So I’m reading Terri Windling’s The Wood Wife for the first time, and I’m only surprised that it’s taken me this long. Terri Windling is a superb editor (her fairy tale series with Tor is particularly worth reading). I love her blog, where she talks about her creative life amidst the green of Dartmoor. Her takes on mythic fiction fascinate me.
In short, she’s entirely up my alley. I’m not quite done The Wood Wife yet, but I am devouring it. It’s contemporary fantasy, and it’s still got very old magic in it. In many ways, it reminds me of Charles de Lint’s fiction (unsurprising), and I love it for many of the same reasons I love his (even more unsurprising).
It is also a novel inextricably tied to place; in this case, the desert and mountains outside of Tucson, Arizona. The dried-out washes, saguaros, vivid mountain colours, and harsh desert light enfold everything else: place is the magic and place is the character, and it speaks to a lot of what I’m mulling right now in terms of place, identity, and building Home.
This passage particularly struck me:
“He could only guess by the lines of his face what lineage was in him…Did it matter? He was of this land, whatever it had been. He was born here. Eaten its food, drunk its water, sweated under its hot, hot sun; he had taken the land into his body. His blood and bones were formed of it. He belonged here, as nowhere else.” – Terri Windling, The Wood Wife
The same can be said for the novel as a whole. Somehow, Windling has taken the land into the novel. It wouldn’t work, set anywhere else.
Place is particularly on my mind because I finished rewrites on the Beer Magic novel this week. Beer Magic isn’t mythic fiction—there are no Old Ones, here—but I’m trying to treat place in a similar way, trying to take Toronto and its ravines into the story, to sing its own song back to it.
We’ll see how well I do. That is one nice thing about the new place, though. I am closer to the ravines…
Of course, another writer’s words float to mind:
“I truly believe that each of us has a natural home. It may or may not be where we are born. We make it—yes. But we cannot make it perfect unless we discover where it belongs.” – Timothy Findley, Inside Memory: Pages from a Writer’s Notebook
I think I’m trying to figure that out now. I don’t think I shall do so within the next year, or even the next two, or five. But it will come closer—and I think the persistent preoccupation with place and home in my fiction is part of that journey.
But for now? The goldenrod and chicory are blooming in the ravines, and the leaves have that limp, strung-out look they get before they change colour. The sun sets earlier; warm though it remains, autumn is hastening.
And I have more of The Wood Wife to read.
What I’m Listening to this Week
“One foot in front of the other foot” will be my motto for the next while. Repetitive, forceful as marching footsteps, this song’s been surprisingly comforting.
It’s one of those weeks where I feel like I haven’t anything insightful or interesting to say. Mostly, it’s just been a lot of hard work. But I figured that it’s probably prudent to give updates on a few things…
Yes, it’s true! My interactive fiction novel with Choice of Games released last week. It’s a sword-and-sorcery epic…with dinosaurs! Choose your prehistoric pal, fight in duels, learn magic, and get involved in various schemes!
Six Stories, A Surprise at Night!
After a thrilling run at the Toronto Fringe, we have more plans for Six Stories…
…which we’ll announce very soon!
Super Secret Seventh Story
I need to edit the audio. We also want to time its release to coincide with our surprise, so mark your calendars for early October! It’ll drop into the same Six Stories feed!
Return to Coxwood
Yes, yes, yes, it’s happening!!!
Believe me, ideas are percolating. I’ve got a general thrust of plot, along with a list of actors I’m keen to worth with. Currently, I’m looking at an early 2019 release. Again, mark those calendars!
This novel is so entirely my heart: queer ladies making magic beer across alternate versions of Toronto. I’m well into my own edits on it, and I’ll be looking for betas around early-mid September. If you’re keen, hit me up!
…is that it for now? I feel like that might be it for now.
OH, NO, WAIT.
