I’m only singing …

January 8th, 2018Posted by Nancy


One of the not-to-be-missed events of the year is the annual ChiSeries Christmas bash.  This year, the theme was “Putting the X in Xmas” and included some incredible contributions, including:

  • Madeline Ashby doing a biblical rendition of “Go the Fuck to Sleep”
  • David Demchuk, very dapper,  traumatizing us for for life with the story of “Anoushka the Christmas Spider”
  • Jason Taniguchi sharing Fox Mulder’s reply to the little girl who wondered if there really is a Santa Claus
  • Don Bassingwaite revisiting two of his Darby Cavendish holiday classics
  • Kari Maaren making us laugh so hard at her Star Wars and evil Christmas Monster songs that we made her laugh
  • Mike Byrant leading us all in the chorus to The Atheist Christmas

The talented Gemma Files and I contributed a version of that beloved tale of Christmas extortion known as “Santa Baby” while channeling Harley Quinn (Gemma) and a beat poet (me).  Then the whole gang wrapped it up with a singalong of “Fairytale of New York.”  That’s Gemma owning the mic and me trying to hit the high notes.

A wonderful evening was had by all.  If you’re in Toronto next year, the third week of December, don’t miss it.

And here’s how Santa Baby sounds when it’s performed by the divine Miss Eartha Kitt.

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I’m only dancing…

December 22nd, 2017Posted by Nancy

So last February, after a year of saying “I think I’d like to do that”, I signed up for an introductory flamenco dance class at a local studio.  When the option came to do another four weeks with the same class, I signed up for that too. And then one more time.  I wasn’t really good at it but I liked it and I hadn’t had to make the decision to buy proper shoes and a skirt yet.

Then it was time to join the regular beginner class on Thursdays. I rapidly found myself out of my depth, in tears at the end of the class, and convinced I would never ever be able to make my feet move that fast. I was going to quit but my wonderful teacher suggested that I switch to the Wednesday class, which was now finishing it’s second round of introductory lessons.

That change made a huge difference and, almost casually, I went to Malabar and bought some generic dance character shoes.  I was reluctant to buy a skirt on ebay, Etsy or from Spain (which seemed to be the only options) so I had a friend’s dressmaker create one for me.  It even has a removeable red ruffle.

We’re supposed to do a recital at the end of February, which terrifies me, but I seem to just keep going to class.

Why do I like it?  It’s not because I’m any good at it. But it seems to be a dance form that values soul over perfection, that embraces the full range of women’s bodies and ages, and that, once in a while, lets me have a moment of grace.

It occurred to me the other day that flamenco is a bit like punk: it’s important to “mean it, man.”   I might not be able to stamp and clap in alternating rhythm but I can certainly try to mean it.

Here is the trailer for Carlos Saura’s 2010 film Flamenco, Flamenco, for a taste of what it can do.

P.S.  If you’re in Toronto and want to try this yourself, Arte Flamenco offers 4-week introductory classes on a regular basis. It’s addictive, though.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Merrily we Nanowrimo along….

December 8th, 2017Posted by Nancy

I try to do something during Nanowrimo each year.  Not write a novel, of course. That would just be silly.

This year’s goal was 10,000 words and I managed it by writing enough each day I was off work to keep me up with my target word counts.  I built a spreadsheet for that because that’s what I do.  I tried not to count the “This sucks” and “I don’t know what happens next” as words but I’m sure a few of them slipped  in.

To keep me motivated, I used the WRITE OR DIE software, set for “Consequence”.  This means that if I stop typing for more than 30 seconds, there is a consequence. A big, ugly, terrifying consequence.  It also makes a nasty noise.

This is enough to get me typing frantically again as I strive to stave off the horrible creature.

The purpose of this misery is to scare my internal editor into retreat.  It worked well enough that I hit my target and, more importantly, made important discoveries about my characters and the plot.

Of course, a wee bit of … padding … creeps in during all of this. I could always tell which parts of Cold Hillside I wrote during Nanowrimo.  But that’s what editing is for.

 

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Visiting the Monsters

November 20th, 2017Posted by Nancy


One of the advantages of living in a city that Guillermo Del Toro likes to shoot movies in AND that possesses a major art gallery is that you get to see the incredible exhibit “At Home With Monsters” (currently running at the AGO).

In fact, in our case, we got to see it twice. I’d go again if I could think of a time in which a considerable portion of the population of Toronto wouldn’t also be there peering at paintings, sketchbooks, film props, costumes, books, statues, walls of book covers, and much more. Any number of my friends would happily just move in and live there.

If you live in southern Ontario and you like Del Toro’s movies or you like classic horror films or you like gothic art, do yourself a favour and see this before it ends in January.

Among the incredible props that he’s collected is the wolf-head helmet that Gary Oldman wears as Dracula, from the Francois Ford Coppola film. This made us very happy.

A classic figure from the first master of special effects, Ray Harryhausen. This made my husband very happy.

One of the lush and lovely costumes from Crimson Peak.

All photos by me.

