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.
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.
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.
Starting in September, I’ll be producing the Apex Magazine podcast!
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.
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…
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 real – until 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?”
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.
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.
It’s 2007. I’m sixteen. And I’m terrified. I’m sitting on a hard church pew, music in hand. The notes don’t make sense. They make sense for piano, but I can’t just pluck a G out of the air and sing it. Besides, I’m supposed to be singing the harmony, not the melody, but I can’t hear it under all the other voice parts. Tenors, basses, and piano completely bury it, but the sopranos are worst because they actually have the melody and they’re loud and even though I’m singing barely above a whisper, people keep shooting me sideways glances because I keep screwing up and I just want to sing so badly but I can’t do it.
And that’s my first year of choir in a nutshell.
A combination of writing my first real “book” (Phantom of the Opera fanfic) and Toronto getting its first real opera house had given me an insatiable appetite for opera. My younger sister had spent the last year in the Canadian Children’s Opera Company, and I watched the Youth Chorus rehearsals agog.
I wanted to sing like that. So, so badly.
There was, of course, one slight snag.
I couldn’t sing.
Somehow, I got in. I’m still not sure why. Maybe Ann—the music director, a wonderful Texan force of nature—saw how badly I wanted it. Maybe it’s hard enough to find teens willing to sing classical music, and she worried about crushing my interest.
I don’t know. In any case, I was in so far over my head, I couldn’t even see the surface.
Most of the kids in the Youth Chorus had graduated from the CCOC’s younger divisions. Which meant they’d been singing for years. Not only that, they’d been singing together for years. And then there was me: new, and shy, and totally unable to keep up with the music.
I couldn’t even read it. Oh, I mean, I could look at a piece of music and tell you, “Yes, that note is a B, and that’s a sharp, and we’re supposed to get louder over here.” But when it came to matching “note on page” with “note in voice,” I had nothing.
As for technique—I had less than nothing. The voice is an instrument. Like all instruments, you have to learn how to use it. My joining the Youth Chorus was like grabbing a trumpet and expecting to join an orchestra.
All that to say, I was pretty effing terrible. In a choir of burgeoning pros, I was the weakest link. And I wasn’t used to that. My whole life, I’ve been an overachiever and a quick study. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I was used to just…picking things up.
Algebra. French. Soccer. Piano. Never much of a learning curve. Never much angst. Just trying something, and very quickly becoming good at it.
This was the first time that hadn’t happened. Those rehearsals fighting back tears were the first time I wasn’t near the top of the class.
People worried, of course. Ann worried. My parents worried. Every Monday afternoon, dread sat in my throat like a mouthful of cold worms, and every Monday night, I came home sobbing at my own incompetence. But I. Kept. Going. Back. It was stubbornness, sheer and simple—this was the first time something had beaten me, and I couldn’t let that stand.
So I did what anyone does in those situations:
I learned to survive.
Since I couldn’t read the music, I memorized it instead, tracking down recordings of every piece we did. I went to weekly lessons wherein I worked my bum off learning technique (without the mentoring I got from Ann’s daughter Erin, I might well have crashed out). Finally, I decided that if I couldn’t be the best singer, I would be the best chorister—always on time, always prepared, always listening and well-behaved.
“Come on, you guys! Get ready!”
“You don’t count. You’re always ready.”
When I aged out at eighteen, I still wasn’t a strong singer, but I’d passed the initial hurdle. Music had woven itself into my life—to feel grounded and whole, I needed a choir.
By this point, I knew enough about my own voice to realize that opera was not a great match. To the surprise of no one, my voice is very high, very light, and very straight-toned. I don’t have the vocal weight for opera, and I never will. In terms of voice, I’m not built that way.
I am built for church singing.
So I went hunting church choirs. One rainy night in September, I climbed a million stairs to one church’s choir room. I said, “I’m a first soprano,” and the director pointed me to a seat.
Whilst my voice is better suited for church singing, there was an entirely new learning curve to contend with. Hymns that the church ladies knew by heart, but which I’d never seen. The shape and structure and music of the liturgy itself. Psalms.
But the CCOC had given me enough foundation that I could stick things out. Of course, the community helped. The ladies very quickly became like a legion of extra aunts; the men, like older brothers.
