What I read at the cottage, 2019 edition

September 18th, 2019Posted by Nancy

This year, I managed to read 16 books during our annual two weeks in Haliburton.  The seven physical books are shown above and the additional nine ebooks, sadly, exist only in the ether.

Topics ranged from a biography of Gertrude Bell (Desert Queen), a book about birds (The Thing with Feathers), a romance novel chosen after reading Beyond Heaving Bosoms (My Sweet Folly), a book about Barcelona by Robert Hughes because I’m going to Spain next year, a ghost story (Naomi’s Room), and a reread of Erica Jong’s Serenissima, because I love Venice.

Other recommendations include the very lovely Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord, The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson, and Salt to the Sea by Ruth Emprys.

Oh, and Fright into Flight, because not only are there great stories by Gemma Files and Nadia Bulkin, but my story “Consent” is also featured.

Next up: The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson.

On my “to read” list: roughly 225 books.  Sigh.

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Books on sale! Books on sale!

August 11th, 2019Posted by Nancy

Because books on sale is always good news.  CZP is having a sale on ebook only editions this month, which means that my first three novels are available via Amazon for $2.99 each (links at the CZP site linked above). And there are two incredible short stories from the brilliant, award-winning Gemma Files plus books by Caitlin Sweet and Michael Marano as well.

What are you waiting for?

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Travel excuses

July 21st, 2019Posted by Nancy

The Torrington gophers performing their tribute to the film “Roxanne”.

Well, not excuses not to travel. Or to travel. Just excuses to explain lack of progress in writing, no blog posts, too much good food and wine, too little exercise (except for the 20,000 steps a day trip to Alberta, which I’m fairly sure did not offset the aforementioned good food and wine).

In the last month, I’ve been in Drumheller, Banff, Muskoka, Peterborough, Pefferlaw, and home.  I’ve fallen behind in almost everything except fun.  

My travel tip for this summer is – if you’re in Drumheller, you should make a side trip to Torrington, home of the Gopher Hole Museum.  Because stuffed gophers dressed up to reflect the life of the town are a wonderful thing and the tiny museum itself is a pleasure.  They even have the letters they received after they launched in 1995.  The good folks at PETA expressed displeasure, the good folks of Torrington told them to “get stuffed” and world fame ensued.  

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How I spend my Tuesday Evenings

May 29th, 2019Posted by Nancy

Since I retired (mostly) last year, I’ve been trying to find something charitable or community-related to do. This has been hampered by a number of things: the fact that I’m not good at all that much, the fact that the potentially useful things I’m ok at are not things I want to spend my time doing (any more than I already do them), the fact that I’m an introvert who is not terribly good with people. So visiting older people or teaching ESL at libraries is not really in the cards for me. 

Then I discovered the Community Stewardship Program here in Toronto and signed up to spend my Tuesday evenings working in the Don Valley ravine that runs down the middle of the city.  I can walk over to the site, which is a bonus.  Then I spend two hours digging garlic mustard and other invasive plants (we haven’t started on the dog-strangling vines yet but I can see the evil things growing), planting native species, counting may-apples, and whatever else our group leader assigns.  I’ve also backed into some stinging nettle, but that wasn’t an assigned duty.

We’ve seen an abandoned beaver pond, woodpeckers, orioles, toads, and a snake.  Plus numerous cyclists, dog walkers, and Go trains. I spent one glorious evening sitting on the bank of a pond, pulling garlic mustard as the sun sank slowly on the other side of the ravine, and discovering that the white flower up to my left was a trillium.

I’ve definitely enjoyed my experience so far, though I am well aware that bug season is just around the corner and what is quite pleasant now might be brutal in the August heat.  My back hurts sometimes from crouching down to pull weeds and I’m very grateful that, while we’ve had an inordinately rainy spring, so far it’s been dry on Tuesday nights.  Work is only cancelled if there’s a thunderstorm.

Could I do more to make the world a better place?  I’m pretty sure I could – though we continue to give money to various causes, which may be more useful than my dubious help.  Still, when someone asks me what I did in the dog-strangling vine wars, I will at least be able to hold my head high and say “I did my part”.

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I did it again

May 13th, 2019Posted by Nancy

Sweaty, happy, and appropriately filtered.

Saturday night was my second flamenco dance show. This time around, I was part of six dance numbers, did silent acting in a vignette about emigrating to Canada, and performed a somewhat sardonic monologue about Spartan women.  I was happy that I hit my marks, only screwed up once, and that so many of my family and friends were able to be there.

I can’t say I can dance – but I can say I’m going to keep trying.

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Get your Bad Fairy Fix with Storybundle

April 26th, 2019Posted by Nancy

Like the fey, especially amoral, untrustworthy, dangerous ones?  Then you definitely need this new Storybundle offering.  Why?

What are you waiting for?  Go get yours. 

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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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