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Welcome 2014!

It’s strange, chatting to the people in various spheres of my life. The verdict on 2013 seemed mostly unanimous: it was a year that knocked a lot of people flat. Sure, there were good moments, but the consensus generally seems to be cautious optimism to embrace the New Year.

I don’t usually do resolutions…but there are a few things to which I’m looking forward, and which I’d like to accomplish this year.

The Book Formerly Known as Strix

This. Book. Oh my God. This book. My frustrations with Strix are infamous. For whatever reason, this book kept kicking my knees in all through 2013. Fortunately, Gabrielle is a wonderful, patient editor who helped me morph it into a new book (albeit one with the same premise).

So far as I’m concerned, Strix is dead. Not every book lives, which is a terrible, hard thing to learn. But! But but but! I’m incredibly excited by this new book. Since there is no longer a strix in it (the adage “murder your darlings” became my personal mantra, chanted as I huddled in the corner of my darkened room), I can’t call it that anymore.

When it comes out depends on how fast I write. Possibly spring 2014? Whether I podcast it depends on too many factors to guess right now.

Victorian Dark Fantasies

I had so much fun writing the VDF. I think it’s a solid book and this year, my goal is to shop it around. We’ll see what happens. And since I realized halfway through that it’s not necessarily a standalone novel, a sequel may be in the cards.

After all, I’d love to send my dynamic duo south. There are more politics and history to explore there, and for one character, that lovely northern accent may start becoming a slight problem….

Back to School

When I graduated last June, I declared that I was taking a break from academia.

Then Stonecoast emailed.

And so in ten short days, I’ll be boarding a plane to Portland, ME, for my first Stonecoast residency. Doing my MFA there definitely falls into the “If You Told Me This Two Years Ago, I Would Have Laughed At You” file. I’m astonished and nervous and ridiculously excited and slightly sick to my stomach all at once.

My goals: learn stuff, write better, keep on top of everything.

Podcasting

God, I miss podcasting. I’m making more time for it in 2014. Mostly, things are in the “Seekrit Projikt,” “vague planning and idea-bouncing” stage, but expect more Canadian accents in your headphones this year.

Friends and Family and Such

At the end of my last grief counselling session, the therapist said, “Well! It sounds like you have some really good people around you.”

“Yes,” I answered, without missing a beat. “I do.”

I do.

2013 found me leaning on my friends far more than I’d usually be comfortable with. But they were there. You know who are you are, and I thank you with all my heart.

But being a functional human being and paying some of that kindness back/forward is a major life goal for me this year. For the first time since my dad died, I feel on an even keel. I feel capable of being a good friend and actually contributing to my various relationships again.

Arohanui, guys.

And so….

My metaphor for 2013 is thus. Imagine coming home and seeing a wrecking ball and gaping muddy pit where your house used to be. You’re shocked and devastated, and can’t conceive how this could happen. As you sort through the ruins, you realize that some things are too broken to save. Others are way stronger than you ever imagined.

Um…you know I live here, right?

Eventually, you clear out most of the wreckage. Then you find someone strengthened your existing foundations and installed some new ones, too. While the loss is heartbreaking, you can build something entirely new and utterly wonderful on top of it.

May 2014 be a year of building. All of my best, to all of you.

KT

Things That Make Sense to Authors

It looks like you’re playing Donkey Kong Country 2 for the umpteenth time while listening to opera on low, but you’re actually plotting a novel.

Lying flat on one’s back in the middle of the floor and engaging in long, rambling monologues about magic and theology is not crazy. Just working.

Engaging in long, rambling monologues about non-existent people’s personal problems while in the shower? You guessed it—also work!

When a character informs you that you’ve been spelling her name wrong, you thank her for the correction.

Reading books on the Revelations of Saint John the Divine and string theory for the same project.

The reason your beta reader has yet to respond is because they secretly hated your book. Actually, they probably secretly hate you as well, even though you’ve been friends for years. During periods of anxiety, this makes perfect sense. However, this IS crazy.

Coffee and tea are proof that God exists and wants us to be happy.

Characters have their own opinions on your iPod playlists. Your writing soundtracks, too.

