Another year, another slew of amazing books! A ton of incredible fiction came out this year—and I read some older chestnuts as well. It was difficult to narrow the field to five particular favourites, but I have done it! (And of course, this doesn’t discount any of the other books I read).
In roughly the order I read them, here is…
What I Read and Loved in 2018
(For the sake of transparency, * denotes an author with whom I’m also friends!)
Leaving behind her fashionable West Coast life, Maggie Black comes to the Southwestern desert to pursue her passion and her dream. Her mentor, the acclaimed poet Davis Cooper, has mysteriously died in the canyons east of Tucson, bequeathing her his estate and the mystery of his life–and death.
Maggie is astonished by the power of this harsh but beautiful land and captivated by the uncommon people who call it home–especially Fox, a man unlike any she has ever known, who understands the desert’s special power.
So…I adore Terri Windling: her fiction, her art, and her blog. I knew I’d love this novel, too.
And I did. It is everything I love: myth lurking in the shadows, art, and stunning landscapes. This contemporary-yet-ageless-myth style of fantasy reminds me a lot of Charles de Lint (no surprise, they’ve worked together) and I am entirely here for it.
Firefly meets The Fast and the Furious in this science fiction adventure series that follows a crew of outcasts as they try to find a legendary ship that just might be the key to saving the universe.
A washed-up treasure hunter, a hotshot racer, and a deadly secret society.
They’re all on a race against time to hunt down the greatest warship ever built. Some think the ship is lost forever, some think it’s been destroyed, and some think it’s only a legend, but one thing’s for certain: whoever finds it will hold the fate of the universe in their hands. And treasure that valuable can never stay hidden for long….
Queer lady space pirates treasure-hunting and racing. There is a lot going on in this book, and it’s all great. I particularly love Alex’s work with characterization and it’s wonderful to watch them coming into their own. This is a strong book with a strong voice, and it’s getting well-deserved accolades!
PLUS, the sequel drops tomorrow!! Check out A BAD DEAL FOR THE WHOLE GALAXY!
While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.
Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.
Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel the rez, unraveling clues from ancient legends, trading favors with tricksters, and battling dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.
As Maggie discovers the truth behind the killings, she will have to confront her past if she wants to survive.
Welcome to the Sixth World.
Wow. Just…wow. I absolutely loved Roanhorse’s story “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience (TM)” in Apex last year, so I was stoked to read her debut novel. And goodness, it was worth the long library queue. Gripping plot, steely characters with achingly nuanced relationships, and rich worldbuilding—this is a gritty, bloody world. So good.
THE ULTIMATE HEIST
Belisarius is a Homo quantus, engineered with impossible insight. But his gift is also a curse—an uncontrollable, even suicidal drive to know, to understand. Genetically flawed, he leaves his people to find a different life, and ends up becoming the galaxy’s greatest con man and thief.
But the jobs are getting too easy and his extraordinary brain is chafing at the neglect. When a client offers him untold wealth to move a squadron of secret warships across an enemy wormhole, Belisarius jumps at it. Now he must embrace his true nature to pull off the job, alongside a crew of extraordinary men and women.
If he succeeds, he could trigger an interstellar war… or the next step in human evolution.
Some stories have their authors’ personality and passion embedded into their DNA to such an extent, it’s like seeing them in book form. That’s how I felt about THE QUANTUM MAGICIAN. It’s just so…Derek.
Which is a good thing: Derek is a shining light in SFF in general and Canadian SFF in particular. This book doesn’t shy away from hard science and tough questions—but it’s also hilarious. Like, genuinely, incredibly hilarious…even as some of this world’s darker implications made me run cold.
An ancient society of witches and a hipster technological startup go to war in order to prevent the world from tearing itself apart. To further complicate things, each of the groups’ most promising followers (Patricia, a brilliant witch and Laurence, an engineering “wunderkind”) may just be in love with each other.
As the battle between magic and science wages in San Francisco against the backdrop of international chaos, Laurence and Patricia are forced to choose sides. But their choices will determine the fate of the planet and all mankind.
In a fashion unique to Charlie Jane Anders, All the Birds in the Sky offers a humorous and, at times, heart-breaking exploration of growing up extraordinary in world filled with cruelty, scientific ingenuity, and magic.
Okay, so I’m a little late to the party with this one. But I’m so glad that I’m here now. This is a delightfully charming book with a confident, playful voice. I love the interplay between magic and science, talking birds and talking AIs. This feels very much like Diane Duane’s “Young Wizards” series grew up, donned hipster glasses, and catapulted into the Millennial experience.
