Examining readiness again

It is always so irritating when a change of temperature brings a little cold. We’ve been having cooler weather here and I had the sore throat to prove it. Being sick increases my frequency of demotivation naps, where I can’t do anything but curl up and try to sleep the ugh away.

Despite this, I’ve gotten some things done! I pitched a summary of a story for Confabulation‘s Hair theme and it has adolescence, awkwardness, and acceptance! I’m eager to develop it into something more polished.

In the meantime, the pitch has been posted to my Patreon, in the Works-in-Progress tier. It’s a little less frightening to put that out there when I still have no patrons at this level, but there’s also the voice in my head saying, “Yeah, but it’s only a click away. Someone can read this in the middle of the night while you’re sleeping.”

Half the fun of being a writer is that ambivalence: please read what I wrote. No, wait, don’t! I mean, do, but only if you have nice things to say! Wait, I changed my mind!

I could let this go on for half an hour while I sit motionless in front of my keyboard, but fuck it. Slightly before I’m ready, as always.

Apart from storytelling, I am eyeing the last six chapters of my novel and getting ready to make my move. Like a cat wiggling its butt before pouncing! I’m excited to write my first ending to this novel! If it’s like everything else I work on, it won’t be the final ending, but I can’t revise a blank page. I have to try things.

I’m also starting to think about Fringe. I have more time to consider it, for sure, but I have a vague notion that I could write a 60-minute show… we’ll see. Maybe I’ll just have to pitch before I’m ready, as usual.

Two thirds

I have been more physically active this past week, so that’s one goal met!

I also reached a new milestone with my manuscript: I completed the rough draft for part two of the novel!

This one is particularly exciting as part two takes up the bulk of the book. We begin with Simon in Montreal in part one, he travels to Louisiana for part two, and (spoiler alert) he will return to Montreal in part three. With that chunk of work behind me, I am down to six outlined chapters remaining to be written. As outlines go, this could change before the end, but that means I am nearly done with the rough draft as a whole!

I very much look forward to setting this manuscript aside and working on something else for a bit.

In other news, a new season of Confabulation starts next Friday with Ritual! There are some interesting themes in the following month that I’d like to pitch for, but this time I’ll be a spectator. I did participate in a special outdoor Confabulation as part of NDG Arts Week! I got to tell a story in a park with some of my favourite storytellers, including Claire Sherwood and Nisha Coleman.

I think it’s time I worked on my pitch. Less talking, more doing!

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!

So many stories

April has been a fantastic month.

The Confab Storylab has been rolling right along. giving me new tools and tricks to play with in my storytelling. The more I advance with these techniques, the more I understand that I am going to have to try things different ways before I ultimately settle on my way. As someone raised gifted with a huge fear of failure, this is mildly terrifying.

Luckily, workshops like these provide a safe environment to fail in. I told a story that I had barely written a rough draft for, and got a page full of notes on how to develop it. Last week, we were asked to take a familiar story and improvise part of it. Going off-script is taking a huge leap outside of my comfort zone. I like my lists, I love my threes, I enjoy hand-picking sensory details that firmly plant my audience in my story.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover I do less floundering than anticipated. It’s not pretty, but it’s very real, and that is often the more desirable trait in storytelling. Watch me get lost in a moment on stage while I search for words to bring you into it with me.

May promises to be exiting as well! The storylab is putting on an intimate breakout event where I’ll get to experiment a bit. I am also performing at Tinder Tales on May 25 at Lord William Pub. Who doesn’t love awkward dating stories? I’m excited to share one of mine (oh, there are many!) with a room full of strangers.

Working hard

I have been giving 100% at my new job, and any new learning experience is mentally exhausting, so there has not been much writing going on. I’ve done some editing for my Confabulation performances, but nothing much apart from that.

My gut reaction is to feel bad for my lack of productivity in terms of creative work, but ultimately this isn’t a useful line of thought. I’ve still come so far in such a relatively short amount of time, I can allow myself to put things on pause while I focus on establishing myself in my new workplace. Once my job becomes more routine, I’ll have more energy for creative endeavours.

Despite not having touched my novel, I have been keeping busy with stories.

I’ve joined another storytelling workshop, this one part of Confabulation and presented by the wonderful Matt Goldberg. There are a lot of familiar faces, and I’m really excited to see what we learn from each other and Matt in the coming weeks.

I was invited to participate in Confabulation’s Audience Favourites show, bringing back my very first performance from December. Having told a couple more stories since, I found ways to improve upon my earlier performance, as well as the text itself.

