Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Tag: “The Bleaching Houses

Dinner

JEHsketch

Jane Eaton Hamilton, sketch, 2014

Cooking in Montreal, eggplant à la Kathleen Winter, and not very successfully: something she did with mustard?  But the dish, cooking, looks like whale skin over blubber, so contemplations in her new book “Boundless,” about her sojourn through the Northwest Passage, come to mind, floating on my mental northern sea beside her watercolours (and the Franklin ship, just located). I want to read it.

As I write, neighbours on every side of me here near rue de Charlevoix are fighting.  Above, on both sides, and below, and then at distant spots as well.

I’ve just finished reading “All My Puny Sorrows” by Miriam Toews, which I admired and towards the end, loved.

Artistically, it has been a significant month in Montreal.  I have been too ill most of the time to venture out very far, so of the city, I’ve seen nothing, and I’ve regretted in particular not finding guinea pigs on whom to practice my French.  Yet as far as authorial productivity goes, I honestly couldn’t be more pleased if gourmet meals had fallen out of my fingertips.  I don’t even know how it happened, since when I’m running along at full tilt (something I haven’t been able to do in more than a decade), I can only complete a story every month, but these last weeks I’ve written two essays and seven short fictions.

Several of the stories are CBC-contest length, so just 1500 words, but others are on the short-end of full length.  The essays were about traveling alone and my father’s suicide.  In the stories, my protagonists have ranged from a teenager involved in rural Connecticut in the 1920’s ivory trade, to a refugee teen in northern Thailand itching to get papers so she can emigrate,  to poorly-married lesbians on vacation in Tanzania,  to a woman whose mother, owner of a Quebec doll hospital, has just died, to a funambulist in love with a storm chaser in Missouri, to a broken-hearted woman at a Quebec cottage for a weekend, to parents of a two-year-old girl thought to have drowned.  Only one of these isn’t finished (though “finished” in a writer’s hands means something quite different than in, say, an accountant’s hands).  As well, today I will round the corner on 19,000 edited words of my silly romance novel, as well.  It doesn’t escape my notice that having to edit this book has provoked the stories–a sort of retaliatory pleasure since in short fiction I can leap and somersault and trampoline through language in a way that just isn’t possible for me in novels.

I am in head over heels in love with short fiction.  Always.  All ways.

I’ve taught myself now to work completely on the computer.  Since my first computer, in the 80s, I’ve printed drafts, edited long-hand, then laboriously input changes, but the last few years I’ve been able to managed editing on-screen.  Thus the entire process has become a pleasure.  I would not really even be able anymore to delineate drafts because they are always morphing here, morphing there.  And anyway, I write over them.   

I’ve thought numerous times that I could not write stories–recent stories–without the web.  Pre-web, the research simply wasn’t available fast enough. For the story about the Thai refugee, I needed to know things like which was the stickiest cut fruit and what was the local name for meth.  For the story about the storm chaser, I had to research tornados and circus aerialists.  For the story from the 1920s, I needed historical data as well as information about the ivory trade. 

And for me the process is akin to writing in a storm, or maybe in the eye of a storm since I am always completely calm, and I don’t know where the tornado is moving, sentence to sentence, I’m just chasing it.  I don’t plan a story.  I don’t have a clue about it before I sit down and write a line, which I trust to lead to another line, and that one, another.  Eventually there will appear a line that has energy which I can work from, and the pre-writing will go, and the story begin.

I need so many esoteric facts I couldn’t foresee.  In paragraph one, I don’t know what I’ll need in paragraph two, and without the successful research for paragraph two, paragraph three wouldn’t even be suggested.   The story quickly changes direction in surprising ways, so if I couldn’t get to the information instantly, the stories would collapse like a house of cards. One research solution directs the story to another research necessity–the details become the fulcrum around which the characters spin.

A Satisfying Literary Week

I was posting somewhere about novels I’ve recently admired and enjoyed and thought I should list them here:  The Enchanted, Rene Denfield; Alligator, Lisa Moore; Lullabies for Little Criminals, Heather O’Neill; The Flying Troutmans, Miriam Toews.  Reliable for literary pleasures.

I’ve been reading Ethan Canin and David Leavitt this week in short form, geniuses both, along with Tessa Hadley’s new New Yorker story which I quite liked.

RemarkableNude1a painting of mine from 2012 gratuitously added here for colour

I finished the (first draft) of an essay for a collection on women traveling alone, wrote a piece after Robin Williams’ suicide about my father’s suicide in 1973 (a piece I have wanted to write for 40 years), then this Monday wrote a short fiction called “Castaways” about two women struggling to keep their love whole on an island off the east coast of Africa, and another called “The Bleaching Houses” about a young girl growing up in a town in Connecticut during the ivory trade of the early 1900s.  At first I included a passage from Ulysses which fired my character’s imagination, only to remember somewhere along the way that Ulysses hadn’t been serialized yet in the Little Review, which meant that I had to either find an alternate passage that would work as well, or move the entire story to the 20s (not as booming a time for the ivory industry).  I did the latter, but that meant deleting the World’s Fair in St Louis in 1914.  I don’t know how historical writers like Emma Donoghue and Sarah Waters do this (well, of course they do it by researching ahead of time).

I love when I have no notion that I am about to write something, and then, hours/days later, there it is, a draft, a decent draft, a presence where there was not even, two days before, an absence.  My work is almost always gratifying to me these days, and in that, I am fortunate.

I also saw the cover of my new fall poetry book “Love Will Burst into a Thousand Shapes” as it went off to the printer, and got to see how all the blurbs had come together–the design of the thing.  Now I itch to hold it in my hands, but I will have to wait until October sometime.  Caitlin Press rocks my world.

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