Monthly Archives: February 2016
So our last post was about learning and striving forward. This post is about taking those opportunities that do come up.
Background: a while back, I was contracted to write four novels for Ed Greenwood’s Onder Librum initiative. Fifteen settings, heaps of creatives contributing prose fiction, RPGs, songs, you name it. The golden-voiced Dave Robison was “Lore Guardian” for one of my settings—minding continuity in this shared world, wrangling authors, building community, that sort of thing.
He emailed me last week saying he had something to discuss with me. I love getting emails from Dave, but I assumed this was a “KT, you need to play nice with the other authors,” sort of discussion. After all, I’ve been heads-down in my own projects, less involved than I’d hoped to be.
Instead, Dave explained that he was taking a new position in The Ed Greenwood Group.
And he asked if I’d take over as Lore Guardian for Wolf and Empire.
Slightly unexpected twist of events, but hey!
I’ve got an actor’s instinct: Always Say Yes. But this time, I hesitated. Because I’m juggling so many balls at the minute, I needed to make sure I could do a good job…and also not die. So Dave had a long chat with me. So did my fellow Canadian author/Lore Guardian, Marie Bilodeau.
“It’s a chance to learn new skills,” Marie said. “And expand your networks, you know?”
And so I’m saying, Yes.
It got me thinking, though. Dave pointed out that the author-wrangling is similar to the freelance editing I’ve been doing. Tracking continuity is something I’ve done while interning for The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. And I’ve written for Ed Greenwood before—when I was asked to submit to an anthology he co-edited.
They’re all small steps up the garden path, aren’t they? A one-off story here; diving into a project there. Dark nights of the soul aside, when I look at the writing life I’ve built thus far, it’s a lot of saying yes—projects building one on top of the other.
See, you never know where any of it will lead. Really good conversations, a bit of correspondence, agreeing to be on a panel…for a solitary activity, writing involves a lot of forging connections with other people. I’ve joked before that the writing world reminds me a lot of Victorian high society. Maybe we don’t have formal letters of introduction, but there is a tendency, on meeting someone, to suss out mutual connections. You see whether you’ve got friends in common, whether you’ve been to the same conventions, whether there are any second-or-third-degree connections between you. Basically, you’re trying to sort out where they fit in the web of your writing network.
Connections build on connections. “Oh, man, you know Dave? Dave is great! And now, I know you! Yay!”
And skills build on skills. I have done similar work before. Similar, but not the exact same. I think that’s important, when you’re building a writing life. Similar work creates confidence—both for you, as you flail about; and also for the people who’ve asked you to do the thing. Not the exact same means more learning, more growth. More skills to build on later, the web expanding.
Every step along the garden path, another step closer. Those actors are onto something, man.
This whole week has reminded me of Ghostbusters. Specifically, the bit at the end, where this happens:
And as we know… “When someone asks you if you’re a god, you say, “YES!””
Which jives well with my usual strategy of, “Say yes and then figure it out.” So far, there’s only been one occasion where that didn’t work so well. For the most part—if you can do it and not die, I think it’s a decent plan.
That’s my plan for now, anyway. I don’t know where this particular path will leave, but I’m glad to be one step further along.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Oooh, this week, it’s the Domine Jesu section of Duruflé’s Requiem. I love the super moody start, the melody uncoiling like a snake, followed by a delicious alto line. Then suddenly, at ~1:38, there’s DRUMS. And the CHOIR.
This is ridiculously fun to sing—all high and dramatic and operatic, with the orchestrations trilling away under the vocals. The Latin’s pretty intense, too.
Libera eas de ore leonis,
Libera eas de poenis inferni,
Et de profundo lacu.
Deliver them from the mouths of lions,
Deliver them from the pains of Hell
And from the deep pit.
