Spring Cleaning on the Site!

You may notice this site looks different.

Oh man, this overhaul was so incredibly overdue. I’d not been happy with this blog for…well, too long. The tipping point came when I looked at the banner on Tee’s site and realized, “Wait a second – I know how to do that now. I could do that!” The roomies and I attacked our house pretty good for spring cleaning, so why not go after my online home the same way?

Besides, I figured it was about time to think about the future, and this site was looking a little antiquated. You guys, I’ve been blogging here since I was twenty. I’m 23 in a few months. Also, while I tend to start adding a year onto my actual age about three months before my birthday, this year has been worse – in my head, for reasons unknown, I’m suddenly 24. Because I’m crotchety like that.  I know that if I say, “I’m getting old,” I will be smacked six ways from Sunday…but time is passing. I’m getting older (happy?).

See, I simultaneously never grew up...

Inside, I’m simultaneously the kid who never grew up…

 

..and this.

So I sat down and had a good think. And also, some ginger slice. What directions am I moving in now? What are my plans for the rest of 2014? What do I want to write?

I keep coming back to the Victorian Dark Fantasy. Ye gods, I had SO MUCH FUN writing that. I’m having SO MUCH FUN editing it. And then, there are vague stirrings of another Victorian-ish world rumbling ’round the back of my head; something set in Magical 1870s Toronto. And then, there’s the steampunk….

So I think we can safely say that Victorian-flavoured fantasy is a persistent preoccupation for me. Bearing that in mind, I started looking for cool fonts (Tales from the Archives has its own font; I wanted one, too!).

Looking through them all…I imagine it was very much like when normal people go dress-shopping. I got to try on all sorts of different ones, searching for the one that felt right, the one that said…me. Or KT Bryski. Either way.

I liked this one. See, isn’t it cool? Also, while it’s wayyyyy too early to make anything like these…I made these. The Victorian Dark Fantasy makes me too excited.

Slide1

Slide2

Because that’s not creepy at all…

 

Even though 2013 was a lost year in my books, I still did some things, and those also needed to be recognized. I have a handy Fiction page now, which I’ve updated to include things besides Hapax. I’ve sold three short stories! And…erm, I’ve only ever written three short stories…

Um.

Which means that more short fiction is on the books (heh) for 2014 as well. The more I do it, the more I like it, and I’d like to have more than three in my repertoire. Doesn’t matter if my streak continues (and it won’t - my supply of horseshoes is going to run out eventually), I’d just like the experience of having written them.

Plus, over the past two years, I’ve started doing other stuff. It’s important, I think, for us to remember the things that don’t fit in the usual box we assign ourselves. I write a beer blog. I do freelance editing (for reasonable rates!). Apparently, I write opera libretti and games. Yeah, I was a wee bit surprised by that, too. One of my big fears of leaping into writing so early was that I’d have one story in me – flash in the pan, young author, didn’t live up to her potential.

Who knows? But right now, I feel stable and supported, and I’m raring to go. The last of the winter detritus has been swept away, and this weekend is kind of about rebirth anyway, right?

Let us spring forth!

-KT

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Hop: My Writing Process

My friend Emily Swartz tagged me in a blog hop meme and gave me some questions to answer about inspiration and my writing process. Here are my responses – and the bios/links for the next authors I’m tagging!

1) What am I working on?

Lots and lots of things. My main project at the moment is refining and plot-doctoring my Victorian Dark Fantasy novel (yeah, that’s a codename) with my mentor at the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA. I also have to read two books for that each month, on which I then write two papers. Also for Stonecoast: our July workshops are bearing down upon us, so I’m currently editing one short story about parallel universes and halfway through writing another about all the nifty lost bits of Toronto.

I’m also working on an “interactive, text-based, online game,” which is a fancy way of saying I’m writing a “choose-your-own-adventure-style” story, which will have buttons to click instead of pages to turn. Keeping all the branching storylines straight has been a fun challenge…and it’s kind of sci-fi, which is new for me.

I also write for two blogs. This one has posts up every Saturday, and we have Thirsty Thursdays over at The Black Creek Growler, which is the official blog of the Black Creek Historic Brewery.

Then I drink coffee, because that’s just the writing which is strictly mine. There are also the internships. Ah, the internships…

I’m the official intern of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. Mostly, I oversee Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris’s calendars, booking interviews and keeping track of appearances and suchlike. Using my Victorian research skillz, I post to the Ministry’s Facebook page. I also edit stories for Tales from the Archives—a podcast anthology of Ministry short stories—and it was strongly hinted that I should start writing another story to follow up Under Oak Island.

