State of the KT

Hi pals,

I have a friend from Stonecoast visiting this week, which means there has been lots of gallivanting and little else. So not much musing today, just updates.

First up:

I’m a Sunburst nominee?

So last Monday, I posted about this strange, transitional sense I’ve been having. And the minor crises of self-esteem. Then I opened Twitter…

…and found the awesome and talented Kelly Robson congratulating me.

Say what?

Having “La Corriveau” on the longlist was a huge honour; I honestly never expected it to go any further than that. This is likewise a huge honour—look at that list! Go back and look at the longlist! There is serious talent there!

It’s very humbling. And I’ve always been fond of “La Corriveau.” If nothing else, the historic Marie-Josephte Corriveau was a remarkable woman: I hope I’m doing her some justice.

The Sunburst winners will be announced sometime this fall.

Second up:

Starting in September, I’ll be producing the Apex Magazine podcast!

Yes, THAT Apex Magazine!

This was unexpected, but delightful news! I’ve missed working with sounds—as everyone predicted when Six Stories wrapped up, I love podcasts too much to quit them entirely. Not only is Apex a wonderful team, it seems like the perfect balance: I’m just producing. That cuts down on time and workload, but still lets me keep a toe in the pool.

At the moment, I’m busy cultivating a stable of narrators. So yes, you’ll be hearing more from Blythe. I’m also excited to bring some new voices to your ears, too!

And that’s about it for the week. Things continue to tick along. We shall see where we end up.

Cheers,

KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

Sometimes, the hardest thing about finishing a story is leaving the world. I was very fond of Heartstealer and Skarland. This piece brings me right back to the northern woods and autumn hearths…

Thinking of the Future

My life seems to change drastically every seven years or so. We’re not quite due for a shake-up yet, but it’s been on my mind. Maybe it’s the whole “turning 26” thing. My friends are buying houses, getting married, having babies. Stuff’s getting real…

…whilst I continue to frolic about like a bohemian Peter Pan.  There’s a quotation from the end of Barrie’s book that haunts me:

[Peter] had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be forever barred.

I’m fine.

But then I started actually thinking about the future. I have no idea how things are going to end up, and it seems a bit silly to fret too much. It all changes every seven years, right?

And so I started thinking slightly differently. Not what will happen?

What do I want for myself?

I’ve never cleaved closely to the conventional narrative, after all. I know that I won’t buy a three-bedroom semi-detached home in midtown Toronto. I know my relationships and family won’t look conventional. We’re not just outside the box: we left it squished three miles down the road. So if the “should be” isn’t a thing…

What do I actually want?

There’s another poem that speaks to me:

Mine be a cot beside the hill;
A bee-hive’s hum shall soothe my ear;
A willowy brook that turns a mill,
With many a fall shall linger near.

The swallow oft beneath my thatch
Shall twitter from her clay-built nest;
Oft shall the pilgrim lift the latch,
And share my meal, a welcome guest.

Around my ivied porch shall spring
Each fragrant flower that drinks the dew;
And Lucy at her wheel shall sing
In russet gown and apron blue.

The village church among the trees,
Where first our marriage vows were given,
With merry peals shall swell the breeze
And point with taper spire to Heaven.

-Samuel Rogers (1763-1855)

That’s all. That’s it.

Essential. Real. Meaningful.

Maurice Cullen, “Summer Near Beaupre” (ca. 1900).

Just need to keep that close.

-KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

I’ve been working on a thing that’s required a lot of fantasy-style music. Here’s a lively piece from Heather Alexander!

“But where do you get your ideas?”

“But where do you get your ideas?”

So I was coming home from the pub and I saw this bike propped against a tree:

 

 

It looked like he’d been stolen, stripped for parts, and abandoned. Such terrible sadness pervaded; I wondered about his owner. I saw him flying down Toronto streets, strong and fast and free, so proud to be carrying his rider—who in my head is now a twenty-something woman at U of T.

