Working with Microsuck Word is like discussing nuclear physics with an idiot child, excepting that the idiot child will certainly be more likable. Word, on the other hand, is simply stupid and frustrating.
How did people become convinced that Word is an effective word processor? Word is a piece of shit. It is possibly the worst word processor on the market. Open Office Writer, which foolishly emulates Word, may be the second-worst—but at least the price is right. WordPerfect, which nobody seems to use anymore, is the best. But because the world believes that .doc is a standard document exchange format, if you write, you will be forced to use Word.
I am wrestling with Word this evening because June 7 is my deadline to send in certain excerpts of my upcoming novel to certain magazines, or to face the certain wrath of their editors. And if MS Word is hell, then excerpting novels is the vile purgatory to which you’re sent not because of any possible redemption, but simply because Charon is patching a leak in his boat.
Editors of little magazines are correct in their refusal to run excerpts that are not self-contained, and no excerpt really is. Trying to excerpt a chunk of novel that’s almost self-contained is painful, I find. It is not simply that the excerpt must somehow break free of the novel’s plot. It’s worse than that.
The real problem is that the best writing in any decent novel comes about after the novel has developed its own internal language. As relationships between characters develop, dialogue begins to carry weight that is understood only in the context of the whole. This is true of the narrator’s words also. The words don’t carry any weight out of context, so everything that is good about the work is lost.
I believe that any chunk of a novel that you can easily excerpt—any chunk that depends neither on the novel’s plot, nor on its internal language—is probably filler that you should have cut out.
Nevertheless, this task is finished.
I am now in the unusual position of having nothing left to do on this thing—unusual, because I’ve been hacking away at it for seven years. I’m sure there’s a typo in there someplace, but that doesn’t count. I feel bereft.
It’s frightening, actually. I might have to come up with a new idea.
Writing a novel, it seems to me, is much like mouthing off in a near-empty bar as the night staggers to a close: it’s all fun and games up until you realize that you’re about to take a high-grade shit-kicking. That six-foot-five biker cracks his scarred knuckles and smiles, and you realize only at that unfortunate moment the wisdom of keeping your mouth shut.
This thought is prompted by the news that advance review copies of Combat Camera will soon be released into the wild, like downrange gophers at a convention of Arizona machinegun enthusiasts.
I read Mark Sampson’s novel Off Book on the flight out here, which proved to be a grave mistake; all that talk of Quinpool and Spring Garden Road had me geographically confused, and I forgot my destination. Halifax is one of my favorite cities. Instead, I descended into Edmonton. I can say little more on that subject, as I remain traumatized by the discovery of my true location.
One of the functions of fiction, I think, is to record our language as we use it. Off Book includes the phrases “fill your boots” and “the [superlative item] in NATO,” which interested me. I have always thought of these as Canadian military slang, having only encountered them there. But the gap between the language of the Maritimes and the language of Canada’s military is small, given the strong military presence in Halifax and the disproportionate contribution of Cape Breton and Newfoundland to the army’s ranks. Halifax is the only place in the country, other than the military, where I’ve encountered the word “numpty” (or “numptie”), meaning a foolish person, which is originally of Scots origin. It seems likely that this small and colourful word has spread across Canada, via the Army, thanks to Nova Scotia.
Is Cape Breton, indeed, the thought control centre of Canada?
It is certainly overrepresented in our fiction. Calculate the percentage of Cape Bretoners in the Canadian population as a whole. Then count the number of books set there. What’s up, wonders Seinfeld, with that?
There’s a possibility you’ll actually see some updates on this blog over the next two weeks, as I’ll be physically separated from the puppy to travel to Edmonton and then to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I am dreading the latter, mostly because I’ve never been to Harrisburg before, haven’t seen the hotel they’ve put me in, and generally don’t like going to the States for work. Edmonton, whatever its shortcomings, is familiar.
In the spirit of road trips, even those conducted by aeroplane, go read this one-question interview with Rebecca Rosenblum, on the subject of road-trip stories.
I feel a pretty strong urge to comment on that post, having spun a road trip into about half a novel, but preventing (a) floor-peeing (b) furniture-chewing (c) ankle-biting has been a higher priority in recent days. I’ll probably get around to it this week.