Blog Archives

“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!

Six Stories: Crowdfunding Conclusion

Whoa! Here we are, back on the blog! It’s not Monday—what gives?

Our GoFundMe campaign for Six Stories, Told at Night wrapped at midnight, and a Facebook post wasn’t going to cut it!

When last we saw our plucky co-producers, they had tweaked the campaign after blowing past the initial goal on the first day.

“Well, we were going to offer a vlog,” quoth I. “And I can write a seventh story; I’ve got some ideas. And…oh man, okay. What about…Coxwood Season Two?”

“Are you sure?”

“We’ll set a ridiculous target,” I said, all confidence. “We’ll never make it.”

And so the campaign trucked along. It was wonderful! Blythe and I spent a very pleasant week feeling warm fuzzies, writing limericks, and recording messages for donors (if anyone out there is Fringing It Up, drop me a line when you’ve decided what you’d like Blythe to record for you!).

We closed Monday at $730. “Cool, cool,” I said, “we’ll see how far we can get by Wednesday night.”

Tuesday passed. We had enough to cover the admin/festival expenses, plus a chunk of production.

“What if you make it to $1500?” a friend asked.

“We won’t,” I replied.

Wednesday arrived.

“I think we’ll hit $1000,” I said, coming home on the subway. “I’ve got a good feeling.”.

On arriving home, I made our final “ZOMG last few hours!!!” post. Then I sat back, ready to relax into a job well done. The box office would probably still take a hit, but not a huge one. If we were careful, we could probably manage pretty good shares when it came time to divvy up the takings…

And then—

Incredibly, you guys carried us to our ultimate goal.

We got very excited:

And then the lurking migraine I’d been fighting burst forth, I threw up, and we called it a night.

But now it is morning! So—we made our ultimate stretch goal. What does this mean?

For SIX STORIES:

We can have a kickass show. There are festival/administrative expenses associated with the Fringe. Those are covered. Set, design elements, costumes, signage, programs, handbills/buttons…all that just got so much easier. We’re entering Fringe from a strong position. A lot more is within our grasp!

And of course, compensating our cast and crew is a massive priority. This is why this campaign has meant so much to us—we wanted to give as much box office to them as possible. From the entire “Six Stories” team, THANK YOU.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

For rewards:

You’ve unlocked everything, you wonderful people!

ROAD TO THE FRINGE PODCAST!

Once this blog posts, I’m pulling out the calendar to figure out a release schedule. Get ready for interviews, chatter, shenanigans, and rehearsal snippets!

BEHIND-THE-SCENES VLOG!

Can’t make it to Toronto? We’ve got you covered! Meet our fab cast and crew, see bits of rehearsals and design elements, and make the leap with us from pure audio to live theatre!

SEVENTH STORY!

I’ve been noodling some ideas. I definitely know the direction I want to go in. And oh…oh, I think it’ll be so cool. For this, I’ve got to consult with the team a little. I’ll keep you all posted.

COXWOOD SEASON TWO!

I’m gonna admit, I didn’t expect to make it to the ultimate goal. But we did! So—back to Coxwood for a second mini-season! I’m not entirely sure how many episodes it will be, but I’ll be taking a look at this after Fringe finishes in mid-July.

If we can release it by the end of 2018, amazing! As always, I’ll keep you posted.

And so…

Thank you, everyone. Seriously, from both of us—thank you, thank you, thank you. We are stunned that you believe in our show like this. We’ve spent the last fortnight feeling incredibly humbled and loved.

And now the work and fun begins! Our first production meeting and rehearsal is Friday. We can’t wait to get started!

Many hugs!

KT and Blythe

What I’m Listening To Today

There’s really only one option. Pulling up the Six Stories theme song, written by the amazing Alex White (whose Alien novel THE COLD FORGE has been getting awesome reviews, by the way!):

 

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:

 

Beer-Magic Playlist

So the big news this week is that I finished the Beer Magic novel. It was as exciting and exhausting as one might expect, and now my plate feels strikingly lighter. We also forged ahead with our callbacks for “Six Stories – the Neo-Wagnerian Opera.” Plus a whole host of various and sundry projects.

But Beer Magic. That’s the point of this post. It was such an odd novel for me to write. First off, it took a comparatively long time. I think I started midway through November? For me, three months is definitely on the lengthier side. Partly, there were more false starts than usual; this surviving draft was the fourth after a series of gut-and-revamps.