The story of The Nutcracker, told through the music of Handel’s Messiah. (Albeit with some tweaks to the libretto!) Somehow, incredibly, this appears to actually be happening on November 14th. In addition to being a hilarious mash-up of Toronto’s two favourite holiday traditions, it’s also a fundraiser for Gangway! Theatre Co!
We’ve got a venue and roughly half our artists booked. Again…mark those calendars, it’ll be a party!
Okay. I think that’s it for now.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Lots of fugues, lots of J.S. Bach. In my endless spare time, I’m also doodling with some short story ideas…and I’m trying to figure out how to steal the fugue’s structure. I love the idea of starting simply, with one voice, and getting steadily more complex before simplifying again and resolving at the end.
But we shall see.
I’m not even quite sure where to start. It’s been a time. It’s also been a week since I moved from my beloved little garret, and we are…settling in. Kind of. Change is hard, change to my home environment harder still. I do not do well when I’m uprooted.
(Sidebar: which is why I’m amazed that people can routinely move between cities, provinces, and countries. It’s like…how? How do you transplant yourself somewhere completely new, where there is nothing familiar? I’ve only done it temporarily, and I am not keen to try it again anytime soon.)
But we are getting there. Guinness has become braver in his explorations. I vacillate between “ahhhhhhhhhhhh” and “wait this isn’t so bad and I specifically chose this neighbourhood because it contains ravines and many of my friends.” For now, I hold out hope for an eventual triumphant return to Little Italy, because…well, I can’t really do anything else.
And the office set-up is really quite cute. That’s my stable point, too. As long as I have a solid place to do my work, I can handle quite a lot else.
With all this change, though, something has helped immensely. Apologies, as this was cross-posted to Twitter, but I think it’s worth repeating here.
I’ve been watching a lot of Doctor Who regenerations. Not full episodes, mind you. Just the regenerations. In doing so, I’ve noticed a rather helpful pattern.
It happens after something big
The Doctor doesn’t just regenerate willy-nilly. S/he regenerates after some big adventure, some massive outpouring of effort that would usually result in death.
I mean, in a mythic sense, the Doctor does die. The Doctor constantly dies. And the Doctor is constantly reborn.
The lead-up hurts
But anyway, regeneration happens after something monumental. The Doctor is almost always wounded. S/he is almost always in pain. Sometimes, s/he is alone. And so we usually see the Doctor stumbling around the TARDIS, knowing that regeneration is inevitable but still attempting to fight it off, just for those last few moments.
This is the hard part: the letting go of the old self.
The Doctor sets his/her house in order
Sometimes the Doctor makes a speech for his/her successor. This is where everyone cries. This is where we find out what’s been really important to this iteration.
This is when s/he puts his/her old self to rest. The chapter closes.
When it finally happens, after all the lead-up, all the inexorable steps, regeneration is violent. There’s fire. Explosions. The TARDIS gets damaged. It is not a pretty, gentle transition. It’s like the phoenix conflagrating.
It’s that thing where a lot of small changes build up until there’s a MASSIVE change.
A new adventure starts right away
But then the music changes. Humour ensues. There’s very little time spent mourning the old Doctor—we hit the ground running right away with the new.
We’re onto the adventures only the new Doctor could have. And the Doctor always wears a specific face for a reason; it underscores his/her personal arc. The universe needed the War Doctor at a very specific time; it needed Smith’s off-kilter gregariousness just as much.
It’s okay to be in pain. It’s okay to be wracked with upheaval. This is the stumbling-around-the-TARDIS phase. There may be a big explosion of light and sparks soon.
But that’s okay.
That’s when the adventures really begin.
We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.
– Eleventh Doctor
For obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking about cycles a lot. The dance of creation-stability-destruction, the phoenix and its ashes, the Doctor…
2018 has been a rather more tumultuous year than expected. But I’m excited to see what subsequent chapters bring.
This song is ending, but the story never ends.
