It’s been a hard week for writing. Don’t get me wrong: lots of writing is happening. But there are so many different projects going on, I struggled to steal a few hours to write a short story. And then, when I finally sat down at my computer, the words wouldn’t come. I wrestled it like Jacob with the angel, eked out 1500 words, decided they were terrible, started again and got 1400…
And I’m back to square one.But I also think I have sorted out what’s wrong with the story. You see, I had to remind myself of two major lessons this past week…
This is a lesson I’ve been learning from my dive into CanLit. Alice Munro does this incredibly well. A woman goes to meet a man in Stratford, and it’s devastating. A young girl kissed a pilot decades ago, and your heart breaks. They’re plots that loop back upon themselves, layering in backstory and inferences. And these small, mundane tragedies, once magnified, become absolutely epic.
Similarly, I finished Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel yesterday. In simplest terms, an old woman flees into the woods and remembers her life.
You guys, I cried so much.
Narrowed focus. Details that catch and tear like fish-hooks. These are stories that dive deeper and closer, spiralling like a Mandelbrot set.
That’s what I want to explore. For now, anyway.
You can only write your stories.
Of course, when the thread of the story snapped, I threw myself into a tailspin. Obviously, the problem was me. My story doesn’t have the gut-wrenching emotion of Keri Hulme. Or the intellectual depth of Theodora Goss. Or the hypnotic quality of Cat Valente. Or the weirdness of Kelly Link, or the sheer storytelling oomph of Kij Johnson, or the beautiful cruelty/cruel beauty of Aimee Bender.
Of course it doesn’t. I’m not those writers.
I’m KT Bryski. Whatever I write has to come from me. In the end, it has to be my voice, my heart, my story.
And I thought: what did I write, before the stress and tension took hold? What did I write before I was afraid? What did I write when no one was watching?
I went back to one of my few pre-Stonecoast short stories: “After the Winds,” in When the Hero Comes Home Vol. II. Guess what I found?
A northern village.
The yearning for home.
Motifs of breaking free, healing, and finding one’s place.
It was all there. Those are the things that constitute the heart of me. While I’d do some things differently now, it was good to see that, really—I know who I am. I know what matters to me. It’s all there inside: I just need to trust it.
And so I’d add…
Keep Going.Go smaller.
Tell your stories.
We got this.
What I’m Listening to this Week
“Vale Decem” from Doctor Who, because the following line from “The End of Time” popped into my head:
This song is ending, but the story never ends.
This is a transitional time. Some songs are ending, which is painful and exhausting. But the story—the story never ends. Also, add an extra 10 points to this piece for an ethereal countertenor.
Tonight is my last night in my little blue room.
I moved into this house four years ago with two boys. One of them was my friend’s boyfriend, and I’d met the other once at a party. They were desperate for a third person, I was desperate for housing: I won out over another person primarily because I don’t smoke. We were supposed to stay there for two years—until we finished our undergrads—and then go our separate ways.
Instead, I was the one constant in a revolving door of roommates. Some were good; others, less so. I always liked the dynamic I had with the first two boys. I love the stability and laid-back dynamic my current housemates bring. The ones in-between—well, that’s in the past now.
But I’ve always been here, in this room. I loved the colour the moment I walked in: pale blue, with a damask pattern on one wall. In this room, I got the email accepting Hapax for publication. I’ve produced many, many podcasts; written many essays; ploughed through Heartstealer; enjoyed countless cups of tea and conversation with friends.
It’s been my space. My room. While I was in New Zealand, I missed it bitterly. (My room in Dunedin was yellow. It was nice, but it was never really mine. Not the way this room is mine.) To put it in perspective, I’ve been in this room about half as long as I stayed in my room in my Mom’s current house, the one I consider my childhood home.
And it’s my last night.
It’s a strange feeling. It doesn’t quite feel real, yet. Of course, tomorrow night, I’m going to sleep here, in this small blue room with its east-facing window, because that’s what I do, right? That’s what I’ve always done, for the past four years…
Mind you, I’m not moving very far. Just up a flight of stairs to the one-person apartment on the top floor. See, I’ve been in this house for four years, and I’ve fallen in love with the neighbourhood. The woman in the shoe shop down the street calls me “ragazza” and helps me find “business shoes, you pay good price, your boss thinks you’re one million dollars.” The gents in the second-hand bookstore keep their eyes open for books on beer and brewing. I’ve got my pal and writing buddy Erik Buchanan two streets away.
