Comprehensive ExBAM

Happy May Day!

Today I sat my comprehensive exam.

I sat at a laptop with no internet access and wrote 4064 words in four hours expounding most of what I know about Romanticism. There are two parts: written and oral. You only go to the oral if you pass the written. I’ll know whether I did in the next two days.

I’ve been preparing for months, reading and re-reading novels, poetry, non-fiction, secondary material. I did not feel prepared; my practice exams were underwhelming. I can talk about this stuff for hours, and I read swiftly, but I write slowly; I couldn’t seem to adequately complete a question in less than two hours, and I needed to answer three questions in four hours.

I’d been alone in my flat for almost three weeks on account of Stu visiting family in Scotland. I wasn’t feeding myself properly, reading until words blurred into belly pangs. I was really, really scared. I couldn’t seem to make people understand how scared. Of course everyone who loves me knows I live and breathe this stuff, but that only made the very real possibility of failure the more terrifying.

My sister and parents brought me food and a nerve-soothing nephew. My amazing fellow grad students went out to dinner with me and calmed me down after the hash I made of my first practice exam, telling me about their own experiences. My amazing, brilliant, perfect supervisor kept assuring me I’d be fine. Yesterday, when I was in practically a fugue state of fear, Claire and Carlos took turns talking to me on the phone in what felt like a sequence of full body massage for the soul.

I slept fitfully last night in spite of turning in early. I woke at 6:30 and took the morning very slowly. I got to campus in plenty of time. My supervisor — who is literally a goddess from whose steps flowers must surely bloom — supplied me with fruits and nuts and brought me tea during the exam.

And I just sat and wrote.

4064 words, and I keep re-reading what I wrote and thinking, you know, it kind of makes sense? Even the bit where I totally somehow managed to absolutely for real legitimately write Hamilton into my Romanticism comp?


When I stood up my hands were shaking and my legs were jelly and I kept softly laughing to myself about literally nothing. (I think I made a joke about Scott and Hogg playing tennis doubles? My poor committee.) Stu arrived at the airport at roughly the moment I finished the exam. We raced each other home. My supervisor firmly prescribed a beer and no work for the rest of the day. I sneakily managed to file my taxes anyway. (After cuddling my husband. And drinking the beer. And taking a very long nap.)

I don’t know if I passed yet. But I completed it.

That’s got to be something.

Edited to Add: I passed! On to the oral!

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Max and Amal Go to the Movies: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS

Behold! The second instalment of Max and my column for Uncanny is here! Read our thoughts on The Girl With All the Gifts by way of Twists, Buddhism, Decolonialism and Ecopocalypse. Also extreme sillyness.

In other news — literally — I sent out my first newsletter today. If you signed up but haven’t received it, check your spam filter? There are pretty photos in it!

Right. That’s all my socks paired.

Back to the comps.

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Off Social Media Until May 9! Again!

Yes, again.

So, let’s see how last month’s goals shaped up while I wasn’t on Twitter:

  • continue to teach 2 courses
  • read for comprehensive exams
  • read for reviews
  • get my house in order for April visitors
  • write 3 chapters of novel
  • record podcasts
  • play with my nephew
  • commit to getting healthy again

As compared to April’s goals, which — what’s that? There are only 9 days of April left? I didn’t set any April goals here? And am definitely not going to have written 3 chapters?


It really does disturb and upset me to realize how quickly time passes — unmarked time, time I can’t remember spending — when I’m available to social media. I need restraints on it, and right now a number of other factors are making it uncomfortably all-or-nothing in terms of the attention I give it. So it’s got to be nothing.

May is full of exams, turning in grades, revisions, and travel. I need the extra focus that comes of not having my head full of noises.

That said, I’ve started a newsletter! I’ll send the first mailing out soon. If you’d like to keep up to date with my news and appearances and so on while I’m off social media — and my goodness but there’s a lot of travel coming up this summer — I invite you to subscribe.

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NPR Reviews: Can Xue’s FRONTIER & Cherie Priest’s BRIMSTONE

My reviewing schedule has had to slow down a bit recently, what with comps reading and teaching, but here are a couple that have recently appeared on NPR.

First, Can Xue’s Frontier, translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping:

9781940953540_custom-88db26d979bf1a861f016687395f8942f192029e-s600-c85Pebble Town is at the foot of Snow Mountain. There is a grove of poplar trees, some of which are dead; there is a Design Institute, where many people are employed, but few work; there are people, many people, who aren’t certain about how or when they arrived, what they want, how to speak to each other. These people interact at market, or in shops, or in the grove of poplar trees, or in their courtyards and homes, and they sometimes have startling insights into each other that are as brief and ephemeral as blown dandelion seed, catching on to people’s thoughts before being buffeted along the next breeze from Snow Mountain….Reading this book is like trying to solve a mystery in a dream. Like the Pleiades, it’s best glimpsed without looking at it directly.

You can also read Porochista Khakpour’s wonderful interview with Can Xue here.

