Sunday, August 03, 2008

Patched-up Airplane, Landing up a Slope.


For the past forty years (after a decade of paganism) I have been writing for my life.

It began in San Miguel Allende, Mexico, where I just had to do the novel. It was that or inauthenticity, of not putting my ability where my mouth was. But hell, this was writing. And it was hard. And to fail at this was to fail in any future project.

It was fine to be the hotshot editorial page editor of the Daily Ryeronian probably the only college with a daily newspaper centered around Ryerson Polytechnic. Oh you could get away with stuff there. Comment on campus events was one thing, but you could sneak in your short stories, sometimes disguised as editorials, other times run as actual fiction on the editorial page. Who was to stop you? You were the boss and you could print whatever pleased.

So there was an inflated sense of being the big writer on campus, and who was to challenge you as this was a technical university and all the really good writers were really over at Victoria College, U. of T, over at the Varsity, from where they'd go on to cut deep furrows into Maclean's magazine, the CBC and into serious Canadian literature. Well, I went to Ryerson and Margaret Atwood went to Victoria College. I sure learned soon as to what was what in Canadian status colleges.

Passing hello's here and there as I knew Graham Gibson, Ms. Atwood's husband, as he had been an insructor at Ryerson and in my opinion, the best writer in Canada at the time. Support from Ms. Atwood here and there.
But the lady outhor shot up into the stratosphere upon graduation and I headed for the blue hills of Mexico.
Never mind Survival and Surfacing. It was my opinion that these were trendy, somehow political novels. Writing in Canada seemed the same as politics.

My aim was to be Dostoevsky. Yeah. Old shaky Fyodor throwing a lot of people off with his stutter and strange facial mannerisms, addling his first wife with his grand mals, but he was the real thing all the same. Genius. Talking to future generations.

I had acqired a wife, a typewriter and a balalaika by graduation day and soon we were off to Mexico to do at the very least, the Malcolm Lowry thing. Yeah. Under the Volcano. Who couldn't dig it? Life in the substratum of our consciousness.

We rented a house, nights were for fun, but every day, it was the novel.

Oh-oh.

Have you ever attempted to write a novel? I was impossible. It was so heady to write all that crap for the Daily Ryersonian, but this was serious business.

My poor wife, seeing me struggle with this from day-to-day, hitting a snag in the middle of the book, drinking a fifth of rum to get over the sense of impending failure, said "You picked a hard thing to be, baby." And: "You should have put in more time honing your craft instead of those editorials you cranked out every day." "And you gotta learn how to do hands."

Stuck in the middle with you. Meaning manuscript, and not today's singer Sam Roberts.

Stuck in the middle. Three hundred and sixty pages, I am merely at the middle and I had no idea where I was going with the book.
Oh there were palliatives, The wonderful fiestas, Mariachis. Living in he sixteenth centuy like a Spanish grandee. Rum at a dollar a bottle. High Spanish culture for pennies. Rent for pennies. And the Mariachis following you everywhere.

But the book, the book.
To spend a year in Mexico and come back with nothing was unthinkable. What would my friends say, Big Man on Campus?
"He worked mightily, and produced not even a mouse."
My ego keened like a trapped hare.


There was was a university nearby for english-speaking students. They had a creative writing program, one of the best at the time at, the Instituto Allende.
I submitted my half-finished manuscrijpt.

Holy cow.

"You have a scholarship. The book reminds us of Jerzy Kosinski or Romain Gary. ..In the wartime European traditijon.
Welcome to the University of Guanajuato."

I was very hard to live with for a while.

Where I thought I'd hit a snag was the actual artistic ending of the book. I had written too much.

That, or the instructor was feeding me candy, just so as not to lose a more or less experienced writer in the programme.
Most students were divorcees and older women. "Bunch of incompetents," the insructor would mutter later, over a drink.

There was still much work to do on the book. When you think you're finished, you are only half-finished. And that's just on the typewriter. When it's in front of a publisher, you are still only half-finished.

