Kelly’s Tor.com novella “Waters of Versailles” will be out next week, on June 10th. It will be available for free reading on the site, as always, but you can also advance-order your very own keeper copy in the Kindle store, via iTunes, from Barnes and Noble, Chapters Indigo or from OmniBooks.
Kelly was working on this story in the months before we decided to leave Vancouver, and on through the stretch when we were, literally, in transition. It was a intense and freaky time, as we scrambled to figure out how to get ourselves and the cats across the country. Even at the height of the chaos, there were mornings where we would get up, walk the mile or so to Kafka’s, on Main Street, and spend a couple hours there drinking espresso and working at their beautiful communal project tables. We were still getting settled, here in Toronto when she finished the novella. Despite a massively multilayered upheaval on our homefront and in our working lives, Kelly didn’t put a foot wrong with the writing.
Sure, I’m biased… but Ellen Datlow says it makes her cry every time she reads it.*
“Waters of Versailles” is historical fantasy, and Kelly sometimes describes it as a story about “sex, magic, and plumbing.” It is also about deciding who you are going to be–about trimming away the frills and focusing on what matters. It is funny, sexy, heartbreaking, and frightening by turns. The backdrop of the palace and courtier culture is rich, beautifully researched, and–just to make it extra rich and delicious–infused with magic.
In other news, it has a gorgeous cover, by artist Kathleen Jennings.
*And all you people who want to sell to Ellen, I bet you want to know what makes her cry. My darling, that’s what.
If you happened to be outside my front window right now, this is what you would see. (Please don’t step on my flowers while you are there, you mad stalker! I actually got some bulbs going that the squirrels have so far neglected to eat.)
My birch trees are busting out fine new leaves, perfect little chlorophyll-laden shapes, with edges like serrated knives, and I have been writing Novel Writing III critiques about a meter from the bird feeder, which is exceedingly popular with the local sparrows.
Yesterday tasted of summer. It was bright and sunny and the house got a little bit stuffy. You could walk outside in a dress. No tights, no coat required. Kelly and I strolled out through a cherry blossom-infested U of T campus to Bloor Street, and a matinee of the film adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd. This was a speed version of Thomas Hardy. Look, a girl! Look, a boy! Another boy! A third boy! Unhappiness! Misery! Woe! Boom! Conveniently, we’re now back to one available party representing each of the sexes. Someone read the damned banns already.
To sum up my emotional reaction to this particular costume drama: the horses were pretty and nobody got hanged.
We came home, waited for it to cloud over, and climbed into the hot tub. This enabled me, later, to phone Vancouver, say “Thank you for giving me life!” and proceed to brag about how awesome a day it had been.
Today it is cooler and foggy.
I have a schtick on Facebook whereby I’ll often give the cats (whom we adopted 358 days ago, I’ll have you know) super-sekrit spy names for the day. Moose and Squirrel. Joe Dick and Billy Talent. Laundry Chicken and What’s Going On? Today it was Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap, which has spawned a small conversation about whether anyone could successfully reboot WKRP In Cincinnati and, if so, how? My position is that it would have to start exactly like the Battlestar Galactica reboot: Earth gets nuked, but Cincinatti survives. For obscure reasons (one friend claims this would be Johnny’s paranoia in action) the radio station was shielded against EMP.
Red Wigglers the size of Cadillacs would be roaming the Midwest, which makes it all seem like a mash-up with Dune.
Continuing on with the random, I am pondering a few fine linguistic details within the Stormwrack universe. A few of these came up when I was reviewing the copy-edit of A Daughter of No Nation. I got a query about when I use “in Fleet” as opposed to when I use “the Fleet.” (Answer: ‘in Fleet’ when they mean the city, and the words ‘in Tacoma’ could be used just as correctly. ‘The Fleet’ when we’re talking about the subsection that is a navy: “We’ll be sending the Fleet around to see if you’re in compliance with the Treaty.”) I had been doing this correctly but without conscious thought.
And here’s something that doesn’t happen to literary writers all that often: I had already known that the portions of the Hidden Sea Tales that take place on Stormwrack (as opposed to in San Francisco) were playing out, linguistically, in Fleetspeak. This means that those scenes played out in Fleet and were translated, by me, into present-day English. This is something that’s essentially invisible to everyone but my wacky imagination, but it became something of an entertaining conceit through the copy-edit process.
See, I’m no Tolkien. (I know, you’re shocked.) I don’t actually speak Fleetspeak. And the poor copy-editor really doesn’t speak Fleetspeak. So there was a bit of them going “Here’s a foreign word,” and me going, “No, that’s actually a real English science word. I had to look it up, too.” And them going “Here’s another foreign word ,” and me going, “It’s not foreign in Fleetspeak.”
Them: “Here’s another another foreign word.
Me: “Yes, that one’s Erinthian. Obvs. We can italicize that.”
None of which actually happened face to face, you understand. I’m describing a process of me talking to pencil marks on a 600-page manuscript that is now, blessedly, wrapped, taped, bar-coded and in the hands of Canada Post.
The c/e did a meticulous, thoughtful job and I’m so fucking grateful you can’t even imagine.
Finally, I am groping for a verb I can noun (or a noun I can verb) to describe a particular element of the magical inscription process, whereby a spellscribe takes an existing spell and creates a variation on it. I played with embroidering, but it’s long and unwieldy and not quite right. The embroidered spell? A broidery?
The closest equivalent to the variation/embroidery process would be someone taking a fiddly gourmet recipe and creating an undeniably different–but recognizably similar–food. Going from curried plantains in coconut milk to… maybe something with green mangos?
