Nature, description and breaking the rules

August 4th, 2014Posted by Nancy

NB 2013 002

 

  I know that Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for writing include “Don’t go into great detail describing places and things” but I love writing those. Part of the pleasure of travelling is watching out the window of the train, finding ways to describe what I see, or discovering the perfect graffiti on a dumpster in your own town. I need a sense of place to avoid the “white room” syndrome, even if I end up editing out half the descriptions in the end anyway.  (Weirdly, I almost always know what the buildings look like and I never know what the characters look like.  I know what they feel like, but I tend not to have a strong visual sense of them.)  

The Toronto setting in The Night Inside was partially because that it’s where I live and I was able to set the story in neighbourhoods I walked around every day.  Being able to ground the story in something familiar helped me get a handle on the more difficult aspects of it. I also found that Toronto fit the vampires I was writing.  As Rozokov says of his decision to settle in Toronto in the 19th century:” It was a good place for careful men – it bred them, rewarded them”.  There is something “careful” about both Rozokov and Ardeth, despite the latter’s attempt to remake herself as a vampiric femme fatale.

Blood and Chrysanthemums and A Terrible Beauty let me indulge my love of writing about nature.  Both were shaped by time spent in Banff and the landscape of A Terrible Beauty was also influenced by the terrain of northern Ontario.  We rent a cottage for a week each year near Algonquin Park and I vividly remember camping as a child on the shores of Lake Huron, with the rocky beaches and the twisted cedars, and I wanted to capture some of that wildness.  It was the closest “New World” equivalent I could imagine to the dark “Old World” forests of the original fairy tale.  Coming up with exactly how anyone managed to construct a mansion on an island in the middle of the mountains was a challenge, but a few episodes of “America’s Castles” and some judicious hand-waving covered that one.

The new book, Cold Hillside, presented its own challenges.  I’ve never been to Bhutan or Nepal and going there wasn’t in the plan.  Fortunately, there is no shortage of books bursting will both facts and astonishing images about that part of the world.  Since the world of Lushan is NOT Bhutan or Nepal, I was free to take the parts of the landscape (both natural and human) that worked for the story and leave the rest.  One of the perils of writing a novel over almost 20 years is that the reason the description you just wrote that sounds so perfect is because you’ve already used it four times before.

So, if you’re a writer who likes descriptive passages about nature, have faith that at least one reader will enjoy them.  If you’re a reader who dislikes such things, well, you have my permission to skip those bits. Just don’t blame me if everything feels as if it’s happening in a white room.

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Words for a good cause

July 20th, 2014Posted by Nancy

Like all writers, I love interesting words. English is rich with expressive, specific, harmonious and sometimes odd words and we tend to use a fraction of them in our daily lives. There’s a Canadian project to not only reclaim these fascinating words but to raise awareness and money for a disease that robs us of this richness – Alzheimers.

I was thrilled to participate in Sheryl Gordon’s project A Rewording Life. The goal of the project is get a thousand sentences using “beguiling, bemusing” words from Canadian writers, musicians, and artists. I chose three options from the list and was assigned “odium”, which is a fine and quite timely word to work with (though I admit I had a secret hankering to do “subaltern”, if only because it appeared in a gothic romance that I loved when I was young).

For more information and sample sentences, check out the project website. Because a word is a terrible thing to waste.

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Let us eat cake!

June 8th, 2014Posted by Nancy

With my house smelling like oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (courtesy of my extremely talented husband), it seems like a good time to talk about cake.  Because who doesn’t like cake?

Specifically, I want to talk about the incredibly gorgeous and unusual cakes created by Samantha Anderson at Cakes Cove in Toronto.  The first time I saw her work at the “Lost at Sea” event I was blown away by the complexity, artistry and – of course – good taste of her work.  Best of all, she loves horror, fantasy and sf – her company motto is “Making Every Genre Delicious”.  If you want a cake that looks like R2-D2 or Aperture, a chocolate chessboard, or fabulous mail-order cookies, then check out her site.

Sam also modelled for the new cover of the e-book of The Night Inside and she made the perfect Ardeth.

 

 

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Cold Hillside Cover!

June 7th, 2014Posted by Nancy

Cold Hillside coverThe cover of Cold Hillside is done and it’s gorgeous.  It wasn’t at all what I was expecting but it works on many levels with the story.  Thanks to Vince Haig and the team at ChiZine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Your chance to win e-books – plus ask me questions

May 18th, 2014Posted by Nancy

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Not only can you ask me anything (or almost), if you RSVP now you have the chance to win the e-book collection.

RSVP now!  (My old copywriting instincts are coming back…)

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News, news, news – and shameless self-promotion

May 17th, 2014Posted by Nancy

The big news – the entire first draft of Cold Hillside has now been finished and sent to my editor at ChiZine Publications.   Now I’m just waiting for the rewrites to begin.  It’s been a long (18 years long) road to get to this place and it feels a bit strange to think that I’ve actually managed to finish writing another book.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do some interviews and articles for some fascinating websites to promote the e-book versions of the first three novels.  I’m glad I’ve discovered all of them but I suspect my “to read” book list is about to get much, much longer.

