What I Want

So I’ve thought about it,
And while a Hugo would be nice-
If we could leave the politics, maybe?
-That isn’t what I really want.
I admire the Nebulas, and
The World Fantasy Award has
Undeniable cachet.
But if I never get one,
I won’t lose sleep.
I don’t know if I still qualify
(Or ever qualified, let’s be honest)
For the John W. Campbell,
But I think
I no longer care.

See, I’ve thought about it, and
I love getting fan mail
From people I don’t know.
I appreciate the reviews on Goodreads,
And other fine book retailers.
And yes, I squirmed with
Adolescent joy
When my advisor said
That I deserve a “Pass Plus.”


But I’ve thought about it,
And what I really want
Is this:

I want you to find me,
Some Tuesday afternoon
When we aren’t doing anything.
I want you to pause,
Just for a moment,
And say,
“I read your story –
It was really good.
I liked it.
I’m so proud of you.
Well done.”

That’s all.

So I’ve thought about it,
And I think
I’ll beat on:
Seeking the words
That you’ll find beautiful.



What I’m Listening To This Week:

“There Will Be Rest,” a lovely choral piece by Frank Ticheli, set to a poem by Sara Teasdale. Honestly, I’m really tired right now, so just listen. Absolutely divine lyrics and treatment.

Writing What We Don’t Know

“Write what you know.” We hear this so often, it’s not even cliché anymore. It’s a cliché of a cliché: the archetypal advice given to new writers.

Write what you know. You can see what they’re driving at. Write those things you’ve lived and held in your bones; write the things that matter to you. Write your experience, because your experience is unique and no one knows it better than you.

Except—I don’t think we write what we know. Not really. We write what we don’t understand.

I look at my fiction, and I see the same motifs emerging over and over again. Frigid, brittle winters. Loss and grief. Sibling and pseudo-sibling angst. These are the stories I tell myself, again and again. Turning them over, swapping things around, changing the key. Almost as though, if I keep trying, I’ll hit the magic combination that lets “The End” sing with comprehension.

(Source, The Torontoist. Image by Howard Yang.)

(Source: The Torontoist. Image by Howard Yang.)

It’s not intentional. I don’t think writers consciously set out to write stories based on their psychological hang-ups. I certainly don’t sit down and think, “Right, short story time. Let’s see, I need my northern village in the grip of winter, my tiny ray of hope at the very end…” No, the stories that come to us come from inside us. We write what we don’t understand because those unresolved questions are what the mind returns to—quietly, subconsciously—expressing its findings as wendigo and little gods and ice, because those are the best images it can find. And so, as artists, our metal workshops are filled.

I do worry about becoming a cliché of myself. “Oh, northern village, hidden god, sad orphan—must be a KT Bryski story.” I do try to push myself. “Does this story have to be set in winter? Is there a way to accomplish this without resorting to divinity?” And sometimes, the answer is yes. And sometimes, the answer is no.

Because—I don’t think I understand winter. Not really, not on a metaphorical level. Not the long nights, and the cracking ice, and that peculiar grey time between late afternoon and twilight. I don’t understand loss. I don’t understand being torn from home—or exiles.

As it turns out, I don't think I fully understood my homesickness while travelling...

As it turns out, I don’t think I fully understood my homesickness while travelling…

After this week, I realize I really don’t understand the pains of this world.

But we keep writing. Or painting. Or singing. Or even just talking. That’s the only way to come close, I think—to get scraps of insight, a piecemeal comprehension. The only way out is through. And that is the wonderful, powerful thing about literature. It’s how we try to understand. I can think of nothing more meaningful than that.


What I’m Listening To This Week

Continuing our theme of “loud and complex,” I’ve been enjoying “Mars, the Bringer of War,” from Holst’s Planets suite. It starts low but ominous—striking strings beat a menacing pulse in the background while the brass carries the melody. We get louder and fuller through the first two minutes, sound crashing like waves…

And then we break at 2:11, with an extended dialogue between the horns and the rest of orchestra. A murky, serpentine section in the middle gradually disintegrates into our original, Darth Vader-like theme.

