Done. Done!

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I am done. First draft of the novel was finished last night, in the quiet of the studio.

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So, so much work. I ploughed through it this last week, piecing together the work I’d already done, thinking about the story and the characters, and writing new material. The writing I’ve done here — the last third of the book, basically — feels like a truer, more authentic voice. There’s a marked difference (to my eyes, at least) between it and the earlier work. But now that I’ve found that voice, I think I can hold onto it, sustain it through the revisions.

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This year of writing, I feel like I’m finding my voice. I owe so much to the Women Destroy Science Fiction project, to Christie Yant and Wendy Wagner (among so many others) for their endless enthusiasm. To my editor, Katey Schultz, who has been reading through awful first drafts with me and giving me honest advice and feedback — a mini-MFA all in its own. To the friends cheering me along, mom and dad. Writing can feel like such a solitary act, but really, no. It’s the community of friends and family that make it possible to write my cyborg conspiracy stories. Really. You guys are the best.

And also the great silence of Banff, the wind that murmurs through the trees and buffets you, the feeling that the mountains are listening.

There’s a long road of work ahead; still so much to do to bring this draft to a point where it’s ready to go out. But it’s done and I’m ready.

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Monday.

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Banff has been magical. I’m more than halfway through my residency, and I’ve been chased by deer, started by pine martens, and nervously looking out my window for the grizzly bear the Park Service has warned us about. Bear 148 is wandering around the area, eating people’s jack o’ lanterns and looking for berries. Which is just fine until you realize, as my friends Chris and Sarah say, that there are at least 147 other bears out there.

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I’m sleeping better than I ever have at a Banff residency, and writing well. I had a meeting with my editor (over teh internets!) on Thursday, and we talked about the trajectory of the novel and the work I’ve been doing on characters. And to get some last minute advice and encouragement, because heaven knows you need it when you’re in a creaky little studio working on a book. She’s checking in with me on Tuesday. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to say that I’m done the first draft when I talk to her. That’s the goal!

But there’s still time to do other things. I walked down to town and had dinner with Chris and Sarah and their little guy, Louis. Roast beef! Yorkshire pudding! Selfies!

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(“Oh, yeah, Heather, I know how to selfie. Okay! Make a funny face!”)

And then we got in the car and went skating.

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Lou told me he thought we’d both fall down a lot, but astonishingly, neither one of us did. And after skating, a trip to Tim Horton’s because you need donuts after you go skating.

A really lovely night. And today? I’m in the studio, preparing to buckle down and FINISH THIS BOOK!


Tucked away at the Banff Centre.

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I promise that there is, in fact, writing going on. Really. Truly.

But also a trip up to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Lunch in town with good company, and then a trip up the gondola where the rain turned to snow.

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Lots of snow. These tourists were pretty excited about it:

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And we managed to catch the eclipse, which I was pretty excited about:

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So the plan for today is more writing. I have a meeting with my editor in the morning on Google Hangouts, some laundry going, and a plan to write like the wind. The novel feels like it’s coming together. I’m starting to see the characters are going, finding new connections for them (largely as a result of that walking meditation — the third part of that trip was to stand and listen to the whisperings of the story, which was inspiring in ways I didn’t expect).

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I’m starting to think that I just may emerge from this studio at the end of next week with a book.


Heading home.

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The saga of a writing residency in the mountains draws to a close. The writer packs up an enormous suitcase and heads home.

More pine marten!

More pine marten!

I did laundry last night – washed everything, folded it up, and packed up my enormous suitcase. I’ll be heading out this evening on the Brewster bus, coming back to Calgary. It’s been such a good residency – I still can’t quite believe that I managed to finish my novel while I was here.

Entries from the guestbook.

Woke up this morning to quite a lot of rain, and even a little bit of snow mixed in with it. Though they’re mostly obscured by cloud, the mountains are snow-covered. It’s quite chilly and fresh this morning; you can see your breath in the air. It’s the full Banff weather experience: I’ve had it all now.

Entries from the guestbook.

So the novel is finished now. It’s printed off; I took it to Community Services last night to hole punch it and staple the chapters. I’m going to wait a bit before I start reading for the first set of revisions, though I’m starting to think that the wait won’t be all that long. I’d like to start right away. I really like this story.

Entries from the guestbook.

With the residency ended, I’ll be turning my attention back to grad school stuff. There’s lots of reading to do for that class on YA dystopian fiction, and I’m starting a French class this month in my bid to clear a proficiency requirement (a hypothetical requirement right now, but I wanted to start on it now instead of waiting for a hypothetical program application). There’s the return to my old position at work, which is something I’m looking forward to. And, of course, there’s a novel to revise. I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be keeping myself busy.

Entries from the guestbook.

I’m really glad I came and did the Leighton residency…not just because I finished the novel, but for the time and space it gave me to think about what I was doing, and why. And Fred came to Banff, and that was fantastic. And there was a ping pong tournament. And there was the pine marten, which, we have all agreed, is a very jolly creature.

