Monthly Archives: April 2016
If you’ve not heard the news—my story “Wendigo” has won first place in the Toronto Star Short Story Contest! (You can read it here!) Now in its 38th year, this is considered one of the largest such contests in Canada, so that’s very exciting. Especially since while “Wendigo” asks a lot of difficult questions about art and artists…it’s also a straight-up fantasy story about cannibal ice-monsters.
But hey, “Six Stories” is also straight-up fantasy about faeries and folklore figures—and it got Ontario Arts Council funding. I seem to be doing well with Canadian cultural institutions this year.
It’s interesting—in the three (?!) years since I finished my undergrad, I’ve gotten a taste of the creative life’s feast-famine cycle. Admittedly, it’s a baby taste. Full-time writing with training wheels. Still, it’s good practice.
This has been a feast year, and I’m VERY grateful. So far in 2016…
- I got three full manuscript editing gigs
- Plus one partial that still helped
- The OAC funding came through
- This contest totally surprised me
And that’s the work I’m getting paid for now. It feels weird listing it all out. Talking about the business end of things feels uncouth, sometimes. But the business end is important. If you want to be a full-time writer, you need to face it eventually. At the end of the day, you need to ask, “Can I live off what my writing brings in? If so, how? If not, what can I do?”
Most people take dayjobs. I’m lucky enough that mine directly feeds my writing. I’m also lucky that I’m happy there. It’s a double-edged sword, though, because it’s seasonal.
Eight months = guaranteed paycheque.
Four months = KT makes a go as a full-time writer.
As long as my year-round writing can cover that off-season, I’m happy. Partly, it’s a matter of pride. I want to be able to say that my writing keeps the rent paid and the fridge full. And the uninterrupted four months of creative time are important to me. I don’t want to have to take a serving/retail job to make ends meet. I’d write less, and the goal is to write more—to eventually hit the point where I don’t need the museum.
(Although I suspect that I’d cut back my time, rather than bail on them entirely. I love it too much. It’s good for my writing. It keeps my social skills from rusting away. It’s home.)
So, you lay out what’s important to you. What you’re willing to compromise on (I’ll take on extra responsibilities around the house for cheaper rent) and what you’re not (I really don’t want to take a serving/retail job). For me, I’ve made the current arrangements work for three years.
But I’ve been crazy lucky. This was a feast year. 2014 was a feast year (Yeti’s Parole Officer and the East o’ the Sun libretto saved my bacon).
Last year was a famine.
There weren’t really any editing gigs. No major projects. No big sales. I’d squirreled some of my libretto paycheque away, so I survived, but I’ll admit that the wolf got a little close to the door. Then last fall, a number of things hit at once (I’ll miss my Stonecoast pals, but not the tuition) and I heard stealthy paws under the window again.
Feast and famine. For a long-range planner—a planner who needs a back-up plan, always, just in case—it can be maddening. Creative work is uncertain by nature. You can’t predict when the next feast will come, how long the next famine will last. Even when you do get lucrative projects, you can’t always guarantee when you’ll see the money. Advances come in lumps. For freelance gigs, I usually get paid half upfront, half on completion.
Uncertainty is the nature of the beast, but you can prepare as best you can. I have an emergency fund: rent and living expenses for a few months. Beyond that, I’m careful with money when it does come; always anticipating another stretch of famine. I’m thinking about what I could jump on right away—what contacts I could tap, what gigs I could land, what I could pull together quickly, if needed.
And yes, I’d totally pick up another day-job if necessary. Of course I would. I like eating and paying rent.
It’s another part of the writing life, one that bears careful pondering. For other takes on the business/monies end, check out these posts by my former Stonecoast mentor Theodora Goss and my pal Marie Bilodeau. They’ve much more experience at this than I do!
Hopefully, your feasts are long and your famines of inconsequential duration. 🙂
What I’m Listening to This Week
After all that talk about full time writing, I’m insanely close to returning to work. While I love gallivanting about like a bohemian artist, it does feel like it’s time to go back. I miss our shared desk. I miss the brewery. I miss gallivanting about like a Victorian guttersnipe. I miss walking through the village in the early morning, when the air is clear and dewy and everything feels brand-new…
So here’s a sentimental little piece, based on Dvořák’s New World Symphony. It always starts running through my head, this time of year.
So it’s 2013. I’m at my second Dragon*Con, still quite wee. This time, I’m trying to get around to more panels, so I’m at a late-night talk on LGBTQA+ characters in YA. Mercedes Lackey strolls in, takes her place at the table, and then peers into the water jug. She sighs. Very quietly, she says, “I was hoping for vodka.”
