More Avoidance Behaviour

April 10th, 2019Posted by Nancy

I’ve been stalled on both the “real” thing and the “let’s pretend this isn’t real” thing because it seems I can no longer turn off my internal editor and everything is hard. This, naturally, means I have even less to say on this benighted blog than usual.  So today’s topic is: how to justify the time you spend on Twitter.  (Some might say there is no justification but we will ignore them.)

It’s true that I spend too much time on Twitter, though I almost never post anything. I set up my Iphone with a 30-minute time limit for social media, which I regularly extend in 15-minute chunks. There is no such regulator on my laptop however.

I follow mostly other writers (and sometimes their cats), vineyard owners (if they happen to be Sam Neill), an account called @hourlyFox that posts a picture of a fox each hour and @unchartedatlas, which uses bots to post maps of imaginary countries. I keep thinking I’ll use that one for writing but so far, no.  Mostly, I follow historians. At least that way, I can claim I’m learning something.

And I have definitely learned things.  I’ve learned about the Civil War, the Southern Strategy, the myth of racial homeogenity in the ancient world, and radicalism in Appalachia.  I’ve followed long threads of discussion and come away curious about parts of history I’ve never considered interesting before.

So you if want to justify your Twitter habit, follow some of the historians below.  (And follow @AuschwitzMuseum, because we should never forget.)













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Trying Something Else

March 19th, 2019Posted by Nancy

I’ve been feeling stuck on the Witch Thing in Progress (see avoidance behaviour post) and so I thought “why not try writing something fun? Something silly and frothy and maybe a wee bit fanfic-ish and romantic and without world-building or pressure or magic systems or any of those things that scare you.”

I dutifully hauled out some old stuff I’d written (and no, I will not tell you what kind of fanfic it is) and looked at the bits I liked.  Artist colony, check. Founded by charismatic asshole artist (now dead), check. Musician struggling with future, check. Dying grandmother, check.  Love interest, check.

Should be easy,  I thought.  I’d need a new love interest, but that’s ok. I could set the artist colony in Banff, I’ve been there. Had a moment of disjunction realizing that main character was an older millennial (whereas I am a border boomer) but hey, throw in a reference to Tinder and the gig economy and I’m probably ok. No pressure, right?

Asked my writing group if I should include ghosts or time travel or possession or the fey.  Was told I should just include them all.

Figured I should do just a wee bit of research. Just a wee bit…  After all, at least some of the characters have a story line in the 1940s.

And then it’s back to struggling to figure out what’s plausible and gee, maybe I can’t just throw in ALL those supernatural things, and I should have something interesting happen and …

Now I’m stuck on this thing, too!

I hate writing.

(Picture above is of Paul Scheerbart, a poet, drunkard, and speculative writer in early 20th century Germany.  Heard about him on the About Buildings + Cities podcast and thought “someone ought to use this batshit stuff in a story”.  And then panicked.  But his picture is perfect.)

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A Masterclass in Avoidance

February 24th, 2019Posted by Nancy

To clarify, the avoidance is all on my side.  The teachers on the Masterclass site are doing their jobs. 

My husband decided to sign up for a year’s access to the online learning site, Masterclass, which features lectures from such luminaries as Ron Howard, Steve Martin, and Annie Leibowitz.  It’s not cheap but we figured between the two of us we could watch enough to get our money’s worth out of it. 

He watched the courses by Hans Zimmer, Deadmaus, and Armin Van Buren and, as a result, has rescored a scene from 2001 (just to try it) and is busy composing an electronic dance piece that features Darth Vader on vocals. 

I watched the talks by Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman, dutifully taking notes, reading the workbook, and trying some of the exercises.  I admit that I preferred Mr. Gaiman’s soulful approach to Ms. Atwood’s more acerbic style.  Most of the information wasn’t new to me but it did provide a framework for thinking about some challenges on the novel.

And, of course, those challenges are why I’m watching lectures and doing exercises instead of just WRITING THE NOVEL. It allows me to avoid the hard work and yet tell myself that I’m being, some fashion, productive. 

I’m not sure that I really AM being productive, but hey, I never met an avoidance technique I didn’t like. 