Half-finished indeed. My insructor and I sent the manuscript to Wallace Stegner at Stanford Univerity. Answer was, : "Good, but he is not an American, and more a journalist than a novelist."
I had missed a scholarship for life.
Don't life kick you in the face, and so early. Hot- Shot is shot down.


Instructor Tom Mayer and I went flying that afternoon. San Miguel is in the high mountains. We had to land up a slope.
For sure the airplane is a symbol of the spirit.
How many times up the mountain slope.
Writing, flying for your life.

15 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I think it's a good thing I never tried to write a literary novel. It's impossible to write about life. Or damn near it. It's only possible to write about events, and to string those events together into a story. And you hope that, maybe, some life peeks through the pages. But you can't guarantee it, and if you grab for it it will get away anyway.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

I think you kind of get the sense of it.
There are events that you can string together.
But in a way, I am glad I was writing for my life and had good counselling.
A serious life accident had laid me low.
Said a perceptive friend, "Write it.Write it close to the bone.
"And you'll be rid of it."

Maybe your soulmate Lana was write when she spoke of another matter in writing. wn into words, close to the bone, not caring what others will think.
I ended up with an Ontario Arts Council grant with Light Over Newmarket...But even then,there was a changeover of publishers and the damn albatross came up again.
Damn. You can have self-expression, but publishing is a game, and I wonder if even now I have learned to play it.
Ah well. Go with Hunter S. Thompson:
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Charles,

Damn that blogger It scrambled my response.
Here's another try.


I think you kind of get the warp a woof ot it.There are events that you can string together.
But in a way, I am glad that while writing for my life, I had good counselling.

A serious life accident had laid me low.
Said a perceptive friend, "Write it.Write it close to the bone.
"And you'll be rid of it."

Maybe your soulmate Lana was right when she spoke of another matter, about externalizing the problem, putting it down into words.. Close to the bone. And getting rid of it.

I ended up with an Ontario Arts Council grant with Light Over Newmarket...But even then,there was a changeover of publishers and the damn albatross came up again.
Damn. You can have self-expression, but publishing is a game, and I wonder if even now I have learned to play it.

Ah well. Go with Hunter S. Thompson:
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

the walking man said...

Ivan it's being ready to go with the old guard and as the door opens in rushes the new just a step ahead of you. No grandfather clause in this realm of words. Either you fit in the moment the contract is signed or your consigned to start anew.

I've found that readers tastes change along with the promoted flavor of the month; which is why I don't worry over it. If ten people happen upon something I write and four of them "get it" then I am well satisfied.

Maybe if I had traveled the whole formal education route and started down this written word path thirty years ago I'd feel as forsaken by my brethren as you do, but I didn't so I don't. If anything the shoe is on the other foot; I have given up on them. As we say here "fuck 'em."

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Mark,
Either you fit in the moment the contract is signed or your consigned to start anew

Incredible insight. And there is a tao operating here, as I found out.
The last time I had a publisher's contract, I was under a wood-boring machine under which I'd slept for a month, as I had no place to go to after work.
I had sent a short story to seven publishers, hoping one would bite.

The call came in the morning and was picked up by my woodshop boss, who said "Moira Dann from Toronto wants to talk to you. It's important."
I could not believe it. Employed but homeless, I had pretty well come to the end of my writing rope.

"Has anybody else contracted you for this story?" Well, hell, no. Nobody had wanted my piece.
"Okay. I will fax you the contract."
I had no fax, knew nothing about operating a fax, and thank god my boss, who was a friend, did all mechanical work, received the contract and sent it back with my signature.
...I couldn't have done all this without the fax machine at the woodshop office...and in any event, I was so excited that I was all thunbs.

There is a flash at the point of success that leaves you almost helpless. The unbelievability of it after all the failure.

So yes, there is a tao. But it's all sort of accidental like things being all wrong before they turn out right.Instantly.

indeded,"Either you fit in the moment the contract is signed or your consigned to start anew."

