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The Other Part of It

‘Tis the season—I’ve just finished my annual writers’ retreat. As per usual, it was a week of fabulous friends, food, and words. Plus, beer and hot tubs. Rockstar life, basically.

I wrote last year about a moment I had at the retreat. It was one of those insights that cut to the quick. Towards the retreat’s end, I was sitting out alone in the hot tub…

It was nearing the golden hour, sunlight spilling over the mountains. The sky was endless, cloudless blue; the woods rang with the singing of birds and frogs. I settled into the hot tub with a book. My beer rested beside me.

And sitting there—sated with finished stories, dear friends typing inside, spring unfolding across the mountains—I could think only:

Enjoy this now. It won’t always be like this.

And I was right. Last year was rather a lot, and it was good to carry that moment inside me, returning to it whenever I felt like drowning in the midst of everything. This year, I had the mirror-version insight.

When the retreat finished, we broke the drive back from Tennessee into two parts. After a lovely dinner, I headed back to my hotel room—and crashed. Curled on the bed with some choral favourites, slightly dazed. For the first time all week, I was entirely alone. In the silence of my own thoughts, without friends around, I suddenly ached.

I missed my cat, down to the bone. I missed my choir friends and girlfriend and family. I missed my apartment and my own bed. After a fantastic (and full) week, I suddenly felt lonely.

But of course, I have novel rewrites due soon. So I sat in an American hotel room, booted up my computer, and got to work. Rockstar life, right? As I poked at revisions, the thought came—

This is the other part of it.

This is the rockstar life. This is part of the career I want.

See, sometimes creative life is hot tubs and intense productivity in the mountains. Or going to conventions and meeting cool writers and book people. Heck, sometimes it’s wandering in the woods and soaking in the trees.

But sometimes it’s getting work done…even in anonymous hotel rooms far from home.

Because it’s all about the work, in the end. Word by word, draft by draft. So this is going to keep happening. I want my writing career to include travel and work. Sitting there, I asked myself, “Are you good with this? Really, truly, are you good?”

And the answer was, “Yes.”

So this is the other part of it. I still wouldn’t change it for the world—but I’ll always love coming home.

-KT

PS. I suppose I ought to give a retreat report:

  • One story I need to trash
  • Two stories that are probably pretty close to done
  • One flash I’m unsure of
  • Two stories that need heavier revision
  • Also, novel rewrites.

What I’m Listening to this Week

Ah, Cherubino, the hormone-riddled adolescent boy most often played by a woman. He’s one of my favourite characters in opera; I love the fluidity of trouser roles. We’ve had a version of “Non so più” here before, but this is a wonderfully cinematic version that is queer af.

Sparking Joy

I don’t want to get into the Marie Kondo “you should only have thirty books” thing more than I already have, because I’ve been gnashing my teeth all week and the quote was taken out of context and it’s wrong. However, I was looking at my books and I got a pang.

I have a lot of books about the Victorian era, Toronto history, and beer. And just for a moment, the sad thought flashed across my mind, “I don’t need these anymore; that chapter’s done…”

But that’s ridiculous.

True, I’m not immersed in Victorian history in quite the same way. But that’s the beautiful thing about writing. All of our loves and interests filter down into the creative mulch. (Terroir is perhaps a fancier word, but I do think mulch more accurately describes the subconscious breaking-down-and-reconstituting of things.) As long as I keep writing about the time period, I don’t have to leave it.

In a way, this idea fits within Marie Kondo’s philosophy. The whole point of her system is that if it sparks joy, you keep it, whether that’s books or clothes or shoes. The same approach applies to writing. If robots fighting in space spark joy for you, you write about those robots and have fun. If magic beer in Victorian Toronto gets your heart beating faster, you rock on with that.

(I’ll be spending the next month or so on Beer Magic rewrites, incidentally.)

But also—

I think—

Sometimes we overlook the value of joy in and of itself. Things don’t always have to be useful. Some things just make you happy. Like this little guy:

And likewise, I think writers can get so tangled up in the grind, the self-doubt, and the relentless striving, we lose sight of what we really enjoy. Look into your mulch. What have you got down there, in the dark? There’s probably some stuff you can let go of—I certainly have motifs that I’ve outgrown.

But there are always the themes and images that sing to you, the ones that make you catch your breath and sit straighter in your chair. You know, the things that spark joy.

