It’s my birthday today. I’m twenty-three.
It’s odd. On the one hand, all of my friends are older than me. Consequently, it feels like I’m always playing catch-up. I’ve reached the stage where some of my friends were four years ago, but now they’re onto the next one. On the other, I feel like 23 is the last year of “early twenties.” 24 seems solidly into “mid-twenties” territory. I’ve been out of undergrad for a year now—life’s getting real.
Is there a little bit of anxiety around that? Maybe. Some. I’m actually quite optimistic for this twenty-third year. I have an apartment and roommates—and I like them. I love my dayjob. Writing is going well. I’ve found several wonderful communities.
But I think there’s a reason I took to the role of Peter Pan so well. I’m reminded of my first visit to Virginia, and one of the first conversations I had with Sonic Boom:
“You know,” she said, looking me up and down as we arranged stuffed animals in her room. “You’re different than I expected.”
First visit, remember, so I was already kind of nervous.
“Oh yeah?” I said. “What did you expect?”
“Well, I didn’t think you’d have glasses…”
Oh. Okay, then.
“…and I thought you’d be older.”
“Ah,” I said. “Well, I am twenty-one…”
“Yeah, but I thought you’d be a grown-up. Like, thirty.”
I thought for a moment. “It’s kind of cool,” I said, at last, “because I’m old enough to hang out with the adults, but I’m still like the kid of all the podcasters.” Then, too nervous not to ask, I said, “So, is this better than you expected?”
Sonic Boom considered that, and then nodded very solemnly. “Yes.”
So there you have it. Apparently, thirty counts as being a grown-up, but twenty-one did not. I wonder where twenty-three falls?
But all joking aside, in hindsight, I see that I subconsciously hit the nail on the head: “I’m old enough to hang out with the adults, but I’m still like the kid of all the podcasters.” The youngest in the room, but still among peers. That’s a role I know. It’s one in which I’ve spent most of my life. It feels familiar. Safe, even.
Being the bright, precocious kid may be a familiar role, but it’s not a sustainable one. I’m growing older, growing up. The day will come when I walk into a room at a con and there’s a new twenty-three-year-old with starry eyes and unbridled optimism.
There is a trade-off.
At twenty-three, there are stories that I am not ready to write. Honestly, objectively, I know: I do not yet have the emotional maturity or life experience to do them justice. Similarly, a repeated theme since starting my MFA is that I have a good writer’s toolkit. I just need to build cooler, more complex things with it. During this first semester, there was a lot of talk about “developing” and “maturing” my craft, finding my voice and who I am as a writer.
I don’t know who I am. Of course I don’t, I’m twenty-three. Writing is one of those disciplines in which takes years, if not decades, to fully mature. I got very lucky, very early—but I’ve still got a lot of growing up to do. Asynchronous development hasn’t bitten me this hard since grade three. I can see where I want to be. I want to be there now.
But I have to wait. You can’t rush time. You can’t rush maturation, or experience, or practice.
You can only keep writing.
And there’s an upside to this whole “I don’t know who I am/what sort of author I am” conundrum: I get to find out. Ideally, I think you should always be learning, always growing, always discovering and rediscovering both yourself and your art—at the same time, this is the stage of life when a huge amount of that work takes place.
I know a few things.
I know that my best works have always been love songs. I know that there is something in the air lately, in this golden sunlight falling through the leaves, and these ripening raspberries and first tiny proto-apples, which makes me stop and think, “Is this not wonderful?” I know that “faith over fear” is a theme running not just through Hapax, but several works since.
So, I’m twenty-three. Young enough to power through on grit and coffee; old enough to know I can’t do that for much longer. Too young to know myself completely; old enough to be aware of that. Too young to be grown up; old enough to be growing.
Let’s see how this goes.
Cool Thing of the Week
There’s something in this poem that touches me very deeply. This is the sort of thing that sings to my own creativity:
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.
– Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877.
My friend Emily Swartz tagged me in a blog hop meme and gave me some questions to answer about inspiration and my writing process. Here are my responses – and the bios/links for the next authors I’m tagging!
1) What am I working on?
Lots and lots of things. My main project at the moment is refining and plot-doctoring my Victorian Dark Fantasy novel (yeah, that’s a codename) with my mentor at the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA. I also have to read two books for that each month, on which I then write two papers. Also for Stonecoast: our July workshops are bearing down upon us, so I’m currently editing one short story about parallel universes and halfway through writing another about all the nifty lost bits of Toronto.
