My dance debut

March 30th, 2018Posted by Nancy


It is almost upon me and I alternate between thinking “ok, I can do this” and “what on earth was I thinking?” It’s amazing how long two minutes can feel. My group is performing three pieces and I’m doing two dramatic bits: exhorting Spartan soldiers to battle and performing part of the opening monologue from Medea. I’m not worried about those, because I’ve had some practice at that sort of thing.

So in case you’re in Toronto on April 14th and have the urge to see a flamenco dance show (don’t worry, there are people who can actually dance quite well performing), you can get tickets here.

For a bit of inspiration, here’s a beautiful video from the 2018 Jerez Flamenco Festival.

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I’m only drowning…

March 3rd, 2018Posted by Nancy

Sadly, my goal to start as I meant to go on fell apart under the pressure of adding another job, an upcoming flamenco performance, and dental stuff to my schedule. On the other hand,I bought a fabulous coat from Annie Thompson and I can now pay for it.


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I’m only reading….

January 29th, 2018Posted by Nancy

I did read a bit last year. Ok, I read a LOT last year, but a good chunk of it was for my duties on the Sunburst Award jury.  Much of that reading was pleasurable (if you need something new, just check out the winners and finalists) but it was still a massive number of words to churn through between January and June.

As for the rest of my reading, the majority is done on my Kobo, with books I borrow from the very fine Toronto Public Library system (the largest neighbourhood-based library system in the world, according to Wikipedia).  I maintain a dislike of actually BUYING books for Kobo, because I fear that technological obsolesence will render them inaccessible, but I did spring for about 20 titles this year.  And I do continue to read actual, physical books on a regular basis.  My estimates for consumption for 2017 are:

Library digital books – 65  (thanks to the handy download folder on my computer)

Purchased digital books – 22

Physical books – 15 to 20

What stands out?

Novellas.  I love the easy availability of these longer works that ebooks allow.  I caught up on some award-nominated works this year and can recommend them all:

Binti – Nnedi Okorafor

The Ballad of Black tom – Victor LaValle

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps – Kai Ashante Wilson

October – Michael Rowe

The Dream-Quest of Villitt Boe – Kij Johnson

Non-Fiction. I keep vowing to add more of this to my reading. Fortunately, there are no shortage of interesting suggestions from Lapham’s Quarterly and the related podcast The World in Time to keep me busy.

Chernobyl Prayer – Sveltana Alexievich. Heartbreaking, thoughtful, vivid and often poetic eyewitness stories about the 1986 disaster and its impact on the people around it.

Millennium – Ian Mortimer.  A survey of the key social and technological changes of the last 1,000 years

Between the World and Me – Ta-nehisi Coates’ letter to his son about the history and legacy of slavery and racism in the U.S.

The Righteous Mind – Jonathan Heidt. My attempt to understand why people would want to be conservatives.  I’m still not one.

Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing, Record-Setting Life of the World’s Youngest Explorer – Christian Fink-Jensen.  Aliases, escapes, sex, driving, mysterious deaths – this story has it all. Somebody make a movie of her life.

Novels.  For some reason, my reading this year seemed to bend towards the dark and foreboding.

Aurora – Kim Stanley Robinson.   An often grim look at the unlikeliness of being able to colonize other planets to escape our own mess.

Bright Black Air – David Vann.   This retelling of the story of Jason and Medea is a like an incantation.  Strange, disturbing, and beautiful.

The Carhullan Army – Sarah Hall.   Tough, bloody-minded, dystopic fiction set in the brooding hills of the Lake District.

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders.  Weird, audacious, and compelling. Told by the ghosts who hover around Lincoln as he grieves for his son.

The Water Knife – Paolo Bacigalupi.  Water wars engulf the Western States.

And then I started 2018 with The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson.

Somebody recommend something more cheerful to me, soon.





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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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