Another year, another round-up. The #2009vs2019 posts are flying fast and furious. But the words are sticking in my throat. So much happened in 2019. How am I supposed to compress the year into a blog post? How can I encompass an entire decade?
Every year on January 1, I take a sharpie and a blank 8.5×11 sheet and I write my goals for the year. This sheet is my compass; we may detour occasionally, but it always points north.
This year, I fell short of my goals.
It hurts, saying that. Not that 2019 was a total wash. It started with delightful news — I signed on with Kim-Mei Kirtland from the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency and we’ve been having a wonderful time working through my queer beer novel. Though I didn’t submit as many stories as I wanted, a higher proportion sold. Dublin WorldCon was an incredible experience with some very dear friends. And of course, Jen Albert and I started ephemera, a new monthly SFF reading series here in Toronto.
But I didn’t do everything I planned.
For some reason, it felt like my gears never caught right. For some reason — yeah, right. As we discussed earlier this year, 2019 was my post-apocalypse. Surviving, rebuilding. It takes energy, it takes time. It’s necessary work, and it turns out that writing is really hard when it’s left undone.
In the fall, I saw someone I used to know. From nowhere, I thought — you’ve gotten harder, and I’ve gotten softer.
Not softer as in, weaker. Softer as in, the protective shell’s opened a little. Softer as in, belly-up and trusting. Softer as in, I don’t walk around with my shoulders to my ears anymore.
Softer as in, I’m not anticipating hurt.
Honestly, I’m not sure what I would’ve done without my loved ones. My choir fam in particular held me up this year, and I can’t even describe how much they mean to me. It would take a million oratorios.
They played a large part in this softening. With them, I feel – it’s okay. We’re okay. It’s the sensation of squeezing someone’s hand and feeling them squeeze back. Trust, kindness, and love.
I wasn’t always very kind to myself this year.
“You have a relationship with your writing, just like you do with your partner,” a friend told me. “How are you treating it right now?”
It was like my writing voice didn’t work the same way anymore. Like I was straining for notes that were once within range — like I couldn’t keep in tune, even when I knew the harmonies I wanted.
There are a lot of reasons a singer’s voice might suffer. Injury. Neglect. Overuse. Getting it back takes rest, gentle practice, and patience. Naturally, I did none of these things, beating myself up over blank pages.
I took my partner’s favourite tropes and smashed them together into a story I never intended to sell. For once, I wasn’t thinking about markets and recommended reading lists and reviews. I was telling a story to someone I love. It wasn’t a story for me — okay, it was also for me, I’m not that disingenuous. Deep down, I knew I needed to get over my own hang-ups.
But anyway, I finished it.
It’s not my best story. But it was the crack I needed.
I stopped beating myself up. I started reading more fairy tales.
After chewing on a story seed for months, I managed to get it written and sold.
Rest. Gentle practice. Patience.
If I can be softer with my loved ones, I can be softer with myself as well.
There’s a softness to ephemera as well. I’m so touched by the energy everyone brings to it; I love the space we’re making together.
So now we’re at the end of the year. I feel…steadier. Like the ground has finally stopped shifting under my feet. Tomorrow, I will take my sharpie and my blank sheet and I’ll write the goals I want to reach in 2020.
I can do it. I know I can.
With kindness, and work, and soft steadfastness.
What I’m Listening to This Week
This one again – I need the poetry.
What do you call a writer who isn’t writing?
It’s a funny old thing, this writing business. The surest way to fail is to stop. But—“There’s no such thing as writers’ block,” we tell each other. It’s something else.
Fear. Perfectionism. Lack of discipline. Failing nerves. Poor health.
To be honest, I never really thought about it that much. It had never really happened to me.
I started writing “for real” ten years ago and never looked back. Steady, consistent, quick. There was always something, some project. As I went through the Stonecoast MFA, I watched people graduate and just…stop.
I sympathized and supported, of course. But in my marrow, I didn’t quite understand.
How do you just…stop?
It happened slowly. I suspect it usually does.
As you may recall, last year was a lot of theatre and life changes. I spent the summer navigating two plays, various short fiction pieces, and a 177,000-word interactive fiction novel, launched into another indie production in October, and then found myself thoroughly burned out. A lot of personal stuff was happening too, and I just…couldn’t.