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Pondering Podcasts

January 28th, 2019Posted by Nancy

As with most things, I came to the podcast world a bit late.  The first one I followed was Welcome to Nightvale, based on a recommendation from friends.  That led to Alice isn’t Dead.  Then to Writing Excuses, then to Revisionist History, and on.

The first summer I was off after liberation from work, I discovered university courses online (and watched Magic, Science and Religion).  Last year, I realized you could get most of the online courses as podcasts, so that’s another rabbit hole entered. 

I like podcasts because I’m a pedestrian. We don’t own a car so all trips involve walking or transit – or really both, because it’s a ten minute walk to the subway.  With podcasts, I can not only get some exercise but I learn something at the same time.  Sometimes I make an idiot of myself by laughing out loud, but we’ll get to that.

So here, in no particular order, are my favorite podcasts.

Welcome to Nightvale, the imaginary community radio show from a town where the otherworldly creatures and sheriff’s secret police are equally dangerous.  Their live shows are quite entertaining as well and I discovered the musician Dessa (now one of my faves) through their “weather” feature.

Writing Excuses, with the tag line “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart.”  Hosted by veteran science fiction writers, it’s a good way to at least pretend you’re working while you’re walking.

The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, Open Yale Course.  Professor David Blight is a great speaker and this course is even more important than ever given the current political climate.  Next time your misguided relative blathers on about how the Civil War was about States Rights, you’ll have the ammunition to refute that ridiculous claim.

The World In Time, from Lapham’s Quarterly.  Lewis Lapham may be slowing down a bit (he is 89, after all) but his podcast features noted historians and writers talking about their new books.  My “to read” list gets longer every time I listen to this one.

Trojan War, the Podcast.  “History’s Most Awesome Epic!”  Storyteller Jeff Wright takes you through the back story to Homer’s Illiad, through the war itself, and up to the departure of the Greeks from Troy.  Lots of fun.

About Building and Cities.  Luke Jones and George Gingell, two English guys with lovely voices, talk about architecture.  I particularly enjoyed the episodes about architecture in William Gibson novels and the episode about the Barbican in London.

The Adventure Zone.  Three brothers and their father play Dungeons and Dragons.  I’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons before but I still have to cover my mouth to stop from laughing out loud while I walk down the street listening to this one.  The friend who recommended it warns me that I will cry at some point, though.

Check them out where you get podcasts!

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Resolutions, what resolutions?

January 12th, 2019Posted by Nancy

A number of year’s ago, after reading Sarah Susanka’s book The Not-So-Big Life, I adopted a year-end ritual that involves asking myself some questions from the book about what I learned, achieved, and failed to do in the previous year.  I’d then set out my goals for the new year.  I now have over ten years’ of thoughts and resolutions, which are notable only for how little changes and how I still haven’t lost ten pounds or become a better person.  Still, I dutifully do the steps, transfer my goals into my Outlook task list (a legacy of many years of work), and then do some of them and just keep pushing other ones farther and farther out it’s the end of another year.  But I have found it helpful in giving myself specific goals and try to tell myself that anything accomplished is better than nothing.

Based on another book, I divide my resolutions up into categories such as “health/fitness”, “family and friends”, and “Creativity”.   This does help me break each element down into more discrete tasks for which I can sometimes assign a target number. 

This year’s Creativity resolutions are:

– Continue writing dates

– Do collage and maybe mosaic

– Look for other resources (podcasts etc)

– Aim to write 500 words a week if not on a special program

Not exactly overly ambitious, I know.  But so far I haven’t made the 500 words a week for 2019, so I’m grateful for not already being too far in the hole.

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What I read in 2018

December 31st, 2018Posted by Nancy

I don’t keep lists or rate things in Goodreads (I know, I know, I should, but it seems like writing work and I try to save my creativity for my own stuff).  The only reason I know roughly how many books I read this year is because much of my reading comes via the Toronto Public Library (the largest neighbourhood-based library system in the world – yay us!) and they kindly maintain a history attached to  your account.

I borrowed 137 books in 2018.  Throw in another 10 to 15 physical books I read and that puts me at over 140 books.

