Sunday, October 30, 2011

Catch as Catch Can

by Zinta Aistars

The Battle Creek Book Club

Catch-as-catch-can adj. Using or making do with whatever means are available; irregular: made a catch-as-catch-can living doing odd jobs.

"At 54, you'd think my days of delicious impulse and dizzy madness would be over. The truth? I suspect they've just begun."

I'd read just that much from my novella-in-progress, titled Catch as Catch Can, and the four women of Shirley's book club in Battle Creek, Michigan, convulsed in laughter and went into immediate chatter.

"You're reading to the right group!" Shirley laughed.

I thought so, too. This was a grand way to give my fresh new manuscript a test run. I figured this group was as good as any and better than most, representative of what I guessed was the high percentage of contemporary American readers: female, middle age to older, educated, lively and curious, and maybe just a tad prone to impulse and dizzy madness now and then.

I'd read to Shirley's book club a year ago for the first time, and it was most enjoyable. I'd read from my novel-in-progress that time, and their response was encouraging. It was hard to keep up with such long works, however, when I was working full time, commuting on the road for two to three hours a day, managing an online literary magazine, helping to manage my father's artwork, and a grocery list of other interests and pursuits.

Among those interests was a recently purchased Kindle. I've been enjoying it more than I had expected. Although it didn't mean giving up traditional paper-bound books (I'm as much a book purist as most literary fanatics), it was a great way to expand my library, make it portable, save a few forests, and trim my lifestyle toward my goal of simplifying and downsizing. As I'd been expanding my electronic library, now up to 182 books contained in this slim apparatus, I'd made the discovery of the Kindle Single. These are short stories, essays or novellas, ranging from 5,000 to 30,000 words.

Hey, now this I can handle! Bite-size novels! If I wrote about 1,000 words a day, I'd have a first draft down in about a month. And 1,000 words could be written over a lunch hour, even on an early morning or later in the evening when I came home from the office. Doable.

I set aside my novel manuscript, took a break from it, and started in on something new and fresh. Not only that, but this could be a way of writing as therapy, working out my Monday morning frustrations as I began yet another work week in an office that, in spite of all the good things I can say about it, still wasn't the log cabin in the Keweenaw that I so fiercely desire.

So began Catch as Catch Can. A novella that lets my daydreams take shape, at least on paper, electronic paper as the case may be. I call it "A Short Novel of Quick Escape," or I simply refer to it as my fantasy autiobiography. One of the book club women really liked that one, so maybe that's what I will call it.

I expect to be done by Thanksgiving with my first draft, then let it "marinate" for a month or so, work on an edit over the holidays, and perhaps, all literary gods lined up on my side, ship it off to that board of publishers to await their decision.

No matter what that particular outcome, I realize I may be playing a bit with fire here. The last time I completed a novel manuscript, I was astounded a few years later to find that I was living substantial portions of it. It dawned on me that I created characters that I then met in reality. How was that possible? Power of suggestion?

We discussed this a bit at the book club reading. We discussed, too, the power of Home, and our common love for nature. We talked about Michigan's Upper Peninsula. We talked about being midlife runaways. All of these play important roles in my fantasy autiobiography.

Shirley had cooked a delicious breakfast for the group, and so body was nourished along with spirit and mind. It was how we had met, in fact. Shirley has a small farm in southwest Michigan, where she raises free range chickens and turkeys, fields of strawberries and raspberries. All of which eventually find their way into my freezer, into my oven, into my mouth. I would leave the book club with a dozen brown eggs and a very large and heavy turkey, ready for Thanksgiving.

That, and much to think about. I was having more fun writing this novella than I'd had in a long time. Words were flowing, scenes opened up with ease, even as I knew that at this point, nearly halfway in at 13,207 word count, I was about to enter into some deeper and darker shadows in the storyline. Giving into impulse was one thing ... staring up close and personal at the consequences was another.

And I still have no idea how this story will end ...



  1. I LOVE the novella form! Glad you are having such fun with it. I think the short novel will catch on with people who might not have time for longer works.

    -Loreen Niewenhuis

  2. Loreen, your name came up among these women yesterday. Your 1,000 Mile Walk on the Beach was one of their group favorites ...

  3. Anonymous10:36 PM

    Looking forward to hearing the latest plot developments!

  4. Are you one of those need-no-sleep people? When do you have time? I am glad you do, but, geesh! Can't wait to hear more. Glad you are experimenting with a new form!