It’s 2007. I’m sixteen. And I’m terrified. I’m sitting on a hard church pew, music in hand. The notes don’t make sense. They make sense for piano, but I can’t just pluck a G out of the air and sing it. Besides, I’m supposed to be singing the harmony, not the melody, but I can’t hear it under all the other voice parts. Tenors, basses, and piano completely bury it, but the sopranos are worst because they actually have the melody and they’re loud and even though I’m singing barely above a whisper, people keep shooting me sideways glances because I keep screwing up and I just want to sing so badly but I can’t do it.
And that’s my first year of choir in a nutshell.
A combination of writing my first real “book” (Phantom of the Opera fanfic) and Toronto getting its first real opera house had given me an insatiable appetite for opera. My younger sister had spent the last year in the Canadian Children’s Opera Company, and I watched the Youth Chorus rehearsals agog.
I wanted to sing like that. So, so badly.
There was, of course, one slight snag.
I couldn’t sing.
Somehow, I got in. I’m still not sure why. Maybe Ann—the music director, a wonderful Texan force of nature—saw how badly I wanted it. Maybe it’s hard enough to find teens willing to sing classical music, and she worried about crushing my interest.
I don’t know. In any case, I was in so far over my head, I couldn’t even see the surface.
Most of the kids in the Youth Chorus had graduated from the CCOC’s younger divisions. Which meant they’d been singing for years. Not only that, they’d been singing together for years. And then there was me: new, and shy, and totally unable to keep up with the music.
I couldn’t even read it. Oh, I mean, I could look at a piece of music and tell you, “Yes, that note is a B, and that’s a sharp, and we’re supposed to get louder over here.” But when it came to matching “note on page” with “note in voice,” I had nothing.
As for technique—I had less than nothing. The voice is an instrument. Like all instruments, you have to learn how to use it. My joining the Youth Chorus was like grabbing a trumpet and expecting to join an orchestra.
All that to say, I was pretty effing terrible. In a choir of burgeoning pros, I was the weakest link. And I wasn’t used to that. My whole life, I’ve been an overachiever and a quick study. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I was used to just…picking things up.
Algebra. French. Soccer. Piano. Never much of a learning curve. Never much angst. Just trying something, and very quickly becoming good at it.
This was the first time that hadn’t happened. Those rehearsals fighting back tears were the first time I wasn’t near the top of the class.
People worried, of course. Ann worried. My parents worried. Every Monday afternoon, dread sat in my throat like a mouthful of cold worms, and every Monday night, I came home sobbing at my own incompetence. But I. Kept. Going. Back. It was stubbornness, sheer and simple—this was the first time something had beaten me, and I couldn’t let that stand.
So I did what anyone does in those situations:
I learned to survive.
Since I couldn’t read the music, I memorized it instead, tracking down recordings of every piece we did. I went to weekly lessons wherein I worked my bum off learning technique (without the mentoring I got from Ann’s daughter Erin, I might well have crashed out). Finally, I decided that if I couldn’t be the best singer, I would be the best chorister—always on time, always prepared, always listening and well-behaved.
“Come on, you guys! Get ready!”
“You don’t count. You’re always ready.”
When I aged out at eighteen, I still wasn’t a strong singer, but I’d passed the initial hurdle. Music had woven itself into my life—to feel grounded and whole, I needed a choir.
By this point, I knew enough about my own voice to realize that opera was not a great match. To the surprise of no one, my voice is very high, very light, and very straight-toned. I don’t have the vocal weight for opera, and I never will. In terms of voice, I’m not built that way.
I am built for church singing.
So I went hunting church choirs. One rainy night in September, I climbed a million stairs to one church’s choir room. I said, “I’m a first soprano,” and the director pointed me to a seat.
Whilst my voice is better suited for church singing, there was an entirely new learning curve to contend with. Hymns that the church ladies knew by heart, but which I’d never seen. The shape and structure and music of the liturgy itself. Psalms.
But the CCOC had given me enough foundation that I could stick things out. Of course, the community helped. The ladies very quickly became like a legion of extra aunts; the men, like older brothers.
Here’s the thing about singing church services, though. There isn’t actually a ton of rehearsal. Anthems get a few weeks of practice, but the hymns and psalms change every time. It was too much music for me to memorize.
So I finally learned to read.
There was no shaft of light and angelic “Alleluia!” as the notes resolved themselves. It happened bit by bit, water wearing away at a stone, until I realized I’d actually been reading the music for a while.
I learned to support. I learned to breathe. I learned to make my voice do what I wanted as we tackled a huge range of music—from Palestrina and Byrd to spirituals. Sure, there is something of an “Anglican hoot” about it, but I’m pleased with the way it’s developed.
And I learned all the ecclesiastical side: the psalms, the hymns, the pulse and pattern of the liturgical year.
But the best thing?
I’m proud that I stuck it out. I’m proud of how much I’ve learned. But in a funny way, I’m even more proud of the battle I fought with myself. It took a long, long time, but I learned to stay with something because I love it, and no other reason.
You see, I’m still not the top of the class. Not even close. I am a competent vocalist. Not great—competent. And in this arena, I’m okay with that. I’m okay with it because for me, it’s all out of love: love for the music, love for my friends, and love for the sheer breathless rush of having a high G hit the church’s vaulted ceiling.
