October the last, 2013. So I decide I’m going. I must go, must present, must be my own unpublished brand. Writing stinks when you can’t make a go of it. You feel lousy, like a loser. It’s sad. Success is for other people. But go to the party. Free food. Stand around with published Penguin Random House writers. People will wonder who you are and they’ll be right, all right. You’re no one they know because you’re not one of them. You’re a spy. A spy from nowhere bringing nothing. It’s tiresome, but go anyway.
I go. I walk down. I can’t sit here like a wet bar stool with my 20+ rejections. It’s ‘The Sandbar’ on Granville Island. I go upstairs and see Trish, who sent me the invitation. The Penguin Random House party in conjunction with the ‘Vancouver Writers Fest’ is in the same space in the restaurant as last year’s Random House party, also hosted by Trish. That was before Random, for whom Trish has worked for a long time, merged with Penguin to form a really, really big publishing company. Trish has a new job title: Publicity Manager.
I remember last year. It was so hot in that upstairs space I nearly melted. It was all the bodies. And there was a raging gas-fired fireplace fire making it even hotter. I was standing next to Aleister Simpson or whatever the crap his name is and we both had our backs to that raging, unnecessary roaring gas-powered fire and I remember saying, “It’s hot in here.” I think Aleister gmumphed or something. Something came out of his mouth. I had nothing else to say to him having read none of his work and with no plan to. Aleister. Aleister something. Some writer, published a few books, damn him. I then shook Timothy Taylor’s hand. I hadn’t much to say to him either. I read a story of his once I thought rather good. I read a novel of his I loathed and not just because it enjoyed some publishing success. I thought the novel was bull. I hated it, cover to cover. I remember thinking my unpublished novel of the day being much better than “Stanley Park”. Alas, Taylor gets published, Brown not so much. Taylor’s a player, Brown not so much. I hate writing and all writers. My non-career is an embarrassment. Nevertheless I was slightly sycophantic to Taylor, as I recall. “You’re a big strap,” I said to him. “You write big too.” The dude was taller than I remember from some reading I saw him at. Plus he looked as if he’d been working out. Bench presses, or something. But he can’t be that cool, I remember thinking. Drives an Autobus. Saw him getting into it up 10th one afternoon in the supermarket parking lot. Well, crap all these published writers. Crap crap crap ’em. Then later I saw Taylor talking to another real writer, what was his name? Crap. Can’t remember the names of these titans of Canned-adian literature. They shake hands. Heighton. Steven farking Heighton. That was it. Two tall white guys in their dark blue tailored jackets having a jaw as I was in process of deciding to get the hay out of here that night. These wunderkinds of Canned-adian literature. So good. So fine. The word “greatness” has been attached to Taylor by some doped-up book reviewer. Heighton is merely a “genius”. To tell you the truth I’ve no doubt they’re good guys and were probably embarrassed by such asinine encomiums.
This year there’s fewer people and vastly fewer dark blue, tailored power jackets on male backs. For instance, I’m not wearing one myself. I come pretty much as I feel, which is every day-type clothing including the black, rayon pants made in Bangladesh that I’m wearing tonight, the same ones I wear to my part-time job. I’m in disguise. I’m an outsider. States said this later when I told her about this. L’Étranger. An outsider not completely out of it, apparently, as I’m first talking to Trish, then I’m saying hello to Hal Wake, then I go over and I’m talking to Lesley Hurtig and from there, moving on to Michael Winter.
“Michael Winter. Great to see you. Steven Brown. Haven’t read your latest, I’ve got a copy of ‘The Big Why’ but haven’t read it yet, but I really thought ‘This All Happened’ was terrific. Yeah. I was doing a thing with Martha Sharpe at the time.”
“Oh yeah, she’s great.”
We shake hands. He’s taller than I would have imagined and speaks with a definite Newfoundlander twang. He looks tired too, and older than images I’ve seen of him. He’s a long way from home and doing all this book promotion stuff and Writers Festival-ing. He introduces his companion, a lady who speaks with a European accent, possibly Czech. I decide to pop the question.
“Michael, how do you get a novel published in this country?”
“Just keep trying.”
I’m on my way out because I have to get up early and this party didn’t start until ten p.m., but there’s John Vaillant whom I’ve met before, whether he remembers or not.
“John. Steven Brown. Met you a couple of times. Once at UBC and at the Tiger event for the film festival down at Cinematheque.” We shake hands. I ask him about the novel I’d heard from Trish over a year ago that he was writing.
“It’s coming out next year,” he says.
“That’s great. Looking forward to reading it and possibly writing about it.”
“Do you live in town?’ I ask, kind of off the cuff.
“Yeah, not far from here. I walked down.”
“Me too. I’m close.”
I see Trish again. “Thanks a lot, Trish. Heading out. Got an early start tomorrow. See ya.”
Home by 11:30 p.m., and beddie-byes, just as planned. In my mind’s eye I see Michael Winter walking over to John Vaillant after I disappeared.
“Who was that?”
“I don’t know. What did he say his name was?”
“I forget. Some guy.”