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Journal of the Plague Year

Since I last posted here, the world has utterly changed. I travel a lot. I used to travel a lot. For years I’ve joked that being Canadian is great when you don’t have to deal with winter. Winter, for me in these years, was a few scattered weeks at home, between trips to warmer places: sometimes holiday places, sometimes my routine business trips to London, Knoxville, New York, none of which experience much snow. My last trip was to a beach town, for a writing retreat. The town’s season hadn’t yet begun and we felt mostly alone on this expanse of sand. We knew about the virus, enough to bring sanitizer and wash our hands a lot, but we hadn’t even heard the phrase “social distancing” yet, flights were still operating normally and a gathering of friends was still a perfectly fine thing to do. It seems like forever ago. But it was the beginning of March. My original plan had been to fly home from this retreat, unpack, repack, and fly out again the next day for London, where I’d be attending London Book Fair: five days, thirty meetings, countless handshakes and cheek kisses in a normal time. But […]

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Capricon!

Chicago-area folks: I’m going to be visiting you Feb 13-16 for Capricon. Looking forward to meeting some new people and seeing some old friends! Here’s where you can find me: Friday, 10 am: Nonfiction for Fiction Writers, Botanic A We often hear writers advised to read widely, both in and out of our genre. What are some kinds of nonfiction reading that can help broaden your fiction writing? Our panelists recommend memoirs, history, cookbooks, podcasts, subreddits, true crime, whatever else has caught their interest and driven them to write more deeply. Friday, 11:30 am: Sportsball!, Botanic A The nerd/jock divide isn’t as much of a thing as it used to be (if it ever really was!). Many of us are sports fans in addition to being fans of media, culture and literature. Let’s talk about the sports we love, how we were introduced to them, and how our multiple fandoms interact. Friday, 2:30 pm: Beers from the Tropics, Food Room 1509 George Hodgson, a London brewer in the late 1700s, used his connections to the East India Co. to dominate the export market to the colony. Among other beers, Hodgson exported a strong pale ale brewed with extra additions of […]

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Here’s a poem I found in my drafts

“The Nearby Death” The nearby death is an EMP. You go dark and silent. You, and you, and everyone in range. Your functions shut down. This is simple.  The simplest. All the noise goes quiet. Remember where you were. Remember where she was, at the epicentre. Her loss, the pulse. Here is the pause. Remember where you are. Your generator, here: You left it ready for this. You knew this dark would come. Fire it with your arm. Its fuel is old and stale. It makes noise and light. You make light, with your body, with your old and filthy fuel. Start up again. […]

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Walking Alone

I have a new story up at Strange Horizons: “Four Steps to the Perfect Smoky Eye” is about “girls and the men who claim to protect them” (in the words of @sarahbbrand, who summed it up better than I could!) It is strongly rooted in my own experience.  In a way, all stories are, but this one has some pretty literal moments. I’ve spent ages labouring over this post, trying to describe the experience of growing up in St. Catharines, in the years when Paul Bernardo was hunting girls my age.  Trying to describe a taxonomy of fear. There was the killer, but there were also boyfriends who got demanding, classmates who got pushy, teachers who got handsy.  There were men in the library who made casual conversation and then wanted to know where I lived.  There was that friend who got drunk and held a knife to my face that time.  There was that guy in our class who murdered his girlfriend. And there were our fathers, some of whom offered protection in some traditional ways (rides to school, threats to keep boyfriends in line) but in exchange, demanded control of our wardrobes, reading habits, friend choices, sexualities, our […]

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This is my brother Ted.  He passed away suddenly on Saturday.  He had been struggling with cancer for the last couple of years but had recently had good news; we are still not sure exactly what happened. This isn’t exactly a post about Ted.  (I don’t write about real people in my life here, or anywhere–you might guess where they turn up in my fiction but you won’t likely be correct.)  It’s a post about death, about what happens when it comes near.  This is the second time in recent years that I’ve lost an immediate family member, and the same thing has happened to me both times: a sense of grace, of awe, of something that is almost elation. Death is miraculous, in the same way that birth is miraculous.  It is outside of our control.  When it strikes this close, like lightning, it raises all the hairs on my arms with this electric sense of a near-miss.  He is gone.  I am still here. There are a million cliches about this, of course.  I’m posting it here because I want you, whoever you might be, to receive a little of that awe, to drop a bit of that […]

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In which I’m back in my home town

Hard rain pounding down from a mostly sunny sky.  I went out and danced in it, barefoot on my front walk. New York was clear and the air was great for running and I saw lots of people I love, but man, I missed this place and the cats in it and the comfort of making my own dinner.  Now I’m rain-wet and there’s probably soot in my hair, and I’m going to saute some cabbage and listen to hip hop. […]

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In which I cannot hear my new Handsome Furs due to the air show

It’s even worse than a balloon party around here: I have to sit, stiffly cringing, awaiting a horribly loud noise, which I know beyond a doubt is coming, only I don’t know when. And every time it does, it’s going to make me flinch visibly, spill coffee, and overuse italics. Also, the cats. They don’t have italics, or coffee, but they have the visible flinching. […]

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In which I break radio silence

Back-to-back trips have the salutary effect of frustrating my writing desire enough that on my return, I am more than ready to solve the problems I planted on my departure. To wit: the backstory of the not-a-werewolf; the timing of the magician’s history in the Dickensian Fantasy rewrite; the presence (or not) of Augusta in Toronto. Back-to-back trips also furnish me with so many opportunities for pleasure, not the least of which was yesterday’s exploration of Boston. I had a half-pint at a pub which opened in 1765; I photographed architecture; I coveted, but did not buy, a number of wonderful pairs of boots. And early in the morning I ran, up the mall on Commonwealth Ave, through the Public Gardens, and around the Common. When I am in doubt about the quality or direction of my craft, I must remind myself of this: half of my writing is done with my feet. […]

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