The Only Harmless Great Thing is a heart-wrenching alternative history by Brooke Bolander that imagines an intersection between the Radium Girls and noble, sentient elephants.
In the early years of the 20th century, a group of female factory workers in Newark, New Jersey slowly died of radiation poisoning. Around the same time, an Indian elephant was deliberately put to death by electricity in Coney Island.
These are the facts.
Now these two tragedies are intertwined in a dark alternate history of rage, radioactivity, and injustice crying out to be righted. Prepare yourself for a wrenching journey that crosses eras, chronicling histories of cruelty both grand and petty in search of meaning and justice.
The bonus round is usually for short stories, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this novelette (that’s right—novelette, NOT novella). The writing is beautiful, the voice unwavering and lyrical. In relatively few pages, Bolander sketches deep characters and a deeper mythos. Haunting, gorgeous, and quivering with anger, this story will be rattling around my head for a while.
What did you read and love in 2018? Drop off your recommendations below!
What I’m Listening to this Week
I love writing to Arvo Pärt’s music. The mystic, minimalist feel is perfect for drafting – and since I’ve been working on a few new short stories, he’s getting consistent play lately!
Last night, I stumbled back into my flat and I slept hard. Head hit the pillow, lights went out. For ten glorious hours, I was submerged in deep, (mostly) dreamless sleep.
See, it was Can*Con this weekend.
I’ve talked about Can*Con before. It’s a SFF convention in Ottawa, and my favourite con by far. This year was no exception. It felt like the platonic ideal of cons.
Good professional things happened. My workshop went really well. I spent time with dear friends. I scored some sweet stuff in the dealers’ room. Fun food expeditions were had.
I could ramble on about how great the weekend was, and leave it at that. But I want to take a moment to dissect why Can*Con works.
Can*Con was inaugurated in the nineties. After going on hiatus for a time, it was resurrected by Derek Künsken (who just released his debut novel, THE QUANTUM MAGICIAN!). He currently co-chairs the con with my pal Marie Bilodeau. The Ottawa writers’ community is lovely and vibrant, and most of them are involved in the con on some level, whether on the programming or corporate teams.
So what makes this a good con?
When a con attempts everything, it ends up with nothing. Cosplay, media, literature, gaming, science, and history attract different audiences and need different skills. Spreading yourself thin to hit them all dilutes the con’s purpose. Some cons fragment into self-contained enclaves; others just end up feeling watered-down, and can’t progress beyond surface-level skimming of their topics.
Can*Con has two main focuses: literature and science.
There are some history panels, of course, and I taught a podcasting workshop. The focuses allow some room to breathe, but all programming aligns with that basic mandate.
Accessibility and inclusivity aren’t after-thoughts. They are incorporated into planning from the outset. There is also a designated Accessibility Coordinator.
Pronoun stickers for badges, a dealers’ room designed with mobility in mind, all-gender washroom availability, a quiet room, accessibility seating in programming rooms—these are all givens. Accessibility and inclusivity are non-negotiables.
Is it perfect? Of course not. But identified shortfalls are met with commitment to refining and improving—not denial and shirking of responsibility.
Get the Right People
Convention teams need a carefully curated mix of personalities and skills sets. After all—those personalities and skill sets become the con.
It’s a diverse group, but there is a common factor: commitment to the convention’s mission and values. Without that, you’ve got no coherency in your team, which translates to no coherency in the con either.
Just a little bit. Every con has a personality—which in turn influences the audience it attracts. Author and storyteller (and my friend) Nicole Lavigne describes Can*Con as “the little con that does.”
At this point, it’s the best game in eastern Canada. And it got there partly by saying it was. It’s a bit like performer A.E. Shapera pointed out…if you claim you’re famous, eventually people make you so.
Commitment to Harassment Policies
Again, there are always procedures to refine and improvements to make.
But the commitment to upholding the current code of conduct is total and absolute.
End of story.
It takes a lot to make a convention. It takes even more to make a convention work. As I reflect back on the weekend, I keep coming back to this:
A convention is its community.
I feel very fortunate to call this community—and this con—my friends.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Ēriks Ešenvalds’ wonderful piece, “Northern Lights.” It starts with a Latvian folksong, and then changes to the writings of American explorer Charles Francis Hall, set to music. The piece reminds me very much of The Flying Dutchman.
I’m not even quite sure where to start. It’s been a time. It’s also been a week since I moved from my beloved little garret, and we are…settling in. Kind of. Change is hard, change to my home environment harder still. I do not do well when I’m uprooted.
(Sidebar: which is why I’m amazed that people can routinely move between cities, provinces, and countries. It’s like…how? How do you transplant yourself somewhere completely new, where there is nothing familiar? I’ve only done it temporarily, and I am not keen to try it again anytime soon.)
