Monday, July 06, 2009

You mean even Nobel winner Heinrich Boll had my writer's problem?




In January of 1950, Heinrich Böll, a promising young German author yet to publish his first novel, was nearly in despair. To his friend, Paul Schaaf, he conddided how close he was to giving up all hope for a literary life.


If I were to describe my situation during the past three months, you would hardly be able to believe it;it's totally impossible for things to go on this way. My wife can't take it any more--things have gone so far that novels and shorts stories mean nothilng to me measured against a single tear shed by my wife:that is how things are...up to now, I've been unbable to work freelance, nor do I earn enough to buy shoes for my children. I've simply undertaken something impossible, and I have to confess I've reached a dead end.

Well, if it happened to an eventual Novel prize winner, it was small wonder that it once happened to me in the same situation.
Here is Chapter 16 of my second novel, THE HAT PEOPLE.

Chapter Sixteen

Quitting work suddenly with 200 dollars in the bank and a wife and child to feed was no easy matter. John thought that he would now keep up some sort of income by freelancing magazine pieces while working on his novel, one he had tentatively called The Climbers. It was to deal with people in the system, and what the system did to them. He had great plans when he started. Here at last was an escape, a way out of a regular newspaper or magazine job, the bloodsucking bane of every serious writer for a hundred years. Well, he had beaten it he thought. Laura did not take the news of his quitting well. You'll be sorry honey. A 200 a week job thrown over just like that.

He got up every day with the intention of writing. But Laura and young David were always around. Without an extra room it was almost impossible to write. He tried freelancing pieces, and he sold a few, but he was panicked to find that it was almost impossible to write from home. No privacy, too much going on. And they were starting to starve. Weeks would go by without anything in the fridge. Finally, no food for the family at all. The lean freelance cheque would be spent before John got them. And in a panic, he found he was losing his ability to write. He began to get rejections from his few contacts. The landlord hounded him. The Becker's Manager sneered at him when he would pay for a few badly needed things with, say fifty two pennies found in the piggy bank and around the house. After two months of being out of work and trying to make it freelancing, John and Laura faced leaner days than they could remember. Leaner even than those periods in Mexico, when their monthly cheques would get held up by the slow, confused Mexican mails. During those desperate days, in San Miguel, they would survive on potato pancakes and cheap fried sausage of dubious origin. Now, here in Downsview, Ontario they could not even count on such staples.

They had borrowed from anyone and everyone, losing almost all the few friends they had left, because of non-repayment. Pride kept them from going to either set of parents.

Desperation, panic. No gas in the sagging Austin. The last Mac's milk jar, which originally brought in 45 cents when returned, had been cashed. Something had to be done, John decided.

On a rainy morning, John got into the car, drove the Austin three blocks to the service station, praying all the while that the fumes he was running on would not give out, and produced a silver dollar to pay the attendant. The silver dollar was supposed to have been little David's to keep for life, a gift gotten in better, more optimistic times.

John, in his suit, clutching a scrapbook full of clippings of his old magazine and newspaper stories, felt like a bag of dung taking little David's money. Laura softened the feeling by saying, I think David will understand, don't you?"

I wonder if he will, John mused, wondering if he had a real plan for the future, pulling up to the offices of the Toronto Sketch, a new paper he had heard on the journalistic grapevine that the Sketch was now hiring.


Well, I had better luck than poor Henry Boll. I actually got the job. Journalism, yes, but shoes for the baby. Eventually I got a column as a rock critic and hey, having been in bands, I was practically in my medium, rock music, though the novel I was supposed to write was stuck somewhere on page 100.

....So good on the journalistic jackrabbit stuff. So disappointed when the editor threw up his hands at my first few chapters and had said, "Man, this isn't fiction. Travel, exotic settings, adventure. But you can' write, you can't fucking write fiction!"

Ouch.

Great to have the job, but what a let-down to do with the fiction project.

Tradest thou another ten years of poverty for a hope in learning fiction?

Well, I quit my job again and sort of did that.

Janitor by day novelist at night.

Got tired of the farting sounds and whoosh of urinals as I made my rounds. I was an artist, Martha! Not a klosetputzer.

Finally chucking everything , including the Stanislaw Dupa job and the mop, heading for my own personal Tahiti, where I would "paint".

Well, I am not Gaugin, but I think I hear a publisher knocking at my front door, apparently interested in my storyof Wahines and other women of exotic beauty.

I hope this isn't an illusion.

Probably is, as the last thirty years appear to have been.

I hear my Newfie friend wondering at my quest at authorship,

"Will he? Will he? Will he?

"Will he? F*cking asshole!"

##

27 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

Freelancing is a nasty business. I never had the guts for it. I like to know where my next meal is coming from, and to make sure my kid has enough to eat.

the walking man said...

"...felt like a bag of dung taking..." replace dung with shit.

Ivan no quest is ever in vain, even Don Quixote had an achieved end goal.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Charles, I have heard it said there is no such thing as a professional writer.
I somehow hung on, till the energy ran out.
And that is, through a twist of fate, is when the women come.
Rescuers?

icvan@creativewritng.a said...

Mark,
The last twenty years of my life was like being forced to read and live out all of Don Quixote, line by line.
But then, as it happened in the Sixties, along came the play, Man of La Mancha.
What a revelation.
The Man of La Mancha and Sancho Panza, delving into the mysteries of friendship.
And then the incredible aria of Eldonza the Whore.

ea monroe said...

Happy Birthday, Ivan!