Beer Magic required some very important research.

And it’s very different than any other novel I’ve written, which probably contributed to the hesitation and self-doubt.

But hey, we’re done for now. At this point, it goes into the deep freeze (because ahahahaha March is nearly as busy as February). I’ll likely pull it out in April, take a whack through, and then send it to betas.

That’s the plan, anyway.

But one thing was consistent in this process! The Beer Magic novel had a pretty solid soundtrack, with a shortlist of songs that contributed in some way. Some helped me understand character; some set mood; some just made me want to work on this story.

So without further ado:

The Beer Magic Playlist!

Hunter (Heather Dale)

Dacw ‘Nghariad (Welsh Traditional)

The City (Ola Gjeilo)

Look What You Made Me Do (Taylor Swift)

The Reproaches (John Sanders)

Homecoming (Thomas Bergersen)

Together Again (Evanescence)

Once Upon a Dream (Lana del Rey)

 

I See Fire (The Hobbit, via Celtic Woman)

Three Ravens (English Traditional)

Stabat Mater – Introduction (Pergolesi)

 

An eclectic mix for an eclectic book! Warm fuzzy feelings abound at the moment…though I shan’t rest on my laurels for long. A writing retreat beckons!

Anon,

KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

This piece got me through the past-midnight marathon session that saw the novel nearly finished, particularly underpinning the climax. Another piece by Ola Gjeilo, I especially like the back-and-forth between the two upper voice parts. And Christina Rossetti poem is lovely, of course!

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!

 

 

 

In the Swamp

I’m beat.

Alas, I think this is a state of being that’s likely to continue until at least the end of February. My secret is that I’m actually TERRIBLE at multitasking. However, I am excellent at pulling ridiculously long hours to get something done in three days, so that I can move along to the next task.

It’s not really cramming, because every project gets a very carefully appointed spot on the calendar. More like strategic slogging, I suppose. This month has mostly been eaten by the interactive fiction game, another Ontario Arts Council grant application, and the Six Stories, Told at Night stage adaptation (with some Apex Magazine podcastery thrown in there). Amidst all this, I keep poking at the novel because the constantly-breaking momentum is wrong-footing me.

This isn’t how I like to write novels. I like to write them over intense bursts that last four-to-eight weeks. Back in December, I was hoping to finish Beer Magic by the end of January, but it looks like I may finish it during my February writers’ retreat.

Such is the writing game, sometimes. As they say, “You can’t always get what you want.”

So what do you do, in these cases?

Honestly, I think there’s only one thing to do. You take a straw, and you suck it up. As I’ve always said, paying work and contracted work gets done first, work with hard deadlines comes next, and then you figure out the rest.

(Excuse me whilst I balefully poke at the novel a little more.)

“Jo Seated on the Old Sofa,” by Norman Rockwell (1938).
I feel an immense kinship with this painting…

But paradoxically, sometimes when I’m overwhelmed the best thing I can do for myself is…not write sometimes. Otherwise, I can drive myself into a tizzy. So…reading. Baking. Drinking adult-type beverages with friends. Going to choir and post-choir hangouts. (Honestly, I think choir is the thing that keeps me the most grounded.)

That sounds like a contradiction. Suck it up—but also don’t worry, go have fun!

Okay. Sometimes, yes, you have to be a writer first.  Strap on your Grown-Up Boots and stomp through the swamp of unwritten words. But we’re also humans, and if we neglect that side of ourselves, what will we be good for writing, anyway?

I firmly believe it all comes down to scheduling. Everybody has twenty-four hours in the day. It’s up to you to decide how those hours get filled.

The swamp is good, in the end. It means there’s a lot of really cool stuff on one’s plate. And besides, it’s excellent practice. Writing is hard, after all. Theatre is also hard. Doing both?

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Anyway. I hope you have an excellent week. Carry on!

KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

I’ve been listening to this piece, but I’m not sure how I feel about it. Byron’s “She walks in beauty” is one of my favourite poems, and this choir is lovely, but I feel like I wanted more melody to match the metre, less preoccupation with moving chords.

Still listening while I figure my opinion out.

