I ran into an old friend yesterday:
There’s been a street festival running all weekend. And it’s a true neighbourhood street festival: the kind where Italian grandmas pull passerby into their dancing and magicians pull quarters from kids’ ears. The secondhand bookstore had its one-dollar boxes out – and there, staring at me, was Old Bear.
I stopped dead. The plot eluded me (as it turns out, the toys rescue Old Bear from his attic seclusion), but the characters popped up, vivid as they were in childhood.
Old Bear. Little Bear. Bramwell Brown. Rabbit. Duck.
I hesitated for the briefest moment – and then I bought it. You see, I have a belief about secondhand bookstores. They help the right books find you at the right time. You can’t always force it. And when they’re sending you a message, it’s best not to ignore it.
So now I’m reunited with a book I haven’t seen in at least twenty years. Partly, I just wanted it in my life again. And partly, I’m storing it for some future child – maybe my own, maybe a niece or nephew, maybe a friend’s child. “Look,” the instinct runs. “Look, this book held magic for me – maybe it will for you, too.”
Some magic is a private thing. Some magic yearns to be shared. Childhood books definitely belong in the latter camp, at least for me.
I got another book as well. This one wasn’t in the festival bins. It was inside, along the wall of fantastika. My heart leaped to see it. (This bookstore generally has a thorough collection of Andrée Norton, Robert Silverberg, A.E. van Vogt, and others of that vintage, but slightly less fantasy.)
Nineteenth century British fantasy:
Same message, same instinct. The right book at the right time, the perfect counterweight to my ongoing Southern Ontario Gothic ponderings.
Except it wasn’t a loonie. It was $25. Which – there’s a few upcoming books I want sooner than the library can get them. Trail of Lightning, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, A Cathedral of Myth and Bone…
So I put it back on the shelf, looked at the Tolkien editions beside it, and then circled around again. But it’s best not to ignore a bookstore’s message. At last, I took a deep breath and approached the counter.
“Great stuff in here,” the bookseller said.
“Yeah, for sure. It’s got Goblin Market.”
“It’s twenty-five dollars…” He hesitated. “Actually, today, it’s eighteen.”
Some magic yearns to be shared. Stepping back into the sunlight and the festival, I felt lighter. Sometimes, it is important to remember that such magic exists. And our instinct to spread it gives hope indeed.
What I’m Listening To This Week
Still digging the Holst and Vaughan Williams. This week it’s been “I Love My Love,” which has a very catchy melody and chilling lyrics. It’s one of those folk songs that’s a story set to music. The treble echoes around 1:30 and 3:30 are particularly haunting.
The news has filtered through the internet by now: SIX STORIES, TOLD AT NIGHT has won the Parsec Award for Best Small Cast Story (Novella). It’s an incredible honour, I’m very pleased, and I want to show you a picture:
This is the 2012 Parsec Awards at Dragon*Con. It’s blurry because my hands were shaking, even worse than usual.
I was very young. Sitting alone, at the fringes. I was awkward and incredibly nervous. And also overwhelmed by the fact I’d made it to Dragon*Con. Guys, for 2012 KT, this was like attending the Oscars. My favourite podcast celebrities were all there. I’d been hanging out with some of them through the weekend. This was mind-blowing.
I remember feeling so uncomfortable, though.
Uncomfortable and hungry. God, I was so hungry (metaphorically speaking). After the awards, Pip Ballantine nodded to the big screen, saying, “Maybe one day, it’ll be your name up there.” And oh, I wanted that so much. Even then, I was gingerly feeling around the dream’s edges. Podcasting means a lot to me—I’ve always believed in the art form. I always wanted to create something beautiful with it.
In 2014, my short story “Under Oak Island” made the finalist round. So yes, my name was up there. It didn’t win, but it was a huge honour nonetheless.
Coxwood History Fun Park didn’t make the finalist round. Honestly, that was Okay.
And then I wrote SIX STORIES, TOLD AT NIGHT.
I’ve said before: SIX STORIES is the first time I’ve sat back after production and said, “Yes. Yes, I have produced the podcast that justifies me.” It is not a perfect podcast, but it contains all of my heart and all of my ability, and it is exactly the way I wanted to go out.