And you know what? Holding onto that pulse all the way through—it never lets you rest. It’s like alarms going off the entire time. Until the crashing, thunderous chords in the last minute. This piece pretty much just obliterates everything in its path.


Bartending, Practice, and Art

Hello lovelies,

Hope you’ve all been well. The thesis is finally out of my hands—huzzah!—and if I can muster all my strength to make it past Tuesday or so, I think I can finally take a breath.

So recently, my choir held a cabaret night to raise funds for our trip to the UK next year. I think I was meant to be a general dogsbody, but then I said, “I’ll just help set up the bar.” One thing to led to another, and…I spent the rest of the evening bartending.

Honestly, I think we all knew how this would end.

Honestly, I think we all knew how this would end.

Which was good. Because here’s the thing: as soon as my bar was set up (and see, even without thinking, it’s my bar), I felt like something had settled on its tracks properly. Everything fell into place. I knew what to do. I was on. I was home.

And it made me think about art, naturally. In his book Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury talks about practice. Through enough practice and time, you can relax. Things become second nature; the very conscious focus on the mechanics falls away. You’re relaxed, but not in an apathetic way. It’s the relaxation when you know a situation.

This is what being behind a bar feels like for me. My first jaunt in the brewery—oh, the awkwardness. The glasses slipped between my fingers, the beer sloshed as I poured, and I was terrified of the dishwasher.

I got this now.

I got this now.

Art’s similar. Look at writers’ first pieces; artists’ first sketches; dancers’ first practices. They tend to be gawky and ungainly, don’t they? Adverbs slipping through the prose, paint sloshing all over, and terror leading up to certain turns. But that’s okay. The mechanics take practice. And here’s the rub: they take time, too.

A lot of time has passed since my first stint slinging beer. Lots of tastings. Lots of tours. Lots of events. Countless glasses poured and bottles lifted. And so, I can relax a little. It’s muscle memory. Once the motion and intention is worked into the body—your mind doesn’t need such a death-grip. It’s free to think about other things: the witty banter, the tasting notes, the fact that there’s a new queue all clutching drink tickets but the gentleman to the right still needs his Guinness.

At that point, you can start exploring ways to push your art. Deepen it. Enrich it. Hearkening back to Mr. Bradbury, fingers and subconscious and story all come together in one motion: an archer releasing an arrow, a beer wench snatching up the correct bottle and pouring exactly four ounces without looking.

When that happens—you got this. You know how to move your wings. And you can fly.


What I’m Listening To This Week

Something old and new at the same time. An old friend has an album out—Erin Cooper Gay gave me my choral mechanics and foundation, so it certainly fits today’s theme! In Black Market, she’s blending indie music with Renaissance and baroque; it’s fresh and spirited, and feels very classic at the same time.

“Manchester” is my favourite track…partly because it’s about a writer (the line “I guess I’ll have to write a sequel” makes me smile). But also because it’s got a lovely, bouncing chorus, and it feels…well again, it feels like something new and something familiar simultaneously—the voice in particular feels contemporary, but listen to the strings in the background. There’s some of your baroque influences. ;)


Ugly Dogs and Cute Goats: Let’s Talk Genre

Welcome back to the Stonecoast blog train. And how timely, because I’ve just received my signature pages. Their international journey took them to Boston—to be signed by my advisor—and then to Maine—for my second reader’s signature—and now they’re briefly back with me in Toronto before I send the entire thesis to the MFA office. I’ve not been fretting. Not at all.

The consummate cool cucumber.

The consummate cool cucumber.

Anyway, today my Stonecoast comrades and I are discussing genre. As in, what’s our genre, why that genre, what is genre…?

I’m primarily a fantasy author. It tends towards dark fantasy, but we’re not talking full-blown horror. I like historical fantasy too, and I’ve written steampunk on occasion. I’ve yet to write any hard SF. The closest I’ve gotten is my quirky romp of an RPG, though one thesis short story could maybe be soft SF.

