Alberta Village, Baragastan – There is always a somewhat peculiar mix of emotions when a new manuscript is finished. Late last night I e-mailed A SPORTING OF SKELETONS to my agent in NYC, the ms. being the 11th in the Woods Cop series. I began writing this story 15-16 months ago but hit it heavily over the past five months. A SPORTING OF SKELETONS comes out at 96 000 words, a hair shorter than most Woods Cop stories. There’s a reason for this. Usually we see Service enmeshed in full CO work, which means a paripatetic life of many cases and distractions, with him being pulled in multiple directions at one time. But at the end of BUCKULAR DYSTROPHY, which immediately procedes this story, Service is “on the beach,” suspended for reasons that don’t seem all that clear to him. Result: He has only one case to pursue in the new story – his own and this allows the story to develop in a tighter vein. With each book I always hope I’m getting tighter and tighter in my use of words, my goal always being to tell the story in as few words as possible, which is usually something in the neighborhood of 100,000 words.
By the time the draft goes to my agent I usually have read a manuscript 10-12 times or more and quite frankly by this time, one is sick of it and glad to send it away. Simply put, relieved. This is the first of a mélange of post-writing emotions which is followed closely by the feeling of having “done it again.” There is an element of satisfaction in this as well, this being my 20th title since 1985.
Next in the cascade comes minor disgust. This is different than being sick of the ms. but related to it in a qualitative way. Having just reread the ms. for the umpteenth time and revised the draft and having just finished typing in those mostly small revisions, one is flooded with revulsion for the whole thing, because the creator sees its blemishes and weaknesses more than any other reader. This reaction comes with every completion. And the revision process of the original ms is an exhausting exercise in detailed scut work, which is hard on one’s eyes and one’s patience.
As for style and such matters, I try to write in the shadow of Aristotle’s counsel, to think like a wise man but express myself like the common people. Being the commonest of commoners, this bit comes quite naturally to me. I do not seek to write beautiful words; I seek to write stories that move through a variety of terrains.
Manuscript done, I ship it to my agent in NYC and she reads it and then she sends it to my editor, whose employer, the publisher, holds contractual right of first refusal on the new manuscript. Here a delay ensues, and we wait for the publisher to decide if they want the book. If they do, the editor will come back to my agent with a number, and she will be in contact with me and we will say straight up yes or no or, make a counterproposal. An agreement reached, a contract is drawn up and my agent receives it first and blue-pencils the draft for me, suggesting changes, etc. Eventually the final contract comes to me and I sign it and send it back and at that point my editor gets in touch and we then begin to work on the ms, and once this process begins (the clock starts running with the signed contract), the ms usually will become a book in 9 to 12 months.
Here three is often another great surge of relief, because now I can move on to something else. Usually I have another book already underway before I finish one; in this case I have three manuscripts begun, though my plan is to take off a few months to paint and draw and simply read for enjoyment.
You may wonder when I celebrate and you may not like the answer because I don’t, and never have. If there is any celebration it is the strong inner satisfaction at having successfully completed another journey. But party and cheer and having a shot and a beer, those things don’t happen, even when new book hits bookstore shelves. It’s just not me. I feel writing as a calling, but I also see it as a very specific and difficult job and find no romance in that concept. I think many people may get a little confused by the books on the shelves and sort of life and process they perceive to produce these. I can’t speak for all writers and wouldn’t, even if I could. But I’ve always been taken with the words of legendary screenwriter Robert McKee, who wrote to aspiring writers in 1997: “Are you in love with the art in yourself, or with yourself in the art?” This seems to hit the nail on the head. Many people aspire to be considered by and thought of by others as writers and artists. This sort of person is more interested in perceive effects of having written, than in the process of making a story and book.
And then there are others of my ilk whose sole concern is the actual work coming out of my heart and head and all the rest of the chores that have to do with the public hold little to no interest for me. My contract is with you the reader through the book I write. My standing up dancing and entertaining you should have no damn effect on your reception of the book if I’ve done my job right. Don’t buy this? How many people believe in the Bible and how many of them have ever met the authors? Get the point?