What I’m Listening to this Week
I’ve used the composer Brunuhville for writing playlists before. It’s all very epic-cinematic-fantasy music. To the surprise of no one, this one also touches on the idea of cycles, of falling darkness leading to dreams…
I think calmer seas might be on the horizon?
First things first: I sold a story! “The Song of the Oliphant” will appear in Lackington’s “Magics” issue later this autumn. This was one of this year’s retreat pieces, thus continuing the trend of selling at least one story from every retreat. And I’m glad. It’s a bizarre near-future fantasy piece with a narrator I love and an aching quality I’m pleased with.
In other news, this post is late because…I hit my deadline for Choice of Games! The game is pretty well done, pending copyedits and a few more nips and tucks. But the bulk of the work is off my plate—and I’m exhausted.
You see, for various reasons, I landed myself in the position of needing to write 35,000-40,000 words in under two weeks. Whilst doing my dayjob and preparing for the move, and everything else. I’ll admit that when I first heard the number, I wanted to burst into tears.
We just finished Fringe…
I thought I was done…
I’m so tired…
But then I actually did the math. And talked to my editor, who brilliantly broke down a daunting task into totally manageable steps.
37,000 words in just under two weeks is about 2800 words/day. On realizing that, I calmed down. You see, I know my limits when writing. It’s taken a LOT of trial and error over the years, but I’ve built up a pretty good self-knowledge of what I can reasonably accomplish in a given time frame.
When I’m writing novels, 2000 words/day is a comfortable pace. Enough to get into the flow, but also easy to fit around other projects.
3000 words/day kicks it up a notch. Think of it like a brisk trot. Still doable, just a bit more effort.
4000-5000 words/day is my pounding pace. This is the most I can reasonably expect to write without risking burnout. And even then, I can’t do it for long—three or four weeks, tops.
Interestingly, at my annual retreat I usually write a story/day, which can be anywhere from 3000-6000 words. And while I’m tired on leaving the retreat, I’m not exhausted. I put that down to the intense creative atmosphere, but that’s another post.
And that’s a lot of numbers I just put down. So what?
So it’s like I’ve learned to hack myself. Like an athlete who knows how much weight they can safely lift, I’ve fumbled towards an understanding of what I can do. It helps with planning. It helps with scheduling. It helps me maximize the time I have—especially since I know when a pace is not sustainable long term.
But how do you figure it out? Everyone’s pace and process is so different, after all.
Practice, is all I’ve got. Trial and error. Every experience becomes a data point in a set that expands with every project. As with most things, play around enough, and you start figuring things out.
But I’m awfully glad to move past drafting. August is going to be all about editing the Beer Magic novel. I miss my ladies, and I’m excited to get back to them! (Particularly as I’ll be living quite close to the ravines, which play such a big part in the magic…)
What I’m Listening to this Week
A change of pace indeed…but I fell in love with this song so hard. It makes me ache and it makes me happy all at once. But then, it’s Peter Pan—of course I feel that way.
It never rains, but it pours! As you may recall from last week, we’d just finished with the Toronto Fringe and Readercon. The last few days have been mostly about recovery, but also plunging headfirst into new projects and deadlines.
(We did find out that Six Stories, Told at Night was shortlisted for Best of Fringe. While it would’ve been nice to perform it again in August, the forced break may be a blessing in disguise!)
Also, I’m officially into my last two weeks in the garret before Guinness and I move into our new hobbit-hole.
Amidst all this, I did something pretty frivolous.
While I was out, I saw this amazing houndstooth cardigan. Now, clothing doesn’t usually hold much interest for me. But when I fall for certain pieces, I fall hard. That was the case here: love at first sight.
Beautiful as it was, this cardigan was more than I’d usually spend on a single piece. And I just came back from Readercon. And I spent a lot at the Fringe tent all last week. And I can’t even wear it until fall. And I’m moving to a new apartment.
