Done. Done!

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I am done. First draft of the novel was finished last night, in the quiet of the studio.

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So, so much work. I ploughed through it this last week, piecing together the work I’d already done, thinking about the story and the characters, and writing new material. The writing I’ve done here — the last third of the book, basically — feels like a truer, more authentic voice. There’s a marked difference (to my eyes, at least) between it and the earlier work. But now that I’ve found that voice, I think I can hold onto it, sustain it through the revisions.

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This year of writing, I feel like I’m finding my voice. I owe so much to the Women Destroy Science Fiction project, to Christie Yant and Wendy Wagner (among so many others) for their endless enthusiasm. To my editor, Katey Schultz, who has been reading through awful first drafts with me and giving me honest advice and feedback — a mini-MFA all in its own. To the friends cheering me along, mom and dad. Writing can feel like such a solitary act, but really, no. It’s the community of friends and family that make it possible to write my cyborg conspiracy stories. Really. You guys are the best.

And also the great silence of Banff, the wind that murmurs through the trees and buffets you, the feeling that the mountains are listening.

There’s a long road of work ahead; still so much to do to bring this draft to a point where it’s ready to go out. But it’s done and I’m ready.

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Monday.

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Banff has been magical. I’m more than halfway through my residency, and I’ve been chased by deer, started by pine martens, and nervously looking out my window for the grizzly bear the Park Service has warned us about. Bear 148 is wandering around the area, eating people’s jack o’ lanterns and looking for berries. Which is just fine until you realize, as my friends Chris and Sarah say, that there are at least 147 other bears out there.

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I’m sleeping better than I ever have at a Banff residency, and writing well. I had a meeting with my editor (over teh internets!) on Thursday, and we talked about the trajectory of the novel and the work I’ve been doing on characters. And to get some last minute advice and encouragement, because heaven knows you need it when you’re in a creaky little studio working on a book. She’s checking in with me on Tuesday. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to say that I’m done the first draft when I talk to her. That’s the goal!

But there’s still time to do other things. I walked down to town and had dinner with Chris and Sarah and their little guy, Louis. Roast beef! Yorkshire pudding! Selfies!

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(“Oh, yeah, Heather, I know how to selfie. Okay! Make a funny face!”)

And then we got in the car and went skating.

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Lou told me he thought we’d both fall down a lot, but astonishingly, neither one of us did. And after skating, a trip to Tim Horton’s because you need donuts after you go skating.

A really lovely night. And today? I’m in the studio, preparing to buckle down and FINISH THIS BOOK!


Tucked away at the Banff Centre.

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I promise that there is, in fact, writing going on. Really. Truly.

But also a trip up to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Lunch in town with good company, and then a trip up the gondola where the rain turned to snow.

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Lots of snow. These tourists were pretty excited about it:

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And we managed to catch the eclipse, which I was pretty excited about:

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So the plan for today is more writing. I have a meeting with my editor in the morning on Google Hangouts, some laundry going, and a plan to write like the wind. The novel feels like it’s coming together. I’m starting to see the characters are going, finding new connections for them (largely as a result of that walking meditation — the third part of that trip was to stand and listen to the whisperings of the story, which was inspiring in ways I didn’t expect).

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I’m starting to think that I just may emerge from this studio at the end of next week with a book.


Home again.

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The view from the dinner table. Simply amazing.

Well, I’m home again — back in Calgary. The residency was wonderful. Really great writing accomplished, and a good start on this third draft of a novel. Maybe this draft is the one? I hope so!

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On one of our evening rambles. We were ‘self-directed’ writers, so Fred and I wandered, unsupervised, and with no schedule.

I came home a day and a half early…something I ate wasn’t really agreeing with me. There was a midnight escapade with a vole in the room that got in from outside (not surprising, really, given that it’s on the side of a mountain in a national park). These things do happen, and I was offered a new room for the night. Fred, bless him, came to help me move.

Needless to say, though, I’m a little tired. I was happy to clamber onto the Brewster bus and start the trek home.

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Even the views on the way home are lovely.

It was a really good residency. It was wonderful to spend it with Fred, who is still in Banff today…lovely to have a friend along for the ride, to talk to at meals and head out on walks. And have campfires.

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My first time roasting marshmallows on a campfire.

We were even lucky enough to see a fawn one evening, coming back from a walk:

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This fawn stepped out of the landscaping as we came back from a walk.

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Its mother was in the bushes, and the fawn kept up a running commentary. ‘Mom! Mom! Hey, mom! Mom, I’m over here. Mom! Mom! Mom!’

I’m heading back to Banff in about three weeks for a Leighton studio residency — a lovely little cabin in the woods for me, and more intense work on the novel. The first section is finished; there are at least two more to go, and I think it’s going to be a great story. Here’s hoping!

And…I got author pictures done. There was a wilderness photography workshop running, and one of the photographers, Daniel Paquet, offered to do some portraits of me. There are some truly extraordinary pictures. I admit that I did not see myself this way, and it’s pretty liberating to see such lovely shots.

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Now all I have to do is publish a novel. And believe me, I’m working on it.


My Banff Centre residency so far (it’s great!).

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It’s been going beautifully. I arrived at the Banff Centre on Monday afternoon. The room was ready for me, so I picked up my ID card and put my suitcase away, and then went down to town to run my pre-writing errands: lunch at McDonalds (I have no explanation why, but it’s now a ritual), a little bit of a wander to stretch my legs, and then to the grocery store to pick up some things for breakfasts. I have another kitchen suite, so I can make myself toast and putter around in the morning without rushing to make the breakfast buffet. I stopped in at my favourite florist, too, and ordered flowers for my desk.