Those things? Yeah. Keep those.

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

Okay, okay, it’s so overdone…and I adore the Rossetti text in the original “The Rose”…

But this is nice with strings, too. 🙂

 

The Next Chapter

“Gahhhhhh KT, you left, why are you still talking about this?”

Because whilst I pretend to have a heart of ice, I’m actually the sappiest sap that ever sapped. Also, I needed time to process. You know how it is. Emotions, man. Emotions.

So as everyone knows, I left my museum dayjob at Christmas. And here’s the thing about that particular dayjob: you need to be a little bit in love for it to work long-term. It’s hard work—mentally, physically, emotionally—and in many ways, it’s not just a job. It really is like living in a small village.

When I started, I was nineteen years old and painfully shy. Like, painfully. So naturally, I got a job where I needed to initiate conversations with strangers all day long.

Best exposure therapy ever.

I honed those people skills at Black Creek, and then I took them to conventions. I transferred tour banter to presentations and workshops. I adapted my History Actor chatter for podcasts. It’s not overstating to say that the job changed me—it gave me the tools and support to find my voice. And then, to use it.

So I fell in love with the village. I still love it. After so long, how could I not? Every board, every nail, every twig. The bucolic setting and physical work intersected with my life at exactly the right time.I’ve always done better among trees; I’m always calmer outside my own head…

I loved autumn mornings, before anyone else had really arrived. I loved the roofs sheening against the blue October sky, the smoked tang of fall winds in my nostrils and leaves crunching underfoot. I loved the way the air stirred—the year turning, but not settling just yet—too much to do, yet. I loved going into my building and starting my fire, that first rush of heat warming cold fingers.

To the surprise of no one, this setting bled into my fiction a lot.

I run. Down the lane, towards the village proper. Chimneys stab the bright sky like fingers. No curls of smoke lie against the blue. At the blacksmith’s, I stop. Clanging metal shatters the muffled quiet. If he is working, the forge must be lit. It must be.

I creep inside his shop. Sunlight shines off whitewashed walls. The blacksmith stands over his anvil, striking again and again. As the floorboards creak beneath my feet, he glances up. Frost coats his cheeks so that they gleam.

#

She liked gardening, but baking was her favourite. In their house, Marie positioned a little table just so—close to the hearth, so the bread would rise better, but near enough to the window that the sunlight fell across her work, and she could gaze across the rippling barley to the forest on the far side.

#

One morning, Jean-Luc builds the fire high in the bake-oven. When it is this cold, the dough lies sluggish beneath his hands. As he kneads it, he glances out the window. A skeletal shape stands by the cottage opposite. He blinks, twisting for a better look, but then the door creaks and distracts him.

Black Creek has totally infused itself into my creative mulch. It’s part of my terroir now—I suspect my fiction will always carry the taste of wood-smoke.

And the people—

The people—

You could probably write a whole book just on the people. The strong female mentors who took me under their wings; the colleagues I laughed and drank with (at pubs, not onsite); the visitors who bemused and amused and very often moved me…

I’m richer for all of them.

(I almost forgot: working in the brewery sparked my fascination with beer, so there you go. An important hobby and facet of my author life, born at Black Creek!)

It was a wonderful place to work. It was a bizarre place to work. It was a beautiful playground to grow and explore and test myself.

For a very long time, it was home.

But it feels right, heading out now. It feels like I’ve spent the last eight years becoming this person, whoever I am now. With that complete, it’s time to see what this person can do. I’m already doing things for my new dayjob, there are so many adventures lined up for 2019, and I can’t wait to dive into this new chapter.

Thank you, Black Creek. Until we meet again!

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

Because reasons. 🙂

Style and Register

I’ve been rereading Ursula K. Le Guin’s excellent essay collection, The Language of the Night, most particularly “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie,” which examines the importance of language and style in writing fantasy. Le Guin’s main thesis is that fantasy isn’t defined so much by wizards and dragons. What makes it fantasy is the style: “The style, of course, is the book…If you remove the style, all you have left is a synopsis of the plot.” (Le Guin, The Language of the Night, p. 94).

She hastens to add, “I speak from the reader’s point of view. From the writer’s point of view, the style is the writer…Style is how you as a writer see and speak” (ibid).

Which is certainly true. Style can be learned, imitated, affected—but we all have a style that is uniquely us, as personal as our fingerprints or speaking voice.

