Scene Expunged: Writing Process

It’s hard easy to delete a scene that works. It can take a long time to accept. That’s why it’s called “killing the babies.” I liked this scene because it gave background to who Dee was before the novel and underscored her sense of isolation. I edited and rewrote it several times before finally realizing – and then accepting – that it just wasn’t needed.

She went back to her old club. It was an automatic thing. She gave the address to the cab driver and half expected the place to be closed. It wasn’t. She climbed three floors up, above the DJs and the stage to where the air ducts cast crucifix-like shadows against the ceiling and the giant holograms of naked dancers, and looked down at the scattered audience in the pink and green lights, the flow of heads and arms reflected in the plexiglass floor and walls, the girls, gorgeously brown, grazing their arms and breasts against the men who, clutching their drinks, leaned back and followed them up the stairs.

 “Elle.” A hand came from behind, brilliant blue nails clutching her wrist. “What the fuck?”

Dee couldn’t remember the woman’s name, just that they had worked together, been naked, had orgasmed in tandem.

“I haven’t seen you in fucking years.” Her skin sparkled with rainbow translucence, like an abalone shell, her lips dark red, her green eyes highlighted by painted glowing lines.

“Here I am.”

“I heard you were with Nico, right? Didn’t you go out to Iceland or something?”

“Greenland.”

“I saw what happened. Holy shit. I mean what the fuck, right?”

“I’ve been out there for more than a year.” Dee said the words for no reason; she just wanted to leave. “I’m this kickass biologist now.”

“I did a shoot in Turks and Caicos. You been there? That sand is so fucking…”

“You look like some perfect angel.” A bull of a man arrived, a tattoo of the buildings on his bicep, and she wanted nothing else. She needed his hardness, his arms and tendons, his need, his pelvis rotating like a machine.

The Mother of All Writing Advice

A story can’t be self on self. Avoid the Uber Voice. Seeing someone else through another’s eyes just might be the highest level of interiority.

Looking down a cold tunnel at a mother

Omniscient first person, that’s the thing. Whatever you decide, modern literary theory states that it’s all about what your mother says you didn’t write.

Writing Process: Knowing Something Clearly

I feel like I know something now, something with clarity. Or just not so lost. Might have even got somewhere. Probably not. But I feel like that.

I’ve never known who the hell I am, and now I’m thinking that I just might. I am a white male, and an older one at that. But that’s not it. I’m not even an asshole, like so many people have said. I know that’s just them being lost and new.

I have come to somewhere and I know something about that. It’s not much but it feels like it might be something. I just hope that I can sell and then get that Malibu estate, be surrounded by beautiful people and complain about the masses.

And how great it was getting to where I got.

Editing the Gangly Bits: Writing Process

I had a scene with some real problems. The background information was heavily front-loaded, and it was repetitious and awkward and gangly and sputtering and bad.

And so I hacked it up, rendered it down, patched it to another equally sputtering bad thing, did some cauterizing and cutting again and thought I was on the way to something new.

Silhouetted rocks on Oregon coast

But it had become a bald thing, nothing in it, the description and progression and dialogue trimmed to nothing, the conclusion non-existent. And so I started to write it all over again.

Writing Process: Work Habits

Years ago, I worked at a mini storage facility in Vancouver. The job was simple: collect monthly payments and help customers access their lockers.

A new employee, Alex, struggled with these basics, preferring to instead adjust his biking gloves all day. I explained to him what I thought of his work habits. David Smejkal, a co-worker with a sense of humor and artistic talent, gave me this depiction of the event.

Don and Alex discussing work habits

It appears that I have always had a reputation for speaking my mind.

Ice Rising

I watched the ice rising up, like a submarine, baring its shiny hull, and then another crack and a fury, the iceberg disintegrating right in front of them, gone into snow and dust. It was shocking to see it there and then gone, a solid thing evaporated, the sky, crystal blue, where it had stood.

The remains spread out in the water, shards and chips, like oil, filling the bay, leaving two pieces bobbing, crashing into one another and then drifting amongst its refuse

Anori Extract: Apollo Kills a Galapagos Hawk

They were down from the mountain, the sun hazy through the low trees, so much hotter here, already past the conservancy camp, walking along the rocky edge, when Apollo ran ahead through the tidal pools and leapt at a hawk on the rocks.

Crabs scurrying away to tidal pools on Fernandina Island

Everything else scattered – cormorants, boobies, sea lions and crabs – as Apollo pinned the bird, the frantic brown bird fighting back, catching Apollo with its beak and talons in rapid succession.

“Apollo! No!” Dee stumbled down the rock face.

Apollo held hard to the bird as it flopped around, reared up, spasmed and shrieked.

“Let it go!” Dee yelled at him. “Drop it!”

Apollo hunched away from Dee, gripping the bird firmly.

“Apollo! I said drop it!”

“What the fuck, man.” Pax arrived from the other side of the pool. “Seriously, what the fuck.”

“Galapagos Hawk.” Dee sighed. “It’s a threatened species.”

Galapagos Hawk on Fernandina Island

“Apollo just killed an endangered species?”

“Not endangered.” Dee replied. “Threatened.”

“Well, this one’s fucking extinct.”

Writing Process: Finding My Self

Reviewing my notes for the Young Chronicles section of this blog reminds me of how little I had a sense of who I was as a young man. More to the point, it makes me realize how much I remain the same person. My sense of self lost in mist.

I am a writer. I know that. I’ve been writing for 37 years – novel after screenplay after novel – but remain unpublished. I’ve also taught for 22 years and enjoyed that. But I feel more the actor on that stage. I do not belong there, as administrations remind me again and again.

It is not that I need praise for my work. That isn’t it at all. Writing is definitively the most comfortable place in this world, a refuge from the blur and nonsense, where I truly know who I am. But it is fleeting. I come back to here, this blog, and think that maybe I’m not.

Young Chronicles: Hitchhiking Summer 1983

I hitchhiked across Canada in the summer of 1983 in search of something. I told everyone that I was looking for Canada’s soul – sad but true – but it was clearly more about me.

10,000 miles and 110 different rides later, I can’t say I found anything much but laziness and fear. Not to say that I didn’t try. I stayed at Cavendish Beach in Prince Edward Island, buying enough peanut butter, jam, bread and juice for three days and thinking, “Okay, I’m going to really dig into self-reflection now.”

Sad, lonely view from my tent at Cavendish Beach, PEI

But I didn’t. I just read, wrote nonsense and walked around, counting down until I could eat another sandwich and have another juice. I was marking time, nothing more.

Trying to look confident and cool at Mile Zero in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I did two things with regularity on the trip: take self-portraits and write nonsense. This was my path to becoming a writer and developing a sense of self. That’s what I told myself.

Self-portrait on the side of the road in Prince Edward island

But it all rang hollow. I was closed. To myself and everyone around me. The writing was horrendous drivel, and I just kept looking down the road to see what might be next.