There’s an interview at My Bookish Ways here.

I really enjoyed writing the background to “how I wrote the book” for The Night Inside for Upcoming4.me.  It brought back a lot of memories of that time, including my habit of sitting on Harvey’s on Bloor Street on Sunday mornings, eating scrambled eggs and writing (by hand!).

On May 22nd, I’ll be doing an extended on-line chat (between noon and 8 p.m. or so) at Bitten By Books, so please come by and ask me anything.  Well, maybe not anything.

 

 

 

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Night Vale Welcomes You

May 6th, 2014Posted by Nancy

Welcome to Night Vale

A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale.

 

 

NOTE FROM NANCY: Because you may have noticed I’m not exactly … prolific … I have inveigled the talented and funny Toveen into writing a guest post for me.   Enjoy!

Night Vale is a quaint little town in a quaint not-so-little desert. It can be found, yes, though not without some difficulty; merely listen for the whispers in a quiet room—those found beneath the silent buzz of an empty place when you mistakenly think you are alone–and you will find the directions eventually…unless, of course, the whispers find you first.

  If you are a weak-willed mortal being built of sagging sacks of flesh and fluid like many of those reading this, however, it may be more prudent to simply locate the podcast. After all, listening to the news is almost like being there—and you listen to the news, don’t you? Well, even if you don’t, you’ve never heard the news announced quite like this.

Welcome to Night Vale is a creation of Commonplace Books and is written by Joseph Fink. At least, that’s what they tell us. Can we say in any absolute terms that it is not the product of a failed alien experiment on the human mind-brain? No. Can we imply that is? We probably shouldn’t. But is it? Probably not. But maybe. (Probably not, though.)

Now, without further procrastination in an attempt to shield your soul from what is probably not a failed alien experiment on the human mind-brain: should you listen to Welcome to Night Vale?

1. Do you like horror?

WTNV is the podcast that reaches its slimy eldritch tentacles up from the relative safety of your headphones and wraps them around your mind like the slithering octopus of horror it hopefully isn’t. (Hopefully.) It pulls you into its thick embrace and threatens to welcome you as warmly as its title implies–which is actually not that warmly at all, and really more an action of indifference than anything else, but it welcomes you all the same.

ALL HAIL THE GLOW CLOUD

Come home,” Night Vale whispers. And you comply. God help you, you comply.

Night Vale seems to be a town pulled straight from the writings of Lovecraft–a beautiful desert Innsmouth where cats float at fixed points in space and where angels never, ever stop smiling. You ignore the angels, of course; angels do not exist, and you are not to know about them. If they were to exist, though–and they don’t–they would still never, ever stop smiling. It is the law. If nonexistent angels and levitating felines don’t interest you, perhaps the science will. Night Vale is a very scientifically interesting community. The most scientifically interesting community in all of America, actually! Cecil Gershwin Palmer, diligent radio host of WTNV, is very into science these days, you know. If you majored in science (no, not biology, or chemistry, or physics, or anything else—science. Just. Science.), this is the podcast for you! On the other hand, if science isn’t your thing, don’t worry! Your friendly neighbourhood Strex Corp will rid you of all your worries. Worry is only a temporary thing; everything is temporary, really, when you think about it. Even your precious, fragile life. Embrace the void that is soon to be your existence! It may one day return the favour.

Desert Bluffs: Proud supporter of StrexCorp Synergists Inc

StrexCorp Synergists Inc. Look around you: Strex. Look inside you: Strex. Go to sleep: Strex. Believe in a smiling God: Strex. StrexCorp Synergists Inc.

2. Do you like humour?

Do you like to laugh? Do you enjoy making mouth noises with your face orifices and scrunching motions with your eyes? Then you will like WTNV. Cecil can go from serious radio host to 90’s movie cheerleader at the drop of the archaic currency form of your choosing. Joseph Fink’s writing is witty and fun and peppered with the oddities only Night Vale and your deepest nightmares can provide. Can humour and horror blend? Yes. Should they? Probably not, but that doesn’t stop Night Vale! At any rate, when Cecil’s soothing tones tickle your cochlea, pedestrian thoughts will be the last thing on your mind. Cockroaches, maybe. Thoughts? No. Succumb to Night Vale’s intoxicating comedy and all will be well.*

Guns don't kill people. Guns are people.

Stand on your front porch and shout “NRA!” to order one today.

*All will probably not be well, but it’s still better than exploring the alternative.

3. Do you like equal representation?

Are you tired of the same old story? Boy meets girl? Girl rejects boy? Boy goes home to summon ancient spirits of his long dead ancestors in a fervent act of revenge? Boy confronts girl with ghostly legion? Girl remains unimpressed and proceeds to unhinge jaw, consuming boy and all things unholy he has wrought upon the world in an instant? Then WTNV is right for you! WTNV features a diverse cast of characters and just enough limitation on its descriptions that you can picture the characters however you want. Is Cecil black? Is he white? Is he an eight-foot-three shadow creature born of the night and stars and sea and sky? He’s whatever you want! Also, he’s gay. But really, when you think about it, aren’t we all? No. When you live in a town like Night Vale, however, it probably ranks on the scale of abnormality right above dirt. Is dirt abnormal? No. Unless you’re talking about the dirt in that little pile over there–that dirt is abnormal. You probably shouldn’t touch it. Members of the LGBTQ+ on the other hand? Perfectly normal, as they should be–or, at least, as close to normal as any of us can hope to get. (Which probably isn’t very.)