But I was thinking—I have a story coming out in Lackington’s at the end of this month that’s a very different style than my other fiction. It’s contemporary and snappish (the editor called it “almost hardboiled,” which delighted me to no end). And yet—it’s still me.

As usual, I turn to music to help me understand my own writing process.

“The Village Choir,” Anton Azbe (1900).

First, some technical things: vocal registers.

Vocal pedagogy is its own delight, but for our purposes, let’s talk about chest voice, head voice, and the break. Super simply (I apologize), chest voice is the low part of the vocal range, head voice is the upper part, and the break is that frustrating bit in the middle.

There’s a difference singing across registers. Physically, of course, but also in terms of intention.

And yet, it’s still the same voice—used differently, resonating in different places, useful for different types of music (I would die trying to sing descants in my chest voice).

For me, this is a useful way to think about writing. Some stories sit in my chest voice. Some sit in my head voice. Same voice, same style, just applied differently.

(As a sidebar that really deserves its own blog post, I think that the same logic applies to fairy tales. Tolkien famously described a “fairy-story” as “…one which touches on or uses Faërie, whatever its own main purpose may be…” (Tolkien, Tree and Leaf, p. 16). Much like how fantasy isn’t defined by wizards and dragons, fairy tales aren’t defined by wee sprites. I think defining “fairy tale” comes down to register, rather than plot motifs or tropes—a “Faerie voice,” if you will. But I digress.)

But wait, there’s more!

Even within the same register, vowels change the sound dramatically! Consciously adapting vowels is an important skill for choristers; just like adapting vocabulary, syntax, and vernacular is important for writers.

Good singers can sing across all genres of music. Sure, it may sound different, but it’s always them, always their style. Good writers do the same—and that’s what I’m aiming for.

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

Christmas has started at the dayjob, so bring on the Christmas/Advent music! It’s going to be a fun six weeks. Here’s a macaronic piece already getting considerable play on my rotation:

Bookstore Magic

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.

KT

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.

“How Long Did That Take?”

I’ve been getting an interesting question lately, as a general trend. And it’s a question that’s very difficult to answer.

“How long did it take you to write that?”

It leaves me scrambling because I’m never sure what they mean. Or more accurately, what they think they mean. Is it just the actual sitting-and-typing draft work? Or are we including outlining and research? Does editing time count? The early rambling noodling I do with every project? Or does the clock start the moment the idea sparked in my brain?

For me, at least, they’re all different answers. Generally, I say something like, “Writing the first draft took X time, but I’ve been thinking about it since Y.”

But even then, I need to do some personal archaeology.

Take A CANTICLE OF LIGHT. One of those “On This Day” posts appeared on my Facebook this evening. My former housemate’s cat lies on two whiteboards that pretty clearly show CANTICLE ponderings.

The photo is dated May 2016. Except then I put the play aside for a few months. It ended up being a NaNoWriMo project of sorts—I banged the first draft out in about five weeks. Which sounds pretty quick, but again, it’d been bouncing around my skull for ages.

What’s the right answer? Very few people want to hear about skull-bouncing time.

Besides, that’s not even counting editing. As far as I remember, I had a table read in February 2017. I forget when Missed Metaphor offered to produce it, but it must have been summertime, because I do remember a) wearing shorts, and b) walking home through a warm, sticky night.

Then things got busy, so I put edits on hold. The final draft got finished around December.

So was it five weeks to write? Was it a year? Was it a year of editing even though I took months off to deal with other projects?

But here’s the kicker. I remember sharing very, very early CANTICLE thoughts in 2014. One character had a different name, the ages were different, and the plot wouldn’t have worked—but it was still CANTICLE, in zygote form.

Really, all my projects are like this. Quick drafting times, really long gestations.

And all of those phases are “writing.” The long periods between editing where the story reshapes itself in the dark. The white-hot rush of fingers on keys. The sporadic poking at outlines and characters.

Sitting on the bus, musing about a boy with two sisters.

Our three siblings! Rose, Paul, and Cathy Langley, played by Blythe Haynes, Peter Mundell, and Meghan de Chastelain.

It’s similar to the museum, where visitors look at a saddle or a tin lantern or a dress and ask, “How long does that take?” I mean, I get it. It’s an easy hook in. A yardstick. It’s a way to quantify something overwhelming, and to relate it to one’s own experiences.

