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Writer Zombie Meme Takes A New Twist

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I’m not sure why people approach me on the street with the conviction I’m a writer. This has happened a number of times, out – as they say – of the blue. When I ask why they think so, they become defensive. I have learned just to say ‘yes’ and let the conversation meander from there.

Of course, when I give readings or lectures or talks, it is to be expected that I’m a writer. That’s why I’m there. Even if I don’t wear a name tag (which I dislike with passion). I believe I’ve learned not to read too long (regardless of the great material), but I can chat and answer questions about writing until the cows come home to roost. Clichés with a twist a speciality.

In addition to being narrowed-in on as a writer, I have been mistaken for dead authors. In this situation I do believe I must make some comment. For the sake of the dead as well as myself. Although I believe I can still make a good impression as a person who is alive, even here I have run into trouble. A taxi driver did not want to believe that the writer he mistook me for was dead.

“I never heard that,” said he.

“It’s true.”

“Are you sure?”

“He’s been dead for years.”

“You look just like him.”

“Not in his present state,” said I.

The taxi driver did not find me humorous.

A few days ago, however, a new wrinkle was added to my apparent Zombie life.

I was sitting on a park bench,waiting for a bus and watching the bustle of the city pass by. A man of middle years, puffing on a Vapour, settled on a bench across from me. After a few additional puffs, he stated – not asked –

“You’re a writer.”

“Because I’m using a pen?” (which I was, though I was fiddling with sums)

“Who did you write for?”
“Write for?”
“Between 1959 and 1966.”
“What do you mean, ‘who’?”
“Where would I have seen you?”
“Do you know who I am?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I wrote for some newspapers back then.”
“No – not that.”
“But that’s what I did.”
“When you worked for Hemingway.”
“Earnest Hemingway?”
“I’ve read his books?”
“Oh.”
“You edited his books.”
“I did?”
“You were his editor.”
“I would have been too young to be able to do that.”
“What book did you like?”
“Of Hemingway?”
“You know – which one?’
“I’d guess The Old Man And The Sea.”
“People say that. They’re wrong!”
“They are?”
“It’s a terrible book.”
 
To prove there is a God, my bus arrived.
DE

The Mask Of Death Leads To Sundry Places

[Death Mask of the Duke of Wellington]wellington-death-mask

My two gals, Alison Alexandra and her friend, Amanda, are on a sea voyage. A voyage via a freighter, and not a cruise ship. They stop in the ports where the freighter stops, and they take visits of the town if they so desire.

On one of their times on shore, they decide to visit a Police Museum. One of the exhibits is a Death Mask of a hanged murderer. They take great interest in this, noting the repose of the face.

This incident is based on an event in my own life. I melded parts of my experience into my characters afternoon visit during their day ashore. This had not been on my mind when I started this particular chapter.
I once taught a workshop on Supernatural writing. For my workshop I took advantage to take my students on a field trip to see the death mask of a historically known poet. The death mask was conveniently on view in a display case in a near-by building.

None of them had even heard of ‘death masks’, let alone seen one. I invited them to

incorporate the idea into their writing exercises. Some did, some did not.

However, it’s possible this visit to Death elicited the following story from one of my students.

My student and her husband had purchased a new house. Cleaning and renovations eventually took them to the back loft area, which was piled high with decades of accumulated detritus from a long life.

They cleared out beds, and boxes and newspaper piles, and magazines, and bundles of clothes, and on and on. Near the end of this process, my student noticed a “clump of something” on one of the wooden beams of the loft.

Getting ladder and flashlight, her husband climbed to see what it was.

It was the end of a number of knotted bed sheets.

DE

When Writing Spooks Television

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I am currently writing a *perhaps* novel (that is, perhaps it will be a novel), though I suppose  I should find out if it is a novel since I just passed the 200 page point.

In my current project, following the escapades of Alison Alexandra (entitled Stones for short), my erstwhile activist, Alison Alexandra, is a passenger on a freighter (that takes a limited number of passengers) as it delivers goods from port to port.

I’ve done a fair amount of online research into these freighter cruises as I, myself, would much prefer such a trip over the very crowded (and expensive) Cruise Lines.  But, I will research anywhere that might help my cause. So, a couple of nights ago, on television, there was a documentary about the most recent, largest, and most extravagant Cruise Ship as yet built.

