Back in October, my author L sliced an excerpt out of the novel she’s writing about me and entered it into competition for the CBC Short Story Prize. I’m happy to announce that this little piece of my life made the longlist, announced this morning.
I offer my congratulations to the other fictional characters whose lives also appear on the longlist. I offer my congratulations, because I know what some of those characters have been through. In my case, let me tell you, it was hell. The competition has a strict word limit of 15oo words, and the excerpt L began with numbered about 2100, which meant she had to boil things down until what remained was the most spare of stories. I lost about 600 words’ worth of my life. They were words I liked a lot. L has done this before, this relentless reduction so as to slide in under a word limit. She’s done it with stories about other characters and even with stories about herself, and she tells me it’s a salutary exercise in getting at the essentials. Salutary. Tearing a rotator cuff, there’s another thing that might be salutary, but I wouldn’t choose to do it.
We were engaged in a classic battle between author and character: I wanted all of me on the page; she called me self-indulgent and kept on slicing parts of me away. I got myself worked into a state, watching her do this. Don’t take that out! No, not that, I like that.
Hush, she said. I’m not taking it out of the novel for real, I’m just taking it out of this piece I’m sending to CBC. You can have some of it back later.
But now she’s reconsidering her promise. Now she’s saying this merciless approach makes for pretty lean and muscular prose. Now she’s threatening to go through the whole manuscript with a similar approach. She’s proposing a 25 percent reduction!
I can’t be expected to stand by and watch as so much of what I say and think and do falls into the trash. If she feels she has to take a stand-alone part of my life and call it a story and reduce it to essentials, fine, but that’s a short story. I don’t live in a short story. I live in a novel.