<$BlogRSDURL$> Spontaneous Things: Karina Sumner-Smith's Blog
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Happy Thoughts

I'm in a pretty down mood today, thanks to continued sickness of various kinds and tiredness. I stayed home and felt yucky and irritable. And Toronto Hydro overcharged me by $300, an amount I don't have to spare. Plus, the neighbours cut down just about every tree and bush on their property, meaning that all the lovely foliage and branches that were giving shade to the deck and shielding the apartment windows from the view of everyone who walks by are gone, gone, gone. Every time I look out the window now, I see a brick wall. Not pleased.

So, to follow Mrissa's example, things that I am happy for today:

- Finding the can opener. It was where it was supposed to be ... sort of. This means that I can stop using a hammer and screw to open all my canned goods. (A technique that doesn't work particularly well, I discovered.)

- Having a three hour nap this afternoon. If it didn't make me feel less irritable, at least I no longer am at risk of falling asleep in public places. Or at work.

- The fact that the weather is actually supposed to be warm tomorrow. This means I can have lunch outside! Also, I can wear something that looks nice, including my sparkly flip-flops, and not freeze to death.

- I don't have to make dinner this evening. Whew.

- Olympic goodness. Women's track cycling gold, men's 3m springboard silver. Somewhat surprisingly, these track cycling races proved to be quite interesting--moment of stress/excitement that remind me of the goodness that is short track speedskating. I've also apparently watched enough diving coverage to know when a dive is good, sort of good or bad--even before the commentator can tell me that it's a miss (or, her new favourite "a bit of a miss.") Also, Brian Williams continues to be amusing.

- I am going to take some days of vacation, soon, soon, soon. A reason to look forward to September!

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 6:38 PM (0) comments

Monday, August 23, 2004
Not so very long ago, I switched gears from the novel (I don't think I should have typed that--scary!) and went back to short stories. Not because I have/had any problems with the novel--in fact, quite the opposite. But I was aware that it was about to eat my brain, and know that I have at least one short story that needs to be written in the next month or two, and I need my brain for that.

But instead of going to the story that needs my attention, I went back to "The Ghosts of Water."

What a weird story this is. And keep in mind who's saying this.

Back at Toronto Trek, Julie Czerneda read a short story called "Peel," which will be coming out soon in an anthology called In the Shadow of Evil. Now I love Julie's work, and have ever since I bought her first novel on a whim during one of my huge book-buying sprees at the World's Biggest Bookstore. In fact, her latest book, Survival, is one of the few books that I've read that had the power to make me cry. So you know that it's saying something when I say that I really enjoyed this story.

Clever, stylish, in present tense, creepy--it's a lovely little thing. And it gave me the twist I needed to make "The Ghosts of Water" work.

I said before that this needed emotional depth. Okay, figured that out. It's still moody as it can be, yet now it's also science fiction instead of just a creepy psuedo-ghost story, and it's ... well ... funny. At least I think it's funny. Don't get me wrong, I'm not writing a comedy, but certain lines just amuse the hell out of me. I realize that I am one of a very select group of people who will find this even vaguely amusing, but still ... man, what fun! It may be a disasterous mess when I'm done, but it's making me laugh out loud and giggle and snicker to myself, and right now that's enough.

M'ris actually said (a very long while ago...), in response to my post on Jim Kelly's advice to write what scares you:

And I agree with Karina that you can find the greatest reward in the things that scare you, and further that you can't find the greatest truths if you're scared off them.

The thing is, it seems incomplete to me. It seems to only bring about a certain kind of writing for each writer. I think, "Write what you love" is at least as valid. Or, "Write what makes you passionate." Or, for God's sake, "Write what's fun." "Write what makes you bounce and chuckle with its deliciousness."

I find myself agreeing.

We were also talking recently about some authors who had written wonderful, powerful books in the past whose recent books are dull and lifeless and make me feel like I've wasted my money if I buy a trade paperback. Like, for example, Charles de Lint. Memory and Dream is quite simply one of the best books I've ever read, and yet some of his recent stuff...? No, thank you. I have actually stopped buying his books (despite their lovely John Jude Palencar covers), waiting to hear from someone I trust that this one will be worth it.

