Project Compass

Perhaps you remember the hints I dropped (back in March) about a secret project I was working on. Well, things have come together very quickly, and I am proud to tell you that Project Compass, a collaborative novel I wrote in company with fellow Edmonton writers Matthew Stepanic, Kristina Vyskocil, and Bob Strong, is going to be released next month. October. 

What is a collaborative novel, you ask? Think of the film Night on Earth by Jim Jarmusch, or any day-in-the-life of x-locale story. It's like that. Much like a movie director, Jason Lee Norman, editor at Monto Books, dreamed up the idea for this four-strand rope, convinced us that it was a good idea, and then wove our stories together. All four of us authors wrote a novella-length story set on a particular day (summer solstice, 2016) and in a particular place (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada). Each one of our four protagonists focuses their narrative and physical journey on one compass point of the city (North side represent!) and as the longest day of the year progresses, they begin to converge in the North Saskatchewan river valley that runs through the middle of Edmonton. 

I wrote my portion of this novel over this past spring and summer. I rented an office and wrote the first draft by hand, in pencil on lined loose leaf. It was the most difficult writing experience I've undertaken, but I know the story is the best I've written. There's an excerpt below, which I hope will intrigue you. 

Pre-orders for the book are open here and now: http://www.montobooks.ca/http/wwwmontobooksca/shop/books/project-compass

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It is three o’clock in the morning on the longest day of the year.

In your dream, you are singing Schubert and you and I are still the same person, elastic, joyful, and promising. It is your graduation recital from the Victoria Conservatory. You are twenty-three.

You are wearing a blue dress you sewed yourself out of satin; it has the puffy sleeves and unflattering waist of women’s formal wear in the eighties; still, you are radiant. This is one of the happiest days of your life. Graduation recitals are long solos for each Vic Con student. You are the only one singing this afternoon and you picked the repertoire, the kinds of squares that will be served at the reception, and the venue. Most of your classmates used the Anglican church or the conservatory’s concert theatre but you asked that art gallery downtown if you could sing in one of their big, skylit rooms. They wheeled in a baby grand for your accompanist, and when you toured the room yesterday, it was perfect. But overnight they hung a new show so now you are singing against a backdrop of large-scale nudes. Your parents, flown in from Edmonton, are sitting in the audience. A paper cone full of flowers lies on the folding chair beside your mother, ready for your father to give it to you as soon as the recital is over. You sing the last bars, with the big interval you have been practicing for seven months, and then—you are still counting—there is a single beat of silence in that airy room. For the first time, the applause can only be for you. You wonder if it’s possible that you will actually become an opera singer. That and having children are the only things you want to do.

A month before you finished your diploma in voice performance, one of your instructors told you to think about videotaping your recital. Therefore your father borrowed a camcorder from your mother’s sister’s husband. It is set up on a music stand in the aisle beside your father’s seat, recording your beatitude as the applause renews itself and your instructor comes up to present you with a bouquet of carnations, beating your parents to the punch. They don’t mind. Your father is a teacher and he respects this teacher’s privilege over his own as a mere and sometimes dubious parent. But he is not dubious now. He is having the same revelation as you. He is ready to concede that the family history he plans to write might begin with the birth of his own mother in a hamlet in German Poland, go on to describe her youth and courtship with his father in the Lutheran choir, her escape with five small children from Russian soldiers, her loss of her son, the author, age two, when the pillow he was swaddled in was thrown into a baggage car, the family’s voyage to Canada, their settlement in Yorkton, the potatoes she peeled to feed a family of twelve, the stroke his brother had at fifteen, his own graduation from teacher’s college, your birth—and end with a modest account of his daughter the German-Canadian alto’s promising career. Your mother is in awe of you, and when she congratulates you she giggles nervously, making you believe your recital is a mystifying joke to her. No, the mystifying joke is your mother, the little girl who lived to play football, feeling a silly laugh bubble in her throat when she tries to say she is proud of you. You start to turn away from her, abruptly incensed by how awkward it is to juggle two bouquets, and feel yourself falling through the floor.

You are sitting bolt upright in bed, awake. This is your old bedroom. It looks as it did before you left for Victoria, the gold-coloured shag carpet, the ivy plant you pinned to the walls, the record player in the corner, the polyester bedspread, though the room is still dark. You are fifty years old. You are sweating.