Plus, my landlord is sane and reasonable. Not always a guarantee in Toronto.
So when the top-floor apartment became available, I jumped. Yes, it’s small. Yes, it’s odd. Yes, it’s a garret. But it’s a one-person garret. When my housemates finish their graduate degrees and move on in September, I can stay. Not in my small blue room, perhaps, but in my weird, rambling house.
It’s funny. Almost everything important in my life was meant to be temporary. This house was supposed to be a two-year spin, at best. Now, it looks like I’ll be here for the foreseeable future. I planned to sing with the choir at Grace Church for four months. Six years on, and I’m getting confirmed at the end of May. Black Creek was a summer job. Going into my fifth season, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Heck, even the brewery was meant to be a one-off thing.
Somehow, imperceptibly, almost without realizing, I’ve put down roots. In no way does my life resemble the life I imagined when I first stepped into my dormitory room in first year. But that’s okay. I don’t think I had a good vision of what I wanted my life to look like then, anyway. Back then, it was about survival, nothing more.
Nevertheless, I certainly didn’t foresee this. I didn’t foresee these friendships, or these career plans, or this little blue room in a weird rambling house on a leafy green street.
The move tomorrow feels a bit like a sea-change. There will be chaos, and anxiety, and discomfort, and probably clipped tones and tears. But it’s not an ending. It’s not even a sequel. It’s simply the end of a chapter.
I will miss you, little blue room. We’ve had some good times. But I won’t be far away.
What I’m Listening to This Week
My first year with Grace Church, we went on a choir tour to New York City. I was all of eighteen, which meant that I counted officially as a member of the “women’s choir,” and thus did not need a chaperone. You know, unlike those tiny seventeen-year-olds in the “children’s choir.”
Anyway, we sang a few services in the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, a truly massive cathedral that provided my model for the Ecclesiat in Hapax. One of the pieces we did came from the film The Shadowlands—“Veni Sancte Spiritus,” by George Fenton.
I love the chant feeling in this piece. Although it starts with tenors, I usually sing it up the octave, by myself, at all hours. Although the back-and-forth between the ATB parts is interesting, we really get rolling once the sopranos enter around the 0:50 mark.
Incidentally, the climbing intervals and high note in the soprano solo is really fun to sing. No, I’ve never had the solo myself…just around the house. And we end on a high, solid Amen. What more can one ask for?
You may notice this site looks different.
Oh man, this overhaul was so incredibly overdue. I’d not been happy with this blog for…well, too long. The tipping point came when I looked at the banner on Tee’s site and realized, “Wait a second – I know how to do that now. I could do that!” The roomies and I attacked our house pretty good for spring cleaning, so why not go after my online home the same way?
Besides, I figured it was about time to think about the future, and this site was looking a little antiquated. You guys, I’ve been blogging here since I was twenty. I’m 23 in a few months. Also, while I tend to start adding a year onto my actual age about three months before my birthday, this year has been worse – in my head, for reasons unknown, I’m suddenly 24. Because I’m crotchety like that. I know that if I say, “I’m getting old,” I will be smacked six ways from Sunday…but time is passing. I’m getting older (happy?).
So I sat down and had a good think. And also, some ginger slice. What directions am I moving in now? What are my plans for the rest of 2014? What do I want to write?
I keep coming back to the Victorian Dark Fantasy. Ye gods, I had SO MUCH FUN writing that. I’m having SO MUCH FUN editing it. And then, there are vague stirrings of another Victorian-ish world rumbling ’round the back of my head; something set in Magical 1870s Toronto. And then, there’s the steampunk….
So I think we can safely say that Victorian-flavoured fantasy is a persistent preoccupation for me. Bearing that in mind, I started looking for cool fonts (Tales from the Archives has its own font; I wanted one, too!).
