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.
I love Halloween. It’s one of those holidays that I like even more as an adult. Sure, trick-or-treating is fun, but I’ve grown to appreciate the lengthening shadows and chill in the air even more.
For me, this time of year is all about the rattle in the leaves, the orange streetlights pooling on the evening pavement. It’s the wind stripping the branches bare; the shadow that wasn’t there a moment ago; the frost coating roofs slick in the morning; the soil slowing and gathering itself for a long slumber until spring rolls around again. It’s the seductiveness of twilight and shadows; the half-understood shiver that comes with incense and decaying leaves and words like All Hallows, and Wheel of the Year, and the dark months.
Halloween, of course, shares its roots between the Feast of All Hallows and Samhain: the Celtic (and modern pagan) New Year. I think the closing of autumn is as good a New Year as any. As discussed before, the shape of my year divides neatly into two halves: season and off-season; museum time and writing time; the warm, secure months and the colder, leaner ones. Halloween is the beginning of the end; the harbinger; the already, but not yet.
At the museum, you see, Christmas starts in mid-November: only two weeks away. Once Christmas starts, it’s a quick, short slide to the end and the off-season. Halloween isn’t the beginning of the dark months; it’s the herald of it, much the way that Easter usually isn’t springtime itself, but the promise that warmth and sunlight are returning.
So because we haven’t actually gotten into the off-season yet, for me, it’s a time of potential. You can taste winter on the wind—but it isn’t here yet. And it’s oddly appropriate to have potential beginning in the dark, isn’t it? I think of the harvest gathered in, the seeds dormant in the ground—waiting. For me, Halloween is a time of baited breath. I’m planning my off-season writing. I’m gathering myself for one last push before the season ends. I’m sensing the winds grow colder; the last leaves falling; the knowledge that the warmth is well and truly gone, now.
And if that’s all sounding a little Victorian—the winter is coming on fast—then yes, I suppose it is, a little. Now, don’t get me wrong: I cherish and value and treasure my four months of full-time writing so very much. I’m very lucky to have the set-up that I do.
But in some ways, the winter is harder. While I’m very pleased with how my writing’s supported me thus far, it’s never a sure thing. Toronto gets cold: the whole city feels too hard, like you could bruise yourself on it. Without a daily commute, a Metropass becomes too expensive to justify, which means that I spend four months walking everywhere.
None of that is here yet. But it’s coming. And Halloween is the first sign—the first shiver and held breath and remembrance of everything else that might be out there. (All those ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties…)
No matter what you call today, or how you celebrate, all my best to you as we enter into the year’s dark half. The winter gets cold, but the most exciting things usually start in the shadows. 😉
What I’m Listening to this Week
Well, it couldn’t be anything else, could it?
So I assume we’ve all seen the WIRED article, right? This one: the one really excited that podcast fiction is “finally” a thing?
Evidently, they’ve overlooked that podcast fiction kicked off in 2005, and that 2007-2009 was arguably the Golden Age of the Podcast Novel. In fact, the origins and development of the genre were the topic of a massive essay I wrote at Stonecoast. I suspect others will be doing overviews of podcasts from 2005-2012, so… I’d like to share a different portion of my essay, one that proposes a new means by which to classify the genre.
II. Parsing the Parsecs: Proposing a New Taxonomy of Podcast Fiction
Despite the genre’s significant development over the past decade, few attempts have been made to rigorously classify podcast fiction. Nevertheless, there is a generally understood difference between “full cast podcasts” and “straight reads.” A “full cast podcast” generally refers to a fully scored and produced podcast novel featuring the use of numerous actors, as in the case of Morevi, Chasing the Bard, Murder at Avedon Hill, Metamor City, et al. By contrast, a “straight read” features a single reader and minimal production. Mur Lafferty’s Heaven series is thus a “straight read,” alongside numerous audio fiction magazines such as the Escape Artists’ triumvirate—Escape Pod, PodCastle, and PseudoPod—and the Clarkesworld podcast.
