Writing Process: Unconscious Self

I want to write like music. I want to write in a sustained sound. I want to write in a loop that goes around, on and on. I want to write with never-ending tension. I want to write like the opening of a door, the scuffle of feet, the distant sound of something coming soon.

My Bloody Valentine, Hammerstein Ballroom, 2010

I want to write like I dream and see my mother, looking young and sharp, in the car with me to the airport, our bags overflowing out the back, a starship flier picking us up before we even get there, continents vanishing in steam.

View from Crown Mountain, BC

I want to write like it was left unsaid, like eyes see. I want to write in a burrow, like roots to rocks. I want to write words that mean something else in their unconscious self.

Documenta 2017, Kassel, Germany

I want to write like I thought I would.

Writing Process: Conjuring a Scene

I am stuck on a scene in my book, Anori. There needs to be something there, but I don’t know what. It begins like this: Dee and Tommy are on the coast of Maine (with Dee’s exotic cat) where they talk about the end of their relationship. A park ranger arrives and tells Dee that exotic animals are not permitted in the state park. The exchange is cordial and the ranger leaves.

But then what? I have a tentative scene of three poachers appearing with a dead moose in the bed of their pickup. The ranger returns and says nothing. The contradiction is the aim. The ranger does nothing because he knows the poachers and will receive compensation. I like the premise of this but don’t know what should happen in the end. It seems that the stakes will have to be raised – Tommy proving himself with bravado or Dee challenging them – but I don’t want this scene to detract from the arc of the novel.

To put into context, the following scene is this: Dee and Tommy return to New York City the next day with Apollo. They spend another night together, and there are moments of hope. Dee begins to reconsider her perspective. But Tommy vanishes early the next morning. Dee is saddened and yet relieved. She returns to her work in Greenland.

Options include: a) Dee and Tommy see the poachers from a distance and leave. (Missed opportunity?) b) Tommy shoots one of them in the foot. And then…they race off to NYC? (Stakes too high?) c) Dee records their confrontation on her phone and threaten to expose the ranger’s corruption. (Convoluted and heavy handed?)

Presently, I am thinking a combination of b) & c). Tommy threatens the poachers and then he and Dee leave the park in a hurry. No one follows. I like the idea, but is it obtuse?

Dark Matter of the Writing Process

The thing about writing is that it draws from nebulous things that live in my head – memories, feelings, images and the words that put those together. But the real thing is they’re not actually things, but unthings, abstract nothing things swirled into a cloud of something, a story as it were, not building blocks but protons and ions, effervescence and frequencies, half like dark matter, a presence that can only be detected by its influence on other things.

My current project, Anori, has the following scene: Dee is driven by her ex-husband Tommy from Newfoundland back to NYC. The scene used to feature Dee’s Uncle Ralph; however the book needed less of Uncle Ralph and more of Tommy. The scene also requires a switch in scene, from California to Maine. The thematic elements will remain (distance from someone once loved) as well as key images, but the voice and setting need a 180 degree shift. And so the scene becomes a mangled corpse that has to be picked.

I could kill it all, wipe the slate clean, but I don’t want to do that. The dark matter of the old scene has an unthing I want to preserve. And scorched earth is stupid. Other things were hacked out. There is no more Dodgers game, no more sexy forest ranger, and no more porno shoot in the Hollywood Hills. (sigh)

I now have Dee and Tommy, still in love, but incompatible, stopping and starting in their conversation, exposing their history and feelings, afraid of saying anything to hurt the other but keen to let the other know what they still mean. There is much to mine from my own life here, long drives with things unsaid, guilt and pain and regret. This is the magic of the process, knowing the characters and direction and now searching out where it is they say what needs to be said.

Writing Process: Am I Any Good?

Every once in a while, it occurs to me that I’ve been writing for a long while, over 36 years now, writing my novels and screenplays, short stories and articles, and I have yet to get it anywhere of import, nothing but meaningless articles published in community papers.

