Sunday, September 10, 2006

Excuse me, but…

…where did the summer go? Feels like yesterday that the sun went down at 10pm. Now it’s 8:37 pm, and it is already dark.

Seems like it was only last week when I was a kid and going full bore all summer. Now I’m an adult and I feel like I’m at a stand-still, missing my life much like I’ve missed the summer, while all around me futures are being planned and people are moving forward. Not that I’m jealous, nor would I ever begrudge them any happiness. I just sometimes wish that I were moving forward too. Maybe that’s why I write - to play God with time.

The sun was how I judged time as a kid. No need for a watch, or mom to call out the back door. All I needed was that big ol’ globe of fire and I was off and running, leaving mom to do her customary washing and waxing the kitchen floor with an old upright buffer noisy enough to scare the dog and cat senseless, then locking the doors so I wouldn’t track through her “put-Mrs.-Cleaver-to-shame” spotless house (at least until the blindingly-shiny floor dried) and tracking two townhouse doors down to Mrs. Devaney’s for their ritual chit-a-chat and coffee. But that was her thing and I had mine. And mine rarely included shoes. It would be morning, the sun shining and the day awaiting my arrival, and I (by God) wouldn’t keep it waiting long; dressing, flying down the stairs, stuffing an apple (or whatever mom had put in a bowl on the kitchen counter so I wouldn’t starve to death) into my pocket and hollering a quick goodbye on the way out. Then it was hours-long games, followed by an afternoon dip at the Lion’s Pool - the city-run swimming centre that was smaller than most Koko Platz residence’s backyard hot tubs. Rituals. Ah, but I didn’t care. I was a kid.

Writing is a funny animal (or should that be writers are funny animals?) in that though everyone wants to write, few are writers, and fewer still make a living at it. But as for writing itself - or rather, the operations of writing - everyone is different. One author I know has to let it “come” to him. Still another forces it out. I myself have a ritual that must be followed or it spoils the continuity. First, I talk myself into it, saying that today is the day and now is the time. (Okay, so it’s more like: “For God sake, get the hell going!” But close enough.) Then I get out my large mug - the one that has coffee written on it in six different languages - and fill ‘er up. Time’s-a-wasting.

When I was a kid, a nail in the foot was a definite waste of time. I’d hobble home; attached 2X4 in tow, while every neighbourhood boy would comment that the nail they had stepped on the day before was at least twice that long. Thankfully, one girl - usually Eleanor Millard - would run ahead and herald my approach with all the subtleness of an ambulance siren. After my dad’s initial shock wore off (which pretty much amounted to lowering his momentarily raised eyebrow), he’d lift me onto the counter, make some lame quip about calling a toe truck and, while I was sympathy-laughing, yank the board lose. Two Band-Aids and a cookie later, and I was racing again. That is indestructible. Although the cookie was worth the time wasted.

Nothing really hurts a kid until they take the time to look at it. The cut (or the nail, in my case) didn’t hurt - my foot as numb as the attached board - until I saw blood. Then it hurt. Then I cried. Like the time I ducked between barbed wire strands to get into the pasture to see my horse instead of going through the gate like a normal person. Making it through was no problem. Running through the field toward her was no problem either. The problem was my shoe. It felt wetter and stickier the more I ran. Glancing down, I was astonished to see that it was red, and from a three-inch gash on the front of my ankle. Man did it hurt then! Still, I might have slowed but I didn’t stop, mostly because kids have no time for pain. It’s either full speed or stop - no gears in-between. That scar has since faded, but I don’t mind. It’s a souvenir of the good old days; a reminder that not only does no kid get out of childhood without at least a few souvenirs, but that they have all the time in the world to get them.

Things - even the operations of writing - are done out of repetition and a need to save time, whether you want them to or not. At least, it is to me. Like starting a car and turning on the radio before you put it in gear. You get “the writing nudge” around a certain time of day, need certain things to do it so you don’t have to get up once you’ve sat down (unless it’s to go to the washroom), and as you stand there in front of the counter, the Sunbeam Hotshot plugged in and your mind already tuning out the day, the rituals come back to you: Black, please. Not the good stuff, either. I want to be wired for sound, baby. Next comes the bottle of ice water from the fridge, and finally (and while I’m in there anyway), carrot sticks or a Red Delicious apple. Smart, simple and reasonable, I figure. After all, while the muse must be kept happy, I don’t really need the dreaded "author’s ass" syndrome.

By the way, writing is now my “going full bore.” I say that because as a kid I was too busy running barefoot down gravel back lanes like an Olympic sprinter being chased by a serial killer to ever stop and write. Now, it seems writing is about all I really do. Maybe it has something to do with wanting to control the things around me via stories. Maybe it’s my way of hiding from the fact that an adult can’t run down gravel roads barefoot anymore. Maybe it’s because I’m no longer as indestructible as I once was. Maybe it’s because I no longer have the luxury of time.

I’ve missed the summer.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Review of The Bridge (aka The Money Song) by Christopher K. Miller

An entry last month titled “Dear Readers: A Remorseless Apology” didn’t mention the author or the title of the novel I was reading at the time because privacy and trust are precious things. Then along came this comment:

“Hi Hawke,

I just read your blog for the first time in a while. I can't remember when I sent you The Bridge, but I'm wondering if this isn't around the time. If this is an anonymous review of it, then I am most grateful. Of course you have my permission to use names, etc.

If you are referring to it, I'd be interested to know the parallels to your own life you refer to.


Since there is only one person who knew I was reading The Bridge - the author himself - I’ll take this as permission to chat about it (and I say chat because I don’t want to give the story away).

Before I start, and for those who don’t know me, a little background is in order. There is only one thing I’m always serious about, and that is (you guessed it) writing. That doesn’t mean I’m a miserable person. What I am is an extremely picky reader - picky in that if a work doesn’t grab me by the first page or so, it’s gone. I have a life, you know. Granted it’s not much...but what I do have is important to me and I don’t care to waste it on a work best suited to line the bottom of a birdcage. Sound mean? Perhaps. But at least I’m mean in the “equal opportunity” way - meaning that I’ll toss John Saul’s work as quickly as my own if it doesn’t grab me.

The Bridge (aka The Money Song) by Christopher K. Miller, grabbed me.

Actually, "Bridge" did more than grab me. I felt married to it. Some novels are like that. They grab you. They engross you. They are the last thing you think about at night and the first thing you reach for in the morning. Like "Bridge." But I should give a little of the beginning.

After several back-and-forth emails (and learning that Chris had written a novel), I dropped a hint. Okay, dropping a hint is lightweight and not exactly the truth. What I really did was closer to outright begging. But you see, I’d read some of Chris’ wonderful short stories and was more than curious about his novel. So I begged. And nice guy that he is, he sent it...probably so I’d leave him alone for a while. At any rate, it came in the mail - a signed copy no less - and I started reading. And yes, it passed my disgustingly tough first page test. And the second page. And before I knew it, I was at the end and as content as a fat lady after an all-you-can-eat buffet. Or an opera aficionado after meeting Pavarotti. Or a chocoholic after Halloween. You get the idea.

This is starting to sound like an Academy Awards nomination, but I really don’t care.

The finely crafted “Bridge” has yet to be published, though I sincerely doubt it will remain that way for long. Its characters are vivid and fully realized, the story emotional and genuine, the writing masterful. To read it was a great pleasure for me. I know it will be for you, as well. In other words, Dear Readers, when you run across The Bridge (aka The Money Song) on the shelf of your favourite bookstore, and I have no doubt that you will, do yourself a favour and buy it. It really is that good.

Bravo, Chris. And thank you.
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