February 29, 2008

Leap Year's Day, and I finished the second draft of Lake on the Mountain, my new literary thriller. The ending came quickly, after repositioning a few passages in the final chapter. And suddenly I was there. The last few chapters still feel rough, but at least the book can be read from beginning to end, and make sense all the way through. Now I can go home happy.


February 27-28, 2008

A couple of frustrating day's writing, as my month-long hiatus comes to an end, and knowing I'm close to being finished, but struggling over little things in the last couple of chapters. Every now and then it feels like I've lost my focus, then suddenly I discover something really exciting and that propels me forward again.

February 25-26, 2008

Another awesome couple of days' writing. Today I exceeded 100,000 words, some 25,000 over my estimated target (not to mention the publisher's preferred length) from several months ago. But the writing is strong, the story compelling, so I hope I can get away with it!

February 24, 2008

Something quite awesome happened today because I went to Starbucks (which seems to be a frequent source of inspiration for me.) Because I ran out of coffee, and because it’s Sunday and the small neighbourhood cafes are closed, I went out for my much-needed cuppa jet fuel-cum-soy latte. On the way back, the bells were ringing ten at the grand cathedral in the heart of Puerto Vallarta. Not being comfortable with the accepted dogma and practice of religious worship, and having coffee in-hand and a baseball cap covering my unruly hair, I decided to have just a peek and move on, but the Muse would have me stay. As I passed the main doors of the church and headed towards a kiddie version of same, I heard a tremendous round of hand-clapping and voice lifting, and was literally inspired by a phrase ‘no communal joyfulness and shouting voices’ that spoke loud and clear. The Muse was onto me. And because I never travel without pen and paper, I sat on the steps and let flow what will likely become a fairly colourful passage on the psychology of religion in my new book, Lake on the Mountain, which takes as a background theme the dour Scottish Presbyterianism that founded much of modern-day Anglo Ontario.

Content with that, I started to leave, but as I paused at the next corner I was over-taken by a baseball-cap wearing teenager, and felt a second Muse encouraging me to sit. This next passage began, ‘He is the kid next door, the one with the Popsicle smile and the ten-cent grin, skateboard beneath one foot…’. This is the other theme of the book—boys who grow up lost, or lonely, and sometimes end up on the street, which is the realm of my protagonist, a missing persons investigator. So if those two passages make it into the final draft of the book, I’ll have to remember that the essential defining theme of Anglo-Canadian Presbyterianism was written in sunny, tropical Mexico on the steps of a Catholic church. God bless us all!

February 21-23, 2008

Since the third book of the Bradford Fairfax series is set in Puerto Vallarta (Vanished in Vallarta), it behooves me to visit a few of the scenes of action while I’m here. One of those is the much-lauded Blue Chairs Hotel (renamed in the book—don’t worry, you’ll recognize it.) Shane and I were fortunate enough to meet two couples from Washington (which they call ‘DC’) who were staying at the hotel, and we saw two rooms, one grand and beautiful, the other not. I’m sorry to say the hotel’s current state isn’t impressive (a mouldy smell, rusty overhead fan blades, cheap bathroom mirrors), and that despite its pricey rates and reputation as a much-sought after gay resort. Be that as it may, I was able to get a better view of the rooms, and the balcony where Bradford confronts his fear of heights to avoid being caught breaking into the room of two suspects.

A second potential scene, since discarded for a more appropriate mountaintop escape, was set in the canopy tours, as Brad and a bad guy zigzagged through the jungle, battling while suspended over treacherous-looking but spectacular canyon vistas. Shane got us invited to participate in the making of a promotional video for the gay market, saving us the fee ($79) and making us some fun friends at the same time. (An amusing note: the stars of the video were PV’s famous drag troupe, the Dirty Bitches. We were just background.) Like Brad, I share a fear of heights, but the views were so breathtakingly beautiful, and the guides so amusing (and good-looking) that I didn’t have time to be afraid. And afterwards I wanted to do it all over again! That is how we sometimes escape the small boxes of our minds—if we’re lucky.

