<$BlogRSDURL$> Spontaneous Things: Karina Sumner-Smith's Blog
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Wow, and Yay, and OMG

1. Woo, go SpaceShipOne! Go streaming webcast that actually works! Go me in an almost-empty office!

Though I have to admit, the webcaster nearly gave me a heart attack by saying "Oh no, oh no," when SpaceShipOne started to roll at high altitudes. M'ris and I have discussed this a few times, and I have rambled about it here on at least one occasion: the Challenger explosion was a defining moment for me and for many people of anywhere near my age. One cannot be a space geek of this generation and not be affected by the words "oh no" when uttered during a launch of a spacecraft.

But it was good, everything is and was okay, and he landed safely. Least productive morning for me in a long time, I admit, but I'm now feeling happy and more than willing to work, so it all works out okay in the end.

2. Summoned to Destiny is coming out. Copies have already been sold at one of Julie's signings in Vancouver--better yet, they totally sold out! I've seen pictures of a display of the books (the ones that later sold out), and a picture of someone holding a bag that contains a copy of the book that s/he had bought, but no actual books. Soon, soon.

The news that came in just as the book was going to the printer was that Summoned is no longer a hardcover. This made me sad, I admit--I was so excited about that aspect. But it's a lovely trade paperback now, with a less complicated release schedule, and is still absolutely gorgeous--or so I understand. Contributor's copies, where are you?

3. I'm going to World Fantasy Con at the end of October. How on earth did this happen?

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 1:32 PM (0) comments

Thursday, September 23, 2004
Story Corps

I love this idea. People go into a booth and interview a friend or relative or other loved one for 50 minutes and get a recorded CD at the end of it. Then little snippets of these conversations are put online.

They're just little stories, snippets of stories, slices of lives with all the fumbling speech left in. Yet I find them fascinating and beautiful and somehow deeply compelling. I wish I could be more articulate than this, right now, but the only thing I keep hearing is that line that starts Anthony D'Andrea's story to his daughters ("I was born on August the 24th, 1930, and my mother said that the churchbells were ringing.") and the sound of Phyllis Johnson's voice as she tells of the dying woman she held in her arms on the night she made her first arrest.

Just listen.

(Update: Apologies for my terrible blogging etiquette. I found this link on Helen Barrett's ePortfolio blog ... which is why I stumbled across it at work.)

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 1:35 PM (0) comments

Rolling Along Like a Wheel in a Groove

I survived Frosh Week. I survived the first week of school. And though the campus is still hectic and overcrowded, and though my bus is now full each morning when over half of the seats used to be empty, and though it will be this way until April—even when students become apathetic and begin skipping classes—I will continue to survive.

It is strange, though, to be here, at York, surrounded by students and yet knowing that I’m no longer a student myself. If I take off my security badge (usually hung around my neck on a bright red York lanyard), I just appear to be a student wandering around in slightly more formal clothes than the rest of the student population.

I still go to the same stores, buy most of my lunches at Treats (aka “the muffin store”), take the same bus to campus. If I need to go anywhere but where my office is, I take the same twisting route that heads through buildings and across lawns and all the rest—routes that became so familiar over the course of four years that I no longer need to think about them.

My position feels very strange to me right now. What I’m doing has become interesting, and I’m involved in at least one project that could have a very major impact on the entire York community—students, faculty and staff alike. And, should I have the opportunity, I will stay here a while longer. Yet there is still that part of me that keeps yelling, “Get out, get away while you still can!!” I say that I often become stuck, doing the same things, going to the same places, not because they’re best or even right, but because they are familiar and comforting in their familiarity. (Even annoyances become comforting in their own way. Even frustration and anger.)