Standing up in the middle of a crowded bar at a convention and declaring, “I need to be alone now.”

When an email from an agent/editor/publisher comes, and all you see is “DEAR AUTHORwordswordswordswordsNOT A FIT FOR US AT THIS TIMEwordswordswordswords.”

Alternatively, “DEAR AUTHORwordswordswordswords PLEASED TO ACCEPT YOUR SUBMISSIONwordswordswordswordswords.”

Meeting someone with the same accent as one of your characters, and listening hyper-intently to everything they say in an attempt to fix their speech patterns in your brain.

The irresistible lure of the conversation at the next table over.

The absolute squee that is fan art:

SerafineFanArt1

Having detailed plans to survive the zombie apocalypse. And escape from pirates. And to run away and flee across the country, evading the authorities and news media.

Arguing the semantics of politics/history/theology that you created.

The thrill of finding an image that IS your character/setting/whatever.

Blocked words = existential dread.

The simultaneous need for solitude and heartbreaking yearning for closeness.

“Sorry, mate, can’t make it tonight—I need to write.”

Converting between the Gregorian calendar and your characters’ calendar.

Getting notes: all of the terror and all of the excitement.

Workshopping: see above, except with more anxiety-induced nausea.

The mingled joy and jealousy when you read a book you wish you’d written.

Crying when terrible things happen to characters you like.

Being incredibly pleased when terrible things happen to characters you like.

This:

HSTimeChart

This:

NotecardPlotting

And this:

HapaxChartofAwesome

This, too:

TeeandMee

Listening to the same song over and over, because it makes you feel something that’s the kernel of a story, if you could just put your finger on what that something is….

Spending an awful lot of time worrying about sound laws and vowel shifts.

As crushing as your first rejection was, you’re still proud of it.

Looking like you’re half-asleep on the bus, but really just talking to characters in your head.

Pens are just always there. Like oxygen. Except when they’re not, you panic. Also like oxygen.

Show, don’t tell, except when telling is really just the logical thing to do.

There’s no right way, only the way that’s right for you.

Googling questionable things in the name of research. Goat decapitations, anyone?

Using Google Street View to plot routes in cities you’ll never visit.

Counting people among your good friends when you’ve met them once in real life. Or not at all.

That instant, unmistakeable connection to other writers.

WHAT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE TO (MOST) AUTHORS:

Fighting Silence

I’ve been trying and failing to write a blog post for weeks. Not because I have nothing to say. I’ve tried to write posts about writing dialects, dipping into new genres, updates on the Victorian Dark Fantasy, the fact that I’m going to Stonecoast, collaboration with other writers, collaboration with other creative-types…

Inevitably, they end in despair and files deleted unsaved. I’ll get to about this point, actually, and then my fingers freeze and my mind races. Who would want to read this? Who wants to read anything I write? I can’t write ads for cereal boxes. Look at me, about to gut Strix and start it over for the third time. My writing sucks, and hey, I could also be a better friend, sister, daughter, employee….

I haven’t deleted this draft yet. This is progress.

Many writers are prone to fits of insecurity and self-doubt. We all know the stereotype: the tortured writer pulling their hair out, utterly convinced they’re nothing more than a hack.

Sometimes, it isn’t about writing.

My paralyzed silence isn’t entirely writing-related. A while back, I was informed that by asking my friends for help following my dad’s death, I was being a self-absorbed burden on the people I loved most.

It still bothers me.

For the past few weeks—about as long as I’ve been struggling to write anything—anxiety over my friends has been tearing me to pieces. Are they sick of me? Why can’t I just be my old self again? I totally am a burden. I’m no fun. Who in their right mind would want to hang out with this sack o’ sad?

And if I had a nickel for every time someone’s said, “That’s ridiculous. We’re your friends,” I could enjoy a lovely early retirement at the age of 22.

Right here, at this point right…now, I really want to give up on this blog post and withdraw back under my covers. Let’s see if we can make it through.

Because here is the connection. I’ve become scared to come out of my shell in real life, for fear that people will just think, “Pfft, KT, still sad over everything. Why can’t she keep her thoughts inside like a big girl?”