It has dawned on me that I might not be that good, that, as much as I pretend to deny my desire for vainglory, I crave it as much as the next. It may also be that my writing is bilgewater (my father’s expression), that I drivel on because I am on immature autopilot.

However, my extreme subjectivity understood, I don’t think so. I believe that I understand what’s in a character’s head, what moments mean something and what others do not, what this experiment of ours, humans that is, might or might not be, and that I can express that in words and phrases. My thoughts burn ahead. (Which might explain why I always get fired.)

Midsommer’s Dani looking for truth or something like it.

Anyway, that’s the trickery inside that pushed me on here, ready to take on the big bloggers like Gala Darling and Heather Armstrong and say, well, you know, I might not know marketing and key words but I do know something about…uh, not so sure what that is, but, fucking hell, I have Zake’s Orchestral Studies Collectanae looping in my head, and that has to be worth something.

Research: The Best of Writing

“What’s a Qivittoq?” Dee was getting unbearably cold now, the chill entering her body like it would never leave. “What’s that?” (Extract from Anori)

Choosing the most effective word can be painfully tedious. Is she really unbearably cold? What about terribly cold? Desperately cold? What word translates the feeling for how cold she is? One word works and the other. It goes back and forth in the edit, until the word works as it should. Whatever that means.

A much more immediately satisfying part of writing is the research. Anori is speculative novel set in Greenland and so futuristic elements as well as aspects of Greenlandic culture are needed to develop the setting.

Aeriel view of icebergs outside of Ilulissat, Greenland

A Qivittoq is a mythological, often evil creature – akin to the Ojibway’s Wendigo – is derived from the custom of banished a person who violates the sacred codes of society.

Thule Air Base also came up in my research, a United States military camp where a B-52G Stratofortress loaded with nuclear weapons crashed in 1968. This led me to think that nuclear weapons might have created a Qivittoq or two.

Disko Island glacier

Other research for Anori included Earth-out-of-view Syndrome (a psychological disorder when one can no longer see Earth), O’Neil Cylinder (mining asteroids in space), Cave Swallows (birds in the Yucatan), dry dock (lifting boats out of the water for repairs) and cantilevers.

The cantilevered architecture of Jenny Polak’s Offshore (Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens, New York)

The trick of effective research is not allowing it to completing distract the work at hand… unless a book on the trivia of research is to be launched. (Is there a market for that?)

The Failed Experiment of the US: Escape Plan Through Fiction

America has been dipping too deep into the yin of late. The promise of this country, the freedom and all that, is repeated so much as to be almost believable, but the political landscape remains barren: 70 million people voted for Trump and Biden remains Biden. While it might be good to keep hope alive, an escape plan is worth consideration.

I’m thinking of a rocket to another planet where only highly empathetic people need apply. Good genes too. They would need to be genuinely involved to make this new society function. They would have to listen and engage – yes, actually doing those things. All prejudice would be left at the door. And all faith too. You can only believe in one another.

So, yes, there is a book about that, and I wrote it. Aqaara is available free online on Outer Places. At the very least, it’s a great escape from watching Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Georgia and all of the noise to follow.

Notes on a Novel Only Just Begun

The general premise of the book is obvious: living through the pandemic and watching the routines of everyday life dissolve away. Our main character, Davis, considers the lack of achievement in his life and then approaching death.

Davis sits on his fire escape every night and listens to the sounds of the city. One specific sound emerges: the communal humming of the buildings. He realizes that his mind has been cluttered and starts to dig into the more essential question of the meaning of this sound. He listens to it intently.

The sound is constant, but Davis realizes that he is not, that the sound swells and fades as does his interest. His mind drifts to other things. He tries to devote himself to the sound. He begins to understand that the sound asks that we do nothing but listen to it. The only thing needed is to listen to the note. His confidence in his understanding of this grows and grows until he realizes that he is now thinking about that – his confidence – and not the sound.