From the start, I knew it was my last kick at the Parsec can.
One last story. One last shot.
And we did it.
And it feels—okay, well, honestly, it feels incredible. This is a dream I’ve had since I was eighteen years old. It was a long, long road—eight years!—which makes it all the more poignant. I have learned so much whilst podcasting, I’ve made so many friends, and I’ve grown so much.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m LOVING my tenure producing the Apex Magazine Podcast. But in terms of producing my own fiction, writing my own intensive audio dramas…
I’m good. Parsec or no, SIX STORIES said precisely what I want to say. With this story, I’ve done what I set out to do.
The Parsec is a wonderful symbol of that. I can scarcely describe how it feels to have a story that means so much to me, recognized with an award that holds such weight for me.
But I stand on the shoulders of giants. My utmost thanks to the many talented podcasters who came before me, inspired me, mentored me, and laid the foundation of the audio fiction canon we see today. My thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for providing the funding that made SIX STORIES possible. My thanks to Alex White, Starla Huchton, and Ellen McAteer for their contributions to this podcast. And of course, my thanks to Blythe Haynes for a beautiful performance.
It’s been an incredible ride, and I could not be happier.
But it’s not over. Not yet, not with SIX STORIES hitting the Toronto Fringe in July.
So thank you, all, for believing in this little podcast that could. I’m truly touched.
What I’m Listening to this Week
I had a bunch of choral pieces, but I cycled back to Kevin MacLeod’s “Long Road Ahead.” This was the piece that concluded Hapax, and it feels especially apt for this week…particularly the final movement at 1:40.
I didn’t really want to write this post. This is supposed to be the cumulative, “What I Did in 2017” post. You know, where we check in with that black-Sharpie list I made on New Year’s Day. But see—the thing is—I feel like I didn’t do much.
But that’s putting it mildly. Coming off the insane ride that was 2016—the year everything seemed to go right—this year has left me feeling fairly ineffective. A failure.
However, I do want to remain honest, always. And I think this year, while deeply unpleasant, was necessary.
So let’s get the main event over.
What I Did in 2017
“Her Hands Like Ice” came out in Bracken Magazine.
“Search History” sold to/came out in Daily Science Fiction.
Gave my “Fantasy Author’s Guide to Beer” talk at Boskone, the Nebulas, and Can-Con.
“La Corriveau” was shortlisted for the Sunburst Award.
“Six Stories, Told at Night” is currently a Parsec finalist (idk when the awards are being given—does anyone?)
Wrote and submitted a lot of stories. Some of them got very nice rejection letters.
Wrote a final draft of the Creepy Play, provisionally titled, A Canticle of Stars. It’s being produced in the spring.
“Six Stories, Told at Night—LIVE ON STAGE” got into the Toronto Fringe Festival. I probably will not add “LIVE ON STAGE” to the final title, but no promises.
Started writing the Beer Magic Novel. It’s currently about 25k. It needs a good solid whack with a stick before I can continue, but I’m having fun thus far.
Contracted with Choice of Games to write another interactive fiction game. It occurs to me that I never mentioned this publicly. But I’m totally doing that. It has dinosaurs in it.
Researched/began plotting a new play with Blythe.
Schemed quite heavily on other theatre things with Blythe. I can talk about them more in the New Year. The secret is slipping out, but I must be coy a while longer.
Took over as the Apex Magazine podcast producer. Which—whooo! I didn’t realize how much I missed podcasting until I was back in the saddle. This is the best arrangement, and I’ve loved working with the Apex team.
I also made a lot of new friends (waves at Twitter), wonderful thing happened to my friends, and I read a LOT of good things.
Which…okay. I look at all that, and I have to concede that perhaps I am not a total failure. I’m just not living up to my own expectation. It’s silly, and I know that writing doesn’t work this way, but I fell into the trap of assuming that last year’s streak would just…continue.
Except it doesn’t always.
Except that writing—like anything—happens in cycles.
Except that you have to keep going, even when it feels like you are the Absolute Worst.