Here’s the thing about singing church services, though. There isn’t actually a ton of rehearsal. Anthems get a few weeks of practice, but the hymns and psalms change every time. It was too much music for me to memorize.
So I finally learned to read.
There was no shaft of light and angelic “Alleluia!” as the notes resolved themselves. It happened bit by bit, water wearing away at a stone, until I realized I’d actually been reading the music for a while.
I learned to support. I learned to breathe. I learned to make my voice do what I wanted as we tackled a huge range of music—from Palestrina and Byrd to spirituals. Sure, there is something of an “Anglican hoot” about it, but I’m pleased with the way it’s developed.
And I learned all the ecclesiastical side: the psalms, the hymns, the pulse and pattern of the liturgical year.
But the best thing?
I’m proud that I stuck it out. I’m proud of how much I’ve learned. But in a funny way, I’m even more proud of the battle I fought with myself. It took a long, long time, but I learned to stay with something because I love it, and no other reason.
You see, I’m still not the top of the class. Not even close. I am a competent vocalist. Not great—competent. And in this arena, I’m okay with that. I’m okay with it because for me, it’s all out of love: love for the music, love for my friends, and love for the sheer breathless rush of having a high G hit the church’s vaulted ceiling.
I am a chorister, well and truly. As the hymn goes, “How can I keep from singing?”
What I’m Listening to This Week
We’re returning to Rachmaninoff’s Bogoroditse Devo. I never thought I’d do this, but here’s…um, well, here’s me. Anglican hoot and all.
I need to eat my words, I’m afraid. Last week, I said:
I want [SFWA membership]. I want this so badly. It’s a long game: I doubt very much I’ll be strolling into the Nebulas next year. But you keep going.
You should still keep going. Always. But the same day I posted the above, I checked the rules for membership to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America more carefully. Authors are eligible for Active Membership with, among other things…
One Paid Sale of a work of fiction (such as a novel) of a minimum of 40,000 words to a qualifying professional market, for which the candidate has been paid at least $3,000 as a non-returnable advance before or at the time of publication ($2000.00 if sale made on or before 12/31/2014).
“Wait,” quoth I. “When did I sign the contract for Yeti’s Parole Officer?”
Turns out I made the sale on 08/20/2014. Which means that I’ve actually been SFWA-eligible for over two years.
So after a little head-shaking, I sent in my paperwork, and received my approval a few days ago. I’m in! Huzzah! And…it looks like I will be strolling into the Nebulas next year, at least to take in the atmosphere and meet people.
A lot can happen in a week.
When I was a wee sprogget, I wanted to be published by the time I was 25. I have vivid memories of my first year of university. February in Toronto is an interminable stretch of grey, cold, and slush. It’s when you fear that spring will never come. So I plodded along, miserable, these newfangled “podcast novels” trickling through my headphones.
I wanted to be in that world so badly. So very badly. I ached for it, slogging to class. I wanted to go to conventions, and I wanted to collaborate with other writers, and I wanted to be part of it all. Ideally by 25, though I knew that was a long shot.
I’m 25 now. When I look at how much things changed in seven years—well, first of all, seven years? What??? But also—holy frak, nothing is the same.
We can’t always see those changes, is the thing. Sure, sometimes, there’s a big milestone. Selling a novel. First time on a convention panel. Landing the agent. But more often, there’s all these tiny little steps that accrete, almost without your realizing. Those little steps provide the foundation for those big milestones. So, I suppose, while it seems like things can move very quickly, there’s a much longer process happening under the surface. Yeti’s Parole Officer came about, indirectly, through Hapax and my scriptwriting.
So maybe a lot can happen in a week. But none of it happens without the seven (or five, or ten, or fifty) years preceding.
What I’m Listening To This Week
Ola Gjeilo once again, returning to an old favourite: his “Northern Lights” piece, which uses an absolutely gorgeous text. I mean, listen to this:
Pulchra es amica mea,
suavis et decora sicut Jerusalem,
terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata.
Averte oculos tuos a me
quia ipsi me avolare fecerunt.
Thou art beautiful, O my love,
sweet and comely as Jerusalem,
terrible as an army set in array.
Turn away thy eyes from me,
for they have made me flee away.