I was very interested in following its construction. I was also very interested in seeing how it was run, taking into consideration the thousands of people who had to be tended to. The delivery of provisions, the kitchens, and the massive amount of work necessary to clear out thousands of folk and then greet thousands of folk on the same day, was fascinating. Not a freighter by any standard, but basic principles were the same.

Then the documentary followed the ship on its first cruise.

Now, back to my reality. At the same time as writing original material about Alison Alexandra, I have been putting a hand-written manuscript of a novel finished a number of years ago into the computer. I do one thing in the morning, and the other in the evening. So far – no problems have arisen.

My hand-written manuscript is set in the 1300’s. The first part depicts a two year voyage from Italy to China and back. Both the voyage and events in China are described. And then, the arrival back to Italy. For four straight days, I have been transcribing the docking and aftermath of the ship at Civitavecchia, Italy. It is the closest seaport to Rome.

On television, before my eyes, after a day of writing, the Cruise Ship I had watched from inception to voyage, pulled into the port of Civitavecchia.

Maybe I should take a cruise.
 

DE

Civitavecchia (image)http://www.cruisemapper.com/images/ports/81-e23a9f4fb2887.jpg

When The Government Changes from “Kafka In The Castle”

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Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason.

15 January 1918

This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.

The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.

“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.

I am skillful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.

I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.

And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.

And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands.

Look after each other.

DE

Letters Of Reality Or Romance

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Dear Eustace:

My mind confronts so many intangible truths that you sometimes seem

– or is it just hope on my part –

to be my only peg of reality.

Have you noticed whenever we finally believe

we know the reason for something which happens,

it often occurs that the real reasons are exactly the opposite

of what we supposed.

Everything walks a line

– as narrow as those upon this page –

between profound revelation and mindless absurdity.

As I look through my window,

the shadows cast through the trees on the next building,

take the shape of a French poodle carrying a parasol.

Is even Nature absurd?

Yours,

Margot
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Margot:

Nature is nothing but reality,

only the intangible can be absurd.

As I’ve said too many times

(and why do I repeat myself yet again)

you spend too much effort

– and wasted effort, for how can it be other –

on futile quest and query.

The only truth to be found is in sour milk

or pleasant fornication

– these things are real, these things exist.

Absurdity is kittens playing

or the Prime Minister’s latest speech.

These things we look at with amusement

or contempt

– we know not to expect much from either.

Quit you silly endeavours

and join the world which surrounds you,

not the one which your head surrounds.

All important answers can be found between someones legs.

Yours,

Eustace

 

DE

(image)http://i.huffpost.com/gen/2463292/images/o-HANDWRITTEN-LETTER-facebook.jpg

Interview With National Radio Some Years Ago (But Most Answers Remain The Same)

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I came across a transcript of this at the end of last year. It’s not that I forgot it, but it took me some time to remember it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1. What unique challenges do you face when writing about serious
non-fiction issues such as religion?

I WRITE about spiritual matters and leave religion to others. The spirit and its quests drive religion – religion just interprets. The biggest challenge I faced in THE ELEPHANT TALKS TO GOD is that the Elephant started asking questions I could not answer. Thus endeth the book.

2. You wrote The Elephant Talks to God in 1989. Why did you decide to
re-release it with the added stories rather than write a sequel?

THIS WAS the decision of the publisher, Goose Lane. When they approached me for a re-issue they were unaware of the additional stories. It was decided the marketplace would prefer one longer book over two shorter ones. Having just one book also reduced production costs, which in turn reduced consumer cost.

3. Why did you decide to become a writer?

“I WAS born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice.” This quote from Leonard Cohen sums it up. Not “born” this way exactly, but within one month in grade eleven I went from ‘no writing’ to ‘continually writing’. I have no explanation. I had no previous interest nor inclination toward the arts, or writing. I was not a reader, and only after university deliberately read such children’s classics as Black Beauty and Alice in Wonderland.

