Soundtracks Part II (the non-soundtrack post)

October 18th, 2014Posted by Nancy

Blood and Chrysanthemums was not a music-enhanced writing experience in the same way the other books have been.  I listened to music while writing, of course, but the only specific music that related to the novel was a CD of classical Japanese music that I bought to listen to while writing the Fujiwara sections.

B&C was really about poetry and research. Lots of research. Lots of reading of early Japanese literary works such as The Tale of the Genji and The Pillow Book of Sei-Shonagan. Books about Noh drama, the yakuza, samurai, Hiroshima, the Heian court, wars, art, culture, contemporary Tokyo…. the list was long.  Oddly enough, the one that the was the most useful in giving me a way into the Japanese section was Pink Samurai: The Pursuit and Politics of Sex in Japan.  While I was reading that, I realized that since I was writing a book about a common trope in popular culture in the West – namely vampires – I could use the common tropes in Japanese popular culture to frame the story.  That allowed me to write each of Fujiwara’s sections in a different way, echoing the particular element I was using: a ghost story, a Noh play, a Heian court tale and so on.

I read a lot of poetry in translation as well, primarily work by Matsuo Basho and The Tales of Ise. I also had to write a good deal of poetry, plus portions of a Noh play, which was a thoroughly daunting process.  Fortunately, most of the poetry in the periods I was writing about was not haiku, but an earlier form which was not as rigid.

The other thing I needed to research was mountain climbing. For that, I subscribed to Climbing magazine (the only magazine I’d ever read with a section at the front listing who had died and how since the last issue) and relied on a reading list and advice from my brother, who lives in Banff.  My sole actual experience was going half-way up the climbing wall in the Banff gym.  Of course, having my brother live there made my Banff research quite enjoyable.  I wandered around town looking for places for Ardeth and Rozokov to live, bought my “Dead People are Cool” t-shirt at a local shop and made my husband pose by a lake to give me a visual context for a key moment in the book.

My home office at the time had a bulletin board where I posted images that related to my writing.  I thought I had a picture of it but it has vanished into a large box of unsorted photos. I did keep a number of the clippings and photos though.

Below is the lake, sans husband.

Lake 001

I pulled this picture from Climbing Magazine, as my rough model for Mark.Mark 001


I copied this from a book about the yakuza, because this was my mental image of Yamagata.  I admit that I shamelessly based Fujiwara on the great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune.

Yamagata 001


No Comments | Add a CommentPosted in Influences · Music · Uncategorized · Writing

Soundtracks, Part 1

September 13th, 2014Posted by Nancy

I listen to music a good portion of my day, though it’s probably more accurate to consider it a background soundtrack rather than an activity in which I actively engage.  I wear my Ipod during my walk and subway trip to work,  sometimes while I’m working, and it plays in the sound dock at night.  (Right now, a song from rather unfortunately musical of Dracula is playing.  I’m not sure why it’s still even there, except that my husband inexplicably refuses to delete it.  It’s not nearly as amusing as our other musical theatre offering : A Shoggoth on the Roof.)  I’ve done this since I was a teenager and studied and wrote while playing albums in my room.

Most of my novels have a soundtrack that plays during the writing process.  My third big ambition (after being a starship captain and archaeologist) was to be a singer/songwriter and a number of my short stories were heavily influenced by my musical interests (Exodus 22:18 and The Party Over There, in particular).  So it was inevitable that it would form a core of both the plot and the process for The Night Inside.


The music and lyrics of this British band are central to this book.  The title and all of the section names are taken from their songs (and getting permission for that was an adventure).   Their album Oil and Gold remains one of my favorites: a beautiful, sinister, mid-80s evocation of doom and decadence.  I still get a shiver at the lines “We had some good machines/but they don’t work no more/I loved you once/don’t love you any more”.

They didn’t make a lot of videos but there are no shortages of ways to find their music on Youtube and other sites and Oil and Gold is available on ITunes.  The song below is also one of my favorites  (“Call in the airstrike, with a poison kiss…”) partially because it is one of the few songs that includes the word “parthenogenesis”.   We made singing a song with that word the condition of kissing at our wedding and only one table rose to the challenge.