But the honest (if frustrating answer) is, “As long as it needs.”

How very true, for all our arts.

Also, while we are here: CANTICLE and SIX STORIES updates!

SIX STORIES has begun rehearsals and now we’re sourcing props, costumes, and set. The landing outside my apartment has become an impromptu theatre storage space.

CANTICLE’s fundraiser was a delightful evening! Great talent, great people, great fun! Tickets are available to purchase here! (We run May 30th – June 2nd.) Next stop: the Box Theatre!

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

You know I keep it honest here. When things get particularly stressful, I bust out the Anglican chants. The repetitious tunes help calm the squirrel-brain—it’s my comfort music!

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.

 

 

Tapping on Glass

Okay, okay, I’ve known that having electronics on the nightstand is bad for me. Plenty of studies agree: blue light messes with your circadian rhythm, it’s bad for your eyes, and the temptation to check one more email stimulates the brain when it’s trying to wind down.

“But I can use the night-time setting and get rid of the blue light.”

Great. It’s still distracting.

“But I like to read before bed.”

Since people somehow read at night before the advent of tablets, I got a bed-side lamp.

“But my tablet is also my alarm.”

That stymied me for a while. Guinness makes sure I don’t sleep too late, but he usually gets hungry around 8:30, and I often need to wake earlier than that.

And so I would read with the book-lamp, but the tablet was still right there on my nightstand. Ostensibly it was pulling alarm duty only, but really, it was watching. Waiting. Biding its time. And you know what? It didn’t feel good. I didn’t like that it was so tempting. I didn’t like the gritty tiredness in my eyes.

“You know,” quoth I, “there is a device specifically designed to wake people at pre-determined times…”

And so I got an alarm clock.

On one hand, it’s much less efficient. My tablet combined many functions: alarm, book-light, the book itself. But that intense streamlining isn’t always for the best. Part of me resists coming overly-reliant on any one thing (to be honest, this is why I’ve skipped the “Sign in with Facebook!” option as much as I can—and I’m really happy about that now). But also—

I felt like I was always looking at glass. Tapping at glass. Our world is becoming one of flat surfaces and sharp lights. In some ways, we’ve never been more connected, but in others, there is always a barrier between us and the world. “I feel like I’m watching the action through glass,” is a comment I often give when I’m editing manuscripts—lately, it feels like I can apply that comment to increasingly large swathes of my life.

There’s a certain joy in some inefficiencies. They force you to slow down. And in that slowing, you’re forced to experience things more deeply, more fully. With my tablet safely in the kitchen, I can’t Wikipedia my midnight musings. In the depths of the night, I have to visit with my own thoughts. I have to sit with myself. It’s important that we’re able to do that, to inhabit that still quiet space inside.

Of course, as a writer, I’m stuck with screens to a certain extent. Screens are how I’m talking to you right now. I need screens to practice my art (I could write by hand, I suppose, but my handwriting is so torturous and slow that it tips from benign inefficiency to pointless frustration). But for me, that’s all the more reason to find alternates in other parts of my life.

The “book” at top left opens into a lamp!

After all, glass is beautiful. But it’s also very cold and hard. I’m ready for a little softness and gentleness. I think my eyes will appreciate it, too.

-KT

PS. Totally burying the lede here, but I’ve announced it quite enthusiastically elsewhere on social media: I’ve sold a story to Lightspeed Magazine! “Ti-Jean’s Last Adventure, as Told to Raccoon” is an odd little piece and I’m thrilled that it found its home. Plus Lightspeed is one of my dream markets, so I’ve been glowing all week. 🙂

What I’m Listening To This Week

I haven’t thought about “Into the Woods” for years, but the finale popped through my head this week. (One of the few things that infuriated me about the film was that they cut this piece, thereby undercutting the entire theme, but that’s another rant.)

“There are always wolves, there are always spells, there are always beans, or a giant dwells there…so into the woods we go again! You have to every now and then!”

A good point, in general.

 

Some Perspective 

Heavy weekend, my friends. Between the astonishing images from the March For Our Lives, the shattering speech from Emma Gonzalez (if you haven’t seen it, please do), and loss striking several friends, words are a little hard to find right now.

But it’s been a weekend for perspective.

I’ve been so worried. Deadlines and submissions, work and striving. But in the end—well, those things seem small compared to everything else. If nothing else, this is a good reminder to come up for air and actually look around at life—to remember who we are, what we cherish, and what kind of life we want for ourselves.