 

Useful and Beautiful

I think the pre-Raphaelites are my off-season thing. Here we are, two weeks into January, and I’ve already put several books on hold at the library. I mean—I’ve been thinking about creative relationships, which got me reading again about Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal…and Janey Morris…and Fanny Conforth…

“Proserpine,” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1874).
Janey Morris modelling. This is hands-down one of my favourite paintings.

Complicated relationships, complicated art. Those are ponderings for another time, though.

But in the course of my wanderings, I stumbled across this quotation by William Morris:

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

Which I quite like. I think it’s a little more forgiving than Marie Kondo’s axiom that all our possessions should spark joy. Many of mine do; concentrating on joy helped me purge many more.

But in the end, I also need a screwdriver in the house, and a screwdriver is very useful. (Which is a kind of joy, I suppose? In the end, I think both writers are saying the same thing; Morris just resonates with me better.)

Now, Morris’ quotation is timely for two reasons. Reason the First: the garret is looking a little cluttered. When I moved up here, I purged a TON of stuff. A full garbage bag came out of my desk drawers alone. There really isn’t that much space up here, you see, and there’s nothing like moving to help you decide what’s necessary in your life.

But stuff creeps back in over time. Christmases and birthdays can’t quite match pace with the rate of purge. Also, I got a cat, which is basically like having a furry toddler—he comes with a lot of paraphernalia as well. The toys, my friends. The toys are everywhere.

He’s pretty cute, though.

So decluttering. Focusing on those things useful and beautiful. Cool.

But it’s not just the garret. Here is Reason Number Two. It occurs to me that “have nothing that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” is a pretty good compass for life and fiction in general.

I’ve been asking myself this as I move through the Beer Magic novel. “Why is this here? What is this scene doing? Where is the conflict? What did these paragraphs accomplish in the overall story?” Already, I know I’m going to have to purge a lot of words. My best guess is that Beer Magic’s first draft is going to run about 110k—I’d like the final draft to hit 100k.

Reading what I’ve got thus far, my prose is cluttered. Extra scenes are gumming things up; some words are neither useful, nor particularly beautiful.

That’s fine for now. It’s a first draft. But I’d like to keep that in mind for the rest of the process: useful and beautiful. Ideally, every particle of our fiction should be both. Each word should punch above its weight; the best prose does three (or four) things at once; you’ve heard this all before.

But if it’s not useful or beautiful—

Why is it here?

“Der Arme Poet (The Poor Poet),” by Carl Spitzweg (1839).
Actual scene from my garret.

Things to ponder, as I charge forward with the draft and sort out my apartment.

Anon,

KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

I suspect I will not have time for much short fiction until after Beer Magic and the “Six Stories” stage adaptation are done. But the first movement in Gustav Holst’s “Seven Part-Songs” is making me itchy.

Full transparency: on hearing it for the first time, I may have uttered an expletive. The text is just so evocative and entirely my aesthetic.

The other songs are lovely too—it’s always nice to find pieces arranged specifically for women’s voices. I particularly liked the round arrangement of the fourth song (6:10, “When First We Met”).

A Kinder Year: 2018 Post

It’s a brand-new year. As is my wont, I’m writing this from Virginia, where I’ve passed the year’s turning in the company of some very dear friends.

So: new year, new opportunities, a vast expanse of untrodden snow.

“Winter Morning, Charlevoix County,” A.Y. Jackson (1933).

Where do we go from here?

Well, finding out is part of the fun, isn’t it? This feeling of standing on the precipice, leaning over the blank valley below—I think that’s why we love the idea of the New Year so much. It’s all possibility; all potential.

For myself, I have written my usual yearly goals on an 8.5” by 11” sheet of paper. I’m excited by the projects lined up for this year, but I’m also approaching it with a lot more humbleness than I did last year. If nothing else, that was a hard lesson learned in 2017.

In addition to those yearly goals, here’s what I would like for 2018.

I would like 2018 to be a softer year, a gentler year. I would like to nurture more joy—in my work, in myself, in my relationships. And above all else, I want 2018 to be a kinder year.

In the end, we can always use more joy and kindness.

So wherever you are today, however you are spending it, that’s my wish for you. Enjoy this feeling right now: gazing out to the horizon, with nothing in the way but spreading whiteness and light. The hard parts come later; this is the first swoop as you launch yourself skyward. So revel in it. Today’s for soaring. Wrap yourself in love, joy, and kindness.

“The Magpie,” by Claude Monet (1869).

