no shrinking violet

words by e. spalding

Some updates to the site:

  • rearranged some of the navigation on the home page because it was driving me bonkers, but more importantly:
  • top-level navigation pages for horror and weird fiction podcast recommendations (“the radio”), including links to specific stories! In time the drop-down menu will be expanded to include audio drama and some other stuff that feeds the brain goblins lurking in my brain swamp

if you feel so inclined you may also check out my Ko-fi page, where I am hoping to make my words work for me enough to afford a better camera for stalking unsuspecting urban wildlife.

it is a sunny and yet bitterly cold day here in Toronto, but it is also Friday, and that is worth a bit of celebration.

Truthfully I don’t have the time or the bandwidth to write in-depth commentary on all the stuff that has snagged my interest, and I’ve got this sneaking suspicion that my tiny cohort of readers also don’t have the time or bandwidth to devote to one blogger’s commentary. But I want to write about stuff I like! And the stuff I like is pretty cool.

Hence, new category: quick picks.


“Hello, Hello,” by Seanan McGuire

What is it?
A podcast version of the short story “Hello, Hello,” originally published in Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft.
What’s it about?
Language, communication, parenthood–and birds. A computational linguist is befuddled by the speech, appearance, and uncanny behaviour of an unknown woman’s avatar on the neural network system she uses to communicate with her sister, Tasha.
What’s so good about it?
Beautiful authorial voice and exploration of both animal and human behaviour.
Where can I find it? Lightspeed Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine.


Huntsvillain, by John O’Brien

What is it?
An extremely well-researched and outrageously funny history blog about the state of Alabama.
What’s it about?
In the author’s own words, “short bursts of hilarity from Alabama’s otherwise miserable history.”
What’s so good about it?
In addition to being written by a very good friend, Huntsvillain is an honest and unapologetic look at the history of my home town and home state. It will gift you with more knowledge than you ever realized you wanted about what marriage and divorce looked like during the 1800s, and a scholarly examination of just what lead John B. Haynes to rip apart a local silversmith’s cabin, log by log, with his bare hands.
Where can I find it? Right here–> Huntsvillain


Office friends to hold me accountable. maybe.

In the doldrums of mid-morning and beneath fluorescent lamplight
I have my monitors for company and my task list for accountability.

Here is the work my skill set chose for me--to speak truth to power
Through calculated risk factors, regulations and best practices,
Records schedules, classification schemes that valuate a virtue,
That we are--or ought to be--transparently, precisely what we purport ourselves to be,
And where we fall short, see our path towards compliance
(Which is, to me, just another word for integrity).

See it all here,
Reviewed, proof-read, documented with secondary sources
Prepared to be presented, read, categorized and ignored;
Watch power lay the foundation for my future failure
And, in the same breath, thank me for my continued service.

Idealism in this profession has a short shelf life in spirit
If not shored up early by stubbornness and grit.

/arrives 2 years late with Starbucks and The Big Questions, how’s everybody been, etc.

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately–mostly because I’ve been mad a lot*, about one thing or another, and have felt 1) completely unable to change my circumstances, and 2) guilty about feeling mad in the first place. Which is ludicrous because feeling anger is a natural thing, particularly when there is lots happening in the world to be angry about, but even stating the obvious doesn’t make the guilt go away.

Someone cleverer than me could come up with a proper way to segue into discussing Mr Rogers here, but that clever person isn’t me.

If you haven’t seen what is by now a viral video of Fred Rogers (yes, the Fred Rogers) defending the value of PBS on the US Senate floor, you can find a decent quality version of the footage here on YouTube. But even removed from the context of defending the role of public television in the United States, the video has a lot to say about emotional and mental health, and the importance of talking to children about their feelings from a young age.

Here’s the first quote from his testimony before the committee that gets right to the point:

What do you do with the mad that you feel
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…
And nothing you do seems very right?

Like… what a wise and good and simple thing to ask a child. (Or an adult.) To make this extremely personal for a moment, I cannot help but wonder what my adolescence, teenage years, and early adulthood would have looked like, had an informed adult had the patience and foresight to walk me through the layers of meaning in these questions. Because there’s a drastic difference between asking a child to explain the feelings that precede their behaviour, versus only addressing the behaviour. What a difference it would have made in the life of child!me to be armed with tools for solving the dual problems of “why am I feeling this way?” and “what should I do about it?”

