Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Please Sir, may I have another? The masochism of a new novel

The roman a clef, the deft little book, the "novel with a key" that will justify everything, make your old enemies choke on their latte and canned caviar.

Like another little Russian, I had been insulted and injured. I am just back from a contact in Detroit. I have have picked up a Detroit attitude. If you can't fix 'em, f*ck 'em.


Nice work if you can get it. Even nicer if you could write and write a little better than those around you at the time, teachers of english who fancied themselves writers.

So, still smarting after twenty years of what I then perceived as insult and injury I began to write the following:

A lifetime ago, I was a college professor. I had a secretary and a receptionist and a computer hard drive full of emails from important tliving novelists whose work I lectured about. I was still in their circle, at least with the Canadians and I missed their company, usually at the swell but old Winchester Hotel on King Street West, Toronto, Oh, I missed our mammoth drunks at that place, even the many times we writers were asked to leave, after our enthusiastic, drunken constructs of great sprawling novels in the smoky pub air, back in the days before the tobacco prohibition. Now, there were nervous, class conscious waiters anxious for tips who didn't want to hear our bullshit, and "stop all that smoking, there's a law you know." There was usually an eclectic clientele at the Winchester. Disgraced Doctors, hoboes or wandering writers, we all loved the place all the same.
But there had been a hiatus, a stoppage.I realized I was starting to drink my life away. I had to be what I told everybody in the pub I was, a writer, but some actually began to use the word phoney right to me across the hastily wiped tables. Well, I had to prove them wrong. At least to myself.
I went to Mexico to write still another novel. Carramba. The life there among the bougainvillea, those flowers that grew out of walls, and the Mariachi bands that grew out town squares -- again seemed stonger and more fascinating than the actual book I had been working on. Was I writing or was I just drinking, scribbling and fornicating? Seemed it was impossible to go off in all three directions. The book never did come out right. Finally after nine months,I stopped drinking and got it done by discipline alone. You had to be an army veteran or, (dare one say it?) disciplined academic in order to finish things. Finished on page 500, but I knew in my heart of hearts that it was no good. I could not go on in the impossible profession of paid novelist. I was written out. Knew it for sure. I was finished, broke and with a hangover that screamed to God. I had to abandone the vows, try to make money and not paragraphs now. Go to work. Get a job.

I returned to Toronto to find a society of almost unbearable stuffiness, of smoke- free environments, bicycles and fitness parlors while around the old Winchester hotel there was murder and mayhem, black on black, as if to contradict it all. Soon, I arrived at another politically correct place, the college, though the politics here was local, but no less murderous as competitive faculty bent on a headship seemed to carry knives this long. Years even further back, at my first go round in teaching I had achieved an untenured professorship by way of a bestseller, a fluke, really, an odyssey of novel about about an escapee from suburbia, a refugee from the monster home-with-no-back-yard Glenway subdivision in Newmarket, Ontario, yeah, exurbanite me. There were a lot of restless, greying forty -year- olds in their in their Dilbert cube offices in Toronto who wished like hell to have done what I did, even if it meant loss of security, personal and financial.

I failed. Bad knight. Broke my lance in the quest. The goal was wrong, my talent somewhat short. At the end a year's actual writing, the outcome in Toronto had been rejection. Rejection? Who me? God's chosen?

Failure.The Alvin and the Chipmuks song in my head, as if out of a computer: "Yes you." I did not bother to resubmit the new book. I knew that the novel was no good. Just knew it. Too wordy, too long, to unstructured for someone who was supposed to be a seasoned novelist. I was also broke. I had to get a job in or around my profession. Again, Like another Johnny Helpless-Can't-Do, I took a job as a teacher.

Teaching was far easier than writing. Writing was going Gutenburg,a placing of characters of black marks on white paper, producing print, the long, hard way. Is seemed to me the most difficult part of teaching was figuring out what you were going to talk about the next day. It also paid five hundred dollars a day, whereas for an author, the pay was far from secure. It would be fifty thousand dollars flat, and if your book didn't go, you had to pay some or all of it it back. Law of deminishing returns the superior economics profs had said.

