no shrinking violet

words by e. spalding

I’m participating! Look, I’ve even got a project set up on the official NaNoWriMo website and everything.

A bit annoyed that the embeddable widget option seems to be gone, but that’s not really the point.

I’ve set a modest 20k word count goal for myself for the month, which I think is attainable as long as I make sure not to stress myself out or over do it. After two days, I do believe I’ve determined that I am at my most creatively productive between 8 and 9am, which is when I’ve been writing my 100 word minimum each day for the last month and change anyway.

Please feel free to add me as a writing buddy! I would love to be your cheerleader as you put down words on your passion project.

First order of business, my accountability to myself: today’s word count target was not just met, but more than doubled! Each week I work on this project, I’m able to produce just a little bit more than I did the week before.

So that’s exciting. And, after sharing the first chapter draft with @amaraqwolf for a bit of external feedback, I feel more comfortable discussing the nature of what I’m working on here with less ambiguity, and providing you with a short excerpt!

Continue reading

I finished the first first draft of the first chapter of a novel this morning!

Word count currently sitting at a very modest ~6,500 words, with so very many left to go before the finish line is even in sight, but I think what I am most proud of with this particular accomplishment is how steady and incremental process made it possible.

I decided, a little over a month ago while I was nearing the end of my mental health leave from work, that I would do everything in my power to write just 100 words a day towards a novel. That’s it; 100 words at minimum every day, no matter what, and I would work on making these words appear for just an hour each morning. When that hour was up, or when I hit my word count minimum (whichever came first), I’d close out of Scrivener, put the project aside, and not think about it at all for the next twenty-four hours.

And… I did it.

Non-draft words were research-related earlier in the month. Consistency also not great early on.
…but by June I really had hit my stride, and only missed one day.

I wasn’t 100% consistent; the stats above show that pretty transparently, but what they also demonstrate is a clear commitment to trying again every time I faltered or struggled. Some days (here’s looking at you, May 26 and 27), I just could not get the words to come together the way I wanted them to, and didn’t meet even my minimum required output before my hour was up and I had to call it quits for the day. On other days, as soon as I hit that word count minimum, that was it, I was done, extracting another word out of my brain was akin to pulling teeth, but when I walked away from the project for the day it was nevertheless with a sense of modest accomplishment, that I had kept my word to myself and made progress towards a goal that meant a lot to me.

And then there were days like June 22 and 23: ~800 words! And subsequently, almost 600 words! All accomplished roughly within that hour I set aside for myself in the morning before starting my day job, and many of those words such a delight to write that stopping myself from continuing was nearly as challenging as getting started had been when this process began. But I did stop, and I put the project away again, because this steady, incremental, consistent progress is far better for me than just the occasional day here and there throughout an otherwise creatively barren year where I manage to write a deluge.

All this to say, Self, well done. Good job! I am proud of you, Self, for reclaiming hours from your day to devote to the work that has always been central to your–our–identity. And I am extremely excited to see what we will have to share with the world when June 24, 20201 arrives.

Anyway, enjoy this glorious piece of artwork I commissioned from my talented artist friend, Cami Woodruff, of mine and my husband’s two ragdoll cats, and our temporary foster gremlin, Georgie.

From left to right: our beautiful Mrs. Moo, her dopey son Jasper, and one small ground squirrel in a kitten suit named Georgie. Art by Cami!

some recommended reading

Late Night at the Low Road Diner,” by my dear friend Frances Rowat, published at Liminal Stories.

I got married seven months ago. (Give or take a couple of days, but what is a couple of days in pandemic time anyway?)

“if your man won’t do your wedding makeup for you, is he even worth marrying?” and other extremely queer takes by me. A thousand thanks to Maxwell Giffen for the beautiful photographs.

Prior to the lockdown I made the seemingly inconsequential decision to make my computer desktop background a randomized slideshow of our wedding photos. In retrospect I think I did this a little before Halloween in anticipation of a small family get-together, and figured it would be a nice surprise for my in-laws, who hadn’t seen the polished versions of the photos yet. The slideshow had the desired effect, of course, and everyone enjoyed gushing over the pictures while chatting about how much fun both the ceremony and the reception had been.

(Pro-tip to anyone out there planning a wedding in the somewhat near future: go small. Go to the courthouse. Wear comfortable shoes. You will be handsome/beautiful regardless, and complete strangers will cheer for you. That is a magical experience.)

Anyway, this post isn’t really about my wedding, or my wedding photos. It’s about how now in this time of social and physical distancing, one completely absent-minded decision I made in preparation for a holiday party last October now reminds me daily, hourly, every time I minimize an application or lock my laptop screen, that I am loved by so many people. The people in those photos crossed continents and international borders and, in one instance, even the Atlantic Ocean, out of love for us, for me.

And that love has nourished the shit out me these last three months while I’ve struggled to claw my way up and out of the black pit of despair known as Depression().