It’s great to be able to stop
When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,
And be able to do something else instead
And think this song:

I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.

Fred Rogers, May 1 1969

Acknowledgement of the anger, empowerment to choose how to respond to that anger, and taking ownership and responsibility for the choices we make in how to express that anger–that’s a pretty powerful message for anyone to take in at any age. I’m not ashamed to admit that, after 3 decades of navigating the emotions of both myself and others largely through the power of intuition, I’m just now learning how to accept the existence and experience of anger in myself and in others, rather than viewing the feeling as something inherently shameful or dangerous.

…and I suppose this emotional milestone felt significant enough to interrupt (end?) my hiatus on this blog. Hi, everyone–hopefully I’ll be seeing a bit more of you in the near future.


* all of my feelings about various things are being managed, please don’t worry. …but you have to admit that the world is an upsetting place at the moment, and having Feelings about it is kind of to be expected. because y i k e s.

I’ve convinced myself I’m somehow accountable to my readers for the time I spent not working on this blog, or my projects, over the last several months. I’m well aware of my tendency to project my own negative opinions about myself and my work ethic onto the feelings of others, which is an irrational tendency that 1) hamstrings my productivity, and 2) turns me into a really unpleasant person to be around. So, having at least gotten the impulse out there in the open and called it for what it is, I’ll try to own it and keep it from derailing my future plans for this blog.

Time to get back on track and post the good stuff:

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…you mean you don’t come here for pictures of my cat? (March, 2017)

What I’ve Accomplished

Time to take note of this stuff in bullet point form:

  • I participated in NaNoWriMo ’16! While I didn’t win, I did manage to contribute 18,097 new words to an ongoing space opera draft I have been toying with off and on since October of 2013 (affectionately dubbed New Persepolis). By the end of November, I was sitting at a wordcount total of 33,940 words, and the process it took to get to that point taught me so much about the characters I was playing with, and the world(s) that they inhabited. I don’t know if I will finish that particular incarnation of the story, but the world and characters themselves are so dear to me that I know I’ll come back to it at some stage, if only for my own edification.
  • After NaNoWriMo, I longform outlined the first half (or, potentially the first third) of an urban fantasy novel, heavily utilizing Scrivener’s notecard functionality to make moving parts from chapter to chapter much easier. This urban fantasy novel is one I touched on briefly in September of last year, but since then it has taken on considerably more breadth and scope. This outlining process is one I used when planning New Persepolis, and it’s helped me get the barest bones version of my idea down into a document, instead of turning the thoughts over and over in my head without generating any words. The story itself, still without a working title, is cumbersome with many moving parts; when it has frustrated me, I have instead turned my attention to fic.
  • Courtesy of Audible.Com, I’ve managed to listen to eight more books since November of last year. Maybe a small thing to feel pleased or proud of, but my work schedule and other obligations make finding time to read so difficult now that I really value my time spent on the subway and bus listening to my books in the mornings and evenings now.

What’s Happening Now?

Camp NaNoWriMo. That’s what.

Here’s the synopsis for my story-thus-far:

An inter-dimensional time traveler on the run from the god who is infatuated with him. A newly minted and certified archivist stepping into the shoes of his predecessor, who discovers that fulfilling his life’s dream is not all it’s cracked up to be. The unlikely convergence of these two lives could change not just their worlds, but all worlds that have ever been, and ever will be.

This is a story about love, consent, obedience–and God. Possibly even your God.

Are you interested? I hope you’re interested. Because I’m pretty dang stoked to start this piece of purely self-indulgent fantastical fiction.

To prepare, I’m sticking with prep that I know works (for me): an outline and some character vignettes. Whether I choose to share some of those here in the future or not is TBD, but I will keep you all posted.

In the meantime–time to make sure the radio still works on this thing. It’s been collecting dust.


The Radio:

  • Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle #1), by Diana Wynne Jones. Narrated by Jenny Sterlin.

