We drink a bit. The heat makes us inelegant.

July 19th, 2020Posted by Nancy

The only place to be in this heat. Sadly, this is NOT where I am.

One of my favourite quotes from Jane Austen is: “What dreadful weather we have! It keeps one in a constant state of inelegance.” Engraved on a tile, it made the perfect gift for my friend in Houston. I’ve applied it a number of times to the sauna that is Toronto this summer. I imagine it will only get worse.

I hate the heat. In my perfect world, it would always be Autumn, on a day when one requires a light jacket. Except when I have the opportunity to swim in a lake in cottage country, in which case it should have been high 20s celsius for the last two weeks to make sure the water is perfect. And no humidity, thank you very much.

We went to the Art Gallery of Ontario (timed tickets, masks on) and saw the excellent Diane Arbus exhibit and a show of posters from the Golden Age of Magic. Both well worth braving the subway to see.

Work proceeds apace on the video project. Fortunately, all I need to do is read into the microphone. Other projects remain stalled, though a way through the thicket has been glimpsed for the witch novel project. Now I just need to get going on it.

Things I’ve read:

Battle Cry of Freedom, by James MacPherson. This long history of the Civil War Era consumed a fair bit of reading time over the last few weeks. I also finished listening to a podcast/Yale course on The American Revolution. It’s time to start looking into Canadian history for a change.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, by Alexander Chee. This one had been on my long list of books so long I couldn’t remember why I wanted to read it. I’m glad I did, however, because it contained some excellent thoughts on writing, as well as an interesting story. I don’t think I’ll write anything autobiographical soon, though. Or ever.

Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea, by Sarah Pinsker. I finally caught up with this collection by an author who just won the Nebula for her first novel. I’m looking forward to reading that one as well.

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock, by Imogen Hermes Gower. Another one for which I had no memory of why I thought I should read it. It’s beautifully written and conjures 18th century London with amazing vividness. The plot wobbles a bit, but the prose makes up for it.

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We decide this is now the world and we need to stop drinking. Happy Canada Day!

July 1st, 2020Posted by Nancy

My fancy Star Wars mask, courtesy of Nikki Awesome

The days keep passing and outside things change, at least somewhat. In the last month I’ve had a massage, acupuncture, and an MRI. I’ve taken the subway (four times), the streetcar, and an Uber. I wore a mask. I sanitized my hands. I’ve met a friend for iced coffees and sat in a park on opposite ends of the bench. We had friends join us in the backyard and my husband wore gloves while he carried out their drinks. I bought clothes online from the amazing Annie Thompson.

Am I being paranoid? Am I being cavalier? Who can tell?

The patios opened up, but I can’t imagine going to one. The art gallery and the museum opened up and I might consider going to those. I miss dancing and have no idea when I can do that again, because breathing hard in a small studio seems like the worst thing to do.

We’re going to meet my father in a park half-way between Toronto and the town he lives in so we can have a picnic. I haven’t seen him since Thanksgiving.

Slipping out of the world was easier than expected – and getting back into into it is much harder. And always, of course, there is the example of our neighbours to the south, slouching towards disaster because masks are for wusses and liberals.

On the downside, it’s been a fallow month for writing. On the upside, I’m working on a video project, trying to avoid the dreaded “watch the author read her book” in favour of music and moody visuals.

And I’ve read a lot of books.

A Paradise Built in Hell, by Rebecca Solnit. A wonderful tonic to the earlier run of grim tomes. Turns out that during disasters most communities do not turn into Mad Max hellscapes but come together and help each other.

The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel. Beautifully written, slyly magical, and sharing a surprising link with the next book on the list.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in the Strange World, by Elif Shafak. Rather astonishingly, this is NOT a depressing book, despite being about a dead woman in a refuse bin. Instead it’s beautiful, warm, sad, heartbreaking, and ridiculously funny in turn.

Beach Read, by Emily Henry. She writes romance. He writes literary fiction. They both have writer’s block and books due. They decide to swap genres. This was a lot of fun and the characters were engaging and relatively free of romance stereotypes. Yes, I skipped all the sex scenes.

Himself, by Jess Kidd. This was my month for ghosts, it seems. Between this and Things in Jars, you should definitely add Jess Kidd to your “to read” list.