However, the distinction between “straight read” and “full cast” is ultimately limiting, particularly within the field of “full cast” podcast fiction. “Full cast,” as it appears in general usage, obscures the distinction between fully-produced, fully-casted podcast novels, and fully-produced, fully-casted audio dramas. Adhering strictly to a straight read/full cast binary, both Morevi and We’re Alive could be considered full cast podcasts. However, Morevi was originally released as a print novel, and relies heavily on narration to tell the story. As such, it undertakes a fundamentally different approach to storytelling than does We’re Alive, which instead lies primarily on dialogue, performance, and sound, with minimal narrative segments.
This difference between podcast novel and audio drama is recognized by the Parsec Awards for Excellence in Speculative Fiction Podcasting. There, the primary distinction amongst podcasts is not between straight read/full cast, but rather between “story” and “audio drama.” According to the Parsecs’ 2015 category descriptions, a story “…uses narration as its primary means to convey scene and action,” whereas in an audio drama, “Storytelling is effected through the dialogue of its characters and sound effects/scenery presenting action and scene as it’s [sic] primary mechanism.” While these categories differentiate between the two major approaches to storytelling within podcast fiction, they also have certain limitations. Specifically, there is perhaps insufficient nuance in the “story” category.
For example, the 2014 category “Best Speculative Fiction Story: Small Cast (Short Form),” included both the stories “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot,” (author Michael Spence, podcasted on Tales from the Archives) and “Growth Spurt,” (author Paul Lorello, podcasted on Pseudopod). However, while both “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot” and “Growth Spurt” are indeed small cast, short stories, they function very differently. Despite being small cast, “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot” adopts the production values associated with “full cast” podcasts: music and complex sound effects to denote an aethergate are particularly noticeable. Conversely, “Growth Spurt” has a single reader, no music, and no sound effects.  Despite being in the same category, “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot” is essentially a “full cast” podcast with a very small cast, whereas “Growth Spurt” is a straight read.
Thus, neither a full cast/straight read nor audio drama/story dichotomy is sufficient to classify podcast fiction. The full cast/straight read binary obscures the artistic differences between audio book and audio drama (though again, this difference is understood in general parlance), while focusing on that distinction to the exclusion of all else overlooks the many variances in production amongst podcast stories.
As such, this paper proposes a new taxonomy for podcast fiction. Examining the genre broadly, it is evident that some podcasts (PodCastle, Clarkesworld, Jim Kelly’s Free Reads, Heaven) use audio primarily as a means of distribution, whereas for others (Hidden Harbour Mysteries, The Antithesis Progression, We’re Alive, The Leviathan Chronicles), sound is integral to the story itself—whether the podcast in question is an audio book or audio drama. Therefore, this paper proposes classifying podcasts not by “full cast/straight read,” or by “audio drama/story,” but rather, by “read fiction” and “performed fiction.” “Performed fiction” relies on the use of dramatic techniques to tell the story—that is, music, sound effects, and acting— while “read fiction” does not. The category of “performed fiction” can then be subdivided into “audio drama” and “audio story,” under the same criteria utilized by the Parsecs. This classification, therefore, combines both the commonly-understood distinction between straight read and full cast, along with the Parsecs’ observance of stories and dramas as separate genres.
However, this means of classifying podcasts is not intended as a strict binary. Rather, conceiving of podcast fiction as a spectrum more accurately reflects the vast array of podcasts that have been produced. At one extreme are those stories which are read by a single narrator, without music, acting, or sound effects. Indeed, such stories might not have originally been intended for audio distribution at all. In its submissions guidelines, Pseudopod states, “We do not discriminate between previously published and unpublished works…we encourage new authors to send their work to other markets first, and then send it to us for audio rights after the story has appeared.” Thus, the stories it solicits are not necessarily written with podcasting in mind, unlike We’re Alive or Hidden Harbor [ETA: Or Six Stories, Told At Night]. As such, the performance is not an integral part of those stories—they lose very little when experienced as pure text.
The shift from read to performed podcast fiction occurs as a result of the use of dramatic techniques. Music, sound effects, and voice acting are used to communicate setting, atmosphere, and character in addition to what is already suggested by the text. Thus, reading and listening to performed narratives are ultimately very different experiences. The key distinction between read and performed narratives therefore lies not in the amount of dramatic techniques used, but rather, in their importance to the story. For instance, it is fairly common to have musical interludes introduce and finish segments of audiobooks; however, they have little impact on the storytelling. By contrast, the now-removed podcast Weather Child had relatively light scoring and sound effects, and a cast of two. As these elements were integral, Weather Child was nevertheless performed. This is particularly evident when considering its use of voice acting to portray character.