“I was a good bike,” he whispered.

Then I continued on, and I noticed it was a full moon. And isn’t it cool, how you can see the “seas” on its face—those plains of basalt called maria. Gazing up at the moon, I thought about what moons look like from other planets’ surfaces. I mean, our moon is pretty big and bright—like a silver dollar—but what if it was little? Or a vibrant colour? Or lumpy?

Also, I could totally see how the maria look like a face: two eyes and a gaping, slightly horrified mouth. The human brain always seeks patterns, which is neat. Except in Chinese tradition, it’s a rabbit. And I could see it two ways: either a rabbit on his side, or a rabbit with exceptionally long ears.

 

While looking at the sky, I also saw the Big Dipper, which made me think of an Indigenous Canadian myth in which Robin, Chickadee, and Moose Bird are hunting the Great Bear across the sky. It’s an eternal hunt that plays out through the seasons, year after year, and that kind of Cosmic Dance is very humbling and thrilling all at once. Plus, it’s a cool story.

So I kept walking and I saw a big orange cat padding by on business. When she reached certain front steps, she stopped and rested. Then a little grey cat came trundling along, rounded the corner, and—

Both cats noticed each other at the same time.

They froze. The little grey cat kept one paw in hanging in mid-air. A great tension filled the night: the little grey cat hesitating, the big orange cat staring imperiously.

But then the little grey cat trotted towards the other, they bunted heads, and the night was calm once more.

By this point, I was nearly home. Because it is summer, many of my neighbours were sitting on their porches, cigarettes burning through the night like fireflies. Harsh young voices barked from the main street: a counterpoint to the low, constant murmurings of Italian.

“Did she really?” an older woman said. “I never thought—shows him, eh?”

And an Alice Munro-esque situation sprang into glorious colour: mundane tragedy become epic in proportion, repressed emotion and women breaking free.

And then I was home.

“But where do you get your ideas?”

 

 

A ten-minute walk, a starry night, an open soul.

KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

Have you read Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books? They’re cool—I devoured Arrows of the Queen growing up. Anyway, Misty is also an accomplished filk musician; her books have a folk music tradition all their own.

“Battle Dawn” has always been my favourite: I fell in love with the driving rhythm the first time I heard it. And that voice…!

Another addition to the new novel’s playlist.

We Need to Listen: Guilt and Responsibility in Canada

This is a difficult post to write. It’s painful and awkward, and potentially upsetting. Which is also why it’s important.

This year is “Canada’s 150th birthday.” It’s the sesquicentennial of “our nation’s birth.” Break out the beavertails, deck yourself with maple leaves, and bask politely in our universal health care and handsome prime minister, eh?

Okay, so.

This is complicated.

I’m going to start with the simplest quibbles first and work my way up. On a purely historic, pedantic note, “Canada” was an entity long before 1867. Europeans have been calling it that since the 1530s. Indigenous populations were here millennia before that. This is the 150th anniversary of the British North America Act taking effect, that’s all.

That’s just me being persnickety. Let’s move on to the hard stuff.

We have a reputation, we Canadians. We’re polite. We apologize a lot. We’re tolerant, diverse; we value multiculturalism.

Look, there’s no easy way to say this: we treat Indigenous peoples appallingly, and we have for well over 150 years.

I’m not even sure where to start. With residential schools? With broken treaties? With erasure from the historical narrative? The effing garbage-fire of that “Appropriation Award” controversy? Repeated drinking-water crises on Canadian reserves? Epidemics of suicides? The 1,181 indigenous women murdered and missing between 1980 and 2012? The fact that those are only the documented cases?

It’s horrific.

And it’s not just in the past. It’s not just something that happened in 1867, or 1787, or 1653, or 1535. We’re not done. It isn’t over because it’s 2017: the same history plays out again, and again, and again. How could we be over it, when our country rests on the foundation of such a colonial legacy?