4. Do you like awesome things that are also free?

Do you love free things? Who doesn’t! No, don’t answer that. That was a trick question; the answer is StrexCorp. StrexCorp does not enjoy free things, and you owe them $14.00 just for considering it. Thankfully, you are probably not StrexCorp, and so you probably are also in the habit of enjoying free things. Well, you’re in luck! WTNV is free and it’s available on iTunes (among other sites) for download! How does the Night Vale team continue to put out such quality episodes without charging a literal arm and a leg? The answer is demonic possession. That, and donations. They also have a store where you can buy things to put on your body and in your home. Including spiders! Those aren’t for sale, though–they’re hidden in the merchandise. Surprise! WTNV also puts out quality recordings of their live shows at the end of every tour. You can buy these for one whole dollar an episode! (Or more, if you’re feeling generous.) Each of these recordings features a double length episode—double the minutes, double the terror! And fun. Mostly fun.

For more information, ask your local real estate agents hidden inside the bellies of wild deer.

Night Vale condos: the real estate option tailored specifically, terrifically and horrifically for you!

5. Do you like dog parks?

If so, then, no. Welcome to Night Vale is not the podcast for you. Do not enter any dog parks. Don’t even look at any dog parks. If possible, do not think about dog parks. I understand it’s hard—“dog parks” has now been repeated five times in this paragraph already—but you really mustn’t. After all, you wouldn’t want to be committing a thought crime, would you? No, you wouldn’t. City Council would not approve, and it’s for everyone’s best interest that you stay in their favour. The good news is that this egregious misuse of your mind can be remedied by months of painful electroshock therapy, or else listening to Welcome to Night Vale. Wait, what? Yes, that’s right! The ailment is also the cure! Cecil will teach you how best to reprogram your mushy brain through use of fervent prayer, howling chants and bloodstone circles. Just tune in the 1st and 15th of every month for your dose of Night Vale and soon you, too, will forget that dog parks ever existed! Wow!

Dog parks? What?

…what was I talking about again?

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15 in 15: Influences

May 3rd, 2014Posted by Nancy

One of those Facebook things is making the rounds and since it’s on the topic of influences, it seemed an eminently suitable thing to repost.  It’s not just that I’m lazy/busy.  No indeed.

1. Fairy Tales
2. The Incredible Journey
3. Andre Norton
4. Peter O’Donnell
5. Tanith Lee
6. C.J. Cherryh
7. Shirley Jackson
8. Charlotte Bronte
9. Siouxsie And The Banshees
10. Kate Bush
11. Jane Austen
12. Patricia McKillip
13. David Keyes
14. Ruth Rendell
15. Robin McKinley

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Pet Words

April 18th, 2014Posted by Nancy

All writers have them.  They’re the words you default to when you’re working on your first draft and you don’t want to slow down to find le mot juste.  They’re the ones you love the sound of or which have particular aesthetic and emotional associations in your subconscious.  They’re the ones you just think are cool and sexy.   They can be very useful in getting things down on paper (or, well, on your screen) without your pesky internal editor censoring.

But sooner or later comes the day when you have to wade into the morass of text and prune those little suckers out.  (I’ve been doing Spring garden work, can you tell?)

My own pet words include “pale” and “dark”.  My wonderful copy editor pointed out that in A Terrible Beauty I used the word “realized” over 100 times. I had to cut half of them out.

I’m at that stage in Cold Hillside and have spent over 5 hours going through all 400 pages (and thank the IT gods for “find and replace”) staring in despair at all the yellow highlights.   Apparently I love adverbs and the words “merely”, “only”, “surely” and “chilly”.   It’s never as easy as simply (another one!) as whacking them all.  Dialogue has to be reviewed to see if it’s strong enough to convey the tone of voice.  First person narration has to be considered: those words sometimes form part of the way the character thinks.  Sometimes they add nuance or weight or just pleasing symmetry to a sentence.

I’ve probably cut over 500 words but there are many more still there.  I’ll have another go at it, as will my editor, but sometimes it’s useful to remember that weeds have their place in the ecosystem.

I plan to confidently tell myself that such is surely the case, in those moments of dark misery at words that seem merely pale shadows of the richness I can imagine but can only dream of conveying through my chilly prose.

 

 

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E-Books Available for Pre-Order

April 5th, 2014Posted by Nancy

Ok, I admit it.  I went to the Indigo and Amazon sites to see if the books are available for pre-order.  Indeed they are.  For some reason Blood and Chrysanthemums doesn’t appear in the main search, but it is there.

So head on over and order yours today.

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