So I rested. Refill the well, you know. Until Christmas. Then in early January, I signed on with my agent and I hummed contentedly through rewrites on the Beer Magic novel. The Smoky Writers’ retreat followed in February and I had no issues churning out stories.
(Granted, most still need a gutting, but…)
But under all this Doing Stuff lurked a tendril of unease.
I sold one of my Smoky stories very quickly. But I didn’t really have a lot else on submission.
I’ll write a few more, I told myself. No big deal.
Okay, whatever. Maybe it’s time to write this novella.
I’ve got a rough plot outline for the novella. A decent handle on the characters. I think it’ll be neat.
But my fingers lay wooden.
“I’ve spent the last hour rewriting the same two hundred words,” I told my author-friend Aly.
“Shake that off, my dude. Get out of your head somehow.”
It’s an elementary mistake, of course. Obsessing over the same few paragraphs. You’re supposed to just write and circle back later. Shitty first drafts, fix it in post, you can’t edit a blank page. Things we’ve all heard a million times.
I knew that.
I knew better than that.
Loathing myself, I went to bed. I’d try again. In the morning. When I was well-rested.
It came up in therapy.
“It’s an identity crisis thing, and it’s a business thing, and it’s…”
It was the most emotional I’ve ever gotten in front of my therapist. My dead father? Leaving Black Creek? Closing an important chapter? All fine, all delivered in measured tones, all with witty asides.
Talking about my inability to write had me on the verge of tears.
“Have you talked to any of your writer friends about this?” my therapist asked gently.
“Isn’t your partner an editor? Wouldn’t she be a good support?”
“I mean, yes, but—”
But if I told people, it was real.
“The level of emotion here suggests that it’s important to you,” my therapist said. “Consider talking to someone.”
When I feel shitty about my writing, I withdraw from my community. It’s not great (understatement), but it’s an imposter syndrome response. I don’t deserve to be there; I’m not a real writer; I’m choked with shame.
I talked to Aly again. By “talked,” I mean, “I vented a lot of angst, snapped at her, and then virtually fled into the bushes.”
I stewed for a few more days, stories sparking and dying. Probably Jen would be a good support.
“I’m scared,” I said.
Talking about it with her helped. So did imagining what my Stonecoast mentors would tell me. Chill and keep trying, probably. Even if I had to throw the words out.
Another friend runs a daily flash prompt. I started doing it. Just to keep the fingers moving. Just to massage some of the stiffness from my brain.
Words. Not good words. But words nonetheless.
Like someone recovering from illness, I altered my “diet.” Setting aside Hugo ballots and recommended reading lists, I returned to fairy tales—the Andrew Lang books, Kay Nielsen’s illustrations, Yeats’ collection of Irish folktales, the Mabinogion.
Angela Carter. Lord Dunsany. Ursula K. Le Guin’s essays. A few more recent things: Charles de Lint and Kat Howard.
For the first time in five years, I had nothing on submission. My closed laptop mocked me.
I kept reading.
“Why haven’t you talked to anyone?” my therapist asked.
Shame. Fear. A certain self-protective instinct.
But mostly shame.
Amidst all this, I was doing a research project for Black Creek Pioneer Village. Sourcing newspaper articles, letters, diaries, illustrations, and ephemera…
…and writing three very short plays.
I left the plays until last, of course. In some reptilian part of my brain, the old instinct persisted. “It’s fine, I can bang out six pages super quickly.”
That’s what I had always done. Always.
…and I did?
It took a while to register.
I sat down. I wrote the scripts. I finished them. Like old times. Like this was something I’ve trained for; something I’ve done for ten years.
And yes, of course—these were characters I knew inside out, for a very specific purpose and a client I lived and breathed for ages.
But the muscles still worked.
Once bitten, twice shy. I’m still scared. I’m scared to write this. Nervous about not being seen as professional, I guess. Deathly frightened of showing real vulnerability.
But the scripts helped. Writing those proved that the machine still works. I can still write. Everyone’s right: the words haven’t turned to ash in my skull.
Ideally, this is where the eighties montage comes in. I’d blast a playlist of motivational music, burn the midnight oil in creative frenzy, and turn that novella in by next Tuesday.
