Category Archives: True Stories

Anecdotes from my past and present.

Thankful for a whirlwind tour of #NYCC!

imageNew York Comic Con was an enormous, delightful, fan-filled spectacle of an experience, and I was thrilled to be able to go there, to meet some readers and get to know all of Team Tor a little better. I got to talk magic systems with Sam Sykes, Ilona and Gordon Andrews, Kim Harrison, George Hagen and Jeff Somers at a standing-room only panel. I signed books, gave out Child of a Hidden Sea buttons, and met a lot of people who had, previously, been e-mail contacts.

In and around the event, Kelly and I visited The Frick Collection, the Met, Chelsea Market and the High Line. We saw Cabaret, with Alan Cummings, at the former Studio 54. I tried on some dresses at the Desigual store, but failed to commit to any of them, and walked through Central Park a couple times. In the process, I got a much much better sense of where things are in Midtown.

What else? We ate many pastries, and actually saw Times Square both by day and by night. (Our decision to skip it on the previous trip was more or less borne out, but I admit I wasn’t entirely immune to the glitter and flash of it all.) We drank much coffee at Gregory’s, and much better coffee at Blue Bottle, and discovered that the Food Network has a fantastically beautiful loading dock of all things:

On Sunday we went to the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn with Ellen Datlow, Rick Bowes and Terence Taylor, and then we looked around the neighborhood (which includes a superhero supply store!) for a little before going back to our new digs in the West Village.

Then on Monday we flew home to two well-cared for but pleasingly happy to see us kittens. By then we were in such kitteh withdrawal that, despite having been favored with a bit of love from the cats at our Air B&B, we were watching the Greatest Hits of the Kitten Channel on Kelly’s phone during take-off.

Wheezing into Monday…

photoKitten updates have been few and far between lately, I know, because Kelly and I were scampering around to a variety of movies at TiFF, with my always delightful and thoroughly brilliant cousins, Alicia and Joe. What’s up with the kids is, basically, that they are cute. Supercute, even!

We experimented a little with leaving the bedroom open to them at night while we were en vacance, but they are still too rambunctious. No big surprise there. CinCin’s headed back to the vet in about ten days for spayage and shots. I’ve also rearranged the top of the cat tree known as Beetlejuice Station. This might, eventually, occasion a new video.

This past staycation has been the best vacation, for me, in quite a long stretch of time. It offered the perfect mix of tourism, intellectual stimulation, good company, downtime, and amazing foodie experiences. Among other things, we tried a huge number of new restaurants: Khao San Road, The Harbord Room, The Senator, Fusaro’s Kitchen, and Byblos. Each of these is as deserving of a review as all the incredible films we saw.

It was illuminating, and has made me consider what K and I require in a break where our entertainment isn’t curated by a savvy, film-loving family member. Next time we have a stretch of time off at home, this shall be the model, I think: buy lots of tickets to lots of things, make a list of restaurants, and lure out various lovely people to partake with us.

Guest Post: Kelly Robson on the Writer’s Process Tour @kellyoyo

IMG_2509Kelly Robson attended the utterly awesome Taos Toolbox master class in 2007, and has two stories coming out next year, in Start a Revolution and The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir. She was tagged by Caitlin Sweet to do the Writer’s Process blog meme (as was I) and, as she’s not maintaining a blog of her own these days, it was suggested that she might post her answers here. What a brilliant idea! 

Kelly can be found online at Facebook, Instagram, and PinterestHere’s what she has to say:

I started the first draft of this Process Blog Tour post by waffling over whether I have enough real writer points to legitimately respond. But screw that. Cut cut cut. Then I delayed posting this because I felt superstitious — like if I posted it I’d never write fiction again. Dumb, hmm? But Caitlin Sweet tagged me because she’s interested in what I have to say, so let’s just do this. Protesting too much is boring. Delay is boring.

What am I working on?

Final revisions on a historical horror story set in 19th century Bavaria. Horror isn’t my thing at all, but I wanted to submit something to a particular anthology so I waded in. When I first started drafting, I got myself quite freaked out while conjuring the horrific elements (I have an overactive imagination). It’s okay now, though.

I was surprised to discover that horror seems to require huge amounts of sensory information, and I loved writing that. It was an excuse to get a little lyrical, where otherwise my writing tends to be quite straightforward.

On the novel side of things, two potential projects are battling for supremacy. One is an alternate-present fantasy and the other is near-future non-genre. Both have their pros and cons. I just need to decide which project will make me happiest — which pinata contains the most candy.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

God, what a loaded question. First of all, I reject genres as anything other than marketing categories. Some people only read within certain marketing categories and that’s great if it works for them. I read the best (as I define it) across all categories. That goes for all media.

So I’ll redefine the question to: What characteristics does my work have that I think might be somewhat unusual?

I’m not interested in writing about characters like myself. To date I’ve mostly pursued male characters. Out of the three stories finished this earlier this year, one MC is a mentally disabled Viennese janitor, one is a potty-mouthed Australian winemaker, and one is an Enlightenment-era French slut. All men.