UnderOakIsland_Cover_small

But remember, I said internships? One isn’t enough! I also intern for Mur Lafferty, scheduling interviews, keeping track of her calendar, and so forth.

I also became a freelance editor along the way. I’ve joined the One-Stop Writer Shop, which is a really cool resource for self-published authors: you can find everything from editing to layout, from audio book production to marketing!

Also, I owe my friend Marie Bilodeau a blog post soon.

And I return to the dayjob in two weeks.

Next question, please?

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Although I consider myself a fantasy writer, I don’t really write the usual questing stories. While I often draw from history and myth, I tend to turn things inside-out and then run in the opposite direction with them.

Sometimes, that means combining a literary term (a hapax is a word that occurs only once in a body of work) with a theological concept (“…the Word was with God and the Word was God”) and seeing what happens (answer: this). Other times, it means using Irish mythology and history as the most tenuous of analogies to explain a backwater, pseudo-Victorian village to myself.

Despite the epic themes, my work is also very much focused on people. Yes, there is magic and gods and (sometimes) apocalypses: but there are also families, people endlessly seeking home, people trying very hard to do the right thing in terrible situations.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I see many possible answers to this question: some philosophical, some practical.

The practical ones are easy, so let’s start with those. Sometimes, I write the things I do because someone has said, “If you write this thing for me, I will give you monies!” Since my landlord and the grocery store regularly desire monies from me, I say, “Okay!” Don’t get me wrong—I still have fun, and always latch onto something in the project that sparks my passion. It’s just that this habit of saying, “Yeah, sure, I could do that!” has landed me some opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise, which is wonderful.

Otherwise, an exchange from The Red Shoes comes to mind:

 

The Red Shoes: quippy dialogue, music, and those awesome 1940s movie accents.

Why do you want to dance?

Why do you want to live?

Well, I don’t know exactly why, but I must.

That’s my answer too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, my writing springs from some deep-rooted feeling -  my best pieces have always been love songs in one form or another. Other times, a character emerges from the aether and won’t leave me alone. They pester me, whispering constantly in my ear, teasing me with images and emotions until I finally get their story out.

4) How does my writing process work?

When an idea first starts whispering, I try not to scare it away. I let it develop in the back of my head, like one of those old Polaroid snapshots coming into focus. When I can see more relevant details, I start asking questions.

Who is that woman? How does this magic work? When did this one country invade another country? The answers spark more questions, and so this back-and-forth with myself continues, sometimes for a few days, sometime for months, writing long letters to myself or musing on the bus.

When it feels right (and it’s hard to explain exactly…mixing metaphors here, it’s like when bread has risen enough—you just know), I put together a very rough roadmap of the story. Often, I pull out the index cards, just because I find physically manipulating the story structure helpful.

NotecardPlotting

And then, when it feels right, I start writing.

How many words I get per day largely depends on deadlines and other projects. The game isn’t due until June and I’m really busy, so I get maybe 1000 words/day. I’ve twice written a novel in two months, getting 2000-3000 words/day. Once, I was on deadline. The other time, it was the Victorian Dark Fantasy, and I was having too much fun to stop.

Again, though, we can get philosophical with this. How does it work?

I sit down and then words happen. I do cultivate other interests—music, history, Doctor Who, beer, SNES games—to keep myself sane and the creative well full. I get outside when I can, I hang out with friends.

Something I’m realizing: work-life balance will probably never be my strong suit. But I’m starting to see another possibility: a more holistic approach, in which work and writing and fun all blend together. The lines between the different segments of my life blurred a lot over the last year—I kind of like it, this experience of a complete whole, rather than many disparate parts.

And on that profound note: I’m tagging you, P.C. Haring and Erik Buchanan!

*

A fan of Science Fiction from an early age P.C. Haring has always been one of those who looked up at the night sky and wondered “what if…” On 01/01/10, he began exploring those questions when he made his debut as a writer and podcast novelist with the release of the Cybrosis Podcast.  Since then, he has not looked back.  He has contributed short stories to Scott Sigler’s The Crypt: Book 1 — The Crew podcast, Philippa Ballantine’s Chronicles of the Order, audio anthology, and Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine’s Tales from the Archives anthology where his podcast of “The Seven” won the 2012 Parsec Award for “Best Short Story.”

When he’s not writing and podcasting, P.C. Haring puts his Accounting degree, his MBA, and his CPA credentials to good use as a corporate accountant in the Chicagoland area.

