Category Archives: Writing

Shaping Stories

I finished the initial read-through of the Beer Magic novel this week. At this stage, that’s just a simple read for overall content; I need to get a sense of the novel in its entirety before I can pinpoint its weaknesses. Mostly, I flagged plot snags and weak patches as I went:

 

 

And I noted things to explore in more depth later:

 

 

But when I finished the read-through, I still wasn’t sure what the key to the novel was. I hadn’t found it—the truth that will steer the novel to its final form. I didn’t know what the novel’s thing was.

See, my long-form fiction pieces all have things associated with them. Hapax is a line of falling dominoes. Heartstealer is a lobster trap. Six Stories, Told at Night is a Ferris wheel. Do these images ever explicitly appear in any of those works?

No. That imagery isn’t for the reader. It’s for me. It’s how I hold the entire story in my head, and how I figure out the structure. If I know what the novel is—I know its DNA. The entire story unlocks itself.

I’ve got a novel in the trunk that never found its shape. It shows: that novel has a deep structural flaw, it kind of meanders about, and while I still love it (as you do), it never cohesively hung together.

So what’s Beer Magic?

After thinking it over, I realized a common element between my other novel’s “objects.” Falling dominoes, lobster trap, Ferris wheel—they’re all active objects. None of them just sit there. None of my novels are stones, or couches, or spoons. They all have a goal attached to them—they do things.

And they act upon the reader. They represent how I want to move the reader through the novel. The object is the end goal, an invisible structural principle that underlies the entire story.

The Beer Magic’s object was on the tip of my tongue last night, but I had to sleep. Lying in the dark, I kept thinking, and thinking, and then…

You know those funnel-shaped black hole demonstrations? Like the one at the Ontario Science Centre? You launch marbles into the machine and they spin around and around, always inevitably drawn to a centre point?

I liked it. I latched onto it. But when I woke up this morning, I thought of something else:

The labyrinth at Chartres cathedral.

Labyrinth of the Chartres Cathedral in France (Sylvain Sonnet/Corbis, via http://www.smithsonianmag.com)

Walking the labyrinth is a spiritual exercise. Symbolically, it combines a circle’s wholeness with the inexorable forward momentum of a spiral. Once you enter the labyrinth, you’re drawn inevitably towards its centre, even when the path seems to verge further away from it. The Chartres labyrinth is also a fine example of spiritual geometry: it’s built along a cruciform shape, with four quadrants, and an invisible 13-pointed star underpinning the entire structure.

I also love this note from another labyrinth: The centre of the circle is geometrically the point of perfect balance, also called the “still point.

The black hole machine and the labyrinth have a commonality, of course: that inescapable pull to a central point.

I’m really excited for these revisions now.

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

I love folk songs and drinking tunes. They touch the same nerve that fairy tales do—and they’re often stories themselves, set to music.

 

 

Tapping on Glass

Okay, okay, I’ve known that having electronics on the nightstand is bad for me. Plenty of studies agree: blue light messes with your circadian rhythm, it’s bad for your eyes, and the temptation to check one more email stimulates the brain when it’s trying to wind down.

“But I can use the night-time setting and get rid of the blue light.”

Great. It’s still distracting.

“But I like to read before bed.”

Since people somehow read at night before the advent of tablets, I got a bed-side lamp.

“But my tablet is also my alarm.”

That stymied me for a while. Guinness makes sure I don’t sleep too late, but he usually gets hungry around 8:30, and I often need to wake earlier than that.

And so I would read with the book-lamp, but the tablet was still right there on my nightstand. Ostensibly it was pulling alarm duty only, but really, it was watching. Waiting. Biding its time. And you know what? It didn’t feel good. I didn’t like that it was so tempting. I didn’t like the gritty tiredness in my eyes.

“You know,” quoth I, “there is a device specifically designed to wake people at pre-determined times…”

And so I got an alarm clock.