But it fit so well and it was so me. And I’m trying, you know, to figure out what I actually want, what I actually like—as opposed to what I think I should like. As we’ve been saying for months, this is a transition time, the chaos after a long period of stability.
So you’d better believe I bought that cardigan.
Caveat that I don’t ordinarily condone retail therapy. But also—sometimes, you’ve got to be frivolous. Sometimes you need to embrace the things that are so you, because they don’t always come along very frequently. (Besides, I’m usually pretty responsible with my money.)
In any case, I then did something very practical: something that also felt very me-affirming.
Oddly enough, it also had to do with clothes. I have a pair of boat shoes that I love. But the insoles were badly damaged, and they were covered in dust, and the leather was dry and desperately wanting some polish. So after far too much procrastination, I got new insoles. I cleaned them; I polished them with this special “nourishing” cream.
And they look much better. I feel much better, because I like these shoes, and I prefer when they look good. It’s another case of taking one tiny step in a direction that feels more right.
So there you go: one frivolous thing, one practical thing, both of which brought me joy. Of course, writing this post feels a little frivolous too. Cardigans and shoes—what’s that got to do with anything? With writing, with art?
Because I’m fumbling forward in all parts of my life, and these were two very small, very concrete steps in the right direction. There’s going to be a lot of missteps over the next while. I know that. But these two tiny things? These I got right.
What’s bringing you joy? What steps are you taking towards yourself?
What I’m Listening To This Week
I saw Wicked with my family this past week, and goodness, that musical has aged unexpectedly well. The political undercurrents have become sharply poignant—and current events are shining light on new subtext. (It’s about silencing certain groups and fake news and construction of false narratives/images, right?)
In any case, “Defying Gravity” always makes me emotional, but it’s punching especially hard right now. No, you’re crying.
Just you and I defying gravity,
With you and I defying gravity,
They’ll never bring us down.
Yes, this post is late. I got back from Readercon on Saturday night, and proceeded straight from the airport to Postscript, the Toronto Fringe patio/general hangout area. Then we had our final show Sunday afternoon, followed by one last night of Fringing.
Monday was mostly naps and lounging, to be honest.
But here we are! Fringe and Readercon both behind us! It’s an awful lot of emotion for any one blog post, but I do want to say this:
I am so very, very lucky in my friends and communities.
Fringe first: I couldn’t believe the support given to Six Stories, Told at Night. From the GoFundMe to the general logistical assistance, from everyone who came out to see the show (and some of you travelled a long way, I know!) and everyone who held our hands and told us that everything would be Okay—we’ve been overwhelmed with your kindness.
So thank you. Truly, sincerely, deeply—thank you.
And then I went to Readercon, where I caught up with wonderful old friends, met amazing new ones, and plunged headfirst into insightful, well-organized programming. Again, I felt swaddled with kindness and care. The writing and theatre communities share a lot of similarities ; this support is certainly one of them.
You’re all awesome. That’s my point here.
Now, more general updates: there are still some GoFundMe rewards to deliver! Specifically, the Super Secret Magic Seventh Story and Coxwood 2.0. What’s going on there?
The seventh story is mostly figured out (in my head, at least). We have a plan for recording it. I just need to write it. Because my 2018 is ridiculous, I have a major deadline on August 1st. I’m trying to write this story alongside that work, but it may need to wait just a few more weeks. But it is definitely on my radar.
Coxwood 2.0 is also on my radar, never fear! It’s going to be later in the year, though. Once the ridiculousness of summer dies down, I’ll be reaching out to actors and seeing what sort of cast we can put together. A gentle reminder that it won’t be as long as Season One…but I have some ideas percolating. It’s gonna happen. Don’t fret.
That’s it for now, I think. Blythe and I have some loose ends to tie up and some plans to bash out. No rest for the wicked, after all.
But we are really, really happy. That’s my other point. The Toronto Fringe has been the most challenging experience of my creative life—but also the most rewarding. I am so incredibly proud of our scrappy underdog play. The reviews speak for themselves!