The use of voice acting is the most telling characteristic of performed fiction. Acting necessarily denotes performance. However, it is misleading to deem a read narrative “performance” when the reader has simply used different voices to distinguish characters. Here, this paper draws a distinction between “reading with voices” and “voice acting.” While reading, the reader speaks like the character. While performing, the actor speaks as the character. Admittedly, this distinction contains a certain amount of subjectivity, but it is generally useful.
For example, the podcast novels Weaver’s Web (Philippa Ballantine) and Ancestor (Scott Sigler) are both read by a single voice. However, Ballantine offers performances of her characters—this is particularly evident in her portrayal of the Weavers. Sigler can affect accents and emotions effectively—as in the case of troubled geneticist Lu Jian Dan—but ultimately, the difference is one of kind rather than degree. While some allowance should be made for a reader/actor’s particular skill, the difference between reading and acting is ultimately one of intention rather than talent.
Having determined the importance of voice acting in distinguishing podcast works as performed fiction, it is now necessary to examine the distinctions between performed narrative and audio drama. As the name suggests, performed narratives are primarily told through narration, whereas audio dramas are told through sound. This paper agrees with the general definitions put forth by the Parsec Awards.  However, this paper maintains that performed narratives fall along a spectrum. Weaver’s Web lies at one extreme: it is a performance due to its use of voice acting, but relies almost entirely on narration. Conversely, Hidden Harbor Mysteries is explicitly presented as a 1930s radio play. Therefore, it is unquestionably a drama. Not only is there minimal narration, but the narrator himself is another character. Yet between these two extremes fall podcasts such as The Guild of the Cowry Catchers, Metamor City: Making the Cut, and The Antithesis Progression. Sound is more integral to the storytelling than would be the case in a strict narrative, yet there is more narration than would be incorporated into a drama.
Thus, using these distinctions and taxonomy, one might say that We’re Alive is a large-cast audio drama, Weaver’s Web is a solo performed narrative, and “England Under the White Witch,” by Theodora Goss, as read by Kate Baker on Clarkesworld, is a read short story.
 Bryan Lincoln, Episode 73: Straight Read vs. Full Cast, accessed March 26, 2015.
 “2015 Category Descriptions,” Parsec Awards, accessed March 26, 2015. <http://www.parsecawards.com/2015-parsec-awards/category-descriptions/>
 “2014 Parsec Award Winners and Finalists,” Parsec Awards, accessed March 26, 2015.
 Michael Spence, Why the Sea is Boiling Hot, podcast audio, Tales from the Archives Vol. III, edited Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris, MP3, 24:30-32:30, accessed March 24, 2015. <http://www.ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com/2014/03/25/tales-from-the-archives-iii-three/>
Paul Lorello, Growth Spurt, podcast audio, Pseudopod, edited Shaun M. Garrett, MP3, accessed March 24, 2015. <http://pseudopod.org/2013/10/25/pseudopod-357-growth-spurt/>
 Lincoln, Episode 73: Straight Read vs. Full Cast, 35:06.
 “2015 Category Descriptions,” Parsec Awards, accessed March 26, 2015. <http://www.parsecawards.com/2015-parsec-awards/category-descriptions/>
So I’m still not entirely sure where Six Stories, Told at Night falls…but since it’s performed, and uses a lot of narrative – a solo performed piece?
Also, Tee Morris and I made this awesome infographic detailing other fiction podcasts pre-dating Welcome to Night Vale’s 2012 launch. Check it out, and discover some other cool listens!
What I’m Listening To This Week
Sometimes, there’s a song that I don’t even remember stumbling across. Amy MacDonald’s “This is the Life,” for instance. I heard this first back in high school, and it’s popped up again. Not my usual style, but quite enjoyable!
Cover reveal and podcast announcement! Huzzah!