What seems to be lacking is not the technical quality of the writing, not the prose or the structure, but the story. It seems that some of these books are all words and no story--no passion, no heart, no fire. I've read books where the author's newness to the craft has shown through, books that never quite sang (or even held an unwavering note), and yet they were still books that sucked me in and made me care and want to keep reading. They were books that you could tell that the author cared very deeply about as s/he was writing.

So maybe it's not fear that authors should steer towards, nor fun, nor any one emotion in particular, but rather find the story that they need to tell that truly resonates. A story that creates some powerful emotional response, be it joy or digust or excitement or laughter or whatever else you please. So long as it has something.

Which is, I think, the true heart of so much writing advice (at least when looked at from a certain perspective). People are always saying, "Write what you know." I've come to understand that not as "write about a rather introspective, rather self-conscious, rather silly 20-something girl studying/working at a University in Toronto" but rather as find what you know and love in any story. Write from what you love. There are so many experiences that our characters can have that we never can--and this is especially true for those of us who write in the speculative genres--and yet I think that one's own life can't help but influence the emotional depth of one's own stories, at least if one's being honest with the characters and the story and the whole crazy, confusing writing process.

Enough rambling for one evening, I think.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 7:03 PM (0) comments

Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Synchronized Illness

This weekend I mentioned to Carly that my throat was being a little bit weird. It hurt, but only when I spoke. "Well," I said, "if there's a time to be sick it's now, so then I can stay home and watch the Olympics."

Huh. Interesting planning.

Because, see, it seems like my Psychic Illness Barrier has fallen (or at least become somewhat permeable) because just as M'ris is getting better, I'm falling ill. I'm not terrible right now; I'm rather functional, in fact. And yet I'm feeling bad enough that much of my internal monologue deals with how much I'd like to go home right now. Which I would if I could, but I have a Big, Important Meeting on Thursday for which I must prepare materials, the precise nature of which are not quite known, so rushing home to collapse on the couch with a pillow and a cup of tea and the Olympics is sadly not a plan I can enact at the moment.

To make matters more interesting, the throat is only getting worse, and it's the kind of sore throat that does bad things when I talk, like something in my throat is ripping or breaking with much pain. In an attempt to save my voice and prevent any more of the pain, I've been talking rather quietly today. Yet despite the fact that I don't look good today, at all, and am whispering, people just think I'm being odd. I've had to explain, no, I'm not trying to be irritating, I really just can't talk any louder. Funny how "Ah, Karina's being weird again" is what people think rather than "I wonder if she's okay."

Also: synchronized diving. Who thought of this sport? It's just a made-up event, really. Which isn't to say that I don't enjoy it--it's surprisingly fun to watch people flipping about like that at the same time--but it does seem kind of unnecessary. Either that, or we should just create a whole lot more synchronized sports. Synchronized gymnastics seems the obvious choice. Synchronized floor exercises for sure, and maybe some synchronized uneven bars. Or we could branch out a little more, get into something that doesn't involve flips. I don't see the point of something like synchronized pole vault, but admit it, it'd be kind of funny to watch.

And speaking of synchronized diving, I ended up watching some of the events on CBC and some of them on NBC for reasons I can't remember. Now the CBC's diving commentator woman is slightly irritating because she's very critical. Course, she seems to know what she's talking about, but man, sometimes she comes down on the divers harder than the judges. The NBC commentator woman, on the other hand, was stretching as hard as she could to try and find anything positive to say, especially when the American pair botched a dive. "Well, you can see how at the beginning they were right in time, getting good height, turning into a great pike position--"

For a moment I channelled the CBC commentator: "That was a miss."

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 1:34 PM (6) comments

Sunday, August 15, 2004
Unearthing Swansea History

I was just checking the Toronto Star webpage when I stumbled across this article.

A human skull has been found buried in the ground outside what is currently my local library. It's about 50 years old--around the same age as the building that's being renovated--and, from the gunshot hole above one of the eye sockets, this does not appear to be a case of someone accidentally being buried in the ground around the town hall.

I'm not even sure what to say.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 9:40 PM (0) comments

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Was watching men's swimming this morning, the finals for the 400 metre individual medley, and the USA's Michael Phelps was way, way ahead of everyone else in the pool. As the ending drew near, the announcers were really getting into the excitement of the moment, talking faster, more enthusiastically, marvelling at his incredible speed. And one of them declared:

"He's definitely going to win this one, unless something unbelievable falls from the sky--like a blimp!"