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And then back up the hill to unpack the suitcase and set up my writing space. There’s a very large desk available, but I prefer to use the dining room table in front of the patio door. I’ve got a view of Tunnel Mountain as I work – I can look up and just see the top of it.

Fred is here, and enjoying his residency, too. We’ve been having meals together and going for walks and rambles around the campus.

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As you do, when you’re a self-directed writer. No structure, us. Unsupervised. We’re having a lot of fun!

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We went to a geology walk and talk lecture given by Jim Olver, and I learned a new way to appreciate Banff and the Banff Centre. Jim talked to us about the geological history of the mountains here (they were all under the sea! The old rock is on the top of the mountains!) and then took us outside to hunt for fossils.

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This is, I think, my fourteenth residency here, and I’m still stunned by the views. It’s hard not to feel inspired when you’ve got this view at meals:

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The writing is going very well.

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I’ve worked out plot, thanks to help from Kirk (who runs our Dungeons and Dragons games, and is even more diabolical than I thought…which is saying something). The novel is taking shape; the characters feel more, well, solid. Scrapping that first draft and starting over seems to be the right path. I thought so at the time, but it feels confirmed this week. I’ve been waffling over structure, but I think I’ve found my balance. And since it is a first draft (maybe second, I guess), I can always go back and change things if I need to.

As much as I enjoyed my sky palace at the Palliser, coming to the Banff Centre feels like coming to a second home. It’s hard to believe that the first week is done; there’s just one more. But then I remember that I’ll be back in just four weeks (!) to start my Leighton residency. I am so immensely grateful to the Banff Centre for the time, the space, and the support.


Walking into the dark woods.

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On Thursday night, there were two concerts and a volleyball game between the Montagues and the Capulets (the cast of a production of Romeo and Juliet are here; I can just barely see them working on swordplay and movement rehearsals from where I sit to write). But there was also the night walk and bonfire with a local guide and naturalist. I put my name on the list, thinking that the bonfire would be nice. I really nice a nice wood fire.

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As it turned out, I was the only one to turn up for the night walk and bonfire thing. The two concerts and the warring volleyballers of fair Verona had just about everybody in the arts programs wrapped up. The guide arrived, and we waited a few extra minutes to see if anybody would arrive, and then we went out on our own while a helpful Banff Centre staffer went to start the bonfire.

Tunnel mountain at night.

We went out on the Hoodoos trail, which runs behind the Banff Centre, down to the river and around the the other side of Mount Rundle. The guide, Ronna, had cleats for me (phew) and then said that we’ve be going out without flashlights or headlamps. She had them, but we were going to walk by the light of the moon. She had bear spray just in case, and we both had pointy sticks for walking. I was a bit worried about going out into the woods in a national park in the dark, but I decided to give it a go.

Banff at night.

Tunnel mountain at night.

You know, it turned out to be the best thing I could have done. As we stepped into the gloom, it was very dark. Very dark. But Ronna said our eyes would adjust, and they did…gradually, the dark took on a new quality. The light was silvery and shades of grey, but then also a deep green and violet, subtle shades that took on new qualities the further down we went. It was like my field of vision got wider; there was more to the periphery. It was exquisitely silent – not a creepy silent, but a very friendly quiet. It was as if the mountains were rising up to the sky to cradle us, and the trees were gently creaking and whispering with the wind.

Banff in the dark.

We crossed a frozen tributary and came out into an alpine savannah, and there was Mount Rundle, tip stretching towards the moon. It wasn’t a clear night – clouds would come in and cover the moon up, then clear, then cloud over. We stood in the silence and it started to snow, and I swear that I could hear the snow falling crisply all around us.

Banff in the dark.

And then we walked back, into the trees, crossed the river again and came back up to the Banff Centre and had the bonfire.

Banff at night.

Last year was a tough one for writing. I didn’t have the energy or the spirit to write, and I felt very much that I poured everything I had into the surgeries. Everything. It had been so long since I’d written anything that I was starting to feel scared that I wouldn’t be able to. My Banff Centre applications were pleading; I wrote them a letter that more or less said that I needed their help getting my writing back.

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When this week started, I wasn’t entirely sure that the writing was going well. It felt stilted and I was doing revisions – I do not enjoy revisions all that much. By midweek, it was getting much better. On Thursday, standing in the dark, looking at the mountains and thinking about the landscape, I felt it come back. Ronna had suggested that we both think about our gratitude to the spirit of the land, and something connected…something suffused me with a feeling of rightness. This experience was something very special and important, and I’m so grateful that I had it.

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I walked into the dark woods and I came out a different person. I can’t explain it fully, but something beautiful happened.

Banff in the dark - looking at Mount Rundle.


The sounds of the Banff Centre.

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Here are some of the sounds and sights of the Banff Centre.



There was an art project. The artists came by our tables at lunch and asked us to come and help make noise for their piece; they gave us mallets and asked us to bang on their glass sculptures. One of the musicians brought a violin, and the rest of us made a strange, eerie concert.


There are the ravens and the chickadees, and the sound of the snow under your feet when you go for a walk.


And the little bonfire we had after a night hike (which I’ll write more about soon).