    This one has been on my list since I first watched the iconic Hayao Miyazaki film/anime adaptation of the novel back in 200-somethingsomething, and the story absolutely captured my imagination. I will say that the movie is a pretty stark departure from the source material, but it is easy to see shades of Miyazaki’s Howl and Sophie in the characters that inspired them. I suspect that folks who love the Studio Ghibli version of these characters may be a bit disappointed, but I’ve personally enjoyed getting into Sophie Hatter’s head.

I am an American living abroad in Canada. My absence over the past few weeks has been due in no small part to emotional stress brought on by many life changes: turning thirty, the recent general election back home, and of course preparation for NaNoWriMo, which is well underway now.

Did I mention that, in the midst of all this, my partner and I signed a lease on a lovely midtown Toronto apartment together? That happened, too. And, of course, the demands of my challenging day job continue to occupy me.

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The view down the street where I work. Autumn is lovely in Ontario. (November, 2016.)

So that’s my life at the moment:  the very good, the very bad, and the very beautiful. And a daily wordcount deadline. This NaNoWriMo, I’m so far sitting at 10,094 words. Not too shabby, if I don’t say so myself.

And as always, there’s good stuff on the radio.


Listening to:

  • Golden Fool: Book 2 of the Tawny Man trilogy, by Robin Hobb. Narrated by James Langton.
  • “Russian Folklore: I Pity the Fool,” Ep 49 of the Myths and Legends Podcast.
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Nice.

As much of my life is in flux right now I have no shortage of obligations. That doesn’t seem to stop me from returning to hobbies that syphon away at my productivity in deceptively harmless minutes at a time. I’m especially susceptible to these distractions when 1) things are slow at my day job, and 2) it’s raining. …I’m not sure why the rain makes me mentally listless, but it does. (Not unhappily so, but it’s clear to me that on rainy days, my productivity takes a serious hit.)

Here’s the distraction that’s occupying my thoughts right now:  interactive fiction.


Anchorhead.

Anchorhead is a Lovecraftian interactive fiction game written and published by Michael S. Gentry in 1998.[1] (I discovered this game almost 15 years later!) You control an unnamed protagonist who is investigating an ominous mystery surrounding the estate that she and her husband have recently inherited, after her husband’s distant cousin’s grim, grisly death.

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The potential commands understandable by the game engine are surprisingly dynamic, but you will occasionally encounter frustrating moments where you’re unsure of how to convey the actions you want to take to the game. Fortunately, as old as Anchorhead is, there are a number of walkthroughs available online that you can use as a point of reference if you feel stuck.

Confession:  I still haven’t finished it. But I still really, really enjoy the atmosphere of seeping, tenebrous dread the game creates.


Depression Quest.

Released and developed in 2013, this interactive non-fiction game is exactly what it sounds like:  a depression simulator created utilizing the Twine engine.[2] On that note, readers, please be mindful that this game is incredibly effective at simulating the mindset and emotions that characterize depression. Take a careful inventory of your mental health before taking the plunge into this game. Above all, be good to yourself.

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You have the option of taking multiple forking paths in this game, but I want to stress how important it is that there is no right path to take, because (as we who have experienced depression know) there is no right way to deal with depression.


Cat Petting Simulator.

Time for something completely silly, as a nice break from the first two games I suggested, which are quite heavy for different reasons. Cat Petting Simulator is an interactive game (also created with the Twine engine) where the sole objective is to pet a cat. That’s… that’s it, really. It’s sadly not as cute as Neko Atsume, but as someone who struggled miserably throughout graduate school, this little game helped get me out of many a paper writing-induced funk.

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Go on. Pet that cat.


The Radio:

  • Fool’s Errand: Book 1 of the Tawny Man trilogy, by Robin Hobb. Narrated by James Langton.

Notes and references:

[1] The Anchorhead wikipedia article. Read with caution to avoid spoilers.

[2] The Depression Quest wikipedia article.

I don’t miss much about the two gruelling years I spent as a graduate student. However…

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St. George Street, Toronto, October 2015.
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St. George Street and the CN Tower, Toronto, October 2015.

…I do sometimes miss that view.


Listening to: