barneys_crew_cover_womanOn some nights, you just know you’re going to bomb.  If you’re lucky, someone’s there to record it.

Mickey Hess went first.  He couldn’t buy a laugh in that overheated art gallery.  And his story was funnier than the one I was planning on reading.  Joe Meno went second.  He met a wall of apathy.  And his story was more heartfelt than the one I was planning on reading.  I knew the signs.

I’d done so many readings at this point that I knew exactly how to react: read the shortest of my stories and call it a night.  For some reason, I didn’t follow that very simple advice.  Maybe it was the swampy Montreal summer heat making me ornery.  Maybe it was something about the crowd.  They were too urban, too hip for a rogue like me.  Maybe I just felt like lingering over a long story.  Who knows.

Anyway, in the face of the hostile crowd, I picked the longest story in my repertoire, and I read it nice and slowly.  Eighteen minutes, all told.  And the owner of the art gallery recorded it.  Slapped it up on the web for anyone to hear.

Last night, I was thinking about bummer readings and this night in Montreal in 2005 came to mind.  I knew that the art gallery owner had posted this sucker online.  I wondered if it was still there.  A quick Google search revealed that it is.  So, if you’re interested, you’re welcome to listen to a hot and awkward live reading of my short story “The Last Days at Fulton County Stadium” from the collection Barney’s Crew.  Just click the link below.

Sean_Carswell_Last Days at Fulton County Stadium

Hollywood Pretty

sean_illo_39_by_brad_beshawIn the movie The Hours, Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf walks halfway down her stairs and pauses.  Inspiration has struck.  She tells her husband that she believes she has the first line of a novel.  The film cuts to her sitting comfortable in a writing chair among the soft morning light and using her favorite pen on lovely paper to construct what becomes the word-for-word first sentence of Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.

I like this scene because it’s absurd.  It’s absolutely nothing like the real life process of writing.  Novels are inspired, sure, but that inspiration doesn’t visit us from up high like a muse or like God handing down the fifteen commandments to Moses*.  Instead, novels linger in our imagination for days or months or years until we finally decide it’s time to let them live outside our imagination.

When I pause to think I have the perfect first sentence, it doesn’t emerge as a complete sentence.  Like everyone, I have ideas that I have to translate into words, and translations evolve from the idea to the idea’s representation on the page.

And writing novels isn’t scenic and softly lit.  It’s a daily process of hammering out a few words, paragraphs, or pages until, several months later, you actually have something.  Then there are the years of revision.  The first sentences of every novel I’ve written came at least a year after the original draft of the novel was complete.  They are all revisions.  The first sentence of Madhouse Fog was one of the last things I wrote.

Also, Virginia Woolf looked nothing like Nicole Kidman, and the first sentence of Mrs. Dalloway isn’t that cool.

Then again, I’m a very different writer from Virginia Woolf.  Woolf said that writers need to have a room of one’s own and a monthly stipend that allows one to focus solely on writing.  I still don’t have either of those things.  And it’s okay.  Charles Bukowski said something like, “No writer who could write worth a damn could write in peace.”  I believe in that.  Not because it’s necessarily true.  Just because it’s a better representation of the world I live in.

So in honor of these thoughts, I want to include a column that I wrote for Razorcake back in 2007.  It’s about writing the first draft of Drinks for the Little Guy.  I think it’s an honest representation of what writing a first novel was like for me.  It’s definitely not pretty like a Hollywood movie.

Here’s a link to download the PDF of the column: Carswell_Column_Razorcake_39

*Perhaps you were thinking there were only ten commandments.  You forget that God handed Moses fifteen, and he dropped the stone tablet with the first ten.  At least that’s the way Mel Brooks and I remember it.