I’m also working on an “interactive, text-based, online game,” which is a fancy way of saying I’m writing a “choose-your-own-adventure-style” story, which will have buttons to click instead of pages to turn. Keeping all the branching storylines straight has been a fun challenge…and it’s kind of sci-fi, which is new for me.
I also write for two blogs. This one has posts up every Saturday, and we have Thirsty Thursdays over at The Black Creek Growler, which is the official blog of the Black Creek Historic Brewery.
Then I drink coffee, because that’s just the writing which is strictly mine. There are also the internships. Ah, the internships…
I’m the official intern of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. Mostly, I oversee Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris’s calendars, booking interviews and keeping track of appearances and suchlike. Using my Victorian research skillz, I post to the Ministry’s Facebook page. I also edit stories for Tales from the Archives—a podcast anthology of Ministry short stories—and it was strongly hinted that I should start writing another story to follow up Under Oak Island.
But remember, I said internships? One isn’t enough! I also intern for Mur Lafferty, scheduling interviews, keeping track of her calendar, and so forth.
I also became a freelance editor along the way. I’ve joined the One-Stop Writer Shop, which is a really cool resource for self-published authors: you can find everything from editing to layout, from audio book production to marketing!
Also, I owe my friend Marie Bilodeau a blog post soon.
And I return to the dayjob in two weeks.
Next question, please?
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Although I consider myself a fantasy writer, I don’t really write the usual questing stories. While I often draw from history and myth, I tend to turn things inside-out and then run in the opposite direction with them.
Sometimes, that means combining a literary term (a hapax is a word that occurs only once in a body of work) with a theological concept (“…the Word was with God and the Word was God”) and seeing what happens (answer: this). Other times, it means using Irish mythology and history as the most tenuous of analogies to explain a backwater, pseudo-Victorian village to myself.
Despite the epic themes, my work is also very much focused on people. Yes, there is magic and gods and (sometimes) apocalypses: but there are also families, people endlessly seeking home, people trying very hard to do the right thing in terrible situations.
3) Why do I write what I do?
I see many possible answers to this question: some philosophical, some practical.
The practical ones are easy, so let’s start with those. Sometimes, I write the things I do because someone has said, “If you write this thing for me, I will give you monies!” Since my landlord and the grocery store regularly desire monies from me, I say, “Okay!” Don’t get me wrong—I still have fun, and always latch onto something in the project that sparks my passion. It’s just that this habit of saying, “Yeah, sure, I could do that!” has landed me some opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise, which is wonderful.
Otherwise, an exchange from The Red Shoes comes to mind:
Why do you want to dance?
Why do you want to live?
Well, I don’t know exactly why, but I must.
That’s my answer too.
Sometimes, my writing springs from some deep-rooted feeling – my best pieces have always been love songs in one form or another. Other times, a character emerges from the aether and won’t leave me alone. They pester me, whispering constantly in my ear, teasing me with images and emotions until I finally get their story out.
4) How does my writing process work?
When an idea first starts whispering, I try not to scare it away. I let it develop in the back of my head, like one of those old Polaroid snapshots coming into focus. When I can see more relevant details, I start asking questions.
Who is that woman? How does this magic work? When did this one country invade another country? The answers spark more questions, and so this back-and-forth with myself continues, sometimes for a few days, sometime for months, writing long letters to myself or musing on the bus.
When it feels right (and it’s hard to explain exactly…mixing metaphors here, it’s like when bread has risen enough—you just know), I put together a very rough roadmap of the story. Often, I pull out the index cards, just because I find physically manipulating the story structure helpful.
And then, when it feels right, I start writing.
How many words I get per day largely depends on deadlines and other projects. The game isn’t due until June and I’m really busy, so I get maybe 1000 words/day. I’ve twice written a novel in two months, getting 2000-3000 words/day. Once, I was on deadline. The other time, it was the Victorian Dark Fantasy, and I was having too much fun to stop.
Again, though, we can get philosophical with this. How does it work?
I sit down and then words happen. I do cultivate other interests—music, history, Doctor Who, beer, SNES games—to keep myself sane and the creative well full. I get outside when I can, I hang out with friends.
Something I’m realizing: work-life balance will probably never be my strong suit. But I’m starting to see another possibility: a more holistic approach, in which work and writing and fun all blend together. The lines between the different segments of my life blurred a lot over the last year—I kind of like it, this experience of a complete whole, rather than many disparate parts.