Add another layer of complexity: generally speaking, I’m happy to be Canadian. It’s in every bio I write. “KT Bryski is a Canadian author and playwright…” There are many things that Canada does well. We’ve a lot to be proud of.

But.

But we’re also this:

And this:

And hey, while we’re at it, we’re also this:

And this:

And this.

And yet, we are also these things:

 

 

 

And I don’t know. I don’t have answers. I don’t have suggestions. All I have is a thorny mass of conflicted feelings that I’ve been trying to sort through for over a year.

But perhaps there are two things to consider:

Canada tells itself that we are pluralistic. Our ideal nation-self is one which contains multitudes.

Then perhaps – does “all of the above” get closer to an answer? Can multiple Canadas coexist simultaneously? Can I have strong ties and affection for my country, whilst also being ashamed of its cruelties and failures?

Because Canada does have things of immense beauty and kindness. It also has many things which are horrific beyond words. There is light – I do believe that – but we’ve clung to our “sunny ways” for so long, we have failed to acknowledge and remedy our darkness.

And to even begin to do that, we need to do the very thing that, historically, we suck at.

We need to listen.

Listen here:

And here:

And here:

Here.

Here. Here. Here.

Here.

Listen. Own it. Listen some more. Repeat.

Happy Canada Day.

-KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

A remixed English folk ballad, because reasons. Here’s “The Three Ravens,” which kind of forgets about the ravens halfway through and becomes an allegory instead. You know, as a lot of old English poetry does.

But there’s some beautiful harmonies that remind me vaguely of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. I’m slowly starting to ponder a novel – and I suspect I’ll be listening to this song much more in the coming months.

 

Birthday Thoughts

I turn 26 on Wednesday.  On the one hand, I know that’s nothing. On the other, this tweet feels scarily accurate:

 

 

So, 26. Aging aside, there’s been a strange shift in the wind, lately. It’s nothing I can quite put my finger on, but it feels like change is coming, thunder rolling in the distance.

And ‘mid this tumult Kubla heard from far

Ancestral voices prophesying war!

– “Kubla Khan,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge

My twenties have been relatively comfortable thus far, all things considered. Yet it somehow feels like a chapter is closing. One age ending; another beginning. I don’t know—maybe it’s just birthday feelings.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I had an interesting conversation the other day about writing at different stages of life. Generally speaking, I agree with Theodora Goss’s theory that to write a certain story/novel, you must first become the sort of person who can write that story/novel. Kelly Robson echoes similar thoughts in her wonderful essay “On Being a Late Bloomer.”

Those thirty years didn’t just make me a writer. They made me a good writer. That paralyzing self-doubt morphed into a keen sense for quality in my own work. When I write something that stinks, I can usually smell it. I’ve been reading for more than forty years, so I have thousands of great books and stories banked for information and inspiration. And best of all, I have a lifetime’s worth of unplumbed material to draw on—I’ve seen the world in all its glory and ugliness.

– Kelly Robson, “On Being a Late Bloomer,” Clarkesworld

Point is, all stories originate from somewhere inside of us. If it isn’t in there somewhere, we can’t pull it out. We can fake it—manufacture a piece with a shiny veneer that crumbles at a touch. But you can’t write the story – not for realuntil conditions are right inside you.

Which is why young writers’ works have such a short shelf life. I’d write things, return to them a year later, and immediately see the delta. “I don’t write like this anymore,” I’d say. It was the same feeling you get from examining old photos.

“That was just five years ago—why do I look so young?

2017 on the left; 2012 on the right. Evidently, five years is longer than it feels.

Of course, there’s another implication to all this. If you’ve changed enough, it can make it hard to return to old worlds, old stories. Occasionally, I get asked if I’d ever write another story in the Hapax universe.

And you know what? I don’t think I could. I wrote Hapax at nineteen.