You can't make stuff like this up.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 12:40 PM (0) comments

Friday, August 13, 2004

Oh, how I love the Olympics! I have mentioned this time and time again, I know, but it's just so true. Though I won't be able to have my full daily TV coverage as I have in years and Olympics past, I know that CBC will now be on fairly constantly for the next few weeks. And this weekend I can watch hour after hour of random Olympic coverage and be content.

Ah, the familiar sound of Brian Williams' soothing ramble coming from the living room...

Also: I was able to pick up a copy of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror this evening on my (rather roundabout) way home from work--and it's true! "Drowned Men Can't Have Kids" and "She is Elizabeth Lynn Rhodea" are both listed. And I found my name in the fantasy summary, too, where they discuss Strange Horizons. And in both places, my name is spelled wrong! Better yet, it's spelled wrong in different ways. I am Karinna Sumner-Smith and Karina Summer-Smith (a longtime classic). I have to admit, this doesn't really bother me at all. I kind of think it's funny--I always said that I should figure out a pen name, as my real name would always be misspelled. And however they spell it, I'm there. That's so amazing to me. I feel ... proud. There's no other word for it.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 10:56 PM (2) comments


Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 1:43 PM (0) comments

Monday, August 09, 2004
This Just In

I have just received an unconfirmed report that I am listed in the Honorable Mentions section of the Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link and Gavin Grant Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthology. Twice.

That gasp you heard of total shock and surprise? That was me.

Okay, yes, so the Honorable Mentions list is large. Okay, fine: very large. But I'm there! Twice!

I don't know what stories are listed--truth be told, I'm not sure I even believe that it's true. I want to see with my very own two eyes. But if it is true...?


Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 10:24 PM (3) comments

Just got an email that promised I could "Make up to 00K!" Make up to zero thousand dollars? That's easy enough to do without any help, thanks. But it's the "up to" that's worrysome--or is this the first time that a spammer has admitted that they're going to take your money and the best you can hope for is to not be in debt?

Too bad it wasn't from Whiplash K. Radiator, or Lesion G. Dumpling, or someone similar. Those ones are my favourite.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 11:43 AM (0) comments

Pending Deletion

It looks as if I didn't update at all last week. This is only partially true. Every entry that I wrote I deleted shortly thereafter--or didn't upload until my common sense kicked in. Besides, I'm not sure how interesting people find my job, anyway. I'm not sure how interesting I find my job ... and that, I think, is part of the problem.

Lots of things have been going on here--lots of big, important projects, lots of meetings, lots of confidential information that I'm not supposed to talk about--and I've been feeling sort of ... meh. I can do this work, and better yet, I can do it well. And that I have a job that requires me to sit in a well-lit room with a lot of quiet and solitude, writing and researching various projects some days seems well-nigh miraculous. But ... employability skills? [content omitted for reasons of confidentiality]? Sigh. And to make matters worse, sometimes it seems that for all the deadlines and meetings, nothing actually happens. Going from concept to reality is so ... very ... slow ...

And as the days go on I just care less and less. This is not good. This is what usually happened to me at the end of a school term when my brain was just a week or two away from rebelling totally and shutting down.

Part of the problem, I think, is that I haven't had a real break in far too long. (I remind myself to not be such a whiner, as I'm not in a situation like Sarah, who has three jobs ... but still.) Christmas, to be exact. The weeks that I had between the end of classes and the beginning of work were still filled with final research papers and a long string of illnesses. I did not find lying around for a with a high fever relaxing, and though entertaining, research papers are still work. I have been trying to get every last bit of goodness out of each weekend, and long weekends seem like a gift, but Monday always arrives far too soon.

I'm also very aware that I have not been to my cottage at all this year, that I have been swimming only once (and that was in an indoor hotel pool), and that it is already August. There's no way that I can have any time off in the next two weeks, and probably not the week after that. But maybe the beginning of September...? Oh, how I hope.

Of course, I act as if I still have a job in September, and nothing is for sure. My contract ends at the end of August. I am told that they'd like to keep me longer, but at this point it's still only talk. The wisest thing to do, I think, is to be open and looking for a new job, new opportunities, and take things as they come. And stop blogging at work.

See? I should just delete this, too.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 10:25 AM (2) comments

Monday, August 02, 2004
Great Advice, But...