L.A. punk pioneers X were my model for Sara’s band Black Sun.  The name even came from their album Under the Big Black Sun.   The songs “Riding with Mary” and “The Hungry Wolf” seemed to suit the story perfectly.

Richard Thompson

And now for something completely different….  Richard Thompson is a brilliant songwriter, guitarist and singer who is considered primarily a folk artist.  The heartbreaking resignation of ”How will I ever be simple again?” has made this the song I most associate with Rozokov.

Thompson has made even fewer videos than Shriekback so below is the best I can do.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see all of these performers live, some more than once.  So if you’re curious about soundtrack for The Night Inside, check out their music.



Oil & Gold    (source of the novel title, from the song “The Only Light that Shines” and section header “Everything that Rises must Converge”

Jam Science (source of section header “Midnight Maps”)

Big Night Music (Source of section header “Shark Walk”)


Under the Big Black Sun

Isn’t Love Grand?

Richard Thompson

Daring Adventures

Rumour and Sigh

Mirror Blue

Shoot out the Lights  (with former wife Linda Thompson)








No Comments | Add a CommentPosted in Influences · Music

Cosplay from the Dawn of Time

September 1st, 2014Posted by Nancy

Or at least the 1970s.  During my early convention-going years, I did do the costume thing a few times, mostly as an excuse to dress up.   I didn’t have nearly the talent for it that today’s crop of cosplayers does but I did enjoy myself.  So here, in honour of FanExpo and for whatever dubious entertainment value it offers, is my costuming “greatest hits”.

In the summer of 1977, my two best friends and I dressed up as various characters from our shared stories and took pictures of ourselves in the local ravine and in my basement.   I’m not entirely sure who I was supposed to be but I imagine I thought I was very sophisticated.  I certainly was young.

Rhiannon 1977 001

For Ad Astra 1980, the same friends and I dressed as ”Droogettes”.  We borrowed the much-abused dummy from the official Droog gang and for our performance proceeded to beat it up while singing “Hey Big Spender”.


Probably at the same convention, I did a costume based on Tanith Lee’s short story “Winter White”.   Conveniently, there was someone dressed as Sabella as well, so we were able to do the following photo.

Winter White and Sabella 001

Skip ahead many years and I’m serving as photographer and purse-holder for a group of talented young cosplayers.  Since I couldn’t go to Anime North without SOME sort of costume, I managed to put together (with help from a friend, who possessed a Mad Hatter hat and a very extensive wig drawer) a version of the Hatter.   Her own costume is much more impressive than mine.

Catarina & Hatter 1

For Anime North, I took my House of Pomegranates Victorian bathing dress, added a Pirate hat, the stripey socks and my Wicked Witch of the West boots and off I went.  The dress, boots and stripey socks are my current  “Hallowe’en at the office” attire.

NB fan expo

I lack the patience, fine motor skills and sewing ability to really create beautiful costumes, though I do secretly enjoy writing about clothing in my own books.  Sidonie in A Terrible Beauty had a very satisfying wardrobe of dresses and necklaces and the Faerie Court in Cold Hillside gave me an opportunity to raid a number of cultures for sartorial splendor.  I don’t think I’ll be pulling off costumes based on these any day soon but it would be an absolutely thrill to see someone cosplay a character from my books.

No Comments | Add a CommentPosted in Uncategorized

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 with 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.

No Comments | Add a CommentPosted in Influences · Writing

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.

No Comments | Add a CommentPosted in Uncategorized

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.



No Comments | Add a CommentPosted in Food

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.







No Comments | Add a CommentPosted in Uncategorized

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

May 18th, 2014Posted by Nancy



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…)

No Comments | Add a CommentPosted in Uncategorized

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  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.




No Comments | Add a CommentPosted in Uncategorized

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.


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?

No Comments | Add a CommentPosted in Uncategorized