To repeat: the book she has gone away and I stood ready to return my attention to the rest of our life. Let me say here that this has been a bit of a peculiar year for Lonnie (Jambe Longue) and me. It began when the university asked us to change rental houses, a physical move on perhaps 200 yards, which everyone who has ever moved knows is no different or less taxing than moving 200 miles. This move and the downstream reorganization took a solid three weeks out of our annual six-month creative sojourn up here in the North Woods.
By the time we got re-settled and functional, the rains set in – and unlike most years they continued all summer. In fact as of today we have had 52.7 inches of rain in 2016 (vs 16.15 in 2015, and 13.73 in 2014). This unprecedented rain summer kept rivers high and many of them unsafe to wade for much of the season.
As I was bringing the manuscript to close and had an estimated two days of work left, Lonnie and I declared we would fish every day in the last week of the season.
Fate then intervened: had a gall bladder attack. I had experienced the same thing 30 years ago and my doctors and I then decided to let it sit and cook and see if I had further attacks, which I didn’t. But here it was 2016 and I knew immediately from the pain what was going on and knew likewise it was not good. Lonnie had to meet a friend for breakfast at the Nite Owl in L’Anse on the morning of the September 22nd, and when she came home she took one look at me, and said, “We’re headed for the ER, Bub.” Which we did.
There various tests showed pancreatitis and gall stones.
Thence a72-minute meat wagon ride to Marquette General Hospital, where we would remain for the next 9 days. Meanwhile our dear friends Dave and Diana Stimac were taking care of the old boy Shaksper, who couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on, but since he adores Diana, it was no biggie except that he took to sleeping on our bed at night.
Time in hospital was bizarre. I have never had surgery before, but have been in hospital, once for pneumonia (I was in high school) once for mononucleosis (I was in college) and in 1999 once in the wake of a series of strokes.
Stretched out in the bed for nine days I left me no dreams I could remember, and few creative thoughts of any kind. I did manage to scratch out a small poem at one point, but that was the extent of it. And I read nothing for nine days, which must be a new record. There’s was a poor soul on the floor, a retarded fellow, who had no idea why he was in the hospital and spent a lot of time screaming and crying and this was the stimulus for the poem I named Man Down. Here it is:
Down the hall, a man-boy
Squalls Hulupppuh muh-ee! Hulapp, Mu-hee!
A snarl of pain at a place
With no context,
On and on, a wolf excluded
From its pack,
Soul cast somewhere between
Purgatory and Hello
[Marquette General Hospital, 8-25-16]
I checked unceremoniously into the hospital on September 22, the first day of fall. I read the words and thoughts of a world class musician (was it Itzhak Perlman perhaps?) He said, perhaps in an interview, that the successful career artist requires: talent, persistence, hard work, luck, good health, and a supportive spouse. My great spouse proved herself over the 9 days, never leaving my side. On Saturday morning I was scoped to remove a gall stone stuck in the bile duct and a stent placed in the duct to prevent a repeat of the process. Then I had to wait a few days until my thin blood could be thickened adequately for the general surgeon, who did a laparoscopic procedure on me on Tuesday, Sept 27. and another period after that to re-thin my blood (I have had A Fib for 8-9 years), and we were finally discharged on Friday, September 30, the last day of the trout season, which we missed.
I had a re-check with my surgeon in Marquette last week and he said I had been filled with stones, many just under 2 cm. Said he’s done 120 gall bladders a year and thought he’s seen it all, “until you.” [FYI, there is no prize for this, even bragging rights. You don’t even get a participation ribbon. Just a bill].
Back in the world at large, the final two days of manuscript Work ended up taking me 10 days. Couldn’t’ work more than two hours at a time, and finally, last night it was finished.
Once we are back in our home in Southern Michigan I have to undergo another procedure to have the stent in my bile duct removed. Naturally, this will most likely take place right around the opening of deer season, which means I will miss a couple weeks in trucks with officers and pals for the first time in 16 years, but it is what it is. I might be able to jump in with one of my partners downstate after Thanksgiving. Working that area is always instructive and fun.
To summarize, we lost three weeks on the front end of our UP work summer, and 10 days on the tail-end, which pretty much quashed a full month of our six up here, but trivialities aside, it was a fine summer for work and we are happy to know that we will be back here on the Michigan Tech Forestry Campus in Alberta again next year.
And that’s it from Alberta. Will post some photos from the summer and fall when we get BTB. Over.