Monthly Archives: February 2015
I was writing a short story last week. Yes, past tense. I’ve shelved it; for now, anyway. Not that it was going terribly or anything. The prose was clean, it was well-plotted, there was a chilling little thrill and reversal at the end…
But it didn’t feel right. It felt slick. It felt like anyone could have written it. After mulling it over for a while, I realized—there was none of me in there.
Last semester, I got to do a lot of imitations for Stonecoast. You take another writer—Kij Johnson, Charles Dickens, John Fowles, Arthur C. Clarke, I did them all—and write a piece in their voice. Voice and style are those undefinable but hugely important elements of writing. You can’t mistake a Kij Johnson story for one by Arthur C. Clarke. They write about different things, certainly, but they use language in different ways, they infuse their works with different emotions. It’s as unique and intrinsic to the individual as one’s speaking voice is.
Admittedly, voice and style are parts of writing that I’ve come to appreciate a bit later than the others. Clean, competent, functional prose is great—but I do want more. I want my stories to do more than be clean, competent, and functional. When you read a Fowles, a Le Guin, a Butler…you get that sense of more. They’re great writers, certainly: imaginative, masterful with language. And also—they know who they are as writers. There’s that saying, right? Only you can be the best version of yourself?
Something like that, I don’t remember. My point is that, these writers wrote the stories that only they could write. And damn, they did them well.
Back to my story. Again, nothing wrong with it, it just…it wasn’t a KT Bryski story. So, what do my stories look like? What stories do I write?
I’m still in the process of discovering that. Actually, it is a wonderfully exciting time of self-discovery. And when I look at the stories that I’m most pleased with, a few trends start to emerge.
They’re intimate stories. Apparently, I save the big, exploding, destroy-the-cosmos stories for longer works. These are personal crises. Many unfold in ice and snow—there is a deep, deep vein of coldness in…well, in almost all my works, now that I think of it. I like writing about Canada, trying to get at the heart of that uniquely Canadian flavour of fantasy.
When I think of the works I think came close to getting it right, the ones that feel best…I get an impression of cut glass. Or maybe ice crystals. Sharp, hard stories, carefully wrought. And they are sharp—with that ache that comes when you smile through tears.
I think my story in Tales of a Tesla Ranger came close to that.
All of this rambling to say: I’m being all philosophical about my art, as one must be, sometimes. And it certainly gives me something to think about as I fly out to the States this week for a bit of visiting and a whole lot of writing!
What I’m Listening to This Week
It’s cold. It’s winter. I’m cold. So this week, it’s Soviet composer Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998). I stumbled across him by accident a while back—I desperately want to use the title of his piece “The Sadness of Immense Spaces” in a short story. But for now, I’ve had “The Winter Sings” on repeat.
Awesome tone poem, this. Just go listen to it. The music dramatizes everything. The howling winds, the driving snow in the tenor/bass lines, the plaintive chirps of sparrows “like children orphaned yesterday.” And then there’s the awesome, stunning blizzard section about a minute and a half in.
But of course, I like cold, snow, and ice in art. Perhaps this isn’t surprising.
I’ve been thinking about pride lately. Alas, as they occasionally do, my thoughts began spinning. Oh God, am I secretly an awful person and no one bothered to tell me? Am I really awful, like seriously un-talented, and I haven’t been able to hear the sniggers over my own pride ringing in my ears?
It’s been a fun week.
And of course, as many writers are wont to do, I got sucked into a Second-Guessing Spiral of Doom. Well, if I’m not as good as I thought at one thing…maybe I’m wrong about EVERYTHING ELSE. Maybe I should just put my head down and not call any attention to myself at all.
Except I have HEARTSTEALER coming out next month, so that’s not really an option.
And therein lies the paradox many authors face: we have both insane self-confidence and crippling insecurity. To even dare submit a story – heck, to even show it to another human being – you need to think that it’s good. If you don’t honestly think, “This story is so good, people I’ve never met will give me money for it,” then why are you wasting your time? Not to mention the editors’ time?
That’s not all, either. When you have sold things, you can very rarely get away with proceeding to sit quietly in the corner. Doesn’t matter how good your books are – if people can’t find them, they’re a whole lot less likely to buy them.
All of which means: if you are overly self-deprecating – because, hey, I’m just some Canadian kid who hasn’t actually done all that much – if you never speak up and out, if you deflect all attention away from you, if you don’t aggressively seek opportunities… Well, it’s still possible to have a career, but you’re setting up a lot of roadblocks for yourself.
So we can’t do away with pride. Great. That doesn’t help my roiling anxiety.
But then I thought: is taking pride in one’s work different from being proud?
Google didn’t have an answer. I wonder, though, if maybe we should be talking about respecting one’s own work. So not inflating one’s ego by extolling its virtues, but simply giving it the time and attention it needs. Part of respecting one’s work – and I think this is the key difference – is being able to accept criticism to make it better.
Because the difference between egoism and respecting the work is this: what’s it about? If it’s about YOU, and how it makes YOU feel, and why isn’t anyone paying attention to YOU – in other words, if it’s entirely personal – then we may be looking at pride.
