Monthly Archives: February 2017
The American Grand Tour continues! Another short post this week, I’m afraid. This time, I’m happily ensconced in Tennessee for the Smoky Writers Retreat. This is one of my favourite events each year: a week filled with friends, words, food, and booze.
Not only is Smoky an amazingly fun time, it’s super productive. “Her Hands Like Ice,” “The Love it Bears Fair Maidens,” “La Corriveau,” and a good portion of my MFA thesis were all written there. This year, I’m planning to dive into a novel—though I have a pocketful of short stories and a play if I get stuck.
A more thorough recap is coming next week—I’m excited to see what I learn and accomplish this retreat!
What I’m Listening to This Week
Ola Gjeilo again, because I adore him. This is “Across the Vast Eternal Sky,” a transcendent piece about phoenixes and rebirth. Listen for the dance-like piano theme kicking in around 0:45 (bonus: Gjeilo himself is playing it!) and the ascending line at 1:55 that blossoms into a magnificent crescendo.
But also, this is the new novel’s theme song. I wasn’t necessarily expecting that, but one rarely does…
(Apologies in advance for a rambling post; I am very tired!)
As I write this, I’m sitting in the Boston airport, having just left my first Boskone. By the time you read this, I’ll be in Virginia. One week after that, it’ll be Tennessee.
My head’s spinning a little. But hey, all that is still in the future! Right now, I want to talk about Boskone. Run by the New England Science Fiction Association, Boskone is a delightful midwinter con in—where else?—Boston. There’s the usual blurred convention round-up: I met some new friends, caught up with old friends, participated in awesome panels, and had some long, amazing conversations. The organization and programming were stellar.
But whenever I leave a con, I think about what I’m taking away. What lessons have I learned? What was the theme, the overarching idea to ponder?
I’m still mulling. After all, I left the con an hour ago. I think, though, that the main lesson of Boskone is learning to think of myself as a “real” writer.
Let me explain.
When one says, “I’m a writer,” that means many different things. It means that you’re someone who writes—someone who has to write. That, I have no trouble saying. At this point, writing is so integrated into my self-identity that if I stopped, I’d have an existential crisis on my hands.
“I’m a writer” also means that you write professionally. That’s also fine. The museum pays me to write. The Ontario Arts Council deemed me professional. I’ve sold stories and novels. My plays have been produced. Obviously, I have a long way to go, but writing pays the bills.
So why do I struggle to call myself a “real” writer?
After much pondering, I think it’s because I’m comparing myself to the authors I admire. Writers who have sold five, ten, twenty novels. Writers who have collectively won every award. Writers who are loved; writers who cannot cross the bar for running into someone they know; writers who have changed the field.
And I look at them, and I think, “I’m not the same. Not yet. I’ve written and I’ve sold, but I’m not a Real Writer.”
In some ways, that’s true. I’m just starting out. I’m a few steps down the road that some authors have been traversing since before I was born. Of course, of course it takes more time than this.
The writers at Boskone treated me as a colleague. Not as a student. Not as a fan. It’s a little scary—partly because it’s always scary when you get your true desire—but also because changing one’s self-identity is inherently frightening.
I think the lesson of Boskone was being okay with that change. Not turning away, saying, “No, no, this isn’t me,” but embracing it. More than that—owning it.
Thank you, Boskone, and all its attendees; I’m truly grateful.
What I’m Listening to This Week
Over my years at conventions, I’ve learned various strategies for managing social anxiety. Last last year I hit upon Anglican chants as a good way to prepare myself for anxious-making situations. The repetitive tunes do help. But more, I have a strong association between this particular sound and my choir—one of the safest places I know!
Tomorrow kicks off my American Grand Tour! After visiting some friends in New England, I’ll be making my way back to Boston for Boskone 54! I’ve never been to Boskone – and I’ve only briefly been in Boston – so I’m very excited! It’ll be a busy weekend, for sure – here is my schedule!