Only it doesn’t quite work that way. I still haven’t figured this out. I can still write, but something else is going on. Maybe it’s fear. Maybe it’s lingering burnout. Maybe it’s simply that everything changed very suddenly and I haven’t caught up with myself yet.
What do you call a writer who isn’t writing?
You call them, “trying.” You call them, “recovering.”
You call them a “writer.”
Because they still are. The words will come back. I have to believe that.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Johnny Cash somehow found his way into my listening this week. And with him, a song for the novella:
I can see more of it, now. Fingers crossed.
“If we jump back two or three years,” I told my therapist, “there was so much I was afraid of losing. But after all the changes last year, there’s nothing to be scared of anymore. The apocalypse already happened.”
“Well,” she said. “You’re a science fiction [sic] writer. What do you do, in a post-apocalyptic world?”
I thought. “You rebuild.”
This has been an ongoing theme for the better part of a year. Chapters closing, change, regeneration, rebirth. Maybe it’s silly, but I thought the intense period of transition was pretty much done.
After all, I changed jobs, I changed apartments, I changed a lot of relationships. What else was left?
I forgot about rebuilding.
So I left my therapist’s office thinking about living in the post-apocalypse. Maybe that sounds dire, but I think it’s actually quite apt.
What is an apocalypse, anyway?
Etymologically speaking, it’s a revelation (as in, “The Book of…”). The word apocalypse derives from the Greek apokaluptein, or “uncover.” In that sense, I suppose, it’s a cutting to the truth of things, a stripping away of the false and outmoded to some insight underneath.
More generally, it’s a passing of an age—the cessation of a certain way of life. Apocalypse might be the twilight of the gods or the elves sailing into the west, and it’s also a lot of very big life changes hitting very close together.
So—what do you do, in a post-apocalyptic world?
I forgot about (or failed to acknowledge) the work that comes after change.
See, here’s the thing. Let’s say you go through A Time. And you survive. Because of course you do—you’re tougher and more resilient than you know.
“Well!” you say. “That sucked, but it’s over. Things will get easy now.”
Except you need to rebuild, and rebuilding is still transition. Imagine everything at equilibrium—the old world, the caterpillar. Then comes dissolution and discomfort—an asteroid, the darkness of the cocoon.
Equilibrium doesn’t return immediately after that. There’s carving out a new homestead from the rubble; there’s the vulnerable butterfly drying its wings before it can fly.
And that’s okay, that’s all part of the process. It just means it takes longer than you think to reach a “new normal.” There’s a descent and then an ascent. The pause when the dust settles isn’t the end; it’s a beginning.
But I was a little surprised to hear my own words.
There’s nothing to be scared of, anymore.
What can you do, when you’re no longer scared?
Post-apocalypse is also post-revelation, post-insight, post-truth. Last year, I learned so, so much. As I’ve said elsewhere, I feel like I’ve spent the last eight years becoming. Now that I’m this person, what next?
How do you live a post-apocalyptic life?
I’m still chewing all this over, obviously. But in the short term, it’s been a good reminder to be more patient with myself—even as I feel like I’m underachieving in a lot of ways. But maybe I’ve applied too narrow a scope to “achievement.”
Surviving is tough. It takes a lot of energy.
But there’s nothing to be scared of, anymore. There’s only rebuilding. There’s only the work.
And if the former things are passed away—if we’re making all things new—then why not build the most beautiful and the best that you can?
What I’m Listening To This Week
We keep it honest here. This week is “Ashes” from Deadpool 2. Yep. That Deadpool. Like most people in the comment section, I listened to it expecting a quick chuckle…but it’s actually really good?
Plus, the whole refrain of “let beauty come out of ashes” resonates right now for obvious reasons.
So I was having a rough day the other week. I’d received a short story rejection that really stung. No matter how often you submit—no matter how thick your skin gets—there’s always the odd one that still hurts. Funnily enough, the angst hit worse a few days after the actual rejection. I’m not sure what the trigger was, but it sparked a whole slew of thoughts, which I now present in the form of a dialogue.
ME: I’m never selling anything ever again.
ALSO ME: You just sold a piece to Augur.
ME: But I’m not selling anything else. I’m a has-been before I was even an is.
ALSO ME: Why do you say that?
ME: Everyone else is selling short fiction.