Second, Cherie Priest’s Brimstone, which I decided I needed to review after having the pleasure of hearing Priest read from it at ConFusion this January:

9781101990735_custom-e8ad156a32207405b092a6932ccf0511ace7cb66-s600-c85Brimstone is a deeply loving book. Cassadaga is a real place, with a real lineage of devastating fires, and the respect and affection for its history and residents glows from each page. Alice and Tomás are wonderful, warmly drawn characters: Alice’s cheerful vivacity and Tomás’ weary grief fit beautifully with each other, and moved me a great deal. Tomás, especially, often made my breath catch with sympathy, as he tries to make sense of life without his wife, and slowly grows obsessed with the possibility that she may be communicating with him through random acts of arson.

I’m very glad to have read these — reading very different books back to back feels like brain exercise and nutrition all at once — and am really excited about the things I’m covering in May, which include Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth, Frances Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass, and Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief.

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A Week with Max Gladstone in Ottawa

The above photo is from the joint reading Max and I did earlier this week from our novella (tentatively titled These Violent Delights). It accurately captures most of my experience of said week: scheming to put Max in situations where he gets to talk and I get to enjoy both listening to him and watching other people enjoy listening to him.

I don’t think I’ve ever put the origin story of Max and my friendship into writing. This is for the best. But in brief: I heard him talking on a panel and decided we had to be friends. Eventually I informed him of this decision, and the rest is history.

The trip’s been a bit of a whirlwind. Max and Steph arrived on Saturday evening, having the distinction of being the first guests Stu and I have received in our new flat together. After a day or so of settling in and walking around Ottawa, we all got down to our various businesses, not least of which were reading events.

img_2755On Tuesday night, Max read from his upcoming novel, Ruin of Angels, at ChiSeries. On Wednesday afternoon, he and I read from our novella (for the first time ever! It was great!), and in the evening he did a Q&A with my short fiction workshop students. Both events were absolutely wonderful, with enthusiastic, kind audiences; many thanks to everyone who attended! Reading from the novella was especially fun — I’m still revising my parts of it, and getting to read it out loud and play it against Max’ reading offered a really neat perspective shift into what I need to address. I’m forever telling my students to read their own work aloud as they’re revising it, so it’s good to get a dose of my own advice and feel the rightness of it.

img_2797Friday evening, we appeared on CBC Radio and chatted with Alan Neal of All in a Day about footwear in fiction, the Hugos, and our novella. You can listen to our eight minutes of radio fame here! (Also admire our “wait what photo but we’re on the radio WE DRESSED FOR RADIO” faces!)

Saying goodbye to Max and Steph yesterday kind of involved crashing from a sugar-high of the soul. It was a lovely visit, full of good food and great chat and deep heart-comfort. It was also the first of what I hope will be many more visits from my US-ian friends, as borders and bans make travel prospects from this side more fraught than usual. Until then, the work waits, and while the first week of April’s been glorious, the rest of it looks likely to live up to its moniker as Cruelest Month where deadlines are concerned.

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Hugo if True

I write this while sitting on a couch next to Visiting Author Max Gladstone, who is also writing a post that will go live on April 4 at probably the same time as this one, on the same subject.

Friends, we’re both Hugo Award Finalists. Both of us for the first time.


Seasons of Glass and Iron” is on the ballot for Best Short Story. Max’ Craft Sequence is on for Best Series. I haven’t actually seen the ballot yet, though, so maybe it’s all a trick?


I’m writing this post and I still can’t believe it. Besides the fact that it’s the first time — besides the fact that I’d long been dreaming of having written something worthy of nomination by the time of this Worldcon, the first bid I’ve ever supported, in a place I’ve been excited to visit for years — besides the fact that it’s a story I love and feel proud of, about friendship and love overcoming unstoppable forces and immovable objects — a story that Max, by the way, helped improve —


I get, completely serendipitously, to celebrate in the city of my heart with my dear friend who’s also nominated.

This trip had been planned for months! Max and Steph are in town for a week! Tuesday night Max is reading at ChiSeries! Wednesday afternoon he and I are reading from our seekrit novella! It’s maple season! It’s end of term! The fact that we get to toast each other in this thing is immense and beautiful and good and I’m so grateful to everyone who shares my views of Max’ important, gorgeous work enough to nominate it, and so grateful to everyone who read and shared and cheered my story, because — well — you make it possible for me to do this, and you’re wonderful, and thank you so, so much.

When this post goes live, I’ll be in the penultimate class of the poetry workshop I’m teaching this term. Max will be working on copyedits. It’s the nature of the business — we have to keep working when what we want to do is party. But if you’re in Ottawa, we hope you’ll join us at one or both of our events to help us do just that!

Because we’re Hugo-nominated Authors, and we’re going to Helsinki, and it’s spring!


Thank you again, and good night.


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The Mysteries of Udolpho

3a43b15e045baf65d2a3967cf809b931What even is this book.

10 pages in: wandering the Pyrenees.

60 pages in: still wandering the Pyrenees.