How wonderful is that? A great and terrible beauty, much like the aurorae themselves. *swoon*
So I assume we’ve all seen the WIRED article, right? This one: the one really excited that podcast fiction is “finally” a thing?
Evidently, they’ve overlooked that podcast fiction kicked off in 2005, and that 2007-2009 was arguably the Golden Age of the Podcast Novel. In fact, the origins and development of the genre were the topic of a massive essay I wrote at Stonecoast. I suspect others will be doing overviews of podcasts from 2005-2012, so… I’d like to share a different portion of my essay, one that proposes a new means by which to classify the genre.
II. Parsing the Parsecs: Proposing a New Taxonomy of Podcast Fiction
Despite the genre’s significant development over the past decade, few attempts have been made to rigorously classify podcast fiction. Nevertheless, there is a generally understood difference between “full cast podcasts” and “straight reads.” A “full cast podcast” generally refers to a fully scored and produced podcast novel featuring the use of numerous actors, as in the case of Morevi, Chasing the Bard, Murder at Avedon Hill, Metamor City, et al. By contrast, a “straight read” features a single reader and minimal production. Mur Lafferty’s Heaven series is thus a “straight read,” alongside numerous audio fiction magazines such as the Escape Artists’ triumvirate—Escape Pod, PodCastle, and PseudoPod—and the Clarkesworld podcast.
However, the distinction between “straight read” and “full cast” is ultimately limiting, particularly within the field of “full cast” podcast fiction. “Full cast,” as it appears in general usage, obscures the distinction between fully-produced, fully-casted podcast novels, and fully-produced, fully-casted audio dramas. Adhering strictly to a straight read/full cast binary, both Morevi and We’re Alive could be considered full cast podcasts. However, Morevi was originally released as a print novel, and relies heavily on narration to tell the story. As such, it undertakes a fundamentally different approach to storytelling than does We’re Alive, which instead lies primarily on dialogue, performance, and sound, with minimal narrative segments.
This difference between podcast novel and audio drama is recognized by the Parsec Awards for Excellence in Speculative Fiction Podcasting. There, the primary distinction amongst podcasts is not between straight read/full cast, but rather between “story” and “audio drama.” According to the Parsecs’ 2015 category descriptions, a story “…uses narration as its primary means to convey scene and action,” whereas in an audio drama, “Storytelling is effected through the dialogue of its characters and sound effects/scenery presenting action and scene as it’s [sic] primary mechanism.” While these categories differentiate between the two major approaches to storytelling within podcast fiction, they also have certain limitations. Specifically, there is perhaps insufficient nuance in the “story” category.
For example, the 2014 category “Best Speculative Fiction Story: Small Cast (Short Form),” included both the stories “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot,” (author Michael Spence, podcasted on Tales from the Archives) and “Growth Spurt,” (author Paul Lorello, podcasted on Pseudopod). However, while both “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot” and “Growth Spurt” are indeed small cast, short stories, they function very differently. Despite being small cast, “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot” adopts the production values associated with “full cast” podcasts: music and complex sound effects to denote an aethergate are particularly noticeable. Conversely, “Growth Spurt” has a single reader, no music, and no sound effects.  Despite being in the same category, “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot” is essentially a “full cast” podcast with a very small cast, whereas “Growth Spurt” is a straight read.
Thus, neither a full cast/straight read nor audio drama/story dichotomy is sufficient to classify podcast fiction. The full cast/straight read binary obscures the artistic differences between audio book and audio drama (though again, this difference is understood in general parlance), while focusing on that distinction to the exclusion of all else overlooks the many variances in production amongst podcast stories.
As such, this paper proposes a new taxonomy for podcast fiction. Examining the genre broadly, it is evident that some podcasts (PodCastle, Clarkesworld, Jim Kelly’s Free Reads, Heaven) use audio primarily as a means of distribution, whereas for others (Hidden Harbour Mysteries, The Antithesis Progression, We’re Alive, The Leviathan Chronicles), sound is integral to the story itself—whether the podcast in question is an audio book or audio drama. Therefore, this paper proposes classifying podcasts not by “full cast/straight read,” or by “audio drama/story,” but rather, by “read fiction” and “performed fiction.” “Performed fiction” relies on the use of dramatic techniques to tell the story—that is, music, sound effects, and acting— while “read fiction” does not. The category of “performed fiction” can then be subdivided into “audio drama” and “audio story,” under the same criteria utilized by the Parsecs. This classification, therefore, combines both the commonly-understood distinction between straight read and full cast, along with the Parsecs’ observance of stories and dramas as separate genres.