4. What books or authors have most influenced your life?

POSSIBLY P.G. WODEHOUSE was the most influential author in my formative period. I even sent him a fan letter and received a response. In university I experienced Franz Kafka, and I believe I have read everything of his in print. Much later I visited Prague to research a novel I have since written about him. There are reports of ‘missing’ stories and diaries of Kafka still in Berlin, which I would dearly love to find.

5. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good
writing?

SURPRIZE, HUMOUR and reality. ‘In context’ (it doesn’t matter what the genre) I want to be surprized by what is happening, yet fully believe in the reality created in the book. And somewhere, at least once, every character in every novel should make me laugh at least once.

6. What are you reading right now?

“WICKED” BY Gregory Maguire. His abilities as a writer astound me. I am a slow reader, and seemingly getting slower. Soon (?) to be read will be Alice Munro’s “The View from Castle Rock ” and John LeCarre’s “The Mission Song”, both requested Christmas presents. I also do a lot of research for my novels, and will embark upon histories of China in the near future.

7. What advice would you give to writers starting out?

I HAVE two steadfast rules, one put into rhyme. “When in doubt/take it out.” Regardless of the wonder of the poetic line, or the awe of the slice of dialogue, if you have any questions about its effectiveness, that is reason enough to remove it.
The other concerns the physical writing itself. At the end of your writing day, and you know what the next line of dialogue is, or the description you are going to write, or the next line of the poem – DON”T write them down. Start with them the next day, and you will quickly get back into the writing. I find this works 90% of the time.

8. Describe your writing process.

I’M A morning writer, roughly from 9:00 until 15:00. There’s a meal in there, and research and email and such, but I will generally complete two pages a day. I generally write seven or eight days straight and then take one off. At the start of a novel I have a well developed outline and characters, though I rarely write such things down. I find that at the end of a novel I spend an additional third of the writing time editing what is done. I usually complete a novel in two years.

9. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome
it?

THREE MONTHS of writer’s block during my second novel has (so far) been my experience with this curse (knock knock knock on wood). I sat at the desk literally for hours per day attempting to continue. I think I wrote five paragraphs in that time. I know of no way to overcome it other than attempting to write each day. My number two tip in question #7 will help in avoiding writer’s block.

10. Naturally, most writer want as many people as possible to read
their work. Who did you have in mind when you were writing this book,
the “believers” or the “non-believers”?

BRITISH PUBLISHER Joseph Dent introduced “Everyman’s Library” in the early 1900’s (which is now published by Penguin Random House UK). As my mother was from England and my father was a proud UEL, there were many of these books when I was growing up. Everyman’s Library had a motto at the beginning of each book:        “Everyman, I will go with thee/and be thy guide,/ in thy most need/ to go by thy side.”     This is what came to mind when thinking of who I write for. I did not write for either believers or non-believers. I wrote for everyone, and my job is to make them accept that the The Elephant believes. 

DE

Deal With Writer’s Block And Don’t Hope To Die

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An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (even in metric).

I experienced over two month’s of writer’s block many a year ago. I did sit literally at my desk for hours, and can to this day accurately describe that desk. Its vision is before/behind my eyes as I key.

I have devised a scheme which I find is 90% successful in combating writer’s block.

Do not finish your thought on page or screen. Make sure it is solidly in your mind (make notes if necessary) but do not write it down. If it’s a description – don’t finish it. If it’s dialogue – don’t complete it. If it’s a line of poetry – don’t end it.

The next day, start off with the phrase you could have ended with yesterday. Read the preceding page, slide into the phrase not used, and the odds are excellent you will continue on your way.

DE

(image)http://www.hmhco.com/~/media/sites/home/media%20center/weblog/spark-a-story/writers-block/writers-block-image-472jpg.jpg?h=267&w=400&la=en

Birthdays Bring Thoughts And Pictures From The Past

 

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(image)http://unbhistory.lib.unb.ca/images/thumb/2/22/Mccord_hall.jpg/399px-Mccord_hall.jpg

Birthdays make me (surprise) ponder the past.

My great friend and writing mentor, Nancy Bauer, as wise as the ears she sometimes writes about, in the past had mentioned the Past on Facebook. One of the responses to her comment spoke about our mutual times with a fluid writing group, in the gathering place fondly known as The Ice House.