  • I still had two parents.
  • I’d never been in love.
  • I’d never really grieved.
  • I had never even considered working in museums.
  • I hadn’t met my dearest friends and collaborators.
  • I hadn’t failed very much.
  • I hadn’t gallivanted around the Antipodes by myself for two months.
  • There are hundreds of amazing books/stories I hadn’t read.

I’ve changed enough that the world doesn’t fit anymore. Sure, I could resurrect characters and pick up the mythology (I will say that Hapax’s theology still pleases me), but I wouldn’t write the same sort of story. It’s like leaving Narnia. Once the door is closed, it’s closed.

Of course, 19-year-old KT definitely couldn’t have written any of the short stories I’ve done over the past few years. She couldn’t have written Six Stories or the Creepy Play. Of course not—I wasn’t yet the person who could.

So when I think about falling into a new stage of life, part of me is excited. Or at least, curious. After all, look at all the growth in the past seven years. Where will I be in seven more? What sort of stories will I be able to tell then? By the time my twenties draw to their close, what person will I be?

I don’t know, of course. Perhaps that’s part of the fun—or at least the journey. There’s a lot of stories I haven’t told yet.

But just you wait.

KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

An unexpected piece. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” floated through my head early last week, and it’s been on repeat ever since. Obviously, I’d heard the song before—but I’d never really listened to it.

Yes, I can be a ridiculous sap. But those gentle, lilting broken chords and the velvet richness of Elvis’ lower register—

It’s a lullaby.

Reality Doesn’t Plot Well

You know that thing where someone gives you really good advice, but you’re not ready to hear it yet? Or you’re not able to understand? And then—maybe years later—you say, “Aha! That was very good advice!”

That’s where I am right now.

During my second semester at Stonecoast, I was mentored by the fabulous Nancy Holder. Towards the end of that semester, she said this to me:

I appreciate your observations about having “potential.” I know that can be quite paralyzing. My task to you is to connect deeply to your work and let go of why you’re doing it and what the outcome may be. Try to work on flow. Work on “what am I going for here?” instead of “what does this mean for me as a writer?” If I haven’t suggested THE VAN GOGH BLUES by Eric Maisel to you before, let me suggest it now. Maisel talks about a writer’s need to make everything mean something. My suggestion to you is to try to stop searching for the meaning in your process and just fall into these amazing, affecting stories you tell. Revel in the work. Enjoy being a writer.

At the time, I shrugged it off (sorry, Nancy, I was young and foolish). But since then, it’s floated up from the depths of my subconscious. See, humans instinctively look for patterns in things. We try to order the universe in a way that makes sense to us. Often, we do that by making up stories. Writers especially do this—making up stories is our thing. And so, we try to apply narrative structure and plot principles to reality.

This is really hard but it’s okay—this is the part where the hero is in despair, but they don’t give up, and then after the big struggle, they get the crown and glory.

It’s just the descent into the underworld. We’re at the “trials” part of the story. If we keep going, they’ll end soon.

This is just the dark night of the soul. Everything looks like angst and despair now, but it’s actually transformation. It’ll end. It’ll pass. And in the end, everything will be better.

From “Among Elves and Trolls,” John Bauer (1912).

To an extent, that’s helpful. If it keeps you putting one foot in front of the other, then it’s got some merit.

The problem is when we cling to our narrative structures too tightly:

Wait a sec—if I do the trials, they’re supposed to end at some point.

Okay, okay, so I’ve been waiting through this dark night for a real long time. I don’t think I’m transforming.

I’m not giving up, so where is my crown?

This isn’t the way the story goes.

“The Lady Enters,” Arthur Rackham (1921).

Cycling back to Nancy’s advice, it can be paralyzing to apply this logic to our work and careers. We hunch over submissions responses like auguries over tea leaves, forecasting our writing lives. Another rejection? And another? After all this struggle? Well, this isn’t the way the story goes, so something is deeply wrong. With you. Obviously.

Sigh.

