Friday, May 28, 2010

My First Novel

'The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it.' ~Jules Renard, "Diary," February 1895

I remember when I began thinking about writing my first novel SHADES OF WAR, I'd only completed about 50 pages and hadn't taken that big step to make the committment to finish it. The novel was simply a possibility, an idea to play with, a project I'd get to one day. The hesitation came from seeing how daunting the work would be: hours of research about WWI, the Suffrage movement in Canada, and the mining industry in British Columbia. Way too much to contemplate. And when would I find the time? Novels take hours of empty space just to train your mind to relax and go to that place in your consciousness where the writer lives, and then she might not even want to wake up, so you need to trick her, which usually means you must write, write, and then write some more, and that could take hours, weeks, months, and probably years. Who has that kind of time floating around their day, waiting to be used for one's sole pleasure? But something about the pieces of story I had in my head, and those 50 pages I'd put to paper, and the fun I'd had writing them pushed me closer to making that committment to dig in and write.

During this contemplative time, on my way home from a visit to my local library, I looked around and noticed I had arranged my life in such a way that I could find enough hours to make that committment. I suddenly knew it was time. So I decided I would sit down and do the research and write the novel. The instant I made that decision, a thought popped out of my enthusiasm and eliminated any self-doubt I may have been secretly carrying around inside me. Self-doubt is the kiss of death to a writer, so the new thought was a comfort and a nudge. What was the thought? Pretty much what the French writer Jules Renard wrote in his diary (see quotation above): The novel already exists. It's finished in some parallel universe, and all you have to do is link up with it and scribble it down. I hurried home with the knowledge that 'it's done,' and I celebrated in advance as I believed wholeheartedly that I'd make it happen: my novel is already written! Well, sort of. In this universe, I needed 18 months to create it but, thanks to the certainty in that thought, I never doubted I would.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Beggar's Book

Thought I'd start my blog with the opening of my second novel, a historical fiction that spans several years through the 20s and 30s and follows the adventures of Aidan Malone as he comes to America with nothing more than a youthful dream to be with the woman he loves. Before he succeeds in love and career, however, he must first suffer the indignities of becoming a man. Yikes! Who wants indignities? No one, obviously, but without them there'd be no story. Nature has a plan, and as Aidan haunts the trainyards harmless and thoughtful, though of what one so besotted can think of when he's broke and hungry, it's difficult to divine, his dream becomes a different kind of reality from what he first imagined.

Independent of the woman’s advice, with time on his hands, the young, bloody-minded Irishman stood hunched in his long coat and wet boots in the freezing, gray outskirts of Boston’s train yard. He momentarily regretted his foolhardy decision but, nonetheless, prepared himself to make the great leap, a lone, miserable figure beside the bare rails, gripping his tatty suitcase, and praying for an early departure of the midnight freight heading north. The buttoned topcoat hung large over his thin legs, barely protecting him from the bitter cold. In the lingering, frigid mist round the yard, the biting mist of a March night, the tracks seemed to reach for the ends of the earth. They led forward and backward like a horizontal ladder. First forward to Hollywood and sunshine, and now back to the east coast and frostbite.

He welcomed the familiar reality of the train yard, but he was too tired to remember why. He had grown accustomed to the sharp smell of iron and steel that contrasted with the musky scent of his clothes. He tightened his coat collar as he waited and prayed. “God, please make the train come faster.” His earlier inspection had shown no empty cars, which meant a trip on the caboose in icebox temperatures would be the best he could manage. No way on earth he was climbing to the top of the catwalk for the chill of his life. Better to hang on below, pressed against the siding, imagining the wind was a heat wave. Best seat in the house was inside a boxcar near the back of the train on a long freight. The local bulls looking to make an arrest rarely wandered that far down the line. Crewmen were pretty much the same: a quick check of the first few cars, and they returned to more important work.

The March air filled his lungs as he lifted his head. Were his ears deceiving him or was that the precise chug of an engine growing louder? His hazel eyes strained. Tons of freight dragged back of a low, white spotlight flooding the track. Boxcars, filled with wood and coal, lumbered down the line behind their leader. He waited to make the jump. He never liked catching a train on the fly. His lunge for the car had to be timed perfectly. One slip and he could mangle himself bad. He waited with a mix of nausea and excitement in his stomach. He sucked in a deep lungful of air and kicked at the gravel, running hard. Immediately he was moving as fast as the train.

The door was too high to reach. He aimed for the ladder. He had to catch it at the front where he could best judge the speed. He could grab hold, but he might not hang on. The freight was picking up its pace. The worst was being hurled against the side of the car. Better to retreat than reach for the back end. If he lost his grip there, the force would toss him between the cars like a can of peaches, drag him under the wheels, and flatten him.

He charged the last car, making a desperate leap. His foot slipped, but he caught hold of the ladder. Reached his whole body toward the lowest step. His right hand was too cold to cinch his fingers round the iron rail. He barely held on. His right foot landed on the metal rung, but his hand was sliding loose. The rhythmic strain from the engine clanged a false note; he might not survive this ride.
Rather than struggle against his fate, he submitted to the inevitable. At the peaceful moment of surrender, a low shadow formed to his left above his head, separating itself from the black mist and taking shape. He raised his eyes and became aware of his left hand forming a fist and sticking to the rail. His arm tensed. One more second to make his move. He lunged against the ladder, and felt his heart inflate. A final push and his left foot scraped the lowest rung. The train picked up speed. His body settled in and bent against the wind. Holding tight, Aidan Malone understood that, like his Irish forebears, he was born with a rebellions spirit and a good set of hands. He was not about to give up when he was just getting started. He wedged his suitcase against the train. The ends of his rope shoulder strap flapped in the wind. Beneath him, a mess of tracks crisscrossed until gradually only one remained. The whistle blew three short wails. He was on his way.