Thought I'd drop in and see what mischief you've been up to! And, I always enjoy your posts, especially when you do your novel excerpts.

Love ya!

~Liz

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Oh, Thanks, Liz. How did you know it was exactly on this day?

Love ya too.

PhilipH said...

Ivan, that was a great extract, Chapter 16. I wonder how many thousands, or even millions, of people strive to keep a roof over their heads in jobs they wish they could dump? Journalists are probably top of the list of wannabe independent authors, followed by politicians (who are great at fiction in their real life job!).

The chap who lives next door to me is a bit of a loner. He is/was a painter, mainly of murals for exhibitions and other stuff. His work was sparse over the past seven years or so. What money he earned just kept his head above water. The original struggling artist. He seemed almost suicidal to me at times. No money, no work. Two years ago I talked him into getting a job, but at age 59 and with no experience, it was hard. He was accepted by Asda (owned by you mega Wal Mart mob) and works on the photography counter, 3 days a week. He HATES it, but it lets him carry on painting his landscapes for his own pleasure on the other four days of the week. It can, and often is, a darn rough life. Some drown, others learn to float or swim.

Cheers, Phil

ivan@creativeriting.ca said...

Thanks, PhilipH,

Comments from people lik you encourage one to raise a periscope.

the walking man said...

...And I raise a hot toddy of Demerol in memorial to my two newly missing teeth and your birthday old man....but not necessarily in that order.

Be Well and may the ten pound roast of your dreams fall from the back of the truck soon.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Salud, Mark.

And wouldn't you know...I just got hit on the head with a pack of expensive cinnamon buns from the back of a truck...Gotta be a good sign!
Seems I am not only on a roll, but the rolls are rolling off the truck and coming to me.
It was a good birthday, thanks.

Mona said...

Belated happy Birthday to you Ivan!

Gauguin had it pretty bad too I heard Maugham say...

Every Artist has a problem...

...when profit is sought.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Thanks, Mona.

It was the best birthday in some years. Gifts-- and even agents seeking me out, though I am beginning to think one of them is a spammer... But one of them is for real, and the script is gone....Here we go again. "Oh Dick," said Jane. "See Spot run."

Was in in W.S. Maugham's "The Summing Up" that Gaugin was described?
That book seemed to me to have a subtext: How to Write.
I made sure I read it twice.

Still, I am not only not writing better, but I have lost the goddam book. :)

Mona said...

It was in "The Moon and the Sixpence"

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Ivan,

I think the problem is getting people to sink their teeth in. I sometimes pick up a book and if the first chapter doesn't grab me I am more inclined to put it back down and never finish it. The Topic doesn't have to be something riveting or have some great emotional base, though I must admit I like emotional pieces. It just has to grab a hold of me. There are other times when I think a book may be a complete disaster, but I will read it outloud for a moment and find something I did not see when reading silently. Strange, perhaps, but its just my way. I guess what I am saying, rather badly I admit, is that I believe you to be a good writer, but you always seem to bet yourself up and frankly, I think you do this so you cannot be hurt or rejection because you expected it anyway.
I tend to do that with people. Doing stop me from feeling hurt if they are don't like what they see in me or just anything about me enough to ignore or avoid me.

I have always thought of you as a wonderful man and a great writer. We all have issues Sir Ivan, but the beauty of it ... is that we get to share them with one another.

Soft love,
T

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

BTW Happy Belatred. I didn't know it was your Birthday.my apologies for missing it. I hope it was a lovely one.

Soft love,
T

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Mona,

thnx.

ivan@creativewrirting.ca said...

Tara,

Insight....And thanx for the old birthday wishes. It was great. Everythilng came up roses for the day.

Midnight said...

Hey Ivan, July 7th?

Happy Birthday!

Keep your face in the wind!


You Sun in Cancers are so delightfully introspective ; the world wouldn't be the same without youse.

Na Zdorovlia!

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Дякую

Midnight said...

Always a pleasure, Ivan.

Hey! In honour of your and several other Birthdays within a month, I've just snorted some Whiskey again!

(June 13, 24, 29, July 3, 7, 11)

Quarter teaspoon, both sides.

Just like the Pat Travers Band.

Followed by a double-shot.

Except for you, they're all Chicks.

Things to do, after 10 am!

Cheers!

Midnight said...

And not to be outdone, AC/DC
comes on the radio/stereo,
with probably the most kick-assiest
rock tune of ALL TIME!

"Whole lotta Rosie!"

Yes, 1977.

ivan@creative1 said...

I quote the venerable Snoopy, out of Peanuts, by Charles Schultz:

"My head was sound asleep, but my stomach was wide awake".

Woodstock adds: Y y
Y y

Force Of Nature said...

Happy B-Day, Eye Prop (shhhhhhh!)

With all its sham and drudgery, it's still a beautiful world, eh?

Before I leave this Wotan forsaken country we're gonna have a few wobblies together. Need an appropriate venue though. Brunswick House still open? Haven't been near GTA in some time. Warrants. Just kidding, that's Montreal. Brass Rail? My uncle took me there when I was 15, saw "Loni Salami", a show unequalled until I went to Bangkok. Didn't get the Full Carradine when I was there, though; those katoeys are one rough, rough crowd. Spent my time in a monastery until I found a scorpion in my bed.

Favourite pickup line: "Excuse me, does this smell like chloroform to you?"

You write, we read, that's how it works. The Man Who Launched A Thousand Google Searches, you'll always be to me. All the best, man.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Hi Tom,

Brunswick House my former home.
Would be happy to join you should you come.
Changed you monicker, huh?

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