What that comment did several months ago was punch every button in my psyche, confirm every whisper that says, “You’re worthless, they don’t like you, they just feel sorry for you, and you’d better watch it because I don’t think you read social cues well enough to tell the difference.

“No one cares.”

And it’s that last one that’s damning for writers in particular. For fiction to work, people have to care. There is no tangible benefit to fiction. Not like there is to something like deck-building. If a deck-builder comes to my house and I pay them money, I get a deck at the end. If I go to a bookstore, buy a book, and read it, I have a book.

But I didn’t pay money for a bundle of processed wood product. Really, I paid for things that don’t exist: characters, places, and events that someone made up. Also a whole bunch of new thoughts, ideas, and feelings…but those only come if I’m willing to invest some part of myself into the figments of someone else’s imagination. Fiction doesn’t work if no one cares.

But if you’ve somehow convinced yourself that no one cares about you, the intrinsic, essential you, then it logically follows that no one would care about the products of your mind.

That “X” button at the top right hand corner looks tempting…but I will finish this.

I’ve been spending a lot of time hiding out in my room because I can’t face imposing myself on my housemates. I’m quiet in choir because it’s easier to stay behind the safety of my walls. My days in the brewery are my saving grace because I’m distracted by things I love, but I can run the historic kitchen on autopilot—and autopilot is dangerous because it lets me spend too much time in my own head.

Silence feels safer. But silence inevitably spirals into nights lost to tears and nightmares. And inevitably reminds me of the Silence:

It’s the same with writing. Not writing feels safer. But none of us got into writing because it seemed safe. We got into writing because there was something we had to say, some story we had to tell.

I have to tell stories about six-winged redheaded goddesses and rural villages hiding dark secrets. I have to talk about my heroes’ endless searches for safe harbours and the terrible costs of my villains’ isolation and rigidity.

And sometimes I just have to say:

I am sad.

– KT

We did it. Thank you for reading.

Pace Yourself

With NaNoWriMo starting tomorrow, word count and pace-of-writing has been on my mind. For those unfamiliar with the term, National Novel Writing Month challenges writers to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 1667 words per day.

Word count’s a really personal thing. Some people have bigger ones, some have smaller ones, but as long as yours works for you and gets the job done, it’s probably fine.

*Snerk*

(Yes, I’m twelve. Why do you ask?)

I’m a fast writer and I can slog. In my third year of university, I made the wonderful discovery that armed with a decent outline, I could write a paper in a day. A hard, brutal, brain-numbing day, but a single day.

StJohnEssayme

Well, that was fun.

When writing Strix 2.0, I was motivated to push it out very quickly. I rewrote the novel essentially from scratch from late April to late June: 80,000 words in about two months, averaging 2000 words/day.

Then I wrote the Victorian Dark Fantasy. There was no pushing involved with this book. It gushed out (*snerk*) from late July to late September: 100,000 words in about two months, averaging 2000 words/day with a few 5000-7000 word days.

I’m not convinced this way is better.

After all, here we are in late October, and what have I done since then?

Pretty well nothing. I rested for two weeks while my betas read, and then I’ve spent the last two weeks editing. I’ve written a few blog posts and such for the day job. Looking at my Whiteboard of Doom, I see several things due in the next two weeks, all of them hitting just when I’m really, really tired.

This is the thing: writing is draining. Not just in terms of long nights, it’s draining in that you’re pulling out raw emotion, distilling it down, and putting it on paper. For me, this was particularly true of the Victorian Dark Fantasy. In one sense, it was an easy book to write, because the words wouldn’t stop flowing. In another, it was incredibly difficult for precisely the same reason.

When I was a little kid, I ran a lot of cross-country. My strength lay in pacing—I understood that if I went off the start line like gangbusters, I’d be too tired to finish. Far better to take a steady pace and pass the early leads later on.

I don’t seem to be very good at that while writing. I charge out of the gate and sprint the whole way, and I think the only reason I haven’t collapsed so far is that I’m young and spry and excessively caffeinated.

It’s a weird balance, though. On the one hand, yes, I’d love to take things slowly and not feel exhausted by the end of every project. I’m reminded of Spoon Theory: you only have so many spoons, so you need to consciously choose how to spend them. But at the same…there are so many things I want to write. There are so many stories to tell. And frankly, writing’s been pretty important to the ol’ budget this year.