Our new audio drama, Six Stories, Told at Night releases soon—Episode 1 should drop on Sunday, August 14th. There will be links aplenty once that happens, rest assured.
Six Stories, Told at Night has been generously funded by the Ontario Arts Council. What does this mean? It means that, after years of podcasting on a shoestring, I could finally afford to do things properly. Custom music, pro rates for voice talent (an actor AND a singer, oh my), and a gorgeous cover image.
Would you like to see this gorgeous cover image?
Of course you would.
It’s designed by Starla Huchton, after all.
Here it is:
I am so incredibly grateful to the Ontario Arts Council. Someone, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I’m the first fantasy podcaster to receive government funding? While that’s neat for my ego, it’s also highly encouraging.
You guys, the government funded an independent podcast. Not only that, the government funded an independent fantasy podcast.
Ten years ago, not many people knew what a podcast was. Not many people outside the community took them all that seriously. While podcasts have since grown more mainstream, this feels incredibly validating. It reaffirms that yes, podcast fiction is legitimate art. It shows that podcasts have changed the way we tell stories—maybe not quite the way we all imagined ten years back, but nevertheless.
And it reaffirms the legitimacy of speculative fiction outside its community. For those keeping score at home—earlier this year, a straight-up fantasy story about cannibal ice monsters won the largest short story contest in Canada. Now Six Stories and its fairy tales contribute to the arts in Ontario. It makes me feel very honoured, very blessed, and very humbled.
It’s been a wild ride. Blythe sounds phenomenal, of course—I think this may be my favourite vocal performance from her. I can’t wait to show you what we’ve been working on. See you next Sunday!
What I’m Listening To This Week
So here’s how I do this: I literally just find whatever song has been most played on my iPod over the past week. That’s it.
Sorry. Not sorry.
This song has acquired a very special poignancy for me. Music starts at 1:04.
I’m typing this somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, on my way home after a week in Ireland as visiting choir at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (I wasn’t the entire visiting choir, don’t worry—there were close to 40 of us singing). Conveniently, Ireland was next on my “Want-To-Visit” list after New Zealand, so things worked out quite well.
After all, I have a lot of upcoming fiction that either draws from Irish history/mythology, or straight-out takes place in Ireland. So while the choir was there to sing, I used this as a research trip alongside.
Mostly, this research consisted of walking around and looking at things. Getting a feel for Dublin and its qualities of light; how the air lies against the skin; the smells and shadows and tastes. My pal Erin and I took some day trips as well, so I did the same heading north to the Giants’ Causeway, and then cutting across the country to the Cliffs of Moher.
It’s a funny thing. When you’re in this research-mode, you’re always hanging back a little. You take notes, mentally or otherwise. My phone is full of things like, “Horn spoons can’t be sharpened,” and “Mugshot mirrors,” and “Body-snatching cemetery near Kilmainham: jail visible.” It’s kind of like being a spy: silently gathering information as you move through the world.
Of course, you still enjoy yourself. It’s true: there’s something about the Cliffs of Moher that take the talking away from you. At the same time, it’s like having double-vision: gasping at the Cliffs of Moher because they’re really quite shockingly beautiful, while also saying, “Right…this is the contrast of grey-lilac cloud and bright green. This is how it looks.”
I think that writers are simultaneously hyper-engaged with the world, and standing apart from it. Constantly stroking the limestone (smooth, warm, grainy under the fingers), really paying attention to the salt on the wind (it gets on the lips), studying our bus tour group (that passive-aggressive woman insinuating that maybe the driver can stop at her hotel, not the official bus drop-off). You’re right there, but always saying, “So that’s how it is, I can use that.”
Really, though, you don’t need to travel to conduct this sort of research. Watch the people on the subway—the power dynamics over shared seats. Pay attention walking down the street—ears open, eyes wide, breathing deep.
It’s tiring. I don’t think anyone can do it all of the time. Sometimes, you can’t be standing apart, taking notes. But I do think I made the most of my time in Ireland. I understand it better; we’ve gotten to know each other a bit.
Now, of course, even more fun and hard work: taking those impressions and scraps and synthesizing them into good stories. 🙂
What I’m Listening to This Week
Ah, it’s been “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” (no, I’ve not seen the movie; yes, I want to). There was a lot of Irish history on this trip. There’s a wonderful crescendo about midway through this piece that cuts to a lot of grief—it’s given insight into a certain character.