I am a chorister, well and truly. As the hymn goes, “How can I keep from singing?”
What I’m Listening to This Week
We’re returning to Rachmaninoff’s Bogoroditse Devo. I never thought I’d do this, but here’s…um, well, here’s me. Anglican hoot and all.
Once, in the distant days of my youth, I was at a ChiZine reading series talking to Canadian fantasy author Caitlin Sweet. She was very kind to me (she ended up being the final, encouraging push to send Hapax into the world), and I’ll never forget the advice she gave me:
“Don’t worry about getting published too early.”
She went on to explain that publishing too early sets up expectations: both for you and by you. It can mess with your head. It tends to leave you perpetually insecure that you’re not living up to the promise and potential of your youth.
Naturally, I sold Hapax less than a year later. Go figure.
Anyway, she was right on some counts. I’ve gotten a lot better at managing insecurities, but there is sometimes a certain worry that things are taking “too long,” that I’m not living up to the expectation set. While I’m pleased with what I’ve accomplished so far, I’m nowhere near where I want to be.
So I did a little research.
I pulled up some stats on twenty-four modern science fiction and fantasy authors. Some have been at this for a few decades. Some are new to the scene. Some are American; some Canadian; some British. Some are friends. (Hi, Mur! Hi, Pip! Hi, Jim!) Some, I’ve never met. All are still writing; all are authors I admire.
Specifically, what I wanted to find out what this: how much time passed between an author’s First Sale, and their Big Sale?
By Big Sale, I mean the sale that you look at, and say, “Yes, they’ve arrived.” The sale that made them as authors. It was less black-and-white than you’d think. Some authors took the fairly traditional route of starting with a short story in a small magazine and then eventually landing a novel deal with one of the Big Five.
For those who are primarily short-story writers, I looked for the first big award: the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy Award, etc.
For one mostly-independent author, I went with the year they left their dayjob.
So a mixture of strict criteria, and saying, “Eh, I guess this makes sense?” Here’s what I found:
The average gap between an author’s First Sale and their Big Sale was 5.75 years.
Of course, looking at the data, there are some outliers. For some authors, their First Sale was their Big Sale, and they’ve been churning out fiction ever since. Conversely, three authors had more than ten years pass between the two.
Generally speaking, though, the bulk of my sample fell within 4-6 years.
There are some theories I can put forth for this Five-Year Gap. First of all, in the case of novels, you’re looking at an 18-month lag time…at least…between acceptance and publication. Add to that the agent hunt, which can take a year, and that goes part-way to explaining it.
Otherwise…dude, after your first sale, you’re still growing. I return once again to my “boy soprano’s breaking voice” analogy. When the first cracks in your voice appear, you don’t go straight to singing bass. You might wander around the different parts for a while until you settle. Even if you can hit the notes, the full richness and technical mastery of an adult voice won’t come until later.
Similarly, there’s still a period of growth that happens with new authors. And sometimes, I suspect, the gap between sales may be sheer dumb luck, or lack thereof, or other priorities.
Because Caitlin Sweet was right and I retain some neuroticism over my relative youth, I also examined biographical information, where available. If a birth date wasn’t on an author’s Wikipedia page, I didn’t hunt too hard for it.
Looking purely at biography, most authors seem to make their First Sale in their late twenties to early thirties, and their Big Sale in their mid-thirties to early forties. Again, there are outliers (looking at you, Rachel Swirsky). The age range, I suspect, probably has to do with the emotional maturity that develops through the twenties. Lots of university kids write well; there’s not always the same depth, which is to be expected.
One interesting thing I noted: the younger an author was when making their First Sale, the longer the gap tended to be until their Big Sale (Swirsky aside). This lends credence to my “emotional maturing = better writing” theory, and seems to jive with Kelly Robson’s thoughts on being a “late bloomer.”
Of course, comparing your career to others’ is rarely touted as a good idea. That way, madness lies. I mean: look at all my outliers! Everyone follows their own path!
…but sometimes, it is comforting to look at trends. We all follow our own paths, but it’s nice to see if you’re going in the same general direction. Looking at my own data, my First Sale was Hapax in 2012.
I haven’t made my Big Sale, yet. But looking at the charts, I seem to be right on track.🙂
What I’m Listening to this Week
Regular readers know of my love for Ola Gjeilo’s music. Guess what??? I got to see him this weekend at a choral concert! (I also saw my lovely former collaborator, composer Norbert Palej.)
I hadn’t heard the “Credo” portion of Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass before, and it totally captivated me. Listen to the frantic, pulsing strings: totally captures the rush of urban life. The “crucifixus” motif around 4:24 is a jagged little heartbreak, and of course, I’m a sucker for the last driving, thundering two minutes.
Happy Thanksgiving, pals!
That’s right—it’s Canadian Thanksgiving Monday today. Canadian Thanksgiving is kind of like American Thanksgiving, only there’s no story about pilgrims and a “first Thanksgiving celebration.” Likewise, we don’t have parades. Or sales. Basically, we eat pumpkin pie and turkey and give thanks that our northern climate didn’t kill us again this year.