*

Erik Buchanan is a writer, ghostwriter, communications consultant, fight director and actor living in Toronto, Canada. He holds a BFA in Theatre, three black belts, and a variety of strange jobs that keep him busy. He is the author of the Magics Trilogy: Small Magics, Cold Magics and True Magics (Fall, 2014) published by Dragon Moon Press, as well as several short stories and over 300 articles on topics ranging from consumer electronics to where to get the flu shot. Currently, Erik is writing a young adult horror series set in Victorian London, an historical fiction piece set in Pre-Elizabethan England, and a web series about two thieves where Erik expects he will get thumped about a fair bit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Inspiration: or, my musical guilty pleasures revealed

Creating things takes a lot out of you: mentally, emotionally, and physically. This is why you often hear creative-types talking about the need to recharge creatively, to surround one’s self with things that keeps the muse purring and the creative furnaces hot. There usually follows images of the creative-type serenely contemplating a field of wildflowers, or perhaps meandering serenely through an empty art gallery…

 

Don’t get me wrong, art galleries are cool… (www.wikipedia.org)

Well, I found something that keeps my creative well consistently full, something that energizes me and makes me want to WRITE ALL THE THINGS.

Spoiler: it’s not wildflowers.

I’ve become a fan of Celtic Woman. And also a fan of the High Kings, which are basically the male equivalent of Celtic Woman. It’s been this way pretty much since last summer, when I started work on the Victorian Dark Fantasy. I don’t know what the kids are dancing to in the clubs these days, but you better believe that I can belt out Rocky Road to Dublin from memory, in the correct 9/8 slip reel time.

Drums! Pretty dresses! More drums!

It’s not something that I can really explain. Sure, I’ve always been a fan of traditional music, but these aren’t necessarily super-traditional. The translation for Celtic Woman’s version of Mo Ghile Mear is…um, well, you can take a look for yourself:

Can you feel the river run?

Waves are dancing to the sun,

Take the tide and face the sea,

And find a way to follow me.

 

Leave the field and leave the fire

And find the flame of your desire.

Set your heart on this far shore,

And sing your dream to me once more

 

Vs. the actual words:

Once I was a gentle maiden,

But now I’m a spent, worn-out widow,

My consort strongly plowing the waves,

Over the hills and far away.

 

Every day I’m constantly enduring grief,

Weeping bitterly and shedding tears,

Because my lively lad has left me

And no news is told of him – alas.

But you know what? I don’t care. There’s something in the drums, the harmonies of their arrangement that ignites that creative spark. Normally, I tend towards classical music, choral things, and musical theatre. But for whatever reason, this music punches some part of my brain and makes words want to happen.

I like ‘em.

I worked my way through most of their music while writing the Victorian Dark Fantasy…and now, I’ve got it back on repeat. Plus, their newer members come from musical theatre backgrounds. It shows, and these more theatrical performances are making ideas echo, even if I can’t articulate them just yet:

So yeah. My musical tastes have always been eclectic (I’ve also fallen in love with Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, but that probably won’t end up in a novel for a while), but this is perhaps a bit odd even for me.

As for the High Kings…well, again, they’re basically the male version. It’s more stand-and-sing, but their songs do that same punching-through-to-some-flash-of-idea thing. I think this is one of Mairi’s theme songs:

Although she is not at all a fan of this one, which is hugely interesting. Especially because I start dancing in my seat from the opening chords:

And of course, this song, which is actually Mairi’s theme song:

The things that stoke our creative fires aren’t always the things we expect. That’s ok, though. It opens us to things we might never otherwise find. Besides, this music makes me happy. Then I want to write, which also makes me happy.

And man… those 9/8 slip reels are catchy!

-KT

PS. Yes, I totally wrote this post while listening to Téir Abhaile Riú on repeat…

10 signs that you’re a writers’ intern

1. Your phone frequently buzzes with reminders and appointments…for authors who are hundreds of kilometres away.

2. In the context of interning, you’re not exactly sure how to refer to the people for whom you’re working. My authors? My bosses? My friends, whom I assist? All of the above?

3. Simultaneously managing four people’s calendars no longer fazes you.

keepcalmsuperintern12

4. There is some wicked cool stuff sitting on your hard drive. It takes every bit of self-control you have not to submerge yourself in it and read it all right now…because hey, you’ve got work to do.

5. There is an increasingly enmeshed set of connections between the different parts of your life—and you love it. Case in point.