But we are getting there. Guinness has become braver in his explorations. I vacillate between “ahhhhhhhhhhhh” and “wait this isn’t so bad and I specifically chose this neighbourhood because it contains ravines and many of my friends.” For now, I hold out hope for an eventual triumphant return to Little Italy, because…well, I can’t really do anything else.
And the office set-up is really quite cute. That’s my stable point, too. As long as I have a solid place to do my work, I can handle quite a lot else.
With all this change, though, something has helped immensely. Apologies, as this was cross-posted to Twitter, but I think it’s worth repeating here.
I’ve been watching a lot of Doctor Who regenerations. Not full episodes, mind you. Just the regenerations. In doing so, I’ve noticed a rather helpful pattern.
It happens after something big
The Doctor doesn’t just regenerate willy-nilly. S/he regenerates after some big adventure, some massive outpouring of effort that would usually result in death.
I mean, in a mythic sense, the Doctor does die. The Doctor constantly dies. And the Doctor is constantly reborn.
The lead-up hurts
But anyway, regeneration happens after something monumental. The Doctor is almost always wounded. S/he is almost always in pain. Sometimes, s/he is alone. And so we usually see the Doctor stumbling around the TARDIS, knowing that regeneration is inevitable but still attempting to fight it off, just for those last few moments.
This is the hard part: the letting go of the old self.
The Doctor sets his/her house in order
Sometimes the Doctor makes a speech for his/her successor. This is where everyone cries. This is where we find out what’s been really important to this iteration.
This is when s/he puts his/her old self to rest. The chapter closes.
When it finally happens, after all the lead-up, all the inexorable steps, regeneration is violent. There’s fire. Explosions. The TARDIS gets damaged. It is not a pretty, gentle transition. It’s like the phoenix conflagrating.
It’s that thing where a lot of small changes build up until there’s a MASSIVE change.
A new adventure starts right away
But then the music changes. Humour ensues. There’s very little time spent mourning the old Doctor—we hit the ground running right away with the new.
We’re onto the adventures only the new Doctor could have. And the Doctor always wears a specific face for a reason; it underscores his/her personal arc. The universe needed the War Doctor at a very specific time; it needed Smith’s off-kilter gregariousness just as much.
It’s okay to be in pain. It’s okay to be wracked with upheaval. This is the stumbling-around-the-TARDIS phase. There may be a big explosion of light and sparks soon.
But that’s okay.
That’s when the adventures really begin.
We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.
– Eleventh Doctor
For obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking about cycles a lot. The dance of creation-stability-destruction, the phoenix and its ashes, the Doctor…
2018 has been a rather more tumultuous year than expected. But I’m excited to see what subsequent chapters bring.
This song is ending, but the story never ends.
What I’m Listening to this Week
I’ve used the composer Brunuhville for writing playlists before. It’s all very epic-cinematic-fantasy music. To the surprise of no one, this one also touches on the idea of cycles, of falling darkness leading to dreams…
Greetings, friends! So after some early flailing, the Beer Magic Novel seems to have kicked into gear. It’s about 16k at the moment and I can feel the momentum building (I miss it, when I’m not working on it). BUT it also hasn’t yet reached the critical threshold of, “I’m pretty sure this novel’s not gonna die,” so that’s all I’ll say about it for now.
For indeed, it is mid-December! It is time for all the yearly wrap-up posts!
Without further ado:
Some Things I Read and Loved in 2017
(In roughly the order I read them.)
Green Grass, Running Water—Thomas King
I’m only counting fiction here, but I read this shortly after King’s The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. And I’m glad I read them in that order: King’s meditations in the latter helped me appreciate the former even more.
I loved the voice in Green Grass. I loved the blending of conventional novel structure and oral storytelling principles. It’s funny and honest and heartbreaking, and please just read it.
Strong, sassy women and hard-luck, hard-headed men, all searching for the middle ground between Native American tradition and the modern world, perform an elaborate dance of approach and avoidance in this magical, rollicking tale by award-winning author Thomas King. Alberta, Eli, Lionel and others are coming to the Blackfoot reservation for the Sun Dance. There they will encounter four Indian elders and their companion, the trickster Coyote—and nothing in the small town of Blossom will be the same again. . . .
Kiss of the Fur Queen—Tomson Highway
This one—we start with champion dog-sled racer Abraham Okimasis, and then follow his sons from early childhood to adulthood. It’s immersive and beautifully written and painful—and again, I’m head-over-heels in love with the voice, particularly that of eponymous Fur Queen.
