“In love!” she said
He was in love!
And there’s no flesh on his neck; his hands are red; and he’s six months older than I am!
“She is beneath this roof … She is beneath this roof!”
“Good morning to you, Clarissa!” said Hugh, rather extravagantly, for they had known each other as children.”
The way she said “Here is my Elizabeth!” – that annoyed him. Why not “Here’s Elizabeth” simply? It was insincere.
He had escaped!
I haven’t felt so young in years!
“Well, and what’s happened to you?” “Millions of things!” he exclaimed.
But it was delicious to hear her say that – my dear Peter!
“How heavenly it is to see you again!” she exclaimed. He had his knife out. That’s so like him, she thought.
It’s what makes The Catcher in the Rye so good: a teenager can so clearly see the inauthenticity in everyone around him. I realized today, when looking up the spelling, that phoniness is also a big part of my novel. Who are you if you’re born in a place you should not have been born? What if someone else made the mistake – how do you fix it?
I’m a phony when I go to a bar and I dance and my arms don’t know what to do. I’m a phony when I stand in front of a classroom and talk about historical events (or current ones!) I’m a phony when I put exclamation marks in my text messages and when I wear a small bikini on the beach and when I drive with my arm hanging out the window.
Phoniness is everything that feels wrong but you find yourself doing because we’re monkeys and we mimic. A good formula to stop being a phony is to close your eyes and start dancing.
My dad loves a quote by Thoreau:
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
I like that. Your music could be so far away that you haven’t heard it yet, but somewhere out there it’s playing. Maybe you have to go back to where you came from or maybe you have to find the place where you are going, and it is there that the music will be playing.
(Photo of Walden Pond in the fall, taken from http://www.shutterfeet.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/walden-pond.jpg)
I let books do partying for me. They teach me the ways of the young and the damned so I don’t have to get too close to real life. I love books for how they make me feel: wild, traumatised, lovely, like I just woke up and someone made me coffee. Words let me feel things that life doesn’t. I get something more from them, something sweeter and more personal. I let my books do my living for me.
When I think of all the books I haven’t read and want to read I begin to feel panicked but excited at the possibilities. I can imagine all the life I have yet to live in them. I focus on the books I have yet to read instead of the places I have yet to go or the people I have yet to meet. Books replace all the houses I won’t be able to afford and all the men I should have married but turned my back to. Books are easy – they can be put aside, bookmarked or given as a gift. Life doesn’t have a front and back cover.
(photo from adoptanegotiator.org)
Now I get this one specific feeling from books that rarely comes in real life. The times I have felt it have been first dates, summer nights driving with windows open, and after a first beer at a bar with friends. It’s a distinct feeling of possibility. It smells like something; it makes me smile a certain way.
If you’ve never tried writing, then you don’t know that you get this same feeling when the words are coming together. You get it even when they’re not. And I realized lately what this feeling is. It’s the feeling of making something.
Making something is what is so valuable about reading instead of viewing stories on TV or in movies. When you read, you need to invent. You need to fill things in so you can see. Writing is then just a more advanced invention. There you start with nothing and you make everything. With reading you start with some things and you make more things (you can never make everything). Reading and writing and driving with windows open on summer nights are all about putting things in motion. You feel it in the tips of fingers that things are happening.
I ask books to do my living for me so I can learn to better live. I can live better if I remember that everything I am doing is a product of me doing it. I make things happen by rolling down the windows and picking up the pen. There is nothing happening unless I fill things in so I can see. I am reading and I am writing everywhere everyday. If I’m standing alone at a party it’s not because I’d rather be reading, it’s because I’m taking it all in, trying to make something of it.
It seems that if we all had the choice, we would choose to read the shortest story possible. We’re lazy and we’re losing our attention span on words. Fewer are better. If that short story has the same impact on us as the longest novel ever (Atlas Shrugged felt like it; I skipped a 100-page speech) then wouldn’t we always choose it?
I had a conversation with a friend last night who told me she only reads short stories. She reads one novel in the summer. I thought this odd, that one could like reading but simply ignore what I like to read. As I am easily influenced by others’ reading choices (the mark of all good readers, who want to be reading everything), I immediately started naming the merits of the short story in the face of the novel.
(Heminway, photo from reinhardkargl.com)
Short stories are never boring. They don’t have time to be. Short stories are always finishable in one sitting, giving them a mood that is influenced by the mood you come at them with. Short stories must have strong characters, and you must know only key things about that character. You are given room, then, to imagine and create from what is given, and the text must give you hints in order for you to do so. Most importantly, short stories are about moments. The more striking the moment, the more the story will stay with you. It’s hard for a novel to have a striking moment without it being cheesy, without it seeming too climactic and overbearing for the rest of the story. The novel is a story about time; the short story is about a moment.
When I read I want details. I want to feel them, not live through them. I’m living already – I want to feel.
Noticing that the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is entirely American, and that I am not, I decided to challenge the challenge by also reading a Governor General Literary Prize winning book from each decade. I won’t read one for the 1920s because the award was first given out in 1936. Below is the list I will choose from. Once again, please give me any recommendations from any decade, and also any recommendations on Pulitzer books too.
The beauty is that I could one day be eligible for this one. The beauty is also that I can compare decades in America and Canada. The beauty is also Canada itself.