6. You’re up to four email addresses and counting.

7. Bedroom = home office + bed.

8. You look at a novel interior, or a video, or a website banner, and think, “I know how they did that! I can do that!”

9. You secretly envision a future in which you intern for all the authors, coordinating the entire publishing industry from the shadows—ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR.

...try to take over the world. (*cough* Sorry, something in my throat...)

…try to take over the world. (*cough* Sorry, something in my throat…)

And…

10. You often find yourself thinking, “How on Earth did I get so lucky?”

-KT

“Go away, I’m reading!” DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT and Me

Between two internships, Stonecoast, and my own writing, it’s been a busy week. And it’s only going to get busier, because DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT is out on Tuesday!

I haven’t been this excited (or this obsessive) since the release of HAPAX.

dawnsearlylight

About halfway through my stay in Virginia, Pip and Tee tossed me an ARC and said, “Yeah, you should probably read that.” Now, I’d been eyeing the giant flipping box of ARCs in the basement since the day I arrived, but I was too nervous to ask for one. But once it was in my eager little hands, I settled myself on the couch with a contented sigh.

“Whoa,” Tee said at one point, peering over. “You’re tearing through that.”

“Mm-hmm.”

A while later, he cleared his throat. “So—let’s get back to InDesign. We can set up the templates for WEATHER CHILD.”

Or something like that. Eliza was enjoying her first real taste of American “hospitality,” which happened to involve a fight scene, and it was very exciting. I wasn’t really listening.

Tee sighed. “Here, what page are you on? Ok. When you finish that chapter, we’ll go down.”

“But—”

“Don’t make me take that book away, young lady!”

So I finished the chapter and closed the book with a dramatic, exaggerated sigh. Of course, I was happy to do more layout work—I’d never actually be obstinate with my hosts and mentors. But still…those first five chapters had woken a weird, persistent itch. I’d left Eliza contemplating a new revelation, and she and Wellington needed to actually communicate with each other because the tension between them was driving me slowly but surely mad, and I was very aware of mines planted in earlier chapters that were waiting to go off later in the plot (metaphorical mines—it’s always a good idea to specify when dealing with Eliza D. Braun).

I needed to read more.

This one is mine. Get your own copy!

This one is mine. Get your own copy!

After dinner, instead of writing, I settled on the couch again. It was lovely and quiet, with Pip and Tee tapping at their own laptops and Sophia del Morte watching and plotting.

“Hey Katie, where are you now?”

I’m reading!

The next day found me back in the same spot. Pip was writing on the couch opposite me. Suddenly, I stopped reading with a gasp. I put the book down and gaped at Pip.

You guys had Edison [PLOT POINT REDACTED]?!”

She flashed a guilty smile.

There was another book that I was meant to be reading for Stonecoast. This is where I’m responsible, set DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT aside, and do my schoolwork, right?

Heck no! This is where I email my mentor saying, “Hello! I know you wanted me to write an imitative annotation this month…but can I write one on this book instead??”

Fortunately, she said yes. Which means that DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT was used in an academic paper before it was even officially released.

The rest of the day passed in a blur of hypersteam, explosions, historical personages, and crafty (figurative) Easter eggs. Here’s the thing, though: DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT is a lot of fun. No question about that. But there’s a real emotional heart to the story as well. During the big, climactic scene…well, my eyes got misty.

That’s right. I’m not ashamed of my tears. Although I did try to be subtle about them—after all, the authors were right there. And I’m also not ashamed to admit that I just looked up that scene for reference and instantly felt like I’d been stabbed again.  

And for me, that’s the real strength of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences in general and DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT in particular. You care. You care about these characters and their world so damn much. I was nineteen when PHOENIX RISING came out, so while I haven’t grown up alongside Eliza and Wellington quite the same way I did with Harry Potter, I think that we have developed together—settling into our respective skins.

As the novel ended, I could almost hear the ominous chords, the rumble of oncoming thunder.

When the fourth book comes out, I’m not waiting. I’m diving into that box of ARCs the minute I see it.

-KT

Writing With An Accent

Recently, I’ve had two characters with accents. Because I’m a geek about language and sound laws, I did sit down and have a good think about this. I’ve seen accents portrayed phonetically; I’m reading The French Lieutenant’s Woman right now, and John Fowles spells words such that you can actually distinguish between a Yorkshire and Cockney accent:

“’Ow about London then? Fancy seein’ London? Expec’ you will. When they’re a-married orf hupstairs. I’ll show yer round.”

