A walk in the park

The QWF mentorship has been split in two for me from the beginning, and I don’t mean in the universal sense of Before Coronavirus and After. When April and I first met, we set a goal of pitching my novel for publication, and that deadline fell neatly in the middle of our time together. A synopsis, a cover letter, and the first three chapters were all I had to convince someone to publish my book.

April and I met in person, and I scribbled notes on my hard copy while we discussed my goal and how to get there. Most of her comments came digitally, often with links to a music video relevant to her suggestions. Music is an important language in my relationships, and a key to specific emotions. When our meetings shifted online, because my feedback had always come via e-mail attachments, nothing about the actual work changed. Our discussions were no longer face-to-face, but I find it’s always easier to transition to video when you’re already familiar with someone.

In April, I sent my pitch. I have yet to receive a note of rejection, and I know this means nothing because the pandemic has thrown the entire publishing game in the air. The gears of industry are turning again, but a second wave is on the minds of most. Doubt is heavy in the air. Who knows how much of a delay this will cause in the publishing world? So, I remain patient.

To cope with the increasing chaos everywhere and the consequences of isolation, April and I began going on socially distant walks in our neighbourhoods. We walked along the Saint Lawrence river in Verdun, and the Lachine Canal in Côte-Saint-Paul, got ice cream in Ville-Émard, and talked about everything under the sun. The second half of our mentorship involved reshaping part one of the novel and preparing for the reading at the end of it. Back when we first discussed the reading at the QWF mentorship pizza party, I had no idea what I would possibly read. Of course, I hadn’t written it yet.

April gave me some familiar feedback on my first draft; I’d workshopped individual chapters in two groups, hired someone through the QWF for a professional assessment (to tell me if I was going in the right direction, basically), and got advice from a friend. Everyone agreed on something I already knew deep-down but had forgotten to heed: you don’t summarize a first date. You go into the scene. You show what it looks like when two people start getting to know each other and having that giddy rush of feelings and awkwardness. (In my defense, the rough draft is a time to get the story out onto the page, and sometimes blatant mistakes are made. It’s okay, it’s word vomit, and it’s why we have the editing process.)

So I wrote a walk in the park between two young men who are each starting to hope that the other likes him. I love the insecurity and tension that almost throw sparks in the air when infatuation is strong, so I sent them to Jarry Park.

Toward the end of the mentorship, when I had nine chapters that felt like a solid opening act for my novel, it was pretty clear which story I wanted to tell. Who doesn’t love channeling crush energy into a performance? I practiced in my own voice, and I was excited even though the event had moved from the Comedy Nest to a Zoom meeting. It meant I got to invite my mother and sister to watch, and family is a big part of the book.

My first thank you goes to Marian Rebeiro for fielding my frantic questions in the week leading up to the event. I was convinced my internet connection would crap out and ruin my reading and my experience of everyone else’s. It turns out having your cell phone too near your computer’s wireless adapter can cause interference; I turned it off and stuck it in a drawer for the duration.

I also want to thank the fantastic Faith Paré, whose poetry was entirely spellbinding. I usually have to say a silent word of apology (and in normal times, a spoken one as we chat during intermission or after the event) because I can’t focus on the performers before me, but her delivery was absolutely unignorable and I forgot how nervous I was. Thank you so much for your beautiful work.

Then April made me blush by saying too many nice things about me, and it was my turn. Within a minute, my fingers and face went numb (lack of oxygen, said some part of my brain, but I ignored it and read on) and I got through just as I’d rehearsed it, with specific inflections and pauses for drama, and even if the applause looked like this 👏 it still felt amazing!

It was a joy listening to my fellow mentees, and hearing their mentors give insight to their unique processes, as no two pairings were alike it seems. I spent the entire time on speaker view to better appreciate the readings, and followed audience comments in the chat, which made for a very strange experience. For my reading, I saw only my text on screen, and I don’t know if that made me more nervous. I knew my mom and sister were there, but I couldn’t see their faces.

But they got to be there, and it still happened, and Marian was a perfect host (and thanks again for the e-mails!). Thank you to Lori Schubert and the Quebec Writers’ Federation for giving me this amazing opportunity! Thank you to April Ford for her advice and friendship and music videos to boost my spirits and get me dancing! Her debut novel Carousel is out now and I’m this close to finishing it, so expect a review soon. (Buy directly from the publisher and get 30% off with the code summer20!)

