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Shaping Stories

I finished the initial read-through of the Beer Magic novel this week. At this stage, that’s just a simple read for overall content; I need to get a sense of the novel in its entirety before I can pinpoint its weaknesses. Mostly, I flagged plot snags and weak patches as I went:

 

 

And I noted things to explore in more depth later:

 

 

But when I finished the read-through, I still wasn’t sure what the key to the novel was. I hadn’t found it—the truth that will steer the novel to its final form. I didn’t know what the novel’s thing was.

See, my long-form fiction pieces all have things associated with them. Hapax is a line of falling dominoes. Heartstealer is a lobster trap. Six Stories, Told at Night is a Ferris wheel. Do these images ever explicitly appear in any of those works?

No. That imagery isn’t for the reader. It’s for me. It’s how I hold the entire story in my head, and how I figure out the structure. If I know what the novel is—I know its DNA. The entire story unlocks itself.

I’ve got a novel in the trunk that never found its shape. It shows: that novel has a deep structural flaw, it kind of meanders about, and while I still love it (as you do), it never cohesively hung together.

So what’s Beer Magic?

After thinking it over, I realized a common element between my other novel’s “objects.” Falling dominoes, lobster trap, Ferris wheel—they’re all active objects. None of them just sit there. None of my novels are stones, or couches, or spoons. They all have a goal attached to them—they do things.

And they act upon the reader. They represent how I want to move the reader through the novel. The object is the end goal, an invisible structural principle that underlies the entire story.

The Beer Magic’s object was on the tip of my tongue last night, but I had to sleep. Lying in the dark, I kept thinking, and thinking, and then…

You know those funnel-shaped black hole demonstrations? Like the one at the Ontario Science Centre? You launch marbles into the machine and they spin around and around, always inevitably drawn to a centre point?

I liked it. I latched onto it. But when I woke up this morning, I thought of something else:

The labyrinth at Chartres cathedral.

Labyrinth of the Chartres Cathedral in France (Sylvain Sonnet/Corbis, via http://www.smithsonianmag.com)

Walking the labyrinth is a spiritual exercise. Symbolically, it combines a circle’s wholeness with the inexorable forward momentum of a spiral. Once you enter the labyrinth, you’re drawn inevitably towards its centre, even when the path seems to verge further away from it. The Chartres labyrinth is also a fine example of spiritual geometry: it’s built along a cruciform shape, with four quadrants, and an invisible 13-pointed star underpinning the entire structure.

I also love this note from another labyrinth: The centre of the circle is geometrically the point of perfect balance, also called the “still point.

The black hole machine and the labyrinth have a commonality, of course: that inescapable pull to a central point.

I’m really excited for these revisions now.

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

I love folk songs and drinking tunes. They touch the same nerve that fairy tales do—and they’re often stories themselves, set to music.

 

 

Birthday Thoughts

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 realuntil 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?

2017 on the left; 2012 on the right. Evidently, five years is longer than it feels.

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.

KT

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.

End of An Era

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.

The view in Dunedin was nice, though.

The view in Dunedin was nice, though.

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.

Second2

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.

Desk2015

I will miss you, little blue room. We’ve had some good times. But I won’t be far away.

-KT

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?

 

 

 

 

Spring Cleaning on the Site!

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?).

See, I simultaneously never grew up...

Inside, I’m simultaneously the kid who never grew up…

 

..and this.

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.

Slide1

Slide2

Because that’s not creepy at all…

 

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…

Um.

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!

-KT

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Go away, I’m reading!” DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT and Me

Between two internships, Stonecoast, and my own writing, it’s been a busy week. And it’s only going to get busier, because DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT is out on Tuesday!

I haven’t been this excited (or this obsessive) since the release of HAPAX.

dawnsearlylight

About halfway through my stay in Virginia, Pip and Tee tossed me an ARC and said, “Yeah, you should probably read that.” Now, I’d been eyeing the giant flipping box of ARCs in the basement since the day I arrived, but I was too nervous to ask for one. But once it was in my eager little hands, I settled myself on the couch with a contented sigh.

“Whoa,” Tee said at one point, peering over. “You’re tearing through that.”

“Mm-hmm.”

A while later, he cleared his throat. “So—let’s get back to InDesign. We can set up the templates for WEATHER CHILD.”

Or something like that. Eliza was enjoying her first real taste of American “hospitality,” which happened to involve a fight scene, and it was very exciting. I wasn’t really listening.

Tee sighed. “Here, what page are you on? Ok. When you finish that chapter, we’ll go down.”

“But—”

“Don’t make me take that book away, young lady!”

So I finished the chapter and closed the book with a dramatic, exaggerated sigh. Of course, I was happy to do more layout work—I’d never actually be obstinate with my hosts and mentors. But still…those first five chapters had woken a weird, persistent itch. I’d left Eliza contemplating a new revelation, and she and Wellington needed to actually communicate with each other because the tension between them was driving me slowly but surely mad, and I was very aware of mines planted in earlier chapters that were waiting to go off later in the plot (metaphorical mines—it’s always a good idea to specify when dealing with Eliza D. Braun).

I needed to read more.

This one is mine. Get your own copy!

This one is mine. Get your own copy!

After dinner, instead of writing, I settled on the couch again. It was lovely and quiet, with Pip and Tee tapping at their own laptops and Sophia del Morte watching and plotting.

“Hey Katie, where are you now?”

I’m reading!

The next day found me back in the same spot. Pip was writing on the couch opposite me. Suddenly, I stopped reading with a gasp. I put the book down and gaped at Pip.

You guys had Edison [PLOT POINT REDACTED]?!”

