NaNoWriMo update and What I’ve Read

November 30th, 2022Posted by Nancy

First up, Nanowrimo. I set the usual goal of 10,000 words and managed 10,095 despite being away for a few days. The usual caveats apply: I don’t know what I’m doing, half of the words will/should be cut, blah, blah, blah. My goal for December is to nail down the mechanics of the ending and, with luck, actually write it. Then I should have an acceptably shitty first draft done.

On to less fraught topics – what I’ve been reading since the cottage trip. Here are some of my favourites.

FICTION

Lampedusa, Steven Price. I loved this book, which is a fictionalized account of Guiseppe di Lampedusa’s life while he’s writing his classic novel The Leopard. Beautiful prose, fascinating characters, the angst of writing, the angst of life. It’s wonderful.

The Leopard, Guiseppe di Lampedusa. Well, of course, I had to then read the book itself. I quite liked it, despite some initial trepidation. It’s beautifully written and slyly funny. I found myself reading particularly droll passages aloud to my husband, which is always a good sign.

Siren Queen, Nghi Vo. Silver Screen Hollywood as run by the fey. Maybe. I was particularly impressed by how subtly she revealed the existence of magic and the nature of the bargains made by the studios for power.

Learwife, J.R. Thorpe. The string of “my God, this is soooo good” continued with this one. I was so blown away by the prose that I actually had write some of the most incredible passages down for inspiration. The narrator is bitter, clever, raw, cruel, loving, and altogether unforgettable. I admit that I also have a weakness for cantankerous old women in convents, so this was definitely my thing.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes, Cat Sebastian. On a lighter note, this historical romance romp was pure pleasure.

You Let Me In, Camilla Bruce. Yet another cantankerous narrator and great prose. A successful but reclusive writer disappears and two years later her heirs must read the memoir she leaves them and decide if they want their inheritance. Were all violent, tragic deaths in her past the result of her lifelong relationship with the fey or is she just mentally ill? Another one that impressed me.

NON-FICTION

SHY: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers, Mary Rodgers and Jesse Green. Composer of ‘Once Upon a Mattress’. Writer of ‘Freaky Friday’. Daughter of famed Broadway composer Richard Rodgers. Funny and honest, Mary spills the dirt on bad parents, lovers (good and bad), husbands (good and bad), music (a bit of both), sex, life in the New York theatre world. With appearances by Stephen Sondheim, Hal Prince, Carol Burnett, Leonard Bernstein, and anyone who was anyone at that time. Collaborator Green weighs in with footnotes to provide more information and sometimes corrections.

An Immense World, Ed Yong. I told everyone I met to read this. It explores the senses that animals use to understand the world and how they compare to our own. Completely fascinating and a timely reminder that the world is a complex and marvelous place that we need to protect.

What We Owe The Future, William MacAskill. After reading an article about Effective Altruism and Longtermism, I figured I should try this book to get a better understanding of it. I remain unconvinced that the happiness of billions of people who could in theory exist in the future (in computers! in space! Hey, it’s the Singularity!) is more important than the lives of people who exist right now. Also, the argument that wild animals live short lives of danger and hardship (gee, Will, did you ask them? Or ask Ed Yong?) and therefore we shouldn’t worry about them because they’re not adding to the net happiness of the universe is ridiculous.

Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina, Bernard B. Fall. Sometimes books show up from my library reserves and I’ve completely forgotten why I put them on the list in the first place. This was one of those books, but it turned out to be a fascinating book from the 1970s about the disaster of the French war in Vietnam and how the Americans promptly made all of the same mistakes. I’m pretty sure I got the recommendation from Twitter, which is another reason I’ll miss it if it implodes.

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Rocks and Shoals

November 20th, 2022Posted by Nancy

Or perhaps the mid-month slump. I’m on target for my NaNoWriMo goals but definitely feeling like I’m tap dancing like crazy and waving my jazz hands in an attempt to conjure up something meaningful to write.

To take the dance from metaphor to reality, I’m also working on my piece for the next flamenco video and my footwork is … to be blunt … quite awful.

And it snowed.

Bah!