However, this means of classifying podcasts is not intended as a strict binary. Rather, conceiving of podcast fiction as a spectrum more accurately reflects the vast array of podcasts that have been produced. At one extreme are those stories which are read by a single narrator, without music, acting, or sound effects. Indeed, such stories might not have originally been intended for audio distribution at all. In its submissions guidelines, Pseudopod states, “We do not discriminate between previously published and unpublished works…we encourage new authors to send their work to other markets first, and then send it to us for audio rights after the story has appeared.” Thus, the stories it solicits are not necessarily written with podcasting in mind, unlike We’re Alive or Hidden Harbor [ETA: Or Six Stories, Told At Night]. As such, the performance is not an integral part of those stories—they lose very little when experienced as pure text.
The shift from read to performed podcast fiction occurs as a result of the use of dramatic techniques. Music, sound effects, and voice acting are used to communicate setting, atmosphere, and character in addition to what is already suggested by the text. Thus, reading and listening to performed narratives are ultimately very different experiences. The key distinction between read and performed narratives therefore lies not in the amount of dramatic techniques used, but rather, in their importance to the story. For instance, it is fairly common to have musical interludes introduce and finish segments of audiobooks; however, they have little impact on the storytelling. By contrast, the now-removed podcast Weather Child had relatively light scoring and sound effects, and a cast of two. As these elements were integral, Weather Child was nevertheless performed. This is particularly evident when considering its use of voice acting to portray character.
The use of voice acting is the most telling characteristic of performed fiction. Acting necessarily denotes performance. However, it is misleading to deem a read narrative “performance” when the reader has simply used different voices to distinguish characters. Here, this paper draws a distinction between “reading with voices” and “voice acting.” While reading, the reader speaks like the character. While performing, the actor speaks as the character. Admittedly, this distinction contains a certain amount of subjectivity, but it is generally useful.
For example, the podcast novels Weaver’s Web (Philippa Ballantine) and Ancestor (Scott Sigler) are both read by a single voice. However, Ballantine offers performances of her characters—this is particularly evident in her portrayal of the Weavers. Sigler can affect accents and emotions effectively—as in the case of troubled geneticist Lu Jian Dan—but ultimately, the difference is one of kind rather than degree. While some allowance should be made for a reader/actor’s particular skill, the difference between reading and acting is ultimately one of intention rather than talent.
Having determined the importance of voice acting in distinguishing podcast works as performed fiction, it is now necessary to examine the distinctions between performed narrative and audio drama. As the name suggests, performed narratives are primarily told through narration, whereas audio dramas are told through sound. This paper agrees with the general definitions put forth by the Parsec Awards.  However, this paper maintains that performed narratives fall along a spectrum. Weaver’s Web lies at one extreme: it is a performance due to its use of voice acting, but relies almost entirely on narration. Conversely, Hidden Harbor Mysteries is explicitly presented as a 1930s radio play. Therefore, it is unquestionably a drama. Not only is there minimal narration, but the narrator himself is another character. Yet between these two extremes fall podcasts such as The Guild of the Cowry Catchers, Metamor City: Making the Cut, and The Antithesis Progression. Sound is more integral to the storytelling than would be the case in a strict narrative, yet there is more narration than would be incorporated into a drama.
Thus, using these distinctions and taxonomy, one might say that We’re Alive is a large-cast audio drama, Weaver’s Web is a solo performed narrative, and “England Under the White Witch,” by Theodora Goss, as read by Kate Baker on Clarkesworld, is a read short story.
 Bryan Lincoln, Episode 73: Straight Read vs. Full Cast, accessed March 26, 2015.
 “2015 Category Descriptions,” Parsec Awards, accessed March 26, 2015. <http://www.parsecawards.com/2015-parsec-awards/category-descriptions/>
 “2014 Parsec Award Winners and Finalists,” Parsec Awards, accessed March 26, 2015.