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We drink and wish we were in Barcelona…

May 29th, 2020Posted by Nancy

Columbus Avenue, Barcelona by Pablo Picasso

In the vast scheme of the pandemic, having to cancel a long-planned trip to Spain is not a major loss. But it was still a loss. I love planning trips (because it eases my quite ludicrous levels of travel anxiety) and I do lots of research. We had a trip booked to go to Madrid, Seville, and Barcelona for the last two weeks in May. We would have gone to museums, drunk vermouth in bars, eaten fabulous meals very late, seen flamenco shows, and tried to walk it all off in these beautiful places. I’d even managed to get a reservation at Distrufar, currently ranked one of the top restaurants in the world, to celebrate our 30th anniversary.

Instead, we paid tribute to our lost trip by ordering tapas from the local Spanish restaurant, buying a nice bottle of Rioja, and dining in our backyard.

Despite multiple distractions and other obligations, I did actually manage to get some creative work done in May. I took all the disparate parts of the Witch novel and stuffed them together into one file, in chronological order by events, in the hopes that this would reveal some coherence (and perhaps even a plot!) – or at least point me in the direction of what to do next. It mostly proved that I can still write a decent sentence, remain confused as to what is going on, and frequently forget the names or spelling of minor characters, cities, and even countries.

Things I’ve read since the last post.

Vassa in the Night, Sarah Porter. An interesting YA fantasy.

Until the End of Time, Brian Greene. Entropy, physics, free will, and all the ways the universe can end. Not quite as grim as it sounds.

Exhalation, Ted Chiang. His new story collection, which actually had interesting resonances with the title above. Not all the stories were outstanding but most of them were thought-provoking.

Dying of Whiteness, Jonathan Metzl. How the politics of racial resentment hurt the very people who hold those views. Rather timely.

Wilding, Isabella Tree. The story of returning a British farm and estate to a more natural state. Almost made me move to the country and rewild something. Almost. Discovered through the excellent podcast “The World in Time” from Lapham’s Quarterly.

Archaeology from Space, Sarah Parcak. An entertaining and interesting book about using satellite imagery in archaeology by one of the scientists I follow on Twitter.

Blood, Bones & Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton. A memoir by an acclaimed NY chef, who is not only an incredible writer but has had a very unusual and somewhat wild life. Only downside is that I get very hungry reading it.

I can’t really complain (but, as the song says, sometimes I still do). I miss my friends, my father, restaurants, and even taking the King streetcar down Broadview. But I’m healthy, I have books to read, I have wine to drink, I have a garden, and I’m with the person I love. Could be worse.

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We drink and shave our heads…

May 7th, 2020Posted by Nancy

Because I think this is a great name for a wine

Ok, my husband does, with my help. Success was achieved through a electric clipper set purchased online, a few videos, a stepladder (to put the mirror on), a hair clip (to keep the sheet around him), and a bit of fussing. I’m perfectly happy to let my hair just keep growing. The last time I had a buzzcut, I was in my early 20s and much thinner.

Work continues, working out continues, gardening has begun (though this weekend it is supposed to snow. The times we live in, I tell you), and writing has lagged. Made it to about 5,200 words in April, well short of my goal. The project for this month (which I’d bloody well better get started on) is taking all the disparate narrative sections of the Witch Novel and create one file, in chronological order by events, to see how things flow.

Things I read since the last update:

  • The Great Leveler: Violence and Inequality from the Stone Age to the 21st Century, by Walter Scheidel. Let’s just say this was not the feel-good book of the year. Basically, we were fucked the minute we invented agriculture.
  • Things in Jars, by Jess Kidd. Brilliant. Go read it.
  • The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, by Natasha Pulley. Which I’m pretty sure I’d read before because things kept feeling familiar but I had no idea what was going to happen next so I just kept reading. I hope this isn’t a bad sign…
  • The Yellow House, by Sarah Broom. A memoir about her family in New Orleans. Also brilliant.

Things will start opening up here over the next weeks. I admit I’m relieved to be able to get tomato plants and other vegetables (after the ice age passes, of course) but I’m in no hurry to go stores. I can’t imagine buying clothes without trying them on after two months of being home. I certainly can’t imagine going to the gym, as much as I miss my classes.

Stay safe. Drink moderately (someone has to). Read books – but not about inequality and violence.

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We drink and try to remember our real names…

April 18th, 2020Posted by Nancy

Preparing for the long haul

How is your sheltering-in-place/isolation/social distancing going? That well?

