Sunday, March 29, 2015

Oh yes this is happening

After spending the weekend at my father's home in the godforsaken frozen tundra that is Ottawa, Ontario, I've come to a conclusion: the ultimate writing set-up is not desk/chair/PC; is not standing-desk/Mac/hipster moustache; is not typewriter/oil lamp/Vermont retreat... It is, quite simply, this:

After a long day sitting upright at my desk at work, the last thing my back and I want to do is sit at yet another desk -- in yet another upright position -- to write. Right? 


Seriously, guys. I practiced on my father's chair yesterday, so I've got it all worked out.

Every night after work, I'll change out of my power suit and into my snuggy jam-jams. I'll then set myself down in my glorious recliner, release the lever, stretch out my legs, recline as far as needed, place my laptop on my lap and tad dah! It's the ultimate spine-sustaining posture for the moonlighting novelist! 

My spine gets a stretch and I'm in the perfect typing position. Plus I may nod off and dream up something sheer genius! Like the next Hunger Games or Harry Potter! Or maybe, if it's a horrible nightmare, the next Fifty Shades! Why, with this chair, my next novel will practically write itself!

Plus an oversized recliner is basically a hug covered in upholstery. And what do struggling writers need??? HUGS. 

But seriously, sitting is the new smoking, apparently. But reclining? Reclining isn't the new anything. It's just reclining. So until someone from the FDA -- or whatever Canada's version of that is -- tells me I could lose a lung from my La-Z-Boy, I'm doing this thing.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

I am happier than this photo suggests!

Me adding my SIN number to my book contract! Neat!

The Weather Inside
By Emily Saso
Coming in Fall 2016 from Freehand Books


Big thanks to this person and this person. And to this person too. But more on all that later...

Friday, February 13, 2015

What a pleasant day this turned out to be

I took the day off work to write, and the morning was quite productive... And then the power went out. It's been out for hours. Some kind of grid problem that's affecting much of the city, which means there's nowhere to go. So I'm stuck in my ancient condo with the drafty single pane windows letting in the -20 degree arctic air, and there's no white noise to drown out the incessant barks of that damn dog and so I'm angry and bitter and disapointed because I was planning on singing along to Taylor Swift this afternoon as my reward for my perfect writing morning but I can't now and I'm unsure if I can even flush the toilet when the power's out. Why is that? Who told me I couldn't? So I'm holding it in, not just my urine, but my rage and bitterness, and I'm hiding in my bed with as many sweaters on as my body can hold and I'm using my laptop for warmth instead of writing. There's only 30 minutes of battery life left. I may have to set my hair on fire for warmth. Somebody talk me out of it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Get up, stand-up.

"So a sheriff walks into a bar..."

I’m taking a stand-up comedy class. No, really, I am. Yes, me. And just what are you implying anyways?

I’m not doing it because I want to be a comic, though. Oh god no. I am far too chicken to pursue that line of work. I’m doing it to shake up my writing life, and I highly recommend it to you prose writers out there.

First off, the feedback is immediate. You share your writing (your jokes) with an audience, and you find out in seconds if it’s any good or not. It’s like the antidote to the molasses pace of traditional publishing where it can take eight months just to get rejected from lit journals. (I’m talking to you McSweeney’s.)

Secondly, writing stand-up is the opposite of writing prose. The best jokes have a minimum amount of setup and there’s no time for dreamy exposition. You just get to the point. This flexes the writing muscle in a new way, which, for me at least, is inspiring and reenergizing after being bogged down by subtext and metaphors for so many years. 

Thirdly, it’s all about imagery — about painting a picture as clear as you can for your audience. Which is what prose should be about too. When I’m writing prose, however, I sometimes forget that it’s meant for an audience, mostly because I’ve never had more than a handful of readers. But with comedy, if you don’t have an audience then you’re not really doing, well, anything. You can’t call yourself a comic if you’re writing jokes that never get told to a living, breathing audience. It’s the performance that’s key, and because of it, you have to think of your audience even more than you think of yourself. But since performance isn’t necessary for fiction writing, you can call yourself a writer if you write a book that never gets read. It can be a narcissistic, vacuum tube of a project for your eyes only. This separation from the audience in the literary world makes it easier to get lost in your head when you write, and that can lead to connection problems with your readers... if you ever get them. You get it, and so you think that’s enough. Thankfully, comedy has reminded me that it isn’t.

Fourthly, doing stand-up is a total kick in the balls, metaphorically speaking. And us writers need to get our balls kicked once in a while to make sure we stay tough. There’s no gentle hand-holding in comedy. If you suck, the audience will tell you. In the class format, the teacher will tell you that you suck, too, but she'll also tell you how to suck less. I never thought "funny" was a learned skill, but it is. There’s a structure to jokes that's imperative, and that makes subjectivity almost irrelevant. Meaning, if it's a well-told joke, it should get a laugh. But in literature, we writers use the subjectivity excuse like it's going out of style. "Oh he didn't like it because it's a book about women." Or "She didn't like it because she likes commercial fiction, not literary." The truth is, if you tell a story well, most people will probably like it, all genre-preferences aside. The subjectivity excuse hampers my improvement as a writer, so I appreciate that comedy doesn't give me this easy out.

