May 5th, 2013Posted by Nancy
Today’s job is to figure out what to read for the Lost at Sea event this Thursday. (You are all coming, right? Augusta House, Toronto, 7:30. Readings, music, art, cake, cocktails, swag, merchandise – it’ll be fabulous.)
I’m always envious of people who can manage to read the first chapter of their novel and have it sound wonderful but that never works for me. (Of course, maybe this means I should be concerned that I write very bad first chapters.) Instead, I have to find a section that doesn’t require too much explaining, contains some incident or theme relatively representative of the novel, has something interesting happen and ends with enough drama to make the listener want to buy the book. Then it has to actually sound good when I read it aloud.
The exception to the “no first chapters rule” was The Night Inside, because the opening chapter of Rozokov waking up in the warehouse actually worked quite well. My second section for that book was the scene in the asylum in which Ardeth offers Rozokov her blood, because it was dramatic, sexy and fun to read.
For Blood and Chrysanthemums, I chose part of “The Tale of Tamakatsura” to give people a good idea what a sizeable chunk of that book was like. I also, with a certain amount of trepidation, read the Hiroshima diary entry. I was concerned that it was too dramatic and intense, but something about the writing lent itself to being read aloud and sometimes drama and intensity is what you want. I’ve read it about 5 times and each time my voice cracks on the last two lines.
The readings for A Terrible Beauty usually involved one scene of Sidonie and Matthew talking (the chosen section varied) and the chapter with Matthew and Lawton sitting in the discussing the finer details of enslavement to a vampire.
I’ve read two sections from Cold Hillside, both of which have centered on Lilit’s experience at the fair, so it seems like it’s time to introduce the other narrative character. So I’m off to sit in the backyard with a pile of paper, a watch, and a sincere hope that my neighbours don’t notice me muttering to myself.
Hope to see you Thursday night.
Posted in Events · News · Uncategorized
April 16th, 2013Posted by Nancy
The team at the magical House of Pomegranates will be hosting “An Evening of Magical Things” on May 9th at the Augusta House in Toronto. The evening will feature readings by David Keyes, Liisa Ladouceur, Lynn Crosbie and me, a mystery string quartet, Carmilla-inspired fashion from Gloometh and appropriately magical cakes from CakesCove. There will also be signature cocktails created for the event by my talented husband. Fabulous swag bags are being assembled for all the guests and, of course, a merch table where you can get David’s gorgeous short story collection I Do So Worry for All Those Lost at Sea and copies of the special edition of Chrysanthemum Shadows.
Hope to see you there.
Posted in Books · Events · Music
March 16th, 2013Posted by Nancy
What people think of you, that is.
This has taken me a very, very long time. I’ve always been extremely self-conscious and aware of every idiotic thing I do or say. Someone once told me that I promptly forgot every good thing that I did yet could remember in excruciating detail an embarrasing moment at camp when I was twelve. My husband will attest to the fact that I still come home from parties or conventions wailing “I can’t believe I said/did that” even though I know perfectly well that no one is spending one nanosecond thinking about it (because they’re all so busy worrying about whatever foolishness they think that THEY committed).
But I have improved. I’ve gotten older and realized that most of the things I’ve worried endlessly about over the years didn’t happen and if they did, I lived through it with remarkably little damage. People like me, or they don’t, and at the end of the day there’s not much I can do about it either way.
Surprisingly, one of the things that has contributed to my (relative) devil-may-care attitude is my wardrobe. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fashionista, don’t follow trends (except maybe well after they’re over), and hate shopping. My attempts at style have always fallen woefully flat (flood pants, a red leather jacket with big shoulders, and an unfortunate striped dress are part of my past). Then one day about thirteen years ago, I was walking through Yorkville and someone handed me a flyer for a sale at a store on Queen Street. The slogan on the card was “Be Strange, Don’t be a Stranger” and the clothes looked intriguing, so off I went for my first visit to Annie Thompson.
I fell in love immediately. The clothes were funky and original and the staff was fun and helpful, spoiling me for any other shopping experience. Even though everything was definitely more money than I was used to spending on clothes, I found a few pieces on sale. I went back and bought a few more pieces. Then a few more. Now my closet is probably 80% Annie. She’s closed the store and runs her business from a studio in the Junction, when she’s not in India learning to hand-dye fabric, working with local artisans, and making her own art. A couple of times a year, I go to the open studio days and sales, which are even more fun than the old store visits used to be. It’s a pleasure to be surrounded by beautiful clothes and fabrics, by the creative women who are her clients (where else would another customer drive you to the bank machine to get some extra cash?), to meet the women who work on her patterns and manage the sewing, and to absorb the energy, optimisim and spirit that Annie brings. The wine is always nice, too.