 Michael Spence, Why the Sea is Boiling Hot, podcast audio, Tales from the Archives Vol. III, edited Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris, MP3, 24:30-32:30, accessed March 24, 2015. <http://www.ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com/2014/03/25/tales-from-the-archives-iii-three/>
Paul Lorello, Growth Spurt, podcast audio, Pseudopod, edited Shaun M. Garrett, MP3, accessed March 24, 2015. <http://pseudopod.org/2013/10/25/pseudopod-357-growth-spurt/>
 Lincoln, Episode 73: Straight Read vs. Full Cast, 35:06.
 “2015 Category Descriptions,” Parsec Awards, accessed March 26, 2015. <http://www.parsecawards.com/2015-parsec-awards/category-descriptions/>
So I’m still not entirely sure where Six Stories, Told at Night falls…but since it’s performed, and uses a lot of narrative – a solo performed piece?
Also, Tee Morris and I made this awesome infographic detailing other fiction podcasts pre-dating Welcome to Night Vale’s 2012 launch. Check it out, and discover some other cool listens!
What I’m Listening To This Week
Sometimes, there’s a song that I don’t even remember stumbling across. Amy MacDonald’s “This is the Life,” for instance. I heard this first back in high school, and it’s popped up again. Not my usual style, but quite enjoyable!
Well. It never rains, but it pours. We got back to our museum life, hit the ground running, and then immediately got walloped with all the things ever. Including a video series! I’m not complaining. It’s all good stuff. It’s exactly what we want to be doing, and we’re stoked to see where it all leads.
(See our videos here!)
And it also takes up a lot of brain space.
I’ve been doing all right, actually. The play and some short stories are moving a little more slowly than I’d like, but they’re moving. For now, I’ll take that.
I do want to talk about something, though. Lauren Harris first articulated it for me this spring, I’m conscious of it now, and it really struck home while I flailed about rehearsing my new monologue:
I’m the freaking Energizer Bunny, and I run at 100 mph.
It’s not even something I’m usually aware of, until it’s pointed out: the rapid speech, the constantly tapping foot, the thirty million simultaneous projects…. Sometimes, I feel like my body’s trying to compress 1000 mL of ideas and energy into 750 mL of KT. It mostly sort of works, but inevitably, stuff brims over and spills out.
I’m not the only one, though. There are other freaking Energizer Bunnies out there—I know some. It can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be challenging. When you crash at 100 mph, you’re more likely to crash spectacularly.
There’s really two main challenges that I’m learning to work around: one entirely related to the individual, and the other to dealing with other people.
Let’s talk about the individual challenge first.
When you’re the freaking Energizer Bunny, you tend to mistake exhaustion for accomplishment. You bank on endless energy, rather than actual self-care. Then, when the well dries up, you don’t know how to get yourself back on track. It’s like bright kids who coast through elementary and high school, and then hit university without proper study skills. Sheer strength only gets you so far; you need to learn how to channel and preserve it.
Of course, measured pacing seems less appealing when the ideas are coming so fast, you’re already struggling to keep up. You know, those nights you want to weep because you can’t turn your brain off. Even if you wanted to. But there’s so many ideas, and not enough time, and another just hit, and…
And so I become that child who doesn’t want to go to bed. And if you can stay up all night, or take on another thing without consequences, why not?
Because ultimately, it’s better over the long term to take care of yourself. As I see it, you can roll at a slow burn for a good long time, or go out in a flash fire blaze of glory. Sometimes the latter is tempting, but it’s probably not the smartest.
What’s more, Energizer Bunnies are exhausting to other people. For a long time, that simply never occurred to me. And it’s hard, because there are all of these amazing things to do right NOW, and they’re fun, and what do you mean you don’t want to hit up another museum???
I’m learning to moderate my pace. Sometimes, that’s really, really hard. Again, because there are all of these amazing things to do right NOW—who wants to wait?
I do….because it’s not just about the amazing things. It’s about respecting other people’s limits and being a decent human being. And hey, if you’re good at working with people, more amazing things tend to happen anyway. It’s win-win!
A last thought: it becomes very easy to pathologize our various quirks. My thyroid has been tested approximately eighty times, because I am wee and run at 100 mph.
My thyroid is fine.
People who do not run at 100 mph are fine.
I feel like a children’s TV show right now—but difference isn’t always abnormality. It’s this vast spectrum of people and experiences that make us humans so interesting. Of course, self-knowledge and understanding go a long way towards smoothing the places where those differences clash.