Looking through them all…I imagine it was very much like when normal people go dress-shopping. I got to try on all sorts of different ones, searching for the one that felt right, the one that said…me. Or KT Bryski. Either way.
I liked this one. See, isn’t it cool? Also, while it’s wayyyyy too early to make anything like these…I made these. The Victorian Dark Fantasy makes me too excited.
Even though 2013 was a lost year in my books, I still did some things, and those also needed to be recognized. I have a handy Fiction page now, which I’ve updated to include things besides Hapax. I’ve sold three short stories! And…erm, I’ve only ever written three short stories…
Which means that more short fiction is on the books (heh) for 2014 as well. The more I do it, the more I like it, and I’d like to have more than three in my repertoire. Doesn’t matter if my streak continues (and it won’t – my supply of horseshoes is going to run out eventually), I’d just like the experience of having written them.
Plus, over the past two years, I’ve started doing other stuff. It’s important, I think, for us to remember the things that don’t fit in the usual box we assign ourselves. I write a beer blog. I do freelance editing (for reasonable rates!). Apparently, I write opera libretti and games. Yeah, I was a wee bit surprised by that, too. One of my big fears of leaping into writing so early was that I’d have one story in me – flash in the pan, young author, didn’t live up to her potential.
Who knows? But right now, I feel stable and supported, and I’m raring to go. The last of the winter detritus has been swept away, and this weekend is kind of about rebirth anyway, right?
Let us spring forth!
I just returned from my first Stonecoast residency. They set an exhausting pace; it was like a cross between Hogwarts, bootcamp, and a ten-day-long con. Now I work with my mentor for six months, until the next residency.
As much as I’m enjoying Stonecoast thus far, I want to think about other ways to learn. After all, Stonecoast is only two years. A writer’s education continues forever.
I was always the weird kid scribbling stories at the back of the classroom, but I was fourteen when I made the conscious decision to write with an eye to making this a career. Not at fourteen: I never wanted to be a teenage author. But eventually, someday.
And so, I learned. First by reading. I read books on how to write a novel. I read books on being a writer and the creative life. I trawled through websites and writing forums. Said is better than declared, intoned, uttered, or (heaven help me), ejaculated. Agents want your manuscript to be done. Conflict, conflict, conflict. You shouldn’t have characters named John and Joan in the same story. A novel is technically 40,000 + words, but realistically, most run 80,000-120,000.
I wrote a detective story set in 1880s Paris:
Amélie released an almost imperceptible sigh and took Philip’s arm. He expected to go down to the basement again, but perhaps mindful of his dislike of the depressing labyrinth, Amélie instead whisked him to a room near the top of the theatre cluttered with junk. “My office,” she said proudly
“Really?” Philip asked, glancing at the piled-up boxes and props
“No, it’s just one of the many deserted and forgotten offices. So,” she sat behind the desk and rested her chin on her hand, “are you going back to London?”
“My dear girl, I should think not!” He bit back a laugh; she bore an uncanny resemblance to Wallace, sitting like that. “Not while there’s work to be done here.”
“Bon.” A warm glow came into her eyes. “Or should I say ‘capital’?
It wasn’t very good, but I finished it. It was 22,000 words.
Then I discovered these new things called podcasts. Something called The Writing Show popped up first. It was all right; it had a lot of the same information as the books and websites. Then I noticed something called I Should Be Writing.
The woman that hosted ISBW had good information too, but she also made me laugh. A lot. And she was a wannabe writer as well! Just like me! Admittedly, Mur was further along than I was, but she was facing a lot of the same challenges. I learned more. You’re allowed to suck. Even if you’re afraid that an idea has been done, you should write it anyway, because your version will be different. Everyone feels imposter syndrome.
I wrote a fantasy novel, in which an aristocratic girl chafing against society’s restrictions teams up with an ostracized selkie to find three artifacts with the potential to upend magic as they know it.
A slap brought him to his senses. Caora leaned over him, hand drawn back to deliver another one. Adek blocked his face, saying, “What did you do that for?”
Caora’s eyes were red and he could feel the heat of her flushed cheeks. “We have to get out of here,” she said.
“The Stone is gone. We’ve got to get out, the ghosts don’t like us.”