But even worse, I think—in stories, a taste of success means that more is coming and we’re shifting into a new act. Any glimpse of light is the first ray of dawn breaking through the soul’s dark night. And so when the morning doesn’t come—when we’re plunged into darkness and struggle deeper than ever—it feels wrong.

This isn’t the way things go.

It’s imposter syndrome with the fatal perfume of plausibility, because hey, you got stuff out. People saw it. And now?

Right. They figured it out.

So every moment—every step on the journey—becomes a plot point. It foreshadows everything else. And when the story doesn’t follow our accustomed structure, we feel like failures.

“Mother Among the Thorns,” Kay Nielsen (1924).

But here’s the thing: reality doesn’t plot well. The writing life isn’t a story. It’s the most unpredictable, least logical field out there. It’s not foreshadowing, it’s down to circumstances that we can’t control and that change by the minute anyway.

The only caveat I’ll throw in is that sometimes, yeah, you do need to up your game, craft-wise and art-wise. That’s where I am.

But otherwise…

…stop searching for the meaning in your process and just fall into these amazing, affecting stories you tell. Revel in the work. Enjoy being a writer.

I know one thing for sure. There is no sure way to succeed in the arts, but the best way to fail is to stop trying. We got into this whole creative thing because we love it, right?

“Leap the Elk and Princess Tuvstarr,” by John Bauer (1913).

Then we should love it. Because we don’t know how long the road goes, and we don’t have a map to predict its twists and turns. In the end, that love—that revelling—is all we have.

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

I just discovered “Down by the Salley Gardens,” and honestly, I’m surprised it took me this long. It’s the lilting-haunting-lost-love sort of piece I love. Plus, it’s a setting of a poem by Yeats, whom I adore.

Add in a solid treble voice, and I’m in.

 

Summer Views

Well, I was right. It was another immensely busy and stressful week. Honestly, it feels like I’m spinning my wheels and getting nowhere fast. That said, I’m hopeful things will calm down once Canada Day is behind us. Once I’ve put myself back together, we can talk about forging ahead.

But for all the worry and work—there have been times when the breeze shifts just right, or the morning light hits, and the past few summers come rushing back all at once.

I loved the summer I started working at the museum. You know that feeling, early in the morning, when the light is gold and the air is fresh, and all things seem possible? Like you’re poised at the beginning, in the moment that holds all the potential? That’s what it felt like, all the time: forget-me-not-sky and dewy grass, lingering lilac and gravel crunching underfoot. It felt like I was finally getting something I’d been craving for such a very long time.

It’s the Southern Ontario Summers of my childhood. Sometimes I feel them when I look at paintings: line and colour flooding all five senses at once. And so, since I’m really too tired for a coherent post this week, here are a bunch of pictures that send me straight into summer.

 

Alfred Sisley, “Orchard in Spring” (1889).

 

J.B. Wallis, “Title Unknown” (1901).

Isaac Levitan, “Sunny Day, Spring” (1876)

 

Edward Wilkins Waite, “A Surrey Cottage in June” (n.d.)

Wilfred Thompson, “Asleep in the Grass” (1906).

 

J.E.H. MacDonald, “A Hill Path, High Park” (1907)

Tom Thomson, “Summer Clouds” (1916).

 

Mostly turn of the century. Mostly meadows and fields. Mostly light.

I’m sure that says something about Southern Ontario, but I need to sleep now.

KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

Henry Purcell is a cool dude. His semi-opera, “The Fairy Queen” (1692), is also cool. Bright and sprightly, as the Renaissance ought to be, but with quite a bit of depth, too.  Heads up: it’s a long one.

Necessities

Well. That was an immensely busy and stressful week. I would be glad it’s over, but I sense more busy and stressful weeks on the horizon. On the other hand, I did find out that “La Corriveau” has been long-listed for the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, putting me in very much esteemed company. Congratulations to all the long-listers!