Champion and Ooneemeetoo Okimasis are all too soon torn from their family and thrust into the hostile world of a Catholic residential school. Their language is forbidden, their names are changed to Jeremiah and Gabriel, and both boys are abused by priests.
As young men, estranged from their own people and alienated from the culture imposed upon them, the Okimasis brothers fight to survive. Wherever they go, the Fur Queen–a wily, shape-shifting trickster–watches over them with a protective eye. For Jeremiah and Gabriel are destined to be artists. Through music and dance they soar.
The Stone Angel—Margaret Laurence
Do you sense a theme here? The Stone Angel gets assigned to a lot of high school English classes. Mine missed it, but I’m glad I waited until adulthood. Basically, Hagar Shipley runs away to the woods and remembers her life—and pals, it’s devastating. Laurence’s characterization is superb. And it’s those little, tiny details that hit with the most weight.
In her best-loved novel, The Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence introduces Hagar Shipley, one of the most memorable characters in Canadian fiction. Stubborn, querulous, self-reliant – and, at ninety, with her life nearly behind her – Hagar Shipley makes a bold last step towards freedom and independence.
As her story unfolds, we are drawn into her past. We meet Hagar as a young girl growing up in a prairie town; as the wife of a virile but unsuccessful farmer with whom her marriage was stormy; as a mother who dominates her younger son; and, finally, as an old woman isolated by an uncompromising pride…
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter—Theodora Goss
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this novel. It’s a well-curated collection of Victorian literature’s girl monsters. On one level, it’s a terribly fun romp. On another, it’s a very intelligent dance with Victorian literature. Of course, this is all up my alley.
Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.
But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.
When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.
A Green and Ancient Light—Frederic S. Durbin
I picked this up from the library on a whim. Early on, it says: “I won’t tell you my name or that of the village where I spent that spring and summer when I was nine. I won’t because you should realize there were towns just like it and boys just like me all around the sea…”
It’s a vague world, and yet complete. In a nutshell: boy, grandmother, and faun try to both protect a downed fighter pilot and find a long-lost door into Faery.
When I finished, I could only think, “This one is part of me now.”
It was that kind of book.
Set in a world similar to our own, during a war that parallels World War II, A Green and Ancient Light is the stunning story of a boy who is sent to stay with his grandmother for the summer in a serene fishing village. Their tranquility is shattered by the crash of a bullet-riddled enemy plane, the arrival of grandmother’s friend Mr. Girandole—a man who knows the true story of Cinderella’s slipper—and the discovery of a riddle in the sacred grove of ruins behind grandmother’s house. In a sumptuous idyllic setting and overshadowed by the threat of war, four unlikely allies learn the values of courage and sacrifice.
Bonus Short Story: “The Last Sailing of the Henry Charles Morgan in Six Pieces of Scrimshaw (1841),” by A.C. Wise.
This story is told through the registration notes that accompany museum artifacts; in this case, six pieces of scrimshaw. Look, I work at a museum. I’ve read these notes. Wise nails them. It’s an inventive form of storytelling and it is wonderfully, wonderfully creepy. This is the winner of the 2017 Sunburst Award for short story—and it’s easy to see why!
And that’s all I could fit into this one post! What about you? What did you read and love this year?
What I’m Listening to this Week
Oh my goodness, I’ve been obsessed with Purcell’s “Cold Song” this week. Actually known as “What Power Art Thou?” it’s from the King Arthur opera. This is the point wherein Cupid wakes the “Cold Genius,” or the spirit of winter.
Look at the way the vowels punch the same note repeatedly. It should be a half-note or whatever, but it’s been split into repeated eighths—because he’s creating the effect of shivering!!!!
I love it. I’m so down. I want to work the emotional resonance into a story somehow.
It is that time again! This weekend, I will be in Ottawa for Can-Con: the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature. This is one of my very favourite cons, and I’m excited for stellar programming, good friends, and lively conversations.
What’s my schedule for the weekend? I’m glad you asked!
8:00 pm: Alternate History Live Challenge (Charlotte Ashley, Anatoly Belilovsky, Me, Mike Rimar, and Matthew Johnson)
9:00 pm: The Fantasy Author’s Guide to Beer (Me)
3:00 pm: Writing Games: It’s Big Literature Now (Geoff Gander, Kate Heartfield, M. Elizabeth Marshall, Me Moderating)
7:00 pm: Readings (Me, David Nickle, Kate Story)
8:00 pm: Asexual Identities (Andrew Barton, S.M. Carriere, Dianna Gunn, Kelsi Morris, Me Moderating)
IDK, we should probably get the organizers some coffee and pastries.