“I’ll explain later. Come on, Adek!” She pulled him up and dragged him across the chamber. Golden light filled it, keeping sighing spectres from touching them. For a moment the cries of the gulls overwhelmed Adek, but then he remembered the Divine and forced himself to plod on. If what she and Caora were saying was true, than the man from Pearl River had two out of the three Stones. Adek’s spirit quailed. Unless they found the third Stone in time….
It was a little better, if derivative. It was 65,000 words. More importantly, there were secondary characters who took on lives of their own and some actual history and politics.
I Should Be Writing had commercials. Some were for other podcasts or websites. But some were almost like movie trailers, and they were very exciting. One day, I surrendered and said, “Fine, just what is this Morevi thing?”
And I discovered podcast novels.
They were awesome, because they were like a hybrid of books on tape and radio plays. The guy (T. Morris? He went by his initial, I guessed?) that wrote and read Morevi was a good actor, and I fell in love with the story. Then, listening to his commercials, I learned that the voice actress with the gorgeous accent also wrote! She wrote about Shakespeare, and she had done one of these podcasts, too! And in her podcast, some guy named Holyfield had also done one!
I consumed them. Morevi, Billibub Baddings, Chasing the Bard, Digital Magic, Weather Child, Heaven, Murder at Avedon Hill, Metamor City: Making the Cut, Nina Kimberly The Merciless, Cybrosis, Brave Men Run, Down from Ten, The Antithesis Progression, Ancestor, Seventh Son….
I learned that there are many different forms of storytelling. Social media offers so many opportunities; big and exciting new things are just around the corner. Most of these people go to “cons,” where they party but also work really hard. The writing world is miniscule, so you shouldn’t be a jerk (of course, you shouldn’t be a jerk in general). There are good ways to behave on social media, and there are bad ways. There is a whole community of writers.
I had a rough time in my last year of high school/first year of uni. I did not write.
And then I wrote a fantasy novel about the end of the world.
Praeton hoisted himself up on the window ledge. Something had spattered on the stone directly beneath it, just beyond the reach of his questing arms. He strained to see, balancing on his elbows, the windowsill cutting under his armpits. Then there were hands on his shoulders. He twisted around and found River steadying him. The gesture impressed him. Most grown-ups would’ve hauled him down.
With River holding him, he stretched his arm a little further and brushed the splatter. At first it felt warm, probably from the stones. Then pain erupted through his finger. He gasped, hugged it close to him. The skin flamed red and swollen. And, coating it, ugly red-black ooze.
“What’s wrong?” The urgency in River’s voice surprised him. She had been so calm before.
Suddenly his head felt very light. The corners of the room rushed away, and he sank to the floor, his back against the wall. Slowly, he lifted his finger to his face. The sharp tang of iron stung his nostrils. Blood.
Darkness devoured the edges of his vision. Somewhere, far away, he heard River calling. He wanted to answer, but his tongue flopped, his jaw wouldn’t unhinge. Then a deafening boom, thunder worse than all thunder combined, shattered his consciousness. Before blackness claimed him, a single word exploded in his skull: HAPAX.
It was 84,000 words long: at last, saleable length.
Because I had learned that Twitter is a good thing, I saw a tweet about an open submissions period at Dragon Moon Press—which I knew about from podcasters. I sent in my book, even though I was already podcasting it, because I didn’t expect it to get picked up.
Only then it did.
And so I learned that you should always read the whole email. Publishing takes a long time. Podcasting is a LOT of work, but it is some of the most fun you will ever have. Contracts are terrifying and exciting all at once. Authors need to do a LOT to promote their own work. Book launches are fun, but there is also intense pressure and a slight slump the next day.
I went to cons. There are good ways to behave. There are also bad ways. Some moderators guide panel discussions and ask probing questions, some try to make it all about them. If you ask people very nicely, they may help you out. Help others if you can. Authors, like actors, always say yes. Assume everyone knows everyone. Never assume someone has read your work. If necessary, you can survive off the food in the con-suite.
I wrote another fantasy novel. It didn’t work, so I focused on another.