Lana Gramlich said...

Personally I think Atwood's wayyyyyyyyyyyyy overrated.
When you say you were a pagan, are you being literal or figurative? I ask as I'm a recovering pagan, myself. *L*

ivan@creetivewriting.ca said...

Lana,

Yeah. Pagan. I picked it up from the "Four Pagan Women" in your blog.
Didn't want to say much. Don't like to tamper with Old Nick or Wic.
Paganism was figurative. Debauchery and sin department. The good stuff. I guess Dylan would have called it "breadcrumb sins.".

Yeah. "Peggy".

ea said...

Whether to plot, or not to plot -- that is the question. ha! ;-)

Now days, there are "formulas" posted all over the internet on how to write a "novel." Get you some characters, stick them in a bag with a life or death struggle to overcome a huge problem (or not) - the bigger the problem the better. Toss in about 5-10 meaty "bullet points" and some "sub bullet points" under those main bullet points. Expand those bullet points and then to outline or not to outline, that is the question. Shake it all up, toss it in a greased pan and bake at 350 degrees.

Charles probably has it right; Mark, too.

Just write what you enjoy writing.

Liz

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

I say plot is character.But if one posits a character, especially based on oneself, people are apt to find out what one is really like. And maybe toss the book.

dong dong23 said...

christian louboutin sale
coach outlet store online
toms shoes
toms shoes
true religion
michael kors outlet
cheap nfl jerseys
fitflops sale clearance
coach outlet
toms
juicy couture
oakley sunglasses
kobe bryant shoes
pandora jewelry
michael kors outlet
vans shoes
michael kors outlet
louis vuitton
toms shoes
michael kors outlet
michael kors outlet
louis vuitton
coach outlet
michael kors outlet clearance
nike nfl jerseys
cheap jordans
louis vuitton
michael kors purses
michael kors outlet online sale
michael kors outlet
louis vuitton outlet
toms shoes outlet online
basketball shoes
louis vuitton handbags
michael kors uk
nike air max
michael kors outlet clearance
louis vuitton outlet
burberry outlet
oakley sunglasses wholesale
20167.27wengdongdong

raybanoutlet001 said...

michael kors outlet
true religion jeans
kobe shoes
michael kors outlet online
http://www.chromehearts.com.co
coach outlet online
nike huarache
lacoste polo shirts
cheap uggs
michael kors outlet
true religion jeans wholesale
http://www.outlettiffanyand.co
air jordans,cheap air jordans,air jordan shoes,air jordan 11,air jordan 13,air jordan 6,air jordan 4
kobe bryant shoes
nike huaraches
adidas nmd runner
louboutin shoes
http://www.cheapairjordan.us
michael kors handbags
fitflops sale
ray ban sunglasses
adidas yeezy boost
adidas stan smith men
hogan outlet online

chenmeinv0 said...

timberland outlet
louis vuitton outlet
louis vuitton outlet
instyler
abercrombie and fitch
abercrombie & fitch
red bottom shoes
ralph lauren outlet
jordan 6
retro jordans
20173.6chenjinyan

caiyan said...

polo ralph lauren outlet online
polo ralph lauren
polo ralph lauren outlet
ralph lauren outlet
polo ralph lauren outlet
ralph lauren outlet
polo ralph lauren outlet
ralph lauren outlet
ralph lauren sale clearance
ralph lauren uk
0417shizhong

aaa kitty20101122 said...

dior sunglasses
prada glasses
pandora charms
dior glasses
ferragamo belts
lacoste polo
michael kors factory outlet
golden goose
lebron shoes
Kanye West shoes

raybanoutlet001 said...

snapbacks
cheap ugg boots
air jordan
true religion jeans
cheap ray ban sunglasses
cheap ugg boots
san francisco 49ers jerseys
ralph lauren uk
cheap ray ban sunglasses
nike roshe one