I can’t really complain (though, of course, sometime I still do). I’m sitting on my couch listening to “Tentacles!” from the truly amazing musical A Shoggoth on the Roof, which manages to combine the music from Fiddler on the Roof with H.P. Lovecraft. It works quite well – and reminds you how good the music in that show is.

I’m still working, working out (though the initial selection of at-home options has begun to pale so I’m searching for new things to jump around to – the song below works very well), practicing flamenco, walking when I need to get out of the house, and .. um…drinking wine. But only after 5:30. I’m trying to write, having set myself a goal of 10,000 words for April. Sadly, unless a tsunami of inspiration comes bearing down on me, I’m unlikely to meet that goal. There’s only so much tapdancing around the rather large black hole where the plot should be that I can do.

Things I have read since the last post:

  • Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
  • The Fountains of Silence by Ruth Sepetys
  • How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
  • The Witches are Coming by Lindy West
  • Patricia McKillip and the Art of Fantasy World-Building by Audrey Isabel Taylor (which only proved that while I adore McKillip and wish I could world-build the way she does, I really, really can’t)
  • Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbottom

Stay safe. Stay Sane. Maintain your physical distance. Don’t hoard toilet paper. Dance to The Talking Heads.

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We drink and remember the time before the war…

March 30th, 2020Posted by Nancy

Or at least before the COVID-19 pandemic. I think I’ve started to forget what day it is. Or, at least, more than I used to forget what day it was.

We miss the gym and our friends but life is otherwise not that different. My mail-order seeds arrived and my garlic has started coming up so at least there’s the promise of digging in the dirt in the not so distant future.

What have I done in the last 15 days?

  • Charged up the “Write or Die” software and written 1,000 words. I only got the shrieking spider once.
  • Watched three Marc Maron specials on Netflix. Rewatched Denis Villeneuve’s glorious and moving Arrival. Now watching The Valhalla Murders.
  • Have had one yoga class via Zoom
  • Have had one cocktail party via Zoom
  • Have done a number of Les Mills workouts made available by Goodlife
  • practiced flamenco. The show has been cancelled but “the show must go on”
  • Starting cancelling bookings for our trip to Spain
  • Had too much wine.

Books I have read:

  • Me , Elton John
  • Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner
  • The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, Hallie Rubenhold
  • Venice: A New History, Thomas Madden
  • Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, Casey Cep
  • The Heavens, Sandra Newman
  • Dept of Speculation, Jenny Offill (currently underway)

Stay safe. Stay Sane. Maintain your physical distance. Don’t hoard toilet paper.

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I’m not liking this plot line at all…

March 15th, 2020Posted by Nancy

Well, of all the things I expected 2020 to bring, a pandemic was not on the list. I’m lucky. I live in a country with good government healthcare and in a city that went through SARS and learned from the experience. I don’t have to worry about missing work and a good number of things I actually enjoy doing involve sitting on a couch. My trip to Spain is now unlikely to happen but I should be able to get most of my money back and Spain, having endured for centuries, will still be there.

Please be sensible, be careful, and think about the people you love who are at risk from this illness. Read a book. Read several. I know a few good ones….

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I’m a dancin’ fool…

February 16th, 2020Posted by Nancy

Next show: May 2nd.

I have not been deterred by hip problems, muscle tears, rather hideous photos from the last show, and my general acceptance of the fact that I’m not that good at the thing flamenco is known for, i.e. footwork.

Maybe I just figure it’s easier than writing.

Below is the only decent picture of me. Taken backstage, foggy glasses and all.

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January 19th, 2020Posted by Nancy

My relationship with romance novels (or romance in novels) is complicated. Among my favourite books I count Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. My comfort viewing is the 1995 BBC production of the former. My SF and Fantasy reading really began with Andre Norton whose books often followed an arc of heroine and hero learning to trust and love each other through adversity. I wrote an essay on “bodice rippers” in high school. My cousins had a fine collection of Harlequin Romances at their cottage and I’m not ashamed to say I read quite a few of them. And, of course, my own novels have strong romantic elements.

But reading actual romance novels in the here and now? That happens only rarely. For some reason, romance novels that are marketed as such never seem to scratch the reader romantic itch in me the same way a fantasy novel with a romance in it will. The only reason I’ve ever been able to find for this is that, in a true romance novel, the balance of elements is off for me. I want a story with a romance, not a story about a romance.