Why am I not currying plantains tonight? Why am I not currying plantains right now?
(This post ends with a Gotham spoiler.)
I walked into Portland Variety this morning and my order was already sitting out waiting for me; coffee freshly poured, almond financier plated, two baristas, one representing each of the majority genders, grinning with that genial “Ha ha gotcha!” face that you just have to love.
Then I headed into the back and an adorable young man whom I’d swear I’d never seen before looked up from his MacAir. He said, in purest dulcet tones: “I know this is your table, but I’m leaving in just a minute. If you want me to clear out now I can totally do that.”
To which, obviously, I said “Oh honey, that’s insane, I can work anywhere.”
It kinda made me feel like Don Falcone. Only cooler, with less tendency to speak in a weird mash-up of upspeak and a monotone, and vastly less likely to go strangling people for reminding me of my mother.
Yeah, boss, we gotcha table forya. You want we should take this guy out in the alley and teach ‘im a lesson?
Clearly I am terrifying.
Yesterday I threw together a quick post about how things have been filled with what we around here, semi-ironically, call virtue: writing, teaching, flossing, hard work, tax accounting, healthy food, yoga, and sincere attempts to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. I wanted to let you all know I hadn’t died or forgotten how to blog, more than anything.
Now I want to just as quickly throw together a note about a few attempts, made recently, to tarnish up that hardworkin’ halo. Because what that kind of behavior gets you, eventually, is burned the fuck out. I know it, you know it. (The cats, they don’t know it. This is because they get halo points from activities like stealing lettuce, one leaf at a time, out of the salad bowl and licking it to death in various corners of the apartment.)
Fun things! I bought us tickets to see Second City’s How to Kill a Comedian. We went on the Thursday before the long weekend; it was like a sketch comedy version of all the political things that sift up in my Facebook feed. Laughs were had. Also bellinis.
Kelly and I also went to a very convivial gathering of writers and book lovers on Good Friday,in a part of town we hadn’t seen.
Marine disasters! I am reading Eric Larson’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania aloud to Kelly in some of our downtime. The kittens join us on the bed and roll around looking adorable while we learn about people getting torpedoed, sunk, and drowned.
Lakefront birding! Part of my necessary mental process for writing requires a certain amount of walking around outside, staring blankly at things like the lake. To that end, I finally made it to Humber Bay Park East a couple weekends ago, and shot many icicles as well as this red-necked grebe and some other birds.
It turns out this is the park I’ve been looking for since I got here: big, easy to get to, bird-infested, open seven days a week, and with deliciously varied terrain. Barb and I used to go to Jericho Beach every couple of months to chase bunnies, raptors, warblers and hummingbirds. This has a very different look, of course, but there’s a similar feeling and I am excited about exploring it more.
Marital Disasters! A Masterpiece adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is on. It has Damian Lewis as Henry VIII. If this is news to you, I totally understand if you need to go hyperventilate into a brown paper bag now. OMG, OMG, OMG.
Peter and Caitlin often write heartbreaking, detailed, delightful blog tributes when they lose a pet, and I admire them the more because that is not really my way. I thought I might write something, eventually, when Rumble died, but it didn’t happen. I’ll have to hope that since I so aggressively document the wonder of our cats while they are still pulse-equipped and photogenic, it evens out.
Prior to Rumble, we had only ever gotten kittens who were tiny – six weeks old. He was twice that, and seemed incredibly mature in some ways. Still a kitten, obviously, but old enough to have full run of the house as soon as he joined us. This meant, among other things, that he was bouncing his playful kitty butt all over the bed each night, at the rental apartment belonging to the man known as Frank the Entropic Landlord, as we slept.
I have let my hair grow out since 1995, which was when I shaved it for Clarion West. In the night, if I happened to roll over or even move my head, Rumble would pounce on any moving tresses that happened to drag over my pillow. Having your hair pounced while you’re unconscious, it turns out, is a great way to be compelled to flutter your eyelashes. This, in turn, is a spectacularly successful gambit if what you want most in life is a litter-encrusted kitten paw thrust straight into one or both of your eye sockets.
I dig being sighted, and soon, with Kelly’s help, I was keeping my hair in French braids pretty much all the time. It wasn’t something I could do myself; I have tried periodically over the years, and made multiple abysmal failures of it. The principle seemed obvious enough, at least for the single braid, but the execution has for years been completely beyond me.
Then, a couple weeks ago, I was thinking about a story problem in the current novel. This tends to be the sort of thing that triggers absent-minded attempts at tasks that are physically beyond me. And blow me down, I sort of managed the single braid! (I can’t remember the plot problem, which means I probably solved that, too.) It wasn’t good, exactly; it didn’t go very far, and the whole process depended rather heavily on my being able to stick the left-hand tress in my mouth. But braid happened! It was still recognizably braid a couple hours later, when Kelly got home.
I rather suspect that the primary difference between all of those other tries and this one is that yoga has made it possible for me to hold my arms above my head for vastly longer periods of time. Or possibly to reach the back of my head at all.
This unexpected success also wasn’t, entirely, a fluke. I figured I had forged the faintest beginnings of a neural pathway, so I might as well see if I could push it further. (No, I actually thought that. Yes, I am that much of a nerd). I have as a result braided my own hair perhaps a half dozen times now, and many of the attempts have been at least marginally better than the one proceeding.
It is a weird thing. Rumble didn’t really cause it. It leaves me thinking about him just the same. He has been gone a year, almost. Going suddenly, as he did, meant he never had a shitty, protracted, painful vet-infested old age. I’m glad he was spared that, and the kittens are wonderful. But even so, and at odd times, the hole still yawns.