Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Living in a Novel

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"“When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” -- Raymond Chandler
For the past couple of years, in fits and starts, I've been living in a novel. Unfortunately, I can't blame anyone else for this fictional edifice's shortcomings, since I'm the builder.
Writing poems, which I have longer experience at, is a more contained activity. You shape something out of thin air until it feels like has enough legs. Then you sit on it, rock back and forth, whittle some improvements, and you're ready to move on. Each poem, even when it belongs in a series, is as self-contained as a nautilus shell.
A novel is a whole house. You have to start it, build a series of interconnected stories, and then go back to fix the foundations when something's out of kilter higher up. You wake up in the middle of the night with solutions to problematic chapters, and then find another problem. The door has to invite the reader in, but then there have to be enough artful delights to make her savour the transition from room to room until the final gaze out of the skylight.
I've been building a suspense/mystery novel. Part of the problem is I can't decide which it is: I'm told in suspense readers don't totally know what's happened until the end; in mystery, the main event is at the beginning and the fun comes from figuring out who and why.
The working title is Enough of Hate, and it features a motorcycle-riding poet-detective, a real stretch for me. I've written, according to the average length (about 70,000 words) for novels of this type somewhere around 75% of it. I'll keep my main character, and the major conspiracy which the novel leads up to, but I have to get there more gradually and with more elegant obstacles in the way. Perhaps this is the universe's way of teaching me patience (albeit at a late stage in life). Poets are used to the quick bang in the head that a successful line or jump produces; a novel is more like a series of nudges that eventually build up to something.
But I've gotten too far into this one to give up, so someday I will finish it and get it published. That's as sure as the fact that both our women's and men's Olympic hockey teams will win gold... they will, right?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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John Oughton

John Oughton is the author of several books, including Time Slip: New and Selected Poems, published by Guernica Editions.

Go to John Oughton’s Author Page