My eyelids flickered. I tried to open them, but they were too heavy. I didn’t mind, though. I was sinking into the earth, not weighed down, but secured. A cloak of noises wrapped around me. I was a thread in it, too. My breathing and heartbeat, the rustling of my clothes, they were as much a part of Grey Run as the birds’ trilling.
“I’m ready, atu. I want to meet you.”
A twig snapped in the distance. Leaves crunched. The atu had to be here, somewhere. The atu had to be everywhere. There was something at the borders of my mind, something stirring. If I could just get a bit closer….
A harsher, louder snap.
If I could just get a bit closer, I’d see it, feel it.
Leaves rubbing together. Rhythmic sounds on the earth, soft and stealthy.
It was almost within my grasp. I just needed to stretch out my fingertips, just a little bit farther, because I could almost feel the atu, I was sure of it. It was here, and I was almost there with it—
I promise, I’m still working on the other one:
“The gods don’t listen.” The girl’s voice was stone. “Mostly, I don’t think they care.”
The breath fled Serafine’s lungs. No, this couldn’t be what they thought. “I know what it feels like,” she said softly. “I know what it feels like to shout at them, to ache with all your soul and get nothing. But never, ever believe that they don’t care. Not even for a moment. Promise me that, Aislinn.”
“Did they save your family?” It wasn’t asked harshly. No mockery sharpened the question. Aislinn simply stared at her with those wide, child-like eyes.
“No.” Serafine drew her hand back, clutched it close to her. Nervous, for once.
“Did you ask them to?”
Aislinn turned aside. “Then you forgive easier than me.”
From what I’ve seen, Stonecoast will be a great apprenticeship. Something else I’ve learned, though: writers never, ever stop learning. Pay attention. Watch what other people are doing. Watch how they are doing it. Listen to the currents of conversation. Read. Read more.
And also…conflict, conflict, conflict. You’re allowed to suck. There are many different forms of storytelling. Help others if you can.
It’s strange, chatting to the people in various spheres of my life. The verdict on 2013 seemed mostly unanimous: it was a year that knocked a lot of people flat. Sure, there were good moments, but the consensus generally seems to be cautious optimism to embrace the New Year.
I don’t usually do resolutions…but there are a few things to which I’m looking forward, and which I’d like to accomplish this year.
The Book Formerly Known as Strix
This. Book. Oh my God. This book. My frustrations with Strix are infamous. For whatever reason, this book kept kicking my knees in all through 2013. Fortunately, Gabrielle is a wonderful, patient editor who helped me morph it into a new book (albeit one with the same premise).
So far as I’m concerned, Strix is dead. Not every book lives, which is a terrible, hard thing to learn. But! But but but! I’m incredibly excited by this new book. Since there is no longer a strix in it (the adage “murder your darlings” became my personal mantra, chanted as I huddled in the corner of my darkened room), I can’t call it that anymore.
When it comes out depends on how fast I write. Possibly spring 2014? Whether I podcast it depends on too many factors to guess right now.
Victorian Dark Fantasies
I had so much fun writing the VDF. I think it’s a solid book and this year, my goal is to shop it around. We’ll see what happens. And since I realized halfway through that it’s not necessarily a standalone novel, a sequel may be in the cards.
After all, I’d love to send my dynamic duo south. There are more politics and history to explore there, and for one character, that lovely northern accent may start becoming a slight problem….
Back to School
When I graduated last June, I declared that I was taking a break from academia.
Then Stonecoast emailed.
And so in ten short days, I’ll be boarding a plane to Portland, ME, for my first Stonecoast residency. Doing my MFA there definitely falls into the “If You Told Me This Two Years Ago, I Would Have Laughed At You” file. I’m astonished and nervous and ridiculously excited and slightly sick to my stomach all at once.
My goals: learn stuff, write better, keep on top of everything.
God, I miss podcasting. I’m making more time for it in 2014. Mostly, things are in the “Seekrit Projikt,” “vague planning and idea-bouncing” stage, but expect more Canadian accents in your headphones this year.
Friends and Family and Such
At the end of my last grief counselling session, the therapist said, “Well! It sounds like you have some really good people around you.”
“Yes,” I answered, without missing a beat. “I do.”