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Taking the Plunge

October 30th, 2022Posted by Nancy

Warning signs at Peggy’s Cove

I’m starting NaNoWriMo this year by … going away for a few days. Aiming for 10,000 words and a possible end of the first shitty draft of The Witch Novel.

Going to try to avoid the black rocks to prevent being drowned by the waters of despair. We’ll see how it goes.

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Progress Update

October 9th, 2022Posted by Nancy

I’ll no doubt curse myself by actually writing this but what the hell, let’s live dangerously.

I’ve had a reasonably productive year (for varying definitions of productive). I alternate writing months with planning, plotting, exercise months and just came off writing 5,000 words for September. I’ll sign up for Nanowrimo for November, with a target of 10,000 words. If everything goes according to plan, I should end up at almost 40,000 words this year.

The Witch Novel is very close to having a complete, if shitty, first draft. I know that shitty first drafts are a thing but until COLD HILLSIDE, I’d never actually written one. I still find it depressing and it’s hard to soldier on when you feel as if everything you write is possibly the worst combination of letters ever penned by human hand. That being said, and acknowledging that there are still several VERY large problems to be solved, the shitty first draft could actually be finished by the end of the year.

The Glass World Novel, Take Two, has progressed somewhat this year as well, though most of the scenes are past/flashback ones, which always leads me to question exactly which story I think I’m telling. I’ve already abandoned the contemporary romantic version for the alternative 1920s/1950s magical version so I’m not sure I’ve got a lot of variations left to try. Maybe a short story…

Of course, once the first draft is done, it’s time for revisions. I am NOT going to be rewriting the entire thing from scratch (as suggested in Matthew Bell’s REFUSE TO BE DONE). Nope, nope, nope, not happening. Let’s hope.

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The annual “What I Read at the Cottage” Post

September 18th, 2022Posted by Nancy

Yes, September is the month in which Nancy goes to the rental cottage. Cookies are eaten, swimming is done, walks are walked, wine is drunk, some words get written, and books get read. Fewer books than I previous years, I admit, but then we did have guests for part of the time.

FICTION

Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner. I absolutely adored this. Downtrodden spinster decides she needs to remake her life, so obviously she must become a witch. Dry, funny, strange, and beautiful.

Bellweather Rhapsody, Kate Racculia. A book that manages to be a plausible depiction of “band/musician kid” life (I assume, given that the writer was herself a band kid) and a weird tale featuring sociopaths, disappearances, crushes, and several hat-tips to movie version of The Shining.

Raisins & Almonds, Kerry Greenwood. I continue to work my way through the Miss Fisher series. As usual, there are beautiful young men, fabulous clothes, and some semblance of a mystery. This one has to do the added heavy lifting of portraying early 20th century racism in Australia in a way that doesn’t make a 21st century reader a bit worried whether the writer can stick the landing. Still not sure.

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, Becky Chambers. Her second novella about Monk and Robot, in which they venture back into society and try to determine if it fits. Warm and hopeful, which is nice is these decidedly unhopeful times.

Descendent of the Crane, Joan He. Fantasy novel with Chinese influences. Entertaining, if not entirely my thing.

Interference, Sue Burke. The second book in the Semiosis duology (which I think more trilogies just just admit that they are). Both books focus on the challenges of communication across species. I quite like the sentient plants, though I’m not quite persuaded by the first person narration from their POV.

The Golden, Lucius Shepherd. I haven’t reread this since it came out in 1993. I’d forgotten how strange and baroque it is, and how deeply unlikeable all the characters are. I mean, they are vampires, but still….

To Paradise, Hanya Yanagihara. A friend lent me her physical copy of this. It is 708 pages and I’m on 93, so no verdict yet. However, I’m enjoying the alternate 1893 New York in which arranged marriages are common and can apply to homosexual as well as heterosexual unions.

NON-FICTION

Difficult Men. Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, Brett Martin. I found this very interesting, despite the fact that I have not seen any of the shows in the title (don’t judge me). There were difficult men behind the cameras as well as in front of them, which should come as no surprise.

The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, Christiana Figueres. See my note on the Becky Chambers book above. I wish this one had made me feel hopeful but it didn’t.

