May is also pretty mean …

May 20th, 2023Posted by Nancy

Where we left our heroine, she was recovering from Covid and a bad fall. May was promising, with a visit from a sibling, a road trip, and a long-delayed trip to Nova Scotia coming up in June. Work on the witch novel was proceeding, flamenco class had been resumed, I’d had my first writing date since March, and the seeds that precipitated the fall had been planted.

Then my husband went for his every-two-year examination by the retinal specialists at Toronto Western Hospital. Concerned noises were made. Some lasering was done. Surgery would be required. No, it couldn’t wait until after visits and road trips and air travel was definitely not going to happen.

On the upside, his slowly detaching retina will be dealt with (as well the cataract in that eye, which I suppose is a bonus), our road trip travel arrangements can be cancelled with no penalty, and I’m going to make the Nova Scotia trip anyway, as additional company on the “meet the great-grandson” tour. Not MY great-grandson, I must point out. We’re hoping that his recovery requirements won’t be too onerous but we won’t find out the details until next week.

In the meantime, editing can be done, tomatoes can be planted, and there are lots of podcasts to listen to if he’s not allowed to read.

June, please don’t let me down.

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April is the Cruelest Month

April 29th, 2023Posted by Nancy

Yes, I know it’s overused, but April has not been kind to me.

First up, COVID. I paid the price for sitting in a coffee shop for two hours by testing positive at the end of March. Gestures were made towards isolating from my husband but he inevitably came down with it as well. His case was mild and over quickly. Mine was only slightly more annoying (equivalent to a bad cold or flu) but I’ve had lingering symptoms. Some days I can do a whole flamenco class with only one rest break (conveniently allowing me to pet the studio cat) and other days I break out into a cold sweat and feel nauseous after fifteen minutes of activity. Fortunately, I seem to be able to walk for an hour without noticeable problems (ok, I pick routes with benches so I can rest a bit, I admit it).

I tested negative in time to go to the touring production of HAMILTON in Toronto and see friends and was looking forward to having everything get back to normal then …

On Thursday, I prepared to plant some early seeds in my garden. I retrieved a rake from the garage, started across the patio, promptly tripped and down I went. At least I didn’t land ON the rake. I did break my computer glasses (thank goodness I’d forgotten to swap back to my usual ones) and bang up my knees quite badly. After several minutes of what must have looked like bad physical comedy, my husband and I managed to get me up onto my feet and inside to the couch. I can now make it around the house without holding onto walls but my flamenco practice is restricted to arm and hand movements.

On the upside, I finished inputting all my changes to the Witch Novel and assembling the very long list of things to be reviewed, finalized and revised.

And there’s only one more day in April.

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First Review Done

April 17th, 2023Posted by Nancy

Finished off the first review of the novel. Conclusions:

  • I definitely lost track of the timing in some places. The book takes place over 60 years and has three main characters, so there are lots of gaps to be bridged and simultaneous actions to be managed
  • Some of the prose is pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. It’s not ‘transparent’ but, as the man (Neil Young) says, ‘that’s my style’. There’s work to be done to eliminate a great number of commas and provide more variety in sentence structure but overall it doesn’t make me want to abandon all hope of writing and go live in a cave.
  • My preliminary assessment is that there’s a fairly even balance between scenes that need to be added and scenes that can come out, which I think is good.
  • There are some big decisions I’ve been avoiding and now is the time they’ll have to be made.
  • There are lots of little decisions I’ve also been avoiding (what is the name of that town? What titles do people use? What time of year is it?) that will also have to be made. At least I have to establish some consistency, if only to make it easier to use ‘search and replace’ later in the process.

Next steps:

  • make some easy text changes. This reread wasn’t for prose but there are some rough bits to be fixed.
  • Note all the bigger issues to be changed, checked, reviewed
  • Consider having a trusted reader go through it and give me some help in making the big decisions I’ve been dithering about.


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What I’ve read so far this year

March 31st, 2023Posted by Nancy

For whatever reason, the first 3 months of 2023 have been the months of reading non-fiction, though a couple of memorable novels did end up on my ereader.


Below the Edge of Darkness, Edith Widder. Another fascinating book about life in the ocean, this one focusing on creatures that inhabit the zone between light and dark.

1177 B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed, Eric Cline. A great summary of the Bronze Age collapse.

Mastering the Process, From Idea to Novel, Elizabeth George. George breaks down the process of writing one of her mystery novels. I found some of the exercises very helpful and was also heartened by the fact that she doesn’t always know who the murderer is when she starts.

Kiki Man Ray: Art, Love, and Rivalry in 1920s Paris, Mark Braude. More grist for the Glass World mill.

Ways of Seeing, John Berger. Finally got around to reading this classic book about art and meanings.

Meander, Spiral, Explode, Design and Pattern in Narrative, Jane Alison. I’m definitely open to alternatives to the classic three-act story structure, because I suck at doing that whole “inciting incident, rising action, climax” stuff. I’m not sure I have the ability to carry off some of these alternatives, but it did make me feel better.

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, Sy Montgomery. Lovely mix of personal experience and science fact.