On one hand, it’s much less efficient. My tablet combined many functions: alarm, book-light, the book itself. But that intense streamlining isn’t always for the best. Part of me resists coming overly-reliant on any one thing (to be honest, this is why I’ve skipped the “Sign in with Facebook!” option as much as I can—and I’m really happy about that now). But also—

I felt like I was always looking at glass. Tapping at glass. Our world is becoming one of flat surfaces and sharp lights. In some ways, we’ve never been more connected, but in others, there is always a barrier between us and the world. “I feel like I’m watching the action through glass,” is a comment I often give when I’m editing manuscripts—lately, it feels like I can apply that comment to increasingly large swathes of my life.

There’s a certain joy in some inefficiencies. They force you to slow down. And in that slowing, you’re forced to experience things more deeply, more fully. With my tablet safely in the kitchen, I can’t Wikipedia my midnight musings. In the depths of the night, I have to visit with my own thoughts. I have to sit with myself. It’s important that we’re able to do that, to inhabit that still quiet space inside.

Of course, as a writer, I’m stuck with screens to a certain extent. Screens are how I’m talking to you right now. I need screens to practice my art (I could write by hand, I suppose, but my handwriting is so torturous and slow that it tips from benign inefficiency to pointless frustration). But for me, that’s all the more reason to find alternates in other parts of my life.

The “book” at top left opens into a lamp!

After all, glass is beautiful. But it’s also very cold and hard. I’m ready for a little softness and gentleness. I think my eyes will appreciate it, too.

-KT

PS. Totally burying the lede here, but I’ve announced it quite enthusiastically elsewhere on social media: I’ve sold a story to Lightspeed Magazine! “Ti-Jean’s Last Adventure, as Told to Raccoon” is an odd little piece and I’m thrilled that it found its home. Plus Lightspeed is one of my dream markets, so I’ve been glowing all week. 🙂

What I’m Listening To This Week

I haven’t thought about “Into the Woods” for years, but the finale popped through my head this week. (One of the few things that infuriated me about the film was that they cut this piece, thereby undercutting the entire theme, but that’s another rant.)

“There are always wolves, there are always spells, there are always beans, or a giant dwells there…so into the woods we go again! You have to every now and then!”

A good point, in general.

 

Some Perspective 

Heavy weekend, my friends. Between the astonishing images from the March For Our Lives, the shattering speech from Emma Gonzalez (if you haven’t seen it, please do), and loss striking several friends, words are a little hard to find right now.

But it’s been a weekend for perspective.

I’ve been so worried. Deadlines and submissions, work and striving. But in the end—well, those things seem small compared to everything else. If nothing else, this is a good reminder to come up for air and actually look around at life—to remember who we are, what we cherish, and what kind of life we want for ourselves.

This isn’t to say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” mind you. Sometimes, the small stuff is the most important. Having a picnic brunch on the choir room floor is small stuff, but honestly, the fellowship and love fed my soul more than anything else this weekend.

It’s the unimportant stuff that gets in the way. The chatter, the noise, the pettiness that creeps like invasive vines through our lives. And it’s hard, because those things often feel very important. The trick is to find the signal in all the static, and lock onto it with everything you’ve got.

When the chips are down, when the clock’s running out—what matters most to you?

Go that way. We’ll walk together.

KT

What I’ve Been Listening To This Week

A story title got Gibbons’ “O Clap Your Hands” stuck in my head. It’s like clockwork: wind it up and watch it spring forth to its natural end:

 

The Universe Leaps With You

It’s been a little while, hasn’t it? Last week was March Break, which meant that I spent daytimes performing in an interactive mystery…and my nights madly writing something on deadline.

I got a wee bit tired.

But hey, we’re here. It’s done. This interactive mystery has really been a story that’s taken five years to tell, as subplots from different years built upon each other. It’s been an incredible experience and unlike any storytelling/scripting I’ve done before.

Wee KT

It’s also time to say goodbye to this arc. And goodbye to actually performing in it.

I have mixed feelings.