I have a story for you. Last year, the fabulous Bryan Lincoln asked Blythe and I to voice a story for the Drabblecast. Blythe narrated; I had a few lines. It was a very touching story about friendship entitled “All of Our Past Places,” by a writer named Kat Howard. As Bryan can attest, I squee’d through most of the recording. This story hit a very particular nerve of mine, and I filed the author’s name away.
Once I started paying attention, I saw her work popping up other places. So I read more stories. And they also punched my very particular buttons—beautiful stories, different stories, stories I wish I’d written. Intensely curious now (“Who is this writer???”), I checked out her blog.
And way back in the archives, there was this:
“You must learn that you cannot wait around for inspiration to show up, but must find it, whether by being open to ideas or by refusing to get up from your desk until you have 250 new words. You must learn that strange double self, of having an ego large enough to sit down at the notebook and pick up the pen in the first place, yet still able to sublimate itself in pursuit of the best story. You must learn how to have deadlines in lieu of a social life, and how to keep working even on the days the rejections make you weep.
You must learn to pare away everything, until all you have left is that core of what’s most important, and then build your life outward from that. Then, you will be a writer.”
I needed that tonight. Because while I’ve been cranking out words like a madwoman, I’ve also been terrified. Terrified because the rejections keep coming on the short stories. Terrified because this novel is so different from Heartstealer, and while I think I’ve untangled the worst of the plotting issues, I won’t be certain until it’s finished. Terrified of the play I’ve been noodling for over a year, because I need to get this one right, but if I do get it right, I have no idea what to do with it.
Sit down at the notebook.
I’m scared I’m not a real writer.
Pick up the pen.
And I do, but sometimes I want to buckle under the immensity of it all. For two years, I’ve had two very different sets of teachers. I’ve had the writers and faculty at Stonecoast, and I’ve had the examples of my friends and colleagues in the podcasting community. (You know the one I mean. Podcasting has changed; the community has remained.)
And so I find myself at a crossroads. Traditional publishing, gatekeepers, knocking on every SFWA-recognized door. And self-publishing, crowdfunding, throwing stories up on Smashwords and the Kindle Marketplace.
Pare away everything, until all you have left is that core.
And I’ve thought about this before. I even wrote a poem about it. But I don’t—see, here’s the thing. I very much like paying rent, and eating things other than red-beans-on-rice. And yes, I think that hybridization and versatility offer the best chances for survival. But I don’t want to go around the gates. Dammit, I want to break through them.
Keep working, even on the days the rejections make you weep.
I do. And trust me, there are days I look at my words on the page and I look at the form rejection, and I feel very small and cold and I whisper, “What the hell is wrong with my writing? What the hell is wrong with me?”
But I keep going. Sometimes I’m not sure why. Arrogance? Pride? Sheer, bloody-minded stubbornness?
I don’t know, but it’s what I’ve got.
Build your life outward.
Every writer has taught me something. Every experience—good, bad, or ugly—has taught me something. I have learned that I want to make art. I want to write beautiful stories, stories that mean something, stories that will last.
An ego large enough.
It’s embarrassing to look back now, but man, I played the “young writer” card so hard at first. And yes, I was producing podcasts and signing contracts awfully early. While that’s neat, there was always this ticking clock hanging over me. You see, eventually, those precocious young writers grow up. And then what?
I don’t want to be precocious anymore.
I want to be good.
I want to learn.
You must learn.
So really, I’ve talked myself back around to something I already knew. I’m in this for the long haul. I have absolutely no idea when my bubble will finally burst—when I’ll tip over the cusp and actually start becoming a professional at this. But I know that until it happens, I’ll keep trucking along, business as usual.
Then, you will be a writer.
And a final thought: there is something about writing that I find particularly wonderful. You never know where your words will travel. You never know how they’ll find their way to someone, right when they need them most.
So thank you, to my unexpected teacher for tonight.
Once again, you hit a very particular nerve…
What I’m Listening to This Week
Did you know the Downton Abbey theme has lyrics? As it happens, it does! We’re back to Mary-Jess, because why not?
