Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Shouting at the Weather

I get it: it's Canada.

I get it: it's April.

In Canada, we get snow in April.

But in Ottawa, in the second half of April, after nearly a month of spring, the worst is usually over. The terms "snow storm" and "freezing rain" are almost never uttered.

By this time of the year, my summer tires are on my car, the winter tires safely stored until November. Most of the road salt has been washed off the roads and we don't fear ice.

Already, my winter coat and snow pants, and my big boots are packed in the basement. A spring jacket is all that I need.

This is bullshit.

I am NOT pulling my winter coat from storage.


Monday, April 16, 2018

Lost Manuscripts

I mean, we're going back more than 30 years, here.

Roland Axam was not the first fictional character that I created, but he is, by far, my most enduring. I wish I had the paperwork to prove it.

When I lived at my family home and was studying journalism, at Algonquin College, I was devouring fiction: mostly, science fiction and fantasy, but there were a great deal of spy novels, too. My favourite author was Len Deighton: I loved how his spies were average, fallible men who stood as much a chance of failing at a mission as succeeding.

When I started working on my own fiction, I wanted to write a spy trilogy. I had already written a short fiction about a nameless spy who had amnesia, was being chased by people he didn't know for reasons equally unknown. He pieced things together as he fled, finally recovering his memory in time to avoid his own demise and kill all of the bad guys (and gal).

This character would eventually become Roland Axam. I have explained the origin of Roland's "birth" in a previous post: shared how, for about six years, as an ill-conceived plan to make him totally believable, I became him.

I wrote three books that I entitled, under a series, The Spy's The Limit. My trilogy consisted of stories that were so short that all three could have comprised a single novel, and I toyed with the idea of combining them. The central story outlined a possible Russian spy within Britain's MI-5: in order to flush this person out, British intelligence turned to the new Canadian spy agency, which had an international division headed by a former MI-5 director.

The new agency, CSIS, decides to assign a young agent to act as an observer and sends him to Berlin to liaise with an MI-5 counterpart in bringing a British spy back. The young CSIS agent, of course, was Roland Axam.

Everything goes horribly wrong.

I don't remember all of the details: as I said, it was more than 30 years since I wrote the first draft. When I thought this draft was done, I read it, didn't like it very much, and knew I would have to do a major re-write.

And then, the Berlin Wall came down.

I knew that by the time I was finished my manuscript, a spy story set in a Berlin that very much had a functioning wall, in a Soviet cold war, wouldn't work. So I punched holes in my pages, put the manuscript in a binder, and shelved it.

Roland still showed up in some short stories, but I wrote those mostly for myself. I wrote them, read them, re-wote them, re-read them, and when I was happy, I punched three holes in the paper, and added them to the binder.

When I moved from my parents home to a place of my own, my writing went into a blue Rubbermaid bin and came with me. In my first two apartments, that box remained closed, packed with clippings from newspaper articles and reports that I wrote for The Algonquin Times, The Ottawa Citizen, The Nepean Times, and The Low Down To Hull And Back News. That Rubbermaid bin also held many scenarios for role-playing games that I played with friends: Dungeons and Dragons, Top Secret, Boot Hill, and a few others.

I wrote lots of Top Secret scenarios. This game was played almost as often as D&D, but I really liked creating complex missions for the other players—agents. Writing these scenarios, and having people play them out for me, helped me develop more short spy stories for Roland. When we were done playing, when the mission was over, the paperwork went into the bin.

For those of you who have read Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary (and if you haven't, I caution you that I'm about to reveal some information; so, SPOILER ALERT), we learn that a few years before Roland ends up in South Korea, he worked for CSIS. Not a lot of detail is given, and almost everything from The Spy's The Limit is left out. But, in my sequel, Gyeosunim, I plan to have more come out, through flashbacks.

Last week, I went to my basement and pulled out that old Rubbermaid bin. Inside, I found all of my Top Secret papers and the first-edition rule book. I found my news clippings from the newspapers, and other pieces of memorability from the past decades.

My binder is gone.

Thirty years have passed since I remember opening that bin, and I don't remember the last time that I did, if I even opened it in the 18 years that I've lived in my Barrhaven home.

I'm at a crossroads: I don't know if I should just continue, to rewrite the snippets of the story that I wanted to share in my Korea Diary sequel, or if I just want to drop the spy element and move in a different direction.

The Spy's The Limit didn't have a happy ending. None of my fiction does. Maybe I should just let go of the past and, as Roland said in Songsaengnim, move forward. After all, we're going back more than 30 years.

Anything can happen.