Monthly Archives: January 2017

On Writing Despite the News

(Warning, politics ahead! This will not be a permanent shift for the blog, but just for tonight, humour me. I’ll try to keep it vague…)

Friends, I come to you tonight weary and wrung out. Like many of you, I’ve been struggling with the news for months, burnt out but unable to look away. Writing was impossible, pointless, indulgent. I started a mini-challenge and kept hoping things would subside. Instead, they’ve gotten worse…and worse…and worse.

I’m not even American, I’m Canadian. But whatever happens south of the border affects us deeply, so we tend to keep a close eye on American news.

Besides, yesterday we learned–beyond a shadow of a doubt–that we’re not immune to the forces sweeping this part of the world, much as we’d sometimes like to think we are.

I’m angry, I’m tired, I’m afraid. Writing seems impossible again.

But…

Words have power. Facts have power, but story has more. We’ve always known that, and we learned it again this election year, when one candidate was brought down by narratives that wouldn’t go away, and the other candidate tapped into the fears and frustrations of his audience and sold them a story they wanted to believe.

When I  write, it’s not a coincidence that I often write about young women who are learning how to be themselves and how to shed what is holding them back. I write about cooperation winning out over fear and hate. I write about people from opposite walks of life who grow to understand, and sometimes love, each other. I write about people who are not white and straight–both to take away the “otherness” for some readers and to give other readers someone who looks like them.

If I’ve done my job right, my readers don’t even notice half of what I just said. They don’t notice…but the story is inside them now, and so are the themes.

In times like these,  here are some reasons why I need to keep writing:

  • to process events
  • to exert a sense of control
  • to escape so I can recharge and keep fighting
  • to provide an escape for readers who need it
  • and–just maybe–to change the world, one reader at a time.
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On Doing Things That Scare You

I did a scary thing yesterday.

To explain, I need to backtrack a little. See,  I’m part of a social/folk dance community, based around something called contra dance. The short version is “square dance meets swing dance”–there’s a “caller” who teaches the dance and then talks you through the moves, to live music. I’ve written about this several times before, but the easiest way to explain it is through video. An explanation in words is here, more explanation (including why I love it) is here, and a description that’s more about how it feels is here.

Anyway, I’ve been doing contra dance for six and a half years. It’s become one of my passions, I’ve made a ton of friends, and I’ve gone on multiple road trips for full weekends of dance.

It’s also taught me to do several scary things and push my comfort zone in several directions. After first learning to dance in the lady’s role, I then added the gentleman’s role, and now I do both all the time (sometimes both in the same dance, if my partner is amenable to switching back and forth). I’ve gotten better at small talk, which is helpful at my day job. I went to a conference for dance organizers and challenged my feelings of imposter-ness (imposter syndrome), and now I’m one of the organizers for my dance community, doing the newsletters and half the social media stuff.

And yesterday I called my first dance.

Okay, second dance. I did a callers’ workshop last spring, which was awesome, but I tried calling one dance during the workshop, and it confirmed my suspicion that calling was Really Scary and probably not for me (an introvert who hates public speaking).

Then I, uh, published a book and did two book launches and they were Really Scary, but I didn’t die and they were also kind of fun.

So I started thinking about this calling thing again. I started practicing a little bit–I had recordings of contra music (of course), and the “recipes” for the dances are available online, so it’s possible to practice at home. Someone in my dance community started organizing sessions where new callers could come and call for a small group of people. I went to one and didn’t call, and missed the next one, and the third was coming up fast.

This past Saturday night we had a dance evening. The next caller session was to be Sunday. The organizer of the sessions, someone who’s become a friend, said, “So are you calling tomorrow? There’s this really easy dance you could do…”

I looked at it. It didn’t look too scary. I went home and practiced overnight. On Sunday I walked into the session and my friend said “Hey, we need an easy dance right now, do you want to go next?”

So I did.

I taught the dance, going through the whole thing twice, and then the music started and away we went. My friend stood next to me, couched me through it, and rescued me when I got off track. Some of the dancers got lost, possibly because I wasn’t clear enough. But everyone seemed to have a good time. They even clapped when I was done.

And…turns out it was significantly less scary than I thought.

I might even do it again next month.

Or maybe I’ll look for something else that scares me, and tackle that…

 

What have you done that scared you? I’d love to hear your stories!

