There and Back Again

(Spoilers. Obviously. Probably a lot of them.)

So it’s over. Or at least it’s almost over. I am nowhere near done processing yet, but there will never be a new one of these, and, well, that’s the story. I have a lot of feelings, mostly tending towards the good, though there are still a few things I am sorting out.

One thing I don’t have to sort out, though? My favourite moment. For a movie that was basically a gigantic battle sequence, I am a little surprised that it’s a quiet moment (previously, my favourite moments have always been The Charge, but this movie didn’t really have a one), but it is, without question, the moment when Thorin talked himself out of gold sickness. Let me say that again: Thorin talked himself out of gold sickness. He did it by remembering things that people had said, of course, but he still decided not to be his grandfather, and that was AMAZING. I wasn’t a huge fan of how it was shot (I mean, Richard Armitage is a stage actor. He does not need that much slow motion and voice distortion to get his point across), and it made Kili’s big character moment hilariously redundant, but THORIN TALKED HIMSELF OUT OF GOLD SICKNESS, and it’ll probably be a while before I am over that.

The runner up is the part where Kili was basically fridged for Tauriel’s emotional development. Because that almost never happens, and if you’re going to kill him away from everyone else anyway (more on that in a moment), you might as well get real mileage out of it. Not only Tauriel, though, but Thranduil (in that Tauriel finally understands him a bit better) and Legolas as well (all grown up!). I was very impressed (and sad. Like, she saves him FOUR TIMES, but he is doooooooomed, and my feelings).

Also, I won a bet re: when Smaug would bite it, so that was nice. That scene was great, except I desperately wish that Bard’s family had got to do more stuff as Bard’s family, instead of just Bard and Bain all the time. And there was about 100% too much Asshole Lackey Dude (which, in addition to the awful cross-dressing gag and the general uncomfortableness of all his scenes, he single-handedly prevented this movie from passing the Bechtel test. TYPICAL DUDE BRO. UGH).

I can’t even be RATIONAL about the Dol Guldur scenes. In a movie with a bunch of great fight scenes, it’s pretty fantastic that the youngest person in the best one was Hugo Weaving. But really: Galadriel. HOLY GOD. That was amazing and I am very happy about it and RING BEARERS FOR THE WIN.

Tauriel, my heart, was amazing. I loved how she was fucking terrified of everything, and let none of that stop her. I loved that she worked her way up to standing up to Thranduil. I loved her peace with Legolas and the resolution of her affection for Kili. And I also really loved her final conversation with Thranduil, where she finally gets what he was trying to prevent her from experiencing, even though they are fucking elves, so it’s always going to be an issue.

Legolas had both the best and dumbest stunts, as per usual, but I really love watching him fight so I totally don’t care. I loved where his story ended up (even though Aragorn is a whopping 10 years old at this point, though the movie timeline has always been a little screwy, so WHO KNOWS?).

I liked Dain a lot more than I expected to, given that he just kind of showed up (ON A WAR PIG), and mouthed off a lot. He didn’t get a pile of development, but I could easily imagine him as the King who will go toe to toe with a FUCKING NAZGUL in a few decades, and then die at the ripe old age of SUPER OLD, defending his kingdom one last time.

And…the dwarves. Whom I have saved for last because…well, it’s complicated.

I almost want to withhold judgement until I see the full extended version. Because there is one really odd moment when Dwalin disappears, and I am pretty sure that’s where Balin comes with the ice sledge thingy (you can see it behind them when they charge, and it’s in the trailer). It was weird because none of the dwarves saw Thorin die. I expected a loud, sad, blatantly manipulative scene…and then I realized what I was expecting was basically something we’d already seen (ie. Théoden, Éomer and Éowyn on the Pelennor), so I was kind of glad that Jackson chose to go another direction with it.

Let’s start with Fili. Lord, I may never recover. When Gandalf was all “He’s taking his best warriors with him!” I was all “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” and then they split the fuck up, and I was all “NO THAT IS A TERRIBLE IDEA.”, and then Fili, Just. I can’t. It was awful. As it SHOULD be.