If it’s about the work…accepting criticism that might hurt your feelings in order to make the work better, making the writing (not you and your awesomeness) the main focus, doing what you can to make sure the work gets what it needs…that might be a different matter.
Remembering too that no work is perfect. We can strive to make it so. We’ll never get there, but that’s no reason not to try. But when criticism comes a-knocking…it may spur your future works on to be even better, and future works need just same amount of respect. (And if your ego is a bit, uh, puffier, you may find people less inclined to read your future works, so there’s that angle on this whole “respect the work” thing too.)
There’s another word I’d like to throw out: audacity.
No, not that Audacity. The actual dictionary definition of audacity, which is, “the willingness to take bold risks.” This is a term that’s become very important to me, and not just because of the sound editing program.
It’s a good counterpoint to pride. Recently, I had a conversation in which it was suggested that if I’m self-publishing HEARTSTEALER, I must be very proud of it.
I have worked very hard on HEARTSTEALER. I believe in it. I believe there’s a place for it out there. But what this whole endeavour boils down to is audacity. This is a bold risk. Every time I’ve reached out to people for help, that’s audacity. My relentless pushing at the dayjob? Audacity. Also, sheer stubbornness, but that’s another post.
And podcasting. To have the sheer audacity to suggest to people that they might really like to spend their afternoons recording dialogue, and no worries, you’re totally going to figure out this whole audio editing thing before it goes live…
I like the term audacity because of the element of risk. Someone who is too over-confident doesn’t see any risk involved in these activities. Why would they? They’re awesome, so clearly, everything will work out. And when you don’t see the snakes, that’s when you get bit.
Creative types who push the envelope, who suggest new things, who pull other people aboard—they may not have any idea if it’ll actually work. Hence, it’s a risk. Being proud means assuming the dangers will never touch you. Having audacity means you see the dangers, and you’re willing to try anyway.
So respect your work. Be grateful with criticism, gracious with praise.
And above all: be audacious.
What I’m Listening To This Week
Oh, man, I love me some Verdi. La Traviata was the first opera I ever heard, and it’s still one of my favourites. Courtesan meets guy, courtesan loses guy, guy briefly reconciles with courtesan, courtesan dies of consumption.
Yeah, I consistently cry through the third act. Sue me.
Si ridesta in ciel l’aurora takes place after a party at Courtesan Violetta’s house: the dawn is breaking in the sky, and it’s time for the guests to go home. I love the exuberant, galloping introduction here. Also, Verdi writes really, really well for choruses: the lower and upper voices pass the melody off, back and forth, getting progressively louder and more intense, until we burst into a triumphant climax at 0:36, complete with crashing percussion.
The melody becomes almost march-like, nearly militaristic, and then the original light, peppy tune ushers us out. Sidebar: this modern production looks super interesting. Love where they placed the chorus, and how Violetta is left all alone…with a spinning clock, because her time is running out, get it???
Authors spend a lot of time peering carefully at things in their head. It’s fun, but it’s also difficult…so when you get to see things outside of your head, it is very exciting.
All of which to say—when I saw Heartstealer’s cover for the first time, I gave a piercing squeal of delight. Then I swooned.
Starla Hutchton doesn’t just write about superheroes. She is one. She’s captured the feel and atmosphere of the novel. She’s got a woman on the cover who looks just like Sara. Look, there’s my heroine!
And she even managed to work in my beloved cloak. No, it’s not actually my cloak on the cover, but in my heart of hearts, it is totally my cloak.
So…ready to see Heartstealer?
Are you sure?
Here it is:
Back cover copy reads:
Autumn came early that year…
Sara Wolfe was told three things:
Her husband and sister-in-law died in a backwater village. Wraiths are only stories. Her nephew needs her.
She believes none of it.
Following her husband’s supposed death, Sara travels to Grey Run in search of answers, quickly becoming embroiled in the village’s old hurts and older magic –
Grey Run sits on the crossroads between the human realm and the Gloaming: a shadowy world of ghosts and little gods. With the curtain between the worlds thinning, Sara must unravel the truth behind her husband’s disappearance—
Because the wraiths are not the only ones lurking in the night.
Heartstealer is slated for a March release. When more information (and pre-order links) are available, I will let you know. In the meantime—please share, far and wide.
What I’m Listening to This Week
If I’m revealing the Heartstealer cover, I can’t really listen to anything other than Marie’s Wedding/Mairi’s Wedding/Mari’s Wedding/Mary’s Wedding/Mhairi Bhan/The Lewis Bridal Song.
Yeah, this song has a lot of names.
Sara may be the protagonist, but her pal Mairi has a very special place in my heart. Backstory: one day in New Zealand, as I was homesick and forlornly looking up harmonica tabs, I came across a song called “Mairi’s Wedding.”
“Hey!” I said, “I wonder if it is related to the play of the same name!”
It isn’t. Not at all. As near as I can tell, the identical titles are a complete and utter coincidence. But when I heard it for the first time, Mairi’s character burst into my head—fully formed, complete, her eyes already sparkling with mischief.
I love when that happens.
At 2:43, when the chorus returns after a mini-violin solo, I pretty much see the entire novel flash before my eyes. Also, I dance.