Originally a podcast drama, this adaptation makes rollicking, enjoyable show…it’s clear that Bryski is a storyteller to watch. (NOW Magazine, NNNN review)
A love letter to broken hearts and letting go, to ambiguity and formation, this is a rich, complex play that had many an audience member discretely dabbing at tears. (Mooney on Theatre, “Rave Review”)
The folding paths through which the play presents itself are prevented from getting too murky or confusing through the anchor of the intensely realized, warts and all friendship portrayed by the leads, Blythe Haynes and Alexandra Milne. The heart of an almost delicately intricate, multi-narrative sequence remains throughout the emotional ties between two young women… (My Entertainment World)
Of course, none of that would be possible without amazing people. In addition to the love from our community, we are so grateful for the hard work, dedication, and professionalism shown by staff and volunteers at the Toronto Fringe and Theatre Passe Muraille. We literally couldn’t do it without you!
And there’s our creative team: cast, crew, and everyone who helped along the way. You gave your hearts and souls to this story, and we couldn’t be more thankful.
And of course, my creative partner-in-crime, who’s been with Six Stories from the beginning.
In my head, I see Six Stories as a scruffy little waif who runs around punching things. We can’t wait to see where the journey takes us next.
What I’m Listening To This Week
A little Lord of the Rings music. I’ll be moving to a hobbit hole soon, so it only seems fitting!
SIX STORIES, TOLD AT NIGHT opens this Thursday. That doesn’t seem entirely real.
But the show’s in great shape. Right now, it sits at a comfortable eight minutes below the time cut-off. The costumes look amazing. The set’s built. We’ve found all the props. We’ve run the sound/lighting cues at Theatre Passe Muraille – and the venue managers have greenlighted all of our fight scenes and intimacy choreography.
And ohhhhh, my friends. That moment. That moment, when the theatre was still in blackout, and everything was still—that moment when the first notes of the Six Stories theme played over TPM’s sound system—
It was freaking awesome.
So what I’m saying is, we’re ready. We’re so ready.
Why am I nervous?
Because it feels like stepping off a cliff, I guess. It’s here, it’s really happening, people are really coming to see our show. This one story made of many stories that grew from scratches in a notebook to…all of this.
But anyway. There’s a podcast coming on Wednesday, so I don’t want to repeat myself too much. For now…
Here’s the link for tickets. And also, our schedule:
Thanks, everyone. Your support means the world to us.
What I’m Listening to this Week
The Ralph Vaughan Williams streak continues, this time with “Five Variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus.’” I love the richly bowing strings, the way it sometimes feels nearly like Elgar…
Hey pals! It’s the end of June, and you know what that means!
Obligatory birthday post!
Yes, yes, my birthday isn’t until Thursday (Turning 27! Whoo!). But next Monday brings us awfully close to the Toronto Fringe, so I figured I’d squeeze the birthday philosophizing in today.
So I’m going to be honest. This is a time of intense transition and transformation. Home, work, life -everything has felt the effects. My solid ground has turned to shifting sands, and quite frankly, it’s terrifying.
You see, I’m the kind of person that set down roots. Deep roots, intense roots. I build routines and systems. When those get disrupted – when I’m uprooted, when the patterns change – I feel terribly discombobulated. It’s almost like I use those roots and routines to anchor myself. When too much changes too rapidly, it feels like I’ve been cut loose on endless ocean.It feels like drowning.
Perhaps that’s an apt metaphor. Look at the symbolism water carries with it. Water is chaos, the “formless deep.” Water is death.
Water is also a womb, All life springs from the ocean. If we’re going to broaden the metaphor, mythology is filled with a descent to the underworld – or the ocean’s darkest places – followed by death and rebirth. From Inanna to Jonah, for the true self to be born, death must happen first.
As wiser people than me have said, transformation is a kind of death.