That reminded me of this past blog of mine. It is centred around The Ice House and the passage of time. I’m sure Nancy, who writes a weekly newspaper column and has, occasionally, some trouble thinking of topics, will allow me to modify and steal from myself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I came across an announcement today about a memorial reading for the Canadian poet, Alden Nowlan. One of my claims to fame is being mistaken for Alden – sadly three years after he died. Perhaps I had had a rough night the night before. At any rate, at this memorial reading a number of the readers are known to me and come from my ‘era’. One of the things some of us shared was that we were members of the same writing group. This group met on Tuesday nights for two to three hours, reading and commenting on each others work. Save for one Master’s Thesis that I know of, not enough has been written about this long-lasted group. And much could be written. Many notables passed through the door and many eventually-established authors emerged.

Although the building where we met had the proper name of McCord Hall, it was in fact the very old converted Ice House of the University of New Brunswick. It had been turned fancy with wooden beams and high windows and a long impressive wooden table. The Ice House is in current use as I speak, designated as an English Graduate seminar room. There is even coffee.

 

Indeed, just recently I wrote a brief story about the Ice House for a CBC contest. It went, in its entirety:

When the august Ice House Gang was in its writing heyday at the University of New Brunswick, the saintly Nancy Bauer was looked upon as our revered Mentor. She was calm and fair, even to the untutored and raunchy. Once, while one of our more seamy members was reading out-and-out pornography, I began to rub my foot against her leg. A look of confusion crossed her face and then, with a voice etched in acid, she loudly announced: “That Estey is feeling me up under the table.”

 
I did not win.

However, perhaps the reason is because of the following. This is part of the description of the memorial reading for Alden:

Along with Nowlan, former University of New Brunswick professor Bob Gibbs was a member of the “Ice House Gang”, a group of faculty members and writers who would gather in an old stone hut on College Hill.

I know much is in the eye of the beholder, but…

DE

It Is A Grave Thing To Be Dead

 

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(image)http://zeek.forward.com/workspace/uploads/kafka-photo-grave-300dpi-4c5c1958.jpg

I enjoy graveyards, and peruse them with vigour. It’s true I don’t plan to spend the rest of my life in them, but, after that …

So, I have many tales of cemeteries to tell. Hardly any are scary because, contrary to popular depiction, graveyards are not haunted. Unless one happens to die in one (or – worse yet – die after being buried in one), there are no lingering spirits to haunt. Graveyards are a place, however, to go and contemplate those buried there. I am planning for myself a grand mausoleum.

While researching my novel about Franz Kafka, I went to Prague. In those days it was still under communist subjugation, and travel in and out of Czechoslovakia, to say nothing of travelling the country, was complicated and dangerous. I was fortunate to have arrangements to stay with a Czech academic and his nuclear scientist wife while in Prague. They had a social standing which facilitated an easier visit.

Unknown to me upon arrival, the academic was an amateur historian. When he found the major thrust of my visit concerned Kafka, he was full of places to visit. Many of them I did not know about, and others I doubt I would have found on my own. For instance, he took me to the small house where Kafka had lived on Alchemist Lane, which eventually became the setting for half of my novel. Even though Kafka was in disfavour at the time, the house was noted for the fact he lived there, and it was on tourists lists. In a Kafkaesque twist, it was even then a bookstore, but none of his books were allowed on the shelves.

One of the places I was taken was to Kafka’s grave. It is situated nowhere near where Kafka lived his life, but is in a huge Jewish graveyard on the outskirts of the city. It took nearly an hour on the subway to reach the area. And then a walk to the graveyard itself. And then a walk through the graveyard, though the way to Kafka’s grave was signed. I would never have thought of trying to get there myself.

Kafka is buried with his mother and father (though, literally, vice versa, as he died first). It is only years after the fact that I read about the drama of his death, and the drama at the graveside. His young lover, Dora, who had spent the last year of his life with him, attempted to leap into the grave. She had to be restrained by Kafka’s best friend, Max Brod.

I lingered a long time – perhaps a half hour – by the grave. In the Jewish tradition I left a stone upon the gravestone. In my own twist, I also left a pen. And, because there were few about, and I was so moved, I lay down upon the grave itself.

DE

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