She flashed a guilty smile.

There was another book that I was meant to be reading for Stonecoast. This is where I’m responsible, set DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT aside, and do my schoolwork, right?

Heck no! This is where I email my mentor saying, “Hello! I know you wanted me to write an imitative annotation this month…but can I write one on this book instead??”

Fortunately, she said yes. Which means that DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT was used in an academic paper before it was even officially released.

The rest of the day passed in a blur of hypersteam, explosions, historical personages, and crafty (figurative) Easter eggs. Here’s the thing, though: DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT is a lot of fun. No question about that. But there’s a real emotional heart to the story as well. During the big, climactic scene…well, my eyes got misty.

That’s right. I’m not ashamed of my tears. Although I did try to be subtle about them—after all, the authors were right there. And I’m also not ashamed to admit that I just looked up that scene for reference and instantly felt like I’d been stabbed again.  

And for me, that’s the real strength of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences in general and DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT in particular. You care. You care about these characters and their world so damn much. I was nineteen when PHOENIX RISING came out, so while I haven’t grown up alongside Eliza and Wellington quite the same way I did with Harry Potter, I think that we have developed together—settling into our respective skins.

As the novel ended, I could almost hear the ominous chords, the rumble of oncoming thunder.

When the fourth book comes out, I’m not waiting. I’m diving into that box of ARCs the minute I see it.

-KT

Of Dead Laptops and Back-ups

So, my laptop died.

It was never quite the same after I mailed it home from New Zealand. For a while, I had one consistently good USB port, one which was dodgy, and one dead. Then the other day, I noticed that my laptop wasn’t charging…even though it was plugged in.

Unplugging, re-plugging, and all sorts of fiddling did nothing. To make matters even more fun (whee!), I’m currently in Virginia on a three-week interning spin with my dear friends Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris. So, a bit far from home.

Fortunately, Pip and Tee are wonderful people. They drove me to Best Buy and waited while the Geek Squad determined that they might be able to ship my laptop back to Canada, where Future Shop might be able to possibly replace the power port to maybe extend my laptop’s life another couple of weeks.

And then they patted my shoulder as I coughed up the money for a new laptop.

There is never a good time, but this could have been better (oh hai, MFA tuition). But the most striking part of this whole experience was transferring the files from the old machine to this new one. The issue wasn’t one of space (again, wonderful friends that Pip and Tee are, I had the use of all the external drives I could ask for).

No, the main issue was time. Once that battery goes, the old machine’s done.

(And yes, I know about pulling hard drives…but I’m in Virginia. I’m not sure how or if I can get the old laptop home.)

So it was like standing in a burning house, wondering, “What do I save? What do I grab first? What can I leave behind?” All the while knowing that every second of indecision brings you closer to that final shutdown.

It’s probably the historian in me, but I like having links to my own past. Detailed records, a personal archive that is there, even if I rarely dip into it. Maybe it’s a security thing, knowing that I can always reconstruct things if necessary.

Obviously, getting the writing to safety is always top priority when things get squirrelly, which is why I’m actually pretty good about backing things up.

Pictures and music vied for second place. A 2011 family trip to Costa Rica, the last we took before my dad died. My New Zealand photos. Even just images for Black Creek and this blog – more a matter of convenience and posterity, but still.

iTunes is fine, so I grabbed whatever extra stock music and sound effects I could. Luckily, I pulled the raw Hapax files ages ago (they were large and numerous), precisely because of this fear of, “What if I need to go back in one day?”

That’s a fear I face now, with the videos. I got the final cuts of all my Black Creek videos, but very little raw footage or sound files. I can’t see why I would ever need to rebuild those videos from scratch, but if ever someone asked, I probably couldn’t. That worries me, even though it’s completely irrational. Again, I blame my historian streak.

But at the end of the day, the important things are really the things that are me. The writing, the music, the photos. Most other things can be found again, edited again. Music is challenging to replace; writing and photos can be almost impossible.

Which is why I will give the customary “Back your stuff up” speech. When my laptop died, I already had the entirety of my fiction backed up elsewhere. I did go back for a few university essays, but the writing was safe.

Most of my photos are on Facebook (though there are always strays). I’ve used Google Drive more and more lately; it holds the music for the kids’ opera, the videos, and a few other random documents. I have my own intern Dropbox now.

It’s easier than ever to protect your data. Yes, emergencies happen. Yes, the unforeseen is…well, unforeseen. But if you can take any steps to mitigate potential disaster (knowing it’s not always possible)…then please, save yourself the heartache later.

Here are some photos that I would have been sad to lose.

KT

069

Dad tanned. I do not.

Arriving at the Dunedin flat. Too mundane for Facebook, but it brings me right back.

Arriving at the Dunedin flat. Too mundane for Facebook, but it brings me right back.

I like the perspectives no visitors see.

I like the perspectives no visitors see.

I do like the furballs...

And I do love the furballs…

A Writer’s Education

So, Stonecoast:

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’?

(2006)

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…”

“The Stone is gone. We’ve got to get out, the ghosts don’t like us.”

“Ghosts?”

“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….

(2007)

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.

(2010-2011)

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—

“Sleeping, skin-and-bones?”

(2013)

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?”

“Yes.”

Aislinn turned aside. “Then you forgive easier than me.”

(2014)

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.

And write.

-KT

Things That Make Sense to Authors

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:

SerafineFanArt1

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.

This:

HSTimeChart

This:

NotecardPlotting

And this:

HapaxChartofAwesome

This, too:

TeeandMee

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:

What’s in a Name?

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.

9781897492529-FRONT

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. 🙂

–        KT