On the one hand—oh my goodness, it was so much fun. It was improv and it was playwriting. In a funny way, it was chaos theory. Mostly, it was playing with the visitors and with each other. Our main (anti)heroine—Miss Moriarty, sister to the nefarious professor—is a wonderful example of Blythe and I riffing off each other. Like light reflected in doubled mirrors, the character passed back and forth so that she truly is a joint creation.

Other characters kind of emerged from nowhere and never left, and we grew to love them, too. A whole cast and world emerged. How incredible is that?

And yet.

There’s something on the wind. It’s time to move on. This fits with the general rhythms of this year so far. Things are starting to happen; my energies are flowing in new places. Six Stories, the Prophecy Foretold and A Canticle of Light go up within six weeks of each other. Other theatre shenanigans wait in the wings. (See what I did there?)

It’s scary, of course. In any field, it’s so easy to stay in the shallows. It’s comforting there. You know the pond; you know the fish.

But eventually, that starts to become the problem.

“The Ferry,” by William Stott of Oldham (ca. 1882).

It makes me think about why we say, break out of our comfort zone. It’s never ease out, withdraw from, slip gently through. It’s always break out, or step out—purposeful, definitive actions. They’re actions that you have to mean. You can’t do them by accident.

What else can I do? Where’s the next blank space on the map? What’s the next dragon?

I’m not entirely sure. That’s the scary thing, in all this. But I just think—if we don’t try—if we don’t stretch our fingertips to their utmost—if we stay at the surface and ignore the deeper water—

What are we missing? What parts of ourselves we will skim right over? What could have been? For me, that’s all scarier than taking a leap of faith. If you don’t try, you’ll never know, right?

Besides, I remain a steadfast optimist. When you leap, the universe tends to leap with you.

KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

“Dinogad’s Smock” is a very, very old melody. The first two minutes are a lovely lullaby—the counting and spoken sections after 2:15 twig something in me. It’s a little uncanny, and incredibly beautiful.

 

On Retreat: Stealing a Moment

Yesterday marked the end of my annual writing retreat. I’m not actually home yet—that happens tomorrow. And whilst playing “Where in the World is KT Now?” is fun, I am looking forward to seeing my furry little weirdo.

But retreating went very well, thank you. Over the course of five writing days, I wrote five complete short stories. I also used the midweek “break day” to make a sizeable dent in my interactive fiction novel.

On the whole, I’m very pleased with my output. January/February were so consumed with long-form projects between the Beer Magic Novel and Six Stories – the 3D Adventure, it felt good to sink back into short fiction.

I’ve written before about what this retreat means to me: the camaraderie, the fellowship, the love. It’s also one of the most productive weeks in my year. Most of the short fiction I’ve sold has originated here. So that’s all great.

But I’d like to tell you about a particular moment I had. It was on the retreat’s final day. I finished up my story in the late afternoon, with plenty of time before our evening readings. So as per my wont, I hopped 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.

You see, we hit the ground running hard once I get back. Then the deadlines return, and the worries, and the scrabbling. And it doesn’t ever really stop, that scratching and hunger.

But in that moment, there was only contentment. For the first time in a long time, it felt like I could take a breath—stealing a little moment amidst everything else going on.

They’re important, those pockets of peace. They give us a chance to rest and prepare for the next section of road ahead. I leave this retreat feeling so grateful.

Now the race begins again. But I’m ready, I’m rested. I hope you’ve got your peaceful waystations as well!

KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

Another ballad! An encounter between troll-maiden and knight! I love seeing how some of the lyrics mesh with Old English cognates (“innan solen upprann” comes to mind). This was pretty much my main jam for one of my stories, alongside the “Rolandskvadet” of a few weeks previous!

Beer-Magic Playlist

So the big news this week is that I finished the Beer Magic novel. It was as exciting and exhausting as one might expect, and now my plate feels strikingly lighter. We also forged ahead with our callbacks for “Six Stories – the Neo-Wagnerian Opera.” Plus a whole host of various and sundry projects.

But Beer Magic. That’s the point of this post. It was such an odd novel for me to write. First off, it took a comparatively long time. I think I started midway through November? For me, three months is definitely on the lengthier side. Partly, there were more false starts than usual; this surviving draft was the fourth after a series of gut-and-revamps.