And because I am becoming so comfortable here, in this office, working these hours with this routine, I wonder if I’ve already stayed too long; if I have, perhaps, missed my opportunity for escape, or closure. If I get to keep my job—my changed, unionized job—I will have a nice salary, and benefits, and will begin to earn seniority. I know that as a writer, should I ever be able to support myself on only writing, I am likely looking at living a very frugal, somewhat stressful lifestyle, never quite knowing what my income is going to be or when it will arrive. It is so tempting to grab and hold on to security—any security—while I have the opportunity.

I tell myself, if I stay here and work this job, I can begin to save money and soon I’ll be able to put into action all those plans: I could go live at my cottage for months and do nothing but write; I could travel around, visiting friends and seeing more of the world than my comfortable corner of Southern Ontario. And yet I can’t help but wonder if this is true or just another thing I’m telling myself to make everything seem okay in this moment. If in reality I will find myself still here in a year, in two years, in three, working another YUSA union job here at York, living in my same apartment, managing to write a few stories every year, and telling myself that one day, soon, soon, things will be different.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 10:00 AM (2) comments

Monday, September 20, 2004
My New Favourite Sentence

As I was flipping through the books section of the Globe and Mail's Sunday edition, I noticed that they had a review of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell. Now the publicity folks have really been doing their job well for this one, because in the last little while I have seen quite a few mentions of this book, often with notable enthusiasm. And as the book itself does sound interesting, I was planning on reading a copy from the library at the very least. So when I saw this particular book review--which happens to be by Kenneth Oppel, of YA novel Silverwing fame--I grabbed it and brought it back home with me to read at my leisure.

I then spent a very long time laughing, because the first sentence of this book review is this:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in want of a good fortune should write a book about magic.

Listen up, ladies--we've hit the jackpot here! If you feel like someone in need of a little money, your course of action is clear: merely write a book about magic, and lo!, a fortune shall drop into your lap. Skeptical? No need! This is a truth universally acknowledged! None can deny the truth of this statement--after all, one need merely look at the statistics. J.K. Rowling became rich by writing "a book about magic" and another woman might very well do the same thing. That would be two women. Proof undeniable!

I mean, who ever heard of a fantasy author with a day job? And a female fantasy author? Guaranteed a fortune.

So after I laughed about that for a while, I went on to read the second sentence of this review. It says:

With the world of children's literature lucratively crowded with young magicians, faeries, dragons and djinn, it was only a matter of time before the adult equivalent was conjured up.

First, we must give the man points for his clever wording. Did you catch it? He said "conjured up"--like a spell! When referring to a book about magic! Gold star, truly top-notch.

Second, can someone please give this man a prize? For he has stumbled across an absolutely astounding idea: what if someone wrote a book about magic ... for adults? Like it would be some kind of ... oh, I don't know, genre or something. Ponder, if you will, what it would be like to read an adult book that has a dragon in it. No, seriously! A dragon! Or perhaps some sort of magician or witch. The mind boggles.

I am going to cut this book review out and post it somewhere for inspiration, for as a female in want of a good fortune, I might want to try writing one of these crazy books about magic. You know, on a whim, since they're creating a whole new genre and all.

(And please note how all through this entry I totally resisted the temptation to recommend that Kenneth Oppel stick to writing about bats.)

(Update: And yes, I know the first line is supposed to be a play on Pride and Prejudice, really I do. I'll respond here as I have in email: cleverness does not--or should not--outweigh sense. Quote what you like, but remember that your resulting sentence should still be applicable, should preferably not appear ridiculous, and should not make 20-something girls nearly suffocate from derisive laughter.)

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 9:10 PM (0) comments

Saturday, September 18, 2004
There is something quite lovely about waking up in the morning and eating one's breakfast and then writing until noon. No matter what else happens during the day, you feel productive. And so I can eat snacks and read on the deck and answer some email and watch an episode of Farscape, all the while patting myself on the back because today I wrote 2000 words. Everything else is just a bonus.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 3:38 PM (0) comments

A Squirrel's Tail

As I was walking home the other day, I came across a squirrel's tail lying in the middle of the road. Not the whole tail, just the last few inches of it. It appeared to be severed neatly--no blood, no mess--and lay there very simply, black squirrel fur moving slightly in the breeze, and no squirrel tail-amputee anywhere in sight.

