November things


There are days when I feel like this elephant, balancing on a teacup, which is stacked on a flimsy house of cards….

Hello. It’s been a busy, busy last little while. What’s up with you?  I have been working the Elephant book and now, have started work on a new project that is decidedly different for me — a bit of a Speculative/Science Fiction story. But is it? I mean, all stories are speculative. All stories are mysteries. Still human beings in trouble. Or human beings being bad. Human beings having weird, or bad, or amazing things happen to them — and then what? I don’t know where this new story is going to lead but I am looking forward to finding out. Word by word, paragraph by paragraph, page by page…

Below is a random picture of Elk Island National Park.

I like instructions…

What follows, are instructions for starting again, after you’ve finished your novel and you find yourself adrift on a Thursday afternoon. It’s a step-by-step on what to do next. Obviously, we’re not all writing novels, but maybe you’ve fallen in love with a novelist, or a novelist has fallen in love with you, and you want to understand what’s going on in her mind, or his mind. There might be clues here. This list of instructions was also a Sorbet. What does that mean? you might ask. Well, a sorbet is a piece of writing that goes out to a select, and private list of subscribers, from Thomas Trofimuk, once a week (subscribe on this website at the “CONTACT” page).Instructions for starting again

  1. Buy scotch. You’re going to need it after you have written – when you are emptied out and one, perfect straw-coloured pour of scotch is an excellent salve. A good day of writing, or bad, scotch is a fine salve.
  2. Begin when you find the image, the line, the snippet of a conversation that will carry you through months and months of writing ahead.
  3. Your only tools are curiosity and intelligence – one of which you have in abundance, the other, perhaps just enough. Don’t get hung up on how you show the story, because it’s all fair game – 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person. Present tense. Past. Forward through time. Backward through time. Rhyming couplets. Magic realism. Just look for the truth of the story, regardless of the facts, and don’t worry about how you get there. It’ll sort itself out.
  4. There’s a mountain called Mt. Elise in your new story, and you don’t know why it’s called that. You might start to imagine this mountain and how it got its name. You might imagine a woman named Elise, who lived in England in 1758 and never saw, in person, the mountain named after her. Long before some white guy from England named it after his sister, the Cree people called this mountain: Miskiwan. You start to imagine the shape of its peak, how it masses up against the sky. You might even begin to chart a path to its summit. This mountain will be a character in your book. She will breathe and have moods. She will be delightful and she will be dangerous. She is already alive.
  5. You are about to become lost. Let this happen.
  6. Each morning the old man walks a little farther, moves a little higher on the mountain, arrives back at his cabin a little later. As if he’s training for something. As if he knows exactly what he’s doing.
  7. Don’t think you know what you’re doing because you don’t. But know the arc of the story, even if you don’t know its ending.
  8. An idea of something deeper might be enough to get you through.
  9. Walther Fasting believes he is irrelevant, insignificant, inconsequential – and this belief brings an intense freedom.
  10. Avoid, at all costs, stringing “I” words together – like, “is irrelevant, insignificant, inconsequential.”
  11. Perhaps, start with a snippet of a conversation – a line that sparks.
  12. Find a way to care about your character – but not too much – even before you know him – or her. Find something to care about, even if it’s illogical, or nonsensical, or absurd.
  13. He wants to climb this mountain and he is too old to climb mountains. He knows he is too old, and still, he wants to climb it. It is a quiet want. He does not, will not, talk about it. It just sits there in his gut, waiting and watching.
  14. Look for the honour of your character. There is honour in everyone. Make sure you’re open to seeing it – and when you find it, receive it with grace and humility. Ask: How will your character’s honour manifest?
  15. Don’t get hung up on an image – remember the woman in the flowered dress and Hunter rubber boots standing outside a Starbucks. You fell in love with her before she could tell you her story. She started to whisper it to you one night in bed but you looked up at her and told her you loved her – like an idiot – and she was quiet after that. Don’t do that again.
  16. Can you see it? An old man walks each morning under the tall pines at the base of the mountain. Why? It’s cool in the green-black forest bottom and he wears a thick sweater even on the hottest days. How does he walk? Is it a sure and steady pace? Does he stop every now and then to look around? Is he really just pausing for a looksee, or is he catching his breath?
  17. Don’t be the stone thrown into the middle of a still lake – be the deer, lost in a nest of tawny grass, watching the ripples.
  18. It is difficult to begin again. Admit that. Tell yourself that as you fall asleep. To say, okay, the past is behind me, and what now? – is an act of courage. Do not overthink it. Forget everything you think you know about writing stories. Discard all your notions. Just focus on listening and observing and noticing. Perhaps, start with an image and move outward from there.
  19. Writing is an act of hope. You’re in the business of hope.