And right away, you have an idea of the types of stories I tell, even if you’ve never read anything of mine.

I write stories that have magic. Sometimes they get a little scary and grim, but that’s not their main focus, nor will you find gore. Steampunk suggests Victoriana, gears, and perhaps a touch of whimsy. I don’t write stories centred on technology and scientific concepts very often; even my stories without magic focus mainly on people.

You can tell this because different genres carry different sets of expectations. In the “Fantasy” section of the bookstore, we expect different stories than in the “Thriller” section. And we judge them according to those expectations as well, which means that genre frames the reader’s experience of the story at hand.

Available now!

Available now!

For example, I have strongly resisted attempts to classify my novel Heartstealer as “steampunk.” Why? Simple—it does not meet the expectations for the steampunk genre. Yes, it is set in a pseudo-Victorian society. But that’s about the only similarity it shares with steampunk. Magic may be present in steampunk, but it tends to be something lurking in the shadows. In Heartstealer, it’s front-and-centre: an integral part of the story. Steampunk frequently features societies powered by advanced steam technology. Heartstealer has none of that.

Rather than being a creative re-imagining of the Victorian era, Heartstealer is fantasy, set in a world that is not our own, but shares our Victorian age’s social structures, psyche, fashions, and technology.

As a “steampunk” novel, it’s not a very good example, because it does not meet those expectations. As a “historical dark fantasy,” I think it does much better.

So do you write to genre expectation, then?

A harder question that it seems. I think when you start any story, you have a rough idea of where it might fall. If there’s spaceships and warp drives, you’re probably not writing a Western, for instance. You know your direction. The more nuanced, particular sub-classifications can come later. Okay, so you know right away that it’s a SF story—but is it a space opera, or soft SF, or a science fantasy, or military SF, or a first contact story? That, you may know only after you’ve finished the thing and taken a good look at it.

Because here’s the thing: I think genre is mostly useful for telling readers how to approach a given story. It gives them a framework in which to work. Is it the be-all and end-all? No, but it’s an efficient shorthand.

Really, it’s like our goats at the museum. They’re walked on leashes, and whenever I see them from the corner of my eye, I invariably think, “Wow, what ugly dogs.”

Then I look again and think, “Wow! What cute goats!”

Different approaches yield different expectations yield different responses. Make sure your readers know whether your story’s a dog or a goat.


What I’m Listening to This Week

Oooh, something awesome. The “Dies Irae” and “Tuba Mirum” movements from Verdi’s Requiem. We maybe know Verdi more for this operas—and my goodness, that theatrical streak shows here. This could basically just be the opera setting for the apocalypse.

Those initial bangs, his favourite trick of passing the line between parts…this is a glorious cacophony of sound and fury. Until suddenly things quiet. And that’s even more terrifying.

And oh, those trumpets beginning at 2:25- Verdi’s a freaking genius. See, in Revelations, there’s meant to be trumpets to signify the ending of ages and coming of judgements. These are them. Right here. That’s what they would sound like, I’m pretty sure. Seriously, just grab a set and actors, and you pretty much have Revelations for the stage.

And next on the train…

My fellow steampunk-lover, J.R. Dawson! She is a highly talented writer with whom I’ve had the distinct pleasure of workshopping. Which means that I got to read snippets of her fabulous YA steampunk novel. A strong voice in our Stonecoast community, I will miss her upon graduation. Also, her blog is really pretty.

Check her out, and head onto the next stop here!

On Saying Goodbye

I said goodbye to some dear friends today.

Rachel arrived at the church a year after I did—she was a seminary student, I was in the choir. After completing her placement, Rachel stayed on. For the past while, she’s been an Associate Priest. Her husband Leeman is a brilliant performer, a vibrant presence in Toronto’s geek community, and he also voiced Rodney in Coxwood History Fun Park.

Now they’re heading off to the US, where Rachel has secured a pretty amazing chaplaincy position. I am so incredibly proud of her.