Maybe that’s because I’m mostly interested in characters who are absolutely convinced by the actions they’re taking and it’s easier to imagine men moving through the world with that kind of conviction. Women tend to be more ambivalent unless they’re pretty extreme outliers. But I’m not interested in extreme outliers.

However, the new historical horror has a lesbian MC. She’s backed into a corner physically, financially, and emotionally, so I hope she’s moving with conviction. I had trouble getting her there, and I’m afraid she might not be sympathetic enough.

Why do I write what I do?

Better to ask why I write at all. Because it would be better if I didn’t. All writers know that the opportunity cost for what they do is huge and the chance of it ever paying off financially is little to none.

I write because I’ve always wanted to — always — and getting the psychological permission to do it was one fuck of a battle that only started turning when I approached 40.

I write because it’s taken over 300,000 words to figure out how to write something I’m proud of. I’ve got great taste, and I can tell when something’s shit even if I’ve shat it out myself. So after learning how to please myself it would be a damn stupid waste to stop now.

I write because it’s mentally beneficial and controls my anxiety. Which is a way of saying that I really NEED to.

I write because finishing something and having people you respect like it, understand it, maybe even love it, is the best feeling in the world.

I write because many of the people I love and respect are writers, and I always felt like an outsider when I visited their playground. That wasn’t a good feeling. It also wasn’t a good way to achieve the recommended levels of mental health and self-love.

I write because I love fiction and can’t live without it, but I don’t love it unconditionally. I have high and exact expectations that are rarely met. So if I want to read something that pushes all my buttons, I have to try to write it myself.

How does my writing process work?

Output

I’ve tried the “quantity not quality” thing and it doesn’t work for me (it was a great way to learn though). It just makes a mess too awful to face cleaning up. Not very many people can write quickly and produce something worth reading. I think the quantity not quality orthodoxy is responsible for a lot of crap.

Some people can write a story in a weekend. That’s not me. For the previous two stories, seems like I’ve gotten a 5000 word draft in a month by working at least eight hours a week. Then finishing it takes huge amounts of revision — 30-40 hours. Maybe 100 hours per story total. I haven’t actually calculated it.

Process

I start a drafting session by grooming the last 1000 words or so to make sure I’m not headed off on a tangent. That means by the time I have a complete first draft it’s already been revised at least three times, except for the end. Which means the ending sucks. Then I rewrite several times before asking Alyx to weigh in on it. She’s wonderful at critique not only because she’s a terrific writer and experienced critiquer, but she also teaches writing so is very smooth at communicating her opinions and fixes. Rewrite again and get another crit from a friend. Then rewrite again and again. Maybe 5-10 revisions?

Revise, revise, revise. There is no other way.

Tools

My most unusual tool is an 11 x 14 inch sketchpad, which I use to doodle scene mechanics, story, and plot. If I’m spinning my wheels, the sketchpad will usually put me on track again. Scribbling has always helped me think.

Location

Our condo is too small for me to have a desk. My laptop lives in a drawer. But our condo building has a library with wifi, which is nice. Our kitchen table works too. Often Alyx and I will write in a coffee shop. The current spot is Jimmy’s on Gerrard, which has two upper floors with big tables.

I can draft on an iPad with a regular Mac bluetooth keyboard, which is great to haul around to the coffee shop. This setup is no good for revision because cutting and pasting and flying around a document with efficiency is impossible on an iPad.

Research and inspiration

I read a lot of non-fiction. Good, clear non-fiction primes my brain for the kind of writing I want to achieve. I actually think that Alan Bennett’s essay collections Writing Home and Untold Stories are magical in this way. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Why Moving is Cool… (Toronto, day 466)

Last week I developed a sudden burning need to rewatch the first five minutes of “Mountie on the Bounty,” a Due South episode from about midway through the Ray Kowalski years. In Due South fandom, you are generally either RayK or a Ray Vecchio fan; I’m the latter, and didn’t acquire the DVDs after The One True Ray had left the building.

Youtube, however, has the opening of MotB, which sets Fraser and RayK atop a very tall building, in a gunfight which they’re losing, and midway through the process of maybe getting killed, Fraser comes up with the bright idea of jumping off the building and into what–since this is Chicago–should be Lake Michigan. They do it. Ray, who can’t swim, is Officially Unimpressed.

Anyway, I brought up the clip. Bang, bang, yell, yell, and… jump!

And there was something shiny and new! In a piece of television which I’ve probably watched… oh, hey, let’s not even guess the number of times. I recognized the building! Because the role of Chicago was, naturally, being played by the city of Toronto, and now that I live here I recognized the very tall building as one of my favorite photographic subjects, the Canada Malt silo on the shore of Lake Ontario.

And, yes! I am right. Proof!

I’d see so much more, I realize, if I dipped into a proper DS rewatch.