This year—yeah, this year, I failed. Not totally. But I did. And if one is going to survive writing, one has to learn how to survive that. 2017 shook me to the roots—and while I cracked a little, I’m still standing.
Terri Windling has interesting thoughts about this, actually. Quoting Jane Champagne, she says, “…sometimes the old artist has to die before the new artist is born. And the “death” part takes as long as it takes. It doesn’t care about schedules and deadlines.”
This is comforting, because it addresses another difficult aspect of this year:
It’s been hard to write. I feel clumsy. I feel inarticulate. I feel like I have laryngitis: the same frustration in expressing myself; notes once so easy, now out of reach.
After this long, I know: throwing myself into a long-term project always helps rekindle the fire, so I’m very glad for Beer Magic. Even if it needs a good whack. (It’s a weird one, my friends. Fun, but weird.)So the important thing for 2018 is to keep moving onwards. Write more, write better. And more importantly, write with more joy. I realize now that was often missing from my 2017 writing. That may have been part of the problem, actually.
Well. Hmm. That’s something to chew on. I’m glad we had this chat, friends.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Aptly, a piece I literally just discovered, Daniel Schreiner’s “Fear Not.” There are some incredibly beautiful dissonances here—and those droning, held tenor/soprano notes give me goosebumps.
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’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.
I have a friend from Stonecoast visiting this week, which means there has been lots of gallivanting and little else. So not much musing today, just updates.
I’m a Sunburst nominee?
So last Monday, I posted about this strange, transitional sense I’ve been having. And the minor crises of self-esteem. Then I opened Twitter…
…and found the awesome and talented Kelly Robson congratulating me.
Having “La Corriveau” on the longlist was a huge honour; I honestly never expected it to go any further than that. This is likewise a huge honour—look at that list! Go back and look at the longlist! There is serious talent there!
It’s very humbling. And I’ve always been fond of “La Corriveau.” If nothing else, the historic Marie-Josephte Corriveau was a remarkable woman: I hope I’m doing her some justice.
The Sunburst winners will be announced sometime this fall.
Starting in September, I’ll be producing the Apex Magazine podcast!
This was unexpected, but delightful news! I’ve missed working with sounds—as everyone predicted when Six Stories wrapped up, I love podcasts too much to quit them entirely. Not only is Apex a wonderful team, it seems like the perfect balance: I’m just producing. That cuts down on time and workload, but still lets me keep a toe in the pool.
At the moment, I’m busy cultivating a stable of narrators. So yes, you’ll be hearing more from Blythe. I’m also excited to bring some new voices to your ears, too!
And that’s about it for the week. Things continue to tick along. We shall see where we end up.
What I’m Listening to This Week
Sometimes, the hardest thing about finishing a story is leaving the world. I was very fond of Heartstealer and Skarland. This piece brings me right back to the northern woods and autumn hearths…
“But where do you get your ideas?”
So I was coming home from the pub and I saw this bike propped against a tree:
It looked like he’d been stolen, stripped for parts, and abandoned. Such terrible sadness pervaded; I wondered about his owner. I saw him flying down Toronto streets, strong and fast and free, so proud to be carrying his rider—who in my head is now a twenty-something woman at U of T.
“I was a good bike,” he whispered.
Then I continued on, and I noticed it was a full moon. And isn’t it cool, how you can see the “seas” on its face—those plains of basalt called maria. Gazing up at the moon, I thought about what moons look like from other planets’ surfaces. I mean, our moon is pretty big and bright—like a silver dollar—but what if it was little? Or a vibrant colour? Or lumpy?
Also, I could totally see how the maria look like a face: two eyes and a gaping, slightly horrified mouth. The human brain always seeks patterns, which is neat. Except in Chinese tradition, it’s a rabbit. And I could see it two ways: either a rabbit on his side, or a rabbit with exceptionally long ears.
While looking at the sky, I also saw the Big Dipper, which made me think of an Indigenous Canadian myth in which Robin, Chickadee, and Moose Bird are hunting the Great Bear across the sky. It’s an eternal hunt that plays out through the seasons, year after year, and that kind of Cosmic Dance is very humbling and thrilling all at once. Plus, it’s a cool story.