The Republic for Which it Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, Richard White. I’d heard the author interviewed on a couple of podcasts and was very happy to finally be able to get this one from the library. It’s quite good but somewhat depressing.


The Mountain in the Sea, Ray Nayler. Excellent SF book about intelligent octopuses and much more. Highly recommended.

In the Distance, Hernan Diaz. I didn’t love this as much as his more recent Trust but this tale of a Swedish immigrant on a picaresque journey through the American West in the 1800s reminded me how much history can be just as strange as fantasy.

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Second Draft Ready to Go

March 21st, 2023Posted by Nancy

I’ve now ignored the shitty first draft for about 2 months so it’s time to start the less shitty (let’s hope) second draft. I’m starting with some suggestions from Matt Bell’s book REFUSE TO BE DONE for my revision process – but I’m quite sure I’m going to draw the line at writing the book AGAIN. Because life is definitely too short at this stage to do that.

299 pages, baby!

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It was February. I did some things.

March 3rd, 2023Posted by Nancy

While the Witch Novel is marinating (i.e. I printed off all 299 pages but have not looked at them AT ALL), I’ve turned my attention to my other project, The Glass World Thing. This is the project that started as a fluffy modern romance, switched gears to become a historical fiction supernatural thing (possibly not exactly set in this world), meandered along for 35,000 words or so of vamping, and then stalled when I really had to figure out the plot.

So this month’s assignment was to figure out a much stronger skeleton for the plot, which I mostly did. I’ve also been doing some character work based on advice I read in MASTERING THE PROCESS by mystery writer Elizabeth George. I’ve followed George every since her first novel A GREAT DELIVERANCE came out. I haven’t loved every book, but she’s consistently interesting and takes risks, so I was curious about what she had to say.

In the book, she takes one of her novels (CARELESS IN RED) and walks through all the steps of her process, which she has refined over the years. Not all of it is applicable to the kind of things I write, but I found her character analysis examples very interesting. She writes stream-of-consciousness, free form character profiles covering their history, appearance, likes and dislikes, with a special focus on their core need (the thing they need the most from the world and other people) and the pathological tactics they fall back on when they’re threatened or angry.

Somewhat to my own surprise, when I applied this technique to my two leads in the Glass World, I wrote pages of ideas before I even realized it. I’m feeling much more grounded in who these people are now. The challenge will be integrating this new knowledge into the process of actually rewriting parts of the novel over top of the work I’ve already done.

If you’re looking for a new book of writing advice (and let’s face it, what else do we do when we can’t actually write? Besides whine about it, of course), check out Elizabeth George’s book.

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Do your bit for Science!

February 17th, 2023Posted by Nancy

A year or two ago I read the book BEING YOU: The New Science of Consciousness by Anil Seth, who has the daunting title of professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex.

It’s a fascinating book that I’d highly recommend, though I certainly can’t claim I understood all of it. Dr. Seth is also involved in a public science project called the Perception Census, which is designed to capture the differing ways we experience the world. You simply log in and complete a number of tasks designed to capture how you perceive time, music, images and more through games, illusions, and auditory tests. You don’t have to do it all at one time. There are ten units in total and each one takes about 15 to 20 minutes.

I found it fascinating, difficult, and fun by turn. There were some areas I admit that I resorted to guessing because my brain just didn’t work fast enough – but I suppose that has value, as well.

If you’re looking for something interesting to do that can also contribute to science, check it out.

And, because the word science inevitably reminds me of Thomas Dolby, here he is. Science!

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Flip that Skirt, the action version

February 3rd, 2023Posted by Nancy

And here’s the link to the next video. I do indeed get to flip my skirt around a lot during my portion of the dance. We’re already planning our next one, which will likely be a few verses of the sevillanas folk dance – unless we get distracted by some shiny new piece. That happens.

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Flip that skirt!

January 27th, 2023Posted by Nancy

After the latest flamenco video session, we did our usual selfies and photos routine. Jonathan said “flip your skirt” – so I did.

Flamenco skirt flip fun.

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January 22nd, 2023Posted by Nancy

My collage project based on the Witch Novel

Last Monday, sitting in Balzac’s Coffee Shop on Market Street across from Gemma Files, I finished the shitty first draft of the the Witch Novel. Cue the celebratory noisemakers and confetti. (Sadly, there was no champagne for me as I’m doing dry January.)

I know shitty first drafts are the thing but I struggle with them. My first drafts of my first three novels were all good. I had to rewrite a few sections and add some elements my publisher felt were missing but that was it. No matter how many times I tell myself that this shitty first draft is just fine, it’s a thing, it’s normal, I still find it very demoralizing.

Of course, what I thought was shitty one year seems quite competent when I read it the next year (which happens when one takes seven years to write a draft) so either I’m too hard on myself in the past or my standards have slipped in the present.

My plan is to leave the Witch Novel alone until March and then print all 296 pages of it to start the review and revisions. In the meantime, I’ll go back to the Glass World Thing and see if I can figure out how to make it work.

In the meantime, Yay me! And in February, there will be champagne.

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