Here's how things were supposed to go:
I show up with my moderately wonderful second draft tucked under my arm. Perhaps I am wearing a tweed coat with suede patches, perhaps I am not. It is mid-October, the weather could go either way.
I am cordial with Joseph Boyden, perhaps even a bit shy, as I often am with people I admire. But I make an quiet mention of how his Moosenee characters in Through Black Spruce have similar speech patterns to some of the characters (especially Antoine Batiste) in Treme, which is set in the place where Boyden mostly lives now, New Orleans. He realizes I am a perceptive reader, and he begins to form a genuine interest in reading my manuscript. He tells me stories about the people he knows who inspired characters on Treme, and I dazzle him with my arcane knowledge of Clark Johnson, who hasn't been on Treme, but was on the final season of The Wire, which Boyden still hasn't watched at this point, and his interest in my novel grows as my eyes widen when I talk about the scene in Homicide: Life On The Street where Johnson's character, Detective Meldrick Lewis, allows his strained marriage to finally collapse under the weight of a black-velvet painting of Teddy Pendergrass.
"So what's your novel about, anyway?" he asks.
I explain to him that it started out as your typical vaguely-autobiographical, grudge-settling first novel, but grew into something else. Inspired in equal parts by Jonathan Ames's first novel I Pass Like Night (as well its direct influence, The Catcher in the Rye), Walter Mosley's first Socrates Fortlow book Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned and Jack Kirby's 18 issues of Mister Miracle comics.
Boyden doesn't quite get all the references, but his wife, Amanda, who is co-presenting the retreat, says, "You watch a lot of HBO, don't you, Emmet?"
So they read the damn thing, the beast I've been working on not-quite-as-steadily-as-I'd-like since January, when I registered for the retreat. They like, it shows promise. "There are some really great ideas in here," Joseph Boyden says.
"I agree," Amanda agrees. "But we have some notes."
The next four days are an ecstatic blur, as we workshop through the novel's problems--and there are problems. After the day's writing and rewriting is done, we go for a long walks in the cool night and I tell them all about my wonderful, supportive wife and my ridiculous daughter, who is, by October, speaking in sentences and, oh, the things she says!
At last, the retreat has run its course, and Nicole and Lill have come over to meet me in Campbell River for a little family holiday before the drag of everyday life resumes. Joseph and Amanda, my new best friends, invite the three of us to New Orleans "sometime after Mardi Gras" and Joseph tells me he wants to show my next draft to some important people.
The next spring, in Louisiana, a chance encounter in Louis Armstrong Park leads to a meeting with David Simon, who immediately buys the rights to my novel and offers me a job, forever changing my fortunes.
Here's how things went:
"Hello, Mr. Matherson? I'm sorry to inform you that the Art of Fiction writing intensive with Joseph and Amanda Boyden has been cancelled."
Here's Big Tree, a New York band who play what I call Hippie Jazz, performing a terrif version of "Little Brother" live. The song is also on their self-titled 2008 album, but this live version just kills it. If you're in the Canadian Maritimes, they'll be playing Julie Doiron's Sappyfest on July 31.
MP3: "The Concurrence of All Things" by Big Tree from their brand new EP, Home (Here)