A-readin’, A-repairin’, A-Kithmetic

Last night I read at the regular ChiSeries event, along with Sarah Tolmie, Charlene Challenger, and Errick Nunnally. (I noticed, but forgot to say, that all of us but Errick read pieces that eventually took their characters to big empty rooms with mattresses on the floor, which seems an odd coincidence.)

I wasn’t sure how many people would make it, what with Worldcon just having ended, but a fair number of the usual marvelous suspects were there. Hugs were exchanged, socializing happened, the food and music were good and as usual Kari Maaren and Peter Chiykowski sang original genre-themed songs between the readers.

(This isn’t the song Peter sang last night, but it’s a good representation of what I’ve heard of him.)

Other things that have happened recently…

Two friendly, burly guys came by Monday, took our apartment door right off its hinges, and vanished with it to the parkade for an hour before reinstalling the thing. If you ever want to feel weirdly vulnerable, try out having no front door for awhile. All of this was in service of trimming the bottom of the door so that Kelly and I can get out and in reliably. (I can’t remember if I told you all about some of our recent adventures in having to have the door kicked in, OMG, on one occasion, and on another having our floor installer break in through a window when the door proved too mighty to be kicked.

The repair process isn’t quite complete–the jamb needs some work, too, it turns out. But it should be soon. Friday soon, is the plan. (And then there are other little things – a closet door, the dishwasher… ah, new homes.)

Anyway, it will be nice to not worry about getting trapped inside or outside the house sometime.

I gave in to curiosity and weighed Lorenzo this morning, and he’s 7.8 bristlin’ pounds to CinCin’s still-wide-eyed 4.7. He is all string and muscle and teen boy attitude, with no cush whatsoever. When he comes to me for love, he rolls off my upper body unless I brace him–he’s so taut he can’t melt into me. Imagine having a warm medicine ball, with whiskers, trying to make itself comfortable on your ribcage.

Me and the Kittens

He spent 20 minutes this morning trying out various poses, and eventually discovered that if he lay parallel to my collarbones and braced his weight against my throat, he could hang out for awhile. It was so delightful to be snuggled that I let him do it. What’s a little asphyxia when set against the goal of having cats who are abundantly physically affectionate, right?

Terms of endearment (the kittens’ many nicknames)

image
CinCin
Fairy Cat
Clownface
Clownfish
Urchin
CheeChee Feathers, or sometimes Mrs. CheeChee Feathers.

Runt (though she weighs over 2 kilos now, CinCin was definitely the runt of her litter. She got weighed on Wednesday during her abortive spay attempt. We haven’t tried to weigh Lozo lately,  but he’s at least a third bigger. And feels like warm, muscular concrete.)

Speaking of whom…

Lozo
Lozo Bambino
Lozo Magnifico
Larry
‘Renzo
Munchkin
Michelin Man – because he’s muscular and taut as an overinflated tire.

Either/Or/Both:
Flip and Flop
Fric and Frac
Thing One and Thing Two
i Bambini

I know you all needed, desperately, to know this.

We also need to come up with an alto part for the Parry Gripp song “Weiner Dog,” because CinCin comes running whenever we play the video or sing it ourselves, and I think hearing it in two part harmony would blow her tiny little mind. She likes things with soprano notes, go figure.

CinCin is still fertile and still feisty… eek!

SONY DSCCinCIn didn’t have her operation yesterday after all. Our very conscientious vet didn’t like the looks of her blood work. She may have picked up a parasite, so we’re deworming. Again. The other stat that’s out of whack is something they often see in growing kittens, so we’re supposed to a) not worry overmuch; and b) bring her back in a month.

She is just as bouncy and happy and apparently healthy as ever. Here’s hoping she doesn’t go into heat before we can get Lozo fixed.

In other news, I just opened my third support ticket with Canada Post in an attempt to deal with the fact that they aren’t forwarding our mail. Iconcluded it with a blatant threat, to wit:

You essentially have until I find time to write a hilarious blog entry about this for my author site, Facebook and other social media to either resolve the situation or refund our $92.60.

I rarely get what I want in life by being bitchy, but the fact that they tweeted unhelpful advice back at me about this problem, using the hashtag #cpcares, has been something of a red flag in my eyes.

The fact that the person who called me said, basically, “We are so doing it! And if we aren’t, we can’t find out why not because… well… computers.” That also didn’t help.

Tomato attacks and other posts of postage

Uno: CinCin goes for her little operation tomorrow. Lozo is scheduled for four weeks hence. I would give so much to be able to explain why, to cats about the veterinarian. I know I’m not alone there.

What new toy is this, cat mommies?

Due: Though I often like to cook with crime shows playing as background noise, I had recently been quietly beating myself up for watching So! Much! TV! during daytime hours. Then I realized the reason I blew through S4 of The Killing in two weeks is that it was only six episodes long.

Tre: Once again my freezer has filled up with red things. When I’m not paying attention, I end up squirreling away meal after meal with tomato-based sauce. I need me some white, green and orange, stat! (Quick and dirty somewhat healthy leftover intensive recipe suggestions are always appreciated.)

Quattro: This morning’s writing session was good for 850 words.