November Song

This is a short story I wrote for Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass: The Art of Storytelling. I liked it a lot, so I wanted to share it here! This is my first short story I’ve posted here, so I hope you like it.

Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Pexels.com

It was the First of November—the night of the burning—and Nan knew that something was different. A brisk wind blew the shriveled leaves, still clinging to the branches, making them shiver. No clouds hung in the sky, which meant no rain would spoil the fun. But Nan felt impending doom. 

Nan stood in the village square with Chase like they did every year. They were both dressed in white and not talking. Not many people were. 

No matter how long this tradition continued, there was always an uncomfortable feeling that accompanied the familiarity. Who knew what would happen the night of the burning? 

The bonfire would be lit at sundown and burn all night. The village square was already full of people. Pumpkins from the night before sat on porch steps and in windows. Branches of red and yellow leaves adorned the doors. 

Nan and Chase watched the sunset, in a display of pink, orange, and purple, and the officials—also dressed in white—lit the bonfire. In moments, the flame was above both their heads. Soon night cloaked the village, but the square glowed brightly. 

In the light of the inferno, the crowd quieted. The sound of drumming grew out of the crackling of the burning wood, like the heartbeat of the village. A deep thrumming Nan felt in her bones. 

Nan wanted to smile but didn’t. The calendar had turned. It was time for a release. 

She snuck a glance at Chase and found him looking back at her. She looked away, willing the redness to stay away from her cheeks. 

The village elders went first, as per tradition. Their voices rang out above the drumming, a traditional November song. As seasoned participants, they were full of all the wisdom and maturity of being an “elder.” The flame flickered as their bits of paper were tossed into the fire. Once they were done, the flame was open to all. 

As people were ready, they stepped forward and threw their own items into the fire. Sometimes it was a cardboard box, sometimes a shoe, sometimes a paper crane. 

Nan caught Chase looking at her again. He gave her one of his half-smiles. His eyes were sad, though. He always got sad on burn day. Nan did too, but she was better at hiding it. She was better at hiding everything, even from herself. But Nan could see something hidden behind Chase’s sadness. Things were changing, despite Nan’s best efforts. 

The past year, Nan and Chase had both turned fourteen. As if by magic, their lives changed overnight. Chase started spending more time alone; they didn’t share all their secrets anymore. There were some lines that had been drawn and couldn’t be crossed. 

Chase stepped into the flickering orange glow. He placed his hand on his chest and joined in the singing. His voice blended with the others’, but Nan could make it out. He sounded so sad. 

He didn’t stop walking. He didn’t toss an object into the fire. Singing, he disappeared into the flames, his back figure quickly consumed by the heat. 

Nan screamed. She reached forward as if she could still reach him. 

At the edge of the fire, where Chase had just been, there was a carved wooden heart. Nan’s own real beating heart broke. Whatever someone produced for the fire was a symbol. A regret. A negative “what if” from the year past. She knew everything had changed, but she couldn’t have imagined this. A friendship full of childhood innocence disappeared like smoke into the starry sky. 

Nan pressed her hand to her heart. A heart that was just starting to learn about life’s complications. In her hand, an object started to form. A carved wooden heart—the matching companion to Chase’s. Through her tears, she hurled the heart into the pyre of regret. 

Book Review: The Changeling

To believe in only the practical, the rational, the realistic was a kind of glamour as well. But he couldn’t enjoy the illusion of order anymore. Monsters aren’t real until you meet one.

When Apollo Kagwa’s father disappeared, he left his son a box of books and strange recurring dreams. Now Apollo is a father himself–and as he and his wife, Emma, settle into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Apollo’s hold dreams return and Emma begins acting odd. At first Emma seems to be exhibiting signs of post-partum depression. But before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act and vanishes. Thus Apollo’s quest to find a wish and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His odyssey takes him to a forgotten island, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever.

Goodreads | Amazon | Chapters

I never would’ve known this book existed if not for Maggie Stiefvater posting on social media about this book. When I saw there was a section of the book titled: “shit, damn, motherfucker” I knew this was a book I’d want to read.

I was gifted the book by my parents for Jolabokaflod (aka the Christmas book flood) on December 24th. If you weren’t aware, Jolabokaflod is an Icelandic tradition of gifting books on Christmas Eve to read that day. My family started doing this last year and it’s such a wonderful thing to do.

ANYWAY, onto The Changeling…

Victor LaValle’s novel opens much like a fairy tale, even going so far as saying, “This Fairy Tale begins in 1968…” as the opening line. That sets the tone for the rest of the novel as this winding adventure through magic and mystery.

I was lulled into a false sense of security in the first part of the book when Apollo works as an independent bookseller and falls in love with Emma. But, in a fairy tale, nothing stays happy for long. Slowly the creepiness often found in fairy tales starts seeping into the story, in the form of nightmares.

I find often with books that relate to fairy tales, the magic it sometimes front and centre. But LaValle keeps the magical elements on the fringes of our vision until we’re in too deep to escape. And I LOVE it! The mystery and anticipation created wonderful tension as we marched toward the finale.