After all, we’re all driving on the same road. 😉
What I’m Listening to This Week
This upcoming choir tour introduced me to Haitian composer Sydney Guillaume. I really like the piece we’re doing, so I went hunting for more. And I found this one! I love it!
“Twa Tanbou” is about three drums having an argument: the boula drum, who says he’s the loudest; the tanbouren, who says he’s the most beautiful; and the kata, who thinks they’re both ridiculous. Guillaume himself says: “The central theme of Twa Tanbou: In order for a team to reach the optimal result, each member must play his or her own part as a team…”
The music itself embodies this philosophy—it demands very rhythmic precision and listening from all parts. Each line is like a piece of clockwork that, set in motion with the others, ultimately makes the gears move.
Beta readers are awesome people.
Every single one of my novels has gone through a few rounds of betas. I honestly don’t know what I would do without them. They’re like that friend who runs lines with you before performances, or asks questions for mock interviews. They love you and they have your back, and they’ll call you on things.
Like I said: awesome people.
My novel just went out to betas. As I compiled my list, I had to smile. Over the years, I’ve collected a lot of wonderful beta readers. They come from all spheres of my life: the museum, my writing pals, my church/choir, my family, my former schoolmates…
For me, there’s no particular formula for finding good beta readers. Mostly, it’s about keeping your eyes and ears open: paying attention to the people around you. And making sure they actually have time. But looking closely at my Beta Super Team, some patterns emerge.
First and foremost: they’re readers. They love books; they love stories; they love words. Most are well-versed in fantasy—they know tropes; they can sense when a story’s out of joint. And those with diverging tastes are still lovers of story. They offer new insights, fresh takes, all while keeping the story’s interests uppermost in mind.
They’re conscientious and thoughtful. Some have read absolutely everything I’ve ever written ever (Hi, Cara!). This round, a few haven’t read anything of mine before. Either way, I’ve spent enough time with all of them to know: they’re smart people. Their judgement is sound; I know they won’t just fling random thoughts at me willy-nilly.
And they have insights both brilliant and varied. I like having a fairly large Beta Super Team. (Novel’s currently out to 11, and I have a few more people to approach.) Partly, this is to try and get some consensus in response. A note from one person may or may not indicate a problem; the same note from a dozen probably does.
But also—remember how my Beta Super Team comes from many, many different parts of my life? They have vastly different backgrounds, experiences, and areas of knowledge/skill.
I love using actors as beta readers because they’re trained to look at texts and analyze characters. I love using my healthcare-type pal because she’s flipping brilliant with story logic and prose-level technical issues. I love using history types who can call me on worldbuilding; fantasy lovers who can feel if the story hits right; writers who can delve into issues of art and craft.
All that’s great. But you know why beta readers are really awesome?
They’re doing this for love. Love for you; love for the story; love for the process. It means so much to me when someone agrees to beta read. They’re giving up their free time to help me. Everyone has their own lives and projects; it’s no small thing.
And it’s a special thing, this relationship between beta reader and author. Like falling in love – when it clicks, you know. Everyone’s working towards the same goal:
The most kickass story possible.
So, to my Beta Super Team: thank you thank you thank you. I hope you enjoy the novel, and I am stoked to hear your thoughts!
What I’m Listening To This Week:
I actually can’t listen to this piece too much, because it makes me cry, and I’m scared that repeated exposure will dull the effect. This rendition of “Calon Lân” is a beautifully-sung traditional Welsh hymn, but it’s the choir that makes it here. There’s something in these young men’s eyes—passion, spirit—that gets me every single time.
This is how choirs should sing, always. Music starts at 2:10.
As is my wont, I’ve spent a good portion of the off-season travelling. This latest jaunt was to Tennessee, for the Smoky Writers Retreat: 2016 Edition.
Logline: Words. Food. Booze.
One-line summary: Twenty-ish writers in a cabin in the mountains write a lot.
Thirty-word synopsis: Twenty-ish writers rent a cabin for a week. Quiet writing hours are strictly enforced. Afterwards—socializing and talking shop. Amazing food abounds, and our public bar is truly impressive.