“A Tango for Mendolera Galbo”…and more

Hello,
I’ve been thinking about the writing game in the last little while — about everything it involves. About looking at the world with curiosity, always. About the ideas ruminating in my head. While I still have my eye on promoting “This is All a Lie” and hope there will be some opportunities to do that in the next months, I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. I am putting my head down and writing. And, I am lifting my head up and looking around, watching, listening, and being silent in the world. Being observant, kind, compassionate — and writing. These are my jobs. Not promoting. Not worrying about things out of my control. Not worrying about people loving my writing, or not loving my writing. Just writing. Just reflecting what I see and feel and think, through stories, and characters.  (Honestly, for a few days there, I was agitated by what people thought about my writing and I do not like that person who was agitated.) I am playing my clarinet in a small New York club, sitting in the back row, playing my clarinet — and  working on the finishing movements of the new novel: “The Elephant on the Charles Bridge.” It gets better each day. And making notes about two new novels (working titles): “Big Mountain” and “A Tango for Mendolera Galbo”.

Here’s my advice to myself: Take a breath, Trofimuk…now exhale, and do your fucking job.

What follows is a sorbet, a weekly offering of a raw piece of writing — a poem, a riff, a fragment of an idea, which can be delivered to your electronic device once a week, (Thursday or Friday). Sign up on this website under the “CONTACT” tab:

April does what (she) likes

Apparently, April has decided she wants to behave like February. She storms into the room and glares at you. She pounds across the floor to the fridge and pulls out a frozen bottle of vodka, pours a portion of the slow liquid into a coffee cup and drinks it in one gulp. She frowns at you. It’s a cold scowl that lets you know you should probably sleep on the couch. So you do. You do not know why April is so angry, and frigid, and hostile. She’s always been unpredictable, but never this cold. If you were religious, you might try to explain it by telling yourself you’ve done something to offend God. But you are not superstitious. You spark up the fireplace and keep it going all night. Your sleep is fitful and you dream about small purple flowers by the railway tracks off Mendelson Avenue, and tulips poking through black dirt, and losing your car keys. In the morning, the small patch of grass that had been uncovered by a never-say-never sun is re-covered by snow. Your dream of crocuses and tulips is just a dream. Your car keys are where you left them, on the mantle beside the statue of Buddha. You decide you will wait for April to come downstairs. You make a pot of coffee, feed the cat and play Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert on the stereo. Snowflakes twirl past the window and you wonder if the snow will amount to anything substantial. You’ve already hung the shovels in the garage.

You know April has her moods but you love her regardless. You love her for her moments of light and warmth. Like rain after snow. Like a thousand shades of green after just brown, just grey, just white. You remember making love with April, leaned against the brick wall of some building on campus, the warmth of the sun on your face, the heat radiating from the bricks. She lifted her skirt and it was pure joy. You closed your eyes and drifted inside all that she offered. That’s the April you remember, and love.

Upstairs, you are surprised to find the bedroom door is unlocked. The cat will not cross the threshold. It sniffs, and backs away. April is sleeping. She has tossed the bed sheets onto the floor and she’s curled herself around a pillow. She’s grinding her teeth and moaning low. Her lips have a blue tinge.

The window in the bedroom is wide open and you can hear the chickadees and sparrows in the back yard.

The bedroom window is wide open and it’s snowing harder now.

The window is opened wide and April is shivering on the bed.

