Finding the Words
is a compelling new anthology in which 31 well-known writers contemplate their craft -- revealing surprising and often deeply personal insights into the writing process. Published by McClelland & Stewart
, the anthology is a fundraiser for PEN Canada
, an non-profit organization that works to defend freedom of expression and support those around the world who suffer persecution for what they have written.
Over the new two weeks, CBC Books is proud to present four excerpts from the anthology, taking you inside the minds of some of the literary voices you know and love. Up first is St. John's writer Lisa Moore. LISA MOORE
A man in an airport tips some salted peanuts into his loose fist. He tilts his head back and taps the fist to his mouth. A small circle of frenetic light jiggles on the carpet and up a wall, the sun through the big windows hitting the man's wristwatch. He shakes the small bag of peanuts as he looks down the row of chairs. Waiting for someone.
I want my character to be sitting there, eating those peanuts. The salt. He'll need a swig of something.
My character will be in an airport with a bag of peanuts. I want him to fall in love. I want to fall in love with him. I want him to be ordinary and to overcome extraordinary peril. Is he ordinary? I want him to have a revelation or provoke one. He will be young and brazen.
I want this man to know what to do with a pomegranate.
I imagine him in a graveyard at dawn. There's a backhoe on a tilt of red earth and a grave with a blue tarp. Three identical angels with pocked faces and fingers held near their lips. They are telling him to be quiet.
Because I was in a graveyard like that in Buenos Aires, with crypts the size of garden sheds and ornate grillwork on the doors and glass windows covered in cobwebs. You could look in through the dusty glass at the stacked coffins and narrow marble staircases leading down to the dark.
I turned a corner in this graveyard and there was a little trolley with a bucket of suds, the bubbles breaking soundlessly, and a duster with fluorescent pink feathers. My character has to see that feather duster in the bright sun, the synthetic pinkness, and he'll hear the cleaning woman who is humming, and he will realize she has gone down the narrow marble stairs into the dark; she's down there cleaning the caskets.
I want him to be stealing an identity off a gravestone. I am basing this character on real person, but I don't want to meet him. I want to make him up.
He has gigantic ambition. He will crawl on his knees and elbows through long grass. He will hitchhike on a highway after a jail break and in the dawn there will be a luminous object on the road. I hit one just like it two days ago. I was upon it before I knew it.
When he is a child, my character will go into the fireweed after a soccer ball that lands with a whisper of leaves. There will be spittle in the stalks and muggy summer heat. The flowers will tremble and he will see that each flower has a bee. A bee will dive-bomb a blossom and stagger back and hover as if tethered by an invisible thread. My character will grab the soccer ball and beat it out of there. Because this happened to my son once, just before a game of spotlight.
Sometimes I look into my son's eyes and look and look and look. His character unfolds and unfolds. Then he blinks. He has freckles, a brush cut of pale gold. In certain kinds of light it's gold.
My character will have a son like that. They come out of the mall and the kid will have a fresh new brush cut and he'll say wha-hoo when the wind touches his scalp.
I have to decide if fate is the same thing as destiny. What will just happen to my character and what does he make happen all on his own?
He will jiggle one knee and tip some peanuts in a loose fist and then there will be an announcement. The flight to Buenos Aires is now boarding. He will see the tango performed by a woman in a turquoise dress with lots of white ruffles and a man with oiled black ringlets, and my character will be impressed by how humourless the dancers are. They are as serious as serious can be. My character will realize he is capable of that kind of solemnity.
I love the people whom I love for these reasons: freckles, trampolines, barley salad soaked with lemon, black wetsuits in the surf, a ruffle of white foam around their waists. They are overcome and engulfed and lifted up. They get lost in a hurl of bubbles and they're dragged along the bottom. They get drunk and dance to Blondie's "Heart of Glass." They are always sputtering and choking with laughter. They are always hungry. They get sad, sure, but they never get sad. Or their eyes are tearing from the barbeque smoke. Some of them can sing. One can play the mandolin. One jumped out of a plane. One never loses her temper. One got pregnant by accident. Five times. One is my sister.
My character will know these people and love them.
Read more excerpts from Finding the Words
:Annabel Lyon: "Alexander"
Heather O'Neill: "A Story Without Words"
Michael Winter: "Thinly Veiled" Excerpt from "My Character" by Lisa Moore, from Finding the Words: Writers on Inspiration, Desire, War, Celebrity, Exile, and Breaking the Rules edited by Jared Bland, published by McClelland & Stewart/Emblem Editions. Excerpt copyright © Lisa Moore. Used with permission of the author and the publisher.