Beer Magic required some very important research.

And it’s very different than any other novel I’ve written, which probably contributed to the hesitation and self-doubt.

But hey, we’re done for now. At this point, it goes into the deep freeze (because ahahahaha March is nearly as busy as February). I’ll likely pull it out in April, take a whack through, and then send it to betas.

That’s the plan, anyway.

But one thing was consistent in this process! The Beer Magic novel had a pretty solid soundtrack, with a shortlist of songs that contributed in some way. Some helped me understand character; some set mood; some just made me want to work on this story.

So without further ado:

The Beer Magic Playlist!

Hunter (Heather Dale)

Dacw ‘Nghariad (Welsh Traditional)

The City (Ola Gjeilo)

Look What You Made Me Do (Taylor Swift)

The Reproaches (John Sanders)

Homecoming (Thomas Bergersen)

Together Again (Evanescence)

Once Upon a Dream (Lana del Rey)

 

I See Fire (The Hobbit, via Celtic Woman)

Three Ravens (English Traditional)

Stabat Mater – Introduction (Pergolesi)

 

An eclectic mix for an eclectic book! Warm fuzzy feelings abound at the moment…though I shan’t rest on my laurels for long. A writing retreat beckons!

Anon,

KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

This piece got me through the past-midnight marathon session that saw the novel nearly finished, particularly underpinning the climax. Another piece by Ola Gjeilo, I especially like the back-and-forth between the two upper voice parts. And Christina Rossetti poem is lovely, of course!

State of the KT

This was another hard week, at least in terms of my feeling like an effective human being. And so in lieu of a real post, here’s a quick State of the KT.

Six Stories, Doing Its Best: Rewrite’s trucking along, albeit with a tough knot to untie in the middle.

Apex Magazine Podcast: Both episodes recorded and scored, awaiting intro and show notes from me.

Auditions for Six Stories, Shouted by Day: The first round happened this past weekend, callbacks are this coming weekend. That is a blog post in itself, pals.

March Break Tomfoolery: DONE.

Beer Magic Novel: Currently sitting at 81k. Expecting this draft to hit 105k. Scrambling to finish before my Smoky Writers’ retreat.

Smoky Prep: I have gathered a collection of short story ideas and plots that will be interesting to explore through the week. I really want to do shorts again because I know if I don’t write them at Smoky, I likely cannot think about them until April.

Choice of Games: Removed from my February worrying. It’ll be tight, but I have a plan.

OAC Grant Application: IN. SUBMITTED. OUT OF OUR HANDS.

Mysterious Contract: Trucking along. In all honesty, it’s been a nice palate cleanser.

Gangway! Theatre Co. Shenanigans: I feel guilty that I’ve been less present than I would like, but Blythe seems fairly blithe about it all. (It’s funny, because it’s a pun.)

Henry Wallis, “Chatterton” (1856).

And so we go. It is entirely possible that I have bitten off more than I can chew, and as I’m looking at the calendar…the Mysterious Contract wraps just after Easter. I think I shall take the week between that and dayjobbery resuming to have a real, long, actual rest.

Onwards…

KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

I like Ralph Vaughan Williams’ work. He went around collecting and adapting folksongs from around the British Isles – some of his output is sacred, some secular. This is a secular piece, one of those classic “I will love you until the seas boil and the rocks melt” kind of songs. But it is very soothing and lilting and lovely.

Tending my Garden

The Imposter Syndrome was hitting hard this past week. Hard enough that I didn’t particularly want to blog anything. But I had an affirming chat with my dear friend Aly Grauer and also I have an epic-beyond-epic song for “What I’m Listening to this Week,” and so here we are.

It occurs to me that Imposter Syndrome strikes me when I’m at my most tired and stressed. It’s like all the little soldiers on my mental ramparts drop off, their guard slips, and then the Anxiety-Dragons swarm my castle walls.

“Alexander Battling Beasts and Dragons,” from the “Historia de Alejandro Magno.” (15th c.)

