Book Update #6

So, titles. You might have noticed that I haven’t told you the name of the book. This wasn’t because I wanted to do a big unveiling, but because although I had a working title, I didn’t feel comfortable with it. It just didn’t feel right. Theoretically short story collections should be easy to name: pick a story that summarizes the collection and you’re set. I chose the story that I thought did just that, but when I realized how reluctant I was to tell people what it was, I figured I should probably go with something else.

Titles are hard for me. When I first started writing, I stuck with very Raymond Carver-esque titles, one-word, plain descriptions. After awhile that got boring (and kind of ridiculous) and I never quite mastered anything more clever. These days I accidentally stumble on to titles, get them suggested to me, or stick with average titles and hope that the rest of the story will make up for it.

And then I read this post at The Rumpus on the very topic of titles.

The point is, though, when it comes to the writing process, sometimes a bad title can help you more than a good one. In their book Deepening Fiction, Sarah Stone and Ron Nyren talk about the idea of creative beginnings versus actual beginnings: Even if we end up cutting the original “creative beginning” of a novel or short story—the part of the novel or story, often, that we’re most attached to—this doesn’t mean it’s not an essential part of the writing process. In some ways, it’s the most essential. The same goes for titles, I think.

This made sense to me. When I gathered the stories that would be used in the book, my working title helped me find a centre and organize them into a cohesive collection. It wasn’t the snappiest title, but it did the job. And then, once I got the collection in order, I was able to sit back and pick something that made more sense.

So, the title I’m happy with and that has gotten thumbs up from even the pickiest people I know (Hi Andrew, Hi Soraya) is named after a short story called “Bats or Swallows”. Bats or Swallows and Other Stories.

I think it sounds like a book.

Book update #5

Let’s talk feelings for a bit. While feelings are good for inspiring the writing process, maybe they’re better left out towards the end of it. When you’re almost finished a project, you have to be ruthless and review what you’ve written with a cold, unflinching eye. You should cut mercilessly, trim away the fat. Be adept at gracefully and gratefully accepting criticism. Pfft, feelings! You’re not a baby. You are an artist, honing.

My husband was out of town for two weeks and although I wasn’t accustomed to a quiet apartment, it was wonderful having uninterrupted time to work. And work I did, steadily, consistently, sitting at the kitchen table and hiding away from the cold air outside. It was great. But, after more time than usual to stew in my own thoughts, I started psyching myself out a little. I printed out a story that I thought I was almost done with, and seeing all those words on a real page scared me. I crossed out paragraphs, lines, put big question marks or sometimes simply wrote in the margin, “MAKE THIS BETTER”. Huh.


This coincided with Andrew’s return to Montreal. Shortly afterwards, we grabbed some dinner at Aux Vivres, a nearby vegetarian/vegan restaurant that can amazingly turn coconut into a respectable bacon substitute (I know it sounds crazy, but it actually tastes good. This coconut bacon has nothing to do with this entry, but I just wanted to mention it. Coconut bacon!). The restaurant was so packed that I was practically bumping elbows with my neighbours. The atmosphere was bright and cheery and we were having a perfectly pleasant time, until we started talking about writing stuff. Suddenly I found my eyes welling up with tears. “It’s no good!!” I said. “None of it!” I cried into my lovely, multicoloured and uber healthy rice bowl. I might’ve wished they were fries instead. Our neighbours did a good job of ignoring me and Andrew rubbed my arm and patiently told me that I had nothing to worry about.

Ahh, such a pathetically hilarious scene. I laughed at myself afterwards, but oof, I was freaked out. I wrote emails to my girlfriends. They wrote me back within hours with perfect little peptalks; they are amazing. That helped a lot too.

The truth is that so far I’ve been really pumped about this whole experience, excited for what comes next, but I’ve also, annoyingly, started accumulating my fears into a neat little list. What if I can’t make these stories “better”? What if the book is an exercise in public humiliation? And oh god, my parents are going to read this thing and are going to tell their friends about it. There’s like, sex in it. There are too many stories about people dying. Or cheating on each other. So much infidelity! What’s with that? And how many fatal car accidents have I written into my stories? Too many. Oh GOD.

It’s really easy to start making a list of the things you don’t like as soon as you start thinking about them. It’s dangerous.

At the moment, after a fairly productive weekend, the panic has waned. I’m still nervous, but much calmer. I have other, more important things to concentrate on (i.e. let’s eliminate some of those car crashes, yes?). There will be no more crying at vegetarian restaurants. Or rather, if I’m going to cry in public, it should be somewhere with more indulgent food and drink options.

I’m assuming (hoping) that most writers feel like this occasionally, especially those about to publish their first books, so I might as well acknowledge it, get a few laughs out of it.


The Second Part

It’s pretty obvious, but these days I’m spending a lot of time in front of a computer. And sometimes I’ll link to things I like here or on Twitter, but more often than not I don’t. So, I started a Tumblr to collect random images, videos, songs, text, interviews, etc. that I find online and want to share.

In the first entry I explained the name, which is from a Stephen Dixon story:

I named my second zine after this story. Now that we’re living in the future, I was able to find the story on Google books, 7 am on a Saturday morning when I’m up too early, a little hungover, telling myself I should get up, get dressed, take a walk in that brisk Montreal winter air and get some coffee and then just write. But, first I reread the Stephen Dixon story and remembered why I loved it so much, and why I like it even more now that I’m writing more seriously. You make such ridiculous promises to yourself as you’re writing, set the most insane expectations. And in this short, short story everything comes true. You finish your novel and the dead are resurrected.