In Ottawa that weekend? Come say hi, and hang out with cool people! Also, today is Canadian Thanksgiving, and I am thankful for all of you!
What I’m Listening to this Week
This piece kind of reminds me of high school. But also, it fits the feel/mood/emotion of the novel. I have always loved how the solo voice comes in with the main motif around 2:45—and promptly catches at 3:05.
It’s been a hard week for writing. Don’t get me wrong: lots of writing is happening. But there are so many different projects going on, I struggled to steal a few hours to write a short story. And then, when I finally sat down at my computer, the words wouldn’t come. I wrestled it like Jacob with the angel, eked out 1500 words, decided they were terrible, started again and got 1400…
And I’m back to square one.But I also think I have sorted out what’s wrong with the story. You see, I had to remind myself of two major lessons this past week…
This is a lesson I’ve been learning from my dive into CanLit. Alice Munro does this incredibly well. A woman goes to meet a man in Stratford, and it’s devastating. A young girl kissed a pilot decades ago, and your heart breaks. They’re plots that loop back upon themselves, layering in backstory and inferences. And these small, mundane tragedies, once magnified, become absolutely epic.
Similarly, I finished Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel yesterday. In simplest terms, an old woman flees into the woods and remembers her life.
You guys, I cried so much.
Narrowed focus. Details that catch and tear like fish-hooks. These are stories that dive deeper and closer, spiralling like a Mandelbrot set.
That’s what I want to explore. For now, anyway.
You can only write your stories.
Of course, when the thread of the story snapped, I threw myself into a tailspin. Obviously, the problem was me. My story doesn’t have the gut-wrenching emotion of Keri Hulme. Or the intellectual depth of Theodora Goss. Or the hypnotic quality of Cat Valente. Or the weirdness of Kelly Link, or the sheer storytelling oomph of Kij Johnson, or the beautiful cruelty/cruel beauty of Aimee Bender.
Of course it doesn’t. I’m not those writers.
I’m KT Bryski. Whatever I write has to come from me. In the end, it has to be my voice, my heart, my story.
And I thought: what did I write, before the stress and tension took hold? What did I write before I was afraid? What did I write when no one was watching?
I went back to one of my few pre-Stonecoast short stories: “After the Winds,” in When the Hero Comes Home Vol. II. Guess what I found?
A northern village.
The yearning for home.
Motifs of breaking free, healing, and finding one’s place.
It was all there. Those are the things that constitute the heart of me. While I’d do some things differently now, it was good to see that, really—I know who I am. I know what matters to me. It’s all there inside: I just need to trust it.
And so I’d add…
Keep Going.Go smaller.
Tell your stories.
We got this.
What I’m Listening to this Week
“Vale Decem” from Doctor Who, because the following line from “The End of Time” popped into my head:
This song is ending, but the story never ends.
This is a transitional time. Some songs are ending, which is painful and exhausting. But the story—the story never ends. Also, add an extra 10 points to this piece for an ethereal countertenor.
Like approximately three million people worldwide, I participated in the Women’s March this past Saturday. The Toronto march began on the steps of the Ontario Legislature: signs in hands, pink pussyhats on heads, and chants ringing out into the January air.“Tell me what diversity looks like?”
“THIS IS WHAT DIVERSITY LOOKS LIKE!”
“Tell me what equality looks like?”
“THIS IS WHAT EQUALITY LOOKS LIKE!”
Thinking about it, though, there’s one more I would have added:
“THIS IS WHAT OUR BRAVERY LOOKS LIKE!”
Speaking up and out is a very brave thing to do. Saying, “No,” is brave. Choosing to love is brave. It made me think, once again, of my favourite book: Not Wanted on the Voyage, by Timothy Findley.
Not Wanted on the Voyage is a magic realist retelling of Noah’s Ark that gives a sharp critique to patriarchy and voices to the voiceless. In one scene, Mrs. Noyes (Noah’s wife) comforts bears during a storm on the ark, despite her terror of/anger towards them. Later, she muses:
“Cruelty was fear in disguise and nothing more…[and wasn’t] fear itself nothing more a failure of the imagination? That was why Mrs. Noyes had been afraid of bears. She had not been able to imagine consoling them.”
-Timothy Findley, Not Wanted on the Voyage.
When I look at Noah in Not Wanted, when I look at Trump, at the people railing against immigrants, the LGBTQIA+ community, minorities, Indigenous populations, women…I see a similar streak of fear. Look at their eyes. Listen to their tone of voice. You see it too, don’t you? These awful, cruel, immoral people—they’re all so scared.