2013 found me leaning on my friends far more than I’d usually be comfortable with. But they were there. You know who are you are, and I thank you with all my heart.
But being a functional human being and paying some of that kindness back/forward is a major life goal for me this year. For the first time since my dad died, I feel on an even keel. I feel capable of being a good friend and actually contributing to my various relationships again.
My metaphor for 2013 is thus. Imagine coming home and seeing a wrecking ball and gaping muddy pit where your house used to be. You’re shocked and devastated, and can’t conceive how this could happen. As you sort through the ruins, you realize that some things are too broken to save. Others are way stronger than you ever imagined.
Eventually, you clear out most of the wreckage. Then you find someone strengthened your existing foundations and installed some new ones, too. While the loss is heartbreaking, you can build something entirely new and utterly wonderful on top of it.
May 2014 be a year of building. All of my best, to all of you.
It looks like you’re playing Donkey Kong Country 2 for the umpteenth time while listening to opera on low, but you’re actually plotting a novel.
Lying flat on one’s back in the middle of the floor and engaging in long, rambling monologues about magic and theology is not crazy. Just working.
Engaging in long, rambling monologues about non-existent people’s personal problems while in the shower? You guessed it—also work!
When a character informs you that you’ve been spelling her name wrong, you thank her for the correction.
Reading books on the Revelations of Saint John the Divine and string theory for the same project.
The reason your beta reader has yet to respond is because they secretly hated your book. Actually, they probably secretly hate you as well, even though you’ve been friends for years. During periods of anxiety, this makes perfect sense. However, this IS crazy.
Coffee and tea are proof that God exists and wants us to be happy.
Characters have their own opinions on your iPod playlists. Your writing soundtracks, too.
Standing up in the middle of a crowded bar at a convention and declaring, “I need to be alone now.”
When an email from an agent/editor/publisher comes, and all you see is “DEAR AUTHORwordswordswordswordsNOT A FIT FOR US AT THIS TIMEwordswordswordswords.”
Alternatively, “DEAR AUTHORwordswordswordswords PLEASED TO ACCEPT YOUR SUBMISSIONwordswordswordswordswords.”
Meeting someone with the same accent as one of your characters, and listening hyper-intently to everything they say in an attempt to fix their speech patterns in your brain.
The irresistible lure of the conversation at the next table over.
The absolute squee that is fan art:
Having detailed plans to survive the zombie apocalypse. And escape from pirates. And to run away and flee across the country, evading the authorities and news media.
Arguing the semantics of politics/history/theology that you created.
The thrill of finding an image that IS your character/setting/whatever.
Blocked words = existential dread.
The simultaneous need for solitude and heartbreaking yearning for closeness.
“Sorry, mate, can’t make it tonight—I need to write.”
Converting between the Gregorian calendar and your characters’ calendar.
Getting notes: all of the terror and all of the excitement.
Workshopping: see above, except with more anxiety-induced nausea.
The mingled joy and jealousy when you read a book you wish you’d written.
Crying when terrible things happen to characters you like.
Being incredibly pleased when terrible things happen to characters you like.
Listening to the same song over and over, because it makes you feel something that’s the kernel of a story, if you could just put your finger on what that something is….
Spending an awful lot of time worrying about sound laws and vowel shifts.
As crushing as your first rejection was, you’re still proud of it.
Looking like you’re half-asleep on the bus, but really just talking to characters in your head.
Pens are just always there. Like oxygen. Except when they’re not, you panic. Also like oxygen.
Show, don’t tell, except when telling is really just the logical thing to do.
There’s no right way, only the way that’s right for you.
Googling questionable things in the name of research. Goat decapitations, anyone?
Using Google Street View to plot routes in cities you’ll never visit.
Counting people among your good friends when you’ve met them once in real life. Or not at all.
That instant, unmistakeable connection to other writers.
WHAT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE TO (MOST) AUTHORS:
It’s a sickening feeling when you realize your book doesn’t work.
Dread lodges in the pit of your stomach like a stone. You can try to deny it, you can try to push onwards, you can rationalize until you’ve nearly convinced yourself, but there’s no escaping the certainty:
The book doesn’t work.