My other odd and idiosyncratic pet peeves include: characters who fall in love/lust too fast and spend too much time thinking about the other person’s physical attributes, annoying domineering heroes that any one of my characters would push down an elevator shaft, long sex scenes* (honestly, I just skip them) and characters who talk too much during sex. Yes, I realize that I wrote one of those but I didn’t make you read what he said.* *

In an attempt to see if there were actually romance novels that might be my jam, I read the wonderful Beyond Heaving Bosoms by the fine minds behind the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website. I read the descriptions of their favourite books and noted down a few to try. So far, I’ve managed to read two from the list and liked them both (though, again, I skimmed the sex scenes).

For My Lady’s Heart, laura Kinsale. Why did I like this? The Middle-English-influenced language (piece of cake for a fantasy reader), the powerful and damaged heroine, the noble and definitely not annoying hero, the vivid descriptions of a memorable landscape, lots of political intrigue. Right up my alley.

Bet Me, Jennifer Crusie. Contemporary romance with a zaftig heroine, a genuinely nice hero, and an engaging supporting cast. Any book in which the heroine warns the hero she’ll likely get fat, because she comes from a long line of Norwegian peasant women who could carry cows gets my vote.

Given the size of the romance ecosystem, there’s bound to be something out there for me, so I’ll just keep exploring. In between the other 250 books on my “to be read” list, of course.

* My favorite sex scene is from C.J. Cherryh’s Serpent’s Reach. “Later, high in the upper decks and the luxury of the Kontrin’s staterooms, it came to what he thought it might.”

** Daen, from Cold Hillside.

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Books I read in 2019

January 1st, 2020Posted by Nancy

Through the miracle of modern technology (otherwise known as the history feature of the Toronto Public Library website), I actually have a record of which ebooks I borrowed. If I add the physical books and ebooks I either purchased or downloaded from Gutenberg, I come up with roughly 130 books read this year. I will admit that, in reviewing the history, there were a few I could not recall at all until prompted, but the less said on that front the better. Roughly 30% of what I read was non-fiction, reflecting both my goal to do that and the fact that I listen to Lewis Lapham’s podcast, The World In Time.

Here, in no particular order, are the books I liked best of this year’s tally.


The Monster Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson. Having survived the grim twists of the first book in the series, I had a better idea what I was getting into, but he still managed to surprise me unpleasantly just the same.

A Conspiracy of Kings, Thick as Thieves, Megan Whalen Turner. The next two books in the Attolia series delivered the beautiful writing, wit, political machinations, and compelling characters that set this series apart from the mass of YA fantasy.

The First Time Laura Pailing Died, Alyson Rudd. This was actually a book my husband had borrowed and we were both very impressed. Don’t be fooled by the sappy subhead in the description.

The Overstory, Richard Powers. I’ve been a Powers fan for a long time and this one featured trees, of which I am also a fan. Beautiful, strange, and hopeful.

Fake Like Me, Barbara Bourland. I was primed to like this because a) I’m interested in contemporary art, b) I like twisty, psychological mysteries, and c) I’m working on a story about artists. Sadly, I suspect mine will not be nearly as good as this.

Honorable mentions: Ghost Wall, Sarah Moss. Mouthful of Birds, Samata Schweblin. Still Life with Tornado, A.S. King. The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker.


Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology, Lisa Margonelli. This is an absolutely fascinating and often funny read. It makes you realize how complex our world is and how little we really know about it. Termites – way weirder than you think.

The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy, Paige Williams. Dinosaur bones, theft, smuggling, digs, Mongolia, and a guest appearance by Nicolas Cage. Sort of.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabelle Wilkerson. Tells the story of the migration of Southern African-Americans to the North, through the lens of three different and compelling people, whose lives took them to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Ghosts of Spain, Giles Tremblett. I’m going to Spain this year and, of course, must do the recommended reading. Vivid odyssey through the legacy of the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime.

Under the Big Black Sun, More Fun in the New World, John Doe and Tom DeSavia. These companion books capture the memories of dozens of the musicians who were the L.A. punk music scene (members of X, the Go-Gos, The Blasters and many more. The first book covers the early years of music, drugs, squats, and crazy belief in making art that mattered and, in the second, the vultures of drugs, success, and violence come home to roost. But art still gets made.

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. Anand Giridharadas. Timely, depressing, and source of one of my favorite paraphrased quotes of the year “We ask them to give more, but never to take less.”

Honorable Mentions: Another Planet, Tracy Thorn. The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wells. The Incomplete Book of Running, Peter Sagal. Notes to Self, Emilie Pine. How Fascism Works, Jason Stanley

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