Time, Perspective, & Coffee

Working on the work-in-progress at the Social Club in Montreal.

Yes, it’s been a long time between updates, but who among us has not been in that peculiar state wherein we find ourselves having fallen out of love of something we worked so passionately on only weeks (or months) before?

If you check back to the post from last summer, the one where I joyously followed the Calgary Youth Orchestra across eastern Europe like a groupie (or, you know, a chaperone), writing the first draft of a project in concert halls and imperial palaces, and sampling all kinds of coffee, I am sad to say that this has been my stumbling block.

My usual process for manuscripts, such as it is, is to hand-write first drafts over the summer when I have lots of time. (Last summer’s project was an ambitious thing involving parking lot attendants, the Calgary Stampede, and whole heaps of Shakespearean themes.) Then, come late October, early November, I’ll begin the process of typing of the story, giving it a first pass of edits as I go, so that by Christmas holidays I can sit down with a completed, typed and printed manuscript for a more thorough attempt at revision, repeating this process through the spring until I have something worth sharing for feedback.

A nice mocha at the Musee des Beaux Arts in Quebec City, taking in the Miro exhibit.

Last fall however, I re-opened my journals and found that I hated the words I’d written. Loathed them. Couldn’t get more than a few pages in before walking away. I started other writing projects, hoping that maybe I just needed some distance, or perhaps some time for something to click. I wasn’t sure. I was happy enough, or so I thought, with the overarching plot, but couldn’t stand the beginning. I was dissatisfied with the initial motivations of my main characters.

On a whim, I tried to imagine what would have happened if I placed a young Timothy, everyone’s favourite insurance adjuster from “Dinner in Carcosa” in the story, writing him in as a financial intern who runs over the neighbourhood stray cat. In every version of this story, the dead cat has appeared, but there was something unique about Timothy as the catalyst that reinvigorated everything.

Honestly, perhaps the home of the best cortado I had all summer from Noble, near Laurier Station in Montreal.

I was off to the races! Four hundred draft pages later I had something resembling a completed draft. Only, upon re-reading everything while spending a week in Montreal, my old feelings returned. Timothy’s presence messed everything up and I resolved to write him out of the subsequent draft.

However, what was unleashed by Timothy could not be removed, even after his character had departed and so I found myself working to reconnect key incidents he had initiated, ascribing them to other minor characters, lacking in motivations. The end result was a more intricate story that I felt more confident in.

Early mornings on the Rue St. Jean, at Cantook in Quebec City.

And yet, early readers still felt it was too slow off mark, so off to the revision table I went once more, cutting and moving much closer to the core of the opening action.

Looking back, I didn’t think the story suffered for the jump forward.

I spent a lot of time writing and drinking coffee en plein air, around Mile-End, Montreal.
From Leonard Cohen and Mordecai Richler, to Heather O’Neil and Sean Michaels (who wrote Us Conductors here at Cafe Olimpico), literary ghosts were all around.

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