I guess finding the happy balance between WRITING ALL THE THINGS and not dying is another aspect of professionalism. Full time authors can’t burn out, because then their circumstances become very precarious. If you don’t write, you don’t eat—so it’s probably best to ensure you can write consistently for years and years to come. The secret I need to learn is that word count means very little if it kills you.

So to all of you starting NaNo tomorrow: best of luck, have fun, write as much as you are able—and take care of yourselves. We’re all here cheering!

-KT

Burnout and Balance

By the way, I’m twenty-two. It occurs to me that I never did a birthday post. Mostly because…reasons. I don’t know—I was busy with Strix or something.

Speaking of Strix, the manuscript came back to me. Then I fiddled around with it some more, and tossed it back over the wall to my editor. Scripts are off to the actors for Strix-the-Podcast (you knew that was coming, right?). I’ve begun recording my narration and amassing a collection of music and sound effects. I’ve nearly hit ~10,000 words on The Victorian Dark Fantasy. The Secret Kids’ Opera Project got the thumbs-up from the artistic director and the music makes me squee. When The Hero Comes Home Volume II (I’ve got a story in there) comes out soon. I write for two blogs. There are various other projects at the “Hey, KT, wanna do X for me?” stage of things. Also, I have a dayjob, and it is an awesome dayjob.

Somehow, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not doing enough.

Looking at the preceding paragraph, I realize the absurdity of that statement. That’s partly why I wrote everything out. Nevertheless, it’s a very real feeling. There is this nagging sense that I should be doing more. I should have The Victorian Dark Fantasy written already! I should have another podcast! I should blog more! I should be freelancing and writing more short stories!

Part of me says, “Heck yes. I’m young. I can still survive on willpower, day-old pizza, and caffeine. If I’m going to be doing all of this, now is the time to do it.”

The other part of me says, “You know, there might be a reason you’re perpetually ill…”

His mistake was forgetting the pizza. Good protein in the pepperoni.
(courtesy: http://www.thecampuscompanion.com)

 

Burnout is a problem for creative types. And as my long-suffering family can attest, it’s always been a particular problem for me. Not that it’s a problem that I really know how to solve, because the answer I come up with always seems to be, “Do more work!” It’s like running laps in July to forget about thirst.

Of course, it’s also really fun. That’s the trap. The more we enjoy things, the harder it can be to draw the distinction between work and play. At which point, forget about rest. Of course, this backfires eventually….

I suspect it’s also linked to Imposter Syndrome, which is hugely prevalent among writers, actors, artists, musicians, academics, and so forth. If you’re scared that someone’s going to point out what a fraud you are, it makes sense to be trying to churn out as much work as possible. Either something will be good enough that you no longer feel like a fake, or at the very least, everyone will be too distracted to realize your fraudulence.

This isn’t a terribly effective tack, either. It’s hard to create when you’ve tapped the well dry. Really, it comes back to balance. It isn’t all “on” or “off,” “black” or “white,” “all” or “nothing.” It’s quite possible to work hard without working yourself to exhaustion. I realize the irony of me saying this…and I also realize that I’m going to be struggling with this one for a while. But better struggling with it than blithely unaware, eh?

-KT

 

 

Making Magic: Questions for World-Builders

When world-building, certain elements grab my interest and focus more than others. Generally speaking, I am not hugely interested in political science or economics. Those who read Hapax may have noticed a distinct lack of court intrigues (though I totally implied that the City is run by councillors—somewhere in chapter 19, I think! It wasn’t hugely important to the story). That’s not to say I have no clue how my characters are feeding themselves, I just tend to spend less time on it than I do on the theological/magical side of things.

And magic is what I wanted to explore today, because I’ve just had to create a new magic system for The Next One. After working so long and so thoroughly with the aither, it’s very strange to say, “Well, actually, now magic works this way.”

