Tuesday, October 31, 2006
The Ice Man Cometh
That life is rejection, failure, pain--is hardly news to the writer.
"I don't know what you're talking about, " says my established friend at The Star. "These things are only felt by marginal employees."
So we, who somehow ended up back in the boonies, are we the "marginal employees" of the publishing houses?
Hell, half the time we can't even get in the door.
Says John Braine, a good past friend of our wonderful Mordecai Richler, who turned old-fart stories into high epics:
"Once the biggest publishing house in the country rejects you, why, you have failed. There is nothing you can do.
Of all things, this is the most difficult."
But what if you are rejected ahead of time. Like not only is lip service given to "the selection process", but full service! There's only room for three or four top writers.First novels are not taken.
Counters Dennis Lee, a lovable Canadian poet. "It is impossible to be published in Canada as a novice.
"You can only do it the way I did it: Start your own publishing company."
Dennis Lee went on to great things as a poet laureate and a teacher of writing.
Myself, I have a system.
I was making terrible headway with the large newspapers and magazines. I was in some sort of maze.
I picked up from an old British series, "The Avengers" the notion that if somebody has placed you in a labyrinth,
You have to inflict pain on yourself so you won't mind the labyrinth, and if you keep your right hand along a wall, you will eventually get out.
So I became homeless and lived in a car.
People kept calling on me while I was out dumpster diving and complained I was never :"home".
I made some queries with the Globe & Mail and found there were up to 600 submissions a week for Facts & Arguments, the personal essay page. I went really high class and checked out Atlantic Monthly: One hundred thousand submissions, perfectly edited, each year. So they print 12?
So how do you fight odds like that?
Do the masochist tango. Works for me.
Also: Write good.
"I have to read so much dreck," complains editor Moira Dann at the Globe.
Around the time I was writing something for Globe, I was more or less taken aboard by the House of Anansi on my novel, Light Over Newmarket.
Unfortunately, I was so broke I hit up the editor, whom I didn't know very well, for a $20.loan.
He told me to *&^*-off. "We are not such good friends." The whole deal was scotched.
Then he sent me to an agent who was nonexistent. And I heard him say to the company accountant, "I don't know about Ivan. He doesn't seem to have any luck. Maybe his name is against him."
Ever get that empty feeling, Bunky?
I took ten thousand dollars and published every damn thing I ever wrote.The reviews were magnificent.
A local journalist lost his job over praising me, but he got it in and I could finally eat.
Canada's top reviewer wrote in to explain: "No, no, I didn't damn your work. I just haven't read too much of it."
Then everybody chimed in to call him an asshole, just on general principles and his work over at the National Post.I wrote into the Toronto Star, where they were slagging him, and said, "Hey, this guy's not so bad. And as for writing ability, the man can really do it. I read his autobiography, and it was really fine!"
Recently, I passed my old matrimonial home, a nice two-an-a-half Victorian monstrosity that even boasted its own ghost.
Halloween!--Have to get something in!
I ran away from home so I could be the great writer.
Turned out to be the greatest sexual acrobat in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
What was that all about?
Ah, old Caravaggio, just after the Renaissance: "You would rather do anything than sculpt, engineer or paint.
It's buggery, liquor, dissipation that you really want."
Fyodor Dostoevsky echoes this.
Well, I'm not into buggery--pain in the ass!--but how I love women!
I blame it on a negative gene.
"You are full of negative qualities," my third-last dutchess said.
But she was back on the phone when my book came out. And especially when I got this huge spread in the Star.
Anyway, the system I've got: While I am not unaware of the Newfounland admonishment (Newfies are a lot like Oakies) "if at first you don't succeed give up, no use making a fool of yourself", I usually try five or six different ways to get the project overground and into cold print.
1) Turn your story into something that looks like an editorial and flog it to the local press;
2) If rejected from paid editorial writing, turn your story into a letter to the editor. This really works. Trust me.
3) Find a magazine that hires burned-out fiction writers. These exist. Trust me again. I have made hundreds of thousands of dollars over forty years by joining outfits like the old Star Weekly;
4) Become a character. Run for public office. Hell, it worked for Norman Mailer.
5) Turn your novel into a play. Hm. This is hard to do. A playwright is very high on the literary food chain.
This is whre I may lead you (and even myself?) astray, for here comes Act III, Scene III of THE FIRE IN BRADFORD.
ACT III Scene 3
Scene: The professor and Celia are in her pert blue yuppie mustang of l973 vintage. The professor is driving.
I knew thing had gone some distance and the husband, Lief, wasn't the stupidest person in the world. There would have to be a climax, but it didn't come the way I'd expected it. She had said over the telephone that she wanted me over for dinner. I assumed, over ou rdrinks at the Granada, that Lief would be there too, that this was the denoement, the long-abiding stranger in the house being invited to--who knows--a hanging.
No, I had said at first. But she kept at it and at it. So I had said to myself, faint heart never made it...
Business: There is something wrong with the car. It dies on the road to Bradford. The professor and Celia are stalled.
Celia: What are we going to do? This is turning our really odd.
Professor. Damn. Baroque night. And it's only started. Something's out to get us.
Celia: "Hey, that red truck. That's Horse's truck. You know, the son of your pal Deighton.
Professor: (quickly leaping out the driver's side): Hey Horse! Horse!
Business: Young Horse, a huge teenager comes in from Stage Right. The professor already has the Mustang's hood up. Horse is walking towards the car.
Professor. Yeah. Big time. Car won't go and we have to be somewhere.
Horse: I'll have a look.