In reviewing the list, what surprised me is how much non-fiction I read (one of my goals) and how many of my favorite books of the year fall into that category.  My reading was triggered by reviews, by Twitter (check out the historians on Twitter and you’ll never lack for things to read), by Lapham’s Quarterly and the related World in Time podcast, by the Ken Burns documentary on The Vietnam War, by conversations with friends, and by the craziness in the political world to the south.

Non-Fiction I read and blathered on to other people about in 2018

Praire Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

Heartland by Sarah Smarsh

Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys  by Viv Albertine

To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine

Bedsit Disco Queen by Tracy Thorn

Beautiful Scars by Tom Wilson

My Own Devices by Dessa

(Note: more information on the five music-related titles above can be found in earlier posts)

The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam

The Things they Carried by Tim O’Brien

Dopesick by Beth Macy

Blood at the Root by Patrick Phillips

In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi

One Nation under God by Kevin Kruse

The Unwomanly Art of War by Svetlana Alexievich

The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry

On the fiction front, I read a lot, enjoyed much of it, only bailed completely on one book but found it much harder to select things that truly left an impact.

Fiction I read and found memorable in 2018

The Bone Mother by David Demchuk

The Machineries of Empire series by Yoon Ha Lee

The Amateurs by Liz Harmer

The Cabin at the End of the World and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay

The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughan

The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series by Theodora Goss

Dreadful Young Ladies and other stories by Kelly Barnhill

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Bo Bolander

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

There you go. And yes, I do know that I did not provide links for these.

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A Post about Writer’s Block

December 15th, 2018Posted by Nancy

I saw yet another writer saying “there’s no such thing as writer’s block” on Twitter today.  I almost replied … but I mostly just lurk on social media and so I thought I’d write this post instead.

I’m not sure how all these other writers define writer’s block.  Mostly they seem to assume that it’s really just bad habits, lack of discipline, laziness, or – in the most charitable cases – emotional or mental illness issues.

So what would you call something that afflicted the writer of three novels who suddenly found herself unable to write?  Who dutifully put her butt in the seat in front of her computer and ground out words even though each one felt as if it were broken glass leaving scars?  Who ending up weeping on the couch as many times as not after said sessions and then did it again and again and again?  Who felt as if her imagination had become a desert and her creativity a long tunnel down which each idea, each word had to be painstakingly dragged only to end up lying lifeless and hideous on the page?  Who could not make a decision and who no longer had faith that she knew what lay over the horizon of her story?  Who could not simply switch to another story because she had no other stories?

She did all the things one is supposed to do in such cases. She went to therapy.  She went to writing and creativity experts. She tried and tried and tried until one day someone she loved told her she could stop, because she was just damaging herself and he could not bear to see her so unhappy.

So she stopped.

After a few years, she would  start again and eventually finish that novel but she never regained the pleasure in writing she had once had.  It was now duty, though to what she couldn’t tell.  It wasn’t her living or even really her avocation anymore. She had gotten over defining herself as a writer years before.  She’s still writing, slowly, painfully, and she still doesn’t know why.   Her imagination is still an arid place, incapable of supporting more than one thing at a time.  The words still come from far away, dragged down the tunnel.  She still has trouble making decisions.  But she still forces herself to do it, though she knows the number of people who care if she does is very small.

What would you call that, if not writer’s block?

Maybe it’s just me who wants to call it that, because what is blocked can be unblocked and what is constricted can be set free.

But it’s not laziness or lack of discipline or bad habits.  It might be an emotional/mental issue but if so, no therapy could fix it.  And there are days I’m just not in the mood to have the most painful experience of my life treated with condescension.

Maybe I should have said something on Twitter after all.



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Nanowrimo comes and goes…

December 4th, 2018Posted by Nancy











Another year, another 10,000 words in November.  To be precise, another 10,027 words, which is 6 words more than last year’s result. (This is not at all suspicious or reflective of the fact that I grind out enough words to make the target and no more. Not at all.)

Efforts were spread out between the narrative of the three main characters which means I had the fun of writing third person past, third person present, and second person.  The biographies of the characters continue to take shape, though the overall plot remains as fuzzy as ever.