 

…completely beyond my capacities of temperament or skill…

Hello. Haven’t written here in a while. Too busy with the new book: “The Elephant on the Charles Bridge.” That new book is with three readers. And I am continuing to tinker, and to think about the story, and what serves the story, and what moves the story. If some piece of the novel is beautiful writing but does not 1) reveal character, or 2) advance the plot, then it gets cut. Five main characters in this book. And as many ancillary, and it weighs in at 90K words. Actually, now that I’ve written this out, it sounds insane, impossible, and well beyond my grasp. I have just now, pushed my chair back and stared at the screen. What have I done??? I’ve written five beings into the Prague night, and surrounded them with histories and her-stories, and it-stories. They are all so flawed and agitated and anxious and depressed…they have become my friends. Still, it seems like an impossible book. But, as Calvino said: “…most of the books I have written and those I intend to write originate from the thought that it will be impossible for me to write a book of that kind: when I have convinced myself that such a book is completely beyond my capacities of temperament or skill, I sit down and start writing it.”

Below is the riff that goes with the above picture….

The tall pines of board room #2144

Imagine this. You are in a meeting and the people around the table start to talk about the process of a process that will be used to develop a process. You want to sigh heavily and roll your eyes, but instead, you begin to draw small stick pine trees in your notebook. You draw a half-dozen trees and decide you like the feel of them – they’re all different, no two the same. You draw a dozen more, and then you are lost. You’re walking in a pine forest and the stranded sound of chickadees comes from far back. Whisky Jacks play coy – watch from the edge of your path for signs of food. A chipmunk protests. The air is suddenly fresh and cool-edged and sweet. You might notice your legs feel strong and your pack is not too heavy. Maybe you’ve wrapped a couple onion sandwiches in wax paper, and rolled a bottle of red in a T-towel. You probably slipped a poetry book, “The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy” into your pack, along with a knife and a puck of brie. You know for a fact you have a nice cigar, a Liga Privada Number 9, tucked into one of the side pockets. All these things are for later, when you’ve worked hard enough on the mountain to deserve the contents of your pack. You will not go back to the meeting, which has devolved into a conversation about the naming conventions of document files. You will stay in the pines. A manager named Gerta McConnel who is sitting at the head of the table will ask you a question, because she suspects you are elsewhere. You will look at her and say yes. You will say yes with an even, clear conviction, even though you do not know what her question was, and she will be pleased.

“This is All a Lie” news

Hello,
While the new book (tentatively called “The Elephant on the Charles Bridge”) is coming along nicely, great things are happening with This is All a Lie.

1) This beautiful review appeared in PRISM International, written by the brilliant Peter Takach  here.

2) The book appeared on the National Post’s best books of 2017 list here.

3) A starred review in Quill and Quire, which says “…This Is All A Lie is a powerful, dazzling accomplishment”

Here’s a bit of process.  I have started to fool around with a character who is a writer and thinks she may have run out of things to say. I worry about this sometimes. The writing is fine but have I said everything I needed, wanted to say? Especially in the quasai-poem-riff format…I wonder if I’m done. I am still intensely intrigued by the characters in my books. They haunt my subconscious, and even my unconscious, and I welcome them. Anyway, I am considering taking a rest and stepping away from the weekly sorbet offerings…and instead, focus harder on the novels…read…walk in the woods…look at mountains….listen to birds. Maybe this feeling of emptiness will pass. I don’t know.

Imagine this: The writer, whose name is Sidsie Howards, thinks she’s run out of things to say – not write, say. She can still write a storm, a kiss, a particular walk, the frisson of a scent. Or if it’s a bit of dialogue you’re after, she can pound out a conversation that says precisely what it doesn’t. She’s not worried about her writing – it’s having something to say…

Winnipeg Free Press weighs in on “This is All a Lie”

 

Good morning! This lovely review appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on the weekend. I am grateful. I am grateful the book was reviewed and that there are still newspapers who believe books are important. This comes on the heels of the announcement that The Winnipeg Review is now done. This beautiful, articulate and clever on-line review has called it quits. The quality of the writing was so consistently high, and the reviewers, editors, publisher so consistently underpaid, it could no longer continue. I was a proud occasional contributor — and listed as a ‘contributing editor.’ I am truly sorry to see it go. RIP Winnipeg Review.