I still wear some of those first pieces I bought. That’s part of the joy of Annie’s clothes. They’re well-made and last forever. They’re never in style so they’re never out of style. Every season things change but the aesthetic that informs everything she does means that a jacket from 10 years ago will go beautifully with a skirt you just bought last week.
What does this have to do with not caring what other people think? Well, many of Annie’s clothes are not for the timid. Wearing them requires that you not care whether anyone else likes them or not. That’s not something that fearful, self-conscious me ever imagined I’d be able to do. Some of her designs daunt even me. I tried on an incredibly gorgeous jumpsuit twice before I summoned the nerve to buy it. It took me until this week to wear it. No one stared and pointed – or if they did, I didn’t see it. I like to think I wouldn’t have cared, which may or may not be true.
The jumpsuit is below. I’m not as lovely as this model, and I wore a jacket over it.
I also bought the black and gold vest above because it was just so damned beautiful.
You can find out more about Annie at the link above or on her Facebook page
Posted in Fashion · Influences · Uncategorized
February 23rd, 2013Posted by Nancy
This is part II of Nancy’s “this is my blog and I’ll write about whatever I want” series. Today’s topic is canning, which followed soon after I realized that I was planting more beans and cucumbers than anyone could realistically eat at the time.
I come from a farming family on my mother’s side. She was one of 12 children who grew up on a farm north of Toronto and I have many fond memories of Sunday afternoons and summer holidays at “the farm” (it needed no other name). My grandparents even made me work once in a while, but mostly they were indulgent towards the horde of grandchildren scrambling around the house. When I wanted to learn to make pickles, I called on my aunt Carolyn. She and her husband Willie kindly ferried me from downtown Toronto to their house in the country and then spent the day teaching me the old family recipes for Dilly Beans, Bread and Butter Pickles, Dill Pickles, Celery Relish, and Sweet Pickles. I went home with a large number of jars which I had to work my way through on my own, since my husband doesn’t like pickles.
The next summer, the lesson was canned peaches and pears, and these my husband did find a use for by making a series of crisps and cobblers during the winter.
I’m now a steady follower of a number of canning blogs such as Food in Jars and make liberal use of Google if I think the first recipe looks too onerous.
Over the last two years, I’ve made various types of jam, Indian spiced pickled carrots, marmalade, zucchini relish, tomato jam, and a variety of chutneys born out of the need to use up the more than 30 green tomaotes I had at the end of last year’s stellar tomato season.
I’ve definitely made mistakes (do not confuse teaspoons of salt for tablespoons) and had plenty of “learning opportunities” (5 jars full of peaches displace much more water than 5 empty jars, weigh the Seville oranges AFTER you cut them up) but over the last year I’ve made:
– 3 jars of Strawberry Lavender Jam
– 2 jars of Strawberry Balsamic Jam
– 2 jars of Zippy Zucchini Relish
– 4 jars of Blueberry Lavender Jam
– 3 jars of Tomato Jam
– 4 jars of Bread and Butter Pickles
– 2 jars of traditional cornichon pickles (not a success – too much tarragon, cucumber spears do not make a good substitute for true cornichon pickles)
– 5 jars of canned peaches
– 3 jars of Plum and Walnut jam
– 2 jars of Green Garden Salsa (lost to the salt mistake)
– 4 jars of Green Tomato Chutney
– 2 jars of Roasted Garlic and Leek Jam (plus Leek and Potato Soup, Leek Gratin, and Leek Saffron Soup – I had a lot of leeks)
– 6 Jars of Seville Orange Marmalade
– 1 jar of Cinnamon Vanilla Sunflower Seed Butter (better with honey)
– 1 jar of Meyer Lemon Marmalade
Next up: Spicy white wine mustard.
I’ve mostly gotten over my fear I’m going to make a fatal mistake and kill everyone, and so can actually give jars away once in a while. After all, I’ve got even more room in the garden this year so who knows what I might have to learn to make.
Posted in Canning · Gardening
February 16th, 2013Posted by Nancy
And certainly not posting about much else, either, these days. I know this blog is really supposed to be about my writing (ok, really it’s supposed to persuade you to BUY MY BOOKS, let’s not pretend otherwise) but I don’t have much to say on that subject. I’m fearful of jinxing things, I suppose. Or of revealing how lazy I am.
What I want to write about is gardening and canning, so that, as this is my blog and I can do anything I damned well please, is what I’m going to do.
It was certainly a surprise to me when I started to become interesting in gardening. Every plant I’d ever had in my apartment or house died and I’d really never gardened in my life. It was a bigger surprise when I decided to trying canning, because I don’t cook. I never have. I’m fortunate enough to be married to a man who both likes cooking and is very good at it, but if I were single, I suspect I’d exist on a diet of cereal, grilled cheese sandwiches and take-out.
