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!)

Breaking 50k

Getting out last week’s post felt really good, but there was no real update there, so here we go!

The QWF has a wonderful resource called the Hire-A-Writer directory for people interested in coaching, editing, feedback, etc. Many of the faces there are familiar to me from social gatherings, and a friend of mine recommended Elise Moser from her own experience.

Many of the chapters of my novel have been workshopped on an individual basis, often submitted in pairs of consecutive chapters, but I needed someone to look at a larger piece and tell me whether I’m on the right track. I communicated with Elise, who put me at my ease immediately. After a brief exchange to clarify what I was looking for, I submitted the first six chapters of the novel and tried to put it from my mind and work on other things.

I got feedback a lot quicker than I expected! The short of it is, I am heading in the right direction, even if I have a lot of ground to cover. Elise provided excellent points for me to work on, and as a result I’ve drafted a new opening chapter. This makes my third attempt at beginning this novel, which is fine; the beginning is the most important part. It determines whether a reader continues along this journey with me or moves on to something else.

I’m submitting to my primary writing group, and I can’t wait to hear how they receive the new chapter. I have Elise’s notes for the remainder of the opening chapters, but I’ve been focusing my efforts on completing the rough draft. I have pushed past 50,000 words and nearly completed part two of three; I have seven more chapters outlined and that’s it. The rough draft as currently outlined will be complete.

Facebook was kind enough to remind me that it’s been a year since I sat down and outlined this book. I had recently returned to Louisiana to visit family and those experiences were fresh in my mind. I had been cultivating ideas of home and belonging ever since I moved here to Quebec, some eleven years ago. It feels like I built a framework then, and I have been steadily adding to it for a year so that now I have something that is beginning to take shape.

As slow as progress feels sometimes, I can look back on this and feel proud.

In other news, I’ve been invited to perform a story that appears in Claire at a special pride edition of Confabulation! Tomorrow night, I will be telling the story of how I met Mathieu, which began a chain of events that led to me moving from Lafayette, Louisiana to Blainville, Quebec. Come hear the tale at le Ministère tomorrow at 9:30pm!

A moment of calm

I’ve reached the end of the Confab Storylab, culminating in our breakout performance at the Freestanding Room. It was a great night of awesome stories in an intimate space, I was able to feel fairly laid-back even though part of my brain was screaming about how much improvisation I was about to attempt (like, a lot).

It worked? I had to ask for some outside opinions, naturally; I got caught up in the flow of the story, went off on an unplanned tangent, and wrapped it up as neatly as I could. Telling a story seems to happen in a breathless rush with me, though I don’t feel like I sped through it at all. Those minutes go by in a flash, then I’m bowing my head and retreating to my seat to enjoy the heady rush of a story told.

One of my fellow workshoppers shared a story that centred on the Main Deli, so a few of us went down the road for smoked meat and latkes. My first. Yeah, I’ve been in Quebec 11 years, lived on the island for three and a half, and still had never gone for a smoked meat sandwich. What kind of a Montrealer am I?

A Montrealer-in-progress, obviously.

Since that night, not a lot of work has been done on stories. I have Tinder Tales coming up May 25 at Lord William Pub, I should probably run that by a few people and get some feedback. I have a submission deadline in my calendar for a nonfiction contest organised by the Malahat Review, and a vague notion of what to write for that. QWF’s Shut Up & Write is starting up again, and I am keenly aware that the last session earned me nearly 4,000 words of my novel. I can’t expect that every time, but my word count has not increased in (gulp) months and I need to change that.

A story about love

January began with a ton of work on my novel: two meetings of Shut Up & Write with the Quebec Writers’ Federation, writing dates with my friend Lisanne, submitting to my writing workshop again. To keep from getting burnt out, I also like to take time to work on side projects, and since I’d told myself that I’d pitch to any Confabulation theme that inspired a story, I haven’t stopped.

February’s theme was “First Comes Love…?” and what love story is more important to me than the one that had me pick up my life, learn another language, and settle over a thousand miles away from home?

I got the news on my way to work after Shut Up & Write. Lisanne got to see me jump up and down on the métro like a fool, then we parted ways and I worked my last shift at Mohawk Barbier. I had the pleasure of workshopping my story with Deb VanSlet, who I had just seen perform a story at January’s show, “Rites of Passage,” so I knew I was in good hands.

This is a story I have told countless times in countless ways, because everyone wants to hear how a boy from the heart of Cajun Country ended up relocating to Montreal, where the winds blow as cold as -40 (it’s the same in Celsius and Fahrenheit) in the dead of winter. In its simplest form, boy meets boy, boy visits boy, boy learns French and gets married and moves to another country. Heartwarming!

Of course, real life is a bit less bright and shiny—I am divorced, after all—but for a moment I did feel that way, and looking back I really feel an overwhelming fondness for a choice that has led to so many amazing experiences. It was lovely to call on those memories and relive that bubbly beginning, and to share it with a room of strangers.

There’s something magical about it, and that’s why I’ll keep pitching and keep sharing stories.

In other news, I attended my first meeting of the Violet Hour Book Club, where I said basically nothing, but enjoyed listening to others talk about queer literature. We had read James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, which stunned me with its beauty and heartbreak and world so greatly removed from my own. I can’t wait to find out what we’re reading next.

