaving icy Canada; it was something more. It was magic. It was being transported to a place of dreams.

Not Florida but Turkey. Dreamlike both.

Years later, after an arduous camping trip on Brooks Peninsula, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, we were ferried back in a small boat through heavy wind and weather. The young man piloting the boat had lost sight of an important landmark, a massive rock which lurked beneath the surface. Just as he stood and wondered aloud, “Where is it?”, we rode slid into a trough and the massive boulder appeared, menacing, dripping thick algae, just behind the boat. The young man was speechless. A moment earlier and we would have capsized and drowned.

Luckily we didn’t end up like this.

I vividly recall the death of my cat, Popo as well as seeing Aguirre Wrath of God the first time on a tiny black and white television. I don’t just remember these things. It is well beyond that. And more profoundly, because it is all in my head, I remember standing alone in a dark Paris apartment the moment I realized that a character I planned to kill off, Chantal Deschampes, decided that she would not leave the book.

She not only survived to the very end of The Sacred Whore, she even made a more recent appearance in Aqaara, Part Two of The Cx Trilogy. I realized that she was not a fictional character but a spirit that had something to say. That was when I knew I wrote.

Kinetic Thinking: It’s Physical!

One of the greatest challenges during this pandemic, which I compounded by getting both knees replaced, has been the lack of movement. Being stuck in my apartment for such an interminably long period made me a dullard who spent too much time either staring out the window or at a screen of some kind.

Matthew McConaughey in Fool’s Gold (2008)

As I noted in previous posts, I need to move. If I don’t move, I don’t think. It’s that simple. Without motion, my brain barely moves. It’s like mush. It just doesn’t do much. According to Brian Greene (who despite my many references to his words of late is not my guru), thinking is an actual physical event. He uses Boltzmann Brains as well as an entity of his own called The Thinker to demonstrate that thinking demands the physical movement. Particles must dance about in our heads for our brains to function. And that makes it a physical act. There’s a lot more to it, but I don’t understand much of it – quantum tunneling you say?? – except what I wrote: thinking requires energy.

I know this because, four months after getting my knees replaced, I am back on the bike and my brain is back at it. I figured out a number of blog topics – sacred sex and more! – and narrative fixes in Anori as well as deciding to end a meaningless feud and that I hold no animosity toward the people who fired me (almost) as well as a bunch of other nonsense you don’t want to hear about – all in less than an hour.

I move therefore I think. That’s the thing. Which begs the question: Was Walter Payton the smartest of all?

Walter Payton, Chicago Bears running back

The Five Basics of Novel Writing

Basic #1 You need something gnawing at you, some sort of singular understanding of the key to existence or just a character in panda jammies.

The first book which I wrote was inspired by the image of a group of prostitutes being driven across the country in a tractor trailer. Don’t ask why, but that was the idea that came into my head late at night in a Parisian apartment. It developed into my first novel The Sacred Whore.

My second book was based on the impossible idea of a landowner refusing to mine a rich deposit of gold to keep his land pristine, which evolved into Manitou Island.

My latest work, a speculative trilogy about a generational journey to another planet, was borne out of an image of a serval by a watering hole.

Photo credit: Micheal Nichols, National Geographic

This image was the impetus for four books and some fifteen years of writing.

One thing to be careful of in your inspiration mode is the issue of the moment. Avoid delving into a topic that has recently impacted you. In other words, you need at least a couple more years before writing your Covid-19 piece.

Basic #2 Manage your work as it comes out of you, bit by bit. You need to write what needs to be written, which could be anything from a full outline to a character description or snippets of dialogue. Whatever it is, build out from there.

The key to this step is patience. You have to wait for the moment and/or characters to reveal themselves. I came to understand this when writing The Sacred Whore, I was stuck in the middle of the book and realized I had way too many characters (something like 20) and decided to eliminate half of them. The funny thing was that one of the characters I tried to eliminate – Chantal Deschampes – immediately wanted back in the story. It wasn’t my idea. It was hers. That’s when I knew I had something.

Basic #3 When you’re stuck, go back to the beginning and go through it again. Get the momentum you need to continue and just plow ahead. You have to face the simple fact that a lot of what you have already written is junk and will eventually be deleted.

It’s like being stuck in the snow or mud in your car. You’ve got to go back, dig out the rear wheels, clean the path, and get a little space to move ahead. You have to do this again and again, so much so that your first page gets rewritten a hundred times, which can be a good thing. Or not. But don’t worry about that now.

Basic #4 Leave the work alone for a long period of time, at least half a year. If not more. Let it ruminate. Your eyes need to be new. Let go of everything you held tight and see if it still works without you wishing it along.

This is probably the area that I personally need to work on the most. I can be impatient and move ahead when I should be waiting. I have only recently learned to enlist the work of a professional editor. Hopefully that helps me turn the corner at long last.

Basic #5 It’s time to share, to submit to agents, to attend conferences and workshops, to do that over and over again. You need a tanker load of luck with this. I’ve had the equivalent of a toy tugboat. I’ve tried for many years now and have even had a few decent conversations and follow-up emails. But then it ends.

Leaving me with the pictures of sunsets and goody bags of pens and paper. And so I take the hint and start all over again.

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.