So much talk of death for a birthday post! But that’s where stories and mythologies are useful. They give form and the illusion of narrative structure to a universe that has little of either.
(To be clear: we’re only discussing death on a metaphorical/archetypal level here.)
Looking at my past birthday posts, there’s a constant refrain. I didn’t feel fully-formed. I knew something was missing. Something was immature, unfinished. I knew I wasn’t yet myself, not entirely. It was a caterpillar phase, I guess.
And now –
Now, I think this is the formless deep. And that word “formless” strikes me pretty hard– life certainly feels formless at the minute! This is the chrysalis, the underworld, the chaos and destruction at the end of a long cycle of stability.
But from all of that…from all of that, new life always springs. As uncomfortable as transition is, I really do think it’s bringing me closer to the person I really am. And I think the lessons from earlier in my twenties have laid a solid foundation for finding that KT. De profundis, right? “Out of the depths” has always been a personal motto of sorts.Now we see it in action!
I’m still hopeful about the year ahead. When I’m not fretting, I’m actually quite excited. We’re getting closer to…to whatever it is, this thing on the horizon. A new chapter is starting. We just have to get there.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Choir gives me many things…and I greatly appreciate the music it brings me. The right piece tends to find me at the right time. My voice does not fit spirituals easily, but it is some of the most comforting and viscerally emotional music I’ve heard.
I ran into an old friend yesterday:
There’s been a street festival running all weekend. And it’s a true neighbourhood street festival: the kind where Italian grandmas pull passerby into their dancing and magicians pull quarters from kids’ ears. The secondhand bookstore had its one-dollar boxes out – and there, staring at me, was Old Bear.
I stopped dead. The plot eluded me (as it turns out, the toys rescue Old Bear from his attic seclusion), but the characters popped up, vivid as they were in childhood.
Old Bear. Little Bear. Bramwell Brown. Rabbit. Duck.
I hesitated for the briefest moment – and then I bought it. You see, I have a belief about secondhand bookstores. They help the right books find you at the right time. You can’t always force it. And when they’re sending you a message, it’s best not to ignore it.
So now I’m reunited with a book I haven’t seen in at least twenty years. Partly, I just wanted it in my life again. And partly, I’m storing it for some future child – maybe my own, maybe a niece or nephew, maybe a friend’s child. “Look,” the instinct runs. “Look, this book held magic for me – maybe it will for you, too.”
Some magic is a private thing. Some magic yearns to be shared. Childhood books definitely belong in the latter camp, at least for me.
I got another book as well. This one wasn’t in the festival bins. It was inside, along the wall of fantastika. My heart leaped to see it. (This bookstore generally has a thorough collection of Andrée Norton, Robert Silverberg, A.E. van Vogt, and others of that vintage, but slightly less fantasy.)
Nineteenth century British fantasy:
Same message, same instinct. The right book at the right time, the perfect counterweight to my ongoing Southern Ontario Gothic ponderings.
Except it wasn’t a loonie. It was $25. Which – there’s a few upcoming books I want sooner than the library can get them. Trail of Lightning, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, A Cathedral of Myth and Bone…
So I put it back on the shelf, looked at the Tolkien editions beside it, and then circled around again. But it’s best not to ignore a bookstore’s message. At last, I took a deep breath and approached the counter.
“Great stuff in here,” the bookseller said.
“Yeah, for sure. It’s got Goblin Market.”
“It’s twenty-five dollars…” He hesitated. “Actually, today, it’s eighteen.”
Some magic yearns to be shared. Stepping back into the sunlight and the festival, I felt lighter. Sometimes, it is important to remember that such magic exists. And our instinct to spread it gives hope indeed.
What I’m Listening To This Week
Still digging the Holst and Vaughan Williams. This week it’s been “I Love My Love,” which has a very catchy melody and chilling lyrics. It’s one of those folk songs that’s a story set to music. The treble echoes around 1:30 and 3:30 are particularly haunting.