When we moved into our current house 8 years ago, it already had a well-established garden. The front was marred by rather large squares of interlocking brick and some half-empty beds but the back was an oasis of shrubs, lilacs, a little pond with a fountain, a magnolia tree and a very small patch of grass. I had absolutely no idea what half the plants were and what I was supposed to do to take care of them. I had been counting on my mother to help me with that but she was diagnosed with liver cancer just as we bought the house and she died without ever having seen it. Fortunately, my day job provides me access to lots of experts and at a BBQ at the home of the Canadian Living Editor-in-Chief, I met Sara Katz, a garden expert who wrote for several of our publications.
I promptly hired her for a consultation. On the appointed day, I trailed her around the garden with a sketched map and a notepad madly writing down what each thing was and what I was supposed to do with it. I hired her again the next spring to tell me what all these new things coming up were and eventually I had her redesign the front yard.
Her design made the most of the existing plants but eliminated the sterile interlocking brick and substituted a river-rock “river” and a selection of hardy, drought-tolerant plants. My husband and I did all the prepatory grunt work (with some help from my father, who claimed to be imported slave labour from the Maritimes) and on the appointed day, Sara arrived in her rubber boots, a truck followed with plants, and we spent a long day digging, planting and transplanting. The experience was invaluable, as Sara’s instructions gave me confidence that I wasn’t going to kill everything I touched.
My other “garden guru” has been my neighbour Joe. Now in his late eighties, a resident of the street since the 1950′s, Joe had an enviable swath of his backyard devoted to tomatoes, peppers, onions, and chard. He could remember the days in which the row of Italian neighbours, their gardens open all along the street, would gather to make tomato sauce from their harvests. When I tentatively started planting vegetables in pots, I would ask Joe for advice and do my best to understand his answers. I kept an eye on his activities and when he planted his onions, I knew it was time to plant mine. He’s slowed down considerably now and half his garden has been given back to sod (I almost lobbied to take it over but realized that might be a bit too much for me with my busy summer work schedue) and he now sits on his back porch directing his daughter, his grandson or one of his caregivers.
A few years ago, we dug up the useless patch of grass and turned the space into four beds for vegetables and herbs. Last year we cut down the magnolia to create two large beds with more sunlight. The magnolia was pretty but given the choice between more space for vegetables and a tree that blooms for a week a year – well, there was no contest.
I can’t claim to be a very good gardener – I’m lazy, I don’t have any eye for colour or composition, I’m easily seduced by anything that’s purple or has a cool name – but when I walk into the backyard after another long day of budgeting, I can feel my blood pressure drop. Poking around among the plants in the backyard, listening to the sparrows squabble in the “mystery bush” and contemplating what we’re going to do with everything the garden gives us (my husband makes a mean lavender martini), I think life is pretty good. And that’s enough for me.
The vegetable beds
The back yard
Posted in Gardening
January 31st, 2013Posted by Nancy
My friends at The House of Pomegranates and Gloometh have launched a fabulous contest to celebrate the launch of “Carmilla”, published by the House and illustrated by Gloometh designer Taeden Hall.
This is your chance to win one of Taeden’s Carmilla-inspired dresses, tailored for you, plus a copy of the book and more.
Just submit a piece of art (visual or literary) celebrating vampires and the dark minds that rule the internet (meaning all of you on Facebook) will choose a winner.
What are you waiting for? Get your masterpieces in now.
Posted in Books · Fashion
January 12th, 2013Posted by Nancy
This influences thing has gotten all out of order, but c’est la vie.
While walking in the unseasonable sun and warmth day (16 degrees celsius on Jan 12th. Lovely as it is, I think we all need to be afraid now), an Emmylou Harris song turned up on the IPod. It got me thinking about her incredible “Wrecking Ball” album and the number of artists to which that single work introduced me.
Of course, I was familiar, at least distantly, with Emmylou herself, though I’d never really paid much attention. I was much more familiar with producer Daniel Lanois, through his work with U2, Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel and – even earlier – such Toronto New Wave mainstays as Martha and the Muffins and Nash the Slash. He was not exactly the first person I could imagine producing an album for someone I thought of a ‘country singer’. However, his brilliant solo album “For the Beauty of Wynona” showed that he had deep love of dark folk music, the kind of lonely songs that Emmylou’s voice suited perfectly.
There’s an incredible line-up of songwriters on “Wrecking Ball”: Neil Young, Steve Earle, Anna McGarrigle, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Rodney Crowell, and Emmylou and Daniel themselves. Some I’d already known (Young, Earle, Dylan), some I now saw in a new light (Hendrix), and some were a new revelation. I quickly picked up work by Gillian Welch and Lucinda Williams and their songs went into high rotation on my CD player (yes, children, there was music in a time before IPods).
