Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Closer Than You Think

The title of this post is about my next book, which I have seen, though not held. I am quite taken by it. I love it, which is not a surprise, since it's a Gaspereau book. There were a few different covers considered at various stages and though they all had something in them which I loved, this final one is the best. I will post a picture of the jacket next week, after it's up at Gaspereau's site.

I've been thinking a lot about what may happen with this book. I think I am as excited as I was with my first one, and I don't know exactly why. Probably simply a funny thing that happens in the careers of most writers, I think -- the first book got some good reviews and I thought publication would be easier then, though it has not turned out to be. It happened years ago with my first journal publications, too. A couple of short stories in The Malahat Review, and then what? Years before the next stories were published.

Now I have this novel coming out in September and a short story collection coming out next fall, and a novel-in-progress almost complete. It seems like I've done a lot in the last year, but it's much less than it seems. Some of the stories are new, but most of my work has been on the new novel. The short stories were rejected many times prior to finding a publisher, both by agents and by publishers, and that can, obviously, be disheartening, but it's also bracing and invigorating.

I don't want to be one of those people who believes his obscurity is proof of his worth. I don't mean that. I want readers. I would like millions of them, of course. But finding the rewards of the work in the regular effort expended, in the solitude and the empathetic attention to the wounded humans around me (whether in my imagination or at the next table in the doughnut shop) is necessary and whatever readership one happens to find is a byproduct of the pursuit, not its goal. Or should be.

And as high-minded as that sounds (and I do believe it), I have the luxury of having no choice in the matter right now. I must find my rewards in the work itself, because there is no money in it. I am lucky financially in other ways, of course . . . like the job that afforded my a leave to write the next book, like being born where I was born, etc. The accidents of my life have been good to me.

But the best part of it really is the attention that this kind of work requires of me. It doesn't always make it into the books, but the pursuit of rendering some of these human stories overheard into fiction is what fuels everything I write. Last summer, for instance, overhearing an earnest young man having lunch with his mother and grandmother at a Tim Hortons. He reminded me of myself at that age, as they had come into the city from a rural area, and the visits to the city were not frequent. He'd gotten a haircut and liked it, and was trying to figure out how often he could come in to get his hair cut at the same place. His grandmother was large and spoke tersely to him. His mother didn't stay much, and it seemed as if something was troubling her and I wondered if it was the same thing that the grandmother expressed with meanness to the boy.

Even now, as I remember it, I cannot tell how much is made up and how much is not. I took some notes, and I'll get back to it, but how much of the notes are real and how much did I fictionalize as I wrote. I know what made me want to know those characters. The boy reminded me of one of my brothers, the grandmother reminded me of one of my grandmothers, and also of me--I have often reacted with meanness toward undeserving people when I am anxious for other reasons.

But the conversation those characters had at that table made me think also of my own private childhood, when that same brother and I would play The Queen is Dead, by the Smiths, outside in the summer as we threw the Frisbee around. And it was sunny out, and the yard was dusty, and in such a situation why would the lyrics "Another sunny day, and so I meet you at the cemetery gates" resonate? Why would, years later, James Kelman's A Disaffection seem to save me from despair while I inspected the construction of subdivision in a small town in Alberta?

I don't know. But that kind of conversation, overheard, is what keeps me working, I guess. I don't begrudge the writers who need some kind of flash to motivate them, those writers who may decry the use of a coffee shop as a setting for a story, or whatever, but I don't understand them.