April 9/2006 5:38 PM

On The Road To Understanding (Ken)

All first drafts are shit.
—Ernest Hemingway

Writing the first draft of Understanding Ken was the fastest and easiest large bit of decent writing I have ever done. From word one to the end of the manuscript took about 6 or 7 weeks—done by March of ’97, I believe—which was gratifying.

But what’s important to make clear is that the book came out in a sort of huge relief after nearly three years of intense, ultimately futile effort writing a novel called The Beaver Rebellion: Divide and Conquer, Part II.  There was no part 1. It was about four Vancouver revolutionaries (an oxymoron), who wanted to change the world, change the system, change themselves.

Despite an endless dream to inspire the masses, I just couldn’t get it right. This brings to mind a wonderful quote from Mark Twain:

“There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn't because the book is not there and worth being written—it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself.”

How to tell a story about Vancouver Revolutionaries eluded me. Deluded me. Secluded me. On a positive note, I did get to quote mad anarchists from the eighteenth century and dower Trilateralists from today, and juxtapose all kinds of conspiracy theories towards the solution of the world’s problems—all long before the arrival of George W (you mean there were problems before George W?).

I was also years ahead of Dan Brown’s mega-selling book The DaVinci Code, but unfortunately not nearly as interesting. Even having not read The DaVinci Code, I know this to be true.

And as I kept pounding on the keypad, and the creative exasperation of The Beaver began to solidify, thoughts of my childhood kept popping forth, until finally the past exploded onto paper, and I let loose.

And so was birthed Understanding Ken.

I never worked on The Beaver Rebellion again. In fact I lost for years all the copies (manuscripts and computer back ups) of TBR: Part II—all of them—until a former CSIS (Canadian CIA) liaison friend of mine called me up one day and said, “I say, young Pete, I found a stack of papers some three inches thick of yours in my office—that crazy manuscript you were writing.” I felt pleased, picked it up, read it over, and it still stunk the joint out.

But anyway, I’m talking about Understanding Ken, not some strident political comedy that isn’t funny. I’m serious. Stop bringing it up. Although how about this for drama?

Finally, Adam’s mind joins his heart and abandons the need to know. Supported, listened to and cared for—unusual happenings indeed—not to mention floating with intoxication, he could not be more content.

The cadre, it would seem, is complete; their mission clear, the date still unknown. Adam’s honesty in the interrogation has acted as a sort of moral super-glue, and the yin-yang balancing may be of no small contribution. Sitting in a small circle in the Anarbunker, mildly buzzed, taking turns petting Rolf’s moulting and fetid coat, the power of life surrounds their tired bodies like the massage of a late-night desert breeze.

Outside, snowflakes dance waltz-like and free against the backdrop of night, round and round in the cold Canadian wind, as unconcerned as ever with human affairs.

Doesn’t it just reek of Steinbeck? No, I just couldn’t make it resound.  Two more important notes on Understanding Ken: One, it still took another good eighteen months to edit and re-edit, which is a lot more than six weeks. And two…I can’t remember two, but when I do, it’ll sum up the entire journey, and probably leave you deeply moved and unable to speak.

And I will say this: When I finished the Understanding Ken manuscript, because of its autobiographical feel (in a James Frey kind of way, God love him), I gave it to my (divorced) parents to read. I told them if it made them uncomfortable, I wouldn’t put it out. My mom cried the whole way through and my dad laughed the whole way through. They both said put it out. So I did. I told you they were great.

Oh, yeah, now I remember point two. I wrote Understanding Ken after a good chunk of therapy and some vipassana meditation, which was fortunate, because it gave me enough space between my self and my perception of self to have fun with the memories. And I still enjoy glancing through Understanding Ken—and the letters and comments I occasionally get are gratifying. The fact that it became a perennial best-seller and a major motion picture is all the more fulfilling because…oh, shit, no. That’s Dan Brown again.

By the way, I know it’s hard to find UK in bookstores. That’s a side-effect of small publishing companies in a big world. There’s not much I can do about that, except sell online, where the world is all ones and zeros. No offense



copyright 2006 Pete McCormack