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Write Like No One is Acting

Coming to Audible this spring!

Coming to Audible this spring!

Editing the HEARTSTEALER audiobook continues apace. As with every new type of project, I’m learning lots: some things about particular voices, some things about my own idiosyncrasies in writing (they’re a lot more obvious when read aloud…).

Blythe’s narrating, of course. It’s been fascinating for me, because the two characters that blow me away are the two I never would’ve pegged her for. Naturally, she’s doing stellar work with the entire novel – but these two broken, fragile, hard-edged women are standout performances.

Naturally, that got me thinking, and I realised something:

I write best when I get out of the way.

I’ve had this nagging insecurity for a while. When I write characters for Blythe to voice, they’re…well, they’re good. They’re funny, sad, scary, whatever. But we’re not getting to that same depth I’m seeing in HEARTSTEALER.

And I finally realise:

When I write like that, I’m not giving her space.

I sing the praises of collaboration all the time. How different artists bring different aspects to the piece. How no one has to carry the entire piece alone, because the others are there, giving their support. How they are some things an actor or composer can do that a writer can’t, and so the words don’t have to try to do everything.

I’m not doing that.

It’s almost like I write to a certain level. There’s a ceiling. This is what I’m giving you; this is what you can do with it. It’s very difficult to rise past that level, because there simply isn’t enough there. Perhaps for the reader; not for the actor. It’s like how in prose, you have to leave room for the reader to bring something: otherwise, you smother them and there’s no engagement. You can’t resolve the chord for them.

So what makes Evelyn and Charlotte different?

I never wrote them to be performed aloud. I never wrote HEARTSTEALER with the intention of releasing it as an indie audiobook. And they are not the well-loved character types I’ve seen Blythe play a hundred times before.

You know that saying, “Dance like no one is watching”? That’s how I feel about them. I wrote like no one would be acting. I wrote them because I wrote them. They are what they are because they are, not because I think it’ll be challenging, or funny, or show off a particular strength.

They don’t have ceilings. There’s room to breathe.

"Fire Dance," by Leonid Afremov. The colours, the movement...this is how I picture dancing like no one's watching.

“Fire Dance,” by Leonid Afremov. The colours, the movement…this is how I picture dancing like no one’s watching.

A quick survey of my stable of short stories shows the same. The best stories are the ones I just wrote. Not the ones I wrote to further some grander design, or to vent, or because someone asked me to. I wrote as though no one were listening – I wrote for the story.

It’s hard. I’m looking at Six Stories, Told at Night (Secret Canadian Folklore Podcast: we got OAC funding!), and the play I’m noodling, and I wonder. After this long, how do you not write for a specific voice? Once you’ve seen the basilisk, how do you un-see it?

A line from Eliot comes to mind: “Teach us to care and not to care.” It’s a balancing act: giving the actor enough to chew on, not enough to choke them. Which means trusting more, I suppose. Trusting their art, trusting what they bring.

It also means letting go, a little. Focusing not on the other voice, but your own writer’s voice. Paradoxically, I think that’s how the actor finds theirs: when you half-forget they’re there. You may write assuming one actor or another will play the character, but it mustn’t affect the writing itself.

“Teach us to care and not to care…”

I’ve learned to care. Now, teach me not to care. Teach me to sit still.

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

I know this clip is 20 minutes long. I’m only listening to the first minute and a half. I looked, but the only recording I found of Eleanor Daley’s “Requiem Aeternam” is bundled into the entire requiem.

This piece haunts me. The choir sounds like passing bells: a hypnotizing chant, over and over. But it’s the words that get me: a setting of Carolyn Smart’s “The Sound of the Birds.” It captures grief and loss so very well, it’s like glass to the heart.

“Each night, I listened for your call.
You, dying,
And I but witness to the end.”

Blog Hop: My Writing Process

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.

UnderOakIsland_Cover_small

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:

 

The Red Shoes: quippy dialogue, music, and those awesome 1940s movie accents.

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.

NotecardPlotting

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!