He then understands that he doesn’t understand. He cannot understand. He understands that to listen to that sound, to understand that sound is an impossibility.

Anyway, that’s the general premise. The book needs more of an arc and a whole bunch of interesting characters. And the real trick is to keep the tale sharp and witty! Lots of existential jokes and sex bits too.

My Small Quest for Immortality

In Until the End of Time, Brian Greene states that our only possibility of eternal life is through The creative mind, able to roam freely through imagined worlds, exploring the immortal, meandering through eternity, and meditating on why we might seek or disdain or fear endless time. (380)

God knows that I have striven for immortality in my writing. (I might even settle on one published work!) I have rummaged through my head and flailed away with anything I could find. My family’s distant interest in me has been a source of bitter inspiration. My father’s certitude of always doing the right thing has been a touchstone and albatross. I have pissed off many a person with my righteous thoughts. My terror of the darkness and deep waters has held me back as has my reticence and distrust of people.

I have channeled much of this into Dee Sinclair, a 30-something former sex worker who owns an exotic pet and who appears in four of my books, including My Bad Side and The Cx Trilogy.

Her mother was dead. Her sister was dead. Nani was dead. Everyone was gone. And she was alone. That was how she was used to it being. Alone. She just wanted this corner, Apollo with her, just Apollo, a place she could pull her knees into her chest and be quiet. That’s all she wanted. (Anori)

I deeply admire Dee for her courage and singular focus, for her intense devotion and fury, for her willingness to carry on, knowing that life is only there to disappoint. I desperately need to get her out into the world, to have her thoughts published, so that an audience might understand and care. She must be heard. She is my one and true child.

First Page Hell: Writing “Anori”

It’s one thing to face the blank page. It’s totally another to face a page that has been edited for ten years. A conservative estimate would be thirty versions, with hundreds of edits and switches. And so, yes, the blank page is nothing compared to that.

I began Anori in 2009. It was my leap into the world of speculative fiction, a challenge to myself. The initial first scene – which lasted over the first few drafts – was of a rocket ship launch, establishing theme, tone and perspective. I mean, the story was headed into outer space. So here we go. But it didn’t work. There was no hook. And so I moved that scene into a snippet on the television in Dee Sinclair’s living room. The book now begins like this…

The perspective remains distant but it is now Dee’s point of view, revealing an deserted world, a place from which she is clearly removed.

The prose are terse. Hopefully ominous too.

Dee, akin to the police car, is isolated and alone.

Immediately upon entering her world, her pet serval Apollo appears, who is the key to the story. Servals are felines from the African savannah. They are meant to be wild but have been domesticated as exotic pets. Apollo is a rescue animal who Dee spends much of her life with alone.

The story carries on: Dee takes Apollo out before the worst of the storm and meets the mysterious Och. It’s how it all begins. I’m just trying to get past all of this and continue on to page three. Fingers crossed.

Hairy Bug Adrift

I was in the bath, almost in that place between sleep and wakefulness, my book drooping close to the water, when the thing drifted into my periphery. I thought it was a clump of hair (a small one) and wondered where it had come from, but it wasn’t that. It was worse. It was a bug – a giant hairy bug.

I contorted away, dumping the book to the floor, thrust my hand in the water and watched in horror as it twirled around lazily, drifting deeper. It had to be dead. I waved at it from below, trying to get it to the surface, but it slid away, its hairy body grazing my fingertips. I was on the verge of losing it – my brain and the giant hairy bug – as I tried to catch until I had the thing and flipped it into the sink.

I tried to settle back into the half awake world and think about nothing, but there wasn’t anything but visions of that horrible hairy bug. I tried to read. I tried to play Fishdom, all in vain, and finally got out of the tub to examine the dead hairy thing. But it wasn’t there. It had vanished, back into the pipes, waiting for its next swim in my water.