“Would ‘ee? All they fashional Lunnon girls, ‘ee woulden want to go walking out with me.”

“If you ‘ad the clothes, you’d do. You’d do very nice.”

“Doan believe ‘ee.”

“Cross my ‘eart.”

-John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman

This works very well.

But I didn’t want to do that. Partly, I was nervous that it would turn into something like, “An’ den, ze deah boy wen’ doon t’crick” (I don’t even know what accent what that would be).  But also, I had a theory.

Fresh off writing an opera libretto and suggesting music through text, I wondered if it was possible to show cadence and speech rhythms through syntax and word choice.

Two characters, two backgrounds, two different accents:

UnderOakIsland_Cover_small

In my story for the Tales from the Archives podcast, Anouk Tremblay is an agent of the Québec version of the Ministry—le Ministère Officiel d’Occurrences Sans Explication (M.O.O.S.E.). She’s a francophone, uses English sometimes at work, and speaks with a Québecois accent.

For the Victorian Dark Fantasy, Mairi Brae’s got a lovely Skarrish accent—which in my head is pretty much an Irish accent. Skarrish is her first language, though she grew up speaking both Skarrish and Aldoran.

Translation

This doesn’t work in every case (like Fowles, above), but it helped me with Anouk. I’d write some of her lines in French and then translate them back into English:

Et ici, mes supérieurs ont dit, c’est nécessaire d’avoir une présence Québécoise.

And here, my superiors have said, it is necessary to have une présence Québécoise.

A few things. First: yeah, I left some French in there. Not much, but enough to flavour it. Second: structurally, the sentence is a little different than one a native English speaker might compose. Still perfectly understandable, just different.

Think of dialogue the way your character would. How does their first language shape their approach to others?

Weird Carryovers

Skarrish has a tense called the “after past” (funnily enough, a variant shows up in Irish English). It’s the immediate past, the past which just happened, and the past to which some emphasis is attached. In Aldoran, it shows up thusly:

I just asked her!

I’m after asking her!

Not a construction you’d find in native Aldoran, because that tense doesn’t exist in that language. Doesn’t stop Mairi from trying to use it.

Other weird things can carry over from language to language—what forms and structures is your character unconsciously clinging to?

Weird Non-Carryovers

At one point, Anouk tells Brandon to “Take care.”

Except, that’s not a phrase that’s found in French. The nearest equivalent is faire attention—“to make/have attention.”

Working with anglophone Ministry agents, Anouk knows enough to replace attention with care. But “take care” still wouldn’t necessarily sound natural to her—she ends up saying, “Have care” instead.

Biographical Background

Anouk pretty much only uses English when she’s dealing with English government officials. She’s fluent, but it’s a work language. It’s similar to how students learning French in an academic setting take a long time to relax from “Bien, je m’appelle KT” to “Ben ouai, j’pelle KT.” You don’t break the rules until you know them very well—which is why Anouk doesn’t use contractions.

Mairi, on the other hand, grew up bilingual. Skarrish left an indelible mark on her syntax and grammar, but it’s a subtler effect:

“Ah, she’s a flair for the dramatic.” Mairi chuckled as we turned up the road. “She’s like to do a few wreaths herself, for to get her mind off it, and then I’ll finish the rest when we’re back.”

I could probably do an entire post on Skarrish-Aldoran grammar. But for now, notice the abbreviated possessive (she’s, not she has), she’s like to (not she’s likely to) and the for to + infinitive.

“The Skarrish tale’s a touch of the darkness to it, to be sure, love,” she said. “But never you mind yourself!”

Overuse of the definite article (The Skarrish tale, the darkness), idiom carryover (to be sure), and overuse of the reflexive (never you mind yourself).

Practice and Instinct

After a while, your characters’ speech patterns do settle in your ears:

Even Charlotte says—said he’s spoken naught at home…

Which didn’t seem right to me, so I changed it to:

Even Charlotte says—said he’s naught spoken at home…

Only to realize later that you can place the past participle after the object in Irish English (naught = object, it’s what is being spoken; spoken = our past participle).

Sound complicated?

Kind of, I guess. If you’re letting different rule sets bounce off each other, it helps to know the rules in the first place. But we can sum it up:

Is your character attempting word-by-word translation?

What grammar/vocabulary exists in one language, but not another?

How does your character’s background affect their speech patterns?

Can you LISTEN to people who have your character’s accent?

-KT

Research Fu

Between interning for The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, dayjobbing, and writing my own pseudo-Victorian fantasy, I’ve been pulling out my research fu.