And my friends are moving away.

This picture works on so many levels.

This picture works on so many levels.

During Rachel’s last homily, I got misty-eyed in the choir stalls, but I mostly kept it together until afterwards. Then the canon caught my eye and I dissolved into tears.

“That was such a beautiful funeral service,” he said.

The tears were a ball in my throat, and I couldn’t speak.

“She was absolutely the right person,” he continued.

See, Rachel organized and conducted my dad’s funeral. She commended the coffin to its gravesite. She prepped me for months before my confirmation. She’s my friend.

And yet, even as we kept making each other cry, there was a part of me that hung back, marvelling. Is this not wonderful?

Specifically, is it not wonderful that such communities can form? For myself, I entered both choir and church without any intention of staying. But I did. More than that, I formed relationships with these people. Yes, there was no dry eye in the parish hall, but is it not wonderful that we care enough about each other to cry like that? Is it not wonderful that all of us—imperfect, flawed, broken human beings that we are—can come together and form family? And finally, is it not wonderful that we can be so vulnerable—that we can bare our hearts, and not hide the tears, and actually say what we feel for each other?

This vulnerability comes from deep, abiding trust. Hearts are delicate things. It takes a lot of courage to expose them. It also takes a lot of faith—faith that the other party will treat your heart gently and not break it. Or almost worse, be indifferent to it. Like all matters of the heart, it’s a risk. So is it not wonderful when we find people who are willing to take that risk with us?

I did wonder, there in the parish hall, if these painful goodbyes are the price we pay for developing close relationships. Deeper tears for deeper joys?

But I’m not actually sure that’s the case. I don’t think it’s a price. I don’t think it’s a bargain we strike between hearts. Tears are not comeuppance or payment for joy. Rather, the tears and the joys come from the same place—that deep wellspring of love (however you want to define and contextualize “love”). Really, it’s all the same thing, arising from the same source. Which is why, while goodbyes are incredibly difficult—well, is this not wonderful? Is it not wonderful we had this time together? Is it not wonderful we care so much?

In any case, it’s not like anyone’s died. Social media is a wonderful tool. And honestly, the chances that we’ll all see each other at some convention are higher than not.

Best of luck, my friends. It has been wonderful to have these years together.


What I’m Listening to This Week

After leaving the reception, I ducked back into the nave for a moment to centre and recollect myself. From nowhere, this piece began playing in my head. I’d almost forgotten I knew it. It’s light, it’s gentle, and it is very self-explanatory. This. All of this.

Thanksgiving and the Rough Road

Happy Thanksgiving! And yes, American-types, it is Canadian Thanksgiving, which tends to be a much lower-key affair than yours. Mostly there’s just turkey and general goodwill. And also, no pilgrims. Although I like the pilgrims’ hats.

Anyway. For some reason, Facebook has been doing that “See Your Memories” thing a lot lately. Oddly, the memories it’s choosing to show are all memories from three years ago. Remember when your box of books arrived? Remember when you went on a quest for an author photo? Remember when Hapax came out? Remember that book launch?


October 2012: SO EXCITING!

I'm expecting a box of these any day. :)

And October 2015: I’m expecting a box of these any day. :)

I remember it being a very surreal time…that also felt very much in flux. As I recall, I was newly back from my first Dragon*Con. There were a lot of tentative friendships just starting to get their feet under them. And in hindsight, I was very wide-eyed and adorably eager about the whole thing.

Looking back at this, the friendships and relationships stand out most. Facebook keeps sharing pictures of friendships just barely starting to sprout. So much has happened since then. Sunshine and frost and cozy afternoons and dark nights of the soul. Those little seedlings have put down strong roots, toughened up their leaves, and come forth with fruit.

And how thankful I am for this harvest.

I forget who took this, but thank you.

I’m not sure who took this, but thank you.


I do believe—very strongly—that everything happens for a reason. Even the painful, hard things—they’re transition points, turning points. No, you don’t have to like them. But I think it’s helpful to recognize them as such. Sometimes, to get to the light, we need to pass through the tunnel first.

