Whooo! Toronto Fringe Festival! We’re well underway with performances of SIX STORIES, TOLD AT NIGHT. Reactions thus far have been great—and it’s such a treat to see these characters and this Otherworld come to life onstage. And of course, there are ~150 shows all across the city to check out. The sheer amount of talent staggers me.
Seriously, there’s a lot of emotion here. We’ll have a good chat when Fringe finishes next week.
I’m ducking out of Fringe to attend ReaderCon!
I’m so excited; I really wanted to go last year, but scheduling didn’t permit. When I realized that it overlaps with Fringe, I thought, “Well, of course it does.” Then I figured I’d just find a way to make both work. Because why not?
So I’m not staying through the whole convention. The plan is to fly in Thursday, spend all of Friday, and then fly home Saturday evening, in order to close out our last show on Sunday afternoon.
No big deal.
And I have my schedule!
Friday (12:00 pm)—Consent Culture in Fiction
Me, Teri Clarke, Maria Dahvana Headley, Hillary Monahan, Victoria Sandbrook
Friday (6:00 pm)—Stonecoast MFA Readings
Peter Adrian Behravesh, Me, JR Dawson, Julie C. Day, Emlyn Dornemann, James Patrick Kelly, Erin Roberts
Saturday (2:00 pm)—Alternatives to Romance
Me, Elaine Isaak, Nicole Kornher-Stace, John P. Murphy, Patty Templeton
It all sounds very exciting! And it’ll be great to dive back into writers and prose after a week of theatre. If you’re around, do come say hello. Looking forward to this con, shortened though it must be!
What I’m Listening to This Week
First, I absolutely love referring to the day of resurrection as “That Great Getting’-Up Morning.” It’s also got that emotional, rhythmic style spirituals revel in. And I think it might’ve sparked a story idea.
Yesterday marked the end of my annual writing retreat. I’m not actually home yet—that happens tomorrow. And whilst playing “Where in the World is KT Now?” is fun, I am looking forward to seeing my furry little weirdo.
But retreating went very well, thank you. Over the course of five writing days, I wrote five complete short stories. I also used the midweek “break day” to make a sizeable dent in my interactive fiction novel.
On the whole, I’m very pleased with my output. January/February were so consumed with long-form projects between the Beer Magic Novel and Six Stories – the 3D Adventure, it felt good to sink back into short fiction.
I’ve written before about what this retreat means to me: the camaraderie, the fellowship, the love. It’s also one of the most productive weeks in my year. Most of the short fiction I’ve sold has originated here. So that’s all great.
But I’d like to tell you about a particular moment I had. It was on the retreat’s final day. I finished up my story in the late afternoon, with plenty of time before our evening readings. So as per my wont, I hopped in the hot tub.
It was nearing the golden hour, sunlight spilling over the mountains. The sky was endless, cloudless blue; the woods rang with the singing of birds and frogs. I settled into the hot tub with a book. My beer rested beside me.
And sitting there—sated with finished stories, dear friends typing inside, spring unfolding across the mountains—I could think only:
Enjoy this now. It won’t always be like this.
You see, we hit the ground running hard once I get back. Then the deadlines return, and the worries, and the scrabbling. And it doesn’t ever really stop, that scratching and hunger.
But in that moment, there was only contentment. For the first time in a long time, it felt like I could take a breath—stealing a little moment amidst everything else going on.
They’re important, those pockets of peace. They give us a chance to rest and prepare for the next section of road ahead. I leave this retreat feeling so grateful.
Now the race begins again. But I’m ready, I’m rested. I hope you’ve got your peaceful waystations as well!
What I’m Listening To This Week
Another ballad! An encounter between troll-maiden and knight! I love seeing how some of the lyrics mesh with Old English cognates (“innan solen upprann” comes to mind). This was pretty much my main jam for one of my stories, alongside the “Rolandskvadet” of a few weeks previous!
It is that time again! This weekend, I will be in Ottawa for Can-Con: the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature. This is one of my very favourite cons, and I’m excited for stellar programming, good friends, and lively conversations.
What’s my schedule for the weekend? I’m glad you asked!
8:00 pm: Alternate History Live Challenge (Charlotte Ashley, Anatoly Belilovsky, Me, Mike Rimar, and Matthew Johnson)
9:00 pm: The Fantasy Author’s Guide to Beer (Me)
3:00 pm: Writing Games: It’s Big Literature Now (Geoff Gander, Kate Heartfield, M. Elizabeth Marshall, Me Moderating)
7:00 pm: Readings (Me, David Nickle, Kate Story)
8:00 pm: Asexual Identities (Andrew Barton, S.M. Carriere, Dianna Gunn, Kelsi Morris, Me Moderating)
IDK, we should probably get the organizers some coffee and pastries.