I went last year and had a fabulous time. It’s the ultimate workaholic’s holiday, because we’re writing for ~7 hours a day (and God help you if you disrupt the quiet). We break into small groups and share 10-minute segments of what we wrote that day. Then,the socializing with writer-friends I don’t get to see that often, the learning that inevitably arises from such conversations, and those moments when business and fun blur into each other.
I locked down a cover artist and composer for Six Stories while I was there. And stumbled into an anthology. And met with editing clients.
Now, I could wax eloquent about the week, but that wouldn’t really capture it. So from here, I’d like to offer snapshots of Smoky.
All of Pigeon Forge, TN. Take your pick from Biblical Dinner Theatre, the Family Comedy Barn, Lumberjack Dinner Theatre, Hillbilly Mini-Golf, or the ubiquitous Dolly Parton billboards.
Visiting the Titanic Museum on our break day. Despite a horrid, chintzy exterior, it is shockingly well done. Sensitive, clever interpretation, excellent design, and smatterings of museum theatre.
Best Melding of Work and Play:
Composing tunes with Starla Huchton at 2:00 am with the help of a recorder and piano app.
Sticky toffee pudding. Proper sticky toffee pudding. Need I say more?
The Cuvée Special Reserve Ale that I brought down from Nicklebrook Brewing Co, but the local Yee-Haw Dunkel was surprisingly good, if peculiarly named.
Favourite Daily Ritual:
I love the readings. It was so wonderful to hear what other people had gotten up to during the day. Plus, while these people are all my friends, I’m not super familiar with all their writing. I loved seeing the awesomeness they produce. Traditional reading hour drinks were also lovely. 😉
Moment of Squee
For most of the week, I was writing buddies with audio-producer extraordinaire Bryan Lincoln. We colonized the basement media room, and typed away quite companionably in our writing cave. Since we were the only two on that floor, we sometimes broke the rules and talked.
So I learned a lot about audio dramas—amazing. But even more amazing—he congratulated me on the grant for Six Stories, saying, “I see what you’re up to on Facebook, and I really root for you guys.”
Coming from a) a friend, and b) someone whose work I really respect and admire, it meant a lot.
Moment of Unadulterated Joy
Lauren Harris came up for a few days! Sure, I saw her two weeks ago, but that doesn’t matter. I greeted her with a flying tackle hug, we broke out the booze, and then all was well.
Christiana Ellis introduced me to Over the Garden Wall. It’s a complete animated miniseries, and we binge-watched that sucker in two nights. Oh, it was exactly my humour: very clever and self-aware, with generous dollops of absurdity.
Also, I’d never properly hung out with Christiana—I knew she was awesome, but it was nice to experience her awesomeness for myself. 😉
Moment of Disaster
On the last day—at our parting pancake breakfast—my glasses broke. I have a very old pair at home, and lots of contact lenses at work, but that’s not super helpful right now.
(And yes, I’m mostly blind without them.)
Because of the way the arms attach, I’m pretty sure I need a new pair. Emails have been sent, and for now, I’m keeping things together with duct tape and prayer.
I wrote four short stories this week. My favourite centred on a magical glassmaker and a young boy. Here’s a sneak excerpt:
Day after day, night after night, she hunches over her worktable. She buys her love with quaint little scenes. She tells herself that she is an artist, but she knows that this is not the case. Her globes are spun not from glass, but desperation.
Perhaps for this reason, her beloved’s interest wanes. Bright-polished globes sit in their paper wrapping for months. New worlds receive barely a glance. She sits amid the glass and the baubles, and she wonders how it has come to this. And then—always, always—she bends over her work again, and tries to do better.
Super raw, super rough, but with a good edit and polish, I think I should be pleased with it.
There’s so much I’m not touching on. The late night conversations, the delight in looking across the table and seeing so many amazing people. The superb meals, the tiny, quiet moments. But I am so happy, doing what I love with people I love.
Tomorrow, I return home. I print out the novel I wrote last month.
And I continue on: bending over my work again, and trying to do better.
What I’m Listening To This Week
The only drag was that I missed Easter. But I listened to this on the drive back to VA. This piece is spring to me: …the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
That’s how I feel, these days. After a long, long time, the winter is finally past.
I am writing these words while sitting on a couch in Virginia, surrounded by some of my dearest friends. When I think where I was this time last year—this has been a long journey, of which 2015 was just one part.