Again, you don’t have to like it. You don’t have to like the angst or the uncertainty. In fact, it’d be strange if you did. My point, I suppose, is that later—when the fever is broken, when the storm has passed, when the dawn is come—it is possible to look back to the darkness and heartache and be thankful. Not thankful that it happened, necessarily, but thankful for what came of it.

Friendships. Love. Purpose. Beauty.


It’s a rough road, but often the rough roads lead us where we need to go. With love, no journey is impossible. Right now, I’m in a good spot. And for those currently travelling—I’ll walk with you.


What I’m Listening To This Week

You all know I like early music. Byrd, Tallis, Palestrina…that’s my jam. This beautiful little Palestrina motet has become fixed with Thanksgiving in my mind. As soon as I hear it, I start feeling crisp breezes and smelling fallen leaves.

As with most Baroque pieces, there’s a million different lines happening at once, the parts passing the melody around like a hot potato. Unusually for me, I can actually follow the bass part pretty well in this one…although perhaps that’s not surprising, as it tends to complement/mirror the top line throughout. I LOVE the section around 1:20 when the “Buccinates” start – especially for the sopranos, it’s just so joyful. Also the runs on “tuba” make me happy.

Heartstealer: The Book That Will Not Die

I’m back from my jaunt south of the border. My visits with Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris never last long enough, but I always come home feeling like my head’s been screwed on straight again. Not only do I spend time with people very dear to my heart, I can pause and get my creative bearings.

Which is good. I needed a kick in the pants, because…

Heartstealer is coming out soon.

I know, I know. We had this conversation seven months ago. The novel was all proofed, it had an ISBN assigned, I had a beautiful cover by Starla Hutchton, interviews and guest posts were ready to drop. Literally, I just had to push the Big Red Button to make it a real, self-published book.

Remember this? This was beautiful!

Remember this? It was beautiful!

And then things happened. And then things didn’t happen. And then I felt bad about myself. And then I didn’t have time. And then I wondered if I should even release it at all.

Fortunately, I also saw Abigail Hilton and Lauren Harris relatively recently (July is recent, right?). They told me that if only button-pushing remained…then I should just push the damn button already.

Do eeeet...

Do eeeet…

And here’s the thing: I still love this story. I still love the characters, I love the world, and I love the themes. A few weeks back, someone came into the brewery with a heavy Irish accent and my heart just melted. Heartstealer still feels like home to me. Yes, there’s at least five other novels in the pipeline (four I’ll be talking about later this month, one’s still rattling around the old noggin), but I’m not quite done with my girls yet. Mairi and Sara have a story. It’s got ghosts and gods and long-leggedy beasties. It’s a story about love, and grief, and tangled histories.

I want to tell it.

Autumn came early this year...

Just a sleepy country village, right? Welcome to Grey Run.

So here’s the deal: it’ll be out on Amazon—print and e-copies—by October 7th.  Sometime in the eventual future, we’ll get the Audible version as well, thanks to my supremely skilled Voice Talent of Awesome (as Tee Morris has dubbed her).

And then, we shall see. I hope people enjoy reading Heartstealer, because I had a hell of a good time writing it.


What I’m Listening to This Week

Oh, I’ve been listening to the most wonderful piece! “Dark Night of the Soul,” by Ola Gjeilo. We start with a bang—that thrilling, driving rhythm in the instrumentals; the long, drawn-out chords in the choir. It’s the kind of piece that grabs you and doesn’t let go.

It’s also twelve mintues long, which means there’s several changes in mood and pace. I love the lilting lines in the lower parts around 3:53, and the dreamy middle section (all those tinkling piano runs!), but my absolute favourite comes around the 9:00 mark, when delicate strings explode into our initial driving rhythm. Only to the nth degree.

I get lost in pieces like this, where so much is happening at once. There’s no feeling like it.

Small Pleasures and Seeing Beauty

Happy Saturday. For a lovely, wonderful change, I am not at work today. Instead, I am holed up in my garret, which means that instead of slinging beer and/or performing, I will be attending to writing and/or related administrivia.

I actually finished the rough draft of a larger-ish project earlier this week. Now whilst I wait for feedback with bated breath, I’m returning to various grant application guidelines. Because I like my garret and paying rent is the honourable thing to do. However, application deadlines meant that this 20k project got pushed out in the span of about a week. I’ve written faster than that, for longer stretches, but I finished this piece absolutely exhausted. The past three nights have been all about Pokémon and reading other people’s words. For pleasure.

I’m wiped. And I’m not used to this level of post-project fatigue. Which tells me that I might be a) iron deficient, b) juggling too much, or c) out of the habit of writing like the wind for days on end. Or all of the above, which links to the perennial question of How I’m Doing.

So far this month, How I’m Doing is a spectrum ranging from Mostly Keeping It Together to Thrashing About Like A Grief-Beached Whale. Fortunately, since starting this project—i.e. since getting back into a writing discipline—it’s been more the Keeping It Together side of things. And getting back into a writing discipline reminded me of something else:

I love writing. I really do love it.

Funny how we can forget that, isn’t it? Sometimes, I think we get so bogged down with anxieties of publishing and contracts, theses and submissions, where your next meal is coming from and good God, I’m never getting this story placed, we lose sight of the sheer, unabashed joy of putting words on the page. You know, the reason we got into this in the first place…because it definitely wasn’t for fame and fortune. We’re wiser than that.

I had a similar epiphany at work. I was taking some laminated photos back to the mill—as one does, in my line of work—and I came the long way back, because it was a beautiful day, I had a few spare minutes, and why the hell not? Behind the mill, there’s a path that loops around the mill pond. Only a modest copse separates us from a busy intersection, but once you get on that path…the city seems to fall away. The rumble of cars fades, replaced by buzzing insects and chirruping birds. It smells like summer again.

You could be out somewhere in Prince Edward County. It’s incredible.


So I’m walking along, enjoying all this beauty, and then as I emerged from the brush onto the bridge overlooking the pond, I startled the resident heron. He’s been around as long as I have, but I hadn’t seen him in ages. And—

Well, this.


Despite everything, I still love this place. It’s still home. Later, as I waited for a tour, I caught myself listening to the trees creaking in the wind. And smiling. It’s that kind of love which delights in the tiny, quirky, and idiosyncratic. Those miniscule beauties get so easily lost. As with writing, it’s good to pause every once in a while, to take the long way back and see them afresh.

How many times have I walked right past this channel? How often do I pause to remark that it's really cool?

How many times have I walked right past this channel? How often do I pause to remark that it’s really cool?

Now to the bookstore, to spend a forgotten gift card on fancy notebooks for another larger-ish project. Because it’s my day off, I have a gift card, and why the hell not?


What I’m Listening to this Week

Something a little slower and more sedate this week: Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte. Translation: Pavane for a Dead Princess. (Again, I promise, I’m fine.) Actually, Ravel didn’t really have any particular dead princesses in mind when he wrote this: it was a nostalgic metaphor.

In any case, I’ve been listening to the orchestrated version, because I still have a weakness for horns after all these years. The piano version is excellent too, but oh, that haunting, hollow melody echoing from the rush of strings…. It reminds me of the final lines of The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

It’s the piece’s momentum that does it, despite the melancholy. Gentle and constantly moving forward. The piece made a lot more sense when I learned a pavane is a type of dance. Of course it is. Also worth noting: the absolutely ethereal, fantastical section starting around 3:40, when the strings shimmer and we finally pass the melody from the horns. And the ending could stand as a definition for “emotional closure.”

Blog Train Leaving the Station!

Excitement! Some Stonecoast classmates and I have decided to band together and create a blog train: linking our sites to each other like cars in a train. They’re all pretty cool people, so I’m glad to be along for the ride!

This post is meant to be, “Who am I? What is this blog?”

Well…I’m KT Bryski: Canadian author and podcaster. I’ll write just about anything, but I mostly stick to fantasy. Dark/historically-flavoured fantasy. Sometimes I podcast—I just finished releasing an audio drama, and I’m in the midst of outlining another. This blog started when I went to New Zealand way back in 2012 (oh…man…where did the time go?) and has since mutated into a general repository for ponderings/updates too long to fit in Facebook posts.

So that’s all cool, I guess, but it doesn’t tell you a whole lot about me.

Can I introduce you to my desk instead?

A writer’s workspace says a lot about them: it’s their bridge, castle, command centre, and hobbit hole all in one.



This office nook is my favourite thing about my garret. Sometimes noise off the street interferes with podcasting, but a) it’s a small space, which I find comforting as I’m less likely to be attacked from behind by ninjas, and b) there is LOTS of natural light. In the evening, I get the sunset right through that window. Plus I can watch squirrels and neighbourhood cats frolicking in the street, which is a good thing when the fantasy gets a mite *too* dark.

photo 2

This is my mic. Most of the aforementioned audio drama was recorded on this guy. A while back, I had a post about constructing a pop filter from beer bottles. As you can see, I’ve upgraded. Note the custom stand made from The Science Fiction Century (solid), Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (a favourite) and The Actors’ Thesaurus (aka, my Writer-Actor Dictionary).

photo 3

I learned about clickers when I interned with the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences! It’s just an ordinary dog training clicker, but the sound makes a very distinctive waveform on audio playback. Which means you can sync things, and it’s a lot easier to find where you’ve made mistakes. More efficient than just swearing loudly, which is what I used to do (okay, I still do that sometimes….).

Lucky D20 was obtained at Balticon. It reminds me of everyone there: all my writing family.

photo 5

I’m obsessed with whiteboards and bulletin boards. I like to have things in front of me, so I can have all the information and schedules I need at a glance. For me, it’s better than hunting through piles of paper—keeps the fingers flowing more smoothly, eh?

Luckily, the garret’s former tenant was both writerly and crafty: this whiteboard/bulletin setup was here when I moved in. Some sentimental things, some motivational things, a general outline of things I want to accomplish this year…everything I need, right there.

photo 4

As mentioned, I am at Stonecoast: a low-residency creative writing MFA program. This is the plan for the next few months. At least, thesis-wise. Everything else is on the other side of the whiteboard.

December 2nd seems both way too close and distressingly far away…

And that’s the nook. It’s my spot. It felt like home the moment I got my own desk in, but after a few months here in the garret, I feel nicely settled in.

How about you? What’s your spot? Where do you feel completely at home, and in control?


What I’m Listening to this Week

Yep, still doing this. This week it’s “The Dark-Haired Girl” by Méav Ní Mhaolcatha. Méav is an Irish singer, but this piece is in Scottish Gaelic. The next few prose projects in the docket are mostly Celtic-flavoured for one reason or another, so my Gaelic playlist is back.

This is a strangely hypnotic piece, with the percussion providing a steady, anchoring piece throughout. I quite like Méav’s voice: clear and pure, and it balances nicely against the murkier instrumentals. For some reason, this piece has always reminded me of a snake: coiling and uncoiling, restlessly, endlessly…

Next Up…

Next in the train is the dapper and talented Joseph Carro. He is a man of fine hats, excellent moustaches, and a writerly sensibility. Sadly, I never got a chance to workshop with Joe – the historical/dark/quirky edge to his fiction is right up my alley. He also runs an insightful review site. You can check out Joe’s blog here!

Fairy Tale Logic and Language

Fairy tales have been enjoying a renaissance for a while now. They were my bread and butter growing up: Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books, the bright-coloured anthologies of Ruth Manning Sanders, all the collections from China, Egypt, Wales, Australia, South America, the First Nations…

This was my childhood. Right here.

This was my childhood. Right here.