ALSO ME: Who’s everyone?
ME: People on Twitter.
ALSO ME: So what? You’ve had a good year career-wise. You have an agent!
ME: Yeah. That’s good.
ALSO ME: You had a story come out!
ALSO ME: You SOLD a story. To Augur. You love Augur.
ALSO ME: So what’s the problem?
ME: I don’t sell many stories.
ALSO ME: Why is that important to you?
ME: Because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You sell short stories, and then people start to know you, and then you sell a novel.
ALSO ME: That’s what you’re supposed to do. I see. Says who?
ALSO ME: Is that what [WRITER FRIEND] did?
ALSO ME: And is [WRITER FRIEND] still doing well?
ALSO ME: Okay, what about [OTHER WRITER FRIEND]? Do they write much short fiction?
ALSO ME: And does everyone still love them and think they’re an awesome writer?
ALSO ME: So it is possible that short fiction is not an absolute prerequisite?
ME: Fine, yes. But what if I’m just not good enough?
ALSO ME: (Deep breath) Okay. Look. You know that’s not the only thing. It’s budget. It’s personal taste versus the publication’s aesthetic. It’s balancing out the stories they bought three months ago. It’s balancing out the stories they’re buying three months from now. It’s publicity. It’s “OMG I love this story like I love every puppy in the shelter but I can only adopt two and my heart is breaking but I still have to leave this one behind.”
ALSO ME: Can I make an observation?
ME: Go for it.
ALSO ME: Generally speaking, your writing does best when you don’t give a f*ck—when you just write whatever makes you happy. Six Stories, for example. Angst-ridden friendship and fairy tales and a ridiculous metanarrative structure? Who does that? YOU do.
Or, okay, Beer Magic. Queer ladies—magic beer—Toronto history—you literally just combined your six favourite words and that’s what finally worked.
This is true of your short fiction, too. Most of the stories you’ve sold were about things that make you angry.
ME: I’m not sure I’m comfortable using anger as my main motivation.
ALSO ME: Yeah, that’s another conversation. The point is, the stuff you feel like you “should” write? Yeah. That tends not to fly. But the stuff that matters to you…that does well.
Let me ask you a question. If you could write anything right now, what would you write?
ME: That Southern Gothic fairy tale novella.
ALSO ME: Then why the f*ck are you beating your head against the wall with short stories?
ME: I can’t just write whatever I want! I have to think about my career!
ALSO ME: Okay, great. Think about your career. When Kim-Mei’s done with Beer Magic, then what? You’ve got to have something on deck. Why not this novella?
ALSO ME: It’s okay. It’s okay to focus on something else for a bit. It’s okay to explore other avenues. It keeps you nimble.
ME: I know.
Then I sold a story to Lightspeed three hours later. Even so, I still want to write this novella?
Everyone says, “There’s no one way to have a writing career,” but we all have our own blocks and unconscious beliefs. Part of me feels really guilty that I haven’t written much short fiction lately…
…but where is the guilt coming from?
I’m not sure. But I think this novella’s calling louder than anything else right now. Maybe it’s time to listen.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Ah, Louise Pitre, I love your music so dearly. It is sad and heartfelt and jazzy.
‘Tis the season—I’ve just finished my annual writers’ retreat. As per usual, it was a week of fabulous friends, food, and words. Plus, beer and hot tubs. Rockstar life, basically.
I wrote last year about a moment I had at the retreat. It was one of those insights that cut to the quick. Towards the retreat’s end, I was sitting out alone in the hot tub…
It was nearing the golden hour, sunlight spilling over the mountains. The sky was endless, cloudless blue; the woods rang with the singing of birds and frogs. I settled into the hot tub with a book. My beer rested beside me.
And sitting there—sated with finished stories, dear friends typing inside, spring unfolding across the mountains—I could think only:
Enjoy this now. It won’t always be like this.
And I was right. Last year was rather a lot, and it was good to carry that moment inside me, returning to it whenever I felt like drowning in the midst of everything. This year, I had the mirror-version insight.
When the retreat finished, we broke the drive back from Tennessee into two parts. After a lovely dinner, I headed back to my hotel room—and crashed. Curled on the bed with some choral favourites, slightly dazed. For the first time all week, I was entirely alone. In the silence of my own thoughts, without friends around, I suddenly ached.