I understand him better; we’ve gotten to know each other a bit.
Like many writers I know, I keep quotations at my desk. As with most people, they represent an eclectic mix of memories, aspirations, and feelings. Now, I like seeing what words other writers use for compasses. Here, then, are mine:
There’s a reason this picture has shown up a few times. It’s one of the most important of the bunch. Shortly after I graduated, Elizabeth Hand and I had a long, lovely conversation. This is how she finished it. At any stage of a career, it all comes down to this, doesn’t it?
From Doctor Who (the beautiful Vincent Van Gogh episode, more specifically). My writing goes dark, more often than not. While it’s all very well – easy – to hit the reader that way, there has to be more to a story than emotional button-pushing and personal catharsis.
Another contribution from Liz: this is from a poem by Theodore Roethke. She put this on the easel during our first workshop, and it’s stayed with me since. The voice of the story is always there. Often, we simply need to centre ourselves, breathe, and listen to it.
From another friend: Dave Robison. During my first Smoky Mountain Writers’ retreat, I joined a renegade critique group that met to offer criticism after cocktail hour. I read a story about undead French-Canadian steampunk cyborgs (of course). After the silence that followed, this is what Dave said.
This probably deserves its own blog post, but I have to believe it. I have to. Words aren’t coming? You’re going to win a Hugo one day. Rejection letter? You’re going to win a Hugo one day. Feeling frightened, alone, and talentless? Dust yourself off and keep going, because you’re going to win a Hugo one day.
Of course, it seems terribly arrogant to presume that, but I think a weird mix of arrogance and humility is part and parcel of the writing mindset. In any case, it’s proven a lifeline, a beacon, something to drive my ship towards. Can’t ask for more than that, can you?
Okay, so this is probably the most idiosyncratic of the bunch. Earlier this year, I read The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, by Steven Brust. It was part of Terri Windling’s series of fairy tale retellings. It’s about a painter and it’s about a Hungarian fairy tale. It’s mostly about art and creation. Throughout, the narrator asks, “Bones?” He explains that in traditional Hungarian fairy tales, it’s a way of asking if the listener is still awake, if they want more.
And then the story continues.
When I’m beaten, and exhausted, and battling a three-day migraine (I was doing so well with migraines, for a while), I look just past my monitor. There, on one of many whiteboards, the question waits.
And inevitably, my tired brain mumbles, “Tiles.”
And then the story continues.
Can’t ask for more than that, can you?
What I’m Listening to This Week
We’re finally going to Dublin! The choir flies out at the end of this week, so naturally, when it’s not tour music, I’ve been listening to all sorts of Irish music. I’ve heard other versions of “Óró Sé do Bheatha Bhaile,” but none like this. Loosely translated, it runs something like, “Oh-ro, welcome home, Oh-ro, welcome home, now that summer’s coming!”
It’s a rebel song, and it’s the intensity of the vocalists that gets me here. It’s sparking something in the back of my mind: possibly a way to fix the novel I drafted earlier this year (Dublin will be part choir tour, part research trip….)
It’s my birthday tomorrow! Granted, this does happen every year. But tomorrow is rather a milestone. I’m turning twenty-five, you see.
It feels like a big number.
I’m sure I’ll look back on that sentence in ten years and laugh.
Regardless, the idea of twenty-five seems to be settling quite well. It feels like I am exactly where I’m meant to be at this point in time. And a slow realization has been dawning on me…
I’m really, overall, very happy.
There was a time that I didn’t think that would be possible. Frankly, there was a time when I thought I’d be lucky to make it to twenty-five. That period leaves an overwhelming impression of greyness and cold. I was living by my fingernails, and I would’ve been miserable, but everything inside was too frozen for that.
Going into this twenty-fifth year, it’s green-gold and light, all the way through. Honestly, when I think about how happiness looks to me, it’s the same image over and over: those golden summer mornings at the village, early, before the public arrives. When the day’s heat is banked and the air’s shimmering and full of dew, and the dust lies quiet on the road.
