Archive for the ‘Writing a novel’ Tag

Of Heavy Metal and Other Considerations   4 comments

The hairless wonder.

The hairless wonder.

It is January, the beginning of a new year, and as I look ahead I find myself peering into a very unfamiliar landscape and sometimes you just have to shake your head and wonder at the randomness and uncertainty of it all.

It’s possible that I inadvertently kicked off a year of change when I got my hair chopped off in mid December. I joke that I’m all about my hair, and to a certain extent that’s true I guess. There’s a sense of public ownership of my hair, which sounds insane but that’s just how it is.

I found this out about five years ago when I got fed up with having long hair and was on my way to get it all cut off. En route, I ran into a couple of friends, both of them prominent businessmen in Calgary. They asked me where I was going and I told them, at which point they blanched and spit out their coffee and expressly forbade me from going any further in the enterprise.

“We can’t have our hair long, by virtue of our profession. We can’t dress all weird and eccentric.  But you can, and so in this way we feel we can express ourselves. Through you and in particular, your hair.”

Honestly, I don’t make this shit up, that was actually said to me (or words to that effect) and so I didn’t cut it then, knowing that it had become some kind of symbol that went far beyond the hairs sprouting out from my scalp. Finally, though, I simply had to say enough is enough, and so destroyed the dreams of freedom and rebellion of my friends.

Now I find, people look at me differently, treat me differently. I can’t explain it, exactly, it’s all rather new. But I like it. I like the idea of switching things up and having a new set of variables to work with.

Looking back, last year was really a wonderful year. I received a grant from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts to finish a novel I had been working on. The novel, titled The Piano Teacher,  is about a concert pianist, and so part of my process last summer involved rediscovering the piano, playing a little each day before I started writing.

I actually began my university career at the University of Regina a million years ago as a piano student before switching into English – a move that has served me well, I would have to think. Still, there is a certain nostalgia to going back and playing the pieces I was working on then. Trying to, at least. The fingers aren’t quite as nimble as they were 40 years ago.

Going into 2014, I would have thought it would be straight sailing into the deeper waters of novel writing and publishing – creating a second draft, finding an editor, deciding how I want to go about publishing it, etc. etc. And while all that is still happening,  a number of other unexpected things have come across my path, and this is why I say looking ahead, I don’t necessarily recognize the landscape.

One is the possibility of working on a television series – writing, of course – and any more than that, I’m not allowed to say lest I should get my white ass sued off. (Other than to say, I have some very interesting homework.)

The other involves collaborating with a musician friend, writing lyrics for a heavy metal concept album. As you can perhaps appreciate, this is very new territory for me, very new indeed, and one which I never thought I’d find myself hopscotching through. And yet, I find the possibility intriguing, and you know what they say – you only live once. YOLO indeed. But it’s true, you do only live once, and the trick to that is to do things to ensure that you’re truly alive and not just taking up space.

Incidentally, when I mentioned the possibility of this on Facebook the other day, I was immediately swamped with general “likes” as well as the names of specific bands and songs that I simply must listen to in order to gain any understanding at all of the genre. This is a very serious sub-culture and I think my exploration of it will contribute to what would appear to be a fascinating year looming ahead.

Certainty, the arrogance of surety, security as a precursor to smugness – all of these are desirable at some level, yet all are the enemy of the artistic process. Looking ahead, I don’t know whether to shit or go blind; wind my watch or howl at the moon. There’s no road map here. In fact, there isn’t so much as a road.

I wouldn’t have it an other way.

Now, combining the best of both worlds, ie classical and metal music, please consider the following . . .

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year.

Aspects of the Novel   8 comments

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Some of you may know that after defining myself artistically as a playwright for the last 20 years or so, for the last year I have been writing a novel. I have written over 20 plays in my lifetime, 18 of them have been produced at least once, some of them many times. The writing process by and large ends with the first performance, although we might sometimes go back and tinker with a  few scenes here and there. This usually happens in the unlikely event that the play is being published.

And so I know my way around the process of writing a play, I think. This is not to say I know, absolutely, how to write a play, just that I understand the process of how one might go about doing it. The question I have been asked over the last few months is how I am finding the process of writing a novel, and how it differs from writing a play. So this post is an exploration of those questions.