It’s an ongoing struggle, for the record, and not one that I anticipate definitively ‘defeating’. But I’m going to make time to talk more candidly about my experiences here because the instinct to play one’s cards so closely to one’s chest when depressed is precisely the opposite of what one needs to do to heal.

This piece originally appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, The Full Lid . If you liked it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here. Five years ago, I wrote a piece about Interstellar and the death of the astronaut myth. […]

New Model Astronauts — The Man of Words

Presented without additional commentary because when it comes to Alasdair’s writing, it truthfully doesn’t require any.

I somehow managed to miss this post about the evolution of the astronaut mythos in book and film when it was originally posted last month, but for all NASA kids who grew up in the shadow of the Saturn V, the Marshall Spaceflight Center, who know their grandparents laid hands on the science that got us to the stars, it’s required reading.

(see what I did there? /finger guns)

Listen at Podcastle 628: Vincent’s Penny, May 26, 2020. Audio recording by Escape Artists Inc. licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The car gathers speed. The sirens fall away and another sound comes; a strengthening growl high above. I can picture the swollen metal bellies of the Heinkel bombers, stuffed with high explosives. With the motion of the car, I feel the ancient metal disc move on its chain beneath my shirt. Vincent’s penny; maybe it can bring me luck again.

“You can let me go. Who will ever know?”

“Why would we do that?”

“If you let Vincent do this, who will stop him doing worse in the future?”

The car stops, doors open and close. As they lead me away from the car a succession of explosions in the distance makes me flinch. A sound like a giant striding towards us, wading through houses and shops.

The hood is snatched away, revealing a large empty space, an abandoned warehouse. A table and three chairs in the centre of the room.

I know I will never leave this place.


famous last words

Anyway, in summary:

What’s it about?
Sebastian is a boy plucked from a life of poverty and abuse by Vincent, a mysterious and powerful stranger, and is groomed for the sort of greatness that powerful men seek to pass on to their proteges. (Greatness in this context comes in such exciting flavours as ‘murder with impunity,’ ‘body-snatching,’ and ‘immortality.’) Over the centuries, Sebastian reaps the rewards of being within Vincent’s inner circle, but cannot escape his own conscience. A confrontation as well as a reckoning is inevitable.

What’s so good about it?
You know what “they” say about bad pennies, but what is Chris Barnham saying about them? Possibly that there’s more than one, and whether or not that penny is ‘bad’ or or ‘good’ or bound to turn up again is entirely up to the reader. Sebastian is the lens through which we experience both the horror of a child’s abuse by his father, his serendipitous rescue by a stranger, and his gradual transformation into a man with more in common with his monstrous mentor than he is prepared to admit to himself.

I enjoy any story that makes me struggle to find an appropriate genre label for it. This one spans genres, being equal parts historical fiction and fantasy (hence its appearance on PodCastle), but I’d stretch it further and categorize it as a piece of horror fiction, too. The horror is slow to approach, and subtly written, but it will slam into you like a freight train if you pick the story up for a second time and re-read it from the beginning.

Where can I find it?
You can find the full text of “Vincent’s Penny” over here at PodCastle, and I would strongly recommend reading along with the story as you listen to Matt Dovey’s A+ narration. It’s well worth your time.

Happy listening!

Some spiders sneak when stealth is moot, 
Slipping into unsuspecting boot,
Settling in without a care,
Comfort found in sweaty lair

Post-it Poetry – Spider Sense — Dim But Bright Poetry


AUTHOR’S NOTE: Please be mindful that, while episode 81 of the Magnus Archives, “A Guest for Mr. Spider,” is the focus of this article, I may reference specific events or information from later episodes in passing. This is not a spoiler-free zone, apologies!

I will gamely admit that I currently view all creative works I encounter through a Magnus Archives conversion lens, as I’ve spent the last three months thoroughly marinating myself in all existing episodes and as much sweet, sweet fan-created content as I can get my greedy little hands on.[1] My obsession also means that I’m spotting connections and parallels to the show’s motifs everywhere, including innocent bystander blog posts that turn up on WordPress Reader. Which is where I spotted Dim But Bright Poetry‘s charmingly illustrated “Spider Sense,” now featured at the top of this post. Almost immediately after reading it I thought of “A Guest for Mr. Spider,” and could not stop thinking about it.

A quick note before I get started: spiders in the Magnusverse serve several specific narrative functions, and I have every intention of giving discussing these functions and plotty labyrinths in more detail at a later date–but, I’m not going to get into them in detail today. Today I just want to write about spiders, I guess.


Just a friendly drawing of a friendly arachnid who means you no harm at all, probably.
Art by lunarsmith on DeviantArt

Is there enough collective cultural knowledge behind the verse, “along came a spider,” to transform it into a literary conceit? I think there must be, otherwise spiders and their webs and the sorts of spidery characters who crouch at their centres–or find themselves tangled up within them–wouldn’t be such a mainstay of literature. Specifically children’s literature, where the spider as a character is nearly always sly and clever and unambiguously up to no good, and therefore a reliable source of dramatic tension in a story or poem. When the spider comes along in a children’s tale, its arrival signals to a young reader that someone in the story is in danger, whether that someone is Mary Howitt’s Fly or, as is probably the case in “Spider Sense,” some unknown person’s socked foot. (Or the spider itself. One small spider vs. one large foot? Odds aren’t looking good for you, little spider.)