We also give thanks for other things. I’ve done Thanksgiving posts on this blog before, and it seemed fitting to do another. I really wanted to give this one some thought, though—because once again, I find myself in a completely different place than I was a year ago.
When I think about what I’m thankful for, my friends and family immediately spring to mind. As I’ve said time and time again, the communities in which I find myself are incredibly important to me. And then I started to think deeper. Why are they important? What, precisely, is it about all you wonderful people that makes my heart swell?
First and foremost, I’m thankful for the acts of love—great and small—that I see play out every single day. Enquiries into people’s wellbeing as Hurricane Matthew batters the Caribbean and the southern US (stay safe, okay?), hugs and support in the face of loss, books arriving on my doorstep because my Books By Friends Shelf looked “too empty.” Sometimes, we see each other every day. Sometimes, once every few years. I’m thankful that it doesn’t matter. I’m thankful that we live in a world unhindered by geographic distance.
I’m very thankful for your respective passions. Perusing the aforementioned Books By Friends Shelf, I was struck by what incredible artists I know. Writers, audio storytellers, editors, visual artists, dancers, actors, cosplayers, musicians, composers, photographers—your creations make the world a better place. We all benefit by your friendship and presence, and also your dreams, your hopes, your quivering hearts. So thank you for creating. Thank you for your art.
I’m thankful for all of you. All of you. I’m thankful for my immediate collaborators, and my choir family, and the people who like my work and Tweet about it, and the guy in the apartment down the street, and the visitors at the museum, and some sheep farmer in rural New Zealand that I’ve never met.
You see, the world’s a scary place right now. There’s a lot more darkness than I would like, particularly that patch swirling south of the border. There is hate and fear, cruelty and heartbreak.
But we’re all in this together, aren’t we?
At the end of the day, I have to believe that love, passion, and light overcomes darkness. And I’m thankful that I can believe that—that in all of you, loving and creating and doing your thing no matter what it is—we’re all sharing in this light together, making a web of it across the globe.
So what I’m trying to say—what I’ve never really said properly—what we should be saying every day we draw breath—is this—
Thank you for being you.
Thank you for being here.
Thank you for everything.
What I’m Listening To This Week
Jumping styles again—back to opera, with Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro. If I were ever going to play any opera role, it would totally be Cherubino. He’s a lovesick teenage boy played by a woman—I’m already doing precisely that in our dayjob pantomime!
There are lots of Cherubino interpretations, but I quite like this one from Swedish soprano Tove Dahlberg. This particular aria is Cherubino’s first, and it’s a roiling mess of teenage hormones. He’s very… frustrated.
Part of the fascination with Cherubino comes from the way his performance blurs boundaries—we know he’s a woman, that’s part of the fun—but he needs a certain amount of boyishness to work. Dahlberg’s interpretation is interesting because she’s not just got that ambiguity in her physical performance, but vocally, too. The tone is often straighter than most female operatic sopranos can pull off…and then the full power of a mature woman’s voice comes out (as around 1:46).
Excitement! I have a story out today! (Read it here!) “La Corriveau” is available over at Strange Horizons. I absolutely love the magazine and the fiction they publish, so I’m honoured for my story to be included in their ranks!
If you heard Six Stories, Told at Night, “La Corriveau” may be familiar. Marie-Josephte Corriveau was actually a real person. She was accused of murdering her second husband, she was hanged, and then, her body was suspended in a gibbet like this:
All sorts of legends grew up around her. She was a witch, she met with Satan, she actually had seven husbands. Myself, I looked at the cage and figured it would lend itself well to steampunk.
To get some more background information on 1700s Québec, I started researching La Corriveau…
..and fell down a rabbit hole, wherein the historic record is utterly fragmented and often contradictory. As a historian, I couldn’t piece together what really happened. Did she kill her husband? Was she abused? Was there a cover-up? Since she was tried by an English court martial, were things lost in translation?
I didn’t know.
So, sitting in the media room of a cabin in Tennessee, I stopped trying to tell the real story. I tried to tell her story – all her stories – the story of the witch and the story of the woman. As with much of my fiction, “La Corriveau” has an unusual structure, but that’s the only way I could figure out how to do it.
In all these explorations into Canadian folk tales, La Corriveau has been one of my favourites. She is a fascinating woman…partly because, from what I can tell, she started out incredibly ordinary. I am quite fond of this story, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed the research and writing!
What I’m Listening To This Week
An old Broadway standard: “Who Can I Turn To?” from The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd. This isn’t the precise version I’m familiar with – I know Louise Pitre’s rendition best, which is considerably slower and sultrier (I think she described it as the song that closes out the club, one last vodka in hand).
In any case, it’s a poignant little mix of heartbreak and grit. Enjoy!
I should have seen it coming. Last week was a very busy week—hustling hard to finish a short story and a beta read, novel edits, starting another short, plus assorted dayjobbery. I battled hard all week long—late nights, terrible food, too much coffee, the usual—and then I crashed.
Hard enough that I’m still catching my breath. It brings back a perennial dilemma: the fine balance between pacing and striving, taking it easy and putting in the hard work, being kind to yourself and getting your butt in the chair.
Around the same time, I saw a post from my dear friend Tee Morris…
Sometimes, as a writer, you have to make a tough call. There’s what you want to do, but that sometimes has to take a backseat to what you need to do.
Is writing a hobby or a profession? Which walk are you going to walk?
When you have to step up, step up. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time and energy.
Completely different context, posted for completely different reasons, but coming at a point where my nerves were pretty shot anyway—I’ll admit to feeling kind of bad about myself. I’m a professional. I’m an artist. Writing is my job. Why was I making myself mussels and binging on Desperate Romantics?
Because recovery is part of discipline. Think about Repetitive Strain Injuries. When you use the same muscles over and over, they get stressed. You need to allow them time to recover. You also need to change things up every so often: using different muscles, or performing a different movement. That’s how muscles actually develop. Otherwise, you end up getting all sorts of fun strains, tears, and sprains that can put you out for a good while.
Now, it’s easy to bash through things on brute strength. Similarly, it’s easy to stay on the couch and let those muscles atrophy. In either case, it’s inertia. Once you’re on a path—either one of motion or stillness—you tend to stay on it.
What’s hard is moving between the two. What’s hard is balance. What’s hard is swallowing your weird pride that you’ve stayed up until 2:00 am every night (and seriously, how messed-up are we that this makes us proud?). What’s hard is not comparing yourself to others: others who may be working harder, longer, faster.
As I see it, discipline in anything—writing, exercise, music—is about long-term habits and growth. Hence the focus on consistency and getting into habits—think of the Magic Spreadsheet, or NaNoWriMo. These things are great. As we said, inertia: it’s hard to get the ball rolling, at first.
But for that long-term growth to be…well, long-term, you need to not kill yourself in the process. Here’s what I’m slowly learning, as I navigate this early career stumbling-about:
…there are two parts to the writing life.
There’s the active part: the butt in chair, the striving, the late nights.
And there’s the passive part: the consuming other art, the walks in nature, the sleeping.
And you need both.
If you’re only passive, you’re not producing. If you’re only active, you’re probably producing crap. The Oatmeal had a wonderful comic about a similar experience, likening the creative process to breathing in and out.
You need both. In and out, yin and yang, night and day. That’s the real key. And it’s much, much harder than going full-tilt, one way or the other. What does your balance look like?
What I’m Listening To This Week
It’s been an old nugget: Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” I love the range of emotion in this piece—from the sombre, almost funereal opening melody (around 0:30, I’m thinking rain, not moonlight), to the aggressive arpeggios in the third movement (listen to the runs of notes starting around 11:20—just listen!).
And yet it all hangs together. *swoon*
I need to eat my words, I’m afraid. Last week, I said:
I want [SFWA membership]. I want this so badly. It’s a long game: I doubt very much I’ll be strolling into the Nebulas next year. But you keep going.
You should still keep going. Always. But the same day I posted the above, I checked the rules for membership to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America more carefully. Authors are eligible for Active Membership with, among other things…
One Paid Sale of a work of fiction (such as a novel) of a minimum of 40,000 words to a qualifying professional market, for which the candidate has been paid at least $3,000 as a non-returnable advance before or at the time of publication ($2000.00 if sale made on or before 12/31/2014).
“Wait,” quoth I. “When did I sign the contract for Yeti’s Parole Officer?”
Turns out I made the sale on 08/20/2014. Which means that I’ve actually been SFWA-eligible for over two years.
So after a little head-shaking, I sent in my paperwork, and received my approval a few days ago. I’m in! Huzzah! And…it looks like I will be strolling into the Nebulas next year, at least to take in the atmosphere and meet people.
A lot can happen in a week.
When I was a wee sprogget, I wanted to be published by the time I was 25. I have vivid memories of my first year of university. February in Toronto is an interminable stretch of grey, cold, and slush. It’s when you fear that spring will never come. So I plodded along, miserable, these newfangled “podcast novels” trickling through my headphones.
I wanted to be in that world so badly. So very badly. I ached for it, slogging to class. I wanted to go to conventions, and I wanted to collaborate with other writers, and I wanted to be part of it all. Ideally by 25, though I knew that was a long shot.
I’m 25 now. When I look at how much things changed in seven years—well, first of all, seven years? What??? But also—holy frak, nothing is the same.
We can’t always see those changes, is the thing. Sure, sometimes, there’s a big milestone. Selling a novel. First time on a convention panel. Landing the agent. But more often, there’s all these tiny little steps that accrete, almost without your realizing. Those little steps provide the foundation for those big milestones. So, I suppose, while it seems like things can move very quickly, there’s a much longer process happening under the surface. Yeti’s Parole Officer came about, indirectly, through Hapax and my scriptwriting.
So maybe a lot can happen in a week. But none of it happens without the seven (or five, or ten, or fifty) years preceding.
What I’m Listening To This Week
Ola Gjeilo once again, returning to an old favourite: his “Northern Lights” piece, which uses an absolutely gorgeous text. I mean, listen to this:
Pulchra es amica mea,
suavis et decora sicut Jerusalem,
terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata.
Averte oculos tuos a me
quia ipsi me avolare fecerunt.
Thou art beautiful, O my love,
sweet and comely as Jerusalem,
terrible as an army set in array.
Turn away thy eyes from me,
for they have made me flee away.
How wonderful is that? A great and terrible beauty, much like the aurorae themselves. *swoon*
I love conventions. They’re exhausting, they usually involve consistent forays beyond my comfort zone, and I absolutely love them. You’re packing several hundred like-minded people into a hotel for three days and talking about the things we love. What’s not to like?
This was my first Can-Con, and Marie Bilodeau, Derek Künsken, and their army of committee members and volunteers put on one heck of a party. Honestly, I’m so used to being the token Canadian in the room that it was wonderful to spend time with writers from my neck of the woods. You don’t have to explain yourself, in a funny way.
It’s impossible to distill conventions down into 500 words. So, in a nutshell: the programming was stellar, the other guests and attendees hugely welcoming, and it was a great time. I saved five Six Stories, Told at Night beer coasters for future giveaways…the rest found their way into the hands of Can-Con attendees. The reading/performance also went well—thanks to everyone who came out! I met/chatted with a ton of fantastic people (here’s looking at you, SM Carrière, Nicole Lavigne, Sheila Williams, Jay Odjick, Fanny Darling, Eric Choi, Krista Walsh, Lesley Donaldson, Gillian Clinton, Madeline Ashby, Tanya Huff, and many, many, many more). I caught up with old friends as well.
Contented sighs all around.
Beyond the sheer enjoyment, I come away from Can-Con 2016 thinking about three things in particular:
It gets easier
Marie caught me looking a little overwhelmed the first night. Somewhere like Balticon, I can walk into a room and know more people than not. Can-Con was different, because I only knew a handful of people.
But then I remembered: my first Balticon was actually super awkward, because I only knew a handful of people. My first Dragon*Con was super awkward, because I didn’t know any people.
The first time at any convention is awkward, because it’s the first time. But here’s the thing I’m noticing: these situations are getting less awkward as time passes. Partly, I’m accreting a more solid, wide-ranging bedrock of people I know. And partly, I’m better able to deal with the initial butterflies.
The second night felt like Balticon: that same comfort and good vibe. Having awesome people helps, of course—but also, it gets easier.
This is where I belong
Connected to the point above. There’s just something when you hang out with other writers. You’re on the same wavelength. Attending this con brought that home even more.
I’m young, and new, and relatively inexperienced—but this is where I belong.
It’s the long haul
Being young, and new, and relatively inexperienced, it can be easy to look at all the mountain still ahead and wonder if you’ll ever make it.
But then you keep going. Always, you keep going.
On the Sunday, Can-Con held a meeting about joining SFWA. It was a great opportunity to chat with writers further up the peak, and it stoked the fire in my belly.
I want this. I want this so badly. It’s a long game: I doubt very much I’ll be strolling into the Nebulas next year. But you keep going. Always, you keep going.
If we want it badly enough, we don’t really have a choice, do we?
That was my Can-Con 2016. Thank you very much to the organizers, con committee, hotel staff, panellists, vendors, volunteers, and attendees. Your hard work is greatly appreciated, and you should be very proud. I can’t wait to come back next year.🙂
What I’m Listening To This Week
“Falling Slowly” hails from the musical Once. Unusually for me, I preferred the movie to the stage version (the medium fit better, I think—the visuals just work better on film).
Anyway, it’s a wistful little piece, perfect for continuing to ride the wave of wistfulness that is Six Stories, Told at Night. Enjoy!
It’s not Monday! What am I doing here?
I’m getting ready for a con, that’s what! More specifically, I’m heading to Ottawa for the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature. You can see why it’s up my alley.😉
This is my first Can-Con, and I’m stoked. I haven’t been to Ottawa in years, and I’ll be spending the weekend with really wonderful writers – the Canadian contingent, if you will.
Everything on my schedule happens on Saturday…which will make for a very busy day, but it’ll be much easier to keep track of everything!
1:00 pm – 1:55 pm: Stormtalons: The Second Setting in The Ed Greenwood Group (Ed Greenwood, Marie Bilodeau, many authors, Me)
Ed Greenwood introduces the second setting in his new publishing venture, with authors on hand to chat worldbuilding and suchlike!
3:00 pm – 3:55 pm: Readings (Madeline Ashby, Eric Choi, Me)
As this con has a Canadian-content focus, I’ll naturally be reading from Six Stories, Told at Night. Actually, I’m hoping to play audio from the first episode: Blythe’s accent is much, much better than mine.
8:00 pm – 8:55 pm: The Beer Panel (Me, Brent Nichols, Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Max Turner)
Only the coolest conventions have beer panels. Join us in the Con Suite to hear us debate and discuss our favourite beverage. I’ll have Six Stories swag on hand for this panel!
The rest of the time, I’ll be gallivanting, meeting people, and possibly frolicking. This is my only official convention this year (I was budgeting for Dublin, but I’m hoping to hit more in 2017), and I hadn’t realized until this week how much I’ve missed the con experience. I miss the energy, the excitement, the creative boost…which makes this weekend all the more welcome.
So come say hi, grab a beer at the bar with me, and let’s celebrate Canadian spec-fic, eh?😀
What I’m Listening To Today
I found a super cool vocal version of Beethoven’s 7th. The 7th is actually my favourite Beethoven symphony; this slightly updated version is nothing if not hypnotizing.
This is the last story.
Six Stories, Told at Night wrapped up last week. It’s been quite a ride, and a huge learning curve. The numbers keep rising – after three weeks, it’s performed better than I dared hope. You guys have been great, and I’m incredibly proud of what we accomplished.
And I have something I’d like to say.
This is the last story. Maybe if I type that often enough now, it won’t break my heart when the time really comes.
Six Stories, Told at Night is my last fiction podcast. Sure, there may be one-offs here and there—I’m still slated to write/produce a Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences story this fall, and Blythe and I are recording a wrap-up show tonight. While I’m happy to write for other people, this is the last major story, the last story that’s wholly mine, for a while.
Nothing has happened. There was no disaster, no sudden break. Six Stories, Told at Night was always conceived as my last, always planned as my “…gift, song, blessing, and also, farewell.” This is why I wanted the grant—why I wanted to hire artists for custom music and art, why I wanted to finally pay Blythe what she’s worth, and why I wanted to take home a little cash as well. This is my last huzzah: my swan song. I wanted to go out with a bang.
This is the story of two girls…They’re two friends, two modern-day girls. How modern do we want this from the start? Pretty modern, I would think, crossing and re-crossing the fairy tale boundary. Joëlle is older, of course. Probably 3-4 years older: enough that they can still be friends, enough that there’s still a gap.
This decision was not an easy one, but it’s been in the works for nearly two years. Coxwood, then a last Ministry piece, then the “Folklore Grant Project,” and then hiatus. That was always the plan. My personal plot arc has been building to this for a while; I’ve just not said anything.
The short answer: because it’s time.
The Storyteller is the folklorist, cataloguing the stories, collecting them, a little more cautious. Joëlle is the transmedia artist, podcasting, Kickstarting, making friends and hitting the town. And she wonders if she can get into Story, that shadowy place from whence it all comes.
The longer answer: when I started producing my first podcast back in 2011, I had clearly defined goals. I wanted to learn to tell stories through sound. I wanted to get my name out, build a platform, and meet people.
Five years on, and I have done these things.
“But why stop?” I hear people asking. “Even if you met your goals, why not keep going?”
Every podcast has to grow from the one before it. Otherwise, you stagnate. With every story, every piece, you should be doing something new, or there’s no point. For me, I’m at the point with podcasting where the next step—the next learning curve from this comfortable plateau—is to be doing audio dramas on the level of Bryan Lincoln. These are audio dramas that approach movie soundtrack quality. They’re really, really cool.
I don’t want to do those.
I don’t want to do those because then I wouldn’t write as much. Now, I love audio. It has taught me a lot and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. But at the end of the day, I’m not an audio artist. Not really. I’m a writer. Novels, short stories, and stage plays are where my passions truly lie. So if audio becomes a choice between stepping up and stepping back—well, I have to step back.
And the thing the Storyteller learns—Story is already inside of us. So to reach Jöelle, she needs to keep looking inside. To their stories.
So I got my name out there. I met people. I learned to tell stories through sound. I did some really cool things. Past this point, I suspect that anything I produce will benefit Blythe’s career more than mine.
“Oh no!” the podcasting community cries. “Did something happen between you two?”
Nah, we’re solid. Like all creative pairs, we scrap occasionally…but we’ve gotten good at it, and I love her like the big sister I never had. But look, in five years, we’ve done—
There isn’t a lot else I can do for her. Not with audio, anyway. We continue to collaborate very, very closely at our dayjob. There will be other projects for us – believe me. It’s a good partnership. No one wants to break up the band.
And we’re friends. Above all else, we’re really good friends.
This is also my last chance to push Blythe’s voice and range as far as it will go. Which means A) ALL the emotion. If it’s not there in the text, she can’t bring it out. And B) Sam has to have some of that flash and fire…but she also has gentleness and support in a way I’ve not done yet.
I’d like to be quite clear about something, though:
While I’m focusing more on prose fiction and stage plays, that does NOT mean that I am abandoning this community. Podcasting brought us together, and it has been so wonderful to see us all grow into our creative lives – whatever form they take. I’ll still be around at cons. I’m sticking around social media. I love my jaunts south of the border to visit you all.
None of that is changing. I’m still here, still part of you. The only reason for this very public goodbye is – I don’t want people to wonder at the silence. I don’t want a year, two years, five years to pass without explanation. I don’t want people to think, Oh, she never pulled it together again. Another pod-fade. No. I want to go out on my terms.
And never say never, right? I don’t plan to pursue audio fiction further, but if ever the stars align and the perfect project strikes at the right moment – I won’t refuse for reasons of pride. The door’s closed, but it definitely isn’t locked. Who knows? Maybe I can do a non-fiction podcast. I’d love that. It’d balance my love of audio with my rapidly diminishing time.
The last story is the first story…But what is this story? Is it a story that loss sucks and then you grieve? No…no, I don’t think so. I think it’s the story of how this wonderful, transformative friendship made our girl who knew no stories become The Storyteller.
So I have many thank you’s to say. Thank you to everyone who listened, everyone who shared, everyone who encouraged us. Thank you for welcoming me into this community in the first place. And thank you for your unbridled enthusiasm for this swan song.
With Six Stories, Told at Night, I have accomplished what I wanted to do artistically, and said what I wanted to say. It is a nice feeling to end on – to know that I’ve written the podcast that justifies me, and the immensely talented partner with whom I work.
I think it’ll be cool. I think so. I hope so. Maybe even beautiful in parts. We’ll see.
It was. Every bit of it – all these five years.
Thank you, all.
What I’m Listening To This Week
We’ve heard the “Ashokan Farewell” here before, but this version has lyrics. They are appropriate to this week, and I have been bawling every time I hear them.
So I assume we’ve all seen the WIRED article, right? This one: the one really excited that podcast fiction is “finally” a thing?
Evidently, they’ve overlooked that podcast fiction kicked off in 2005, and that 2007-2009 was arguably the Golden Age of the Podcast Novel. In fact, the origins and development of the genre were the topic of a massive essay I wrote at Stonecoast. I suspect others will be doing overviews of podcasts from 2005-2012, so… I’d like to share a different portion of my essay, one that proposes a new means by which to classify the genre.
II. Parsing the Parsecs: Proposing a New Taxonomy of Podcast Fiction
Despite the genre’s significant development over the past decade, few attempts have been made to rigorously classify podcast fiction. Nevertheless, there is a generally understood difference between “full cast podcasts” and “straight reads.” A “full cast podcast” generally refers to a fully scored and produced podcast novel featuring the use of numerous actors, as in the case of Morevi, Chasing the Bard, Murder at Avedon Hill, Metamor City, et al. By contrast, a “straight read” features a single reader and minimal production. Mur Lafferty’s Heaven series is thus a “straight read,” alongside numerous audio fiction magazines such as the Escape Artists’ triumvirate—Escape Pod, PodCastle, and PseudoPod—and the Clarkesworld podcast.
However, the distinction between “straight read” and “full cast” is ultimately limiting, particularly within the field of “full cast” podcast fiction. “Full cast,” as it appears in general usage, obscures the distinction between fully-produced, fully-casted podcast novels, and fully-produced, fully-casted audio dramas. Adhering strictly to a straight read/full cast binary, both Morevi and We’re Alive could be considered full cast podcasts. However, Morevi was originally released as a print novel, and relies heavily on narration to tell the story. As such, it undertakes a fundamentally different approach to storytelling than does We’re Alive, which instead lies primarily on dialogue, performance, and sound, with minimal narrative segments.
This difference between podcast novel and audio drama is recognized by the Parsec Awards for Excellence in Speculative Fiction Podcasting. There, the primary distinction amongst podcasts is not between straight read/full cast, but rather between “story” and “audio drama.” According to the Parsecs’ 2015 category descriptions, a story “…uses narration as its primary means to convey scene and action,” whereas in an audio drama, “Storytelling is effected through the dialogue of its characters and sound effects/scenery presenting action and scene as it’s [sic] primary mechanism.” While these categories differentiate between the two major approaches to storytelling within podcast fiction, they also have certain limitations. Specifically, there is perhaps insufficient nuance in the “story” category.
For example, the 2014 category “Best Speculative Fiction Story: Small Cast (Short Form),” included both the stories “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot,” (author Michael Spence, podcasted on Tales from the Archives) and “Growth Spurt,” (author Paul Lorello, podcasted on Pseudopod). However, while both “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot” and “Growth Spurt” are indeed small cast, short stories, they function very differently. Despite being small cast, “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot” adopts the production values associated with “full cast” podcasts: music and complex sound effects to denote an aethergate are particularly noticeable. Conversely, “Growth Spurt” has a single reader, no music, and no sound effects.  Despite being in the same category, “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot” is essentially a “full cast” podcast with a very small cast, whereas “Growth Spurt” is a straight read.
Thus, neither a full cast/straight read nor audio drama/story dichotomy is sufficient to classify podcast fiction. The full cast/straight read binary obscures the artistic differences between audio book and audio drama (though again, this difference is understood in general parlance), while focusing on that distinction to the exclusion of all else overlooks the many variances in production amongst podcast stories.
As such, this paper proposes a new taxonomy for podcast fiction. Examining the genre broadly, it is evident that some podcasts (PodCastle, Clarkesworld, Jim Kelly’s Free Reads, Heaven) use audio primarily as a means of distribution, whereas for others (Hidden Harbour Mysteries, The Antithesis Progression, We’re Alive, The Leviathan Chronicles), sound is integral to the story itself—whether the podcast in question is an audio book or audio drama. Therefore, this paper proposes classifying podcasts not by “full cast/straight read,” or by “audio drama/story,” but rather, by “read fiction” and “performed fiction.” “Performed fiction” relies on the use of dramatic techniques to tell the story—that is, music, sound effects, and acting— while “read fiction” does not. The category of “performed fiction” can then be subdivided into “audio drama” and “audio story,” under the same criteria utilized by the Parsecs. This classification, therefore, combines both the commonly-understood distinction between straight read and full cast, along with the Parsecs’ observance of stories and dramas as separate genres.