Even then, I had this odd acquisitive feeling about folk and fairy tales. It wasn’t enough just to read them. I needed to know them, beyond simple recall-and-retell. It’s a strange, instinctive need to stamp them into my bones, so that they become part of me. Because yes, even now, I’m most comfortable with a story when I feel like I’ve gotten it inside me, somehow. It’s almost like I’ve spent my life waiting for my parents to ask whether I want the farm, the gold, or their blessing. Or like I’ve been looking for the witch over one shoulder; expecting the talking cat; preparing myself to meet Coyote.

Fairy tales have rules, after all. Things happen in threes. The youngest child gets the crown (as an oldest child myself, I slightly resent this). When someone tells you not to look, they really mean it.

Knowing the rules always soothed my young, anxious self—still does, actually. For a while, I thought maybe that was it. The more stories you know, the better you understand the rules. Except, that wasn’t enough reason. This need to take fairy tales into myself ran deeper than that. They needed to be a part of me. But why? Fairy tales as currency?

Then two things happened in quick succession. I was re-reading T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land for the umpteenth time, and I was working on my thesis Preface.


Not shown: small black cat on lap.

The Waste Land, of course, rests on allusion. Specific lines gain extra resonance: “I had not thought death had undone so many.” Beautiful alone, more poignant when carrying the weight of Dante’s descent into the Inferno. Whole sections echo with added emotional weight­—Philomel, so rudely forc’d, and poor, blind Tiresias. The entire poem suddenly snaps into focus if you know the story of the Fisher King.

It’s possible to read The Waste Land without knowing the allusions, and I know that I don’t know them all. The language operates in two different registers at once: knowing the myths and stories lets you hear the second, hidden one. Almost as though the poem itself is in a language that changes meaning if you change the particles. Or notice the particles in the first place.

Nor is this just Eliot. Byron, Byatt—heck, even Stephen King. Their stories assume we have a common base of stories to draw from, that we’ll recognize forms and patterns and emotional resonances as they appear. Think about the way we talk: “It was a Cinderella story.” “He’s no Prince Charming.” “Wake up, Sleeping Beauty.” In so many ways, fairy tales are our common language—they are the basic forms to which we keep returning, the forms that structure our other stories.

Which brings me to my Preface. Laying all eight stories out, and consciously figuring out what I’d meant to do with each, I realized something:

With the possible exception of one, all eight stories are about loss.

Without exception, all eight stories are fairy tales in one way or another.

How do we make sense of things? By telling stories about them. And for various reasons—personal, preferential, social, cultural, biographical—folk and fairy tales underpin my understanding of how stories work. No wonder I kept trying to acquire them as a child. The more stories thrum through these bones, the more stories I can tell. I can mash up East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon with The Descent of Inanna. I can take La Fête de la Sainte-Catherine (itself a variant, I’m fairly sure, of Rose LaTulippe), throw in a pinch of Godfather Death, and finish it with bit of fairy tale logic I made up—but that fit the pattern.

How do I understand death? How do I lay out grief? How do I grapple with relationships that mutate and shift into something I simply do not understand?

Stories. The stories I started with. It’s like coming home.

And the broader the base, the more you see patterns in other stories. At heart, learning these stories is simply learning another language. Again, small surprise I felt I needed them inside of me—there’s a difference between memorizing the phrase book and being fluent.

So back to my preface I go, ready to speak.


What I’m Listening To This Week

Handel is my boy—I love Baroque music because it when it works, it’s like clockwork. Everything just fits. There’s no other way it could possibly be, because every piece just fits into place and plays off the next one. It’s like a finished Sudoku puzzle.

It pleases me.

The strings do go on a bit in the first minute, but then suddenly around 1:15, you realize this repeating run of notes is not just chugging along, it’s a locomotive that just jumped the tracks. Then we get the choir entering like a crash of thunder. High G’s! All the high G’s!

Followed by typically Handel-esque fanfare and cavorting. Another thing I love about Handel: he knows how to use silence and contrast to his advantage. Watch how he places rests in this piece. It’s just enough to let you gasp before he jerks you off somewhere else.

Yep. That’s my boy.


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