My writing workshop also met for the first time this year! I’ve done so much work on the novel that it was hard to remember what I had submitted; the new first two chapters. Just like back in the day with Yggdrasil, I started the story a little too late, and needed to go back and establish some things. So these were the first two out of eight or so chapters that detail Simon’s time in Montreal before he flies down to Louisiana. I have some characters to flesh out, some scenery to paint in greater detail, and some voices to differentiate. It was great to get feedback again, especially the comments highlighting what I need to fix. I mean, it’s also great to hear what people think I’m doing well, but it’s those blind spots that make beta readers essential to any project.

Upcoming projects include a couple of submissions I’m eyeing, each of which would require me to write a new piece. I’ve got a concrete idea for the one with the later deadline. I’ve also drafted a story for Enfabulation, donc c’est en français and doesn’t that scare the shit out of me, but there’s a first time for everything.

I have already been a member of the QWF for an entire year, most of which I’ve been active, attending events and meeting people and participating in workshops. What a year it’s been. Maybe I’ll have to write about that next; I love my cheesy little inventories of what I’m grateful for and blah blah blah. I’m a sap, I just have to dose the moment with a sufficient taste of sarcasm before things get too saccharine.

Now how do I have Simon tell Fabien some version of the story I told last Saturday? 🤔

Dreams of autumn

I attended my first session of QWF’s Shut Up & Write, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. I was able to wrap up the third chapter of Claire and get a fourth out in three hours, including the novel’s first sex scene, which was interesting to write while in a room full of people. I left feeling accomplished and buoyant, and went and spent entirely too much money at Lush.

As I write more of this Louisiana project, I am exploring strange little corners of memory that I haven’t visited in a while. I don’t think my recollections are pristine, and I get a freedom from that to fudge details even further. This is meant to be fiction; the truest parts will be the emotions I felt. I hope I can successfully weave those into these alternate versions of events.

In the vein of digging up my thoughts on the past, I have signed up for a workshop on oral storytelling. I haven’t the faintest clue where to start, and the description specifically mentioned a focus on the difference between oral and written storytelling, so I think I have a lot to learn. I’m excited to see where this takes me.

I’m also looking forward to having a regular schedule to follow. My writing workshop is meeting infrequently enough to feel quite irregular. Part of what is holding me back is that I’m moving in a month and would like to start a routine that I can do at home. That’s not much of an excuse, though. I could treat myself to a nice drink and snack somewhere public. I often look at people in restaurants and cafés with a bit of envy; there’s no reason I can’t be them.

Then once I move and have proper spaces to write in, I can fix myself some tea and put on some good music to work to. The bf is fine with my writing time here, so I doubt there will be any problem once we have even more space to occupy. Meanwhile, we’re sharing a studio with a kitchenette and no bathtub and I’m hunched over my laptop on the bed. My back feels marvelous.

So I have my next meeting with my workshop soon, a brand-new workshop starting up, and a positive change in the home situation coming up. The start of fall is going to be a beautiful time.

Also, people are absolutely shitting on Tim Hortons’ pumpkin spice menu, I’m pretty sure they’re irredeemable at this point. R.I.P.

Of course, it’s been damn hot this week, so dreams of autumn feel slightly out of reach. Here’s hoping there’s a change in the wind soon.

Energy levels

I had a fantastic weekend. Verdungeons & Dragons on Saturday after my shift; we finally reached level three, and I completely flubbed my character’s very first spell. Then brunch with a friend and some mild shopping before the QWF picnic.

Now, you might be wondering why someone would possibly think it’s a good idea to brunch before a picnic. I suppose we can chalk it up to me trying to have my cake and eat it too. Plus I don’t have a kitchen, I didn’t bring anything, so it didn’t feel right to mooch off of everyone’s collaboration to the event. I did sample some delicious sugar tartlike thing with pecans in it and I swear, I had an out-of-body experience.

As expected, it was great to talk to other writers about writing, to hear their experiences, to hear some of what they’ve worked on (I’ve made a note to look up a book later). I really enjoy the sense of community and camaraderie that I feel with these folk, and look forward to getting to know them better. It’s also reassuring to know that when I progress in my writing life, there will be people to ask for opinions and advice.

The other half of my weekend was given to cleaning in my apartment, sensibly nudged there by my boyfriend. I’ve basically been living in his place, and the landlord will need to show mine to interested renters, so it was due. We spent three hours sweating with only a fan to push the hot air around us. I was sweeping and cleaning up, but poor Fred was using hot water in the kitchen and scrubbing cabinets. Before we could finish all we wanted to, I called it quits; my head was pounding, my temper was building steam, and I was tired of standing.

So, socializing (a LOT) and keeping pretty physically active put me in no mood to go and deal with the daily grind. Getting back to work wasn’t so bad, but I had to start canceling on events to be able to stay home and recover energy. I feel a little guilty, but I’ve come to an understanding that if I don’t manage my energy levels, I start to feel a little frayed at the edges, and my mood sours. If I want to function and be productive in my daily life, I need to maintain a certain balance. Then it’s easier to make time to write, and I feel happy about having been productive in my writing life, and that feels great.

All that to say that I haven’t really worked on Claire apart from revising the first chapter and submitting it to my writing group. Now I have a little over three weeks to read their pieces, which is always fun, and progress a bit in my own work so that I have a few choices for my next submission.

I am loving this whole schedules thing, having other people rely on me, sharing work with others and reading theirs. It’s easy to keep momentum when I have these reasons spurring me on, keeping me going. It makes the entire thing more fun, also.