However, one must carry on, Imposter Syndrome or no. I’m increasingly recognizing the need to protect myself, to stop the mental guards from slipping in the first place. Sometimes, that means Getting Sufficient Sleep, or Cooking Large Batches of Food to Freeze So I Always Have Something Healthy to Hand, or Taking a Daily Constitutional.

But more, I think I need quiet right now. For me, self-protection is really about protecting the inner life. I keep thinking of a garden surrounded by castle walls.

It’s is an interesting image to play with. Cultivating, growing, but also some solitude, a respite from the chaos of the outside world. For likely related reasons, I’ve also been musing on the idea of hermits. Also, the Lady of Shalott. And monasteries. Anything withdrawn from the world, anything where the focus turns inward to process and mission.

“I am Half-Sick of Shadows, said the Lady of Shalott,” by John William Waterhouse (1916).

When certain images and preoccupations keep emerging like this, I think it’s important that we listen. The subconscious communicates its needs in peculiar ways, after all.

I think I’m a bit tired.

I think I need to focus on my work.

I think I need to return to the roots of my own practice. It feels like a lot of deadwood has sprung up around my art and craft. By tending to my own little garden, I hope to clear some of it away.

Semi-intentional echoes of Voltaire, here—let us cultivate our garden. I’m also hearing the inscription above the chapel at my church—come ye apart and rest a while.

It all sounds like terribly good advice. And so, I’m trying it. Working hard, yes, but tending my garden all the while. After all, my annual writing retreat is coming soon: I want to be as well-prepared as possible.

-KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

This song comes courtesy of my friend Fiona, who said, “Would you like to hear the Ballad of Roland in Norwegian???”

To which I responded, “HECK YES.”

So here it is. It is an incredible piece: driving and epic, with some amazing harmonies. However, my favourite part is the soaring soprano line around 1:18, and again at 1:52. As Fiona pointed out, the line essentially takes on the role of Roland’s oliphant.

I can’t get enough of it!

 

 

 

Catching Comets: Ursula K. Le Guin

I was getting ready to go out when the news of Ursula K. Le Guin’s passing broke across my Twitter. An odd little noise slipped my mouth—somewhere between an “Oh!” and a gasp. Then I burst into tears.

I rarely cry at public figures’ deaths. (The Queen is an exception—I guarantee you, I will cry when the Queen goes to her rest.) But Ursula K. Le Guin is different. She isn’t just a “public figure,” or even just “an American novelist.” She was one of the greats: a lodestar around which to orient.

Over the past week, many people have written many touching tributes. I can really only flail and sputter, “But—but—but—Le Guin!” But I’d like to point out something interesting about this whole writing thing.

You can apprentice with any damn writer you like. Putting your words—your brain-stuff—into print creates a certain kind of immortality. And if you’ve got an author’s words, you can learn from them. In an odd, beautiful way, we can dialogue with the dead.

“Gossip,” by George Agnew Reid (1888). (www.ago.net)

This is what people mean when they ask, “So who are your influences?” Who shaped you, who spoke to you, who made your heart sing, who taught you?

Who are you arguing with?

Who are you writing back to?

Who do you secretly (or not-so-secretly) want to impress? To connect with?

Over time, I think, we build an inner gallery of teachers. Sometimes, we’ve actually worked with them (I have internalized several Stonecoast mentors’ voices—hi, Jim!).

But sometimes, we’ve come to know them through their words alone. I never met Le Guin. In the back of my head, I maybe hoped we’d one time stand in the same room, but it seemed kind of like hoping to catch a comet.

So I read her fiction and loved her fiction. It made me look at things differently and re-evaluate not only my writing, but my life, my baseline assumptions about the world’s workings. Like all good teachers, she challenged and prodded and pushed me further than I thought we’d go.

But beyond her fiction—it was this particular book.

The Language of the Night is a collection of essays about science fiction and fantasy, theory and craft. It is one of my personal Foundation Texts, underpinning the way I understand fantasy.