Being scared is fine. Let’s be quite clear about that. But fear comes with a choice. You can act in spite of fear. You can love. Or you can let fear decay into hatred and cruelty. You see, being brave isn’t something you are. Being brave is something you choose: over and over and over.
It’s a hard choice to make, of course. Choosing bravery is exhausting. When you’re brave, you confront that fear: whether yours, or someone else’s. In choosing bravery, you imagine another way.
But that is the choice that three million people made this past weekend. It’s the choice that many millions more make in their own spaces. We’ll have to remake and recommit to it even more in the near future.
And yes, bravery is a choice that I will make in my fiction. If fear is a failure of the imagination—then let there be new stories to challenge it. Rewrite the characters and change the ending. Undermine the dominant narrative.
Bring people to a place where they can imagine consoling bears.
What I’m Listening to This Week
Puccini’s “Crisantemi” (Chrysanthemums) is a devastating little elegy for strings. I love the constant tension between fragile delicacy and driving momentum. It’s a restless, unsettled piece. Apt, since Puccini composed it for the death of the Duke of Savoy (chrysanthemums are a symbol of death in Italy). In places, it almost makes one think of rain – perhaps a brooding, ruminative walk through evening drizzle.
Welcome to 2017, everyone. The year’s unfolding like a blank sheet of paper: no creases or smudges yet. As per my own tradition, I’ve written out my creative goals in Sharpie and tacked them above my desk. There, they’ll serve as a north star for the year: something around which to orient myself.
But I don’t really want to talk about my creative resolutions. They’re there: novels and scripts and short stories, oh my! I’ll do them. You’ll see them unfold over the next twelve months.
No, I want to talk about a question posed to me by a friend: “Do you have any personal resolutions?” I hemmed and hawed and eventually said no, not really, but the question stuck with me. I mean, I’m generally quite happy. My friends are awesome. I love living in my little garret. I have a weird-but-charming cat.I’m still working on getting my French back up to snuff. Does that count?
Then I thought vaguely that I might like to attend to my diet better. Whilst I’m in good health, it occurs to me that my family’s track record for stroke and heart disease is not super fantastic, and it might be better to bolster my defences now.
But then I thought, “No, I have a better one.”
I want to be more like Carrie Fisher.
Of all the celebrity deaths in 2016, Carrie Fisher was the one that shook me. Maybe because it was so unexpected. Maybe because she was young. Maybe because it was cardiac arrest. Or maybe because I’ve really only appreciated her in the last few years.
See, I didn’t grow up with Star Wars. Leia was not my first princess, not my childhood heroine. Instead, I got hit with the prequels. They left me terribly unimpressed, and I didn’t find my way to the original trilogy until university.
And then—well, then, of course I fell in love with Princess Leia. How can you not? She’s the one with the caustic humour; she fires the guns; she is strong and brave and good.But all that aside—it’s a mix of General Organa and Fisher herself that impresses me most. Tough. Resilient. Still delivering caustic humour (my God, that wit!). Sure of herself and who she is. It was really only when she did the media rounds for The Force Awakens that I saw that side of her—tough as nails, smart as a whip, and a heart of gold. Of course, of course she was human. I’ll pass on following all her examples. But dammit, she was a good human.
Did you know that she was a talented script doctor? I didn’t until earlier this year. It didn’t surprise me much.
And you know about her mental health advocacy, right?
And the books? Fiction and non-fiction?For so many children, Princess Leia showed that girls can shoot just as well as boys, that you can be tough and tender, and that heroines get shit done. For me, I nurtured a gradually growing admiration for Ms. Fisher: for her honesty, her talent, the way she carried herself. Until suddenly, she was gone. It still doesn’t feel real. There’s always a certain bafflement, isn’t there? How does someone so loved, so vibrant, just go out like a snuffed candle?
Except the lessons and the example and the admiration remain. While I’m cautiously hopeful for 2017, I know that we’re going to need a lot more heroes and heroines. We’re going to need a lot of tough, tender people who get shit done. We all need to be tough as nails, smart as whips, our hearts of gold beating together.
So that’s what I’m thinking about as 2017 opens. I know I can write stuff and produce stuff and keep to goals and timetables. That’s great—but in this brave new world, it’s no longer enough.
May the Force be with you.
What I’m Listening To This Week
For no particular reason, this Mendelssohn piece came floating through my head. It is absurdly catchy—especially the alto line—so once it struck, it stuck.
Listen to the alto and soprano lines twisting around each other like ribbons—they’ll run in counter directions for a bit, join back together, support each other…it’s really quite wonderful.
Welcome back! Last week, we looked at some great fiction from a talented bunch of authors. This week, our year-in-review continues with Things I Did In 2016.