So I kept walking and I saw a big orange cat padding by on business. When she reached certain front steps, she stopped and rested. Then a little grey cat came trundling along, rounded the corner, and—
Both cats noticed each other at the same time.
They froze. The little grey cat kept one paw in hanging in mid-air. A great tension filled the night: the little grey cat hesitating, the big orange cat staring imperiously.
But then the little grey cat trotted towards the other, they bunted heads, and the night was calm once more.
By this point, I was nearly home. Because it is summer, many of my neighbours were sitting on their porches, cigarettes burning through the night like fireflies. Harsh young voices barked from the main street: a counterpoint to the low, constant murmurings of Italian.
“Did she really?” an older woman said. “I never thought—shows him, eh?”
And an Alice Munro-esque situation sprang into glorious colour: mundane tragedy become epic in proportion, repressed emotion and women breaking free.
And then I was home.
“But where do you get your ideas?”
A ten-minute walk, a starry night, an open soul.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Have you read Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books? They’re cool—I devoured Arrows of the Queen growing up. Anyway, Misty is also an accomplished filk musician; her books have a folk music tradition all their own.
“Battle Dawn” has always been my favourite: I fell in love with the driving rhythm the first time I heard it. And that voice…!
Another addition to the new novel’s playlist.
So I’ve seen Moulin Rouge! three times over the last week. Partly it’s because the music got well and truly stuck in my head (as we’ll see in What I’m Listening to this Week), but also, I feel like a little kid with their favourite story.
“Tell it again!”
“Um…they still fall in love. It still doesn’t end well.”
And it got me thinking. In a funny way, I feel like I imprinted on this particular story very young. Not just Moulin Rouge! per se, though that was the first variant I encountered. Moulin Rouge! is itself mostly a riff on La Traviata with some strains of La Bohème. La Traviata, of course, is the operatic adaptation of a mid-Victorian play called La Dame aux Camélias. In turn, that play was adapted from Alexandre Dumas fils’ novel of the same name.
Lots of variations, all essentially the same story: a courtesan and an earnest young man; impossible love; self-sacrifice through deception; and of course, consumption.
Doomed love and unabashed romanticism—what can I say? It’s my catnip. La Traviata remains my favourite opera, and I’ve never survived Act Three dry-eyed.
And looking at my fiction, I can see echoes here and there. Not necessarily in courtesans and consumption, but in some of the themes, the feel…the motif of impossible love.
I think that some stories do leave their mark on us quite deeply. They find touchstones within us, and so resonate through our own works. Asking why is kind of like asking why we have recurring dreams. There is something deep in our subconscious that sings the same song back, and so it makes sense that these are the stories we return to again and again—even if we’re not entirely sure why.
Sometimes, they’re wholly unexpected. Honestly, I find myself returning to Neuromancer more than people might expect. I wouldn’t say it’s one of my favourite books—not like La Traviata is my favourite opera; not like East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon is my favourite fairy tale. But there’s a bit towards the end that’s never left me.
Beyond ego, beyond personality, beyond awareness, he moved, Kuang moving with him, evading his attackers with an ancient dance, Hideo’s dance, grace of the mind-body interface granted him, in that second, by the clarity and singleness of his wish to die.
And one step in that dance was the lightest touch on the switch, barely enough to flip—
and his voice the cry of a bird
3Jane answering in song, three
notes, high and pure.
A true name.
Neon forest, rain sizzling across hot pavement. The smell of frying food… But all of this receding, as the cityscape recedes…as the roads and crossroads scribed on the face of a microchip, the sweat-stained pattern on a folded, knotted scarf.
William Gibson, Neuromancer
Fantasy author can’t get over the climax of a seminal cyberpunk work? Say what?
It’s the moment of transcendence, you see. That’s what I keep trying to answer, in my own way. And that’s really it: some stories, you keep trying to write back to, subconsciously or not.
For me, this all gets back to the idea that we write what we don’t understand. We write what confounds us, perplexes us, what the mind cannot quite work through. I’m not sure that it always does, of course. Some stories echo in us forever.