I’ve started Strix for the third time. Third time through, third completely different story. Honestly, this is less rewriting, more throwing the book out and writing a brand-new one with the same premise. I’m finally liking it again, which is a HUGE deal for me. Rewriting was definitely the right choice.
But getting there – oh man, the most painful writing experience I’ve had yet. Though I’m still in the trenches, shell-shocked and clutching my rifle, I think I have a few battle scars. Possibly even a helpful word or two:
You are chained to nothing
Every draft of Strix, from the first half-hearted attempt I started before Hapax even sold, to the draft before this current one, started with the same sentence. Every. Single. Bloody. Time. I was chained to my protagonist, to the idea of what I wanted my protagonist to be, and when it became clear certain elements weren’t working, I shoehorned them in because I thought they “should” be there.
Don’t do this. The thing you most want to keep might be dooming your story over and over and over. “Murder your darlings,” be ruthless, and don’t be afraid to throw the kitchen sink out the window.
Why are you writing this?
That being said, you need to know why you are writing this story. What is the story’s heart, what is its essence that keeps you banging your head against it? That cannot get thrown out. Well, it can, but then you’re writing an entirely different book.
The premise of Strix is the same. The notion of a sweeping soteriological arc through my universe’s entire history is the same. That’s what drew me to it. I needed to keep that.
Nothing is wasted
I’ve lost count of my Strix drafts. I wrote 40,000 words of an early version before Hapax had even sold, then trunked it (even then, clearly, I knew something was wrong). Some elements from the official Strix 1.0 carried to Strix 2.0. Some elements from Strix 2.0 carry to Strix 3.0. Nothing from Strix 1.0 shows up in 3.0.
That’s ok. Because I couldn’t have written 2.0 without 1.0. They were practice drafts.
Think of the people you know. Friends, acquaintances, coworkers, neighbours, dog park pals, whatever. Is there someone who enjoys reading books like the books you write? Is it someone who is clever and insightful, who understands how stories work, who isn’t afraid to be honest, and whose opinion you value?
Approach them very nicely. Ask, very politely, if they will beta read for you.
And if they say yes—oh, it can be such a lovely relationship.
Beta readers catch things you won’t. They’ll read the story as readers, but informed and purposeful readers. I have several friends who are kind enough to read my early drafts and I’m incredibly grateful for them.
Of course, while you need people to ask the hard questions, you also need people who will hold your hand when it’s midnight and you’re sobbing at their kitchen table. Sometimes, if you’re very lucky (and I am), these people are one and the same.
Writing may look like a solitary occupation, but no one’s really alone in this.
Make yourself accountable
Which is what I’m doing right now. Here’s the deal: I leave for my very first Stonecoast residency on January 10th. I am not taking Strix with me. Not going to happen, I need it done before I leave.
Which means I need to reach the end of the story in a little under a month.
End of story.
By writing an average of 3000 words/day, I can make it. In the two nights I’ve been writing Strix 3.0, I’ve reached 6,600 words. So far, I’m on target!
But I am putting it here, on this blog, officially:
Done By Stonecoast
Hold me to this. And if you’ve got a project you need finished, January 10th is as good a deadline as any, right? Join the fun!
As you may have noticed, I write under the pen name “K.T. Bryski.” I’ve seen a few articles about pen names lately; specifically, about gender-neutral pen names. “K.T. Bryski” is gender-neutral, I guess. I could be Kevin Thomas Bryski. Or Katherine Tallulah Bryski. Or Kaye Taylor Bryski (if I wanted to be super, super gender-neutral).
In fact, I’m Kaitlin Elizabeth Bryski.
Let’s back up.
Growing up, I was always Kaitlin at school, and Katie or Kate at home. Don’t ask me why—the strict preference for Kaitlin in public was entirely my own doing, even though I never particularly felt like a Kaitlin. I was a very strange child.
When I was sixteen or so, I discovered that Katie felt much better. It was far too late for my high school—in that context, I remained Kaitlin right until graduation. But when meeting new people, I slowly started introducing myself as Katie. The real breakthrough came in university. Very few people knew me, so it was a new beginning: I was able to start off as Katie, instead of asking people to retrain themselves.