2:00-3:00, Steam’s Rising: A Proliferation of Punks
- Featuring: James Moore, Me (Moderating), Victoria Sandbrook, Melanie Meadors
5:00-6:00, Nonlinear Narratives
- Featuring: Me, Max Gladstone, Charles Stross, Michael Swanwick, Sarah Smith
6:00-7:00, The Fantasy Writer’s Guide to Beer
- Featuring: Me, Myself, and I.
12:00-1:00, The Inconveniences of Victorian Dress
- Featuring: Me and the Audience! (This is an open discussion – like a museum theatre talkback, wherein I have points I want to hit, but it’s a dialogue rather than me monologuing forever.)
(I haven’t 100% made up my mind what I’ll be reading, but I’m leaning towards “The Love it Bears Fair Maidens.” Or maybe “Wendigo.” I shall ponder. )
- Featuring: Me.
10:00-11:00, When is it a Gimmick?
- Featuring: Me (Moderating), LJ Cohen, John Chu, JM McDermott, Brendan DuBois
12:00-1:00, Science Fiction on the Stage
- Featuring: Jeanne Beckwith, James Patrick Kelly, F. Brett Cox, Gillian Daniels, Me.
1:00-2:00, Shelley and Austin
- Featuring: Theodora Goss, Me (Moderating), EJ Stevens, F. Brett Cox
And then I dash to the airport for a twelve-hour turnaround in Toronto before Blythe and I head straight back down to Virginia. Whee!
If you’re around the con, come say hi!
What I’m Listening to This Week
Oh man. I found this “The Road Home” this week. It’s got that gentle lilt I associate with American hymns – especially those from the south. Understated, but surprisingly emotional.
There were a lot of things we could’ve talked about today. Last week, I had multiple friends suffer loss, which got me thinking again about the nature of grief and the transient randomness of life. Last week, my story “Her Hands Like Ice” appeared in Bracken Magazine, and it might have been interesting to trace its development: from a winter’s observation to published story. Last week, more terrifying things happened in the United States, which renewed my will to resist. Last week, I continued wrestling with difficult, painful thinking about Canada’s 150th anniversary—what, precisely, are we celebrating?
Plus, I’m working through one of my biannual freakouts. I get one around October and one around February: like clockwork, every year. (Here is last February’s.) I’m fairly certain it’s linked to a mild seasonal disorder, which is comforting when I’m convinced that I’m a talentless hack with no future – it’s not Real, it’s linked to the light.
So yeah. A lot going on.
In the end, though, I think this is what I’d like to discuss.
Last week, I read Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: the Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life. It’s part memoir, part hymn to writing and art. It’s a short book; funny and poignant by turns. But in one chapter—no, they’re more vignettes, really—in one vignette, she talks about work as being like meditation. The trick to both is this: you must notice when your mind has scampered off like a caffeinated squirrel, and bring it back to centre.
Nothing more, nothing less. Simply coming back to that point of stillness, again and again and again.
In a funny way, it makes me think of canoeing. Dipping your paddle into the water again and again. Developing a rhythm. And if you stop—distracted by mosquitoes, maybe—or alarmed by storm clouds—you simply breathe. Readjust your grip. Begin again.
You do get to a point of stillness, canoeing. (Actually, I’ve got a lot more experience kayaking, but I think the principle’s the same.) The rhythm itself becomes a lifeline. How to you get across the lake? Stroke by stroke. Nothing more, nothing less.All of which to say: I don’t know what lies upstream. There is a lot going on. But I know that I can put my paddle to the water. Again. And again.
What I’m Listening To This Week
I got onto a musical kick this week, listening to Wicked and Moulin Rouge! for the first time in ages. “Come What May” has been on repeat – Moulin Rouge! is one of my very favourite movies. It’s wonderfully opulent, unabashedly sentimental, and utterly romantic: jewel-toned, like a Pre-Raphaelite painting.
It’s so over the top. It works so well.