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted, Suleika Jaouad. The author’s life is interrupted when she is diagnosed with a dangerous cancer in her twenties. She chronicles the challenges, victories, and losses she experiences over the next few years, including the unexpected difficulty of finding her way back to life after coming so close to death.

Butler To the World, Oliver Bullough. Lays out the author’s contention that Britain has becomes a malevolent “Jeeves” to the world’s rich and predatory “Woosters”. If I’m ever in London, I’ll definitely try to go on one of his “Kleptocrat” tours.

If Venice Dies, Salvatore Settis. I love Venice and we’re planning to go back as soon as we can – but there’s no question that the tourist love for the place is toxic to life in the city itself. Settis, an archeologist and art historian, looks at the meaning of places to their inhabitants, the value they offer the world, and a few ways the tide of destruction can be slowed.

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Camp Nanowrimo results

August 6th, 2022Posted by Nancy

I had a target of 5,000 words for July, which I managed to achieve* despite everything that was going on in the rest of my life. I’m not persuaded they were GOOD words, mind you, or advanced the plots at all, but – as I am constantly being reminded – it’s easier to cut words than write them. In theory, I can write entire plot branches that don’t work and have to be ruthlessly pruned and rethought, but I find that once I’ve written something down it assumes a certain … solidity … in my brain and it becomes quite difficult to make wholesale changes.

August is review and plan month and I can only hope that I can find some answers somewhere in the morass of my notes and thoughts and alternative possibilities.

* ok, ok, I confess. I actually finished on August 1st. So take my cute certificate back.

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What I’ve been reading

July 16th, 2022Posted by Nancy

It’s been an eventful few months. Some parts have been good (family visit, getting stuff done) and some parts have been bad (husband’s injury, death in the family). I’ve been getting a bit of writing done and, as always, a fair bit of reading. Here’s what stands out from the last few months.

FICTION

Termination Shock, by Neal Stephenson. A bit baggy and front-end loaded with exposition, but it’s good exposition and once it revs up, it boots along nicely. Bonus value for me is the Houston-area setting, which I’m somewhat familiar with, having visited once or twice.

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee. I thought I should read this one in advance of possibly watching the series on Apple TV. Turns out we haven’t watched it yet but I can highly recommend the novel, which chronicles the fortunes of a Korean family in Japan over the last 70 years or so.

Sorrow & Bliss, by Meg Mason. I read this because I heard the author interviewed on Elizabeth Day’s HOW TO FAIL podcast. It’s not the sort of thing I usually pick but it was funny and sad and definitely worth reading.

Popisho, by Leone Ross. Highly recommended. Go read this book. Magic realism set in an imaginary Caribbean. The language is rich and evocative, the characters are immediately compelling, and the story takes a path you can’t predict. I loved it.

The Bone Ships, by RJ Barker. I finally started this after bailing on another popular fantasy novel that I bounced off and it was definitely much more my thing. Fascinating and satisfying world-building and strong prose – though perhaps I could have done with a bit less detail on how a particular cool weapon worked. But given that it’s set at sea, I treat it the same way I do the Patrick O’Brian paragraphs about the workings of the sailing ships, i.e. the characters do a number of things with the sails, and then the ship goes faster. Or it doesn’t.

The Men, by Sandra Newman. I quite liked her previous novel (The Heavens) but felt this one wasn’t as strong. Despite the SF premise (all bearers of Y chromosomes disappear at the same time), it’s not about what happens in world after that. It’s really about two women, their relationships, and the choices they’re forced to make. Much of that was interesting and thought-provoking, and perhaps enhanced by the fantastical elements, but I was ultimately dissatisfied. The book provoked accusations of transphobia before it was even published (which I think is unfair. Make those accusations AFTER you know the actual details and context). I’m not attuned to all the nuances in this debate but will just say that, while she likely could have made a different choice in this regard without it having any impact on the real themes of the book, I’m not persuaded that the book should be judged entirely on that authorial choice.

NON-FICTION

Always Crashing the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California, by Matthew Spektor. A combination of memoir and essays about Los Angeles, Hollywood, and various characters, famous and not, who inhabit it.