So amidst the madness, I’ve been thinking about the various necessities we have in our lives. Not just food/shelter/clothing—but the things that keep us sane and stable enough to handle very busy weeks…and very frightening administrations… The things that help us live, rather than survive.

This whole pondering really started when I came home after a bone-crushing day, noticed my floors were filthy, and immediately wanted to cry. On the flipside, cleaning them made everything so much better.

So what do I need?

Some Semblance of Tidiness

I am not Martha Stewart, nor was meant to be. I live in an Edwardian garret with a cat that delights in destruction. My baseboards are dusty. There’s a few weird stains around.

That’s fine. I don’t need things pristine. I need them neat. If the floor gets a semi-regular mop, the laundry stays done, and the cat litter is monitored, I feel 1000% more human.

Sufficient Sleep

This one is tricky. Sleep has long been a challenge for me. The thing is, I can survive on very little sleep. Short-term, five hours is fine. And by “fine,” I mean, “it’s really not, but I function well enough to pretend it is.” And then, I keep doing it, because everything is so fine—

And then we get into trouble. I can’t do long stretches as easily anymore. Besides, when I finally get enough, it feels so good, I rather want to keep doing it…

“Sleep,” William Powell Frith (1872).

Nature

Have you heard of forest-bathing? It’s a Japanese practice that basically involves being around trees. Just wandering and breathing. There’s something similar at play for me. Every so often, I need to get out. Away from artificial lights, away from computer screens, away from the constantly-pinging network of communication.

Fortunately, Toronto has plenty of wild pockets, if you know where to look. An afternoon in the ravines, and I can handle the world again.

Other People’s Art

Same thing, basically. Creation begets creation, but sometimes you need to refill the well. And more importantly, sometimes you need to connect to what makes you create in the first place. Sometimes you need other people’s art because you are a person too, and I think we all need some art in our lives.

So it’s a lot of reading. Music. Periodically, I go to the AGO and walk around getting drunk on light, colour, and lines.

The Art Gallery of Ontario: one of my favourite places in Toronto.

Face-to-Face Time

I’m a weirdly social introvert. Absolutely, I need alone time. In fact, not getting alone time leads to jangled nerves and jittery anxiety.

But—

Too much solitude doesn’t lead anywhere good. And while I’m lucky to have friends across the world—well, it’s not exactly easy to nip down to the US on a whim. Seeing people face-to-face is important to me. Having a drink, seeing a show, talking a walk—I need my friends and family, and I need that time with them.

Balticon 2015: I ADORE these gentlemen.

Writing Time

Flip side of the coin. I need alone time. I need writing time. When I don’t get it—or when it feels threatened—the gnawing little panic starts up. Really, it’s the same sort of feeling you get when you hold your breath too long.

You can hold it for a time—and sometimes, you have to—but eventually, you have to breathe.

“Jo Seated on the Old Sofa,” by Norman Rockwell (1938).
I feel an immense kinship with this painting…

So What?

So if I feel caught in a tailspin, I’ve learned to check this basic list. Is one of my necessities going unfulfilled? Is there a way to meet that need?

Moreover, four things on this list relate to nourishing the inner life. Which I suppose makes sense, if we’re looking beyond mere survival. And the cool thing about one’s inner life is that it is unique to you.

We all need food and water. Not all of us have similar internal needs. So what about you? What necessities are in your life?

Anon!

KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

Lots of Phantom and Wicked, for some reason. Specifically, this song. Occasionally, my cold, cold heart does a little shudder and flip—catch me right, and I can be the sappiest sap who ever sapped.

 

 

Liminal and Literary

When I was a wee sprogget of 16, I went to tour a university. They had a creative writing undergrad, you see, and I’d somehow wrangled a one-on-one with one of the instructors. She seemed distant, impervious to my earnest charm.

Until I asked brightly, “So, do you teach genre fiction as well, or is it all literary?”