Of course, there have been bumps in between Then and Now. There was also an impressive derailment. But overall…
I’ve worked really, really hard to create a life that makes me happy. I’ve learned stuff, too.
It is always, always better to talk things out.
Unexpressed emotions fester. They turn septic, poisoning you from the inside out. It is always better to get them out in the open.
I can’t drink beer and be productive on the same night.
Not at 20, definitely not at 25.
The prevailing narrative isn’t the only valid one.
Grow up, meet significant other, marry, buy house, have 2.1 children, work, retire, etc.
This is the narrative we all receive as children. It’s a fine narrative; there’s nothing wrong with it at all. But it isn’t the only one. Over the last year especially, I’ve learned that my life narrative is NOT going to look like this. And at first, that was really hard to accept—because damn, isn’t something wrong, if you stray from the Approved Story?
But you get to write your story. You can change the ending. Throw in a plot twist. Whatever narrative you end up living is no less valid than the one with the most cultural currency.
The arts really is a matter of taste.
I recently read an award-winning story (from a few years back), and said, “Eh.” Nothing wrong with it. Just not for me. And then I realized, OMG this is what editors do too!!!
See also: my experiences with modern art.
Success is a numbers game.
If you are lucky, talented, and persistent, you will eventually make it.
I’m talented. My Canadian soul quakes to say it, but it’s disingenuous not to. I’m lucky.
The minimum amount of sleep I need to be reasonably functional is 4 hours.
This has been extensively tested. 3 hours is not pretty.
There’s always a line in the sand.
Whenever I go into tailspins, there’s always some line in the sand—something that I am not willing to lose—that pulls me upright again. It’s an impetus to start clawing my way back to the light.
Everyone has their price. It’s a matter of sorting it out, before it’s too late.
My family/friendships are my centre.
I like Being Alone. I like staying up until 4:00 am writing. I like bopping around museums and galleries by myself. I like having my art play a prominent role in my life.
But without you—you, my families; you, my friends; you, my Tribe—there’s nothing.
So that’s twenty-five years. They’ve been good ones, on the whole, made much better by a whole host of wonderful people.
Here’s to a whole bunch more!
What I’m Listening To This Week
More Hamilton, #sorrynotsorry. The musical just works for me, okay? It’s incredibly well-crafted, and the music does hugely interesting things. That’s why I have to keep listening – because you can’t quite get it all, the first time around.
So: the Reynolds Pamphlet. My inner history geek loves this because they quote the actual primary source document. My ear loves the deep-voiced, “Daaaaaamn.” My plotting self loves that this is the moment at which Hamilton’s world crumbles – plotwise, this is pivotal. And my character loving self adores Angelica’s rage and Jefferson’s unrestrained glee.
Quite a lot, for a two-minute song!
Good news, everyone! The audiobook version of HEARTSTEALER is now available from Audible.com! If you recall, I spent a good chunk of this off-season editing this thing, so it’s delightful to have it out in the wild, ready to be purchased.
Blythe does a fantastic job narrating. Naturally, she was my first choice. Both for sheer talent, and also, becomes this book comes from such a specific period of my life.
“Grief hadn’t made me weak. It had made me stronger than I’d ever known I could be.”
It was such a strange, full-circle feeling, hearing her speak those words. Because it’s true. I figured that out about grief a long time ago: I believed it then, I believed it when I wrote it, and I believe it now.
The thing with spending 130 hours listening to someone read your words aloud is that you hear more in them. Yes, HEARTSTEALER came from a place of great grief…but also from a place of great love. Love for a place, and love for the people I found there.
So, thank you. Thank you to everyone who’s had a hand along the way…and thank you most especially to Blythe. I know it was not an easy project—luckily, I also knew your talent would be more than a match for it!
Now before we get too maudlin, here’s some fun statistics:
Total word count: 105,000
Total running time: 12 hours, 9 minutes.
Total editing time: 130 hours (best guess)
Total time between first handshake and audiobook release: Seven months.
Distinct speaking characters: 61
Distinct voices: 65
Distinct voice actors: 1
Buildings gleefully borrowed: I count 10, but probably more.
Voice talent cursed: Lost count.
Voice talent praised: Also lost count, but it was more.