Interestingly enough, writing jokes has made me miss writing prose. As I mentioned earlier, being released from exposition and dialogue did feel freeing, but now — four weeks into this stand-up class — I often find myself longing for the metaphor, the layers, the subtext, all the stuff I’m not able to use in comedy… at least not unless I become good at it. (Like everything else, I bet when you’ve mastered the rules of the joke, then you can break them.)

If you’re in Toronto, I highly recommend checking out this class. You just might find a new calling… or at least be drawn back to your old calling in a new way. You can also watch this excellent short doc on the instructor, the hilarious Dawn Whitwell.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The waiting was the hardest part

I broke up with my agent. But it wasn't her, it was me. No, really.

It happened a few weeks ago, and I debated whether or not I should write about it here, you know, publicly. But it seemed dishonest not to, and would fly in the face of why I started this blog in the first place. So there it is. My cool New York agent is my agent no longer.

It sucked at first, but now I'm fine with it. I never really thought it would work out anyways, that getting this agent would result in a book deal. It just felt too dreamy, too perfect. I'm a cynical person, if you haven't already figured that out. It's an attitude I've cultivated to keep my battered heart protected. And it served me well in this instance.

The breakup is also action, progression, motion. It's something at least. Finally, some novel-related momentum, a push out of the mud I was stuck in. 

Nothing dramatic went down that precipitated this breakup. In fact, it was mostly just a lot of waiting. Months and months and oh my god more months of waiting to hear from my agent about my revision. (Here's a tip: if it takes your agent more than six months to get back to you, there is definitely a problem.) The waiting really was the worst part. 

As for the "why" of our breakup, it's pretty simple. My book changed and my agent liked the original draft better. So it just made sense for me to say goodbye and find new representation who was a better fit for my novel as it stands now, not for what it used to be. 

My agent was wonderful, though -- no, more than that, she was a miracle that I still can't believe actually happened to me -- and I'll be forever grateful to her for believing in me. She's focused on representing children's books and young adult now -- another reason why we weren't a good fit any more -- and if that's you, I'd definitely recommend that you pitch her. Here's a link to her web site in case you're interested.

So it's sad, but unavoidable and for the best. The timing, at least, couldn't be better. I get to start off fresh in a new year, a year I've decided to devote entirely to my second novel, Why It Gets Dark at Night. I'm also spicing up my writing life by taking a standup comedy class and hopefully getting back into TV writing again. So, you know, good things are happening.

The end of my relationship with my first literary agent does not mean the end of my first novel, by the way. I've got the manuscript in the hands of some people I deeply respect, and if there's good news to share, I'll be doing that here.

So go forth and write and read and be merry. And know that when one thing ends, another takes its place.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Kubrick and discomfort

The Actual Grady Twins' Dresses From The Shining
or: The Real Reason I'll Never Bear Children

I went to see Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition at TIFF yesterday. Aside from the gentleman whose dandruffy shoulder I was doomed to peer over for the duration of my tour -- (Can you just... If you don't mind scooching just a bit to... Excuse me, sir, but... Outta my way, old man!) -- it was a wonderful experience. Black and white production photographs, profit/loss sheets that read like gossip, threatening/entreating letters from Christian groups, costumes from Spartacus, a model of the War Room from my all-time favourite Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, HAL from 2001... there were more than enough goodies to satisfy even the most fanatical fan.

What Kubrick did better than anyone else, in my opinion, is imminent doom. Every second of every one of his films makes me feel like I'm standing on the lip of a volcano, just waiting for the perfect moment to fall in. If I had to sum up his genius in one sentence, this would be it: Stanley Kubrick makes me want the very bad thing to happen.

His films remind me that good art often makes people quite uncomfortable. And that maybe even the artist him/herself needs to be uncomfortable with it, too. Or at least that's what I chose to take away from this exhibit because I've been feeling very uncomfortable about my idea for my second novel. So uncomfortable, in fact, that I haven't been able to bring myself to begin to write it, or even blog about it here. But now I think I'm finally ready to go there. If Stanley can do what's uncomfortable -- and make it sing -- I think I'll give it a try, too.

Friday, October 17, 2014

They make pills for that

My cool sister eating grapes in Italy

Aside from being one of my personal heroes, my younger sister Kathleen is also an intrepid world traveller, and she just started blogging about her adventures.

This post in particular made me laugh out loud. Italian grandpas can get away with anything, can't they?

I see a travel book deal in Kathleen's future, and a serious inferiority complex in mine. But I'll be okay, really. Apparently they make pills for that?