It was a night for feelings! Each of the other storytellers brought tears to my eyes. You could feel the entire room with them during their most powerful moments, there were these stunning silences. I opened the second half with my own emotional story, reliving the feelings I was relating, keeping them just under control so my voice didn’t break. It felt amazing.

A refreshingly tearless experience was Taylor Tower‘s retelling of a story she had showed us in workshop, and getting to see it told live was an entirely separate experience. I already knew the twists and turns, but a masterful performance has you right there with the storyteller each step of the way, even when you know what comes next. I was delighted.

There is also something to be said about being in the room while a story is being told. A recording cannot capture the energy of an audience waiting with bated breath to find out what happens next. Tension is nearly tangible, silences and dramatic pauses ring out, it’s magical.

So the novel has been set aside for a moment, but there is still a sizable stack of pages on my desk and they aren’t going anywhere. I’ve taken a break before and been able to get back into the voice this book needs. I just need to look over the outline and read the latest chapter and I should be able to carry on from there.

Back to work

I meant to come here and catch up sooner; I even brought my laptop down to Vermont in hopes of catching up with my writing life. It’s a bit harder than I remembered to get things organised when starting a new job, and packing up and leaving for a few days means I can’t bring all of my writing stuff with me.

I did manage to critique a piece for my gay writing group, but mostly my evenings were spent going to bed early and listening to the howling mountain wind. Vermont was beautiful, Stratton was lovely; but that wind. I declined to buy earplugs at Jean Coutu before we set off, so that’s on me.

Just before leaving for Vermont, I got to tell another story at Confabulation. Twice. The Shortest Story is an annual event, and having experienced the frenetic energy once, I can’t wait to do it again.

It was awesome to chat with other storytellers and hang out backstage. As always, it’s a pleasure to listen to what everyone shares, and I got to see most everyone else’s performances. There’s no theme, so we got to hear a bit of everything.

A really interesting thing about getting to tell a story twice in one night is that I got the first crowd’s reaction, and figured out what to play up or draw out. It’s easier to relax when you’ve already told your story once and it went well. And I had a drink in the green room during intermission, so by the time I got up to tell my story again, I felt amazing and I think it was better than the first time.

Now, between that and work, I haven’t made much time for writing. I met with both my writing groups this week and received wonderful feedback that asks the sort of questions I’m too close to come up with myself. I’ve scrawled all over the print copies for the eventual revision, but I’m still firm about saving that for later. I still have a lot of ground to cover with the rough draft, and I have to balance that with work now.

I cannot possibly express just how relieved I am to finally be receiving incooooooooome. Unemployment loses its charm extremely quickly.

February up and left

Where did February go? Time for a retrospective.

I started off freshly unemployed, and at the beginning of the month I was still riding the high of putting my foot down and making a decision for the sake of my own good. I had tons of free time, perfect for getting lots of writing done!

I feel like I wasted a lot of that time loafing around, but my calendar begs to differ.

I had my first meeting with a new writer’s group, this one comprised entirely of queer men. Since I make up the entire gay section of my previous writing group, I felt the need to seek the opinions of folk who are a bit more familiar with my subject matter. This isn’t to say I’m leaving my first group! I need as much feedback as I can get!

I slayed at my last Shut Up & Write, managing over 4,300 words in two and a half hours. I was buzzing and eager to get home and print up the new chapters and add them to the manuscript pile. I submitted one of them to the queer writing group, with a specific question of how much sexual detail is too much? This rough draft is extra steamy, I’m looking forward to hearing what they think of it.

Then I pitched for next month’s Confabulation, a special challenge as the stories are only two minutes long. My rough draft was shorter than usual, but still clocked in at nearly five minutes. Oops. It’s fun to make big cuts, though, so now it’s under the time limit and I’m ready to rehearse. Not too much, though; I aim to tell a story, not recite a bit of nonfiction.

I also started a new job, so my income woes will soon be over! I want to lament having less time to write, but my chequing account is sobbing, so it seems silly to complain. I’ll just have to include writing time in my schedule, maybe bring my laptop to work and set up in a café for an hour or two once a week. Or come home, fix myself a nice tea, and hole up in the office. There are options.

In fact, I’m off to Vermont next week for work, and my laptop is definitely coming with. Job by day, writing by night. Both of my writing groups meet the week after, though, so I’d best print up the pieces I’ll be critiquing and get to work on them.

I hit a bit of a wall with my French story: I got excellent feedback, then realised that I made the all-too-common error of losing myself in time while telling a story. I wrote out a reminder for the corkboard: what happens in the story is in present tense, what comes before is past, and anything beyond the scope of the story has to be in future. The me who is sitting at the keys and writing now gets confused about that, though.