Consider this:

Now, the kind of writing I am attacking, the Poughkeepsie style of fantasy…is a fake plainness. It is not really simple, but flat. It is not really clear, but inexact. Its directness is specious. Its sensory cues—extremely important in imaginative writing—are vague and generalized; the rocks, the wind, the trees are not there; are not felt; the scenery is cardboard, or plastic. The tone as a whole is profoundly inappropriate to the subject. (Le Guin, “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie.”)

Or this:

When the genuine myth rises into consciousness, that is always its message. You must change your life. (Le Guin, “Myth and Archetype in Science Fiction.”)

Or this:

For fantasy is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life that they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom. (Le Guin, “Why Are Americans Afraid Of Dragons?”)

You see it, right? In her essays, she’s doing precisely the same thing she did in her fiction. She is challenging us. She is pushing us past the solar system’s last orbit, into the vast wealth of interstellar space beyond; from the shallows to the open sea; to what feels comfortable to what is Truth.

She did that not just for us writers individually, but for the genre as a whole. She lifted speculative fiction to what it could and must be; the thing we were too timid to dream until she showed us how.

So now we’ve lost our lodestar. But we have her map, in the form of her words. There’s only one thing to do, really. Keep going. That’s what any teacher wants, in the end: for their students to drift free and explore past the edges of the map.

Thank you, Ursula K. Le Guin. You will always be our teacher.

-KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

I love Vivaldi, and I’m absolutely fascinated with this piece. The title’s a total spoiler, but I was researching female tenor/basses for reasons, and I can’t stop listening!

 

 

 

In the Swamp

I’m beat.

Alas, I think this is a state of being that’s likely to continue until at least the end of February. My secret is that I’m actually TERRIBLE at multitasking. However, I am excellent at pulling ridiculously long hours to get something done in three days, so that I can move along to the next task.

It’s not really cramming, because every project gets a very carefully appointed spot on the calendar. More like strategic slogging, I suppose. This month has mostly been eaten by the interactive fiction game, another Ontario Arts Council grant application, and the Six Stories, Told at Night stage adaptation (with some Apex Magazine podcastery thrown in there). Amidst all this, I keep poking at the novel because the constantly-breaking momentum is wrong-footing me.

This isn’t how I like to write novels. I like to write them over intense bursts that last four-to-eight weeks. Back in December, I was hoping to finish Beer Magic by the end of January, but it looks like I may finish it during my February writers’ retreat.

Such is the writing game, sometimes. As they say, “You can’t always get what you want.”

So what do you do, in these cases?

Honestly, I think there’s only one thing to do. You take a straw, and you suck it up. As I’ve always said, paying work and contracted work gets done first, work with hard deadlines comes next, and then you figure out the rest.

(Excuse me whilst I balefully poke at the novel a little more.)

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

But paradoxically, sometimes when I’m overwhelmed the best thing I can do for myself is…not write sometimes. Otherwise, I can drive myself into a tizzy. So…reading. Baking. Drinking adult-type beverages with friends. Going to choir and post-choir hangouts. (Honestly, I think choir is the thing that keeps me the most grounded.)

That sounds like a contradiction. Suck it up—but also don’t worry, go have fun!

Okay. Sometimes, yes, you have to be a writer first.  Strap on your Grown-Up Boots and stomp through the swamp of unwritten words. But we’re also humans, and if we neglect that side of ourselves, what will we be good for writing, anyway?

I firmly believe it all comes down to scheduling. Everybody has twenty-four hours in the day. It’s up to you to decide how those hours get filled.

The swamp is good, in the end. It means there’s a lot of really cool stuff on one’s plate. And besides, it’s excellent practice. Writing is hard, after all. Theatre is also hard. Doing both?

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Anyway. I hope you have an excellent week. Carry on!

KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

I’ve been listening to this piece, but I’m not sure how I feel about it. Byron’s “She walks in beauty” is one of my favourite poems, and this choir is lovely, but I feel like I wanted more melody to match the metre, less preoccupation with moving chords.

Still listening while I figure my opinion out.