I was somwhat disturbed.

I couldn't help but wonder what had done that, had sliced off most of a squirrel's tail so very nicely and left no squirrel or other evidence to tell the rest of the tale. I remember that I'd learned--whether I was told this or read it somewhere or made it up entirely, I don't quite know--that a squirrel will shake its tail when its body is quite still to attract any predators to the tail rather than the juicy squirrel-meat of its body. And if one is a squirrel, or any other tailed animal, losing one's tail seems quite preferable to losing one's life. Lizards seem to quite agree.

And yet I tried to imagine it: some sort of predatory bird, perhaps, swooping down and missing that lovely meal of a squirrel and catching only the tail in its sharp talons. How exactly, I wondered, could a bird's talon sever a tail? There must be a way, certainly, but I couldn't quite envision the mechanics of it. Of course, it might have been a cat, not a bird, that had left this little bristle-brush treat in the street for me to discover; but again, I couldn't quite imagine how that tail would have come off so very cleanly. I pondered this for quite some time. This, too, was a somewhat disturbing train of thought in its own way.

And then it occurred to me: I was only disturbed because I understood it to be a squirrel's tail. Because I saw that it was a squirrel's tail, and believe that squirrel's tails should be on squirrels rather than on streets. However, it could have been something quite different; a strange bit of decorative grass spraypainted black, for example, or an offcut from a fur coat, fake or otherwise. And these things would not have been worth my notice, and certainly not worth mentioning.

By this time I was home, and in the process of unlocking the door and taking off my shoes and my jacket, I quite forgot about the squirrel's tail or the thing that might look unnervingly like a squirrel's tail, and didn't think about it again until just now. Perhaps that was a good thing.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 3:22 PM (1) comments

Monday, September 13, 2004
While I remember...

Got my contributor's copies of NFG Issue #5 last week, which includes my poem "She Tried to Teach Me Poetry." Yet it seems that someone at the magazine believes that the "she" of the title very much failed in her attempts to teach me poetry (something that I would, I admit, rather agree to) because despite the fact that it's a piece that was written, submitted, accepted and paid as a poem, it has been categorized as an "NFG String," a short and somewhat random thing. In other words, they didn't know what else to call it. I find this rather amusing, seeing as the point of the entire thing was about my revelation that people tried to overcategorize and limit anything and everything we wrote, so that we talked about rhyming patterns and syllables but never about words.

Also: if there is ever anything strange and somewhat random that I'd like written on a shirt, it's the last line of that poem. Or string. Or piece. Or whatever you'd like to call it.

All day yesterday I cleaned, and reorganized. I built shelves. (Somehow, despite the fact that I hadn't used it since its last charging not so very long ago, my drill's battery was dead. Isn't that always the way?) I put books on shelves, and moved books, and sorted books, and generally felt happy about the books. I threw away stuff that I should have thrown away literally a year ago. My space isn't perfect yet--and I doubt that it will ever be--but suddenly I feel that I can handle things again. That's important.

And as of this morning, my job has been posted. If you live in or around Toronto and particularly wanted to work at a University Career Centre, then perhaps you could fight me for my job. But I warn you: you'd need to know a lot about ePortfolios. And unless you have about six weeks in which to do nothing but read all ePortfolio-related documentation, I'm betting I have you beat on that score.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 8:07 PM (2) comments

Saturday, September 11, 2004
I've finished a new story. "The Ghosts of Water" clocks in at about 6,000 words. (It was about 6,150 or so when I "finished" the first draft--but I've been happily slicing.) It has been too long since I finished something. But I am happy to have this written, beginning, end and all the lovely bits in the middle, even if its not perfect and will never be.