So—check it out, tell your friends, and most importantly:
If you enjoy it—either the story, the performance, or both—please, for the love of Cthulhu, leave a review. It honestly helps so very, very much. And in this case, it helps both me and Blythe. So hey, boosting two artists for the price of one. Sounds like a deal I could get behind.
Or very craftily and deliberately orchestrate. You know. Either way.
Cheers, everyone. Thanks again, and enjoy the ride to this remote northern village, full of old hurts, older magic, and things that stalk the night…
What I’m Listening To This Week
MOAR VERDI AND TRAVIATA!
La Traviata is still my favourite opera. When I hear the prelude, I’m fifteen again. Because I was a really, really cool fifteen-year-old, obviously. Anyway, the prelude pretty much encapsulates the entire opera in three minutes. The first minute or so is super moody, delicate strings with a wilting-flower melody (spoiler: La Traviata does not end well).
Alfredo is our main romantic man here. His theme starts around 1:20. Hear how earnest he sounds? Only then—scary minor chords at 1:53. This is the operatic equivalent of going DUN DUN DUN. Our lady Violetta herself follows at 2:10 or so: a lovely, flippant little tune. You can practically see her bare shoulders and flipping hair. Listen to the contrast between the two…
The opera in a nutshell. 🙂
Beta readers are awesome people.
Every single one of my novels has gone through a few rounds of betas. I honestly don’t know what I would do without them. They’re like that friend who runs lines with you before performances, or asks questions for mock interviews. They love you and they have your back, and they’ll call you on things.
Like I said: awesome people.
My novel just went out to betas. As I compiled my list, I had to smile. Over the years, I’ve collected a lot of wonderful beta readers. They come from all spheres of my life: the museum, my writing pals, my church/choir, my family, my former schoolmates…
For me, there’s no particular formula for finding good beta readers. Mostly, it’s about keeping your eyes and ears open: paying attention to the people around you. And making sure they actually have time. But looking closely at my Beta Super Team, some patterns emerge.
First and foremost: they’re readers. They love books; they love stories; they love words. Most are well-versed in fantasy—they know tropes; they can sense when a story’s out of joint. And those with diverging tastes are still lovers of story. They offer new insights, fresh takes, all while keeping the story’s interests uppermost in mind.
They’re conscientious and thoughtful. Some have read absolutely everything I’ve ever written ever (Hi, Cara!). This round, a few haven’t read anything of mine before. Either way, I’ve spent enough time with all of them to know: they’re smart people. Their judgement is sound; I know they won’t just fling random thoughts at me willy-nilly.
And they have insights both brilliant and varied. I like having a fairly large Beta Super Team. (Novel’s currently out to 11, and I have a few more people to approach.) Partly, this is to try and get some consensus in response. A note from one person may or may not indicate a problem; the same note from a dozen probably does.
But also—remember how my Beta Super Team comes from many, many different parts of my life? They have vastly different backgrounds, experiences, and areas of knowledge/skill.
I love using actors as beta readers because they’re trained to look at texts and analyze characters. I love using my healthcare-type pal because she’s flipping brilliant with story logic and prose-level technical issues. I love using history types who can call me on worldbuilding; fantasy lovers who can feel if the story hits right; writers who can delve into issues of art and craft.
All that’s great. But you know why beta readers are really awesome?
They’re doing this for love. Love for you; love for the story; love for the process. It means so much to me when someone agrees to beta read. They’re giving up their free time to help me. Everyone has their own lives and projects; it’s no small thing.
And it’s a special thing, this relationship between beta reader and author. Like falling in love – when it clicks, you know. Everyone’s working towards the same goal:
The most kickass story possible.
So, to my Beta Super Team: thank you thank you thank you. I hope you enjoy the novel, and I am stoked to hear your thoughts!
What I’m Listening To This Week:
I actually can’t listen to this piece too much, because it makes me cry, and I’m scared that repeated exposure will dull the effect. This rendition of “Calon Lân” is a beautifully-sung traditional Welsh hymn, but it’s the choir that makes it here. There’s something in these young men’s eyes—passion, spirit—that gets me every single time.
This is how choirs should sing, always. Music starts at 2:10.