I won’t say anything more, because I wholeheartedly believe that everyone should read this book.

The characters were likeable and unlikeable in the most wonderful ways. Everyone feels amazingly real and flawed in relatable ways. *Vague Spoilers* The cast is full of mothers who’ve had to fight for themselves and for their children and I’m here for it!

This was a book full of secrets. Each character holds a secret that needs to be revealed and realized, and the world itself holds deep secrets for the privileged few to know. I feel like even the book itself is a wonderful secret.

The real-life horrors are just as scary (if not scarier than) as the mythological horrors. But everything is woven into a wonderful tapestry of creepy fairy tale goodness. As the layers of the story and its characters are revealed, I felt like there was so much left to explore even when the book ended. It’s definitely worth a reread.

I highly recommend this novel, especially if you like books based on/inspired by fairy tales.

2018: A Year.

2018 has been a year. January feels as if it was 5 years ago, and I swear it was October yesterday. But here we are, in the last days of 2018 and I have feelings.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the things one wanted to do in the space of 12 months, but it’s important to instead focus on one’s accomplishments (big or small). This year, instead of looking back and seeing all the things I didn’t do (*cough* meditate, eat better, finish novel *cough*), I’m going to focus on the positives.

This blog post is in three parts: accomplishments, favourite things, and goals.

Accomplishments

While I may not have FINISHED my manuscript, I did get it to its final draft. 11/29 chapters are fully edited and I’m happy with them. I’ve still got a little ways to go before it’s completely done, but I think I can safely say that I can/will start querying agents in 2019!

In 2018, I wanted to get more involved in the online writing community. I was more active in my online writing groups and I was better at maintaining my social media presence (aka actually posting on a regular basis). I also learned about twitter’s writing community and I’m more active in the weekly hashtag thingies.

One thing I feel especially proud of is investing in myself by starting a real, professional-looking blog. This one! I’ve been posting semi-regularly with content I’m passionate about, like the book reviews and blog posts about my writing journey. It feels more coherent and better put-together than my old blog.

Something that’s not quite so writing related, but I’m still proud of is that I read 36 books in 2018. That’s the most I’ve read in one year I think maybe ever. If you want to see what books I’ve read, you can find them here.

Favourite Things

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post of my favourite books that I’d read up to that point. It’s time to look back and actually pick a favourite… I’m so bad at picking just one favourite anything…

Book:

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

I read Practical Magic before this one because I LOVE the movie version, but I found that I enjoyed reading The Rules of Magic a lot. A LOT.

A very close second (because I can’t resist including more than one) is The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden.

Movie:

Annihilation

There were a lot of really good movies out this year and with amazing diversity, which I am HERE FOR! But, according to the horrible rule I gave myself, I had to pick one. And I’m a sucker for Natalie Portman. Annihilation also happens to be based on a book, which I read after watching the movie. All I can say is… wow.

Honourable mention goes to Black Panther (obviously), Ocean’s 8, and Christopher Robin… and A Wrinkle in Time.

I’m very bad at picking one.

Food:

SOUP!

Photo by Ceyhun Özden on Pexels.com

This year I discovered the amazing power of eating soup. As a child, I didn’t really like soup, but this year my love for soup has gone up exponentially.

My favourite soup is a potato, bacon, and cheese soup. It’s basically a baked potato in soup form. A close second is the butternut squash soup from the Magnolia Table cookbook.

Honourable mention for “food” goes to the Lobster Tacos from Made in Mexico in Newmarket… SO GOOD!

Can you tell I’m not good at this?

Show:

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

This show technically isn’t from 2018, but I discovered it this year. I’m sad I didn’t check it out sooner! This show just tickles me in the best possible way. The first two seasons are on Netflix, so definitely check it out if you like Dr. Who but on Earth with Elijah Wood.

Honourable mention goes to The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Schitt’s Creek, Queer Eye, and Outlander.

These were a few of my favourite things!

Goals

Despite New Year’s resolutions being a bit over-rated, I can’t help but think about the things I would like to do in 2019.

  1. I’d like to finish my manuscript FINALLY and start querying it (does that count as two goals?)
  2. Write more book reviews. I only did three this year, so it won’t be hard to beat.
  3. Read more books! Maybe aim for 37?
  4. Continue research for viking novel! (At least it won’t be hard since I’m already doing it)
  5. Start research for fun blog project (it’ll be a surprise so look forward to it)!
  6. Focus on the positive!

If you have any goals, I’d love to hear them! Leave a comment and spread the love! Best wishes for 2019!

Magic in the Air: A Seasonal Shift

I don’t know about you, but this time of year is my absolute favourite. It starts at the end of August and goes until the end of October. The magic in the air is so thick, you could cut it with a knife. It’s no wonder the celts and ancient pagans thought this was the time when the barrier between the spirit world and the living was thin.