And on that profound note: I’m tagging you, P.C. Haring and Erik Buchanan!
A fan of Science Fiction from an early age P.C. Haring has always been one of those who looked up at the night sky and wondered “what if…” On 01/01/10, he began exploring those questions when he made his debut as a writer and podcast novelist with the release of the Cybrosis Podcast. Since then, he has not looked back. He has contributed short stories to Scott Sigler’s The Crypt: Book 1 — The Crew podcast, Philippa Ballantine’s Chronicles of the Order, audio anthology, and Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine’s Tales from the Archives anthology where his podcast of “The Seven” won the 2012 Parsec Award for “Best Short Story.”
When he’s not writing and podcasting, P.C. Haring puts his Accounting degree, his MBA, and his CPA credentials to good use as a corporate accountant in the Chicagoland area.
Erik Buchanan is a writer, ghostwriter, communications consultant, fight director and actor living in Toronto, Canada. He holds a BFA in Theatre, three black belts, and a variety of strange jobs that keep him busy. He is the author of the Magics Trilogy: Small Magics, Cold Magics and True Magics (Fall, 2014) published by Dragon Moon Press, as well as several short stories and over 300 articles on topics ranging from consumer electronics to where to get the flu shot. Currently, Erik is writing a young adult horror series set in Victorian London, an historical fiction piece set in Pre-Elizabethan England, and a web series about two thieves where Erik expects he will get thumped about a fair bit.
Posted in Writing
Tags: Author, awesome, Beer, Black Creek, Community, creative, creative life, creatives, creativity, Dragon Moon Press, Edits, fantasy, geek, Hapax, History, intern, internship, KT Bryski, Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Personal, Plans, Podcasting, Podcasts, science fiction, steampunk, stories, Toronto, writer, Writing, Writing life, writing process
First day back in Toronto after spending the last month interning with authors Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris! We recorded an episode of The Shared Desk (out on Feb 26th) which examines our time together, but I wanted to do my own post-mortem as well, because it was such an amazing, incredible, still-can’t-believe-it-happened experience.
Who are these people?
Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris are fantasy authors. Currently, they’re co-writing The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series (think steampunk X-files, with more shenanigans), though they also write their own fantasy independently.
I stumbled across them through podcasting—they were some of the earliest podcast authors (in Tee’s case, the earliest), met them in person at Dragon Con, and the rest is history.
And so, this February…
As Pip so eloquently put it, we assumed a fair exchange of learning experience for practical help. I flew down to Virginia (completely forgetting about the trains connecting Dulles’s international terminals and arrivals hall until the last moment) and stayed with them for just over three weeks.
During that time, they taught me things—everything from cover design to book layout to video editing to How To Not Be A Jerk On Social Media. In return, I did things—laying out a novel and some short stories, editing short stories, maintaining the calendar, posting on the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Facebook page, and so forth.
Pip and Tee are awesome. Writing is awesome. Learning is awesome. Therefore, learning about writing with Pip and Tee is awesome.
Considering that I was only there for twenty-four days, I learned an incredible amount. Not just about the business of writing or the mechanics of programs like InDesign and Final Cut—essentially, I learned how to Author. I know I have more to learn (and they keep saying they have more to teach), but I’ve got much more of a foundation, now. It’s a great complement to Stonecoast, which is all about the craft. Pip and Tee taught me everything else.
As well, I got to spend some quality time with some people very dear to my heart. Pip, Tee, and their daughter Sonic Boom gave me a home: literally and figuratively.
This is where I get emotional and the words start failing.
I admire them as authors. I admire them even more as people.
I wanted so badly to help. I wanted so, so badly to be useful.
And they assure me that I was. Self-critical KT is self-critical, but I do feel a twinge of pride as I leaf through the Weather Child proof. They did the really tricky stuff—but I did the grunt work. Same twinge of pride when I got second and third drafts back from Tales from the Archives authors, and my editorial suggestions worked.
I’m still helping from Canada (if you have a podcast and would like Pip and Tee on your podcast, please email me at contact(at)ministryofpeculiaroccurrences(dot)com). This whole experience also lit a fire under me—I want to do all of the writing things ever right now this minute.
It’s the same fired-up feeling mixed with slight depression that you get after cons. On the one hand, I’m so excited. On the other…I miss them. So much.