Some of the funny things--or, rather, the things that amused me while I was writing--have to go. Some have already been cut (including the reference to Pigs in Space--one can only make so many Muppet references), while the fate of others (like the weird reference to pie) have yet to be decided. The line about the dumpling, though, is staying. I tell myself that I'm trying to even out the tone of the whole story, so that it doesn't go from rather light and slightly surreal to rather dark and science fictional in such a bizarre and shocking way. Really, though, I know that these things are only funny to me.

One rejection this week: a brief but personal note from Ellen Datlow. I continue to continue.

"Ohntai" is back on the chopping block, as promised, and the three scenes become one plan, while nice, is not working quite as planned. Two scenes will go together nicely, and have, but the third ... no go. And it occurred to me: I don't have to keep writing these same events in different ways and being frustrated that they don't work. I could have something else happen. Really, there's nothing to stop me. (Though I've reached a point that I just want to say to this thing, "Just be good and leave me alone already!")

But, instead of bashing my head against this particular piece of fiction any longer, it's time to shift to "Safe Passage" or whatever its going to be called. The bagpipe story, how about that?

It's interesting, figuring out how to arrange my life and my schedule so that I can get some writing done every week without suffering from a serious loss of sleep or sanity or other important things. It's meant that almost all the things that I used to tell myself about the conditions I need for writing have gone out the window. I used to need to be alone, totally alone, in silence. I needed large stretches of time--and hour, at least, preferably more, so that I could just lose myself and go. I needed to write at night, or at least in the late evening. From midnight to about 2 AM used to be a great time to write.

Now, I write when I can, even if it's just for five or ten or twenty minutes. I don't get many words that way, but they add up. I still like silence and solitude, but I'm getting used to the presence of others in the same building (though not the same room!) and can block out a fair amount of TV noise, chatter, music, etc. And night? Forget it. After work, sure, and before or after dinner, but I'm rarely even awake at any time that can be called night anymore.

It's one thing to know that you'll need a day job, that you'll need to fight to make this work, that it won't be easy and all the rest. It's another thing to truly realize that this is your life and your chance to do what you can. Or, rather--my life and my chance. I'm not going to win the lottery (especially as I don't play the lottery) and no one's just going to hand me a book contract and an advance and tell me to go quit my job and write. I have to earn that. Bit by bit by bit...

Speaking of job, mine continues. The position is being unionized and made official, but has to be publically posted. So as of Monday, I am officially competing for the job that I currently hold. As its my job, I'm quite sure that I'm a capable candidate. I'm just not sure who else is going to apply...

Anyway, I'm going to an SF party tonight, and taking a walk to the library now in the sunshine and warmth, and that's that.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 2:12 PM (0) comments

Friday, September 03, 2004
I'm one of the few people who's not at Worldcon--not that you can tell from my lack of updates.

Recently, the time that I'm actually home and at my computer I've been choosing to write fiction instead of blog. Though I hate leaving the site so static, I know that in the long run I'll be far happier to have completed stories than an updated website. Over the last week or so I've written more words on "The Ghosts of Water" (which I'm coming to truly, truly love the way I love few stories), a small handful more on the novel, and the start of a story I'm calling "Safe Passage." I also figured out how to fix "Ohntai" (whenever it comes home to me): one opening scene instead of three. Cut the boring stuff as it is, by defnition, boring. It sounds obvious now, sure, but this realization came like a light from the heavens.

In other news:
- mice discovered the hole into the cupboard and, as a consequence, ate all the cereal.
- work has been entertaining, if somewhat hectic. I do worry, though, about sharing my space with some of the 14 (!!) incoming work/study students. The next few weeks will be interesting, I'm betting.
- something ugly happened to my apartment which I cannot share as it's unique enough to allow crazy stalkers, should they ever appear, to find me.
- I've been eating too many apple fritters.

Off to the cottage for the long weekend (oh blessed three-day weekend) and then my nice two-day vacation. I am going to sleep and sleep and sleep, and perhaps play with kittens, until I feel like myself again.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 2:58 PM (0) comments

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