Entries from the guestbook.

I also took some time to sign the studio guestbook, and had another read through previous entries. It was a source of inspiration and – at times – comfort to read what other people had to say about their time in the little round cabin in the woods.

Entries from the guestbook.

And so that’s it. I’m going to putter around for a while today, but the writing is really done. The suitcase is packed (stuffed full is a better description) and I’ve confirmed my bus ticket for the evening. Calgary – mom and dad, the cats, my own bed! – I’m coming home!

Chilly morning.

More pine marten!

Post-finishing. Me in front of the studio.

The meals:
Breakfast: buttermilk pancakes, scrambled eggs, grapefruit, bacon, juice and coffee
Lunch: sandwich (unidentified lunchmeat, but it was good), cottage cheese, cheesecake, and iced tea
Dinner: roasted veal shoulder rubbed with peppercorns, shell pasta with cheese sauce and spinach, cauliflower, cranberry and club soda, and water (too hurried a meal for dessert – had to eat quickly to catch the Brewster bus!)


It’s been good.

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The continuing saga of a writing residency. The writer takes a day off.

Baby Banff comes to visit.

Oh, and the ping pong match? It went ahead as planned. The Writing with Style team didn’t show up, so we were the victors by default. I will point out, however, that we would have one, because the pong is strong in the Leighton Artists’ Colony. Very strong.

Baby Banff comes to visit.

Saturday was quiet – post-finishing quiet. Baby Banff (and his parents) came to visit me in the studio, and then we went out to lunch. It was lovely!

At the Banff Centre.

It’s been a quiet day for me. With the novel finished, I’m a bit at loose ends, to be honest…I’m too ‘written out’ to think about starting anything new, and I feel like it’s too soon to begin make revisions to what I’ve written. I’ve separated everything out into chapters and it’s sitting on my desk here in the Hemingway studio, looking very massive. I can’t quite believe that I finished. Me? I finished a novel? Really?

Chilly morning.

And yet, there it sits: a novel that is very much finished. A novel that is entirely my own making (thought Gabe the poet keeps offering to write a guest chapter).

Finished novel. First draft.

So today I read for a while, and then I walked down to Banff and visited the Whyte Museum. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time inside the museum itself; the main attraction, for me, was the visit to two historic homes located on the property. They’re maintained in the style that they would have been around the 1930s, and quite gorgeous.

Whyte house.

I think I’d like to live in the Whyte house.

Whyte house.

Whyte house.

Whyte house.

Check out the curtains in the Moore house – best ever!

Curtain in the Moore house.

Moore house.

I was fascinated to have a look at the books on the shelves of the Whyte’s house and the Moore’s house. They were, unfortunately, behind glass…so the pictures didn’t turn out well (and I couldn’t pick the books up to look through them…drat!). One thing that struck me was how many of the books seemed to be for younger readers. When I googled some of the titles, later, my suspicion was confirmed. The tour guide commented that the Whytes had no children of their own, but when Catherine married Peter Whyte and came to live in Banff, she wrote home to ask that all of her books be sent up, and also, apparently, kept collecting books. The guide said that they were happy to lend books to people living in Banff, including children – the rule was that you could borrow a book so long as you returned it, and then you could take another. I suspect – and it’s only a hunch – that Catherine Whyte intentionally filled her shelves with children’s books, in part to help provide reading material to young readers in an isolated community…but also so that she’d have a steady stream of children traipsing through the snow to her house with books tucked under their arms. There’s no way to know for sure. But to judge by her books, she kept a number of books that would have been enticing to a young reading. Daring Deeds of Polar Explorers certainly looks like something that would have thrilled several generations of young readers.

Books in the Moore house.

I also visited the the Banff Park Museum. Though it’s mainly a collection of taxidermy, the museum building is quite amazing – really astonishing to see. I did get a change to look at a marten up close, but it wasn’t nearly as thrilling to see as the pine marten that I’ve been watching from my chair in my studio.

Banff Park Museum.

They had a little exhibit of Norman Bethune Sanson‘s office, too – very neat to see:

Sanson's office.

This is his little hut on top of Sulphur Mountain, too. If you take the gondola up (or if you hike up), you can walk along a boardwalk that follows the ridge up to the highest peak on Sulphur Mountain, which has been named for him. His hut – he used to go up the mountain once or twice a day – has been preserved and you can peer in to see how it used to be.

Sanson's peak - the cabin.

I also splurged and bought myself some ammolite jewelry to commemorate the residency:

Splurge.

And then I came trotting back to the Banff Centre, just ahead a squall of rain and wind. I dropped in on the library and picked up The Short Stories of John Cheever and The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories. I don’t have a hope of finishing either, but I’m going to have a good browse though them.