And being quite wee, I think, That’s what I want when I grow up. I want to do a midnight panel at Dragon*Con and bemoan the lack of vodka. I want my books to be part of someone’s childhood. I want a huge freaking corpus under my belt…
…but how do you build a career like that?
The answer floated up, sure and clear.
The same way you write a book. Word by word.
I’m glad I remembered this particular insight. Building a career feels like climbing a mountain, sometimes. A very steep, very slippery mountain. You push yourself for ages—you push so that you’re exhausted, you push so that your hands are bleeding, you push so that it feels you’ve been climbing forever—
But then you look back. Just for a moment—if you spend all your time looking down, you’ll never move forward. But you look back. And you see that the ground looks a bit further away than it used to. You’ve made progress.
Step by step. Word by word.
There’s still a lot of mountain ahead. (Spoiler: it will always feel like there’s a lot of mountain ahead. I don’t think the summit actually exists: we’re always striving to climb further.) Only sometimes you realize you’ve passed some marker on the climb. I did this recently. The realization had been building for a time, but then it broke on me all at once: I can no longer do things for free. It wasn’t a proud, self-aggrandizing kind of realization. It was quite matter-of-fact: that same little voice speaking clearly and quietly.
I can’t do things for free anymore. I don’t have the time.
So that’s a useful thing to know, as I sit gasping on this ledge, still fairly low on the mountain. Word by word, I’ve gotten this far. Since that late-night panel, I have made progress. Maybe you’ve had similar insights about your own climb. They’re almost silly, aren’t they? Little things, arbitrary things. But hey, whatever helps us along.
Of course, there’s still a lot of mountain ahead. But this is why I’m glad I remembered about that night at Dragon*Con:
Thinking word by word takes the pressure off each individual work. Some people shoot up the mountain on one story. It’s not common, but it happens. But I want a corpus. Which means that any one story, any one book, or play, isn’t the be-all and end-all. It’s a single word in the piece; one step on the road; one stone in the cathedral.
That’s not to devalue your work. After all, each word in the story is important. Without them, you don’t have terribly much.
Besides, breaking it down to the most basic level: that’s what writing is, isn’t it? It’s putting words on a page, one after the next. Is it really any surprise that a writing career should be the same thing?
Step by step. Word by word.
That’s all it is.
You got this.
What I’m Listening To This Week
It’s spring, so I’ve been cleaning the garret, rejoicing in the sunlight, and generally feeling much lighter and freer. I’ve got a wonderful album of classic Parisien-café-type songs. I’m not quite sure what it is about this style. It makes me happy; it makes me feel secure and recharged, ready to out and do the things.
Really, I’ve had them all on repeat. But this one makes me smile particularly broadly. Enjoy. 🙂
It’s well into April, which means that the off-season is rapidly drawing to a close. In a few short weeks, I’ll be back at the museum, giving brewery tours and teaching people about history through theatre. I can tell we’re getting close, because a reptilian part of my brain is stirring.
“Hey,” it whispers. “Hey, you know what’s cool? Theories of theatre in education. Knowledge is power. Let’s learn some theories now. Let’s get ready to test them.”
Which explains the following stack of books:
And you know what? I love it. I know the season doesn’t start for a few weeks, but I love sitting in my garret, absorbing all of these theories. It reminds me of the year spent trying to get this drama program launched in the first place. Because the brewery is totally my supervillain lair, I spent hours on my barstool stomping terms and discourse and case studies and arguments into my brain.
It’s another side of my creative life. And what I’ve learned over the last few years is this: I’m not just keen on museum theatre because it’s theatre. I’m keen on it because it’s museum theatre. Shockingly, I like teaching in non-traditional settings. The particular challenge of museum theatre is that it has to be good history, it has to teach effectively, and it still has to work as a piece of art in itself.
Or, as I eventually summarized for myself:
- Sound pedagogy
- Responsible history
- Artistic merit
That’s a lot of points to hit. Sometimes it’s tricky to manage them all. But it’s precisely that paradox and challenge that keeps me engaged.
And I know, I know. My unabashed enthusiasm and general nerdiness about the whole thing leads to a lot of rolled eyes. Not everyone wants to hear about how the actor-teacher is really a hybrid role—or how Theatre in Education isn’t just “didactic theatre” or “education with tinsel,” it’s really an altogether different form of stagecraft—and Freeman Tilden’s Six Principles of Interpretation totally apply to museum theatre—and oh man, when you take evolving technologies into account, especially social media, the opportunities for what you can do just explode, and—
See? Rolled eyes.