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Every October I get the urge to write something magical. Last year I started a novel about wizards going to UofT and fighting a magic eating monster (Harry Potter for 20-somethings). In the past, I’ve also written stories about zombies and other spooky subject matter.

I doubt these urges will ever go away. This year, the story is an elderly witch who has to fight off an evil spirit who’s bringing back the dead.

It does make it hard to concentrate on the novel I’m supposed to be finishing in order to maybe publish it someday. Ahh well. Plenty of time for that in the sad, brown, cold, dreary days of November.

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I like to explore magic not only in writing but also visually, through photography and painting. A couple weeks ago, I went on vacation up to Algonquin Park. While the fall colours weren’t at peak (thank goodness because there would’ve been so many tourists), there was still enough autumnal magic to fill my heart.

There were plenty of subjects to photograph and I even did a little drawing of a mushroom.

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There were so many mushrooms everywhere, each time we went on a hike. I LOVE mushrooms. They’re so interesting and fun.

I was also able to do some stargazing, which is one of my favourite things to do up north. I love being able to see the milky way, something about it makes me feel so small. Though most of the nights were cloudy and the moon was getting quite full, so stargazing wasn’t really possible. BUT I was able to take a picture of some stars and after a teeny tiny bit of editing, I think it turned out pretty good (for my first try).

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Fun fact: We were up there during the equinox and we danced around a bonfire… okay, we huddled around a very sad little fire.

Anyway, this blog post started off so eloquent and on-topic. But let’s not kid ourselves, this was just a way for me to show off my awesome pictures. I hope you enjoyed them!

Have a wonderfully magical autumn!🍂

3 Things that Inspired my WIP

For the last ~6 years, I’ve been working on a novel (sometimes more actively than other times), and I’ve lost track of how many drafts it’s gone through. But, this book wasn’t born in a vacuum, and I’ve been inspired by quite a few different media.

Here are the top 3 things that inspired my novel.

Spirited Away (Film by Studio Ghibli)

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Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro Ogino, a sullen 10-year-old girl who, while moving to a new neighborhood, enters the spirit world. After her parents are transformed into pigs by the witch Yubaba, Chihiro takes a job working in Yubaba’s bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world.

I’ve been a lover of Studio Ghibli movies since I was a child. Spirited Away is my absolute favourite and the first inspiration for my novel. If you read my most recent draft, you can pinpoint a few key elements that have made it through all the drafts that are directly drawn from this movie.
If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it.

 

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

by Emily Croy Barker

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Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman.  During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty.  Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.
Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.

As I was working on the very rough first draft of my WIP, I discovered this book at my local bookstore. When I read the back cover, I knew I had to read this. It was the portal fantasy I had to read! It was just similar enough to my own work that it gave me a sprinkle of inspiration, especially how to handle the going through and coming from the portal.

 

Pstereo by Emilie Nicolas (music video)

I can’t even remember when I discovered this song. But when I saw the music video, the imagery just spoke to me. I’d already had this idea for my WIP, but this helped me visualize it and gave me some much-needed inspiration. And it’s a great song to boot.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, and these are not the only things that have influenced my work, but they are the most impactful.

 

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Escapism

I try to maintain a healthy dose of daydreaming to remain sane.

– Florence Welch

I am an escape artist.

Not in the traditional, Harry Houdini sort of way. I cannot escape from a straightjacket while being held upside down in a tank of water. But I do escape. My straightjacket is reality.

Escapism is the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.

My reality has never been overly unpleasant but it is just a regular plain-old life. I used to go to school, do homework, sleep, eat. Now I go to work, write my book, sleep, eat. The repetitiveness is a bit much for me sometimes.

I don’t remember the exact moment when I discovered Harry Potter (maybe in the first grade?), but since I read the first book, I wanted to run away to Hogwarts and be a witch. The world of Harry Potter was my first conscious dip into the world of escape-through-fiction. My own world was suddenly a bit more ordinary because there was no magic.

Since then there have been many books that have acted as a portal out of my reality; included but not limited to Twilight, anything by Maggie StiefvaterThe Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, and Anne of Green Gables. These books help(ed) me have faith that there is more to the world than meets the eye.

Reading is my escape.

Escapism isn’t always about books. I’ve been an avid daydreamer since… ever. The Oxford English Dictionary (online) defines a daydream as, “A series of pleasant thoughts that distract one’s attention from the present.”

From ballerinas to lost princesses, to orphans (thanks Anne Shirley and Annie), to lottery winners, my inner world is full of interesting characters and adventures. As a child, I could play make-believe forever. As an adult, my daydreams often revolve around being an author, paid enough to quit my job, able to buy a quaint cottage by the sea to live in with my cats.

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So cute!

In high school, my internal worlds started becoming external through my writing. It’s no longer me going on adventures but the characters I create. Worlds I didn’t know were rattling around in my head started coming out onto the page. It’s been fun to explore worlds someone else didn’t already create.

Writing is now my escape.

Between reading and writing, the monotony of life doesn’t feel so… monotonous.

 

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