Kili’s death was a little different, as I started to get into above, because it was for Tauriel, not Thorin. Again, a totally unexpected choice, but one that I think worked in a lot of ways because 1. Dudes don’t often die for Ladies to Grow As People, and 2. if you’re going to bypass the whole “defending him with shield and body” thing for ONE of the brothers, it only makes sense to do it for the other one as well.

(I think what was the hardest about Fili and Kili’s death scenes was that in any other movie, there would have been a Dramatic Rescue, and we, as consumers, have been more or less trained to expect that. So it was WEIRD and AWFUL and REALLY GOOD, but also a little more brain than heart, which I was only barely capable of by that point in the film.)

And then there was Thorin. His fight sequence with Azog was really well choreographed and planned, but having it take place with zero witnesses was the strangest choice in the entire film. I totally get why (and it was supported in the movie dialogue which I appreciate a lot), but it also made it REALLY HARD for me to connect to it. Again, I think the movie was its own worst enemy here, because we have seen this happen a lot (most memorably, for me, is when Legolas sees Aragorn go down under the troll and pushes his way through the crowd to get to him, but it happens to Éomer and Éowyn too). I wish there had been some reaction, though, from a dwarf. I assume in that in the cut scenes, will see Balin and Dwalin (at the least) being unable to get to him. I’m going to have to watch it more times, I think, but I expected a lot of screaming and very loud mourning, and not getting it IN THE SLIGHTEST is leaving me kind of…cold about the whole sequence.

(I’m allowing it because that’s EXACTLY how it plays out in the book in terms of emotional fallout. Bilbo is knocked unconscious, and then when Thorin dies he has a quiet cry, but we also hear about how Beorn showed up and killed Bolg, and prevented Thorin’s head from being cut off, just at the last minute. Not seeing that, really, not seeing Beorn really do anything AT ALL was the only part of the movie in which I was truly disappointed.)

Here’s to a longer movie with MORE DWARF FEELINGS, because at this point, that’s what I feel was truly missing from this. I loved the feelings we DID get, but I was hoping for more. I didn’t cry, I didn’t even come CLOSE, and that really tells you all you need to know, because if there was ever a person who was going to lose her shit at this movie, it’s me.

ANYWAY: I am ending up with Bilbo, because: Hobbits.

I am not a huge Martin Freeman fan, but I cannot deny that he was excellent in this. I loved seeing Bilbo at every extreme in this movie. All of his scenes were great (OH GOD, THE ARKENSTONE!), and even though the part where Thorin threatened to kill him didn’t quite live up to my hopes for it, I was still very impressed by the entire “thief in the night” sequence (except the part where Thranduil ordered his archers to shoot anything that moved and then they DIDN’T SEE BILBO even though he wasn’t wearing the Ring). I liked the bit with the acorn and having the contract during the auction and the conversation with Gandalf and then, of course, the bookend with Ian Holm.

So overall, I enjoyed it a lot. The pacing was great (which was my biggest worry going in), and it remains visually striking and beautifully made (I can’t wait to see the HFR, because I know it will be so much better that way). I somehow managed to get almost exactly what I wanted from a movie that was nothing at all like what I was expecting, and I think that is pretty neat. It’s over, but it is over well.

I can’t wait to watch it again.


Two Important Things

1. THE STORY OF OWEN is nominated for the 2015 Morris Award!

the story of owen

I am beyond thrilled about this, and very excited. Thank you to everyone for all of your support.

2. At a writing retreat in Tennessee in October, I made some Oreo truffles that were sort of epic.


They are quite appropriate for Christmas, and dead easy to make, so here is the recipe:

Step One – Buy two bags of oreos, one block of cream cheese (not low fat), some hard candy mints (or a couple of candy canes), a thing of baker’s melting chocolate.

Step Two – Crush oreos. Mix with cream cheese. Roll into balls 1″ in diameter. Put in fridge for 20 minutes.

Step Three – Crush mints.

Step Four – Melt chocolate. Drop oreo balls into chocolate, roll around for a bit, then pick up with a fork. Allow to drip for a second, then place on waxed paper. Sprinkle with crushed up mints.

Step Five – Put in fridge or freezer until hard.

Step Six – Become the hero of whatever small town it is you are from.

You can also decorate the tops with different colours of melty chocolate and mix the candy canes right in. It really depends on your aesthetic.

Cap salutes

Panic and Publishing

Recently, I got to go to Minneapolis and meet my editor, Andrew Karre. It was was a lot of fun, and I had this whole plan to do a blog post about it, but it was at the end of huge trip, and since I’ve got home I’ve had a massive head cold and a tooth extraction, so I only really remember two salient points:

1. It’s pronounced “Nine”-a’s.
2. The following conversation:

Andrew: [something about the editing schedule]
Me: I’m not really a panicker.
Andrew: I’ve noticed.

So yes. I went to Minneapolis and told my editor something he already knew (and a thing about Shakespeare that he suspected, but I can’t tell you what that was yet).

Since the conversation, I’ve been trying to remember the last time I panicked*, and I think I’ve finally come up with it. The second time I was in Jordan, we went to a Turkish Bath at the end of the field season. After the sauna and the hot pool, it was time for the exfoliation. I have exceptionally clear memories of this tiny Jordanian woman saying “off the top, please”, and then reaching for my bathing suit when I stared at her blankly. I didn’t react when she pulled it over my head, and then it dawned on me that I was in a room full of women and I was half naked (I mean, so was almost everyone else. But for some reason that was different). I felt it start, that bubble in your stomach you can’t contain, and then I thought to  myself “Self, this is going to take half an hour. You can lose your shit** for thirty minutes, or you can calm down and deal with it.”

I dealt with it***.

Since then, there have been other moments, other times I felt that bubble start up. Most recently was probably when the doctor called on July 29 to tell me that my surgery was on August 1. But the bubble never forms. Somehow I reason myself out of it.

It’s not really “somehow”. It’s almost always “someone”. Either I call my sister or text Emma or channel Sydney Bristow, and everything evens out. I have an excellent support system.

Sometimes I think not being a panicker is weird in publishing. I see people on twitter and worry that I SHOULD be panicking, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I think I got a lot of that worked out of me in my undergrad, when I had the Minerva McGonagall of Near Eastern Archaeology for a professor in almost half of my classes. Once you’ve gone through that learning curve, everything else seems remarkably straightforward.

So stress and worry, but not panic. I feel like I should offer advice, but I don’t really have any****. I think it comes down to the whole “do what works for you” adage that writers roll with. Some people panic, and it helps them. They tend to talk about it, so people who DON’T panic wonder if they’re doing something wrong. I can tell you that you’re not.

And I’m going to spend the next three days thinking that I’ve tempted the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing, and there’s panic coming my way. But I’ll deal with it. Because apparently that’s what I do.

*Here, “panic” shall NOT be what I do when I have a flashback. Those are different and I deal with them differently. Maybe I should deal with them the same way, and then I’d have them less? This is probably another blog post.
**I didn’t really think this. I didn’t swear in 2005. The internet has ruined me.
***Turkish baths are the BEST, you guys. If you ever go to the Middle East, find a safe one and GO. Wear a two-piece. Your pores will thank you.
****Except to go to a Turkish bath, see above.

(Word) Crime and Pun-ishment

One of the things I loved the most about BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER was the way that the characters used words. I mean, every TV show and book uses words, but the BUFFY crew managed to do something really cool. Without inventing words or borrowing from other languages (both of which Whedon would do later), the show managed to be linguistically interesting. I could imagine real people talking the way the characters did, because it was such a natural extension of English.

Well, mostly natural.

Anyway, that’s what I wanted to do with my books. I was adding dragons to the world, and I wanted to think about any of the ways that dragons might have changed the way we talk, without changing the way we talk entirely. The key is that you have to know the rules to break them, and I do know the rules. That’s part of what makes it so much fun.

I batted around a bunch of ideas, but ended up deciding on one small change. Since dying, or at least the threat of dying, was so central to the idea of dragon slaying, the words I ended up fiddling with were two verbs: “to kill” and “to slay”.

we are going to die

I set them up as two entirely different words. If a dragons died, it was never, ever, ever “killed”. That word was reserved for humans entirely. I wanted a hard opposite for dragons, which was a problem, because “to slay” has a different form. You have slayed the dragon, but the dragon has been slain.