100 pages in: DEATHS! still in the Pyrenees.

200 pages in: there are many orange trees in Italy and also cypresses. Also sunsets purpling the mountains and waters. FOREVER.

I’m in the middle of Volume 2 and the eponymous castle di Udolpho has been mentioned twice?


There are 667 pages in this book.

I have so many thoughts about pace and genre and this book, but they are not thoughts for just now, because there are other thoughts about the Gothic and the Sublime and Sensibility and Nation that need to be indulged and developed for the benefit of comprehensive exams first but my goodness.

I will say that the irony of turning to Gothic novels to settle my nerves is a bit delicious. I wonder what Radcliffe would think of a time so thrumming with frantic energy that her imperilled heroine fainting in the clutches of a tyrannical Italian would make for soothing bedtime reads.

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To Write My Way Out

If there’s one thing I’ve found difficult to explain, these last six years, it’s how much the news stops me.

I read about the attack in London and reach for my loved ones and see the Arabic name that will stand for violence for the next several news cycles, obliterating all the other names that have perpetrated violence in order to make violence and Islam synonymous. I read about the arrest of the Israeli Jewish man who called in dozens of bomb threats to synagogues in Canada and the US and wait for news cycles about Jewish Conspiracies, obliterating the terror those thousands of people were subjected to, the trauma they’ve lived and relived. I read the news and watch people react to the news and wait for more news wrought by reading the news, and I want to throw up, and I want a voice like thunder and a tongue to drown the throat of war, and my work stops.

My work is to read and to write. My work is to read, not only novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but these poisonous narratives that arise when no one does the work of reading. When no one asks questions of narratives, of themselves, of their reactions and premises. My work is, through writing, to read the world back to people who write it with their fear and their fury and hatred, to say, sometimes gently, is this what you meant, and to say, often less gently, this is what you’re saying, and what you’re saying is evil. 

I’m off social media not because I want to ignore the world, but because I need to keep it at arm’s length so that I can engage with it at all. Because the alternative is to be stopped, always. To be paralysed by what rushes through me, electricity forcing me into remaining a closed circuit.

I’m not sure where to take that metaphor. But I am getting back to work.


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Reviews & Reviewed: Praise for Sequels and also Djinn

Two quick items of news today!

First, my March column for Lightspeed is now available online, talking about how and why so many sequels last year were wonderful, with special focus on Mishell Baker’s Phantom Pains and N. K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate. 

the-djinn-falls-in-loveSecond, The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories was reviewed in The New York Times! My name is there! Coupled with “poetic prose”! In the NYT! This is the first time* I’m aware of that happening.

* If it happened before and you didn’t tell me — how could you!**
** Unless it was bad! I’m glad you didn’t tell me if it was bad. Thank you. You’re the best.
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img_2572Walking to my office today, the day tending to warm, the earth thawing into mud, I kept thinking, this is my first spring in Canada in a long time. I felt this very deeply, even as I asked myself how that could be true; I’ve been back to living in Canada since January 2015. Surely it’s my third spring here in a row?

But last year at this time I was in Orlando; the year before that I spent most of April in Scotland, in agonies over how long it would take to bring my fiancé to Canada; in both cases I was drowning in work, commutes, transnational and transatlantic travel.

This year… I step outside, and the feeling of bare sidewalk under my shoes spells spring. I keep taking photos of glistening mud, soggy grasses, pebbles escaping the ice.

I have to ask myself in part if it’s having stepped outside of social media’s frenzy — having made space in my mind for noticing slow, deep change. I’m still far too busy — huge academic deadlines on April 1 and May 1 on top of teaching two courses, an important grant application deadline on April 19, to name a few — but I’ve felt myself present, I’ve felt myself in possession of agency enough to do my work. The curse of social media for me in this climate is a feeling of being reduced to passive, helpless horror minute on minute, unable to see my own life as something I can affect. But I can, and I do, and I will.

This weekend, with the help of my mighty brother-in-law, Stu and I reconfigured two rooms in our apartment in a way I had been longing for and dreading in equal measure for months. We hired a truck, picked up a new bed, moved the old bed into the office, assembled the new bed in spite of lacking instructions and and a few screws. There’s a lot of work yet to make the office into a welcoming space for guests, but the bones are there.

I look at that list of things we did and marvel at the change they’ve wrought in me — as if moving furniture dislodged something stuck in my head and chest, made it easier to breathe. It seems so simple. It was hard work — we sweated and grunted and got very hungry. But we did it, and it’s done, and now there’s work I look forward to, like hanging art on walls and deep-cleaning every room and buying new bedclothes.

This, too, feels of a piece with spring: obstacles dissolving, snowmelt carving furrows through ice and cold earth, breaking new paths, finding new ways to move. This space between freezing and budding, when the light stays long enough to see you home, when the air tastes good enough to drink — it’s more precious to me than I can say.

Happy Vernal Equinox, everyone. I hope it brings you good, joyful, nourishing things.

But don’t skip leg day.


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