Distance

Is anyone else feeling very Lady of Shalott these days? Locked in a tower, cursed to see the real world only through a magic mirror? I appreciate that it’s for our collective safety, and I feel fortunate to be in a position where I can stay home. Still, it’s fair to be half sick of shadows.

Luckily, it has never been easier to reach out to people I care about. That is, when I have the energy to spare. A lot of my efforts go into keeping myself clean and fed, quieting the onslaught of information and shifting opinions based on new evidence, and responding to messages I receive. I have had moments of total shutdown, I have experienced the curious phenomenon of March lasting a hundred days and April only three, and I have come to the month of May with a stronger sense of purpose.

Let’s call it a mourning period for the Old Normal.

In the New Normal, at least the one we have created so far, many things are still carrying on. I have been continuing meetings with my mentor, April Ford. Her first novel Carousel is out May 14 and available for preorder where books are found! (Please consider purchasing directly from the publisher or your local bookseller.)

Work on Project Claire continues! For the first half of the mentorship, we focused on getting the first three chapters presentation-ready for a pitch. The book is pitched. I am waiting for good news or my very first rejection letter, and either one is an important milestone in the life of an author. Either way, I’m happy about where the beginning of the novel stands.

It also has a title, but I’m choosing to be superstitious about it.

Revisiting erotic scenes in the novel has me thinking about physical contact, and those thoughts are finding their home in a new zine. I feel very good about the story and essay so far. The goal is to have it available for free here as a PDF, with physical copies available for $5 PWYC (an internet search says coronavirus can live on paper for up to five days, please handle mail with caution). I will also carry them around with me once it’s safe to be out among the people.

Speaking of smut, if you’ve been curious about “pumpkin smut latte,” I’ve posted the story “welcome to parc ex” and it is not safe for work. I read it Monday evening at my mentor’s sex and intimacy workshop, then we had a nice conversation about writing process and inspiration and other sexy stories.

What’s the word for the feeling of reading erotic material in your bedroom for an audience?

I’ve signed up for a distance version of Shut Up & Write taking place Saturday, same day as the Violet Hour Book Club. (I had really better be further along in the book by the time this goes live; at the moment, I’ve read the introduction.)

Having something in my agenda not only gives me events to look forward to, it sort of grounds me in time. I’ve printed out a calendar so I can tick off the days, I’m turning the pages of my day calendar with calming quotes, I am trying to prevent that feeling of drifting though the hours with no real sense of which direction I want to go in. It’s okay if I can’t be productive right now, I’ve given myself that permission.

But if I can be, that’s where I’d like to put my energy. There is work I want to do.

Is it always transitions?

I had such good momentum, but autumn turned to winter and a lot of shifting took place.

First of all, I will remind myself to never underestimate the effect of darkness suddenly coming an hour earlier. I feel more pressure to use the daylight to best effect, I get mopey when I haven’t seen a blue sky in too long, and the cold can be a huge deterrent when it comes to enjoying being outside.

There has not been a lack of news.

I have been asked to curate and host an evening of queer storytelling! Chris DiRaddo, who I know as president of the QWF, producer of the Violet Hour, and host of the Violet Hour Book Club; proposed it to me, and I had no choice but to reply, “I’d love to! How do I do that?” I ended up asking several people this question, and their answers led me to ask people I know if they had stories to tell. Everyone’s got a story, but how many of us want to get up on stage and tell it to a room full of strangers?

Then I told a particularly personal story at Confabulation: Games at the Centaur Theatre, revisiting how it felt to actively lie to the partner I was cheating on. The story felt impossible to write, but a conversation with Nisha Coleman gave me the confidence to confront what I was doing (trying to avoid telling the difficult truth) as well as a page and a half of notes to incorporate into a new draft. I got it out, I practiced, and I felt all of the emotions as I told it onstage.

I always remember, but sometimes forget to feel, that whatever scares me the most in my art is what I must absolutely pursue. Like this horrifying memoir idea, but that’s on the back burner because I have a mentorship to focus on!

As of last Sunday, I am dedicating the vast majority of my creative time to working with April Ford, my QWF fiction mentor, on my novel. We already have such plans! I am making lists and trying out different synopses and we will be meeting biweekly for the next few months. There will be a reading! I will shake off this rust and make some progress with this book!