This isn’t to say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” mind you. Sometimes, the small stuff is the most important. Having a picnic brunch on the choir room floor is small stuff, but honestly, the fellowship and love fed my soul more than anything else this weekend.

It’s the unimportant stuff that gets in the way. The chatter, the noise, the pettiness that creeps like invasive vines through our lives. And it’s hard, because those things often feel very important. The trick is to find the signal in all the static, and lock onto it with everything you’ve got.

When the chips are down, when the clock’s running out—what matters most to you?

Go that way. We’ll walk together.

KT

What I’ve Been Listening To This Week

A story title got Gibbons’ “O Clap Your Hands” stuck in my head. It’s like clockwork: wind it up and watch it spring forth to its natural end:

 

Catching Comets: Ursula K. Le Guin

I was getting ready to go out when the news of Ursula K. Le Guin’s passing broke across my Twitter. An odd little noise slipped my mouth—somewhere between an “Oh!” and a gasp. Then I burst into tears.

I rarely cry at public figures’ deaths. (The Queen is an exception—I guarantee you, I will cry when the Queen goes to her rest.) But Ursula K. Le Guin is different. She isn’t just a “public figure,” or even just “an American novelist.” She was one of the greats: a lodestar around which to orient.

Over the past week, many people have written many touching tributes. I can really only flail and sputter, “But—but—but—Le Guin!” But I’d like to point out something interesting about this whole writing thing.

You can apprentice with any damn writer you like. Putting your words—your brain-stuff—into print creates a certain kind of immortality. And if you’ve got an author’s words, you can learn from them. In an odd, beautiful way, we can dialogue with the dead.

“Gossip,” by George Agnew Reid (1888). (www.ago.net)

This is what people mean when they ask, “So who are your influences?” Who shaped you, who spoke to you, who made your heart sing, who taught you?

Who are you arguing with?

Who are you writing back to?

Who do you secretly (or not-so-secretly) want to impress? To connect with?

Over time, I think, we build an inner gallery of teachers. Sometimes, we’ve actually worked with them (I have internalized several Stonecoast mentors’ voices—hi, Jim!).

But sometimes, we’ve come to know them through their words alone. I never met Le Guin. In the back of my head, I maybe hoped we’d one time stand in the same room, but it seemed kind of like hoping to catch a comet.

So I read her fiction and loved her fiction. It made me look at things differently and re-evaluate not only my writing, but my life, my baseline assumptions about the world’s workings. Like all good teachers, she challenged and prodded and pushed me further than I thought we’d go.

But beyond her fiction—it was this particular book.

The Language of the Night is a collection of essays about science fiction and fantasy, theory and craft. It is one of my personal Foundation Texts, underpinning the way I understand fantasy.

Consider this:

Now, the kind of writing I am attacking, the Poughkeepsie style of fantasy…is a fake plainness. It is not really simple, but flat. It is not really clear, but inexact. Its directness is specious. Its sensory cues—extremely important in imaginative writing—are vague and generalized; the rocks, the wind, the trees are not there; are not felt; the scenery is cardboard, or plastic. The tone as a whole is profoundly inappropriate to the subject. (Le Guin, “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie.”)

Or this:

When the genuine myth rises into consciousness, that is always its message. You must change your life. (Le Guin, “Myth and Archetype in Science Fiction.”)

Or this:

For fantasy is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life that they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom. (Le Guin, “Why Are Americans Afraid Of Dragons?”)

You see it, right? In her essays, she’s doing precisely the same thing she did in her fiction. She is challenging us. She is pushing us past the solar system’s last orbit, into the vast wealth of interstellar space beyond; from the shallows to the open sea; to what feels comfortable to what is Truth.

She did that not just for us writers individually, but for the genre as a whole. She lifted speculative fiction to what it could and must be; the thing we were too timid to dream until she showed us how.

So now we’ve lost our lodestar. But we have her map, in the form of her words. There’s only one thing to do, really. Keep going. That’s what any teacher wants, in the end: for their students to drift free and explore past the edges of the map.

Thank you, Ursula K. Le Guin. You will always be our teacher.

-KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

I love Vivaldi, and I’m absolutely fascinated with this piece. The title’s a total spoiler, but I was researching female tenor/basses for reasons, and I can’t stop listening!