And so we keep singing back to them.
What stories resonate in you?
PS. A reminder that Lauren Harris’s YA novel UNLEASH released last week! Do you like gritty urban fantasy and kickass heroines? You can get your copy here!
What I’m Listening to This Week
Really, all of Moulin Rouge! but let’s just say, “One Day I’ll Fly Away,” which is a song to which I never really paid attention before this week. SPOILERS, it shows up as a devastating motif later, but I like it here as a way to show another side of Satine’s personality. It’s really the only time in the film we see her in (assumed) privacy, not performing for other people.
Last January, I set myself a goal of writing a weekly blog post. Mostly as a discipline thing; partly for writing practice; partly to lay a foundation for the future. Overall, I’ve been good at sticking to that goal.
Except for last week. There wasn’t a blog post last week.
Actually, there wasn’t much of anything last week. I posted a poem to Facebook and a sunrise to Instagram, but that’s about it. I deleted all my social media apps from my phone and tablet. Sometimes I’d pop into Facebook on a browser for a quick peek, but only rarely.
See—I try to keep my social media activity mostly positive. Oh, I’ll post a sigh of despair over the latest shenanigans down south or the odd frustration, but mostly—if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
And so I stayed real quiet.
There’s another principle I try to keep: you don’t look in other people’s bowls. Actually the real quotation goes, “The only time you look in your neighbour’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough.” The thing with social media is that everyone’s bowls are on display all the time. And everyone’s tilting their bowl, and adjusting the lighting, and fiddling with filters to make sure that they look as good as possible.
And I just—I wanted to take my bowl and leave the table and sit quietly by myself for a little while. I didn’t want to worry about hiding its cracks. I didn’t want to expend the effort disguising how empty it’s gotten. In a weird way, I felt ashamed; like, why am I even at this table with a bowl like this?
I just wanted to sit quietly by myself. I wanted to remember why I love my bowl. And I wanted to take a good, hard look at it and say, “Okay. This isn’t working anymore. What now?”
So I spent my time reading a lot. Lots of magical realism. Lots of CanLit and Southern Gothic. Lots of fiction that skates the line between literary and genre (the irony is—after spending years and years rebelling against the literary—it’s calling me pretty strongly right now).
I listened to a lot of music.
I went for walks in the woods.
It was like leaving a noisy, noisy party and entering into silence again. I’ve been feeling pretty jangled up inside. The solitude’s been like a cool compress for the soul.
But even I can’t hermit forever. Last week, I dipped a toe back into the community—I grabbed a pal and went to the monthly Chiaroscuro Reading Series. Confession: I almost bailed at the last minute.
“I can’t,” I said. “I can’t smile and small talk today. I can’t be on my best behaviour.”
But bailing at that point would’ve been terribly unfair to my pal. And I knew, deep down, that it’d be good for me.
And you know what? I saw a bunch of people I normally only see at conventions. Like, right there! Because we actually all live in the same city! Whoa! I had some really nice conversations and cake. My pal got to meet one of his favourite authors, which seemed like a lovely moment for both.
And I remembered that I like writing. I like the fantastic and speculative. I like this community. A lot.
But since this whole experience has the whiff of burnout, I think I need to achieve better balance. Not only loving my bowl, but finding a place at the table where I can still hear myself think.
So I’m not quite back to the table, yet. I need a little more time with the quiet. But I’m edging closer to my seat.
What I’m Listening To This Week
Ah, Celtic Woman, my guilty pleasure.
I’m in the beginning throes of a new novel, which feels an awful lot like making your entrance in an unfamiliar choral piece. If you can get your starting pitch, things usually stay more-or-less on track. Landing sharp or flat? It’s difficult to stop the piece falling apart when you’re wrong-footed from the first note.
I usually forget how much flailing about I do at the beginning of a story. And then because I never remember the angst, the flailing feels disastrous, and I freak myself out.