But it’s been good to revisit the process of crafting magic systems. Honestly, it seems like most of my process is just asking myself questions and running thought experiments. Here is a by-no-means-exhaustive list of the sorts of questions I ask myself:

TO START:

  • Is there magic?
  • Where does the magic come from? Is it a natural process of this world that can be harnessed like fire or electricity? Is it inherent to the magic-user? Was it always there and a goddess woke people up to it in a desperate attempt to save the world?
  • To what extent is magic related to this world’s gods? Is it at all?
  • Can magic in this world be explained by natural laws, even if these laws aren’t “natural” as we understand them in this world? If so, what are these laws? (Did you, for instance, butcher a corrupted version of string theory?)
  • What does magic actually look/smell/feel/taste/sound like? If there was active magic around, who would notice, and how?
  • What can magic not do? (And there ought to be something magic can’t do. Otherwise, it ain’t magic: it’s a problematic plot element at best, and a deus ex machina at worst.)

MAGIC-USERS:

  • Does everyone have magic, or just some people?
  • If just some people, what percentage of the population, roughly?
    • If just some people, how do they learn about/learn to control their magic?
  • Closely related: do only humans get magic, or do other species? Does their use of magic differ?
  • Come to think of it, how does the use of magic vary among various magic-users?
  • How do people get magic? Do they always have it? Does it come naturally with other changes at puberty? Do you sacrifice a goat at the Harvest Moon to receive it?
  • How do magic-users view themselves?
  • Can you make a living with magic? Why or why not?
    • If so, how is that organized? Unions, freelancers, guilds, alchemists locked away in ivory towers turning iron into gold?
  • Have the magic-users formed their own unique subculture? Alternatively, is magic so ingrained in the culture that the two are impossible to separate?
  • Can a magic-user lose their magic, or will they have it forever?

USE OF MAGIC:

  • Walk me through the casting of a typical spell. How does it work?
  • What materials and/or equipment, if any, do you need to perform magic? Where does one obtain these items?
  • Is magic more point-and-shoot (i.e. Harry Potter), or does it require hours of special preparation?
  • What is the cost of magic? (HINT: Magic always has a cost. No such thing as a free lunch, especially not in stories.)
  • What sorts of spells is a magic-user most likely to perform?
  • How does an individual magic-user’s traits (age, gender, intrinsic skill, experience, occupation, place in the religious/magical/social hierarchy) affect the efficacy of their spell-casting?
  • Does magic work differently in different locations/at different times, or is it equally accessible at all times and in all places?
  • Do magic-users mostly work in groups, solo, or a mix? What determines this?
  • What could cause a spell to go wrong? What does “going wrong” look like?
  • What happens if a spell goes wrong?
  • Has the use of magic changed throughout history? If so, how? Why?
Apollo-era Mission Control. Not going to lie, this is not unlike how I picture the creation of an MCB. (Source: www.fineartamerica.com)

Apollo-era Mission Control. This tense focus, cooperation, and attention to detail is pretty much how I picture magic in Hapax.  Except without computers.  (Source: http://www.fineartamerica.com)

MAGIC IN SOCIETY:

  • Does magic require years of study to master, or can any idiot mumble some words out of a book and cause some result? Is it an inborn trait that cannot be taught, only refined?
  • Who’s doing the teaching?
  • What impact does magic have on the economy? (See? Even I get to economics eventually…)
  • What impact does magic have on the government? The military? Are there parallel organizations running alongside the non-magical, are they all heavily integrated with magic, or are magic-users too few/weak to make a difference?
  • To what extent has magic replaced science? If you have magic for enough years, will you wind up inventing a magical refrigerator? Transit? Or God help us…magic androids???
  • How does society at large view magic and magic-users? Positively? Negatively? Ambivalently? Better to call a magician than a plumber?
    • Have these attitudes changed in the past? Why or why not?
  • Are there “magic only” institutions? If so, what are they?
  • Is there art/literature/music either inspired or actually created by magic?
    • If so, do we then get into a debate about who’s the “real artist” – the guy painting with a paintbrush by hand, or the girl making colours appear in the air with her will?
  • Are there any industries/areas of life that magic does NOT touch? If so, what? Why?
  • Do magic-users abide by different laws? Either their own separate code, or a subset of society’s laws? Are they considered above the law, unfairly persecuted, or neither?
  • How do you discipline/penalize someone with magic?
  • Are some groups of magic-users seen as “better” than others? Why? By whom?