I missed my cat, down to the bone. I missed my choir friends and girlfriend and family. I missed my apartment and my own bed. After a fantastic (and full) week, I suddenly felt lonely.
But of course, I have novel rewrites due soon. So I sat in an American hotel room, booted up my computer, and got to work. Rockstar life, right? As I poked at revisions, the thought came—
This is the other part of it.
This is the rockstar life. This is part of the career I want.
See, sometimes creative life is hot tubs and intense productivity in the mountains. Or going to conventions and meeting cool writers and book people. Heck, sometimes it’s wandering in the woods and soaking in the trees.
But sometimes it’s getting work done…even in anonymous hotel rooms far from home.
Because it’s all about the work, in the end. Word by word, draft by draft. So this is going to keep happening. I want my writing career to include travel and work. Sitting there, I asked myself, “Are you good with this? Really, truly, are you good?”
And the answer was, “Yes.”
So this is the other part of it. I still wouldn’t change it for the world—but I’ll always love coming home.
PS. I suppose I ought to give a retreat report:
- One story I need to trash
- Two stories that are probably pretty close to done
- One flash I’m unsure of
- Two stories that need heavier revision
- Also, novel rewrites.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Ah, Cherubino, the hormone-riddled adolescent boy most often played by a woman. He’s one of my favourite characters in opera; I love the fluidity of trouser roles. We’ve had a version of “Non so più” here before, but this is a wonderfully cinematic version that is queer af.
We’re deep into Beer Magic revisions this week! My wonderful agent and I had a great phone call about the novel and thoughts for the next draft. It involved much pacing around the apartment while we thought out loud—and also lots of leaping to my laptop/notebook to jot things down.
Fortunately, it doesn’t need a massive structural overhaul. Even so, this is what my office looks like right now:
I’m not sure I’ve talked about my notecards, but they’re an essential part of my initial plotting process and later-draft revisions. My method is kind of-sort of adapted from Holly Lisle’s notecard plotting workshop. She uses notecards to throw scene ideas down and weave a plot from thin air.
I find it difficult to plot that way. My stories tend to marinate for a long time in my head and then burst out in a torrent. But part of the marinating process is getting a roadmap. And that’s where the notecards first come in.
The first step is knowing the major plot points. Beginning, catalyst, midpoint, crisis, ending. It’s the barest of five-act structures. (Note that I usually don’t know the climax yet—I have no idea how the crisis gets resolved into the ending.) But whatever, I write all of those scenes down on notecards.
By then, there are usually some few discrete flashes of story floating around. Unconnected scenes, moments from a mental movie trailer. Those get their own notecards as well. Usually, it’s just a single line or a few words—enough to trigger the scene in my head.
Then we get away from the desk! I start laying cards out on the floor: main plot points first. Gradually, an order starts suggesting itself for the unconnected scenes. More importantly, I can see where gaps appear in the plot. “If B is here and G is here, what has to happen in-between?”
Eventually, a basic point-by-point outline emerges from the morass of notecards. That outline gets transferred into a Word doc (I don’t worry about assigning scene POVs yet—that happens in the moment), and then I write the book.
That sounds like it should be more complicated. But that’s all it is. I follow my map and I write the book.
But then the notecards come back!
After the first draft, some scenes inevitably need to get moved. Or maybe there’s the same POV for a million years in a row and it needs to get broken up. I’m sure there are programs to help play with the structure of an ms, but I’m an analogue kind of person.
I lay my notecards out again. This time, I include the POV character (assuming more than one). Sometimes I even colour-code them, so that I can tell narrators at a glance!
And the re-arranging begins. For me, the tactile nature of physically moving scenes helps me hold the entire story in my head. I can literally see and manipulate the structure.
Would this method work for everyone? Of course not. But that’s the way it goes, right? You mess around, adapting advice and experience until you find something that works for you.
Onwards with rewrites!
What I’m Listening to this Week
It was another Ešenvalds week. We had “Long Road” on here not that long ago, but the poetry is so good, I had to return to it.
Oh, thy bright eyes must answer now
When Reason with a scornful brow
Is mocking at my overthrow!
Oh, thy sweet tongue must plead for me
And tell why I have chosen thee!
