The One

Somewhere in the home stretch of When the Saints, two very different ideas for a new novel began to seep into my consciousness. I was determined to choose between them before heading to a writing retreat last August, but once I arrived there I was still on the fence. A colleague suggested I flip a coin, start writing and see if it flowed. It was a good suggestion. I didn’t flip, but randomly went with the story about a teenage kid who sets out to find his dead mother’s mysterious lover. For four days, the story was flowing along like a gurgling stream. In fact, I even wrote a gurgling stream into the story. Then all of a sudden the kid stopped dead in his tracks. I mean it. He came to the first house along his journey, knocked on the door and no one answered. I wasn’t expecting it, the kid wasn’t expecting it, and after waiting around for half a day, he dropped his bicycle and sat down on the side of the road. We shrugged at each other across the abyss. Our timing was off. Someone was supposed to answer that door. We were too early.

For fear of losing valuable retreat time I switched to the other idea, this one about the dark aftermath of a couple’s decision to buy a church in a rural community and renovate it into their home/art studio. I opened a blank page, placed my fingers on the keyboard and giddy-up. Sentence after sentence appeared on screen as if they had already been written. I wasn’t writing so much as transcribing from a guttural voice in my head.

This was the one.

Since then, I’ve received some not-so-subtle signs that I’m on the right track. For example, several weeks ago myself and two writer friends, novelist Stephanie Domet and screenwriter Jasmine Oore, rented a house through Airbnb. We wanted somewhere quiet near the ocean with a fireplace we could curl up to while we worked. I kept revisiting one particular listing and sent it to the others. They liked the house and it was available, so we booked it. Just prior to our departure, I received a message from the home owner. She said if we needed anything, she lived in the church about a ten minute drive from the house. She mentioned she had her art studio in there and that we were welcome to visit any time. Mid-week, we invited ourselves over for drinks during which she graciously indulged all my questions: How was the church heated? Any septic issues when she put in a proper bathroom? Property taxes – high or low? How did the locals react to her moving in? At some point she cut me off and mentioned the place was haunted as hell. I was all ears.

Now in the icy down slope of January, I’m over 100 pages into my new novel. This is the story that could not wait. Just as with When the Saints, it chose me rather than the other way around. I’m starting to believe that all stories already exist, drifting through the air seeking the right vessel. This one must have been haunting me the whole time I was finishing When the Saints, waiting for the right moment to take possession.

The working title of my new novel is taken from an old hymn song, the World in Awful Sleep. Let me tell you friends, there’s not much sleeping going on around here. The tale is strangely poetic, definitely more intricate than any I’ve ever woven, but otherwise a deranged sideshow of images as unnerving as slow calliope music. I have to get up every hour and turn another light on. Seriously. As I write this thing down, I am alternately fascinated and deeply disturbed by what lives in the recesses of my mind.

I hope you will be, too.

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS

It’s almost 2016!

What a year this has been for When the Saints. This story has been with me for a very long time, and now it’s with all of you. I just wanted to give a heartfelt thanks to every reader who connected with it and took the time to let me know that it brought them joy.

If I could make a holiday wish for the Saint family, I’d want them all to get cell phones. Pay phones are increasingly hard to find. And I want Janis to wake up Christmas morning to find one of those giant stuffed animals that can’t even fit under the tree (remember she chucked out Lippy the Bear.)

I’m thinking this guy will do:

Janis 2

In new novel news, I am going to be hard at work on a ghost story all winter long. I already set up a station next to the woodstove in the heart of the house. I live in a little cottage with windows on all sides, so when the snow starts swirling, I feel like I’m in a snow globe. It is THE best…until the ocean starts howling like it’s about to crash through the walls (but then again the new novel is creepy, so perhaps it will feed the muse.)

Have a spectacular holiday, everyone. Be good to yourselves and each other.

Sarah Mian

Dear E.C.,

Recently I was scouring a thrift store for vinyl records when I came across a pile of books about the writing craft.  Each one had the initials E.C. scrawled in its inside cover.

I couldn’t help but imagine E.C. shaking his fist at the sky as he dumped his dream into a donation bin and got on with the business of teaching or accounting or pumping gas or whatever else feels less like pissing in the wind.

I own a similar collection of “how to be a writer” manuals that I pored over in my early 20s. Besides the endless pointers on style and technique, these books stress the need to silence your inner critic and negotiate time and space in which to write with dedication. Good and necessary advice. But here’s what they don’t tell you. Here is the secret to becoming not just a published writer, but a good one…

Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work.

Just like a basketball player who dreams of being in the NBA might stand on a patch of uneven concrete beneath a flickery streetlight for hours on end, night after night, shooting three-pointers while solving angles and speed and thrust and how to focus one’s quirks rather than subdue them until SWISH! SWISH! SWISH!, so must a writer spend years stewing in her own words as she figures out how to dredge an imaginary plot and setting and characters from the depths of her mind and arrange a story onto the page so intact that we can all examine it and say, This has to be real. A writer must create situations that make strangers cry or fret or become enraged the same way real life does– except that in a novel, the experience is slowed down and allows the reader contemplation in a way that real life can’t. Reading a book can change a person’s life. Thus, a writer’s work is very important. It demands precise attention, god-like patience and endless trial and error.  It can take a lifetime to gestate a living breathing story then give birth to it with all its fingers, a strong heart, and a signature wail so loud and beautiful it draws people from all over the city, or the province, or the country, or sometimes even the whole world.

Don’t give up, E.C. If you want to be a successful writer, you cannot expect results for a very, very long time. Nor should you. If this doesn’t put you off the journey, congratulations and buy a bottle of whiskey: You’re a writer.

As for those how-to books…

Writing can’t be taught, but that doesn’t mean writers shouldn’t try to help each other across their story’s tightropes and through its gordian knots. Sometimes a three-point shooter needs a coach’s eye, someone whose been in the game long enough to suggest, “Try aiming three centimetres to your left.”

This spring, that coach is me. I’ve been invited to each a fiction course at the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia. I’ll post details and enrollment instructions once they become available. The course is open to anyone.

Even you, E.C.

S.

P.S. – I bought your books back for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Launch Party!

WhenTheSaints-evite

When the Saints is finally out of my head and free to roam the streets! I’m having a party at Gus’ Pub to celebrate the exorcism featuring a spoiler-free reading, a performance by the mysterious French From France, $5 North Brewing Co. pints and free sliders from Ace Burger while they last! Put on your coat, toque, scarf, mittens and drinking boots and come on down, won’t you? Bookmark will be selling the book tax-free for $23 and they take cash or credit card.

See invite for RSVP info.

 

 

 

 

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