I smiled when Pip and Tee asked me to post Victoriana to the Ministry Facebook page. See, after working at Black Creek, writing the Victorian Dark Fantasy, and cramming my last few terms with nineteenth century history, I know where to find Victorian things.

The Internet Archive

Ah, www.archive.org, you are one of my best friends. Sometimes, I think I may even love you. The Internet Archive is a free-access digital library. Because it’s free, it mostly has materials which are long out of copyright.

That means it’s absolutely fantastic for primary sources.

Seriously, you can read whole books online. For free! Admittedly, it can be a bit persnickety with search terms: it’s best to either a) have a hugely wide net, or b) know exactly which title you want. And don’t even bother with the basic search if you’re doing historical research: advanced search is where it’s at.

The McCord Museum/Musée McCord

I’ve used the McCord Museum for the dayjob, the Victorian Dark Fantasy, and for the Ministry. It’s a very well-maintained site—there are all sorts of virtual tours and exhibitions to explore online.

They’ve got an extensive collection of Victoriana, much of which is easily accessed online. Really, it’s one of my main go-to’s for visual references—especially Victorian clothing. (I owe what little fashion vocabulary I have to the McCord Museum)

1810s dress, courtesy the McCord Museum/Musee McCord: http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/en/

1810s dress, courtesy the McCord Museum/Musee McCord: http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/en/

The Victorian Web

This venerable website (and yes, it does look it—just bear with it) is one of the oldest scholarly/academic sites out there. It has articles on a wide range of Victorian topics, including some really niche ones (stained glass and gaslight, anyone). Plus, it’s a bit like Wikipedia in that you can follow a trail of hyperlinks, drifting from topic to topic…only it’s not a site that anyone can edit, which helps me sleep at night.

Wikipedia

But come on, I was a university student in the 2010s. Of course I like Wikipedia.

Although I’ve heard the horror stories of profs purposely inserting false information to show how unreliable Wikipedia is, I maintain that it has its uses. First, it’s a good way to get a general overview of a new subject before diving into more detailed information, avoiding that grasping-at-straws feeling.

Second…Wikipedia is a good place to start your bibliography.

Let’s search…oh, let’s search Victorian Gothic.

***

Ignore the article itself and scroll down to “Further Reading” and “External Links.”

Aha! A ready-made list of scholarly websites and books! Gothic Revival; The Gothic Revival & American Church Architecture; An Episode in Taste, 1840–1856; Of knights and spires: Gothic revival in France and Germany; the Victoria and Albert Museum Style Guide…

It isn’t a full bibliography, but it’s a good place to start.

Public Library Databases

All history students know that articles take less time to read than books and usually have more specialized information. And thank goodness—you don’t need to be in university to access them!

Most public library websites have a section that says “Research” or “Articles” or something similar. If you’ve got a library card, you can click through until you get to the databases themselves: something like EBSCO or Gale Cengage or Academic OneFile.

Many will also have digital archives. I didn’t even sign into the Toronto Public Library site and found this 1912 picture of the dayjob’s Half Way House:

I credit my high school history teacher for a) getting me interested in history and b) teaching me how to get good at finding stuff. Yes, it’s great for writing—but also, it’s the thrill of the chase.

Which is why I sometimes get sucked down the black hole of Cool Victorian Stuff…but that’s a post for another day. :)

-KT

Critiques: A Writer’s Unlikely Love

Criticism is part and parcel of the writing life. It’s funny, though—I always assumed that my general anxiety around evaluations would be my biggest stumbling block as a writer. As I’ve gone along, though, I’m discovering that I’m…ok with criticism.

More than that, actually. Even though I still get nervous as anything, I also crave it. Editorial criticism, anyway. Reviews are a different topic; let’s save them for another day.

I had two larger critiques come in recently: one for the first half of my Interactive Text-Based Online Game (hereinafter codenamed “The Game”) and one for my first Stonecoast packet. By the time this post goes live, I will have already Skyped with my mentor about her comments on said packet.

In both cases, they seemed to approach the topic of criticism quite carefully. Naturally, that set Anxiety screaming, “The other shoe is going to drop! The other shoe is going to drop! Wait for it wait for it wait for it!”

And then it was fine.

By “fine,” I don’t mean, “Everything was sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and fluffy bunnies.” There are things to fix: mostly coding for The Game, mostly the main character in the Victorian Dark Fantasy. So, not necessarily minor things, but still—

That’s it? I’m not missing an extra page of critique? Because really, those are good things to know. Frankly, if an editor ever said that a piece was perfect and there was nothing to change, I’d get very nervous.

