The View Through a Drinking Straw

So I just handed in what should be the final revision of SINISTER SCENES, Book Three of THE JOY OF SPOOKING to my editor. Happy day, right? Well, I’m not breaking out the party blowers just yet. First I have to wind down. There’s something about the final stage of the process of writing a novel that reminds me of walking home in a blizzard. It’s stressful, slow-going, and if you lose the road at some point, you’re in big, big trouble.

Actually I’m starting to wonder if writing novels is giving me a weird compulsion to use goofy similes and metaphors to explain just about everything in life. Yikes! For instance, the other day in a bit of a cheeky interview over at Literary Asylum, I was describing the process as being like building a house. The gist of what I said was this: to first assemble a basic structure without worrying about it looking like an ugly shack, because if you work too long and hard on making the front door look nice, it’s then horribly discouraging to discover it opens onto nothing.

Staying with that, how does an author know when they’re finished the job? With a house, it’s easy to tell: it’s when they start stuffing the mail slot with tax bills and realtor flyers. But with a novel, it’s not quite so obvious. Sure, the printout looks thick enough (on that note, why after a single read can you never ever get the stack quite square again, despite any number of karate chops to the edges?). But did you forget something? Did you make it the best it can be?

Now, my wife is an illustrator and whenever she thinks she’s finished a painting, she’ll stand back and take a good long look at it. If something bugs her, she’ll fix it; if something looks unfinished, she’ll give it a little more attention. Evaluating the state of a novel is exactly the same process, I always say — except that instead of standing back and seeing what you’ve got, you spend hours peering at the colors and composition of your supposedly finished picture through a drinking straw.

Eventually, perhaps after poking your eyeball one time too many, you’ll give up and pronounce it good enough. But is it really? You have no idea. You’ll only know when a bunch of friends, colleagues, and strangers start breaking out their own straws and having a good close look themselves.

Still, it’s always a relief to finish up. Just like it’s always a relief to find your way home and shake the snow off.

Later this week I’m having my official launch of UNEARTHLY ASYLUM here in Montreal (Oct 14, 7pm, Paragraphe Books, 2220 McGill). It’s a joint launch with Alan Silberberg, author of the hilarious and heartbreaking MILO: STICKY NOTES AND BRAIN FREEZE. Should be fun! If you want to say hi, I’ll be the guy drinking my wine through a well-worn straw.