Every year on New Year’s Day, I sit down with a piece of 8.5 x 11 paper and a Sharpie, and I write down my creative goals for the year. I ask myself, “When we get to December 31st, what do I want to have accomplished?”
Here was my list for 2016:
Let’s go through these one by one.
Write first draft of Sing to the Bones
I did that in February. It was insane. In hindsight, I have mixed feelings about writing a novel that quickly, but I’m also not sure that I could do it any other way.
This was a novel that I had to let sit for a while (I also had to go to Ireland to really get it right in my head). I spent October editing it to a second draft, and sent it to readers again. I’m waiting on a few last notes to come back, and I intend to start agent-hunting in the New Year.Finish scripts for Pod-Con
Man, we didn’t even touch this. For those newcomers, this is a podcasted musical that Lauren Harris and I wanted to write. However, I’m moving away from audio fiction, so I’m not sure this is still in the cards. Honestly, I’d mentally removed it from the list.
Produce Folklore somehow
Folklore was an early code-name for Six Stories, Told at Night. Making this list in January, I knew grant decisions wouldn’t go out until March. I figured if I didn’t get the money, I’d throw it up on Audible or something. But as it happened, the Ontario Arts Council did give us the grant, and so this one-woman audio drama rolled out exactly as hoped…although the response was even warmer than I’d dared dream!Write a play: Southern Ontario Gothic
That was November! It was slightly less insane than writing Sing to the Bones. This will get edited around the New Year, and hopefully I can haul some actors in to read it in late January/early February.
Write and submit short stories to pro markets
Really, I wanted to put, “Sell a short story to a pro market,” but I can’t control whether my stories get bought, so I didn’t. But that was the real goal, deep in my heart of hearts.
And I did sell stories to pro markets! “La Corriveau” sold to Strange Horizons and “The Love it Bears Fair Maidens” just came out at Apex. “Wendigo” also won the Toronto Star Short Story Contest, which I will count as publication (hey, most government arts councils do).Outline TEGG novels
I did that! Sort of. Enough that I can knock off the first novel of the trilogy in summer 2017.
So…I achieved my creative goals. But as is my wont, I felt like I could’ve done more, like I could’ve tried harder. Then I realized that I did more than what I’d put on the list. Looking at the year in its entirety, this is What I Did In 2016:Got my Masters’ degree
Wrote the first draft of a novel
Edited three manuscripts for other people
Wrote eight short stories
Wrote the first draft of a full-length play
Wrote two pantomimes for the museum dayjob
Wrote, produced, and released a s***-tonne of videos for the museum dayjob
Got an Ontario Arts Council grant to produce Six Stories, Told at Night
Produced and released Six Stories, Told at Night
Produced and released the Heartstealer audiobook
“Don’t Read This Story” came out at Daily Science Fiction
Sold “La Corriveau” to Strange Horizons
Sold “The Love it Bears Fair Maidens” to Apex
Won the Toronto Star Short Story Contest with “Wendigo”
Wrote/currently producing “On Thin Ice” for the final season of Tales From the Archives
Edited the first draft of a novel into the second draft
Was a guest at Can*Con
Became an Active Member in SFWA
Sold one more story, details to come.
…so do I still feel like I could have done more?Absolutely. Much like Alexander Hamilton, I will never be satisfied. On the one hand, I think that’s a good thing. Hunger goes a long way in this business. On the other hand, that perpetual ache is something I’m going to have to learn to live with.
But while I might not be completely satisfied, I am pleased. Very pleased. See, in 2015 one of my Stonecoast mentors told me that I was on the cusp, to be patient, and to just keep working as hard as I could. Some big breaks came my way in 2016. I don’t think I’ve tipped over the cusp yet, but I feel a lot closer, and I’m excited to see what 2017 brings!
What I’m Listening to this Week
Y’all know I’m honest with this segment. Last week I saw my colleague Devon Hubka’s one-woman show Everything I Need. It was a delightful exploration of her love of theatre and pursuit of acting. This song recurred as a motif throughout:
Not only is it ridiculously catchy, the lyrics speak to me, particularly in light of this week’s post. No room for doubt—just shut up and dance.
We’re getting into the last weeks of 2016, which means it’s time for year-in-review posts! Next week, we’ll get into What I Did in 2016. This week, I want to talk about what Other People Have Done. So, here are some things I Read and Loved in 2016. (I did read and love much more than this, but alas, I cannot fit them all.) Not all were published in 2016, but that’s okay. In no particular order:
The name “Alex White” should be familiar. He wrote the theme music for Six Stories, Told at Night! Alex is a ridiculously talented Renaissance Man, and I was excited to crack into his debut novel.