There’s always something to change.

Also, it’s never about you.

That’s the piece that I seemed to have learned, almost by accident. It’s that ability to step back and look objectively at a piece and say, “Yes. I see where this doesn’t work. Ok.” No different than someone saying, “Hey, one leg of that chair is a bit longer than the others.” Are you going to sit there on a wobbly chair denying it, or are you going to wobble for a minute, testing it, and then pull out the saw?

Of course, there are times when you whip out the measuring tape and realize, no, you’re right. Sometimes that happens. You just have to be sure.

(For instance, there was a query about fireplaces that sent me on a quest that was really fun – but also took way too long considering that all I did with my diagrams and photos was show them to my roommate.)

Caveat here: I’ve been lucky as a writer, in that all my editors and workshop members have mastered that balance of being respectful and kind and also not pulling punches. Personal attacks in critiques are not ok. I’ve never had that happen, but they kind of defeat the critique’s main purpose: making the work better.

Remember, it’s not about you. That goes both ways.

Like so many things, anticipation is usually worse than the actual event. I wish I could return to my 14-year-old self and say, “Hey, look! It’s going to be fine—honestly, it doesn’t hurt and you actually feel good after!”

Maybe the knee-jerk fear reaction never really goes away, but learning to love the whip makes it a lot easier to manage. As one of my Irish drinking songs says:

What would you do if the kettle boiled over?

What would I do, but to fill it again?

What would you do if the cows ate the clover?

What would I do, only set it again?

I can’t wait to get these pieces polished! ;)

-KT

Internship of Awesome

First day back in Toronto after spending the last month interning with authors Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris! We recorded an episode of The Shared Desk (out on Feb 26th) which examines our time together, but I wanted to do my own post-mortem as well, because it was such an amazing, incredible, still-can’t-believe-it-happened experience.

Who are these people?

Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris are fantasy authors. Currently, they’re co-writing The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series (think steampunk X-files, with more shenanigans), though they also write their own fantasy independently.

I stumbled across them through podcasting—they were some of the earliest podcast authors (in Tee’s case, the earliest), met them in person at Dragon Con, and the rest is history.

And so, this February…

As Pip so eloquently put it, we assumed a fair exchange of learning experience for practical help. I flew down to Virginia (completely forgetting about the trains connecting Dulles’s international terminals and arrivals hall until the last moment) and stayed with them for just over three weeks.

During that time, they taught me things—everything from cover design to book layout to video editing to How To Not Be A Jerk On Social Media. In return, I did things—laying out a novel and some short stories, editing short stories, maintaining the calendar, posting on the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Facebook page, and so forth.

The Awesome

Pip and Tee are awesome. Writing is awesome. Learning is awesome. Therefore, learning about writing with Pip and Tee is awesome.

IMG_1780

And Sebastian is AWESOME.

Considering that I was only there for twenty-four days, I learned an incredible amount. Not just about the business of writing or the mechanics of programs like InDesign and Final Cut—essentially, I learned how to Author. I know I have more to learn (and they keep saying they have more to teach), but I’ve got much more of a foundation, now. It’s a great complement to Stonecoast, which is all about the craft. Pip and Tee taught me everything else.

More Awesome

As well, I got to spend some quality time with some people very dear to my heart. Pip, Tee, and their daughter Sonic Boom gave me a home: literally and figuratively.

This is where I get emotional and the words start failing.

I admire them as authors. I admire them even more as people.

The Challenge

I wanted so badly to help. I wanted so, so badly to be useful.

And they assure me that I was. Self-critical KT is self-critical, but I do feel a twinge of pride as I leaf through the Weather Child proof. They did the really tricky stuff—but I did the grunt work. Same twinge of pride when I got second and third drafts back from Tales from the Archives authors, and my editorial suggestions worked.

Putting New Zealand fantasy on the map! Literally!

Putting New Zealand fantasy on the map! Literally!

What Next?

I’m still helping from Canada (if you have a podcast and would like Pip and Tee on your podcast, please email me at contact(at)ministryofpeculiaroccurrences(dot)com). This whole experience also lit a fire under me—I want to do all of the writing things ever right now this minute.

It’s the same fired-up feeling mixed with slight depression that you get after cons. On the one hand, I’m so excited. On the other…I miss them. So much.