However, this means of classifying podcasts is not intended as a strict binary. Rather, conceiving of podcast fiction as a spectrum more accurately reflects the vast array of podcasts that have been produced. At one extreme are those stories which are read by a single narrator, without music, acting, or sound effects. Indeed, such stories might not have originally been intended for audio distribution at all. In its submissions guidelines, Pseudopod states, “We do not discriminate between previously published and unpublished works…we encourage new authors to send their work to other markets first, and then send it to us for audio rights after the story has appeared.” Thus, the stories it solicits are not necessarily written with podcasting in mind, unlike We’re Alive or Hidden Harbor [ETA: Or Six Stories, Told At Night]. As such, the performance is not an integral part of those stories—they lose very little when experienced as pure text.
The shift from read to performed podcast fiction occurs as a result of the use of dramatic techniques. Music, sound effects, and voice acting are used to communicate setting, atmosphere, and character in addition to what is already suggested by the text. Thus, reading and listening to performed narratives are ultimately very different experiences. The key distinction between read and performed narratives therefore lies not in the amount of dramatic techniques used, but rather, in their importance to the story. For instance, it is fairly common to have musical interludes introduce and finish segments of audiobooks; however, they have little impact on the storytelling. By contrast, the now-removed podcast Weather Child had relatively light scoring and sound effects, and a cast of two. As these elements were integral, Weather Child was nevertheless performed. This is particularly evident when considering its use of voice acting to portray character.
The use of voice acting is the most telling characteristic of performed fiction. Acting necessarily denotes performance. However, it is misleading to deem a read narrative “performance” when the reader has simply used different voices to distinguish characters. Here, this paper draws a distinction between “reading with voices” and “voice acting.” While reading, the reader speaks like the character. While performing, the actor speaks as the character. Admittedly, this distinction contains a certain amount of subjectivity, but it is generally useful.
For example, the podcast novels Weaver’s Web (Philippa Ballantine) and Ancestor (Scott Sigler) are both read by a single voice. However, Ballantine offers performances of her characters—this is particularly evident in her portrayal of the Weavers. Sigler can affect accents and emotions effectively—as in the case of troubled geneticist Lu Jian Dan—but ultimately, the difference is one of kind rather than degree. While some allowance should be made for a reader/actor’s particular skill, the difference between reading and acting is ultimately one of intention rather than talent.
Having determined the importance of voice acting in distinguishing podcast works as performed fiction, it is now necessary to examine the distinctions between performed narrative and audio drama. As the name suggests, performed narratives are primarily told through narration, whereas audio dramas are told through sound. This paper agrees with the general definitions put forth by the Parsec Awards.  However, this paper maintains that performed narratives fall along a spectrum. Weaver’s Web lies at one extreme: it is a performance due to its use of voice acting, but relies almost entirely on narration. Conversely, Hidden Harbor Mysteries is explicitly presented as a 1930s radio play. Therefore, it is unquestionably a drama. Not only is there minimal narration, but the narrator himself is another character. Yet between these two extremes fall podcasts such as The Guild of the Cowry Catchers, Metamor City: Making the Cut, and The Antithesis Progression. Sound is more integral to the storytelling than would be the case in a strict narrative, yet there is more narration than would be incorporated into a drama.
Thus, using these distinctions and taxonomy, one might say that We’re Alive is a large-cast audio drama, Weaver’s Web is a solo performed narrative, and “England Under the White Witch,” by Theodora Goss, as read by Kate Baker on Clarkesworld, is a read short story.
 Bryan Lincoln, Episode 73: Straight Read vs. Full Cast, accessed March 26, 2015.
 “2015 Category Descriptions,” Parsec Awards, accessed March 26, 2015. <http://www.parsecawards.com/2015-parsec-awards/category-descriptions/>
 “2014 Parsec Award Winners and Finalists,” Parsec Awards, accessed March 26, 2015.
 Michael Spence, Why the Sea is Boiling Hot, podcast audio, Tales from the Archives Vol. III, edited Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris, MP3, 24:30-32:30, accessed March 24, 2015. <http://www.ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com/2014/03/25/tales-from-the-archives-iii-three/>
Paul Lorello, Growth Spurt, podcast audio, Pseudopod, edited Shaun M. Garrett, MP3, accessed March 24, 2015. <http://pseudopod.org/2013/10/25/pseudopod-357-growth-spurt/>
 Lincoln, Episode 73: Straight Read vs. Full Cast, 35:06.
 “2015 Category Descriptions,” Parsec Awards, accessed March 26, 2015. <http://www.parsecawards.com/2015-parsec-awards/category-descriptions/>
So I’m still not entirely sure where Six Stories, Told at Night falls…but since it’s performed, and uses a lot of narrative – a solo performed piece?
Also, Tee Morris and I made this awesome infographic detailing other fiction podcasts pre-dating Welcome to Night Vale’s 2012 launch. Check it out, and discover some other cool listens!
What I’m Listening To This Week
Sometimes, there’s a song that I don’t even remember stumbling across. Amy MacDonald’s “This is the Life,” for instance. I heard this first back in high school, and it’s popped up again. Not my usual style, but quite enjoyable!