One of the real delights in being a novelist – in part because it’s such a rare occurrence it never gets old – is the completion of a book. And I just did. Complete a book. Whoopie!
One of the questions I often get is “how long did it take?”, which really is impossible to answer. I started the book over ten years ago, sometime in the mid noughts. But that was the first incarnation. Then I started playing with it, changing a great deal of its structure, not liking the result, and then abandoned it. Since then I wrote and published another novel, A Dark and Promised Land.
But I always had belief and hope for that earlier work, and knowing I could gerrymander something out of it, a couple of years ago I picked it back up again. That particular effort bore rather rotten fruit, however, and since I was not Michael Ondaatje a problematic structure was not deemed acceptable by my publisher, and it was rejected. Thumb back in mouth.
At that point I was about ready to toss the thing and just move on; after all it had been a decade since most of the work went into it, and I could simply file it away as one of many projects that taught me how to write. Not everything we put to paper is worth publishing, especially our earlier works.
But I liked the book, liked the characters, and enjoyed the story. So I approached it one more time (the last, I told myself) and proceeded to strip it down, remove excess, and return to something closer to my original story. Subsequent rewrites had resulted in two individual narratives jammed together in admittedly awkward ways, and I needed to fix that.
What’s interesting is that the impulse that drove me to write it is now pretty much absent from my life, and I’m not sure I identify with the work in the way I originally did – it’s interesting looking back and considering the state of mind, values, and beliefs that the novel reflects. I believe the arguments it holds are still valid, but it’s perhaps a less nuanced version that I would write today if I were to start over yet again. Hopefully my latest rewrite incorporates some of these changes.
Long, long I struggled over the last scene, as it essentially resolves the questions I raise in the book. A few paragraphs could change the overall meaning of the book, in fairly profound ways, and I wanted to get it right. The problem for me was that I wasn’t clear exactly what I wanted to say. It’s funny how you can spend almost 400 pages building to a final moment and not be sure about what it was all for.
If character “A” dies, the book reflects something about life; if they survive and move on, a different story is told. And I wasn’t sure how I wanted it to be. Also, the roles of Character’s “B” and “C” profoundly influence how a reader will perceive it, as we have hundreds of pages to get to know them and develop a relationship with them.
Consider Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire: what a completely different story we would have if Blanche had killed Stanley before he denounced her; what if Stella thought her being carted away to the funny farm was really hot and she jumped Stanley’s bones thinking about it; what if Stanley revealed to Blanche that he was secretly gay and that’s why he had to get rid of her before she could reveal his secret? A few lines, an extra brief scene, and the work completely changes. It’s these kinds of subtleties that keep writers on the bottle.
Anyway, it’s gone as far as I’m going to take it, barring a little clean-up editing. I have a few folks reading it to get their general feedback and impression, and after dealing with that, off it goes to Dundurn. I’m getting excellent feedback so far, although I don’t know if any of my readers have completed it yet. I’m really curious to see their responses to the ending.
Once it is sent out, it will languish for many months on someone’s desk before I hear anything, another year before it goes to press, and even more months before it’s released. As well as livers of iron, novelists also have to be very patient.
As well as writing, it’s now spring so I’ve been dedicating a lot of time to spring cleanup of Peanut. Doesn’t matter how much good you pour over her, in this soggy climate moisture gets under her finishes and wreaks havoc. Despite countless hours last summer cleaning her up, she was in pretty sad state and needed a lot or pampering. She really needs a boathouse, but that ain’t happening.
Mostly what she needed was varnish redo, but this time I went further than last year and got rid of the years of Cetol off her house sides. Cetol works well but is quite opaque and after several coats it starts to look like paint, hiding the grain beneath it. Once it is stripped off and redone, the glorious colour and texture is revealed. A lot of work but she’s looking so very grand.
New paint on the house canvasNew varnish on the deck. Lots of problems with seam caulk. Stripping decades of varnishThis was once so dark you couldn’t see the grainStill have the other side to do. A surprising amount of work.The transom was in really bad shape. I’m glad I got to it this year. Might add another coat. Another area that was in really bad shape.Second time I’ve had to do this to allow the windows to close. Wood moves. Not all aesthetics, either. I gave the engine a full tune up. Surprisingly difficult to locate parts at local jobbers; eventually went through a marine store and they had my parts in a day. The engine is small block Chevy 283, but the distributor isn’t stock automotive. I also had a difficult time getting it to start after replacing the ignition wires, because unknown to me, during a previous rebuild someone installed the distributor one tooth out, making the rotor like 45 degrees off. Rather than just reinstalling it properly, they simply moved the ignition wires ahead 2 terminals. Of course when I replaced everything I installed according to spec, and it wouldn’t start. Wasted a lot of time before I thought to check where the rotor was pointing at Top Dead Centre – hint: it wasn’t cylinder one.
I couldn’t find anyone with a set of wires reasonably priced for a ’57 283, so I bought a universal set and made them up myself.