- 1940: Ringuet, Thirty Acres
- 1941: Alan Sullivan, Three Came to Ville Marie
- 1942: G. Herbert Sallans, Little Man
- 1943: Thomas H. Raddall, The Pied Piper of Dipper Creek
- 1944: Gwethalyn Graham, Earth and High Heaven
- 1945: Hugh MacLennan, Two Solitudes
- 1946: Winifred Bambrick, Continental Revue
- 1947: Gabrielle Roy, The Tin Flute
- 1948: Hugh MacLennan, The Precipice
- 1949: Philip Child, Mr. Ames Against Time
- 1950: Germaine Guèvremont, The Outlander
- 1951: Morley Callaghan, The Loved and the Lost
- 1952: David Walker, The Pillar
- 1953: David Walker, Digby
- 1954: Igor Gouzenko, The Fall of a Titan
- 1955: Lionel Shapiro, The Sixth of June
- 1956: Adele Wiseman, The Sacrifice
- 1957: Gabrielle Roy, Street of Riches
- 1958: Colin McDougall, Execution
- 1959: Hugh MacLennan, The Watch That Ends the Night
- 1970: Dave Godfrey, The New Ancestors
- 1971: Mordecai Richler, St. Urbain’s Horseman
- 1972: Robertson Davies, The Manticore
- 1973: Rudy Wiebe, The Temptations of Big Bear
- 1974: Margaret Laurence, The Diviners
- 1975: Brian Moore, The Great Victorian Collection
- 1976: Marian Engel, Bear
- 1977: Timothy Findley, The Wars
- 1978: Alice Munro, Who Do You Think You Are?
- 1979: Jack Hodgins, The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne
- 1980: George Bowering, Burning Water
- 1981: Mavis Gallant, Home Truths: Selected Canadian Stories
- 1982: Guy Vanderhaeghe, Man Descending
- 1983: Leon Rooke, Shakespeare’s Dog
- 1984: Josef Skvorecky, The Engineer of Human Souls
- 1985: Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
- 1986: Alice Munro, The Progress of Love
- 1987: M.T. Kelly, A Dream Like Mine
- 1988: David Adams Richards, Nights Below Station Street
- 1989: Paul Quarrington, Whale Music
- 1990: Nino Ricci, Lives of the Saints
- 1991: Rohinton Mistry, Such a Long Journey
- 1992: Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
- 1993: Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries
- 1994: Rudy Wiebe, A Discovery of Strangers
- 1995: Greg Hollingshead, The Roaring Girl
- 1996: Guy Vanderhaeghe, The Englishman’s Boy
- 1997: Jane Urquhart, The Underpainter
- 1998: Diane Schoemperlen, Forms of Devotion
- 1999: Matt Cohen, Elizabeth and After
- 2000: Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost
- 2001: Richard B. Wright, Clara Callan
- 2002: Gloria Sawai, A Song for Nettie Johnson
- 2003: Douglas Glover, Elle
- 2004: Miriam Toews, A Complicated Kindness
- 2005: David Gilmour, A Perfect Night to Go to China
- 2006: Peter Behrens, The Law of Dreams
- 2007: Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero
- 2008: Nino Ricci, The Origin of Species
- 2009: Kate Pullinger, The Mistress of Nothing
I took out all the adjectives. No longer do my characters smile a certain way, or say something other than how they say it. When I find an adjective I think I need, I find a way of squishing it together with the noun that it modifies. I have created such hybrids as wiseman and redcar.
A book called The First Five Pages told me to do it. It’s on the list of bestsellers at Indigo, so I initially didn’t want to read it. I’m not going to be that person carrying around three copies of Fifty Shades of Grey. But I knew it was what I needed. I borrowed it from the library.
I’m near to being done my book. I need now to make my sentences flow so that agents will read it, so that I can read it. I need to start new paragraphs with tabs, and I need to get rid of fluff and other stuff. I was warned that rhymes in prose are the worst. I love it when I find one; it makes me feel that my writing is magical.
And then, of course, adjectives and adverbs must be removed.
“I heard a few small whines”? Really? How big can your whines really be, Gil?
“The first time I met Gil”? Oh yeah? Did you meet him a bunch of times?
Story telling became storytelling.
Lobster tail became lobstertail (I need to say whose tail).
And then I started changing other things too. Hey Mr. Lukeman, why do your interns have to be “angry” and “overworked” when they’re reading my manuscripts? Wouldn’t being overworked make them angry? And “the next five thousand manuscripts” – isn’t that a bit wordy, not to mention unrealistic? And an editorial assistant, couldn’t that just be an editorialassistant?
Red scrawls and editorial loops on more than just the First Five Pages of this book suggest that maybe I should have actually bought it… no, that I should have bought it.
“Du Fick Aldrig Veta” by Bruno K. Öijer
you may have never known
that when you left I sat still
by the print in the grass where you lay
I dragged my hand
over that pressed down grass and it was
as if I needed and took care of your absence more
than I needed and took care of you
it was as if nothing might have come back
if you returned
had you trespassed
you would have interrupted grief’s advance
and you may have never known how tender and strong I
spoke to your shadow in the grass
it was as if I already mourned you
as if I tried to accustom myself to
what awaits us all
and the price for a person’s insight
is a feeling of abandonment
which already from the start eliminated and destroyed the belief
of a lasting love