Music has always played an important part in my writing and most of the books had an unofficial soundtrack. For The Night Inside, it was Shriekback, whose songs provided the section titles. For A Terrible Beauty, it was Fumbling Towards Ecstasy by Sarah Mclachlan. For Cold Hillside (my work in progress), it’s a series of playlists which include songs by Emmylou, Gillian Welch and Lucinda Williams.
The moody wash of the music, the depth of Emmylou’s voice, the songs that move from dark portraits of modern life to folk songs that reflect old traditions to love songs both sorrowful and hopeful, make this one album that would definitely make it onto the proverbial desert island with me.
And seriously, what writer of dark fiction wouldn’t get a shiver up their spine at the line:
“So I ran with the moon and I ran with the night
And the three of us were a terrible sight”
Posted in Influences · Music
December 31st, 2012Posted by Nancy
Ok, I admit it. I did not keep a record of what I read and my memory is … um…. not what it used to be, so this is more a note about the best things I think I read in 2012 (or perhaps late 2011).
I’d previously read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making but Deathless outdid all my expectations. It’s a dark take on the Russian folk tale “Koschei the Deathless” set in WWII Russia and less mortal realms. The authorial voice is stunning, with the cadence and tone that seems utterly perfect for the story. I bought it for my e-reader and then ended up buying a physical copy as well, both because it is a beautiful book and because there is a part of me that doesn’t consider e-books as “real”. But that’s just me – whatever way you choose to do it, you should read this book.
The Drowning Girl
Caitlin R. Kiernan
I read a couple of Caitlin Kiernan’s early books, back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but they didn’t resonate for me, possibly because they were conflated with the rash of “I’m much cooler than you will ever be” horror novels I read in the 1990s. However, the very astute people at Bakka Phoenix, recommended this to me and they were absolutely right. It’s a brilliant, sad, funny book about finding a way to live in the world despite dangers both internal and external.
Both of these books were mentioned more than once in the “year’s best” panel at the World Fantasy Convention, so you don’t need to just take my word for it.
A quartet of fine books from my friends at ChiZine:
From Helen’s quietly disquieting stories of scholars to the rip-snorting conclusion to Gemma’s Hexslinger series, from David’s “big fat bastard” book about Russian spies, psychic powers, giant squids, and gangsters to Michael’s journey in the darkness at the heart of a Northern Ontario town, these books showed once again why “the house that Sandra and Brett built” is publishing some of the best dark fiction anywhere. (It also shows that Toronto is home to an amazing number of talented writers and that I’m lucky enough to know them). I’ve got a pile of ChiZine books in the “to be read” pile and I’m sure they’ll show up on next year’s list.
And, of course, see my post regarding David Keyes’ wonderful collection “I do so worry for all those lost at sea”.
Happy reading in 2013!
Posted in Books · Uncategorized
December 21st, 2012Posted by Nancy
No, I’m not going to talk about my cats (of which I currently have none). I’m not going to talk about other people’s cats (much as I am fond of them). This is the next installment of “Influences” so I’m going to talk about books about cats and about writing about cats.
As a child, I was definitely a cat-lover. I had cats from the time I was old enough to give them names that in this much less innocent time are very embarassing. When I started to read, books about animals were a steady part of my reading diet. Particularly influential were The Incredible Journey, Kpo the Leopard, Carbonel, and a book about a cougar I have been unable to track down, though the scene in which the young cougar’s mother falls during a leap across a gorge and is killed by dogs remains branded in my brain.
A good portion of the early fiction I wrote involved cats, though generally they were of the talking fantasy variety. Onto them, I grafted adventure (journeys, haunted houses, floods, fires, dogs…) and a certain amount of teen angst I absorbed from other books and television (romances, fights, misunderstandings…). I still have a few examples of these early stabs at writing, though I can’t bear to read them more than once every ten years or so.
We went to see the new Ang Lee film of the Life of Pi yesterday. The Tiger was exquisitely rendered in CGI, though I was always aware it was CGI, possibly because I knew it was CGI. That wasn’t really a problem, because the entire “adrift at sea” sequence is so stunningly beautiful that it exists on a plane that is almost more literary than cinematic. You never truly believe it, because it has the feel of a fairy tale. I’d be very interested to see the reaction of someone who had no idea what was about to happen, because of course my own responses were influenced by the fact I do know. (For the record, I believed everything in the book until the island. Then even my sf and fantasy-trained suspension of disbelief function started to fail. But I do know which version of the story I prefer.)
Posted in Books · Influences
December 5th, 2012Posted by Nancy
My interview on Speculating Canada is up now. Many thanks to Derek for his thoughtful questions.
Check out the other interviews on the site as well, especially the recent one with Helen Marshall, whose “Hair Side, Flesh Side” collection is currently in my “to read’ pile.
Posted in News