The residency is coming to an end now. I have one full day left, and I’m scheduled to leave on Tuesday morning…though I’m thinking that I might go back Monday night so that I can sleep in my own bed. I don’t go back to work until the next week, but with the bulk of the writing done, I’m really thinking hard about schoolwork and reading that’s piling up – not so much the grind, really, as realizing that I’ve got to hop back onto the merry-go-round of the day to day. It’s been so wonderful to escape to the studio here, and to enjoy it. But with the novel completed, and time to spare, it occurs to me that my holiday is over; it’s time to go home. I finished what I set out to do when I first arrived. And poor Luna is waiting for me…she’s missed two weekends of lap sitting.

The meals:
Breakfast: eggs and bacon, toast and fruit (and coffee!)
Lunch: tuna sandwich and french fries; strawberry tart and iced tea
Dinner: Salmon with a white wine sauce, rice, and zucchini, brownies and mint tea for dessert


Finished.

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The continuing saga of a writing residency in the mountains. The writer accomplishes her task.

At the Banff Centre.

I finished writing the novel last night. I wrote steadily through the day, and stopped for dinner, and came back to the room and wrote a blog post. Then I went back to work, and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.

Chilly morning.

I finished around eleven. I thought there would be dancing and singing in the studio when I finished – I was sure of it. But when I actually did finish, I just sat back and looked at what I had done. But there was no dancing. I just sat there, feeling quietly satisfied.

Sunset.

It’s taken me almost two years to finish writing this book. The idea for it started even before that. And here I was, sitting in my little cabin in the woods, with a finished novel in front of me. It was glorious. It was scary to think that it was finished, and it was wonderful.

At the Banff Centre.

So there was no dancing. No singing. I may have cried a little bit. But mostly I just sat and looked at my finished book, and then I typed two more words: ‘the end.’

The novel is finished.

The meals:
Breakfast: eggs, bacon, grapefruit, English muffin, juice and coffee
Lunch: manicotti, lemonade, custard, and coffee
Dinner: lamb rubbed with thyme, rice, cauliflower, carrots, and brocciflower, croissant and chocolate chip pudding, cranberry and club soda.


Trying to recruit ping pong players.

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The continuing saga of a writing residency in a round cabin in the woods. The writer attempts to recruit players for the tournament and frets about the completion of her novel.

more ping pong

The ‘stylistas’ – the Writing with Style workshop group – has responded to the ‘colonists’ – the Leighton Artists’ Colony group – and the ping pong challenge is on. Saturday at 6:30. I’m trying to recruit colonists to play. It’s harder than you’d thing. Or maybe not as hard as you’d think: artists, poets, and writers are not generally all that big on sports, and to us, ping pong qualifies as a sport.

Ping pong!

Still. The honour of the colony is at stake.

Ping pong madness

It was a cloudy day, off and on, though the sun came out in the morning. In the afternoon, I finally had rain. The sound of the rain on the roof of the studio? Magical. I’ve really been enjoying the pleasant weather, but I had secretly been hoping for rain. Even Arturo was pleased (he’s still a little sad about the loss of his toaster, and keeps threatening to come over to my studio to make his toast. I’ve hidden my Toastmaster).

Playing ping pong.

The novel – I waffle back and forth between calling it a book or a novel – is nearing completion. I’m at 83,896 words so far, and the file is almost 1 mb (huge!). I’ve reached a stage of slight paranoia: five backups running right now, and I’m not convinced that even that is enough. I’m three or four chapters from finishing, I think – I’ll have to go back and rewrite some of it to make it more coherent, and I’ll do that if I manage to finish in the next few days.

It’s a little scary/creepy to think that I’m so close to finishing. I’ve only got a few more days left, and I really, really want to leave here with a completed first draft. This story has been battering around in my head for too long not to finish it…and the sooner I finish, the better. That’s what I think.

Chilly morning.

So it’s probably not for nothing that there’s a ping pong challenge – I think I’m channeling some of my tension over finishing into the pong. The pong is strong. Or something like that.

Chilly morning.

I’ve been closing up shop fairly early in the evenings. It’s dark and a little creepy to walk back (security will totally come and get you, if you like) and I’m a burned to a bit of frazzle (not unlike Arturo’s toast) by the end of a day of writing. I’ve been up to about five thousand words a day, which feels like a lot. I had this grand plan not to watch any television while I was here and only read books…but it’s a lot easier to have a hot shower and go to bed to watch cable in the dark. No thinking required. Not necessarily a bad thing. Then I’m up early in the morning (setting an alarm for seven – on a vacation! amazing!) and back to work in the early morning. Early for me, anyways. Early in the morning for a vacation.

Chilly morning.

I am so going to finish this book. And soon. And then I’ll redouble my efforts to recruit ping pong players.

More pine marten!

The meals:
Breakfast: buttermilk pancakes with syrup and fruit on the side (NOM).
Lunch: shrimp and avocado rolls and a bottle of juice (meh)
Dinner: Cajun rubbed tilapia (yes, that’s how it was written up, but it was fine), honey carrots, mashed potatoes and a bun. And chocolate marble cheesecake (NOM). Pot of mint tea to end it all off with.