One of the best things that I took away from Clarion was Jim Kelly's advice, "Write what scares you." This little phrase has been like a touchstone for me to come back to whenever I start to shy away from a particularly difficult story, whenever I become afraid of trying something totally new. It's advice that I've passed on to friends, with great success. In the things that frighten you are the greatest risks, the greatest truths, the greatest reward.

Fantastic. But here's the thing: scary is hard. It is, by definition, scary.

And so I'm caught right now between boundless optimism and utter terror, wondering how on earth people do this. For every book on the bookstore shelves, I know that there are thousands more novels out there written and waiting to be (and likely never to be) published. People write books every day. Surely it gets easier than this.

But the truly scary thing is that I don't think it does get easier. This is it. Welcome to the world of writing novels.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 1:42 PM (0) comments

Sunday, August 01, 2004
Sunday Morning Structure Ramble

I discovered Michelle West/Michelle Sagara's livejournal this morning, and am having a fine time reading through her two+ months of entries. Reading Michelle's LJ is very much like listening to Michelle talk--which is a good thing. I almost feel as if I'm in Bakka.

There is a part in this entry (and its comments) in which she talks about the process of writing and revision. Michelle's process seems to be similar to mine in that if something is not working right its better to throw it out and do it again properly than do a massive revision. Though I have never thrown out 600 pages of text to do this, as Michelle says that she has, I have thrown away the draft of a novella that was about 90% completed when I realized that the tone was off. I tend to write and throw away more words of a short story than are ever in the story's final draft--and yet the final draft rarely requires massive revisions, simply because that time I was writing it I actually got it right.

Michelle also asks the question: Do people feel that the knowledge gained from the making of charts, graphs, and pointed observations about the work of other people become so much a part of your own writing process that it's useful?

My answer: yes and no. The examination and process of understanding why another writer's piece does or does not work is absolutely useful, even if the technique/structure/characterization/etc. is one that I will never use myself, for good or ill. Understanding is not a waste. Yet making charts and graphs? No, never. I've never even tried.

For those of you who are Meyers-Briggs conversant--as everyone is becoming in my office, out of necessity--the making of charts and graphs and huge outlines, et cetera, seems like a very "sensing" thing to do. Its focuses on the details and specifics above the generalities and overall feeling/concept of the thing. I am, apparently, an "intuiting" sort of person--and this is true in that while I'm all about precise details in my prose, my knowledge and process of creation is all about the overall feel and shape of the thing. (Which isn't to say that I don't outline before writing; I've always known the ending and much of the middle of any story I've told that's been worth telling. If I don't know where its going, then the story's not ready to write.)

I have a map of Rise and Wake, for exapmle (with an aching empty spot where I know Drift was), that is all wrong. I sketched it a year ago, and made Wake too small, and forgot the little lake in the centre of its landmass, and Rise is just off, with the town of Precipice in a claw instead of a bay and the town of Lee in the wrong place entirely. But I know that the map is wrong, and when I look at it I know what it would have too look like for it to be right, and so there's no driving need to change it.

This also touches on something that I first realized when reading The Speed of Dark. There is a lot of talk in that book about patterns and the shape of things. And in one of these descriptions--I don't know which, and I wish I did--it occurred to me that this was very much on par with how I experience story structure. As a shape and a pattern and a feeling, all of which truly have no words. For me, the process of critiquing my work or others' is a process of pulling back from the story until I can see it in its entirety. Or, as I tend to say, until I can "hold it in my hands."

This is the reason that I cannot talk at all coherently about a movie after I've watched it--at least, if its a movie that has any sort of substance and/or involved me in any intellectual or emotional way (other than boring me to numbness). I need to disentangle myself from the story and literally push it away until I can hold the whole thing in my hands. Until I can see its full shape. Until I can turn and twist it to see from different angles, to see what wobbles and what's weak and what sticks out strangely when it should be smooth.

(Sometimes the hardest part when writing a critique for someone else is figuring out quite how to articulate how and why something is wrong. I know that this bit is too long, or this bit rushes by too quickly, but somehow I doubt that the phrase "it wobbles" will much inspire anyone else to see from my point of view.)

Which, of course, also explains why a story that works well structurally--a story whose pacing and scene construction and the juxtaposition of character and event is all spot on--is so amazing. Like a perfect sculpture, it's beautiful.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 11:42 AM (0) comments

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