Trofimuk’s lying trio truthfully terrific

Reviewed by: Dave Williamson
Posted: 11/4/2017

Edmontonian Thomas Trofimuk’s delightfully inventive and provocative new book toys with the traditional novel format while showing what a major role lying can play in everyday life.

The main storyline deals with a lover’s triangle, beautifully fleshing out the formula offered in the opening line of John Updike’s short story Problems: “During the night, A, though sleeping with B, dreams of C.”

Trofimuk’s novel features three fully realized characters: Ray, a married lawyer who has left the legal profession to indulge his love of trees and become an arborist; Tulah, Ray’s wife, a teacher who has a fascination with snow; and Nancy, a hot-blooded Russian woman.

Ray and Tulah’s marriage has reached a stage where it lacks passion; indeed, their lives consist mainly of working and looking after their two young daughters. While Ray seems content without intimacy at home, he craves it with someone new, and Nancy welcomes the chance to satisfy him. At the same time, both Tulah and Nancy take part in dalliances with other men, meaning all three must rely on lies to function.

Early in the novel, Ray leaves Nancy’s apartment, believing their affair may be over. She looks down from her 39th-floor balcony at Ray getting into his car, and she talks to him by phone, threatening to jump. He could drive away. “He places his hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel and squeezes. But callous is not who he is. Self-centred, shallow, unfaithful and lying, but not callous.” He stays at his car, talking her through many moods, but the novel’s playful narrator keeps switching to flashbacks and digressions, leaving Ray and Nancy on the phone for nearly five hours and most of the book.

At school, Tulah finds herself being challenged by a student’s mother for not teaching the biblical creation story in science class. Tulah’s stand, in the context of this novel, suggests that all religions are based on lies.

While this may reflect a sombre tone, Trofimuk offers much to laugh and smile about. In one scene, Ray follows Tulah into a department store’s lingerie section and notices a bin of umbrellas next to a table of panties. In the spirit of this odd juxtaposition, Ray and Tulah each takes an umbrella and they start a sword fight.

From the start, Trofimuk steps out from backstage like a post-modernist from the 1980s. He points out that he has reversed the sequence of Prologue, chapters, Epilogue, “A Note on the Font” and Acknowledgments. He has numbered the pages backwards, which makes sense to any avid reader who likes to know how many pages are left.

His “Note on the Font” explains that the text is set in the Garamond typeface, created by Claude Garamond in the 16th century. The story of Garamond becomes a funny historical subplot with a final twist that is — of course — precipitated by a lie.

And there are other humorous threads, like the tendency of the Vikings to be personally filthy.

Trofimuk, author of such other works as The 52nd Poem and Waiting for Columbus, times his diversions perfectly while still giving a completely absorbing story. Nancy, Tulah and Ray are all flawed, throbbingly real characters whom the reader would love to know and have over for dinner.

Ironically, This Is All a Lie comes off as marvellously authentic.

 

dia de los muertos

I am not a big fan of Halloween, nor is my wife. Never have been. The masks we wear every day are troublesome enough for me. We do, however, love the Mexican dia de los muertos. The Day of the Dead appeals to me because it is an honouring of our dead, a conversation with our dead in a fun, not so scary way. It “…focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey…” It’s a time to honour our dead, to remember, to converse with, to pause in the midst of life…and think — Hey, I remember that guy…or, Yes, my mom liked to drink orange juice with vodka.

We make a small shrine in our house, with some small thing to help us remember our dead. I might have a vodka and orange juice for my mom. My dad’s Shrine fez is there. A picture of a cat, long dead. A book of poems about a friend’s mom. A tap shoe for a young dancer gone too suddenly, too shockingly. A waitress who was always kind. You get the picture. So, for the next few days, I may pause at times in a sort of reverie. I may be a bit down, or lost, or turned inward.  dia de los muertos is why.

Traditionally: Nov. 1 is when you welcome the souls of children that have passed away, known as Día de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) or Día de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels). Nov. 2 is when the adult souls arrive.

————————————–

“This is All a Lie” is in the world now, finding its way. It has been four weeks on the bestseller lists in Edmonton. I am hearing from people about it. And last week, there was an beautiful Edmonton launch at Audrey’s books on Jasper Avenue. Now I am in a lull and I am turned toward the elephant book. I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing — writing the next book.