There are days I wonder why I bother but then I remember I’m 3,000 words from having 50,000 and resolve to polish off the next bit by the end of 2018.

Of course, all of said words might be hacked out of whatever the final version of this turns out to be, but now I’m just bringing everyone down.

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More Books about Music and Life

November 13th, 2018Posted by Nancy

This is definitely my year for reading books by musicians.




My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love by Dessa (one of my favourite musicians ever) is about love, about trying to cure love with science, about family, about writing, and about the life of being a musician.  Who knew that in Denver rap artists need to have oxygen tanks on hand so that they can get enough breath to push out all those words? It’s also full of ideas that made me think and gave me home for my own artistic journey.

“Living as an artist is fundamentally speculative; there’s a permanent uncertainty about where you’ll be hired next and how long that work might last. But really that’s true of most parts of our lives; the pension, the marriage, the mortgage are all friable, all fallible. We don’t own much, and what we do own we certainly can’t keep indefinitely. Every breath is borrowed by the lungful; you can’t save them for later or hold a single one for long. And even a chestful of air is too much cargo for some trips. Some places you have to go empty.”

I’m trying to apply that last bit to my current writing: to go into it empty of expectation and self-criticism and doubt.  To go into it empty to that’s there some space for the ideas and the words to fill.



The first of Viv Albertine’s memoirs (Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys) was one of my favourite books last year. This year’s memoir, To Throw Away Unopened, is equally fascinating.  It’s driven by her relationshipp with her mother (who dies on the night of the launch for her first book) and her difficult past with her sister and non-deceased father.  Discovering the diaries of both her parents turns her past into a kaliodescope of shifting perspectives and motivations.  In between, she talks with her characteristic raw, fearless honesty about love, aging, love and aging, body hair, the joys of dumping various liquids on unpleasant men, and … um … the best way to poop. All of the chapter titles and quotes are drawn from women artists and reflect a core of rage at the limitations put on women for generations.

But she’s also very, very funny.

“I have lots of hair on my head and people often comment enviously on it, but what they don’t realise is that it’s also all over my body, like Mr Tummus, the faun with the legs of a goat from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Except I’m more like a goat with the legs of a faun. I dream about hair every night. ….  Last night, I dreamt I didn’t have time to go home before I went out, and by the end of the evening the hair on my upper lip and chin had grown into a thick tussock of pale-brown sea-grass and I had to hack it off with secateurs.”

Ok, I find that funny, though possibly it’s because I’m close to her age and know of what she speaks. She can also write bluntly about the confusion of loss.

“You have no idea how grief will take you. The same with severe illness, motherhood, any profound experience. You don’t know yourself. Others don’t know you. These events show who you are. And you’ll be surprised, shocked even. You’ll feel the way you feel when you’ve done a particularly offensive-smelling shit  – That couldn’t possibly have come out of me – and start to rationalise it  – Must be that bag of pistachios I ate earlier, or perhaps I am unwell. You can’t believe you could do something so foul and unrecognisable. Something so outside yourself.

Instead of feeling sad after Mum’s death I kept thinking how mean she was, how manipulative she’d been and how I’d been tricked by her. I had no control over my own thoughts. I didn’t know why I thought them. They surged unchecked through my mind like sewage in a flood.”



My recommendation: read them both now.


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Great Book Deal!

November 2nd, 2018Posted by Nancy

Halloween may be over but you haven’t missed your chance to score this incredible Story Bundle offer.  Seriously, you can’t go wrong.  Just $15 gets you:

  • Experimental Film. Gemma Files’ Shirley Jackson award winner. One of the most highly praised horror novels of the last few years.
  • October. A novella by Michael Rowe about the price of getting what you think you want.
  • Knife Fight and other Stories. A collection of David Nickle’s short fiction.  The title story is about a mayor who sounds a bit like an infamous character from Toronto’s recent past.
  • The Hair Wreath.  Moody, disturbing stories by Halli Villegas, winner of the Exile Carter V. Cooper Short Fiction Competition.
  • The Night Inside, a vampire novel by me
  • And 5 more wicked tales.

What are you waiting for?  Just click on link and get reading.  Ends November 5th.

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