She recoiled like I’d slapped her. “Oh, no,” she hissed. “We only teach literary fiction.”

And so I did not attend that university.

Photo de Katie Bryski.

I ended up at the University of Toronto, instead.

Through my late teens and undergrad, I similarly avoided  anything smacking of “literary fiction.” Meandering vignettes of people sitting on park benches, pondering the banality of existence? Dysfunctional families in the woods? Giants of the literary canon deriding my chosen genre as nothing more than space-faring octopi?

To hell with all that. I was a speculative fiction writer. I was interested in telling good stories.

Have I mentioned that I was incredibly arrogant through my late teens and undergrad?

In any case, I took a half-credit Science Fiction course, which is probably one of the best moves I’ve made. We started with Darko Suvin, forged ahead from Weinbaum to Gibson, and highlighted LeGuin and Tiptree along the way. My final paper contrasted notions of bodily autonomy in “Boojum” (Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear) and “Bloodchild” (Octavia Butler).

Quite a literary analysis, if you think about it.

Then I did my Stonecoast MFA. We’ve talked about it before – that was when my authorial voice started to change. And there—I learned that perhaps “literary” didn’t mean what I’d thought. Perhaps it wasn’t just “the opposite of genre fiction.” So what was it?

It was introspective. It was character-driven. It was devastating. It was lyrical and elegant.

Literary was an approach.

And literary could still have magic and spaceships.

Dysfunctional families in the MAGIC woods!

So I’ve been undergoing another reading regimen. In some ways, I still feel like an interloper: scuttling across the border to see what I scavenge and bring back to my fantasy. But startlingly, I sometimes recognize myself in the small villages, the bitter-dark humour, the pervasive loss, the tension between things beautiful and grotesque…

Of course, humans like to classify things. We like to label ourselves. That’s what we do. And genre markers are a useful common language for markets, authors, and readers.

But I’m feeling my way towards a strange, interstitial space. Not terribly surprising: I’ve always been fascinated by the liminal. It’s the place betwixt-and-between, where we gleefully borrow principles, turn them inside-out, and blur the lines as we cross them.

That’s what I’m writing towards, I think. It feels right.

KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

Have I done Carmina Burana before? I guess it doesn’t matter; it’s what I was listening to this week.

It’s an Orff cantata, using poems from a medieval manuscript called – appropriately – Carmina Burana, or, “Songs from Beuern.” The “O Fortuna” movement is the one everyone knows.

Two main things. 1) I love the contrast between driving whispers and orchestral cataclysm. It’s the Wheel of Fortune going up and down, you know? And 2) Those lyrics. They are. The most. Metal. Lyrics. EVER.

The 2017 SFWA Nebula Conference

I almost didn’t go to the Nebulas. In total, I flip-flopped three or four times. First, I was reluctant to skip work over the Victoria Day weekend. Then, no one knew how the political landscape would look by May. Then my novel wouldn’t be ready to query in time. Then it would be ready, but I had a crisis of self-esteem.

In the end, I am very, very glad I went.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the Nebula Awards are a series of awards for outstanding fiction nominated and voted upon by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). In recent years, a conference has developed around them.

When I go to cons, you can assume that I learned lots, saw stellar programming, met amazing people, and caught up with old friends. That was certainly the case this time, so I want to zero in on a few particular moments.

Moment the First

I met Connie Willis during the mass autograph session on Friday night. I absolutely adore her fiction. Plus, I’ve been putting together playlists of all the SFWA Grandmasters—and hers was one of my favourites to curate. The woman is just so incredibly lovely and smart.

To set the scene a little: the hotel’s massive ballroom was opened up. Tables seating an author or two each filled the room—like a maze of books and tablecloths. People strolled through with drinks and ice cream, chatting and signing and snapping photos. It was basically a cocktail party with 2/3 of the guests seated.