I got overwhelmed by all of my spelling errors and the daunting task of changing tense for a couple pages of French text, so I abandoned it for the moment and did other things. It’s still there, I know I can tackle it, I just had a bit of a freak-out in that moment. It’s fine. I’m fine.

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? 🤔

I’m a writer because I write

Last year was amazing in terms of establishing who I am as a writer in my own mind. I have struggled with this identity in the past, especially since any declaration is immediately followed with the question, “What have you published?” It’s a common measure of a writer’s worth; since I have nothing published, I often felt worthless as a writer.

My therapist was the one to suggest that I join a community of writers. This led me to a state of panic; who am I compared to these “real” writers, will they judge me, and so on. I have found support and encouragement and friendship within the Quebec Writers’ Federation, and that has done a lot to fuel my creative drive. Even before I met anyone from the organisation, I threw myself into my work so that I would have something of substance to discuss with these other writers.

I have started a new novel that I have a deep emotional connection to. I have participated in a storytelling workshop and found a new way to create and express myself that is extremely gratifying. I have further solidified in my mind that I am a writer, despite having nothing published, because I write.

So what have I been writing lately?

Work on the novel continues at a satisfying pace. I am nearly at 30,000 words, and I believe I can finish a rough draft by spring. My bid for publication continues as I submit short stories to literary reviews, consequently increasing my body of work and giving me a lot more evidence to present to my impostor voice. I have also kept up writing stories and submitting them to Confabulation; I loved being on that stage and I can’t wait to feel that again.

I’m looking for work, but at least I will be able to use the extra time to my advantage.

Confabulation

One of the things that I learned about in my storytelling workshop is Confabulation, a personal storytelling event with monthly themes. I had an idea for December’s “Family Stories,” but that event was set for December 8 and the idea was all that I had. Still, I reached out to ask when the submission deadline was, and dove into expanding my idea.

It took me a week to work up to a third draft; I was satisfied enough to submit. By this time it was December 2, so I was not at all surprised to receive a message the next day stating that the event was full. Oh well, better luck next time.

Two days later, I woke up to a facebook message from Nisha telling me to check my inbox. I practically flew out of bed and ran to my computer.

Someone dropped out and I was being invited to take their spot! It’s December 5, the event is in three days. Luckily, I would be workshopping my story with Nisha, so I eagerly awaited her notes while I got ready to go to work.

The next three days passed in a bit of a blur; I read her notes, tried to process them throughout the day, and came up with edits that I would apply as soon as I got home. There would be more notes the next morning. By Friday night, I started to recite what I had and time it, cutting out parts that sounded clumsy, changing the wording to better fit how I speak.

I arrived just before 7:00, was directed to a coatroom where I changed out of my boots, and went into the room. I had been to Confabulation once before at the Centaur; this month’s event was being held at the Phi Centre, and the setup was a little different. Lots of seating, and really fucking close to the stage. I helped myself to some water and chatted with a fine trio of people while waiting for everyone to arrive.

Matt Goldberg explained to me how things would work, took me up on stage, and offered a lot of encouragement. Standing on that stage, even before the chairs were filled, was nerve-wracking, but I appreciated getting a chance to be in that space before it was time to perform. He told me I’d be going third, closing out the first half, and I picked a seat toward the back. Nisha asked how I was feeling, I gave her the short version, and I started working to mentally prepare myself.

I was able to forget my stress a bit as I watched the first two storytellers; I got pulled into their tales, and was able to enjoy their performances. Then Matt is introducing me and I realise I have to pee; I walk up to the stage repeating my thought of confidence, confidence; and as I stand up there before the microphone I notice that my mouth is completely dry and I have to open it and speak.

As at the showcase, the performance passes in a blur. I had to draw out this one pause because my voice was about to break, I was getting choked up by my story. The utter lack of moisture in my mouth was only an annoyance, and before I knew it, I was singing the final line, “There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.”

It was incredible. I knew I’d fucked up in a couple moments, but no one else seemed to  have noticed, or to mind. My workshopmates Amy and Manoosh were there and offered hugs, Nisha gave me a hug, and strangers thanked me for sharing. I had this stupid grin on my face, trying to process this elation and digest this experience, definitely wanting more.

Thank you to Matt Goldberg for letting me step in at the last minute.

HUGE thank you to Nisha Coleman for workshopping this story with me and providing critical feedback and words of encouragement. You’ve been there since the beginning and I was so happy to get to work with you on this.

Thank you to everyone who came to listen, and who expressed appreciation of my story. I learned a lot in writing it, and look forward to discovering more as I mine my past for new stories.

Finally, thank you to my grandfather. I think of you every time I play the guitar.