In March, it will be two years since I started editing my manuscript, two bloody years of my life that seems both very long and not long at all in the scheme of things. I finally reached the second last chapter, the illustrious chapter 41 a few weeks ago. As with every other chapter during this rewrite, I had a clean paper copy of the chapter, a chapter summary listing the chapter’s pertinent information and a brief summary of its contents and then a stack of notes pertaining to the chapter.
Chapter 41 has the most notes. Let me count them.
Thirty-three, there are thirty-three pieces of paper covered in my scribble to help guide me through this chapter.
For every other chapter I started by reading the hard copy and marking the crap out of it with things I wanted to change. Then I went through my notes quickly to see what meshed. Happily, much of the time the changes I felt I wanted to make were in line with the changes I originally thought the chapter needed, that made life a little bit easier.
I make the changes I made on the paper copy first. That can take an hour or a few weeks depending on the nature of said changes. Once I’m done that, I go through the notes again, one by one, putting the notes I’ve dealt with into a pile, and contemplating the rest and making more changes if I feel they are warranted. If I don’t make the suggested change, I write that I didn’t make that change and why I didn’t on the paper and put it in the dealt with pile. This is how I’ve been going along.
For some reason when I originally wrote chapter 41, I did a crappy job. Chapter 41 is the climax and even during my first draft I suspected that whatever happened within its borders would probably change at least somewhat as the book grew and changed. I suppose that’s why I just sketched it out and did a crappy job. It was weird though, in a manuscript that had needed work, but was at least complete, this odd, sore thumb chapter, so poorly written, a shoddy skeleton missing essential bones and flesh and everything else. I was disappointed. This is the climax, after all, this is it, what four years of work has been building too, what all of these words have been leading toward, and then…nothing, just an um, yep and then some stuff happens, next! I don’t know why I do these things to myself.
Thankfully, I have thirty-three pages of notes to help me out.
I went through my usual chapter rewriting routine. By this point, the climax is pretty secure in my brain, if not on paper, so I wasn’t too worried. Maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t originally write some long, drawn out affair that I would now just have to trash as my story has developed, maybe I am an awesome ninja that actually subconsciously suspected that all along, I don’t know. Things went a long all right, but then I got stuck for a while, stuck on the sequence of events.
I knew everything I wanted to happen in the chapter, that had been slowing solidifying itself as I worked on the rest of the book. When I got there though, chapter 41, and went to rewrite it, I wasn’t sure what order I wanted things to happen in. I got stuck on this for a few days.
I’m not sure how I figured it out, I really don’t know how my writing brain works. I took a lot of hot showers, stared blankly out a lot of windows, walked my dogs aimlessly around the neighbourhood, but eventually I just realized what the order was. I played the scenario out in my brain over and over again with differing orders of events and just stumbled idiotically on the one that was right. Sometimes I wonder how much I have to do with this process at all.
Through a fluke at work I ended up having almost a week off right as I came to chapter 41, sometimes the writing gods are kind. That got me through the bulk of it. I wrote it out, rewrote it, rewrote it a few more times, tweaked it, spend two days reading the entire book all the way through to make sure that when you hit chapter 41, that sucker delivers. I only have six pages of notes left dealing with this chapter. I hope to finish it by the end of next week. Chapter 41 is the climax and should in many ways be the best chapter in the book. Maybe after all of this it will be, but then again, maybe not. Sometimes the writing gods are cruel.
Wind howls outside, audible through the walls, battering the house, rattling through the gutters. Your uniform consists of long johns under jeans, a long sleeve shirt under a sweater and two pairs of thick, expensive socks. Over those you pull expensive Kamik boots and a nice bulky pair of snow pants over your legs. A trusty parka with a deep faux fur-lined hood is next, one that can comfortably accommodate a wool toque underneath, then you wrap a thick wool scarf around that. A pair of thin gloves is a good start, provided you put a thick pair of mittens on top. Now you can go outside.
You know people who check the weather reports compulsively, but why bother? Stepping out the door tells you readily enough. It’s pitch black outside. The wind slams into your face, biting the little bit of exposed skin around your eyes, needling it with pointy fingers. The truck sits there, still, hulking under a frozen shell. It’s only a few years old, well maintained and has a full tank of gas, but we’ll see. The door handle is frozen solid. You give it a whack and it cracks through the ice, opening with a stiff groan of protest. The wind slams into you, cutting right through your layers, jabbing your thighs with pins. Rumbles (the truck) chugs twice and catches, a small victory. You crank every heat setting it has, set the mother on defrost and pull the snow brush out of the backseat. Then you start hacking away.
There is a nice, fluffy layer of snow that brushes off easily. Under that is a hard crust of frozen snow and under that a sheet of ice. Didn’t you just do this yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that? You start with the front windshield and work your way around the vehicle. It is minus 42 degrees Celsius with the windchill, again. You clear the windows and the headlights and start smacking away at the wipers that seem to have become one with the glass. Rumbles runs, but in this weather he will take a solid twenty minutes to warm up and you won’t last that long outside. You get what you can, the windows are the important thing. Your thighs start to burn, sear, the first sign you are running out of time. Your fingers are numb under the layers, but you keep hacking away, brush then scraper, brush then scraper, but when they too start to burn with cold you have to go back inside.