Another important scene (which I’ve already experienced, but would like to repeat) is the snorkeling scene at Los Arcos, a triptych of domed rocks jutting up from the sea near the small town of Mismaloya, one of which has an arc that can be sailed through. If we can do it inexpensively, we will. It’s also interesting to note that the walkway to the radio towers at the top of the mountain in downtown PV is literally a minute above the casa where we’re staying. A walk up here on the last trip inspired a major scene that takes place in a fictional monastery at the top of the hill. I didn’t go all the way to the top this time, but I did go up quite a ways. The name of that street is Aldama. We had no idea we were so close when we rented this place on the Internet.

February 17-20, 2008

A new draft is an opportunity for reflection on where I’ve been and where I might be going, both with the story and my characters. It allows me to decide which new doors to open and which old ones to close if they no longer suit my purpose. It’s not unusual to discover a character referring to something before he or she actually knows it, a little slip in time that completely eradicates the purpose of the scene I’ve carefully constructed around it. Sometimes I don’t recognize it for many drafts.

It’s also a time to explore those magical intuitive impulses that come from nowhere (how else to explain it? what else to call them but magic?) as I get more connected to the material. Recently I discovered the perfect last name for a psychiatrist in the new book. Or perhaps it discovered me. I’d given him the first name ‘Martin’, which seemed to fit, because for me it has overtones of self-righteousness and intellectual coldness. I can’t say exactly why, but it may be in part because of Martin Luther (about whom I know little—and I hereby offer my apologies to all the Martins out there who don’t exemplify those qualities.)

One day a word flew into my head while I was wondering what to call him: Sanger. I didn’t know what it meant, but it reminded me of ‘sanguine’—not a good choice, as this Martin is anything but bloody or passionate. But the intuition was so strong that I did a search to see if I could come up with something similar. I discovered that ‘Sanger’ is a German word meaning ‘pincer’ or ‘pliers.’ The immediate image I had was that of a pair of pliers working on the inside of someone’s brain with the skull cut open—a perfect visual reference for what psychiatrists do! I knew I had to use it, even if the casual reader will never know what it means.

February 11-16, 2008

It still seems a bit of a miracle to be here, in Puerto Vallarta, having left behind minus-12 degree temperatures and banks of snow. What’s even more miraculous is the little eagle aerie I’ve lucked into as a writing space. For once the gods smiled instead of frowned. My living space for the month is an open-concept hillside house north of the Rio Cuale, about four minutes away from Elizabeth Taylor’s former home, with open, breezy portals above, and a view of the bay below. Best of all, however, is the lookout, an 8x8 room at the top of a third floor tower, accessed via a couple of ladders and with a view of the entire town. It’s here I spend my days working on the second draft of Lake on the Mountain. It’s a bit odd to think I’m creating a tome about the dour workings of the Presbyterian Canadian mind while ensconced in lush tropical Mexico.

February 1-10, 2008

Lately I've been seeing just how much method there is to my madness. I've never sat down to sort out my writing process but, as I'm an organization freak, it stands to reason that my writing is systematic. I do know I work very ad hoc, so whatever it takes on any given day is what I do, but as I've geared up to leave for Mexico I've become more aware of the hidden process behind it (and after seven books, it's a pretty solid process.) The first stage is usually a broad canvas approach of getting down whatever, but by this point -- second draft -- I've honed things down considerably. Lately I've been working on no more than one or two chapters a day, refining and casting off unwanted material, to arrive at a solid working second draft, something that will be presentable to my agent and a potential publisher (in this case Cormorant, as Marc Cote was largely responsible for the impulse to write this current book, when he asked if I'd thought of writing a serious thriller. At the time, I said no -- I was having too much fun writing satire with the Bradford Fairfax books -- but that quickly changed.) Now, at the end of my allotted chapter, I force myself to stop, even if it's going well, and take a walk (if it's not too cold!) With my mind still on the book, I end up writing and rewriting in my head while I'm walking. This forces me to think and rethink things, sometimes gaining direct input from whatever's happening around me. Because a good deal of the book takes place in my neighbourhood (Leslieville), I can incorporate visual details, snippets of conversations, etc., for that little touch of reality with the book fully in mind.


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