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Plus ça change…

October 16th, 2017Posted by Nancy

We had a gorgeous week in September at a cottage in Haliburton, Ontario (essentially the best week of the entire summer). One of the rituals of the cottage holiday and our more extensive travels is the acquisition of the latest Lapham’s Quarterly.  It’s the perfect thing for reading that’s broken by swimming, hiking, and looking up to see the sights as your train zooms along.  Each issue of these gorgeously produced, perfect-bound magazines is over 200 pages and contains selections from centuries of writing on a particular topic.  Past subjects have included War, Love, Nature, The Sea, Politics, Money, and The Future.

Created and edited by the legendary Lewis Lapham (long-time Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s), you’ll find an incredible range of voices in each issue.  For example, in the new issue, on Music, the oldest entry is from 600 B.C. (Sappho) and the most recent are original essays commissioned on the theme.  Contributors range from Jay-Z to Pope John XXII and from Clara Schumann to Naguib Mahfouz, with stops for thoughts from Thomas Jefferson, Jelly Roll Morton, Plato and Han Yu on the way. The artwork selected to accompany the excerpts spans the same wide gamut.  You can move back and forth in the book, dip in and out, read one selection or twenty.

It’s a wonderful way to discover new things to read (in our household, someone has managed to read the Illiad and Odyssey translation by Robert Fagles– no, that would not be me, The Outermost House, Millenium, and more) and to realize the humans have been pretty much the same for the last several thousand years.

As of this year, there’s also a podcast called The World in Time, which I also highly recommend.

Plus, you’ll feel quite clever after reading it.

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Supporting Canadian Darkness

August 7th, 2017Posted by Nancy


As the venerable Canadian poet says “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone”.  It’s not gone yet but the Chiaroscuro Reading Series (fondly referred to as ChiSeries) needs a bit of help to continue its mission of supporting all that is dark and weird in Canada.

If you’re not familiar with this series, here’s what you need to knows:

  •  runs in seven Canadian cities (Calgary, Guelph, Ottawa, Peterborough, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg)
  • run by volunteers in each city
  • started by the indefatigable Sandra Kasturi of CZP Publications
  • showcases writers from all the dark genres – horror, fantasy, science fiction, noir, and general weirdness
  • Musical accompaniment!
  • Special events such as the Christmas extravaganza and secrets from the childhood writing crimes of your favorite writers
  • All performers are paid an honorarium.  I’ll repeat that, because it’s so rarely true: ALL PERFORMERS ARE PAID AN HONORARIUM.

Though the CZP team makes these events happen, it’s not restricted to CZP authors, and writers from all across Canada (and some from across of border) have been featured.

Government funding has helped make this series possible but their grant was not renewed this year (because the granting team felt they needed to spread the money around).  They’ve started a new Paypal link to their site to raise money, so they can keep paying the artists who appear on these events.  As someone who has read, laughed, sang along, discovered new writers, met up with old friends, and drank a fair bit of wine there, I encourage everyone to help support this series.  And check out your local events to experience the best weird writers in Canada,

Next reading in Toronto is August 16h at the Round Venue on Augusta.

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Places I stole

July 29th, 2017Posted by Nancy

For a book, of course.

My first two novels (The Night Inside and Blood and Chrysanthemums) were set in Toronto, so finding locations wasn’t that difficult.  I just shamelessly stole from the places that I lived and worked.  Other bits I hand-waved as required (mostly deserted industrial lands … yeah, I think there are some of those over north of the Gardiner to the west of Yonge Street*).

In my recent wanderings about the city, I’ve had the opportunity to take photos of a few of these places.

70 The Esplanade

When I started the novel, I was working for Canadian Business, a magazine with offices downtown in what had once been the waterfront.  Over the last hundred years, the actual port and waterfront area had moved south, but there were lots of old warehouses being turned into offices and CB was in one of these.  There were beams across the ceiling from the old pulleys and a huge old vault beside the president’s office was now used for office supplies. The floors creaked, we found the occasional dead mouse in the storeroom, and every time the restaurants on the ground floor fumigated we were likely to see a cockroach or two. Still, it proved to be a useful location for creating the old warehouse in which Rozokov goes to ground and wakes up a century later.  My current working gig is on Front Street, just around the corner from 70 the Esplanade, and I was pleased to discover it was still there and had not yet become a condo (which is what happens to any building that stands still for a moment in downtown Toronto).

 


The steps to Casa Loma

I needed an interesting spot for Ardeth to encounter her kidnappers and this fit this bill.  Since she lived just south of here at 212 St. George Streeet (and surprise, that is where I lived at the time), it seemed reasonable that she’d go jogging up them.  I was never nearly that ambitious. In later years, visiting Casa Loma and Spadina House, the historical home beside it, was part of my research process for A Terrible Beauty.

 

 

The Tower in the Park

After I left my job at Canadian Business, my next office location was at Village by the Grange, right beside the Art Gallery of Ontario.  In Grange Park, the church of St. George the Martyr includes this tower, which stands on it’s own in the yard.  I made it shabbier, renamed it St. Sebastian, and had Ardeth take up residence here during her first nights as a vampire.