The house feels like a sauna and you breathe, trying to recapture some of the air that the frigid wind wouldn’t let your lungs take it. Only the German Shepherd will venture out with you today, the hounds, even clad in their ridiculous sweaters, scramble back to their beds and avoid eye contact. Don’t make us, their brown eyes seem to say, don’t make us go out in that horror, you madwoman. Nuka lets you put on her collar like a champ and you head back out. Wind hits you in the face and for a second you can’t breathe, sometimes the body just rejects the air because it’s too cold. The corpse of a rose tree slams against the house with a solid whack and a thorny scratch, the large oak tree beside the truck whips in the frigid wind, its bare arms flailing wildly. Nuka scampers around the yard, unperturbed for the time being but if you wait too long even she will start holding up a paw. The sound of reluctant vehicles fills the neighbourhood, and a chorus of mad Canadians scraping at the sheets of weather on their cars so they can venture out for the day joins in. There is not a hint of light in the sky, but eventually the sun will come up. By the time you get home again though, it will be black again. This is winter and this is my current setting.
I’m thirty-three years old. I have a degree from an excellent Canadian university. I’m a published writer, a wide and avid reader and I’ve been to Europe. You would think, think, that would make me a fairly well-rounded, generally informed individual. Most of the time I like to think that it does. Sometimes though, it’s like I live in a weird secluded cave and every once in a while I come out, blink my eyes in the light and stumble across something random that fills me with childlike wonder and complete euphoria. When I find these things, usually by complete chance, I actually feel my heart flood with blood, my eyes widen and a new, giddy obsession take root in my brain. Did I mention these things are almost always pretty ordinary, or commonly known to just about everyone else on the planet? Well they are. I choose to believe this is just part of my charm. So without further adieu, allow me to present three things I have stumbled across in the last year that I think are disproportionately amazing compared to everyone else.
I saw a National Geographic slide show of the world’s most bizarre creatures. This was one of them:
I know, right? It’s an Aye-aye! A lemur that lives in Madagascar! I might as well have seen a unicorn galloping down my hallway, that is how excited I was. The sad thing is, I’m not exaggerating. This is the most amazing creature I have ever seen in my life and it is actually real. I love this creature, it is amazing and I could never make up anything as awesome as the Aye-aye. Look at it! It finds food by tapping a long middle finger on wood, seriously! It blows my mind. I love this creature. I proceeded to spend last year learning everything I could about Aye-ayes and I encourage you to do the same. I now sponsor an Aye-aye named Bellatrix at the Duke Lemur Centre in Durham, North Carolina and I can’t wait to go there one day and visit her. For an informative and hilarious introduction to this miraculous creature, you could do worse than this hilarious and short video by Ze Frank.
2. Spanish Literature
Remember how I mentioned that I somehow manage to exist in a cave all by myself when it comes to some things? Yeah, that’s right, until last year I don’t think I ever read a book translated from the Spanish, please don’t ask me how I managed to accomplish this feat because I really don’t know. French, hell yes, Russian, sure, Spanish? Apparently not. Thankfully, this tragedy had stopped. Now, I am just at the very beginning of delving into the world of Spanish writers, so ignorance abounds, but so far I can heartily recommend Isabel Allende and Jose Donoso. I wish I could read them in Spanish, but once my English brain stumbles idiotically through a fog of moronicness and gets on the Spanish-translation train, it is a very happy brain indeed. These are talented writers who use language in an entirely different way, there is an atmosphere here that I highly encourage every English-brain to plunge enthusiastically into; you will be a better writer and reader for it. Jorge Luis Borges is next, excited!
3. Bela Lugosi
Okay, so I love horror movies (scary, not gore. Gore isn’t scary, it’s just gory) especially old black and white movies, silent movies, that kind of thing and I have for quite some time. In spite of this I have somehow, unbelievably, managed to not see any movie featuring Bela Lugosi until a few weeks ago. This makes me a failure at life, to be perfectly frank. Now that I have seen several movies featuring Bela Lugosi and intend to see every movie featuring Bela Lugosi, I can see how sad and unfulfilling my existence has been. Now, he was born in 1882, so I am considerably behind the bandwagon on this one, but I’m going to jump on anyway. This guy is awesome! Frigging kick ass accent, all moody and atmospheric and stuff, tall dark and mysterious, he is the king of horror! I am one hundred percent smitten. If you haven’t seen Bela’s Dracula from 1931, you haven’t seen Dracula. He’s kind of handsome too, in a weird way.
So there. I am just a naïve and uninformed human. But it’s stuff like this that makes life such an adventure. By being completely clueless, I can usually guarantee I’ll stumble across at least one or two things a year that everyone else already knows about and doesn’t really care about, and just sends me over the moon. I’m good with it.