I didn’t want that. I wanted the word to always be the same. I decided to go with “slayed”, even though it was not entirely grammatically sound, because it was a good mirror for “killed”. Unfortunately “kiln” is not a word that I can use in this context, so it had to be “killed” and “slayed” right from the get go.

Now, I ran approximately a hundred million Ctrl F searches on “killed” and “slain” just to be sure I hadn’t made an oversight while I writing. The only thing I checked more obsessively was the number of syllables in the haiku at the end of the St. George chapter. My point here is that “slayed” is not a mistake. Ever. In the text, in the world of Owen and Siobhan, it is the only word that means you have ended the life of a dragon.

that's how we roll in the shire

I fought with at least one test reader over this from the very beginning, but I was determined to leave it as it was written. During revisions, I explained the world building to my editor, and got to keep it. A couple of reviewers have mentioned using “slayed” as a criticism, which is one of the reasons I’m writing this post. I’m very glad I got to keep my somewhat awkward word choice, though, and that it stayed as subtle as it is, because most of the world building I got to do was very subtle (well, as subtle as a dragon can be), and much of it was word based.

The other place I got to world build was, of course, with the dragons themselves. Here, it was mostly with the dragon’s names, thought obviously their historical impact also came into play.

In OWEN, the dragons are mostly referred to by their Latin (or scientific) names. The corn dragon is my exception, because it’s also my joke: there is no word in Latin for corn, because corn is a North American crop. Accordingly, the dragon is actually called the wheat dragon, which is why it is stupid, and sometimes cannot tell corn from beans.

PRAIRIE FIRE has my favourite dragon name word joke, by far, and also my favourite dragon. But you will have to wait for that.


The Bayfield Writers’ Festival

I spent most of Saturday in my old stomping grounds, Huron County, where THE STORY OF OWEN is set. I had been invited to speak at the Bayfield Writers’ Festival, put on by the Bayfield Bookshop, and saying “yes” to the invitation was very easy!

Bayfield (named for Admiral Bayfield who, amongst other things, mapped a lot of Canadian coast of Lake Huron), is a gorgeous town, and the weather was bright and sunny. The other writers were all from Toronto, and the comments that kept getting repeated were all to the tune of “This place is so NICE!”


For real. I didn’t put the actual town of Bayfield in my book because I didn’t want to light it on fire. That is how much I love it.

Anyway, the festival was lovely! The town hall was full, and the other writers all gave excellent readings. I was a bit worried, as the only YA writer in the crowd (the audience was mostly retirees), but they all laughed at the right places during my reading, and the Q&A was great.

My favourite part was during the public Q&A part. When the moderator asked if there were any audience questions, there was the traditional 20 seconds of dead silence, and then a woman in the audience said:

“My question is for Kate. What is the Oxford Comma?”

(I mention the Oxford Comma in the jacket of my book, as part of my about the author. Because I am that kind of nerd.)

So I got to nerd out about grammar, and make everyone laugh a couple of times, and we all learned a valuable life lesson about the difference between peanut butter and jam and tuna sandwiches, and peanut butter and jam, and tuna sandwiches.


After that it was off to the Lion’s Club Chicken BBQ dinner in Seaforth. It’s an elimination draw, along with your food. Once upon a time, the prize was a tractor. The only people I know who ever won it weren’t farmers, so they sold the tractor and basically built another house on top of their existing house. Now it’s money, but it’s a pretty big deal.

Anyway, while we were eating (the largest piece of chicken I have ever seen), and they were drawing (number after number after number), I got to catch up with all kind of people I haven’t seen in a long time, and then a funny thing happened.

One of the women I used to work with at the Nursing Home came over and asked to buy a book (I had brought a couple with me for just this purpose), and while we were talking, she mentioned that she had tried to buy the copy I donated to a charity auction a few weeks ago, except someone kept outbidding her.

I never donated a copy to a charity auction! But someone did! And there was a bidding war, because my co-worker wanted a copy (it was signed), and the owner of the family hardware store in town wanted it too (because his store is in the book, as Archie’s bookstore in Saltrock).

I signed the book, and we both went back to attempting to eat our chicken (thank goodness people kept interrupting and giving me a chance to digest, or I might still be there), and then there was lemon cake, and then we began the two hour process of trying to actually get out of the building.