 

Reading Recap: 2016

blog-the-virtu-monette-coverHi all! It’s time for my annual reading recap, where I look back on my favourite books and also geek out about my own reading stats. *grin*

Favourite Books of 2016

This year it’s a tie between:

  • The Virtu by Sarah Monette, and
  • An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

…and an honourable mention goes to The Fellowship of the Ring (reread) which had a huge influence on me and which I am incapable of judging properly, especially with the movies confusing things in my head. It’s my first time rereading LOTR since seeing the movies. Weird experience, let me tell you. (I ended 2015 / started 2016 with Fellowship and am in the middle of rereading The Two Towers right now – part of a 7-year tradition of starting the new year with an epic fantasy novel. I started my LOTR reread after running out of Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones books. *wink*)

blog-an-inheritance-of-ashes-leah-bobetAll three of these are fantasy novels, two written for adults and one, Bobet’s, for the upper YA market.

What I loved about these:

  • depth in worldbuilding – the world feels real, there are layers and unexpected things and pieces that aren’t about the plot
  • character depth (okay, not so much in Fellowship) – the characters are vivid, they have complicated relationships, they struggle to think their way through the things they want to change about themselves, they fail and try again and fail worse and keep trying, they feel like real people
  • the feeling of epicness – while each story is very much about the struggles and relationships of a few key people, it’s also about enormous danger that affects the broader world, and these two aspects, the intimate and the global, are well balanced throughout
  • beautiful description, which also contributes to the epicness
  • strong narrative voice (or voices, in the case of The Virtu, which has two first-person narrators)

Reading Stats

Cover of Who Fears Death by Nnedi OkoraforI read 20 books last year, same as the previous year. That’s a little lower than I’d like, but then several were very long and took a month or more to read.

Genre

Here’s a genre breakdown:

  • 6 of them were adult fantasy (same as the last 2 years), 4 were adult SF (3 last year), and 2 were hard-to-classify adult speculative fiction (1 last year)
  • 2 were non-SFF adult fiction (same as last year): one was magical realism but I decided to classify it as literary instead of genre, and the other was a contemporary gay romance novella
  • 2 were YA fantasy (same as last year) and 1 was YA SF (same as last year)
  • 1 was middle-grade fantasy (0 last year)
  • 1 was non-fiction
  • 1 was an anthology (an 800-page behemoth that I’ve been working on for several years and finally finished)

blog-parable-of-the-sower-butler-cover11 of the books were parts of series – about three-quarters of my (SF&F) genre reading.

For 2017, I’m aiming to finish some of the many series I’ve got on the go. That also means forgoing new-to-me series in favour of standalones. I’ve got plenty of all of those already stocked on my shelf and ereader. Now to see if I can resist temptation…

Authors and Diversity

12 of 19 books were by women (the last was an anthology), which is on par with my reading in most years.

3 of the authors were people of colour, coincidentally all black women – Octavia Butler (Parable of the Sower), Nnedi Okorafor (Who Fears Death), and fellow Canadian Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring). I was particularly struck by the writing of Butler, whom I’d never read before even though she’s a major figure in SF&F, and will be reading more of her work in future.

blog-brown-girl-hopkinson-cover6 of the books were by Canadians (5 authors, as I read 2 books by Leah Bobet).

11 of the authors were new to me.

Publishing and Acquisition

Of the 20 books I read, only 5 were published in the last 5 years (11 in the past 15 years). That’s not good for a writer trying to keep up with current publishing trends – must do better this year! The oldest was The Fellowship of the Ring (1954).

Where I got my books: 1 was a reread, 3 were passed on from family or friends, 1 was a loan, and 1 was from when I used to volunteer at a small press (and was allowed to take home free copies). The other 14 I bought.

blog-fellowship-fotr-tolkien-cover9/20 (45%) were ebooks, down slightly from last year but higher than any other year since I started using an ereader in 2012. What I acquired in ebook form:

  • 2 books that are too big to hold comfortably in paper form – that is, they’re only out in trade paperback format, or they’re really thick
  • 2 books that are only out in hardcover, so the ebook is more comfortable to hold and also cheaper
  • 3 books I couldn’t find in the bookstore – either too old, or indie-published
  • 2 books I bought as ebooks for no particular reason

Side note on ereading tech: I use a Kobo Touch primarily, as well as the Kindle app on my iPhone for books that aren’t available from the Kobo store, and sometimes the Kobo app when I’m feeling lazy and/or don’t have my ereader with me. I find my phone slightly too small to read on comfortably, but it’s the right size for my hands, so I’m not terribly motivated to get a bigger phone. Will probably upgrade to a newer Kobo this year, though.

And there you have it! Hope you enjoyed the trip through Siri-reading-land. What were your favourite books last year?