Of course, I’m still Kaitlin on the dotted line: contracts, grad school applications, resumes, my passport, etc. Since it is my legal name, it feels safer, though it frequently causes confusion. I submitted Hapax to DMP under “Kaitlin” and then had to explain why I signed subsequent emails “Katie” (because I hadn’t thought about it, was the short answer). Similarly, when I started at the living history museum, I was “Kaitlin” to my bosses and “Katie” to my coworkers. I remember Blythe stopping me on the boardwalk one morning and asking in exasperation, “But which do you actually prefer?!”
(Side note: everyone there calls me “Katie” now—even my official contract this year was for “Katie Bryski.” Not going to lie, it made me all happy inside.)
So what does all this have to do with K.T. Bryski? Why did I choose initials? Was I scared of writing sci-fi/fantasy under a female name? Did I want to sound older?
Actually, it’s a family joke.
See, “K.T.” sounds a lot like “Katie.” Remember I said that I was Katie at home? Well, growing up, my parents would refer to me as “KT” in notes around the house, in texts, and in emails.
KT, please let the cat out when you get home.
KT Dentist Appt: 1:30
C u soon KT!!!
I thought it was funny. And clever. When feeling rushed or informal, I’ll sign things KT. Although Katie is technically already my nickname, you can create an uber-nickname by calling me KT (amazing what that slight change in intonation does!). Eventually, I made it my email. And then, a few years later, I made it my pen name.
DMP asked if I’d be ok with another name on the cover. I thought about it, long and hard. As discussed, I didn’t feel like a Kaitlin, so that was out. Katie Bryski suits me fine, but I didn’t think it suited an apocalyptic fantasy with lots of fire and blood and death. Kate Bryski didn’t roll off the tongue well.
Thus, by process of elimination: K.T. Bryski.
And that’s the whole story.
I thought K.T. was funny. And it’s my nickname.
That’s all. 🙂
I’m in an anthology entitled “When the Hero Comes Home 2,” the second volume of the acclaimed “When the Hero Comes Home.” The Hero anthologies (along with “When the Villain Comes Home”) are about what happens after “ever after.” When the journey is over, the battle done, and the hero returns in victory or defeat…well, then what? Can you really come home again?
This theme is close to my heart; I got my invitation to submit only a few months after returning from New Zealand. So basically, the conversation went like this:
Gabrielle: Hey, Katie, do you write short fiction?
Me: Um…I could.
Gabrielle: You know you’re getting an invitation to Hero 2, right?
Me: I do now. (thinking) So, I totally just came home from a long adventure to the other side of the world….
I don’t usually gravitate towards writing short stories. But it’s something I’m trying to do more of, so I was really grateful for the opportunity to write something for Hero 2, especially because the theme was so meaningful to me. In the end, I’m quite pleased with the way my story (“After the Winds”) turned out. Things change while you’re away from home: not just for you, but for the people you left behind. How do you deal with the fact that you’ve all become different people who have grown in different ways, at different rates?
(And my usual rule applies: I’ll shamelessly borrow places (oh hai, NZ!), but nothing else.)
The coolest thing about Hero 2? All the other authors in there. There’s some serious talent here – I work with really cool people. 🙂
So where can you get this wonderful book? Well, it’ll be off the printer and on Amazon very shortly. In the meantime, the ebook version is available early…at a discount!
There’s also a Goodreads page!
And more excitement! Dragon Con is this upcoming weekend, and I will be there, despite the fact that my con preparation looks like this:
Oh, yeah, Dragon Con…mmm, that’ll be fun…
Hey, what day is my flight?
What TIME is my flight?
Lalalala, writing away on a new book…
…I guess I should edit Strix more, because I’ll see Gabrielle soon…
…at DRAGON CON! When is that, again?
I guess I should pack soon.
Where am I staying again?
Oh yeah. Ok. I know where that is.
Don’t I have a confirmation number or something? Hey, when do I need to be at the airport?
What’s my name? Who am I?
If you’re around, come say hi. I’ll have a few copies of Hapax on hand to sell in back alleys. I suspect I’ll be mostly lurking by the podcasting and alternate history tracks (not on any panels, but always looking to learn things!).
See you soon!