Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Returning Home

Have you ever gone back to a house you used to live in? It’s a strange experience. The furniture’s all different. Maybe the walls have been painted. The pictures on the walls aren’t the same. Maybe some renovations have been done to significantly change the insides. No matter what, the house just doesn’t look right.

It doesn’t look right because you’re comparing the house now to the house then, when you lived in it.

Pictured above is a house I lived in when I was between the ages of about four to eight. When I was writing my upcoming novel Box of Shocks, it was this house I re-imagined for the setting. Of course, the beauty of creative writing is that you have free license to twist, reshape, chop, glue on, and generally refabricate reality. It's like cosmetic surgery for your memory.

But even if I wanted to accurately represent this old house in my novel, I couldn’t– my memories of this house are like a patchwork quilt with a bunch of missing panels. I have vivid memories of parts of the house and events that took place. But I’m quite willing to admit, there are huge gaps in my memory for many details. To fill the gaps, that’s where the imagination comes in very handy.

It’s been said that History is part fiction, and Fiction is part history. In the case of this house and my new novel Box of Shocks, never was this statement more true.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Endings and Hamstrings

There’s no doubt in my mind that one of the most challenging aspects of writing a novel is the ending. In the revision process for Klutzhood, I had to redo the ending three times.

One thing I have discovered, however, is that it’s impossible for me to write towards a pre-planned ending. The best approach for me is to delve into the story, beginning with a situation from which the characters grow. Events unfold, and I have to have confidence that the ending, unknown as I write, will emerge.

Maybe my approach to life should be more like that.

One of my non-writing obsessions is cross-country ski racing. This week, I’m taking part in the Masters World Cup being held at Sovereign Lake, near Vernon, B.C. In my first race– a 30 kilometre skate ski race– everything went as well as I could have hoped. I had a respectable finish with a personal best time.

But in my next race– a 10 kilometre classic race– the proverbial wheels fell off. I fell near the start and pulled my hamstring. I tried to ski on, but by four kilometres, my body started shutting down– a condition I later learned is called vasovagal response. My race, with all its expectations, was done.

Certainly I was greatly disappointed, but then, this episode got me thinking.

Maybe I should approach life more like my writing. Maybe I should drop into the situation and see what outcome emerges, rather than getting all stressed about achieving imagined expectations. Thank you hamstring!

(Photo by Peter Jobbins)