LOOPHOLES!!!!

  • Can the laws of magic be broken? If so, when, how, and with what consequence? (HINT: you generally don’t want to be breaking your own rules, unless you have a very, very, VERY good reason for doing so.)
  • Are your magic-users unaware of some laws/aspects of magic, and/or have they gotten some things wrong? If so, how and why?
  • Does the nature of magic ever change?
  • Are there any remaining apparent contradictions in your magic system? If so, what? Also, can you resolve them in such a way as to enrich the story?

Again, a good start, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. If you want exhaustive, check this one out. It may look a bit daunting, but a good rule of thumb? Build what you need, and imply the rest.

– KT

Finding New Worlds

I am pretty comfortable in the world of Strix/Hapax. At this point, it’s like being a native Torontonian or Dunedinite or New Yorker: you know how things work. I feel like I’ve carved myself out a nice little niche in this fictional world.

So it’s a bit strange to be exploring a new one. In my slightly confusing and apparently hereditary manner of code-naming projects, The Next Next One has become simply The Next One—the Victorian-feeling dark fantasy which has nothing to do with Hapax, and about which I can’t really say more because it will fly right out of my head.

It’s a bit like baking bread, really. You can’t go around showing it off to people while it’s rising, or it won’t turn out properly.

But I digress. After so long thinking about Angels and Seraphs, aither and dimensions, it’s exciting to dive into a new world with new rules (though technically, I’m not done with Strix yet: there are still edits to be done). Crafting magic systems (on which I may do a separate post later) is ridiculously fun. It’s a thought experiment, basically. “If this, then that. And if that, then this other really cool implication too.” And so it goes, asking questions and gradually exploring all the little tucked-away corners of your new world.

Because this one is set in a Victorian-ish milieu, I do have a head start. “Hmm, I wonder what a nineteenth-century country inn would be like… OH HEY, I’M IN ONE ALL DAY, MOST DAYS!!!”

Historic inn, for the win.

Historic inn, for the win.

As is probably quite clear, I love my dayjob. Times like this, I really appreciate it.

That being said, there are still specifics that I don’t know yet. I had a decently detailed map of the Ecclesiat and a rough idea of the City’s layout. In this new land, I’m not quite there yet. Oddly for me, I don’t have the theology totally worked out. I’m not sure where things stand in relation to each other.

That’s all world-building, and that involves more research and mulling. In terms of plot, I think of my outlines as roadmaps. I know where I’m starting and ending, and key landmarks along the way so I (hopefully) don’t get completely lost, but there’s still room for side trips. In that way, starting a new novel, especially one set in a wholly new world, is a bit like embarking on an expedition. I have my map (sort of). I will know the terrain. And, very importantly, I know the people with whom I’ll be journeying.

PLUS: NEWS AND SUCH

Speaking of dayjobbery, I’ll be adding “blogger” to my list of job titles and contributing much more frequently to the Black Creek Growler. It is a blog about beer, brewing, and beer history. It makes me happy. You should read it. 😉

When you SHOULDN’T be writing

For a number of years, I Should Be Writing has been both one of my staple podcasts and an inspirational mantra. Personally, I’ve found it useful in re-directing my focus. Facebook’s hold is a lot easier to break when you can exclaim out loud, “Wait a second—I should be writing!”

It’s a principle we hear a lot. Writing every day keeps you writing, every day. A writer is someone who writes. Write or die. Don’t break the chain. The first rule is write. BIC: Bottom In Chair.

Again, all good ideas. If you’re spending your time on the Internet, TV, and random chores that really could wait a few hours, and getting a few hundred words every few days, your chances of finishing that story/novel/script are about nil.

However, this write-at-all-costs mindset overlooks the fact that sometimes, you really shouldn’t be writing.

I learned this the hard way. Looking back through the archives, I realize that I have been blogging about Strix/The Next One for far too long. This book has taken me too long. Partly, this is because I couldn’t find the way into the story. Partly, I realize in hindsight, I was writing when I shouldn’t have been.

Let’s rewind. Exactly one year ago, I was in New Zealand, starting Strix. I was experiencing culture shock. I was homesick. I was adapting to a new university. I was in a somewhat-difficult living situation. Then I was backpacking, never in one place for more than three days, writing in noisy hostels after being outside from sunrise to sunset.