One thing that both processes have in common for me is that I typically hand write a first draft, and then transcribe it into the computer which becomes in effect draft 2. The plays I have written have almost always been written in fountain pen on graph paper. I wrote the first draft of the novel in pencil on graph paper in three small notebooks. The novel in fact magically ends within a page of the end of the third notebook.

When one is writing a play, one of the most important things to monitor is the voice of the characters, making sure they are clear and distinct. My novel is written in the form of a daily journal and so the voice of my protagonist is of the utmost importance. It’s close to my own voice, but it’s not my voice, it’s his. So in a way, it has rather been like writing an extended monologue, and in this regard it wasn’t too much of a departure for me, if I thought of it that way.

This perhaps begs the question, could this novel then be adapted for the stage? The simple answer to that is yes, it might possibly work as a one-man show. Another question might then be, why didn’t I just write it as a one-man show? The simple answer is, I don’t know. The surprising thing about it is that if this were to happen, it wouldn’t interest me to do it myself. Again, I don’t really know why.

When I write a play, I am very tuned into the page and word counts at the bottom of the screen of any Word document. These counts tell you, roughly, how productive you’ve been on any given day. In a play, because of the nature of dialogue, it is possible to leap ahead in pages without drastically altering your word count; writing a few hundred words might swell the script by 5 pages, and you can feel that you have put in a pretty good day’s work in doing so. For some reason, I can remember that my play A Guide to Mourning is about 18,000 words long. It is, by today’s standards, a full length play, and so that has always been an unofficial  benchmark for me.

Also, if the play is in two acts, you can reasonably tell by the word count if the two acts are of roughly the same length and therefore duration. This is important because you don’t want to end up with a first act that is 90 minutes long and second act that is only 15 minutes, say. You get the idea.

This is obviously not a concern in a novel. But what I have noticed is that while the words pile up, the pages numbers tick by very, very slowly. Like a glacier, receding. A few weeks ago, I seemed to get stuck on page 87, no matter how long I worked or how much I typed, I just seemed to be stuck there. (I noticed this because I don’t like the number 87, it being 13 less than 100. Another strange example of living with tridecaphobia!)

I have now typed just over 45,000 words, transcribing the written version of the novel from my journals into the computer. I am just starting the third and final volume. Some people ask why I don’t get someone to do this for me, but this is the most critical and creative part of the process. Hardly a sentence gets typed that isn’t changed, somehow. More often than not, the handwritten version is quite compressed and needs expansion, illumination. And of course at other times it just has to be thrown out.  Sometimes, it actually has to be changed because I can’t read my own damned handwriting.

Overall, the main difference I suppose is the sheer volume of the novel. It really does take discipline and even courage to go on. You also have to manufacture your own enthusiasm for the project. Some days that can be difficult as you find yourself convinced that they guy who wrote the first draft is a babbling idiot. How James Joyce lasted 17 years in writing Finnegans Wake is beyond me. And he didn’t have Facebook to distract him!

Courage, discipline, optimism are what I need now. So far, so good. I am looking forward to sharing this tome with the world when the time comes. When it does come, I am looking at an innovative way of going about publishing it.

But for now, the writing continues.

Thanks for reading!

Posted October 13, 2013 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

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A Fragment from my Novel   6 comments

photoCertain events of my life last fall colluded and conspired to make me think it might be a good idea for a novel. and so since late November I have been trying to write 500 words a day or so to keep it going. Come hell or high water, I have taken my little notebooks to Caffe Beano in the late afternoon and written. This process has taken me into new and wonderful territory.

You don’t know what it will be, exactly, until you start writing it. You can plan and think about it till the cows come home, but it will do you no good. Only through actual writing does it begin to emerge.

It’s a question of voice, isn’t it? I heard my narrator’s voice truly emerge the other day (and diverge from my own voice) and I had that creeping sense of excitement that maybe I was actually getting somewhere. At this point, I believe I’m about 20,000 words in and I feel I’m a little more than half way through.

The novel is titled The Piano Teacher and it is told in the first person journal entries of an unnamed concert pianist. This selection is entry number 64.

