Comfort Reads for Troubled Times

Some days it feels like the world is really going downhill. Natural disasters (as I write this, Texas and India are still recovering from massive floods, large chunks of western North America are on fire, and another hurricane is gearing up to hit some vulnerable islands on the way to Florida), politics (’nuff said), bad days on a personal level…and if they all combine, watch out!

On days like this, one of the best cures is a comfort read. Simply defined: it’s a book you pick up because you know it will make you feel better. It’s by a favourite and trusted author. You’ve probably read it before (perhaps many times), or else you’ve been looking forward to reading it (maybe it’s a new installment in a series you love). Maybe you discovered it at an impressionable age and love it beyond all reason even though you know it’s not objectively the best book ever. It has stood the test of time…at least for you.

What books qualify as comfort reads? Obviously, the answer to that is very personal. Some people might crave works that are light and funny, or sweet and romantic, or even dark, so that they feel less alone.

Here are some of mine…

The Lord of the Rings

Yup, I’m one of those people. *grins* I’ve read the books multiple times. Most of those times were long ago, but I’m slowly rereading them now, and let me tell you, it’s a bit weird revisiting them for …

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Coming Home

This week, I am home.

Sort of.

I grew up in a largish but sleepy city on the Canadian prairies. Suburbs, car culture, indoor shopping malls, long cold winters with plenty of snow and sunshine, lots of festivals and a tight-knit arts scene, large university.
But for the last 12 years I’ve lived in Toronto – one of the three biggest cities in Canada (Vancouver and Montreal are the others).

I remember being amazed by the number of pedestrians when I first moved there. You don’t nod and smile as you pass, you avert your eyes, because there are just too many people for it to make sense to nod and smile at everyone. The sheer number of restaurants, of full subway cars and buses, that Toronto can support still astounds me. And the diversity — half of all Torontonians were born outside Canada. It’s hectic and vibrant and wonderful.

When I come back to the place where I grew up, it feels like home and not home. Familiar and strange – and stranger every time. The infrastructure is always changing – big box stores and suburbs continue to sprout up, and other businesses I remember have closed. There’s now an LRT (surface-level rapid transit) running down the nearest major artery to the house where I grew up. The streets look wider than I remember, even though they mostly aren’t. The downtown core doesn’t shut down at 6 PM anymore — people actually live there now, and the whole …

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Diana Prince and the Thirteenth Doctor

If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you will probably have heard by now that the Thirteenth Doctor will be played by a woman, Jodie Whittaker (British, of course). You may also have Opinions about this.

Well, so do I. But first I need to tell you a story…

I didn’t grow up reading Marvel or DC comics, but I do enjoy superhero movies, and this decade has had lots of them to enjoy. I loved parts of the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman trilogy. I particularly loved Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man. And at first I was quite excited about the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), especially once Joss Whedon got on board.

But…who are the women in these movies? The love interests. The sexed-up Russian super-spies (come on, I like Natasha, but she’s clearly written and dressed for the male gaze). The dead mothers. The side characters. Look, I have no problem identifying with male leads (see above), but I was really feeling the lack. (Though The Force Awakens and Rogue One helped. I tried Supergirl, too, but the tone of the series isn’t quite my thing.) I was drifting away from the superheroes, back to books, where I knew I could find as many female leads as I needed.

Then came Wonder Woman.

And the tone was pitch-perfect all the way through. The filmmakers took her seriously, as a character and as a woman. They put her in armour and that’s when I knew…this movie wasn’t about the male gaze. …

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Imposter Syndrome Revisited

A couple of months ago, I blogged in this space about the “You Can’t Do It” voices (otherwise known as “imposter syndrome”). Things are looking up right now, so I wanted to share for posterity.

The Day Job

Four months ago, when I wrote the post linked above, I was temporarily covering for a retired co-worker. Now, a permanent replacement has been hired, and I’ve become a mentor figure to the new hire. Huh. I also have a new manager (the previous one retired), who seems to think I’m good at my job, including when I’m working with difficult people. I even keep getting compliments on my tact-over-email skills. Somehow I continue to be surprised by all these developments.

My Dance Community

In my dance community (contra dance), I’ve stood up in front of people to call a dance several times since I wrote this. Each time, it got easier. In fact, last time I had to deal with a hiccuping CD. This was bad because timing is very important in calling. But to my utter shock, it didn’t even faze me. (Though to be fair, it helped that the CD happened to be the same one I’d been practicing with!)

I’ve also started to see dances from an analytical perspective now that I’ve started calling them. As the volunteer newsletter writer for my community, I keep getting compliments on my writing skills (do I sense a pattern here?). And as a dancer, I’m polishing my spatial orientation skills …

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The Data Carrier

by Siri Paulson

 

Oyez! Oyez! Gather, people of Epsilon Dome City, and listen to the data!

This bard standing before you has made her rounds through your neighbour, Gamma, for many years. They have known her since her implant was new, her limbs straight and her eyes clear. They are a small community with many small data of news, none significant except to those within that dome, and so she is the only bard that visits. Yet this bard has made her rounds faithfully and spoken to them the data from outside. She has listened and remembered. She has imparted, to the best of her ability given the needs of her audiences, the data from Gamma to other domes, so that all may hear and know.

Yet when she landed her flyer in Gamma Dome City ten days past, something was different.

#

A man from Gamma asked her once, several years ago, whether she remembered every data she heard. She said yes, of course. That was what the implant was for. Then he asked her whether she told every data she heard. Are no conversations private, he asked. She told him that part of the training to be a bard was discerning what to tell and to whom. The confidence of a friend, a family matter that has no bearing on others, those things may be kept silent.