“This is All a Lie” in bookstores TODAY!!!!

 

Perhaps today you will go to your local bookstore and ask for the new novel from Thomas Trofimuk…

…A woman named Bernice will sell you the book. “It’s a nice cover,” she’ll say. You do not want to wait until you get home to open the book so you find a café. You sit down with your coffee. You might look at the author’s picture and the blurbs. It is a delightful author’s photo — he looks friendly and maybe even a little fun. You might think, huh, I would like to have a drink with that guy, or, I would like to sleep with that guy. But of course, this may not be his actual picture. The book is titled: This is All a Lie. The author’s photo could be a lie? You finally open the book to the first pages and start to read. But there’s something wrong. It starts on page 315 and the chapters seem to run backwards. The bookstore has sold you a defective copy of the book. Now you’re going to have to take the book back and get a replacement copy. But perhaps this is on purpose. You decide to keep reading…You’ve waited long enough for a new novel from Thomas Trofimuk. You’re going to press on, despite the defective book.

hanging out on the front porch with Bob and my thoughts…

Well, it’s 29 days until the launch date of “This is All a Lie.”  Publication is a letting go and it is always with melancholy and excitement and anxiousness. There are some wonderful blurbs from Rona Altrows, author of A Run on Hose, Anne Fleming, author of Pool-Hopping and Other Stories, and the delightful Laurie GreenwoodIndependent bookstore owner for over 30 years, book columnist for Global TV and CBC Radio (retired). You can read them here. These blurbs are such a lovely sending off. Sometimes novelists need others to tell them about their book. They need the book to be “read” and readers will say what the book is. Two of the blurbers have mentioned the humour. I thought it was a very dark little book and they found the lightness I’d hoped was there. I am grateful for this. So grateful.

It’s just after 8 p.m. and I am listening to The Road Home on CKUA.  This two hours of music and spoken word is a antidote to a mad man (the mad, egotistical king who makes everything about himself) at the helm of the USA and the threat of Serious Fucking War. It’s a balm. An enclave of sanity. Bob let me know he read one of my poems into the show…For this, I am grateful too. This one:

The sea

“Roar, lion of the heart,
and tear me open!”
–Rumi

Perhaps you have forgotten that this
is part of being together. The explosion
of pleasure given without expectation –
and pleasures accepted without expectation.

Rumi says lovers run like lightning and wind,
and the fearful ascetic runs on foot, along the surface.
Be lightning and wind with me. Be the random, ferocious
gust. This is not about duty, or obligation. It is
the messy shock of loving – and wanting

to be breathless, and holy, and lost. It is about being
human, and humane, and delightful, and disgusting. This
is about desire. Desire is what moves us forward. Have you
forgotten this? Hold fast to desire. Choose it over the
horrors of aging. Bathe in it. Surrender. It’s always
different – for each person it is different, and this is why
it is so damned fascinating. Wake up! You are alive and
vibrating in the flow of this wide river. This water may
move slower but it will always yearn for the sea.

 

Maybe this post should be called “On gratefulness…” Because I am grateful for other people — Gail and Geoff and Django for hosting us in Powell River, for sharing their ocean paradise. And for friends who offer up support around the new book…

September is my favourite month. The cooler nights…the skeins of geese, the wool sweaters, and a trip up to Miette Hot Springs in my beloved Rocky Mountains, with good friends.

62 days until “This is All a Lie” is in the world!!

Hello. Sixty-two days until This is All a Lie. I am so excited about this book, and apprehensive, and anxious, and excited again. It is the kind of meta-fiction that I love to read. In the past few weeks I have been in my characters, walking with them and hanging out with them. I love them. They are flawed and imperfect, and not particularly nice. Now I am hard and fast into the elephant book. Writing, researching, opening to the story — I still do not know how it ends. I am waiting for one of my characters to tell me what happens on the Charles Bridge.

It’s sprinkling rain now. Fine lines of water droplets on my window. Grey, uncaring cloud moving overhead. Bruce Cockburn playing. And now I will play “The Lamb” playlist and turn toward writing.

Talk soon