But hey, concrete steps. Today I got another whiteboard, so now I have one for my projects and one for Interning Stuff. I made sure my papers and files are organized. I rejigged my own whiteboard, adding new projects and plots (including a goal to have a new post here every Saturday—regular blogging fell by the wayside, and now I’m reclaiming it for real).
As I tweeted earlier today…
That about sums it up.
But I want to see more!
Want to see what I did?
Then take a listen to Tales from the Archives.
Check out Pip’s novel, Weather Child.
Look at Tee’s Kickstarter campaign for another Billibub Baddings mystery and consider backing it.
This was incredible. Absolutely incredible. I loved every minute of it. Pip, Tee, Sonic Boom—thank you for everything, from the bottom of my heart.
I’ve been trying and failing to write a blog post for weeks. Not because I have nothing to say. I’ve tried to write posts about writing dialects, dipping into new genres, updates on the Victorian Dark Fantasy, the fact that I’m going to Stonecoast, collaboration with other writers, collaboration with other creative-types…
Inevitably, they end in despair and files deleted unsaved. I’ll get to about this point, actually, and then my fingers freeze and my mind races. Who would want to read this? Who wants to read anything I write? I can’t write ads for cereal boxes. Look at me, about to gut Strix and start it over for the third time. My writing sucks, and hey, I could also be a better friend, sister, daughter, employee….
I haven’t deleted this draft yet. This is progress.
Many writers are prone to fits of insecurity and self-doubt. We all know the stereotype: the tortured writer pulling their hair out, utterly convinced they’re nothing more than a hack.
Sometimes, it isn’t about writing.
My paralyzed silence isn’t entirely writing-related. A while back, I was informed that by asking my friends for help following my dad’s death, I was being a self-absorbed burden on the people I loved most.
It still bothers me.
For the past few weeks—about as long as I’ve been struggling to write anything—anxiety over my friends has been tearing me to pieces. Are they sick of me? Why can’t I just be my old self again? I totally am a burden. I’m no fun. Who in their right mind would want to hang out with this sack o’ sad?
And if I had a nickel for every time someone’s said, “That’s ridiculous. We’re your friends,” I could enjoy a lovely early retirement at the age of 22.
Right here, at this point right…now, I really want to give up on this blog post and withdraw back under my covers. Let’s see if we can make it through.
Because here is the connection. I’ve become scared to come out of my shell in real life, for fear that people will just think, “Pfft, KT, still sad over everything. Why can’t she keep her thoughts inside like a big girl?”
What that comment did several months ago was punch every button in my psyche, confirm every whisper that says, “You’re worthless, they don’t like you, they just feel sorry for you, and you’d better watch it because I don’t think you read social cues well enough to tell the difference.
“No one cares.”
And it’s that last one that’s damning for writers in particular. For fiction to work, people have to care. There is no tangible benefit to fiction. Not like there is to something like deck-building. If a deck-builder comes to my house and I pay them money, I get a deck at the end. If I go to a bookstore, buy a book, and read it, I have a book.
But I didn’t pay money for a bundle of processed wood product. Really, I paid for things that don’t exist: characters, places, and events that someone made up. Also a whole bunch of new thoughts, ideas, and feelings…but those only come if I’m willing to invest some part of myself into the figments of someone else’s imagination. Fiction doesn’t work if no one cares.
But if you’ve somehow convinced yourself that no one cares about you, the intrinsic, essential you, then it logically follows that no one would care about the products of your mind.
That “X” button at the top right hand corner looks tempting…but I will finish this.
I’ve been spending a lot of time hiding out in my room because I can’t face imposing myself on my housemates. I’m quiet in choir because it’s easier to stay behind the safety of my walls. My days in the brewery are my saving grace because I’m distracted by things I love, but I can run the historic kitchen on autopilot—and autopilot is dangerous because it lets me spend too much time in my own head.
Silence feels safer. But silence inevitably spirals into nights lost to tears and nightmares. And inevitably reminds me of the Silence:
It’s the same with writing. Not writing feels safer. But none of us got into writing because it seemed safe. We got into writing because there was something we had to say, some story we had to tell.
I have to tell stories about six-winged redheaded goddesses and rural villages hiding dark secrets. I have to talk about my heroes’ endless searches for safe harbours and the terrible costs of my villains’ isolation and rigidity.
And sometimes I just have to say:
I am sad.
We did it. Thank you for reading.