Then how, he asked, may we trust that you are not keeping other things …

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Beating Writer’s Block…Again

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m prone to long periods of not writing fiction. These tend to be accompanied by self-flagellation and an existential crisis: if I’m not writing, who am I? Then comes depression (or sometimes that happens first), which makes it even harder to write, and round and round I go.

The only way to break the cycle is to start putting down some words.

This, obviously, is easier said than done. It’s intimidating, especially if you’ve been away from the blank page for a while.

In the past I’ve tried fanfiction, though it’s not normally my thing, or played around with a completely different genre–not to try selling, just to play with. This time, since the beginning of the year, I’ve gone through several different stages. It’s working, so I thought I’d share…

1. First I resurrected my own blog. It’s not fiction, and doesn’t completely fill a need for me in the way writing fiction does. But I do blog with an audience in mind, and putting together coherent opinion pieces or travel posts is good practice in writing down the words, finishing a piece, and shipping.

2. Then I branched out from non-fiction and started writing the smallest possible thing every day. On some days, they were fragments of stories that didn’t and probably won’t go any further, but mostly they were haikus. I’m not trying to become a published poet, so I was writing …

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Half-Baked Opinions on the 2017 Hugo Award Nominees

Hey, guess what? The Hugo nominees are out!

The what, you say? The Hugo Awards are one of the most prestigious awards for science fiction and fantasy authors. They’re voted on yearly by several thousand people–not industry insiders, exactly, but a mix of professionals and fans who have bought memberships to a Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention). That means they can be, and have been, hijacked by small groups acting in bad faith.

There’s lots more background–google “Hugo Awards controversy”–but I won’t dwell on it here.

As an author and fan, what do I think of the nominations? Here’s where I admit that my reading is too far behind for me to have an informed opinion. I usually read one or more of the nominated novels…but not until a year, or several years, later. That won’t stop me from having an uninformed opinion on a couple of the categories, though (and I’d love to hear yours!)…

Of the Best Novel nominees, it’s interesting that 3 out of 6 are later books in series–I wonder how that will affect their chances. I’ve read one of the earlier books in those series (The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu), which blew me away. (I wasn’t the only one: it won the Hugo two years ago.) They’re also a good mix of subgenres: the Liu novel, Death’s End, is hard SF; Anders pits magic and science against each other; Chambers is writing small-band-of-misfits space opera; Lee’s novel is a very different …

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Fourteen Years, In Memoriam

The other night I dreamed that my dad was taking one of my siblings and me for a drive on the West Coast (British Columbia, for you non-Canadians). The timing was contemporary, for we had modern cell phones and we felt like our current adult selves, in that way you know things in dreams.

I didn’t remember until an instant after I woke up that my dad has been dead since 2003.

I don’t think about him often anymore, except right around this time of year. He died in March, late in a bitterly cold prairie winter. The day he was buried, there was a thaw and, finally, everything began to melt. Ever since then, I’ve found late winter difficult to bear. Some years are harder than others; this one has been easier so far, probably because it’s been so unseasonably warm here. Bittersweet for sure.

He feels now like part of another life, one I don’t remember as well as I would wish to. He did get to meet the man who would later become my husband. For that I will always be grateful. But since his death, the two of us have moved across the country, joined or made new communities, established our careers, bought a house, assumed adult responsibilities within our families, traveled to seven countries (eight as you’re reading this!). He didn’t live to see Turtleduck Press or all the writing I’ve done here, or to hold my first novel in his hands. And my two …

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The “You Can’t Do It” Voices

Tell me if this sounds familiar…

I have a brain that persists in telling me that I am Doing It Wrong and that Everyone Else Is More Capable Than You and also that This Is Hard and You Can’t Do It, Ha Ha. What is “This”? Sometimes it’s writing. Sometimes it’s my day job. Sometimes it’s adulting.

I would just like to register, for the record, some recent evidence to the contrary. Since I’ve blogged before about how the brain-voices relate to writing, this time I’ll focus on other parts of Life.

Exhibit 1: The Day Job

I’ve held the same job for nearly 12 years. Parts of it I’m really good at. Other parts still make me flail around. But on the whole, my You Can’t Do It voices have learned to be quiet more often than not. Then, last fall, my boss asked me to train with a co-worker who was retiring, so I could hold down the fort until she could be replaced. Her position doesn’t have much overlap with mine; I don’t really have the background for the job. To make things trickier, I still needed to do my regular job too (luckily we were able to shift around some of the workload and responsibilities). Cue the voices, loud and clear. But saying no wasn’t an option. I said yes.

So far, I haven’t made any horrible mistakes that cost lots of money. I’ve kept things going, mostly. It’s been a scramble sometimes, …

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The Smallest of All Steps

Happy New Year, friends! I think the world in general has had quite enough of 2016. Here’s hoping for better things in 2017.

On a personal writerly level, I had a very mixed year. I released my first published novel (co-authored with Kit), which was amazing, and then dove into a months-long promotional campaign for it, which was interesting and educational and sometimes fun, but not so amazing. (Except the two book launches. Those were pretty neat.) One of my co-workers at the day job bought my book recently, and today she walked past and waved it at me with a bookmark in it. That was also pretty neat.

But the promo campaign has been over for months, and I’ve written almost nothing since.

You may or may not be a writer, but I’m sure you know this about habits: if you let them drop, the longer you’ve been away from them, the harder it is to pick them up again. They start to feel big and scary and insurmountable.

I’ve fallen into that trap before. For months. And writer who are not writing? Not the most pleasant people to be around, let me tell you. For starters, they tend to mope around and complain of existential angst, while their family members (and sometimes, the writers themselves) wonder why they can’t be content with normal diversions and enjoyable things like regular people, or alternatively, how it can be so hard to make stuff up with one’s brain. …

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