In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado. The author recounts an abusive relationship in a series of vignettes and flashbacks. Very intense and with a quite brilliant story and chapter structure. I’m a writer, I like that stuff.

Go Back Where You Came From (and other helpful recommendations on how to become American), by Wajahat Ali. I admit it. I find a lot of books to read via Twitter. This is a funny and thoughtful book about growing up brown in America – and about just growing up as a person.

Lost & Found, by Kathryn Schulz. The first of a series of memoirs I ended up reading (quite unintentionally) about death, grief, and finding love. This was beautifully written and moving.

Why Fish Don’t Exist, by Lulu Miller. Part memoir, part history, part science. The author reckons with the sorrow in her own life by exploring the life of David Starr Jordan, an early scientist studying fish.

Being Wrong, Adventures in the Margin of Error, by Kathryn Schulz. Though not as personal and profound as her other book, this is still a fascinating read on why we’re so often wrong, why we refuse to admit it, and why being wrong is a valuable part of the human condition.

The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism reclaimed Russia, by Masha Green. Not nearly so upbeat about the human condition, but very compelling and timely. Green follows a number of subjects who grew up under perestroika and responded in different ways as the walls started to close in again under Putin.

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Me. Dancing. In a Video.

July 2nd, 2022Posted by Nancy

After several months of twice-a-month rehearsals, there is finally a flamenco video featuring yours truly and two other (much more talented) dancers from the school. My husband kindly added the text but the video captures one entire performance – no edits. At least my hat didn’t fall off in this one. Check it out in Episode Four of our Flamenco Fragments series.

https://www.arteflamenco.com/flamenco-fragments

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Good news, bad news

June 11th, 2022Posted by Nancy

Bad news: husband went to get out of bed one morning and couldn’t stand up. He’s now three weeks into serious pain in his back and leg, lousy sleep, multiple ineffective prescriptions, and physiotherapy, Things are slowly getting better.

Good news: I’ve had to take over the grocery shopping and basic food prep and we haven’t killed each other yet. I’ve also discovered that my husband is considered “the nicest customer” in numerous stores in our area. I’ve got some big shoes to fill…

Bad news: We were supposed to go to Nova Scotia to visit family, leaving this upcoming Thursday. That’s not happening – but at least we could cancel without penalty or get our money back for almost everything.

Good news: We had a great visit from some other far-flung family. Turns out my husband cannot be deterred from making latkes, even if he has to do it sitting down, so they were well fed, even if they had to entertain themselves more than we would have liked. But they’re quite good at that and we managed to have a lot of fun, despite it all.

Other news: We were finally able to film a flamenco video, featuring me and two other dancers. I’d say it’s good news but I’m reserving judgement until I see it. But the lighting was fabulous, so we all took selfies. And yes, of course I knocked that jaunty hat off at least once while dancing.

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100,000 words

May 27th, 2022Posted by Nancy

Somewhat to my own surprise, I’ve now passed 100,000 words on The Witch Novel. Some of them are even good words, I think.

This project had its beginnings in 2015, the year after COLD HILLSIDE was published. I’d gone back to some old, unfinished projects to see if anything might spark some inspiration. I made a few half-hearted attempts to begin something and then, in May, the British fantasy writer Tanith Lee died. I wrote an early blog post about how influential her work was on me, though that may not be entirely obvious in my published work. I can honestly say that reading THE BIRTHGRAVE changed my life.

One of the ideas I’d resurrected seemed particularly suited to Lee’s gorgeous, baroque prose, cool sensibility, and damaged characters. With the vague idea that perhaps I could submit to it any tribute collections that might be in the works, I wrote a short story and ran it past my writing group. They all assumed it was the beginning of a novel.

To my surprise, I didn’t hate the idea. I had originally thought it might be a novel so the short story version did feel a little … short.

So here I am, almost seven years later, 101,267 words into it. I’ve added POV characters and several tense changes. Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to write one of the characters in second person? Turns out, yes, indeed it is. Depending on what decisions I make about the plot (plot? what’s that?), I could – in theory – finish the first draft in the next year.

And then? Well, we’ll see. Maybe I’ll decide the damn thing is a novella after all.

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