But I think two things:
- This is an evolving art form. Who wouldn’t want to explore uncharted territory?
- It’s a way to genuinely reach people, to help them learn about history. I think that’s important.
I guess that’s another thing that fascinates me about museum theatre: the sense that it’s doing real, important work. It’s not just doing the same old, same old. It’s learning about what other people have done, synthesizing all that into theories, and then testing those theories over and over again. It’s developing new theories. It’s carving out a new spot in the scholarship.
That’s all well and good. It’s nice to feel like a trailblazer. But for me—the compulsive drive comes from why we do this. I see no reason why theatre and museums should be odd bedfellows. In the end, they seek to forge connections between people. They foster understanding; they encourage empathy. They ask you to step beyond yourself, to take on the role, perspectives, shoes of another. Done well, they offer multiple meanings, multiple voices, create a safe place for debate and conflict.
Done well, both museums and theatre remind us what it means to be human, and to share human experiences.
Naïveté? Maybe. Youthful idealism? Perhaps.
Nerdy? Of course.
But this is my other love. This is my passion, alongside writing about dark fairy tales and magic worlds and cannibal ice zombies. So I go back to my books, back to my theories and thoughts—and I wait for the audiences and the testing and the warm summer sun.
Excitement and joy and love. Sure, it may be nerdy, but you take these things where you can find them, don’t you? 😉
What I’m Listening to This Week
Apparently I wasn’t doing enough this year. A new novel is whispering to me. And I know it’s serious, because it has a theme song. All my novels have theme songs—all the ones that survive, anyway. Hapax had “I am the Day,” Heartstealer had “Mari’s Wedding,” and Sing to the Bones has “Lord of the Dance.”
This novel is too new and delicate to discuss much right now. Instead, here’s the song that’s driving it:
This is one of those weeks where What I’m Listening To made me think about things. I’ve been endlessly listening to Ola Gjeilo’s Luminous Night of the Soul. Before we hear the piece (it’ll be at the end, as usual, I promise), let’s look at the lyrics. It’s actually a setting of a poem by Charles Anthony Silvestri. Here’s a section:
You give the potter the feel of the clay;
You give the actor the right part to play;
You give the author a story to tell;
You are the prayer in the sound of a bell.
Praise to all lovers who feel your desire!
Praise to all music which soars to inspire!
Praise to the wonders of Thy artistry
Our Divine Spirit, all glory to Thee.
Art in praise of art. How wonderful is that?
It’s neat because this piece is a sequel to one I’ve featured before: Dark Night of the Soul.
One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
– ah, the sheer grace! –
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.
It seems to me that a lot of our art—a lot of our creative urgent longings—come from one of three places. Luminous nights, dark nights, and rent-is-due nights. And I think all artists go through all three at some point.
Rent-is-due nights are easy. Those are the projects where you are being offered good cash monies, and you need cash monies, so you agree to do it. You work hard (you’re a professional, after all), you find something in the project to like (hopefully), and then you collect your cash monies and go on your merry way. Everyone has rent-is-due nights. Even my beloved pre-Raphaelites (looking at you, John Everett Millais).
Nights of the soul are about transcendence. Both luminous and dark, those nights are simultaneously absolutely about the artist and not about them at all. They’re absolutely about the artist because they’re nights of the soul: you’re transmuting a very deep and real part of yourself into the work. And they’re not about you at all. It’s about something bigger than you. Not to fall into woo-mysticism, but I do think that art strikes a chord greater than itself. Call it a resonance in the universe if you want.
Luminous nights are just that—luminous, creating with exultation and joy and wonder.
Dark nights—speaking only for myself, that’s when the pain and heartache and grief becomes beauty.
But I do think that these two artistic drives—creating from joy and creating from grief—are mirror images of each other. I think that there is a sort of exultation when pain becomes something beautiful. I think dark nights of the soul ultimately transcend themselves into light.
I like this idea: that darkness and light eventually hit a point where they start looking a lot like each other, something more and greater than either of them.
Which would probably explain why Gjeilo’s piece quotes its predecessor rather spectacularly. 😉
Until next time,
What I’m Listening to This Week
Well, here it is: “Luminous Night of the Soul,” by Ola Gjeilo. The piano and string quartet aren’t just accompaniment here; they participate in the dialogue as much as the choir does.
Favourite moments: the exultant joy at 5:20. And the moment we start musically quoting “Dark Night” at 6:43.