Professor: Great. Your dad tells me you're a whiz at mechanics.
Horse: Don't know if I'lm a whiz, but let's see. We might get lucky.
Business: Horse is peering inside the hood.
Horse: Oh -oh. Deteriorated distributor cap. LIke papier-mache.
Horse: Just a second. I think I have some duct tape in the truck.
Celia: There's some in the glove compartment. (She steps out of the car) Here
Horse (Deftly applying the tape) This is good for ten miles folks. Best I can do. You need to replace that cap.
And they are off.
Only to stop again.
Again, they are out of the car, looking for anyone.
Profesor. We are lucky; we are unlucky. Look! A Mazda shuttle car! I recognize the driver. It's Dave Mazdakowski himself. Well named, that Dave Mazdakowski. Hey Dave!
Now Dave Mazdakowski enters from Stage Right. He is nattily dressed in a camel hair suit made to look hip, Sixties-style lapels. He is a good-looking man, dark, tall. He looks at Celia. There is a sign of recognition between them. The professor is oblivious. He is just interested in getting the car fixed.
Dave Mazdakowski: Trouble, Celia? The car hood is up.
This makes the professor do a slight double-take.
Business: Almost ignoring the professor, the car dealer rolls up the sleeves of his lobvely suit, gets a bit of greas on the right sleeve.
Dave: Ok Celia. Try it now.
Dave. No good. Try it again?
Dave (looking at the professor) My mechanic is just over at that house (he points). Luigi. You might catch him at home. Try Luigi.
And with this, Dave Mazdakowski exits, stage right.
Celia and the professor walk over to a door, stage left.
A little Italian opens the door.
Little Italian? You gotta de problem?
Professor: Car won't go. Just over there.
The little mechanic looks Celia up and down. Again, there is a flash of recognition. This time, the professor notices.
Professor (sotto voce): Who else has been fucking her, the parish priest?
The little Italian walks over to the Mustang, reaches down to the motor, unassisted by anybody else, somehow gets the car started all by himself with the triumphant cry, "I fix!"
Celia (reaching for her purse inside the car) How much do I owe you Luigi?
Luigi: Ten dollar.
The professor is nervously fumbling through his pockets. This is the second time Celia has paid the "bill".
Exeunt little Italian.
to: They are now in front of the neat white cottage in Holland Landing. There is a mock Cypress tree to each side of the house. The professor and Celia walk along the left side of the house, avoiding the front door. They have entered from the rear.
interior scene inside the Danish-style house's living room.
The professor and Celia close the rear door and seat themselves on the by-now familiar C-shaped chesterfield.
Celia: Want a drink?
Professor: Yeah, could I use one! Comedy of errors. Give it to us...We'll screw it up!
Celia peers a little closely at the professor as she goes to the glass liquor cabinet.
Celia: Are you hungry, David?
Well, let's just keep drinking.
The professor peers around. Stands up. Looks into one bedroom. Another. There is apparently no one else in the house. He takes Celia's proffered drink, sits down, Celia soon joining him with her white wine.
The professor puts the drink on the coffee table. He leans back.
Celia has put her own drink on the end table to the left of the Chesterfield.
Suddenly, she is on the professor like a flash.
Professor: Hey, Celia!
She is dry-humping the professor.The professor is startled at first, but he gets into the action, cradles Celia's head in his right arm, his left hand moves towards the tight ziper of her little dungarees. Celia's derriere is now to the audience, but it is plain the professor has a finger or two right up there, and as he now leans over her.
Celia has taken to be very still as he masturbates her. After a minute of this activity, we hear Celia say, "You're pretty smooth".
Now the professor tries to get Celia out of her skin-tight jeans. He is very awkard
.He at first unsnaps the stud to her jeans. But they will not roll down from the top.
He gives a tug. No luck. She is half-lying and half-seated. The pants will not come off.
The professor, a little maddened, now tries to remove the jean by tugging from the cuff ends.
Celia falls to the floor, while still trying to snap back the stud to her jeans.
Professor (his arm now around Celia and lifting her back to the couch. He is a very strong man.): How drunk are we?
They both sit on the chesterfield. Now Celia is at him again, dry-umping the poor prof.
The professor is now in high heat. He has his back to the audience, but it is obvious that Celia is masturbating him.
She stops. The professor is now sitting down.
She kneels before him, her pretty mouth moving towards his crotch.
The professor very gently pushes her away.
He picks her up again, places her spreadeagled on the couch, tries again to peel her jeans off, but no luck.
Suddenly, from the professor: Oh!
Suddenly, from Celia: Come in your drawers, Prof?
The professor, taken up with the comedy of the situation: The Ice Man Cometh.
Celia: Humour during sex becometh not.
Celia: You'll have to excuse me for a minute.
The professor: Yeah, me too. Going to have to try our your washroom. There is a big wet stain down the front of
the professor's pants.
The professor has Celia half-undressed. They are cuddling each other like teenagers, neither really knowing what each is doing. They are drunk.
Celia has leaped to the professor's lap, on which she is now perched. She has her forehead against the professors forehead. They are playing cartoon eyes.
Celia: Do I remind you of your wife?
Professor. Yes. Very much.(He draws back a little) He reaches for his drink.
Professor: Hey, what's in this?
Celia: Just vodka.
The professor takes another sip. Suddenly he loses consciouness.
He lies supine on the chesterfield. Celia goes into her bedroom, comes back with a syringe, rolls up the unconscious professor's sleeve and injects him.
From the bedroom behind her, Lief emerges, with his camera.
.....................End ACT III, Scene 3