Ghosts have always been cruel to Loxley Fiddleback, especially the spirit of her only friend, alive only hours before. Loxley isn’t equipped to solve a murder: she lives near the bottom of a cutthroat, strip-mined metropolis known as “The Hole,” suffers from crippling anxiety and doesn’t cotton to strangers. Worse still, she’s haunted.
It’s an evocative world, but for me, the novel’s greatest strength is its protagonist: Loxley. She’s neuro-atypical, difficult, flawed—and oh, so very real. Plus, there is a veritable arsenal of Chekhov’s guns, which pleases me.
At Can*Con this year, I was asked, “Have you read any Elizabeth Hand? I think you’d like her.”
“Oh!” I replied. “I love Liz!”
And I do—as former student and reader. I read the back cover copy of Mortal Love at my graduating residency and had to have it:
In the Victorian Age, a mysterious and irresistible woman becomes entwined in the lives of several artists, both as a muse and as the object of all-consuming obsession.
Liz writes everything from sci-fi to noir thrillers. The books I’ve read are beautifully-wrought, vibrantly-coloured fever dreams. Completely entrancing, even as the colours keep shifting, shifting….
This was a “Sure, I’ll try it!” find from the library:
Nevada, 1869. Golgotha is a cattle town that hides more than its share of unnatural secrets. A haven for the blessed and the damned, Golgotha has known many strange events, but nothing like the darkness stirring in the abandoned mine overlooking the town…
1860s setting aside, I did not expect to enjoy this as much as I did. It’s not so much a single, linear plot as immersion into a world. Nor is it a single genre: Weird West, epic fantasy, and Lovecraftian horror all come together. Some reviewers aren’t convinced of the execution; I think it worked, but you have to play by the novel’s terms, rather than your own expectations.
Another library book: “I like Peter S. Beagle, so I will probably like this!”
Jennifer Gluckstein moves with her mother to a 300-year-old farm in Dorset, England, to live with her new stepfather and stepbrothers, Julian and Tony. Initially lonely, Jenny befriends Tamsin Willoughby, the ghost of the original farm’s owner’s daughter.
Peter S. Beagle writes beautiful fiction, okay? Beautiful, unassuming fiction that wallops you with emotion. While I loved the way history exerts its inexorable power over the plot, I adored the nuanced relationship between Jenny and Tamsin. But then, I am a sucker for strong friendships and (pseudo-) sibling relationships in my fiction.
I bought this the day it was released. Howard has a discomforting ability to punch my very specific emotional buttons. And we seem to have very similar tastes and interests. And styles. And we were clearly both taught by James Patrick Kelly. And it’s a little uncanny, actually. Anyway—
Imogen and her sister Marin escape their cruel mother to attend a prestigious artists’ retreat, but soon learn that living in a fairy tale requires sacrifices, whether it be art or love.
Sibling angst? Check. Musing on art and artistic obsession? Check. Faerie? Check.
Goddammit, Kat Howard. There’s a little unevenness here and there, but I loved this, finishing in a tearstained rush on the bus.
Marie’s a pal of mine from my Dragon Moon days – I was stoked to pick this up at Can*Con. It’s a French translation of her novel Destiny’s Blood.
Layela et Yoma Delamores – des jumelles – ont passé la majeure partie de leur vie dans la rue, survivant grâce à de multiples petits larcins. Maintenant dans la vingtaine, Layela a convaincu sa sœur de se ranger : avec l’argent amassé, il est temps d’ouvrir un commerce. Mais quelques jours après l’inauguration de leur boutique de fleuristes, Yoma disparaît…
(Tl;dr: Epic space opera: twins try to open a flower shop after a life of petty crime, but then one disappears…)
My French is okay. I can make myself understood (clumsily), and I mostly understand when I’m listening/reading. About 1/3 of the way through this novel, I felt like I stopped translating in my head and just started reading. As is typical for Marie’s work, this is both surreally funny and bitterly dark. I was shipping two characters pretty hard, but I think my hope arose mostly from my spotty FSL skills.
Bonus Short Story: “Three Letters from the Queen of Elfland,” by Sarah Monette.
Found in a collection of shorts from Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. I’m sensing a theme with what I like: Victorian things, Faerie, and unconventional relationships. This story has all three in spades, and the emotional undercurrent nearly melted even my icy heart.
So that’s my 2016, reading-wise. What about you? What did you read and love?
What I’m Listening to this Week
Christmas music! John Gardner’s arrangement of “Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day” is delightful! It really does need to move quickly: the sprightly organ is perfect. Especially when the descant hits in the last verse: it sounds like we’re about to dance off the rails, but then we don’t.