Writing Like a Russian

One of the questions I’ve come to expect when I do readings or book club visits is: What are you working on now? What’s next? And because September is a breath away, and it’s time to get back to work, to readings and presentations around my latest book, The Boy, I’m anticipating that question. And for the first time in years, I have only a vague answer. In the past six years, I’ve completed four book length projects all of them now published, as well as an MFA in Creativing Writing. I am frankly tired of long projects so the answer to the “What next?” question is that I’m going to go back to my first love, short fiction. Of the thousands of pieces of fiction I must have read in my lifetime, the ones that have the strongest glue in my memory are short stories. Alice Munro, of course, and Carver is one of my favourites too, but lately I find myself going way back to the first short stories I read, probably in high school English classes. Impulsively (okay, I fell prey to the marketing of beautiful books), I bought the four volume set of Chekov’s collected stories a few months ago, because I’d been thinking about “The Lady With the Little Dog” and “A Boring Story” and pondering Chekhov’s gun.
I’m going to be busy through September and October with readings and some travel, but I know that I need a plan to get me back to writing very soon. In fact, while I’ve been on my knees in the dirt enjoying a full summer of gardening, there have stories bubbling up and I’ve gone so far as to come inside and jot down a note or two when they get in the way of deadheading the roses. I’m hoping for a retreat in November, somewhere in place and time to kickstart a winter of story writing. And whimsically, I’ve decided that I will be reading Chekhov, I will take him with me, and my goal will be to write like a Russian. When I told my friend, Barb Howard, about this plan, she said she thinks this will require a chilly room and a lot of sugar in my tea. I told her I think perhaps some rough vodka and a lover with bad teeth if I went for real authenticity. And those, she replied, would seem to necessarily go together. I think instead I’ll go for the creative comforts of the Banff Centre and some good wine. At the very least I hope there will be a gun in an opening scene.

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