It’s been a helluva struggle, but both my website and my latest novel, The Binbrook Caucus, are now online. The website is at http://www.schaffter.ca You can access The Binbrook Caucus from the site, or go to it directly at http://www.schaffter.ca/the-binbrook-caucus/the-binbrook-caucus.html
When I say a struggle, I mean it. Completion of The Binbrook Caucus took six years. Most of it was written in a living room perpetually filled with adolescents playing Xbox games. While smooth as silk, the novel is a complex bit of work. In interlocking spirals, it recounts four epochs in the life of David Ase, psychic extraordinaire and former teenage hustler. A larger underlying story stretches from the 1941 blitz at Coventry to the present. Keeping it all straight was hard enough without the sounds of Final Fantasy forever in my ears.
No sooner had I finished than my editor crapped out on me. Her magazine had just gone down the tubes, and I guess she couldn’t cope with a manuscript as tricky as The Binbrook Caucus. Whatever her reasons, her response to reading a small portion of it was to attack me personally for having written it at all, leaving me to do the editing and proofing on my own.
I'd scarcely started on that Herculean task when my roommate, who’d been showing signs of a collapse for several months, cracked up and locked me out of our apartment. Illegally, even though the lease was in her name. At midnight. In the dead of winter.
Thus began a year of homelessness, interspersed with two attempts at living with the crazy (which I didn’t realize at first, of course): one a former university professor with a personality disorder so severe it verged on psychopathic, and the other a psychotic drunk.
Thank god I had my laptop. The battery is dead, but anywhere that had a plug allowed me to boot up. Thus, large sections of the novel’s finished version were completed in Tim Hortons, and Starbucks with their handy WiFi access.
And not just the writing itself. A long-time champion of copyleft, I decided to forgo the confidence-destroying, hat-in-hand approach to publishers (which I underwent for my first novel, The Schumann Proof,) and make the book available online.
It was a huge amount of work, not only typesetting the book for easy reading at the screen, but creating an entire website from the bottom up, by hand. If you’ve never built a website, believe me, it’s a daunting task: writing copy, making graphics, coding pages, testing and debugging, getting a domain... Imagine doing that while wandering the streets by day, hanging out in shopping malls, and carrying around the knowledge that you may not have a bed at night.
On reflection, “struggle” may be understating things.
The one good thing that comes from all this is that it let me live a period of homelessness like David Ase, age seventeen. His account of living on the street is now, first-hand, my own, and accurate in every detail.
Like David, I did not give up. The work is finished now. I'm in the mood to celebrate, but all my friends are either out of town or just as poor as I.
Instead, I'm sitting by the banks of the canal that runs through Ottawa—the Rideau—listening to robins happy that a thunderstorm has passed. The air is still and heavy, but the sun is setting so it’s not too hot.
A flight of geese goes by; I watch their smudged reflection in the water. Perhaps it’s all the celebration I need. As they fly off, I feel a great weight lifted from my shoulders.