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2009 vs. 2019: Softer

Another year, another round-up. The #2009vs2019 posts are flying fast and furious. But the words are sticking in my throat. So much happened in 2019. How am I supposed to compress the year into a blog post? How can I encompass an entire decade?

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Every year on January 1, I take a sharpie and a blank 8.5×11 sheet and I write my goals for the year. This sheet is my compass; we may detour occasionally, but it always points north.

This year, I fell short of my goals.

It hurts, saying that. Not that 2019 was a total wash. It started with delightful news — I signed on with Kim-Mei Kirtland from the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency and we’ve been having a wonderful time working through my queer beer novel. Though I didn’t submit as many stories as I wanted, a higher proportion sold. Dublin WorldCon was an incredible experience with some very dear friends. And of course, Jen Albert and I started ephemera, a new monthly SFF reading series here in Toronto.

But I didn’t do everything I planned.

From “Among Elves and Trolls,” John Bauer (1912).

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For some reason, it felt like my gears never caught right. For some reason — yeah, right. As we discussed earlier this year, 2019 was my post-apocalypse. Surviving, rebuilding. It takes energy, it takes time. It’s necessary work, and it turns out that writing is really hard when it’s left undone.

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In the fall, I saw someone I used to know. From nowhere, I thought — you’ve gotten harder, and I’ve gotten softer.

Not softer as in, weaker. Softer as in, the protective shell’s opened a little. Softer as in, belly-up and trusting. Softer as in, I don’t walk around with my shoulders to my ears anymore.

Softer as in, I’m not anticipating hurt.

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Honestly, I’m not sure what I would’ve done without my loved ones. My choir fam in particular held me up this year, and I can’t even describe how much they mean to me. It would take a million oratorios.

They played a large part in this softening. With them, I feel – it’s okay. We’re okay. It’s the sensation of squeezing someone’s hand and feeling them squeeze back. Trust, kindness, and love.

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I wasn’t always very kind to myself this year.

“You have a relationship with your writing, just like you do with your partner,” a friend told me. “How are you treating it right now?”

Poorly.

It was like my writing voice didn’t work the same way anymore. Like I was straining for notes that were once within range — like I couldn’t keep in tune, even when I knew the harmonies I wanted.

“The Shipwreck,” J.M.W. Turner (1805). Courtesy http://www.tate.org.uk

There are a lot of reasons a singer’s voice might suffer. Injury. Neglect. Overuse. Getting it back takes rest, gentle practice, and patience. Naturally, I did none of these things, beating myself up over blank pages.

Until —

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I took my partner’s favourite tropes and smashed them together into a story I never intended to sell. For once, I wasn’t thinking about markets and recommended reading lists and reviews. I was telling a story to someone I love. It wasn’t a story for me — okay, it was also for me, I’m not that disingenuous. Deep down, I knew I needed to get over my own hang-ups.

But anyway, I finished it.

It’s not my best story. But it was the crack I needed.

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I stopped beating myself up. I started reading more fairy tales.

After chewing on a story seed for months, I managed to get it written and sold.

Rest. Gentle practice. Patience.

If I can be softer with my loved ones, I can be softer with myself as well.

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There’s a softness to ephemera as well. I’m so touched by the energy everyone brings to it; I love the space we’re making together.

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So now we’re at the end of the year. I feel…steadier. Like the ground has finally stopped shifting under my feet. Tomorrow, I will take my sharpie and my blank sheet and I’ll write the goals I want to reach in 2020.

“Catskin,” Arthur Rackham (1918).

I can do it. I know I can.

With kindness, and work, and soft steadfastness.

-KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

This one again – I need the poetry.

Self-Talk: Short Stories, Novellas, Rejection

So I was having a rough day the other week. I’d received a short story rejection that really stung. No matter how often you submit—no matter how thick your skin gets—there’s always the odd one that still hurts. Funnily enough, the angst hit worse a few days after the actual rejection. I’m not sure what the trigger was, but it sparked a whole slew of thoughts, which I now present in the form of a dialogue.

“The Conversation,” Eastman Johnson (1879).

ME:                 I’m never selling anything ever again.

ALSO ME:      You just sold a piece to Augur.

ME:                 But I’m not selling anything else.  I’m a has-been before I was even an is.

ALSO ME:      Why do you say that?

ME:                 Everyone else is selling short fiction.

ALSO ME:      Who’s everyone?

ME:                 People on Twitter.

ALSO ME:      So what? You’ve had a good year career-wise. You have an agent!

ME:                 Yeah. That’s good.

ALSO ME:      You had a story come out!

ME:                 Yeah.

ALSO ME:      You SOLD a story. To Augur. You love Augur.

ME:                 Yeah.

ALSO ME:      So what’s the problem?

ME:                 I don’t sell many stories.

ALSO ME:      Why is that important to you?

ME:                 Because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You sell short stories, and then people start to know you, and then you sell a novel.

ALSO ME:      That’s what you’re supposed to do. I see. Says who?

ME:                 People.

ALSO ME:      Is that what [WRITER FRIEND] did?

ME:                 …no.

ALSO ME:      And is [WRITER FRIEND] still doing well?

ME:                 …yes.

ALSO ME:      Okay, what about [OTHER WRITER FRIEND]? Do they write much short fiction?

ME:                 No.

ALSO ME:      And does everyone still love them and think they’re an awesome writer?

ME:                 Yes…

ALSO ME:      So it is possible that short fiction is not an absolute prerequisite?

ME:                 Fine, yes. But what if I’m just not good enough?