In Ottawa that weekend? Come say hi, and hang out with cool people! Also, today is Canadian Thanksgiving, and I am thankful for all of you!
What I’m Listening to this Week
This piece kind of reminds me of high school. But also, it fits the feel/mood/emotion of the novel. I have always loved how the solo voice comes in with the main motif around 2:45—and promptly catches at 3:05.
I have just returned from three days’ camping along Georgian Bay. It was stunningly beautiful landscape and a much-needed break, but now I am exhausted. As such, no real post this week: just some pictures and a very special “What I’m Listening to this Week.”
What I’m Listening to this Week
“Wanderer’s Lullaby,” by Adriana Figueroa, is a gently lilting piece based on a music box theme. The lyrics are perhaps a little self-indulgent, but they are also exactly what I needed to hear this week.
Until last week, I snickered at the name “Pigeon Forge.” It sounds like a made-up name, doesn’t it? The name alone has always struck me as the Platonic ideal of a small town in the Deep South. I mean, listen to it: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.The Tennessean towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains. For me, they’re the gateway to an annual writing retreat I take with ~20ish dear friends. And yeah, until last week, I dismissed them as “the weirdest places I’ve ever been.”
Until last week, this is what I saw:
The main street unfurls like a midway, flashing lights and sugary music spilling onto crowded sidewalks. On one side, a collection of concrete faux-log cabins nestles like a sanitized vision of an alpine village. Olde Time Photography Studios and Olde-Fashioned Candy Shoppes stand every few paces, while black bears grin from neon t-shirts, chipped ceramic mugs, and motel doorways (TV WIFI POOL).Outside of Gatlinburg, signs proclaim JESUS SAVES right next to others announcing GUNS GUNS GUNS. Pickup trucks trundle past with plywood bumpers, and rusted-out trailers sit on hills, and Biblically-themed parks and theatres abound.
Until last week, I snickered. And believe me, it feels very uncomfortable to say that. Giving myself a long, hard stare, I see a blend of big-city blindness, liberal arrogance, and Canadian smugness.
“So typical. So kitschy.”
Then the fire happened.
Last week, wildfire (possibly “human-caused”) broke out in the mountains and swept with little warning into Gatlinburg, fuelled by the region’s worst drought in a decade. Within hours, swathes of mountainside and residences were destroyed, and 14,000 people were evacuated. At time of writing, 13 people are dead and 1000 buildings have been damaged or destroyed.
Our retreat cabin is right in the danger zone, so we stayed glued to the incoming reports. As more data rolled in, I was stunned.
- “[FARM] has a field for evacuated livestock. No charge. Call [Suzy] at [NUMBER].”
- “Shelter for pets available at [LOCATION].”
- “Biologists reluctant to leave Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, fearing for animals.”
- “Dolly Parton is giving $1000 a month to victims of Tennessee wildfires.”
- “Thank you for your prayers.”
- “We’re okay. Thank you for your thoughts.”
- “Thank you.”
With all the tourists, it’s easy to forget that Gatlinburg is a town of only 4000 people. The more I read, the more I glimpsed a tight-knit community, generous and kind-hearted. My throat closed up.
I was wrong about Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. I was so very wrong.
Coming on the heels of the US election and the subsequent soul-searching on the political left, this feels particularly poignant. It is so, so easy to see the JESUS SAVES signs and forget about the genuinely fervent faith enclosed within those walls. It is so, so easy to wander through a fake village and laugh at the concrete snow, not seeing the livelihoods that happen behind the STAFF ONLY doors. And this is the sort of easy self-absorption that we cannot afford. Not ever, but especially not now.
In a cabin outside Gatlinburg, I wrote both “La Corriveau” and “The Love it Bears Fair Maidens,” my first pro short fiction sales. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge will always claim a very special place in my writer’s heart.
If you enjoy my fiction—particularly those stories—may I request something?
Will you help me give back to Gatlinburg? I’ve done some digging: most donations of food, supplies, and money need to be dropped off in person, but if you’re far away—
And a relief fund for locals and businesses has been established by the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Donations can be mailed to:
PO Box 1910
Pigeon Forge, TN
All my best, Tennessee. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I will never, ever look at you the same way again.
What I’m Listening to this Week
I’ve never listened to Dolly Parton before, but now seems like a good time to start…
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….)
“Write what you know.” We hear this so often, it’s not even cliché anymore. It’s a cliché of a cliché: the archetypal advice given to new writers.
Write what you know. You can see what they’re driving at. Write those things you’ve lived and held in your bones; write the things that matter to you. Write your experience, because your experience is unique and no one knows it better than you.
Except—I don’t think we write what we know. Not really. We write what we don’t understand.
I look at my fiction, and I see the same motifs emerging over and over again. Frigid, brittle winters. Loss and grief. Sibling and pseudo-sibling angst. These are the stories I tell myself, again and again. Turning them over, swapping things around, changing the key. Almost as though, if I keep trying, I’ll hit the magic combination that lets “The End” sing with comprehension.