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Inspiration: or, my musical guilty pleasures revealed

Creating things takes a lot out of you: mentally, emotionally, and physically. This is why you often hear creative-types talking about the need to recharge creatively, to surround one’s self with things that keeps the muse purring and the creative furnaces hot. There usually follows images of the creative-type serenely contemplating a field of wildflowers, or perhaps meandering serenely through an empty art gallery…

 

Don’t get me wrong, art galleries are cool… (www.wikipedia.org)

Well, I found something that keeps my creative well consistently full, something that energizes me and makes me want to WRITE ALL THE THINGS.

Spoiler: it’s not wildflowers.

I’ve become a fan of Celtic Woman. And also a fan of the High Kings, which are basically the male equivalent of Celtic Woman. It’s been this way pretty much since last summer, when I started work on the Victorian Dark Fantasy. I don’t know what the kids are dancing to in the clubs these days, but you better believe that I can belt out Rocky Road to Dublin from memory, in the correct 9/8 slip reel time.

Drums! Pretty dresses! More drums!

It’s not something that I can really explain. Sure, I’ve always been a fan of traditional music, but these aren’t necessarily super-traditional. The translation for Celtic Woman’s version of Mo Ghile Mear is…um, well, you can take a look for yourself:

Can you feel the river run?

Waves are dancing to the sun,

Take the tide and face the sea,

And find a way to follow me.

 

Leave the field and leave the fire

And find the flame of your desire.

Set your heart on this far shore,

And sing your dream to me once more

 

Vs. the actual words:

Once I was a gentle maiden,

But now I’m a spent, worn-out widow,

My consort strongly plowing the waves,

Over the hills and far away.

 

Every day I’m constantly enduring grief,

Weeping bitterly and shedding tears,

Because my lively lad has left me

And no news is told of him – alas.

But you know what? I don’t care. There’s something in the drums, the harmonies of their arrangement that ignites that creative spark. Normally, I tend towards classical music, choral things, and musical theatre. But for whatever reason, this music punches some part of my brain and makes words want to happen.

I like ’em.

I worked my way through most of their music while writing the Victorian Dark Fantasy…and now, I’ve got it back on repeat. Plus, their newer members come from musical theatre backgrounds. It shows, and these more theatrical performances are making ideas echo, even if I can’t articulate them just yet:

So yeah. My musical tastes have always been eclectic (I’ve also fallen in love with Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, but that probably won’t end up in a novel for a while), but this is perhaps a bit odd even for me.

As for the High Kings…well, again, they’re basically the male version. It’s more stand-and-sing, but their songs do that same punching-through-to-some-flash-of-idea thing. I think this is one of Mairi’s theme songs:

Although she is not at all a fan of this one, which is hugely interesting. Especially because I start dancing in my seat from the opening chords:

And of course, this song, which is actually Mairi’s theme song:

The things that stoke our creative fires aren’t always the things we expect. That’s ok, though. It opens us to things we might never otherwise find. Besides, this music makes me happy. Then I want to write, which also makes me happy.

And man… those 9/8 slip reels are catchy!

-KT

PS. Yes, I totally wrote this post while listening to Téir Abhaile Riú on repeat…

10 signs that you’re a writers’ intern

1. Your phone frequently buzzes with reminders and appointments…for authors who are hundreds of kilometres away.

2. In the context of interning, you’re not exactly sure how to refer to the people for whom you’re working. My authors? My bosses? My friends, whom I assist? All of the above?

3. Simultaneously managing four people’s calendars no longer fazes you.

keepcalmsuperintern12

4. There is some wicked cool stuff sitting on your hard drive. It takes every bit of self-control you have not to submerge yourself in it and read it all right now…because hey, you’ve got work to do.

5. There is an increasingly enmeshed set of connections between the different parts of your life—and you love it. Case in point.

6. You’re up to four email addresses and counting.

7. Bedroom = home office + bed.

8. You look at a novel interior, or a video, or a website banner, and think, “I know how they did that! I can do that!”

9. You secretly envision a future in which you intern for all the authors, coordinating the entire publishing industry from the shadows—ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR.

...try to take over the world. (*cough* Sorry, something in my throat...)

…try to take over the world. (*cough* Sorry, something in my throat…)

And…

10. You often find yourself thinking, “How on Earth did I get so lucky?”

-KT