The off-season ticks along—those four months where I pretty much just hermit and read and write and think. Recently, I’ve been reading everything I can about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. You know them. They’re the brash little band of artists that painted things like this:
And they were wonderfully brassy and idealistic and romantic about it all. Honestly, I’m not always sure why I fall down these rabbit holes of research. Usually, it’s because there’s something I need to learn from it. And there is something the Pre-Raphaelites need to teach me, I just haven’t sorted out what it is yet.
So I was reading Wives and Stunners: the Pre-Raphaelites and their Muses (the author gets a little breathless in spots, but it’s rich with domestic detail), and these lines have been rolling in my head ever since:
Generally speaking, it may be observed that what men do is who they are; sculptors are men of mud, frequently covered in clay and sporting a dusty air; scholars incline to the ink pot and often have calluses, if right-handed, on the third finger of the right hand. As for gardeners and the like, no one knows what bunions, warts, and other deformities their work may have induced…
Wives and Stunners, Henrietta Garnett, p. 283
“Ah,” I thought drily, “so that’s why I have terrible eyesight and wrecked shoulders—I’m a writer.”
I can’t tell how tongue-and-cheek she thinks she’s being, but it’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? What [people] do is who they are. Of course, there are a few ways to look at the idea: in the physical sense, and then in a more metaphorical one.
Physically, she’s probably not far wrong. Although it’s easier to see how work shapes us in physical jobs (the only time I had arm muscles was when I worked in a historic kitchen—all that kneading, carrying, and scrubbing…), sitting and typing has an effect too. I’m a writer. I do not always write in ideal ergonomic conditions. As mentioned, my shoulders are in appalling shape. On the bright side, I type really quickly. Countless hours at the keyboard have overcome my poor fine motor skills; at least, in this arena.
So far, all well and good. Now I want to flip it around.
Who people are is what they do.
Generally speaking, writers like words (she says, tongue firmly lodged in cheek). But seriously, if you don’t love language, why on earth would you become a writer? Writers are detail-oriented. They do not give up easily. They are interested in people and ideas.
Of course, some might be saying, “Well, bully for you. I do data entry. That’s not who I am!”
Well, no. But what else do you do? What hobbies do you pursue? Why those ones? What do you do with yourself outside the office? What does that say about who you are?
Now let’s really stretch the original meaning. Who people are is what they do. Okay, so let’s say your boss gives you credit on a project…but actually, your colleague did most of the work. What do you do?
Aha. Now it gets interesting, doesn’t it? What do you do? It depends entirely on what sort of person you are. And of course, this is precisely what builds characters in stories. We all know this. You never tell the reader what sort of person your character is. You show them. Who they are is what they do.
When you really get down to it, it’s a mirroring effect, back and forth. Who we are informs what we do. And then, often, what we do helps to shape who we are.
So. Who are you?
What I’m Listening to This Week
When I lived in New Zealand, maybe a dozen songs comprised my personal soundtrack. Mostly songs about loneliness and the promise of one day returning home. “The Soft Goodbye” takes me right back there. Shivering in my unheated yellow bedroom, working out which direction pointed to Toronto. Walking the sloping footpaths around the Otago campus, nose stinging from the nearby spice mill’s burnt-coffee reek. The rubber mat and fresh paint smells of the student gym; the tiny, tiled locker rooms; the windowless lecture rooms; my legs aching on the staircase to my one class in the geology building, which had fossils and rock specimens displayed in the hallways.
I loved it, I really did—but I was also terribly, terribly homesick, and I think it’s this paradox that’s finally demanding to be processed through my fiction. Home and exile have been themes in my fiction for four years, but they’re getting a little more overt in my treatment of them, I think.
Anyway. Lovely voices, haunting flute solos at 1:39 and 2:40, drums that drive us forward from 2:45 to a triumphant finish. It’s a goodbye…but it promises a return. That was the most important part for me.