The book I wrote was not very good.

MillPond

Yes, I missed this.

When you look at how it was written, that’s perhaps not terribly surprising. Of course, I don’t want to pin all of Strix’s problems on the circumstances—realistically, I just didn’t do a very good job—but they certainly didn’t help.

While I was editing Strix, a lot of family stuff was happening. At one point, I was overwhelmed enough to stumble into a priest’s office.

A week after that, my dad died unexpectedly.

And yet, I still tried to edit the damn thing. I gave myself an extra month, ignored everyone telling me to take it slow, and churned out a first pass before fleeing to Virginia for a few days.

My first real, slow sinking feeling occurred when I realized I’d forgotten to include chapter twelve…and my first readers hadn’t noticed.

I sent Gabrielle an apology, and worked feverishly on a new first pass. A few weeks later, I got this DM: “I finished Strix. Can we chat?”

End result? I’m all but starting from scratch. And yes, Gabrielle was absolutely right (I cannot stress enough just how fortunate I am to work with her). It will be a much better book this way, and where before Strix felt like an obligation, now I’m actually excited to write it. And yes, she not only gave me permission to share this, she suggested it.

Hindsight is a powerful tool. Again, I take responsibility for Strix’s problems; I chose to keep writing in the face of advice to the contrary. However, it’s possible that if I had waited, I might not have found myself in the current situation.

This is what it felt like.

Sometimes, it seems like we think we can push through anything, write through anything. After all, suffering feeds art, right? We can write through pain, turn it into grist for the mill, and ignore all stress and exhaustion in the name of our art.

Well, no.

There’s a guilt that builds up around not-writing. It can be blessing and curse: it keeps you writing, but sometimes it creates anxiety over “not being a writer” where there really isn’t cause for it. As regards to turning hardship into story…yes, this can be done. Writing is cheaper than therapy. However, there is a caveat. One of the best pieces of advice that I received (which I nodded at, agreed with, and then promptly didn’t act on) came from my ever-wise friend Blythe:

“You shouldn’t use things until you’ve dealt with them.”

Yeah. That.

Homesickness in Dunedin and grief in Toronto. Both colour Strix—neither did so in terribly effective ways. Mentally, psychologically, spiritually, I wasn’t ready. And that’s ok. If you are not ready, if you are not able, it is ok not to write. In fact, you probably shouldn’t be writing. It is easy to think in absolutes and hold writing above all else, but it can be damaging, and that hurts the quality of your work.

If you are in great physical or emotional pain, you may not write well.

If you are undergoing major life changes, you may not write well.

If your environment lacks stability, you may not write well.

If you have other major upheavals happening—work, family, whatever—that must be dealt with and require a great deal of energy, you may not write well.

Really, it’s ok. It’s natural, it’s human. But it’s worth recognizing. Know your limits, and know that waiting in the short term may save you lots of work in the long run. Sometimes, admitting, “I can’t” is braver than saying, “I’ll try.”

I’m still not functioning at 100%, but I know that I am functioning well enough, and that my current circumstances are peaceful and stable enough, to try Strix again. For reals, this time.

Best wishes to all of you on your own journeys—and remember to rest, if you need to.

-KT

Ad Astra Round-Up

Ad Astra caught me by surprise this year.

It’s not like I didn’t know it was coming. I’ve known I was going since the last Ad Astra, which I missed due to being in New Zealand. But in the haze of the final weeks of my final semester, and the insanity of the last few months, I didn’t connect the dots until I was scrambling to ready my case of books.

(Actually, Ad Astra is still going on today—I’m skipping out to deal with the schoolwork a bit more.)

It was a good con. Friday was exciting because my friend and colleague Leah Petersen was launching her latest book: Cascade Effect, the sequel to Fighting Gravity. I read and loved Fighting Gravity, so I snagged my copy of Cascade Effect, right after the incredible Ed Greenwood. And then there was a penthouse party, with good food, cool people, and a very excellent reading (yes, Leah, I could hear you!). My copy is currently on my bookshelf, next to its mate, awaiting the wonderful day when I conquer academia.