64. November something . . .

I am happy for Pablo Cassals that into his 90’s he managed to find 3 hours a day to practice without interruption (remembering now that when someone asked him why he still did this well into his 90’s, he replied, “I think it’s starting to make a difference”) and there was a time in my own life not so very long ago when I lived a quiet and one might even say serene existence, almost monastic, in fact, which didn’t just happen, oh no, it was all part of a planned and resolute process of alienating friends, estranging lovers, pissing off colleagues and keeping family at bay, studiously developing a system of misanthropy, the end result being that I was able to go through long and glorious stretches of not having to deal with, and indeed for the most part not even having to encounter, the various agents and representatives of the human race who, from time to time, make it their dedicated business to insinuate themselves into my consciousness, disrupting the delicate rhythms of my existence. But those days of glorious and harmonious solitude would seem to be behind me now, and for all intents and purposes I may as well be a rough beast slouching in a cage at the zoo where the great teaming swell of the great unwashed can flow past me, pointing their fingers and taking photos with their little plastic boxes and making snotty observations in whiny reedy voices along the lines of “I didn’t realize he was a smoker” and “I wonder how man G and T’s he knocks back in an evening” and so on and so on etcetera etcetera ad nauseum.

Well, I liked that paragraph and thought I would share it.

I hope to be done with it by the end of summer. And that’s about all I know for  sure.

Thanks for reading!

Leaving you with Horowitz making them cry in Moscow. I refer to this piece in the novel, I think it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed and I can actually play it! (Maybe not quite as well as Horowitz.) Enjoy . . . .

Posted March 13, 2013 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

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Critical Mass   3 comments

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“How was your break?” she asked.

I was taken back. Break? What the hell was she . . . ?

Ahhhhhh! Break! Christmas! New Years! That must be what she meant.

A lovely lady, don’t get me wrong. I know her through friends. From the look of things, part of her break was spent in a much sunnier clime than this one. I guess for her and her husband who presumably works and her kids who are at school (I believe they are studying something having to do with wealth) a break would be a real and tangible thing.

But I stumbled somewhat in my reply to her.

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“I didn’t really get a break,” I think I said. “I mean,” I added, “I don’t really have a job at the moment to have a break from.”

But this made it sound like I’ve been sitting in a basement drinking Lucky for the last month and I didn’t want to give that impression, so I added: “But I did manage to write half a novel, or so.”

And it’s true, I did, that’s what I’ve been doing.

 

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It started innocently enough. I didn’t mean to be writing a novel. It started, in fact, from a post I wrote on here about teaching piano lessons again after all these years. And then I read a novel that was written in the form of a journal. And then I wondered if I could marry these two things – a man thrust into a situation where he is teaching piano lessons after years and years, and a fictitious journal, and before I knew it, I had 10,000 words or so.

Just a little every day, that’s all it takes. 500 words or so. You take the odd day off, but now and then you surprise yourself and write 1,000. And soon they add up.

There comes a point when the writing starts to gather momentum and you achieve what I think of as critical mass – you know you have something there on paper that seems of a fine enough quality that it seems impossible stop, the only option is to keep going.

Once you have achieved critical mass, and you have some sense of where you’re going, then all you really need to do is keep at it with some sense of discipline, but at this point it feels more like note-taking than anything else.

You can see from my photos that this is all hand-written, some of it at my favourite table at Caffe Beano, some of it at my kitchen table.

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It is written in a green-covered “Writer’s Block” graph paper notebook using a Pentel “Kerry” mechanical pencil loaded with Faber-Castell Super-Polymer 0.7 B leads. For this particular project, nothing else will do. If I lost the pencil I would probably give up and if something happened to the notebook, then the great Canadian novel would disappear like so much smoke and I would be very sad. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I am always aware of exactly where that notebook and pencil are.

The next steps are quite obvious. I need to stay patient, doing a little more every day, making discoveries about the characters and the story as I proceed. And then when I think I am finished, and not before (I have another notebook ready to go, volume 2 as it were) I will have to go through the labourious and somewhat clerical task of entering it into the old MacBook.P1070294

And from there, well, who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and find a good publisher and my little book will sell millions of copies and I’ll be rich and famous. Or maybe not.

And so that is the long and truthful answer as to how my break was. It just means different things to different people, I guess.

Any further questions?

Today (January 13) is the day James Joyce passed away in 1941. Here is a strange little animation with Joyce (at least his statue) reading an excerpt from Finnegans Wake.  I chose this one because of the subtitles which make it easier to appreciate the tremendous word play and playfulness of the language . . .

Thanks for reading!

Posted January 13, 2013 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

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