Recapping the year feels trite. I can’t, especially not when I’m full of this much beer, bacon, and Thai food.
But there’s always a hunger around New Year’s, bacon and Thai food aside. A yearning, an excitement for the year ahead and all its yet-to-be-realized plans. I graduate from Stonecoast in two weeks. I’m returning to a fabulous writers’ retreat. Museum theatre and beer and audio all continue to be important parts of my creative and professional lives.
And thinking about all of this, there is a word that comes to mind.
Audeamus. Let us dare.
I wrote about audacity ages ago: the willingness to take bold risks. The concept of audeamus is similar, but I think it also brings in connotations of courage. Being scared but doing it anyway. Striving for new ground.
This year, I’m writing a play. I have no idea what I’m doing with it, or where it will end up, or if I’ll do anything with it. But I want to write a play. I’m writing at least one novel. I’m submitting as many short stories as I can.
Standing on the precipice of the year, it’s intimidating.
But there’s another cool thing about the word audeamus. Add one letter, and it becomes gaudeamus.
Let us rejoice.
Tonight: audeamus, let us dare.
This time next year?
Happy New Year, lovelies.
What I’m Listening To This Week
A friend offered me several introductions to Hamilton. There’s enough cleverness in the lyrics that I keep coming back to smile at the wordplay. Also, it gives ear-worms like no one’s business. There’s a line in this opening that strikes me as particularly fitting for New Year’s Eve:
There’s a million things I haven’t done
But just you wait.
Hope you’ve all been well. The thesis is finally out of my hands—huzzah!—and if I can muster all my strength to make it past Tuesday or so, I think I can finally take a breath.
So recently, my choir held a cabaret night to raise funds for our trip to the UK next year. I think I was meant to be a general dogsbody, but then I said, “I’ll just help set up the bar.” One thing to led to another, and…I spent the rest of the evening bartending.
Which was good. Because here’s the thing: as soon as my bar was set up (and see, even without thinking, it’s my bar), I felt like something had settled on its tracks properly. Everything fell into place. I knew what to do. I was on. I was home.
And it made me think about art, naturally. In his book Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury talks about practice. Through enough practice and time, you can relax. Things become second nature; the very conscious focus on the mechanics falls away. You’re relaxed, but not in an apathetic way. It’s the relaxation when you know a situation.
This is what being behind a bar feels like for me. My first jaunt in the brewery—oh, the awkwardness. The glasses slipped between my fingers, the beer sloshed as I poured, and I was terrified of the dishwasher.
Art’s similar. Look at writers’ first pieces; artists’ first sketches; dancers’ first practices. They tend to be gawky and ungainly, don’t they? Adverbs slipping through the prose, paint sloshing all over, and terror leading up to certain turns. But that’s okay. The mechanics take practice. And here’s the rub: they take time, too.
A lot of time has passed since my first stint slinging beer. Lots of tastings. Lots of tours. Lots of events. Countless glasses poured and bottles lifted. And so, I can relax a little. It’s muscle memory. Once the motion and intention is worked into the body—your mind doesn’t need such a death-grip. It’s free to think about other things: the witty banter, the tasting notes, the fact that there’s a new queue all clutching drink tickets but the gentleman to the right still needs his Guinness.
At that point, you can start exploring ways to push your art. Deepen it. Enrich it. Hearkening back to Mr. Bradbury, fingers and subconscious and story all come together in one motion: an archer releasing an arrow, a beer wench snatching up the correct bottle and pouring exactly four ounces without looking.
When that happens—you got this. You know how to move your wings. And you can fly.
What I’m Listening To This Week
Something old and new at the same time. An old friend has an album out—Erin Cooper Gay gave me my choral mechanics and foundation, so it certainly fits today’s theme! In Black Market, she’s blending indie music with Renaissance and baroque; it’s fresh and spirited, and feels very classic at the same time.
“Manchester” is my favourite track…partly because it’s about a writer (the line “I guess I’ll have to write a sequel” makes me smile). But also because it’s got a lovely, bouncing chorus, and it feels…well again, it feels like something new and something familiar simultaneously—the voice in particular feels contemporary, but listen to the strings in the background. There’s some of your baroque influences. 😉