And have a very Happy New Year.

-KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

I’ve been searching for a recording of “And as I Wake” for ages! It’s a delightful setting of Milton’s “Il Penseroso” by Canadian composer Stephanie Martin. The text always makes me think of the dim stained-glass light of the University of Toronto—and that interplay between choir and organ starting around the 2:30 mark is sheer joy.

At Home with Monsters

Pondering two separate-but-related things this week. First, I went to At Home with Monsters, the Guillermo del Toro exhibit currently on at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The exhibit purports to bring patrons inside del Toro’s home, “Bleak House.” It features art and books he holds dear, along with costumes and models from his films.

It’s a fascinating look into the creative “mulch” from which an artist’s work grows. The exhibit drew largely from del Toro’s childhood influences: a conservative Catholic grandmother, fairy tales, comic books and movie monsters. (No wonder I like the man’s work so much.) Montages from his films then show how those influences translate to his art.

It occurs to me that while the exhibit references his physical house, it’s mostly about home in a metaphorical sense. What mental furnishings does del Toro have; what relics from childhood and family tradition lie semi-forgotten in the attic of his mind, hauled back to light when least expected?

We all have such a mental home, of course, outfitted with whatever pieces we’ve picked up along the way. Which relates to my second pondering…

I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot this week. Partly, it’s the season. The fifth anniversary draws nigh in a month or so, which…fuck. Partly, this tends to happen around Remembrance Day, with all our choral pieces focused on death, loss, and memorializing.

Thinking about my mental home, grief and loss feature pretty prominently. Look at the fiction I’ve written since he died. It shows up again, and again, and again, like I’m telling myself the same story in hopes that this time I’ll understand the ending.

(Spoiler: I never do.)

“The Angel of Death,” from “Hellboy.” In all the exhibit, this piece struck me the most.

But there was an unexpected thought in all this. I don’t have to be afraid anymore. See, for a good few years after Dad died, my operating rule was that – eventually- everyone dies or leaves. No one was for Keeps. No one stayed forever. Sometimes that assumption was consciously articulated; sometimes it just underlay everything, like the lowest, half-heard rumble from an organ.

It runs all through my fiction: this obsessive fear of loss. Sometimes, that works (Six Stories). Sometimes, it doesn’t. (I can name probably half-a-dozen short stories off the top of my head.)

The mother from “Crimson Peak.”

But here is something I’m still trying to puzzle through. Grief and loss and death are my monsters—some of them, anyway. They live in my mental house with me; I’ll never get their stains out of the carpet and wallpaper.

But I’m not afraid, precisely, in quite the same way.

It’s a bit like my fear of Medusa (who also appeared in the del Toro exhibit, to my equal delight and dismay). Medusa’s a monster in my house too. But I’m not afraid—in fact, I’ve co-opted the gorgon image for myself, turning a symbol of my utmost dread into something powerful, strong, protective.

She’s a monster I live with. Though I fear her, I’ve got the power, now.

We all have monsters. I think their appearance in our art is inevitable. I’m not sure that you can write about them while you’re still afraid of them. I think that for art to be successful, you need to have some distance from it, to let it work as art in itself, rather than a veiled autobiography. Art is synthesis, not straight translation.

And my roundabout point is that I think grief and loss are finally undergoing the same transformation for me. My monsters, my furnishings, but not something that controls me. Rather, something I can co-opt, something I can drag out from the attic when they’ve mouldered into something less recognizable, rather than using them straight-from-the-box.

What can you write, if you’re not afraid?

I’m not entirely sure. I guess we’re going to find out.

-KT

PS. For more information about At Home with Monsters, click here. I will definitely be returning; my one regret is that I had an appointment to keep, and so rushed more than I would’ve liked.

What I’m Listening to this Week

Love me some Ralph Vaughan Williams, but I’d never heard this cantata before now. According to the accompanying notes, “Dona Nobis Pacem” was written in response to “…war, or the deepening sense of trouble which by the mid-1930s seemed set to explode into war.”

Equally disturbing and reassuring as a whole, the second movement (starting around 4:00) is one of the most intense and angry choral pieces I’ve heard in a while. I think we know one of Vaughan Williams’ monsters. Also listen to the quiet, driving drums and baritone in the fifth movement (26:40)…before the choir explodes into more anguish, followed by a glorious final movement.