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Wrecking the Museum: Damien Hirst’s Wreck of the Unbelievable

July 15th, 2017Posted by Nancy


I am not an art critic. These days, I feel barely able to throw together a coherent thought about anything. But I had a lot of thoughts, coherent or otherwise, while viewing the huge show by Damien Hirst (or Damien Fucking Hirst, as one of my friends calls him) in Venice. It spans two locations and includes hundreds of pieces (churned out by assistants) supposedly recovered from wreck of a ship lost by the ruler of an imaginary kingdom between the first and second century A.D. Many of the items are covered in barnacles and coral (supposedly)  and the show includes video of divers supposedly recovering the huge statues. Items are displayed as they would be in museums, with scholarly cards outlining the mythology behind a particular statue and grouped displays of helmets, coins, and swords (one of which bears the logo for Seaworld).  According to the reviews, the material labelled as lapis lazuli, malachite, gold, and gems is real, though to my eyes some of it looked like resin castings. But what do I know?

It is undeniably ambitious, clever, funny (look, that’s really a Transformer covered in barnacles) and beautifully executed. I’m glad I saw it.

But part way though, I began to be profoundly uncomfortable.

I grew up going on family trips to the Royal Museum of Ontario and museum-going is a big part of our travel agenda. I can remember the sheer, giddy wonder of the Treasures of Tutankhamen show at the Art Gallery of Ontario years ago and the quiet, rundown beauty of the museum in Alexandria. I wanted to be an archeologist when I was young and I’ve always been fascinated by ancient cultures. And yes, maybe after you’ve seen one gold coin, you’ve seen them all, and all those rows of them in the museum might was well be gold-wrapped chocolate for all the difference they make. And yes, some of the conventions of displaying the artifacts of the past are strange and stuffy. And yes, our ability to understand exactly what these things meant to their creators and users is heavily filtered through our own view of the world.

All that is true – but I still felt the wrongness like a physical pain when all the bodies and faces in the Hirst show looked undeniably modern (Kate Moss and Pharrell are models for some pieces).  I felt vaguely insulted when the text wittered on about the meaning of this sphinx or that monster. Perhaps that was the point.  Perhaps it upset me because the suggestion that something that has mattered to me is in fact just as unreal as Hirst’s creations.

And yet. And yet. I remember the exquisite alabaster ointment jar with a carved lion on the lid that I saw at that long ago Tutankhamen exhibit.  I stood transfixed by it, circled its case, pressing as close as I could, trying to linger there while the crowd pushed me on. I had a poster of it on the wall of my bedroom for years.  It was just a little thing, so much less dramatic than the mask and the jewels. I think of the sculpted face of Nefrititi, not the famous one, but the one of unadorned stone, made when she was older and sadder and unbearably beautiful.  I think of all the jars and pots and coins and little sculptures of gods I’ve seen or walked past and how they had once upon a time been held in someone’s hand or set on someone’s table or placed in someone’s home altar. Or maybe they were just made to go into someone’s tomb, to bring them comfort in the afterlife.  Whatever the case, they are all real.

Hirst’s sculptures aren’t. And somehow, that makes all the difference to me.

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I ate, I drank, I looked at art, I went to Italy

June 16th, 2017Posted by Nancy

We spent two lovely weeks in Italy in May.  This time it was one week in Venice for the Biennale plus a few days in Lucca and in Florence.  Because we’d hit all the big sights last time, we were able to take things at a more leisurely pace, which involved a lot of long lunches.  I pretended to think about writing and tried to be open to inspiration but mostly I just ate, drank and enjoyed myself. So sue me.

And here are the pictures to prove it.

We stayed in a lovely apartment at the far eastern end of Venice, so in addition to a quiet neighbourhood, a park, and two quite nice restaurants, we also had a stunning view of sunset over Venice.

We went to Murano and Burano islands and had the good fortune to stumble on the Venissa Vineyard, which contained two restaurants. We promptly ditched our previous plans for the first of the aforementioned two hour lunches on their patio. Fabulous food and I immediately became addicted to Sarde in Saor (sardines) and Venetian baccala (dried cod soaked in milk and turned into a spread). I ate both of them every chance I had.

Viva Arte Viva! was the slogan of this year’s Venice Biennale and we spend three solid days checking out the two Biennale locations and the other art spread all over the city.

From the Russian Pavilion

Witches from the Mexican Pavilion

All of my good pictures from our day in Cinque Terre (two miles to hike, two and half hours to do it, 100 flights climbed according to my fitness app, another two hour lunch) refuse to load, so here is some street art from outside our apartment in Florence.

And the last word goes to a broody Dante and his pigeon-beseiged eagle pal.

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I’ve got nuthin’

April 22nd, 2017Posted by Nancy

My “to do” list says “Blog post this week”.  It says that every two weeks (or three, if I push it off).  But I’ve got nothing. So here’s a song, by the wonderful Barry Andrews of Shriekback, from his solo piano album Haunted Box of Switches, Vol 1 & 2.   Sue me.

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