It’s not intentional. I don’t think writers consciously set out to write stories based on their psychological hang-ups. I certainly don’t sit down and think, “Right, short story time. Let’s see, I need my northern village in the grip of winter, my tiny ray of hope at the very end…” No, the stories that come to us come from inside us. We write what we don’t understand because those unresolved questions are what the mind returns to—quietly, subconsciously—expressing its findings as wendigo and little gods and ice, because those are the best images it can find. And so, as artists, our metal workshops are filled.
I do worry about becoming a cliché of myself. “Oh, northern village, hidden god, sad orphan—must be a KT Bryski story.” I do try to push myself. “Does this story have to be set in winter? Is there a way to accomplish this without resorting to divinity?” And sometimes, the answer is yes. And sometimes, the answer is no.
Because—I don’t think I understand winter. Not really, not on a metaphorical level. Not the long nights, and the cracking ice, and that peculiar grey time between late afternoon and twilight. I don’t understand loss. I don’t understand being torn from home—or exiles.
After this week, I realize I really don’t understand the pains of this world.
But we keep writing. Or painting. Or singing. Or even just talking. That’s the only way to come close, I think—to get scraps of insight, a piecemeal comprehension. The only way out is through. And that is the wonderful, powerful thing about literature. It’s how we try to understand. I can think of nothing more meaningful than that.
What I’m Listening To This Week
Continuing our theme of “loud and complex,” I’ve been enjoying “Mars, the Bringer of War,” from Holst’s Planets suite. It starts low but ominous—striking strings beat a menacing pulse in the background while the brass carries the melody. We get louder and fuller through the first two minutes, sound crashing like waves…
And then we break at 2:11, with an extended dialogue between the horns and the rest of orchestra. A murky, serpentine section in the middle gradually disintegrates into our original, Darth Vader-like theme.
And you know what? Holding onto that pulse all the way through—it never lets you rest. It’s like alarms going off the entire time. Until the crashing, thunderous chords in the last minute. This piece pretty much just obliterates everything in its path.
So, my sister freaked me out over Easter dinner.
“Yeah,” she said nonchalantly, passing our teenage cousin the asparagus. “I’m twenty.”
“What?” I gasped, nearly choking on my beer (a Dragon Stout—fairly sweet imperial stout from Jamaica—not bad, not bad at all).
“Uh, my birthday was in, like, February.”
“I know,” I sputtered, “it’s just…”
“Hard to think where the time’s gone?” my mom asked, trying to help.
“Sure.” I took a deeper swig of beer than necessary. “Something like that.”
Here’s the real reason it freaked me out: I was twenty when I started working at Black Creek. Well, okay, I was actually nineteen, but I turned twenty within a month of my start date. I was twenty when we podcasted Hapax, when I signed the publishing contract, and when I took off to New Zealand by myself for six months.
But my sister is so young. So are her friends. I can’t imagine hanging out with them. Plus, seriously, it was not that long ago—surely, I wasn’t that small, was I?
It’s a strange thing: on the one hand, I’m still the whippersnapper amongst my friends. Sometimes painfully so. Sometimes-more-painfully-and-more-often-than-I-care-to-admit, so.
On the other—Gavin and I were recording lines for an upcoming Tales from the Archive story tonight. You might recall Gavin: he voiced Brother Gaelin in Hapax and Brandon Hill in “Under Oak Island.”
When we recorded Hapax, Gavin was mostly sending me lines from Nova Scotia, over the winter break. Through the spring, he came over a few times to run more complicated scenes with some of the others. We sat in my living room, using a USB headset mic meant for conference calls, running scenes multiple times, with a different actor wearing the mic each time, because headset.
I had no idea what I was doing. I was making up the whole thing as I went, everything from the directing to the voice acting to the audio editing. And man, in places, it shows. But you know what? That’s how we learned. All of us. There’s nothing like producing/voicing eleven hours of audio to give you a feel for it.
We learned so much. That really struck home tonight, as Gavin sat in front of my Yeti (my third mic, now), pop filter in place. Oh, also, Gavin’s been my roomie for a year and a half – much easier than getting lines from Nova Scotia! We’d moved the laptop because I was worried about its humming (we never would have thought of that, during Hapax), and so I was crouched in the corner, watching the screen, offering direction that actually mostly made sense. It struck home, in a different sense, as I texted Blythe notes on lines for another podcast.
It’s nice to have a rhythm, I thought, vaguely and inarticulately. It’s nice we’ve found our way of working.
I was so nervous to ask her to voice Serafine. So nervous. And now—we’re a team.