ALSO ME:      (Deep breath) Okay. Look. You know that’s not the only thing. It’s budget. It’s personal taste versus the publication’s aesthetic. It’s balancing out the stories they bought three months ago. It’s balancing out the stories they’re buying three months from now. It’s publicity. It’s “OMG I love this story like I love every puppy in the shelter but I can only adopt two and my heart is breaking but I still have to leave this one behind.”

ME:                 …

ALSO ME:      Can I make an observation?

ME:                 Go for it.

ALSO ME:      Generally speaking, your writing does best when you don’t give a f*ck—when you just write whatever makes you happy. Six Stories, for example. Angst-ridden friendship and fairy tales and a ridiculous metanarrative structure? Who does that?  YOU do.

Or, okay, Beer Magic. Queer ladies—magic beer—Toronto history—you literally just combined your six favourite words and that’s what finally worked.

This is true of your short fiction, too. Most of the stories you’ve sold were about things that make you angry.

ME:                 I’m not sure I’m comfortable using anger as my main motivation.

ALSO ME:      Yeah, that’s another conversation. The point is, the stuff you feel like you “should” write? Yeah. That tends not to fly. But the stuff that matters to you…that does well.

Let me ask you a question. If you could write anything right now, what would you write?

ME:                 That Southern Gothic fairy tale novella.

ALSO ME:      Then why the f*ck are you beating your head against the wall with short stories?

ME:                I can’t just write whatever I want! I have to think about my career!

ALSO ME:      Okay, great. Think about your career. When Kim-Mei’s done with Beer Magic, then what? You’ve got to have something on deck. Why not this novella?

ME:                 Um.

ALSO ME:       It’s okay. It’s okay to focus on something else for a bit. It’s okay to explore other avenues. It keeps you nimble.

ME:                I know.

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Then I sold a story to Lightspeed three hours later. Even so, I still want to write this novella?

Everyone says, “There’s no one way to have a writing career,” but we all have our own blocks and unconscious beliefs. Part of me feels really guilty that I haven’t written much short fiction lately…

…but where is the guilt coming from?

I’m not sure. But I think this novella’s calling louder than anything else right now. Maybe it’s time to listen.

KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

Ah, Louise Pitre, I love your music so dearly. It is sad and heartfelt and jazzy.

Goodbye, 2018

Well. That was…quite a year.

2018 was life changes and personal growth all the way through. Not just writing-wise, either! I moved. I left my museum job after eight years. I did a lot of work on my anxieties and various relationships. I met amazing people, strengthened some pretty important friendships, and then things took a super delightful turn right at the end.

When I look at where I was in January, versus where I am now, the gulf seems staggering.

And it was staggering, going through it. Earlier in the year, I wrote about feeling like the Doctor going through a regeneration: lots of flash and fire and stumbling about the TARDIS. Or it felt like a caterpillar going into its cocoon. Did you know that caterpillars liquefy when they do that? Everything breaks down into messy goo and then it reconstitutes itself into a butterfly.

There was a lot of messy goo in 2018. Sitting at this end of December, I feel like the Doctor flailing about figuring out how their new body works (and whether they like pears)…or like the butterfly waiting for its wings to dry out.

Let’s be honest: a lot of people probably feel this way. On a broad scale, 2018 was packed with Sturm und Drang. Many of us feel shaken and battered.

But we’re still here. Still caring for each other. Still learning/remembering to care for ourselves. And I don’t know, people seem cautiously optimistic for 2019? Like we’ve been through the fire this year and found ourselves far stronger than we imagined. What will we do, knowing that?

I don’t know. I’m looking forward to finding out.

Goodbye, 2018. You closed some big chapters—let’s turn to a new page.

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

Lots of madrigals this week! Particularly this Thomas Morley gem. First of all, it’s an over-the-top flirtatious dialogue, which brings me considerable joy—and of course, it’s performed with absolutely straight faces. The lower voices’ harmonies are especially chilling; I’m so here for the tenors’ intervals on the word “tormenting.”

On Retreat: Stealing a Moment

Yesterday marked the end of my annual writing retreat. I’m not actually home yet—that happens tomorrow. And whilst playing “Where in the World is KT Now?” is fun, I am looking forward to seeing my furry little weirdo.

But retreating went very well, thank you. Over the course of five writing days, I wrote five complete short stories. I also used the midweek “break day” to make a sizeable dent in my interactive fiction novel.

On the whole, I’m very pleased with my output. January/February were so consumed with long-form projects between the Beer Magic Novel and Six Stories – the 3D Adventure, it felt good to sink back into short fiction.

I’ve written before about what this retreat means to me: the camaraderie, the fellowship, the love. It’s also one of the most productive weeks in my year. Most of the short fiction I’ve sold has originated here. So that’s all great.

But I’d like to tell you about a particular moment I had. It was on the retreat’s final day. I finished up my story in the late afternoon, with plenty of time before our evening readings. So as per my wont, I hopped 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.

You see, we hit the ground running hard once I get back. Then the deadlines return, and the worries, and the scrabbling. And it doesn’t ever really stop, that scratching and hunger.

But in that moment, there was only contentment. For the first time in a long time, it felt like I could take a breath—stealing a little moment amidst everything else going on.

They’re important, those pockets of peace. They give us a chance to rest and prepare for the next section of road ahead. I leave this retreat feeling so grateful.

Now the race begins again. But I’m ready, I’m rested. I hope you’ve got your peaceful waystations as well!

KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

Another ballad! An encounter between troll-maiden and knight! I love seeing how some of the lyrics mesh with Old English cognates (“innan solen upprann” comes to mind). This was pretty much my main jam for one of my stories, alongside the “Rolandskvadet” of a few weeks previous!