I’m always loath to interrupt conversations, so I waited until there was a gap in the stream of people around Ms. Willis’ table. Then I cautiously approached, stuttered something about loving her fiction, and stammered something further about how much I’d enjoyed listening through all her interviews and readings.

I frequently claim that I no longer get star-struck. I lie like a lying McLiarPants.

In any case, she was super gracious and somehow turned the conversation to politics. And politics and fiction. And then somehow, I was having a real conversation with Connie Willis, all stammering and trembling forgotten.

But wait, there’s more.

The next day, I found myself on an elevator with her. “Oh, hello again!” she said. “How was the rest of your evening? Are you enjoying the weekend?”

Part of being a writer is that you learn from everyone around you. With Connie Willis, I look at her graciousness and kindness and say, “I want to be like that when I grow up.” It’s modelling behaviour, really, and she sets a prime example. I was so incredibly touched—I just hope that when I’m in her position, I leave half as good an impression.

Moment the Second

Part of the Nebulas involves celebrating the latest SFWA Grandmaster. For 2016, it’s Jane Yolen. Like Connie Willis, I love her fiction and thoroughly enjoyed creating her playlist.

Scene-setting, again:

Same ballroom, but now filled with banquet tables and rows of chairs. People glide around in suits, tuxes, dresses, and gowns. The main lights are lowered, bright purple accent lights shining around the stage. Anticipation hums through the air.

And when Jane Yolen is presented—

Standing ovation. As President Cat Rambo said, Ms. Yolen writes “those” books—the ones which probably steered many of us in the room towards writing and fiction.

Brandon Crilly and I got almost the same photo, but my phone ate mine. Here is his. 🙂

Writing can be such a lonely art. Jealousy bites sans warning or logic. It can feel like a zero-sum game (it isn’t—but sometimes, in our darkest hours, it feels like one). But here—the anticipation richened into a blur of pride and goodwill. We were all there because we love stories. We were all there because of a certain commitment to them. Ms. Yolen exemplifies a life dedicated to them.

And in that moment, I realized something:

As writers, we need to constantly check in with ourselves. “Is this what I really want?” Writing is hard. It’s lonely. It doesn’t pay well. It comes with LOTS of rejection. It takes a long time.

“Is this what I really want?”

Do I want a life of strange airports and con hotels? Do I want a life of uncertainty and no guarantees, ever? Do I want a life that pretty much has to run on faith and love?

Feeling that swell of good feeling, I answer as always, “Yes.”

Moment the Third

This isn’t a particular moment, so much as it is an observation.

During the post-award parties, I noticed something interesting. My imposter syndrome is worse when I have a safety net. In a room with people I know really well, I found myself getting quieter and increasingly uncomfortable.

Recognizing this pattern, I struck out alone.

Very quickly, I met a whole bunch of new people, got to know other people better, and had a lot of excellent conversation (and alcohol, but that’s beside the point).

This makes no sense, so what’s going on? I think that subconsciously, I assume the people I know REALLY well will spot my social fakery, and so I get too nervous to try.

But—if you can do it, it’s not really faking, is it? I mean, the thing about “fake it ‘til you make it” is that, eventually, you make it….

Of course, recognizing the pattern is Step One. Now, I’m trying to figure out how to change it.

In sum…

It was a truly, truly wonderful weekend. My utmost congratulations to all the nominees and winners (you can see the full list here), with an extra-proud grin to fellow Canadian author Amal el-Mohtar.

There are many, many people I need to thank—more than can fit here. So, please know that if you attended, you made my weekend special. That said, an extra-special thanks to Derek Künsken and Brandon Crilly for letting me room/hang with them through the weekend. Next stop: CanCon!

Happy sighs, and back to work.

-KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

Shortly before I left for the Nebulas, I saw new vocal ensemble Vocalis give their inaugural concert. While the program was incredibly strong, this one’s stuck with me. It’s got the relentless, driven choral lines I find so fascinating. Much like my beloved polyphony, the parts all fit together like pieces of a well-made clock…