But even here, at Seneca College amng the ivied halls and park grounds of Lady Eaton's former estate in King City, I was beginning to sense there was now even less security at King than in some writer's colony in West End Toronto or Vancouver.

My employer, Seneca College, was trying to fire me.

Hubris, sin of pride. Dare I go on for another 50,000 words on this?

Whaddaya think?



the walking man said...

Needs an edit but this is the most honest without the flourishes piece I have read from you. Now I want read the rest, memoir though not novel.

ivan@creatiewriting.ca said...

I think you are right on, Mark.
It should be a memoir.

the walking man said...

I think IGP gets a mention in here Ivan

Erik Donald France said...

Man, I like it a lot. Keep going, either as a novel with key or as a memoir, depending on how wicked you get with it . . . (I actually miss the memoiristic novel, as flexible as poetry in how the audience takes it) -- cheers. Things have gotten a bit stiff in public places, eh?

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...


Memoiristic novel.

I like the sound of that! So, probably will my friend, Nomen Clature. :)
Will add to my vocabulary.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...


Yeah. Island Grove Press. We have just puplished you. And congratulations!

There is surely some masochism in setting up a publishing company.

Island Grove Press once published an underground newspaper. Forces that be-- burned my office to the ground. :-<

Charles Gramlich said...

Ah, a memoir! Sounds like a train to consider.

I can't do a Roman a clef. None of my enemies read.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Thanks, Charles.

I notice on your blog that you are conducting a course on writing with a purpose.
I got the purpose, but the writin' is getting kind of hard.
As for enemies, I said to another teacher that these guys are surely intelligent thugs.
Hard pressed herself in a poisonous environment she answered, "Who said anything about intelligent?

benjibopper said...

It's very well written. But personally I always have trouble reading writers writing about writing (even if they write well). Kinda drives me crazy when narrators of novels are themselves novelists, or wannabe novelists. Not sure why that is, and it probably says more about me than it does about anyone else's writing. Maybe it just strikes me as a tad narcissistic (or, more accurately, being too obvious about the narcicism all writers have and need).

I think this could be stronger if there was more to it than the struggle to write, in Toronto and Mexico. Mexico: there are some stories.

I think a memoir is a great idea. What little I know of your life so far is fascinating, for your career as a writer, your setbacks, falls, get-back-up-agains, and everything else - the dumpster dives and all that, and all the characters running in and out of your life all along. You've inhabited many worlds, and those experiences are golden. So go for it, but maybe broaden the story a bit, and this could be something truly beautiful.

That's my 2 cents.

TomCat said...

Ivan, you could have just told us what they wear under their kilts.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...


Me narcissistic?
I am god. Lightning will strike you!
(Thanks for the feedback. The same came from a lady editor some years back).

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Cocky chaps.

ea monroe said...

Ivan, you live an adventurous life! I definitely want to read more. Memoir - or write it like that "John Self" character in Amis' novel, Money.

I've always loved the descriptions for your characters and the people you've written about on your blog posts. I think this is an excellent beginning to set up the "show" in the rest of your novel for what happens to this fellow in his struggle to make it.

You have a "wicked" way with words!


ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Oh you doll.

Thanks you! I am looking forward to seeing your own work-- what you call it? The Agate series? I know how hard it is to finish things--just ask me. It took me about two months to get together what I have just put up.
The Island Grove Press gang is busy!

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

PS to Liz,

You are getting hits from all over on your story, electronically published by our Island Grove Press here . Latest hits from France, and now one just in from Germany.
In Germany, they were googling from Innocence to Experience stories, and whaddaya know?...Google had a category under Innocence-to-Experience and whose story should be included in the list of authors but yours, The Crush.

Heh. World-wide fame through Google.