The end of music

Gander, Newfoundland, the self-styled "Crossroads of the world," has been enjoying a very long moment. No one had ever heard of Gander (population: 11,000) before but on 9/11, after 40 diverted planes landed at its tiny airport and the town cheerfully hosted some 7,000 unexpected guests, the place was in the international spotlight. And now the town is famous once again, thanks to a splashy Broadway musical. (All of this amuses me to no end. My husband is from Gander so I've been visiting since long before it was on trend.)

But Gander was really in its glory more than half a century ago, in the heady, epicurean days just after the war, when air travel was new and still dangerous and the airport was the main re-feuling station for Transatlantic flights. Everyone came to Gander then: movie stars and world leaders and refugees. Even Fidel Castro! This is the setting of Jamie Fitzpatrick's second novel The End of Music.

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It's 1952 and Joyce, 18 and motherless, a nice Catholic girl from a tiny outport community that has neither electricity nor running water, runs off to godless Gander. She spends her days working at the airport and her nights signing lead in a band. Gander is in its salad days, smoky and drunk on its own youthful hedonism. The median age hovers at 25 and every night there's another party. There's a provisionary air about the town where the only permanent structure is the bustling airport and Joyce and her friends all live in dormitories, shivering under the covers and sharing cigarettes between the single beds.

But there's nothing nostalgic here. Gander in the 50s (what in the hands of a less expert writer might dissolve into a overwrought ode to the "good old days") is depicted with unflinching honesty. There is fun and games, yes. But there is also rampant misogyny, domestic violence, ugly double standards, and plenty of "Jovial Newfoundlanders" with unwanted wandering hands. We experience all of this through Joyce who seems to jump off the page and speak for herself. A perfectly realized character, she's both self possessed and inexperienced, at once strong and vulnerable.

Life in 1950s Gander is fast and ever changing and the cast is vast, forming a witty Greek chorus. And like true Newfoundlanders, they never shut up. Fortunately, Jamie has an ear for dialogue, one of very few writers who can carry off long conversational passages without a single misstep.

The novel intercuts Joyce's story - set mainly in mid-century while she is young and single - with that of her son in present day Ontario. Herb Carter is middle aged and calcifying, doing his best to dodge his domestic and familial obligations. In addition to his mother, whose health is failing several provinces away, he has an ex-wife who is dying, a child with a heart condition, and a wife whose patience, you get the feeling, might just be wearing thin. Lest you be tempted to feel bad for poor Carter, Jamie has given him nuance. Carter is not quite the good guy he likes to think he is. Memory and thwarted ambition are the key themes here, along with a midlife crisis that makes him yearn for the lost opportunities of youth and in particular an indie rock band he formed in his 20s.

Full disclosure: Jamie is in my writing group and I've been reading this book, in its various incarnations, for the past several years. I knew it was going to be good but reading the final version - and this really is a feat - I was still surprised and delighted, both by the characters and plot twists.

The End of Music is a novel that contains multitudes - dozens and dozens of characters, all of whom you sense have complicated back stories, and intersecting plots that Jamie has slyly intertwined. Keep your eye on everyone and everything, is my advice. Because as much as I enjoyed reading each page, the masterstroke comes right at the end, like a punch in the gut you didn't expect but then realize, in hindsight, was coming all along. It's the perfect end to the perfect book.

One World, One Book

Chuffed to announce that The Boat People will be available around the world in March thanks to Penguin Random House whose international sales team have chosen the book as next year's "One World, One Book" pick. One World, One Book is a premium marketing and sales program that promotes key titles with international relevance around the world. I still can't quite believe they chose The Boat People for this incredible opportunity so PLEASE, no one pinch me!

 

 

Don't lose the plot

A few weeks ago I submitted my very final revisions on The Boat People to my Doubleday editor (praise hands, please). Although I sent off the final manuscript waaaaaaay back in April, there have been rounds and rounds of copy edits (I've lost count of how many), first on the Canadian side and more recently south of the border. I'm incredibly grateful for these reviews and the meticulous copy editors with their magnifying glasses because quite frankly there were MISTAKES. So many typos and instances of poor spelling and factual inaccuracies and poor grammar and on and on and on.... Good thing there are editors to catch the ball when I drop it.

Cartoon by the talented  Gemma Correll  ( via Instagram )

Cartoon by the talented Gemma Correll (via Instagram)

But now. Now. Now, I'm eager to disappear into a new project. When I began The Boat People I dove in without any kind of outline. And that was a mistake I paid for much, much later, when just as I was trying to sell the book, it became apparent how many potholes were baked into the plot. Yikes.

Some writers swear off outlines and others swear by them. I can see the arguments on both sides. Having a detailed a plan and then sticking to it doggedly can strangle creativity. But equally, following your nose without even the faintest hint of a map can be perilous too. Trust me, you don't want to be writing the synopsis - four drafts and two years in - only to discover major structural problems. Note to self, I thought back in late 2015: Start with an outline. Write the synopsis before the novel.

Mind you, this is only my second novel. So what do I know? Not much. But this time around things will be different. Fellow Port Authority writer Morgan told me about a site which outlines the "Snowflake Method" for novel design. Fair warning: It's also an advertisement for software. But you can ignore the software ads if you like and just focus on this post that breaks down how to write a summary (which is different from a synopsis) and how to flesh that short overview out into a more detailed outline.

To be honest, I skipped a lot of the opening blah-blah-blah and went straight to "The Ten Steps of Design." This is the meat of the method. What was particularly helpful for me (as someone who knows nada about playwriting) was to envision the story in three acts and really meditate on epiphany, desire, and conflict, the three key ingredients that captivate readers.

I stopped at the end of step 7. Step eight is about selling a book proposal and step nine gets into more detailed outlining of individual scenes...which is where I draw the line, at the moment, on planning.

What I'd like to do is set up my outline, work on my characters, and then go back to Robert Olen Butler's method of imagining scenes. I'm hoping - this is the goal anyway - to strike a balance between pre-planning and intuition. We'll see how that goes...