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Archive for January, 2011

Oh, get over yourself

January 18, 2011 1 comment

One of the things I most detest is that tendency of writers to pretend that their work involves special difficulties. Oh, the difficulty of writing. One sweats blood, opens veins, and generally has a tough time of it. And one takes risks, risks beside which such occupations as, say, logging or commercial fishing or clearing unmarked minefields look safe.

The truth is that if you write the kind of novel that people call “daring” or “bold,” as I recently discovered I had, you still risk little more than a few paper cuts and (he admits ruefully) a bruised ego. My God, the risks we take!

This brings me to The Afterword, where Rebecca Eckler informs us that the life of a writer is “painful, emotionally exhausting, frustrating, and, well, basically hard work.” Furthermore, she says, “when your book is finally published, you feel like you’ve carried triplets for nine months.”

Certain biological realities, the least of which are the difficulty of actually conceiving triplets and the rarity of a full-term multiple pregancy, dictate that I’ll never know first-hand what it’s like to carry triplets for nine months. But I’ve watched a woman carry twins for eight months, and I’ve written a novel, and from this experience I conclude that one task is far more difficult and painful than the other. And it ain’t the novel writing.

The reality is that if your novel takes seven years to write, then by the time you finish it, you’ll feel like you sat down at your desk and worked for seven years at a job no more painful, emotionally exhausting, or frustrating than investigating software defects or studying the reproductive strategies of Cichlasoma nigrofasciatum. I think I can safely wager that seven years of dealing with the problems of real people in social work is twenty times more painful, frustrating and emotionally exhausting than seven years of imagining the problems of imaginary people and writing them down.

There is no magic to this. You sit down and you write, day after day, until the thing is done. That’s all.

Categories: writing

Advice to writers

January 12, 2011 2 comments

Under no circumstances is it acceptable to use the word “sheepishly.”

I should not need to explain why. This word will turn the finest sentence from music to something more like the sound of two steel-toed boots dropping on the boot mat: clunk, clunk. Using this word is like announcing that you lack ears.

Categories: writing

Globe & Mail reviews Combat Camera

January 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Oh, look — I have a blog. I’d almost forgotten, what with Christmas and all that kind of stuff. And what with the chore of resisting that post on how the gun lobby is its own worst enemy. Never blog about politics, I say.

Where was I? Oh, yes: the Globe & Mail, our esteemed national newspaper, has got around to reviewing Combat Camera. I guess they needed to hold something back to keep themselves busy in the cold, dark winter months. Anyway, the reviewer called it a “violent, funny, thought-provoking novel.”

Somerset – a one-time soldier and a freelance photographer – paints a convincing picture of Zane’s messed-up head: The reader follows as his mechanical eye scans a bleak, desolate Toronto, paying more attention to the lighting on people’s faces, their potential to become still images, than anything else. All that can puncture this barrier – his iron lens, as it were – are Zane’s horrifying war flashbacks.

Yet he maintains a consistent sense of humour – self-deprecating, gruff, curmudgeonly.

In the spirit of not commenting on one’s own reviews, not even the tripe written for the National Post by one Michel Basilieres, a man whose employment as a creative writing instructor despite his manifest inability to read bodes ill for Canadian writing, I’m not going to complain about the Hemingway thing. Inevitably, someone was going to make that comparison.

Categories: combat camera
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