This brings us to The Magnus Archives, an audio drama horror podcast produced by The Rusty Quill that is intended for older audiences and so lacks on its surface anything to do with children’s literature. But Episode 81 is transparently about childhood, grounded in the recollection of narrator and central protagonist Jonathan Sims’ childhood trauma as he records his statement for the Magnus Institute.[2]

The object at the centre of his trauma is a book–a children’s book, at first blush–called “A Guest for Mr. Spider.” And this book, more than any of the other nightmarish tomes in the series–which are all capable of scarring minds, ruining lives, and dispensing horror after horror upon anyone unlucky enough to stumble upon one–is the one book that feels the most fundamentally evil to me as a listener. I suspect it feels that way because it is the only one whose very design preys upon the trust of children and their engagement with stories.


Continue reading

I don’t know the answer to that question, honestly.

I’m an American living as a permanent resident in Canada; I feel a bit like a goldfish in a cracked aquarium looking through the glass at another aquarium as it hemorrhages water.

I’ve got four separate blog posts drafts in my drafts folder about some incredible audio drama podcasts I have been following, and getting myself into the correct headspace to finish any of them is proving to be a real trial when every day I check the news and encounter another grim portent about COVID-19. I’m doing everything that a person can conceivably do to help flatten the curve: I’m working remotely, I’m washing my hands constantly, I think I’ve left my apartment twice since last Wednesday and then only to walk around the block for some fresh air. I spend a lot of time with my cats, and my husband, mourning the loss of a sense of normalcy while finding gratitude for the ugly truths about our society that this crisis has forced even the obscenely wealthy to confront. It’s been an emotional roller coaster, and it’s only been one week.

At the moment my key takeaway from this experience is that individualism and our society’s near-sighted fixation on individual wealth accumulation (“my money,” “my success,” “my net worth,” “my choice to choose my insurance,” “my company”) over the health and well-being of the collective is directly responsible for how unprepared we are to manage the spread of this pandemic. I knew it when the Federal Reserve hurled $500 billion into the markets and the Canadian stock market collapse made headlines, all while public health ministers and experts beg for more hospital beds, more ventilators.

It is all just so much. So much to take in, so much to process, so much to wrap my head around daily that I have been forced to limit my news intake, my engagement with social media discussions around COVID-19, to a couple times a day. The limits help; so does grounding myself in hugs from my spouse, in fussing over the cats, in doing what I can to check in with the people I love to make sure they have what they need, in meeting those needs where I can and showing empathy when I can’t.

This all leaves me with so little strength and energy for creativity. But writing my way through trauma has always been my best means of coping with the long-lasting consequences of that pain, and I need it now more than ever before to help process this overwhelming sensory and psychological experience. And I would like to help others do the same.

So, if you want to, if you feel able to: please share with me some piece of writing, of art, of some kind of creative work, that you feel most proud of. It can be a story, a poem, a knitted shawl, a photograph of your cat, of your breakfast–I don’t care what form it takes so long as the making of it made your imagination sparkle a little bit, and the finished product brought you some joy.

Here, I’ll go first: photographs of my cat’s toes.

Take care of yourselves, friends.

Listen at PseudoPod 691: Half-Men of the Night Marie, February 28, 2020. Audio recording by Escape Artists Inc. licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Three half-men in a lifeboat drifted on the methane sea.  Her ship’s name, Night Marie, was written on the stern like a tombstone.  The ship, along with the rest of her crew, had sunk thirty hours before sunset. Sparks, the ship’s half-boy, crouched in the bows, his ears still ringing with the sound of screams, though the sea had long since swallowed them up.  Hobb, the mate, lit the lanterns.  Beyond their circle of light, the darkness was total, as though they sat inside a bubble in a well of ink.

“Well,” Hobb said, at length. “We shouldn’t have thrown old Creeping Jack overboard, that’s what I say.”

There are people in this haunting nautical nightmare who should have been thrown overboard, of course, but their presence is inferred rather than overt. The company, and the company men, who built the bodies the half-men wear and designed them to be disposable. Consumable.

But of course they’re absent until it doesn’t matter anymore, because their presence would shatter our suspension of belief. Why would they be present to witness the brutal consequences of their mindless pursuit of profit?

Yesterday’s poem from Dim But Bright Poetry seems apt, somehow.

Doesn’t matter the material composition of the skull, or whether the skin was yours through birth or artificial construction, or whether the thoughts course through circuits or synapses. Some things are yours, and are not capital, no matter what a shareholder says.

Scrap metal lived in the belly of the company ship. Sparks lay strewn about and shuddered by engines.  He felt like a star in the dark.

I trust you’ll burn them all to ashes one day, Sparks. That’s what stars do.