But hey, concrete steps. Today I got another whiteboard, so now I have one for my projects and one for Interning Stuff. I made sure my papers and files are organized. I rejigged my own whiteboard, adding new projects and plots (including a goal to have a new post here every Saturday—regular blogging fell by the wayside, and now I’m reclaiming it for real).

As I tweeted earlier today…

InternTweet

That about sums it up.

But I want to see more!

Want to see what I did?

Then take a listen to Tales from the Archives.

Check out Pip’s novel, Weather Child.

Look at Tee’s Kickstarter campaign for another Billibub Baddings mystery and consider backing it.

Do spend some time with the Ministry (the third book, Dawn’s Early Light, comes out next month. I devoured the ARC in less than two days. Just saying…)

This one is mine. Get your own copy!

This one is mine. Get your own copy!

So, then…

This was incredible. Absolutely incredible. I loved every minute of it. Pip, Tee, Sonic Boom—thank you for everything, from the bottom of my heart.

Arohanui,

KT

Of Dead Laptops and Back-ups

So, my laptop died.

It was never quite the same after I mailed it home from New Zealand. For a while, I had one consistently good USB port, one which was dodgy, and one dead. Then the other day, I noticed that my laptop wasn’t charging…even though it was plugged in.

Unplugging, re-plugging, and all sorts of fiddling did nothing. To make matters even more fun (whee!), I’m currently in Virginia on a three-week interning spin with my dear friends Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris. So, a bit far from home.

Fortunately, Pip and Tee are wonderful people. They drove me to Best Buy and waited while the Geek Squad determined that they might be able to ship my laptop back to Canada, where Future Shop might be able to possibly replace the power port to maybe extend my laptop’s life another couple of weeks.

And then they patted my shoulder as I coughed up the money for a new laptop.

There is never a good time, but this could have been better (oh hai, MFA tuition). But the most striking part of this whole experience was transferring the files from the old machine to this new one. The issue wasn’t one of space (again, wonderful friends that Pip and Tee are, I had the use of all the external drives I could ask for).

No, the main issue was time. Once that battery goes, the old machine’s done.

(And yes, I know about pulling hard drives…but I’m in Virginia. I’m not sure how or if I can get the old laptop home.)

So it was like standing in a burning house, wondering, “What do I save? What do I grab first? What can I leave behind?” All the while knowing that every second of indecision brings you closer to that final shutdown.

It’s probably the historian in me, but I like having links to my own past. Detailed records, a personal archive that is there, even if I rarely dip into it. Maybe it’s a security thing, knowing that I can always reconstruct things if necessary.

Obviously, getting the writing to safety is always top priority when things get squirrelly, which is why I’m actually pretty good about backing things up.

Pictures and music vied for second place. A 2011 family trip to Costa Rica, the last we took before my dad died. My New Zealand photos. Even just images for Black Creek and this blog – more a matter of convenience and posterity, but still.

iTunes is fine, so I grabbed whatever extra stock music and sound effects I could. Luckily, I pulled the raw Hapax files ages ago (they were large and numerous), precisely because of this fear of, “What if I need to go back in one day?”

That’s a fear I face now, with the videos. I got the final cuts of all my Black Creek videos, but very little raw footage or sound files. I can’t see why I would ever need to rebuild those videos from scratch, but if ever someone asked, I probably couldn’t. That worries me, even though it’s completely irrational. Again, I blame my historian streak.

But at the end of the day, the important things are really the things that are me. The writing, the music, the photos. Most other things can be found again, edited again. Music is challenging to replace; writing and photos can be almost impossible.

Which is why I will give the customary “Back your stuff up” speech. When my laptop died, I already had the entirety of my fiction backed up elsewhere. I did go back for a few university essays, but the writing was safe.

Most of my photos are on Facebook (though there are always strays). I’ve used Google Drive more and more lately; it holds the music for the kids’ opera, the videos, and a few other random documents. I have my own intern Dropbox now.

It’s easier than ever to protect your data. Yes, emergencies happen. Yes, the unforeseen is…well, unforeseen. But if you can take any steps to mitigate potential disaster (knowing it’s not always possible)…then please, save yourself the heartache later.

Here are some photos that I would have been sad to lose.

KT

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Dad tanned. I do not.

Arriving at the Dunedin flat. Too mundane for Facebook, but it brings me right back.

Arriving at the Dunedin flat. Too mundane for Facebook, but it brings me right back.

I like the perspectives no visitors see.

I like the perspectives no visitors see.

I do like the furballs...

And I do love the furballs…

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