I’m putting the finishing touches onto a talk about my novel, Eulogy, which I’ll present tomorrow as part of the weekly Artist Talk series at Haliburton School of The Arts. This is to be a one hour presentation and, while I was momentarily tempted to simply open my book and start reading for one hour, that approach just doesn’t sit right with me or fit with the spirit of the college. This is a place where artists of many disciplines learn from each other, where faculty and students talk not just of their work, but how it was made, so it seems appropriate to read from the book, yes, but also to go behind the scenes, to give background on what I did to write the book.
For my audience, this means that I will inevitably need to break down the illusion that I’ve worked to create: to make the book seem like it was born whole, kicking and screaming, alive with its own breath. Writers work long hours to make stories come off the page to the reader as if the story always existed, that the story is real, and not the product of imagination.
Now, it’s time to draw back the curtain. And why not?
Why hold back? The book is itself, and available to any reader who wants to embrace the story it presents. Every reader, whether conscious of it or not, tests the illusion of a story, and readers decide for themselves whether the story works or not. The decision is usually made this way — the reader finishes the book, or the reader puts the book aside and moves on to something else.
If someone is interested in how a book came to be, why not indulge in a few stories? Someone coming to a presentation like mine might be an interested reader, or an aspiring writer, or maybe attending out of pure curiosity. If getting behind the scenes of a story offers entertainment or pause for thought, I’ll do my best.
I think much of the hesitancy to talk publicly about the making of a book comes from vulnerability. Writing books makes us vulnerable – to criticism and to praise, success and failure, and to everything in between. The writer – in this case, me – has already dealt with the vulnerabilities of writing and publication. Now, to speak publicly of all that? Yes, that’s a new vulnerability.
But in my creative writing classes, I always urge my students to keep track of the material that makes them feel vulnerable, and take dead aim at this material when they write. It’s the best chance they’ll ever have to write a story charged with emotion and meaning. So, if to stand before a group and talk about writing my book makes me feel the same, well I’ll take aim, and do my best. I look forward to it. The things that scare us are the things we must do.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Ken Murray lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario. He teaches creative writing at Haliburton School of the Arts and at the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto. He is a volunteer broadcaster in community radio and dabbles in several sports. Eulogy is his first novel. For more information visit http://www.kenmurray.ca.