Saturday was also fun. I mostly sold books and wandered around, though I did attend a very helpful panel on agents moderated by Adrienne Kress. Naturally, I knew her name, but I’d never been able to match a face to it. Plus, you know, information and such.

Otherwise—I mostly just talked to people. There was a mingling of DMP authors Saturday night, which was fun, and also really interesting. Although I met Marie Bilodeau in November at World Fantasy Con, I’d never had the chance for an extended conversation with her—and I’m so glad I finally did. We talked for a long time about how myths and stories spread and evolve (“Stories control people. That’s why I became an author!”), and then the chat turned to our own upcoming projects. And then she said something that caught me by surprise:

“You sound so energized, with this new book. That’s so good to see!”

People have called me many things in the last few months. Energized is not one of them. Nor had I really felt much energy all weekend. But it’s true: this project has nothing whatsoever to do with the Hapax universe. Exploring this new world has been such a rush, and it will be such a departure for me, and I’m still in the dewy-eyed honeymoon stage of, “This story is gonna be so awesome and I’m totally forgetting how much work it will actually be to make it come out the way I want.”

But I digress. My point, I think, is that Marie’s comment just confirms that I’m probably on the right path, in terms of writing something about which I’m passionate. Incidentally, Marie’s upcoming projects sound awesome, but I shall leave the discussion of them to her. 🙂

I’d been able to talk earlier with Robert J. Sawyer and a few other authors I hadn’t met before, but the other extended conversation of that night was with Ed Greenwood. Ed is almost frighteningly smart; the man is a fount of knowledge. But we talked about the forgotten bits of Toronto: the secret passages in the old buildings, the tunnel network under Queen’s Park and various bits of downtown (not the PATH: way older and much cooler), the phantom subway stations, the lost rivers…

All of that fascinates me. It’s the notion of the in-between space, the space that isn’t really part of anything, but links to everything, the lost space, the ghost space, the space once thought forgotten….

I’m not sure when or how all that will play into a book, but I know that it will. It’s definitely in my mental file of “Things That Keep Me Awake At Night.”

So yes. A good con.

New Year’s Post

For a while, I thought about not doing a New Year’s post.

With my loss still so raw, and the grief only now really hitting, I have rarely been happier to see the tail end of a year. Except then, I got to thinking. Taking the entire year into account, 2012 was too big to be ignored. It was a year of immense growth and opportunity: from backpacking through the South Pacific, to meeting (and befriending!) some pretty incredible people, to strengthening friendships back home, to publishing and podcasting, to discovering where “home” really is for me.

Like I said, a big year.

It was a year of heights, of suddenly finding myself on mountaintops (literally and metaphorically) and wondering how on earth I’d gotten there. There was a LOT of good in 2012. It’s important to remember that: that oftentimes, I was stunned by how happy I was.

2012 started with a bang, but it definitely ends with a whimper. Some of my personal dreams came true this year, but so too did some of my nightmares. I had tears in my eyes as I stood atop Mt. Victoria and finally gazed across Wellington. I had tears in my eyes as I stood in the cemetery.

From one extreme to the other.

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But it’s no longer 2012. My Twitter-pal (and one of the charming hosts of the Roundtable Podcast) Dave Robison recently said something about New Year’s being just another day, that we can make changes any day of the year.

It’s true, but I think the start of the year is a good time to take a breath, to mentally prepare for those changes and plans.

2012 was a great year, writing-wise. I’m optimistic 2013 will be even better. Frankly, I have a better idea of what I’m doing. Graduating means I’ll have more time (as was helpfully pointed out to me, my “day job” will really be just that—something on the side, a daytime diversion as I put my energy into writing). Oh man, when I think of all those hours spent reading articles, going to class, and writing essays…I’m so excited to put that time into fiction.

As I start putting the shambles of my life back in order, and figure out how to live around this huge, gaping hole, I’m more grateful than ever for what I have. I have some pretty awesome people in all parts of my life. Tired and sad as I am, I’m actually kind of cautiously hopeful for 2013. It feels like 2012 was a build-up, December was a breaking point, and 2013…

Well. I guess we’ll find out.

With thanks,

KT