Okay, so there are these three women, right? All writers. Frustrated by the lack of opportunity around them, they decide to make their own damn opportunities. They devise a plan to get published. They’re going to start with a collection of poems first, to build a platform, and then they’ll do novels—deliberately plotting novels different than anything they’ve written before.
It could be happening now, except it’s totally the Brontë sisters, and yes, I was watching the film To Walk Invisible this past week.
Why I have persevered to shun
The common paths that others run
And on a strange road journeyed on,
Heedless, alike of wealth and power—
Of glory’s wreath and pleasure’s flower.
Admittedly, I’m not done yet. But I’ve always been a Brontë fan. I love their poetry, and I like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (I could never get into Agnes Grey, though—sorry, Anne!). And of course, they introduced Jane Eyre in high school, and of course, the Brontës’ personal narrative resonated with my teenaged writer-self.
They made up their own fantastic world and wrote reams of stories set in it! They were governesses in various terrible places! They had enough of that and pursued writing with remarkable tenacity! Emily and Anne died young and it was super sad!
These once indeed, seemed Beings Divine;
And they, perchance, heard vows of mine,
And saw my offerings on their shrine.
But careless gifts are seldom prized
And mine were worthily despised.
It was interesting to contrast To Walk Invisible with another work that made my teenaged writer-self ache: Ernest Hemingway’s A Movable Feast.
Since I last read it a decade ago, I mostly remembered it as, “Ernest Hemingway writes in cool Parisian cafés with famous writers.” This reread, it struck me as more, “Ernest Hemingway drinks a lot and references making love pretty creepily.” Then I did a cursory search for more context and ran up against the usual issues with memoirs (and Hemingway, quite frankly). He’s certainly not objective and the manuscript was edited with various motives after his death.
Not quite what I remembered.
For all that, something still tugs at me. There is a sense of community—running into friends in cafés and bookshops and being interested in each other’s work. But I couldn’t help thinking…
A Movable Feast never mentions doubt. There’s a lot of drinking and gallivanting, but Hemingway never seems to question the likelihood of his own success.
The Brontës draw up a freaking battle plan, because they know the odds are against them. And they’re going to Do The Things regardless.
My darling pain that wounds and sears
And wrings a blessing out from tears
By deadening me to earthly cares;
And yet, a king, though Prudence well
Have taught thy subject to rebel.
Two different forms of confidence, I suppose. I’m glad I reread A Movable Feast…but I’m even more grateful to return to the Brontës. They have a steely, grim confidence that’s missing from Hemingway’s cafés and bars. It’s the kind of self-assuredness that gives no quarter, but also takes nothing for granted.
And am I wrong to worship, where
Faith cannot doubt, nor hope despair,
Since my own soul can grant my prayer?
Speak, God of visions, plead for me
And tell why I have chosen thee!
Walking invisible, perhaps…but determined to share in the feast.
PS. The poem referenced throughout is “Plead For Me,” by Emily Brontë!
What I’m Listening to this Week
“O great mystery…”
I listened to Morten Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” while watching the lunar eclipse last week. True, it’s a little schmaltzy, but it was perfect for the occasion. And yes, I hard-core love the intense crescendo around 4:10.
I don’t want to get into the Marie Kondo “you should only have thirty books” thing more than I already have, because I’ve been gnashing my teeth all week and the quote was taken out of context and it’s wrong. However, I was looking at my books and I got a pang.
I have a lot of books about the Victorian era, Toronto history, and beer. And just for a moment, the sad thought flashed across my mind, “I don’t need these anymore; that chapter’s done…”
But that’s ridiculous.
True, I’m not immersed in Victorian history in quite the same way. But that’s the beautiful thing about writing. All of our loves and interests filter down into the creative mulch. (Terroir is perhaps a fancier word, but I do think mulch more accurately describes the subconscious breaking-down-and-reconstituting of things.) As long as I keep writing about the time period, I don’t have to leave it.
In a way, this idea fits within Marie Kondo’s philosophy. The whole point of her system is that if it sparks joy, you keep it, whether that’s books or clothes or shoes. The same approach applies to writing. If robots fighting in space spark joy for you, you write about those robots and have fun. If magic beer in Victorian Toronto gets your heart beating faster, you rock on with that.