It struck home as I bantered on Facebook with Lauren Harris. At twenty, I’d listened to my share of Pendragon Variety. When I first met Lauren in person, she seemed to fall into that “cooler, older, bolder” personality type that seems to crop up in my life fairly frequently. So, I was nervous.
But these distant voices are now my friends. Many of them, I count among my closest. Balticon, Smoky Writers, general shooting the breeze with each other, all of my hops south of the border…it’s made some very, very strong bonds with people who were utter strangers not all that long ago.
Think about it. Four years ago, I didn’t know any of my writer pals. I didn’t know anyone at Black Creek – despite what some people think, I didn’t even know Blythe.
I can’t imagine life without these people, now.
Starting Hapax, we were so young. Unformed, untested: tabulae rasae all around. So much has happened in less than four years, my head spins just thinking about it.
“Yeah,” my sister says, “I’m twenty.” Clearly, this is a stage of life that involves lots of change: some of it epic, and some of it awkward, messy, and painful.
But at the end of it: hopefully mostly epic. I really, really hope so, anyway.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Lack of computer temporarily drove me to writing longhand, and the only thing I can really comfortably write long are notes on plot. So, after a long hiatus, I dusted off my notes for the Victorian Dark Fantasy 2.
Much like its predecessor, this story has a theme song: a piece of music that makes me see things and feel things and grasp the entire novel in a very fleeting and intuitive way.
“The Unquiet Grave” is an English ballad, which means that there are lots of arrangements floating around. I like how driving this one is; I didn’t necessarily expect to. Plus, that voice! It makes me see a character. I’m not sure how she fits in, not entirely, but I’m seeing her in a dim, grotty tavern, striding between the tables as Mairi and Sara gape, not at all sure what to make of her.
“You crave one kiss of my cold lips, but I am one year gone. If you have one kiss of my lips, your time will not be long…”
It may also work thematically. I don’t know. It seems like everything I write turns super dark eventually. Heartstealer had its moments—it was the Victorian Dark Fantasy, after all—but this one wants to go even darker. Not in a horrific way, in a very painful way.
We’ll see. Until then…I listen, trying to hear this character, whoever she is.
I don’t often write poetry. Sometimes I get the odd one, but I almost never share my poems.
But when I do, they become opera arias…
Story time! New Zealand and I adopted each other long ago. I love the landscape, the people, the culture, the history…but when I backpacked around the country by myself, I got a little homesick. To be clear: I had an amazing time, with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and I do not regret a single second.
And I also missed home.
So, one day while riding the InterCity bus between towns, I stared out the window at the impossibly green, mist-shrouded hills, and I composed some verse in my head. When I got to the backpackers’ that night, I tapped it out on my phone. Several weeks later, when I came home, I transferred it to my computer.
I liked it. Nothing super fancy or experimental; I wanted something simple. It had an interesting meter, though. The pattern of stressed syllables reminded me of someone running. Which was exactly what I wanted. It captured those nights in hostel bunk beds, staring at the bunk above me and trying to work out which direction home lay. I figured the poem might be interesting set to music (again, that very bare, understated pub song feel), but I don’t compose. Heck, I barely write poetry.
I came home. I forgot about it.
Fast forward to January 2013. I was rewriting the libretto for East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon. Since I was eighteen the first go-round and the performance requirements had changed in the interim, I was mostly rewriting from scratch.
Rose (our plucky young heroine) had an aria. There were some duets and trios, several chorus numbers for the kids. But the White Bear/Prince didn’t really have an aria of his own. I started thinking about how the enchanted Prince would feel: roaming through the northlands, lonely and just wanting to be warm again, waiting to come home…
And a spark of emotion and memory flared.
I dug into my files. I found the poem. It already had a strong meter; I’d already wondered if it would work with music.
Time to find out.
I slipped that poem into the opera almost unchanged (I think I altered the tense of one verb, maybe?). And there it’s stayed. My partner in this—composer Norbert Palej—did a beautiful job with the aria. I didn’t tell him what it was really about, and yet he crafted a lovely piece. The music aches.
Nothing you write is ever wasted. You never know when thoughts, emotions, and memories will reappear to inform your creative work. Save it—because someday, it may find its home.
Cool Thing of The Week
You didn’t think I’d go through all that without showing you the poem, right? I mean, it’s part of an opera now: I think I’ve lost any rights to qualms over sharing it!
I was waiting for the passing
Of the bleak and bitter night,
For the fleeing of the shadows
And the coming of the light.
I was waiting for the dawning
Of the absent summer sun,
And the waiting warmth that spurs me
On the distant roads I run.
I was waiting for the tasting
Of the season on the air,
For the old familiar fires
Breathing smoke upon my hair.
I was waiting for the greeting
And the chorus from the hearth,
For the end to all my calling
From the very end of Earth.
I was waiting for the sighing
When I stood before your door.
I am waiting, and so dying –
Waiting just a little more.