And so, I thought it would be instructive to remind myself exactly how common false starts are for me:
It was a clear evening, one of the first of summer. A warm breeze wound through the City, caressing friends drinking outside taverns and lovers strolling through narrow streets. Plucking guitars floated over conversation and laughter, occasionally joined by soulful tenors. The golden stones that formed the City’s buildings still carried the heat of the noonday sun. Overtired children and the elderly clustered on them; the latter thanked the warmest spring in memory for driving away the chill winds that usually made one last appearance. And above, the stars, ever twinkling: familiar constellations smiling on the summer night. The Ox, the Hunter, the Vineyard, all the old friends that heralded the beginning of the new season.
(Then there’s an extended bit where two old men eat chicken and talk. Seriously.)Eventually:
The time, at last, had come.
A new star ignited over the City. Like a drop of blood glinting in the darkness, it blazed in the Serpent, brighter than any other star in the constellation. Under the starlight, the City crouched in the night, perched atop its plateau. Sheer cliffs fell away on every side; if not for lack of water, it could have been an island.
No breeze stirred the warm air. In narrow alleys, shadows stretched as quiet and endless as the gorges beyond the City.
Time passed. The stars danced on.
Sara had not felt so ill since her first glimpse of her husband’s headstone. That had been nearly six weeks ago, and plenty of stomach-turning moments had filled the emptiness between. Yet juddering along a country road in a carriage with shot springs ranked high among them. Sara clenched her hands in her lap, gritting her teeth each time the horses pounded over a half-buried stone or fallen branch. To her amazement, the coach’s other two passengers slept. An older woman leaned against the side of the coach, while a towheaded boy nestled into her.
I had not felt so ill since the funeral. The stagecoach rattled over the road and my teeth rattled in my skull. I kept watching the road ahead, even though dust streaked the windows. We jolted again. A large rock or another half-buried stump. There hadn’t been macadamized roads since several towns back, and since we’d left the train station at Ossington, the road had only gotten rougher. Too slow—I just wanted to get this journey over with.
Sophie clutches her knife tight, watching the unicorn across the pit.
(That is, apparently, as far as I got. It was bad.)
The hunt begins as it always does: with quarry, bait, and hunter.
This is the first story.
Once, there were two girls who lived in a little village far in the north of Québec. Let’s say the younger girl was seven, and the older one was ten. When you told me this story, you didn’t say what the girls looked like, but I always imagined that they looked like us.
The older girl had flashing dark eyes and knees covered in bruises. Her mouth quirked at the corners. The younger girl, her friend…well, she was paler. Frailer. Just a wisp, her grand-mère always said, just a bit of thistledown that would blow away in the wind.
This is the first story.
I’ve got this friend Joëlle, right? She moved in when I was seven. She was ten—a big kid. Only she wasn’t much bigger than me. Bruised knees and these huge, haunted eyes. Mom made sure she got an extra slice of pizza at our first sleepover, that’s how skinny she was when she arrived.
When my sister rose for the third time, we called the vampire-hunter.
He came in the stillness between afternoon and dusk: that suspended, grey time that happens only in winter. From the forest he came, shouldering a leather pack, and he went straight to the inn. There, by the smouldering hearth, he spread a cloth over the scarred taproom table and opened a glossy walnut box with hinged lid. In the firelight, the wood gleamed, and his onlookers—the entire village, it felt like—pressed closer.
The hands of the vampire-hunter move like spiders, and I hate them. They creep over our kitchen table, avoiding the plates of sausage and country bread my mother has laid out. They scuttle along the sides of a polished walnut case. Quick fingers, sly fingers—they lift belts and let brass buckles fall with a clink, clink, clink. They ease the lid up. Inside, his tools rest on velvet the colour of old blood. My mother chokes on a gasp; my father will not look.
You get the point. Sometimes, vestiges of an early attempt survive, but really, it takes me a while to figure out the tune.
Worth remembering, as I flail about with this novel…
My friend Lauren Harris recently revealed the cover of her upcoming YA urban fantasy UNLEASH.
What I’m Listening to This Week
Even after all these years, I have a soft spot for the French horn. Here, I love the dialogue between the horn (basses supporting) and the rest of the orchestra, especially the building tension around the 1:30 mark. Also, those devastating accidentals around 2:20.
And it’s Mozart. Of course it’s exquisitely well put-together.