(I’ll be spending the next month or so on Beer Magic rewrites, incidentally.)
Sometimes we overlook the value of joy in and of itself. Things don’t always have to be useful. Some things just make you happy. Like this little guy:
And likewise, I think writers can get so tangled up in the grind, the self-doubt, and the relentless striving, we lose sight of what we really enjoy. Look into your mulch. What have you got down there, in the dark? There’s probably some stuff you can let go of—I certainly have motifs that I’ve outgrown.
But there are always the themes and images that sing to you, the ones that make you catch your breath and sit straighter in your chair. You know, the things that spark joy.
Those things? Yeah. Keep those.
What I’m Listening To This Week
Okay, okay, it’s so overdone…and I adore the Rossetti text in the original “The Rose”…
But this is nice with strings, too. 🙂
“Gahhhhhh KT, you left, why are you still talking about this?”
Because whilst I pretend to have a heart of ice, I’m actually the sappiest sap that ever sapped. Also, I needed time to process. You know how it is. Emotions, man. Emotions.
So as everyone knows, I left my museum dayjob at Christmas. And here’s the thing about that particular dayjob: you need to be a little bit in love for it to work long-term. It’s hard work—mentally, physically, emotionally—and in many ways, it’s not just a job. It really is like living in a small village.
When I started, I was nineteen years old and painfully shy. Like, painfully. So naturally, I got a job where I needed to initiate conversations with strangers all day long.
Best exposure therapy ever.
I honed those people skills at Black Creek, and then I took them to conventions. I transferred tour banter to presentations and workshops. I adapted my History Actor chatter for podcasts. It’s not overstating to say that the job changed me—it gave me the tools and support to find my voice. And then, to use it.
So I fell in love with the village. I still love it. After so long, how could I not? Every board, every nail, every twig. The bucolic setting and physical work intersected with my life at exactly the right time.I’ve always done better among trees; I’m always calmer outside my own head…
I loved autumn mornings, before anyone else had really arrived. I loved the roofs sheening against the blue October sky, the smoked tang of fall winds in my nostrils and leaves crunching underfoot. I loved the way the air stirred—the year turning, but not settling just yet—too much to do, yet. I loved going into my building and starting my fire, that first rush of heat warming cold fingers.
To the surprise of no one, this setting bled into my fiction a lot.
I run. Down the lane, towards the village proper. Chimneys stab the bright sky like fingers. No curls of smoke lie against the blue. At the blacksmith’s, I stop. Clanging metal shatters the muffled quiet. If he is working, the forge must be lit. It must be.
I creep inside his shop. Sunlight shines off whitewashed walls. The blacksmith stands over his anvil, striking again and again. As the floorboards creak beneath my feet, he glances up. Frost coats his cheeks so that they gleam.
She liked gardening, but baking was her favourite. In their house, Marie positioned a little table just so—close to the hearth, so the bread would rise better, but near enough to the window that the sunlight fell across her work, and she could gaze across the rippling barley to the forest on the far side.
One morning, Jean-Luc builds the fire high in the bake-oven. When it is this cold, the dough lies sluggish beneath his hands. As he kneads it, he glances out the window. A skeletal shape stands by the cottage opposite. He blinks, twisting for a better look, but then the door creaks and distracts him.
Black Creek has totally infused itself into my creative mulch. It’s part of my terroir now—I suspect my fiction will always carry the taste of wood-smoke.
And the people—
You could probably write a whole book just on the people. The strong female mentors who took me under their wings; the colleagues I laughed and drank with (at pubs, not onsite); the visitors who bemused and amused and very often moved me…
I’m richer for all of them.
(I almost forgot: working in the brewery sparked my fascination with beer, so there you go. An important hobby and facet of my author life, born at Black Creek!)
It was a wonderful place to work. It was a bizarre place to work. It was a beautiful playground to grow and explore and test myself.
For a very long time, it was home.
But it feels right, heading out now. It feels like I’ve spent the last eight years becoming this person, whoever I am now. With that complete, it’s time to see what this person can do. I’m already doing things for my new dayjob, there are so many adventures lined up for 2019, and I can’t wait to dive into this new chapter.
Thank you, Black Creek. Until we meet again!
What I’m Listening To This Week
Because reasons. 🙂