Fun times, basically.


Now that I’ve done a couple of school visits in Huron County, I’ve had more than one student be INCREDIBLY surprised that I could write a fun book about the place. I certainly would not have believed it myself, and didn’t, back when I was their age. And yet: a woman with a walker shook my hand and told me she was “mad for dragons”, and at dinner, there was hilarity and excellent food. They might not all be great stories to tell or hear, but they all have the seeds of them, I think, and that is how I do it. I find what’s there. And then I make a dragon attack it.

(Except in Bayfield. Bayfield is too pretty to die.)

Book Launch Party

So! My book THE STORY OF OWEN: DRAGON SLAYER OF TRONDHEIM came out on March 1, and we had a party to celebrate at this AMAZING toy store called Family & Co., which is in Stratford. I have been going to that store since I was five years old, so it was the perfect place to celebrate a book that is mostly about family and company. And, you know, lighting things on fire.

ImageThere was a great crowd, and a beautiful display.

ImageAND! My nephews and niece came in COSTUME!


My friend Rachel made me some delicious cupcakes and this astounding cake topper that captures one of my favourite scenes in the book.

ImageAll told, it was a really amazing evening. So many of my favourite people where there, and it was wonderful to share my happiness with them. Also, they laughed at the funny parts when I read, which was nice.



Desolation of My Feelings

I learned a very important lesson when Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers came out in theatre.

I was ludicrously excited. I was going with a cousin on opening night (this was, I believe, my FIRST opening night experience). The theatre was packed. The audience was amazing. The movie had everything I wanted: wonderful lines and pacing, great music, beautiful costumes, that scene where Legolas surfs down the stairs on a shield, firing arrows, before kicked the shield INTO AN URUK’S NECK. It also, I believe, has the greatest opening sequence in the history of film*. I was buzzing when I got home, even though I had to go straight to sleep because I had an exam the next day. And just as I was drifting off, it hit me:

Almost everything in “The Two Towers” is wrong.

There is no love triangle. The Ents want to fight Saruman. Théoden’s idea to go to Helm’s Deep is seen by Gandalf as a good decision. And don’t even get me STARTED on Faramir.

We took to calling it “the opposite movie”. When I took my Tolkien and Fantasy class the last year of university, you could easily spot the people who were skipping the readings, because when it came to TTT, they were ALWAYS wrong.

But you know what?

I don’t care**. I don’t care because it held to the spirit of the original text. The Two Towers has some INCREDIBLY DRY chapters, and Helm’s Deep is held to, basically, a PARAGRAPH. I wasn’t really a writer back then, just a reader and a fan, but I understood (most of) why the changes were made. You tell stories differently in print than you do on screen, and for all its “opposite”ness, The Two Towers is a fantastic film.

I’m keeping that in mind as I get all geared up for THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG tonight. We’ve been jokingly referring to it as “The Desolation of My Feelings” all year***, and because it’s the second movie, the “opposite” movie, I know that it’s the one that might try the patience of the purist inside of me.

I’m better about that than I used to be, though. I’m more understand of how the story needs to changed. Yes, I’d rather the barrels were closed, but I am sure there’ll be a decent reason why they’re open. Frankly, I’m looking forward to finding out what that is.

I’ve been avoiding all the reviews and comments and spoilers. I don’t want to know ANYTHING. I know that over the next few weeks, I am going to read things that make my blood boil, but I’m not worried about that now. It’s true, I won’t be going to the premiere as Party Thranduil (I tried, though), but I am planning to have a fun time tonight.

It won’t be the same. It’ll probably be the exact opposite. There will be things that the critics hate. There will be things that YOU hate. But I am going for the music and the effects, for Tauriel and Bard’s daughters, for the first elderly sorcerer buddy cop movie ever made.

And, good lord, I am frelling excited about it.





*It was almost beaten out by the opening of Star Trek: The Reboot, but that scene of Gandalf and the Balrog falling through the cavern really seals it.
***The first move was going to be “An Unexpected Party”, after the chapter title, but it quickly became “And Unexpected Journey Into Dwarf Feelings”, because REALLY. The third one is, of course, “There And Back Again, Electric Boogaloo”.