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The Story of Poems Worth Saving

I never considered myself a poet.

Any time I had to write poetry for classes in school, it didn’t come naturally to me. When I thrived writing stories and creating worlds, poetry was always difficult. Add in the fact that these poems were being seen by a teacher and graded, and any kind of enthusiasm I had flew out the window.

I still wrote poetry here and there.

When I was in university, a friend of mine gave me some poems to read, and I felt inspired. I started writing my own poems. Though they were clumsy, I liked writing them. I filed them away on my computer, with no intention of anyone seeing them ever. I didn’t think they were “good” poems.

Everything turned around for me in 2016 when I read Amanda Lovelace’s poetry for the first time.

Back then, Lovelace had a Tumblr account I followed, blogging about books and TV shows I also liked. One day, she dropped a self-published poetry collection called The Princess Saves Herself In This One. She posted excerpts on her blog and instagram, and I immediately became hooked. This poetry was different from what I’d learned in school. It was raw emotion, it was lawless, it was everything I never knew I needed. As I began to read other poets she’d been posting about, I fell deeper and deeper in love with poetry.

I began to write my own shortly thereafter. The past year had been a learning experience for me, and reading poetry inspired me to write about it. Pretty soon, I had enough poems to make up a collection, and I hastily uploaded it to Smashwords and released it to the world in February of 2017. It was called Poems Worth Saving after a folder on my computer, which I had created to to distinguish the “meh” poems from the ones I truly loved.

It wasn’t the right time for it to be released.

I was too shy to really market it well, not wanting to broadcast it to family or friends. I posted a link to my Tumblr, and did some minimal promotion on YouTube, but that was about it. I think I sold 4 or 5 copies in total. I just wasn’t prepared to truly let it go. In the end, I unpublished it on Smashwords for several years, with the idea I would eventually edit and refine it, and give it the proper release it deserved.

Years went by. I kept writing poems and saving them to the “poems worth saving” folder, but I hadn’t dared to open that old file with the original collection inside. Finally, this past spring, I finally took a look.

I ended up cutting out most of the poems from the original collection. I added some older ones I’d deemed “bad” before I really understood the value of my words. I wrote new ones, too. I finally had enough distance between the me I was now, and the me I was then to truly create a collection “worth saving.”

And finally, here it is. These poems have changed so much through the years, but I love the way this collection has shaped up to be. It’s all about home, friendships, relationships, and growing into the person you want to be. When I first began writing this collection, I viewed the poems as a sort of diary. Over time, they transformed and lived their own lives separated from me. As I say in the first page of Poems Worth Saving:

I intend to fill this world
with all that I am
and have never been.

I hope you all enjoy reading it.

Poems Worth Saving will be released January 7, 2020, and is currently available to pre-order through most ebook retailers here

 

This May

What a whirlwind of a month!

This past May, I participated in an intensive hosted by 603 New Musicals in Toronto. The intensive was being run all month, with some participants present for a week or two, others for the whole four weeks. I was there for three of the four weeks.

I have always been keen on working on musical theatre, ever since the last couple years of my Bachelor of Music. Musical theatre had been part of my life for so long, but I found I didn’t have much desire to act professionally. As I progressed in the music program, I thought I’d have to put musical theatre in my past and do it more as a hobby than a professional career route. It never occurred to me until much later that I could write musicals instead of perform them.

The task of writing a musical always felt too big to manage myself. I’d start writing songs that were never finished, and I had a hard time thinking up plots, despite being a writer. All these past experiences were floating around me when I went into 603 for the first time.

Being at 603 was a fantastic experience. Just being around other authors and seeing their process was incredibly helpful. It gave me motivation to move forward, and the tools to realize my ideas on paper. One of the most important things I realized while being at 603 was that I was fully capable of writing the book of the show. I always thought I’d need a collaborator, and I still think that’d be beneficial in the future, but I also have the power and the skills to do it myself. Now I have more confidence moving forward in my ability to execute all aspects of writing a show.

Another thing I realized while at this intensive was that I didn’t have to write anything “groundbreaking.” I’m not saying my work won’t be groundbreaking, but I think I needed to free myself from those expectations and write the music in my heart. My training and past experiences will inform how that music is set, and that in itself could be something truly magical and different. I just needed to separate myself from my own expectations in order to really take this work and run with it.

Now that the month’s over, my main goal is to finish my first draft of my show. I know 603 will be behind me if I need support or a place to write. They’ve really crafted a community there, and I’m excited to see them all again.

Sky’s Playlist from I Knew Him

It’s been a week since the release of I Knew Him and I am still overwhelmed if I think about it too much. This novel has been in my heart for years, and now everyone in the world can read it. That alone is a strange feeling. Having a chance to hold my book in my hands was equally amazing and surreal.

Seeing the positive response is so wonderful. I really appreciate the readers who have reached out on Twitter to tell me how much they enjoyed the book. I’m really happy you have found comfort in the book that brought me comfort when I needed it the most.

To celebrate a full week of I Knew Him being out, I will share with you a playlist! For those of you who have read the book, you’ll know Sky makes Julian a car soundtrack. Here are the songs I think he’d pick. I hope you enjoy.

Recent Performance: Toronto SongSlam

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of having my piece “Stars” premiered at the Toronto SongSlam. The event was created by Sparks and Wiry Cries and was hosted in Toronto by Women on the Verge. Like a poetry slam, SongSlam asks the audience to vote for their favourite piece, and the winning team collects a cash prize.

When I first heard about this event, I was really excited by the concept. It’s rare to see classical music events that also feature audience participation. And the night of the event, I was really happy and surprised to see the hall was almost full! The audience was engaged, cheering for each team with so much enthusiasm. It was wonderful to be part of it.

For this competition, I teamed up with soprano Carolyn Beaudoin and pianist Scott Downing. I met Carolyn at the Opera from Scratch workshop in Halifax this past summer, and it was so fun to work with her again. She found the poem “Stars” by Canadian poet Marjorie Pickthall and we decided it’d be the perfect text for this piece.

Writing the piece was interesting. I knew I wanted to create an ethereal accompaniment to illustrate the text, but how was another challenge. After playing around with different ideas, I ended up blending traditional harmonies with quartal chords stacked on top. I listened to a lot of solo piano music to get a good grasp of how I wanted to write a part that had movement, but wasn’t impossible to play. I’ve always found writing piano parts daunting, even though I studied piano as a child until I finished high school. Some of my past work tried to overcompensate for that by having too many moving parts and too many voices. This time, I tried to keep things simpler and the final product is one I’m very happy with.

The night of the event was very exciting. Both Carolyn and Scott played beautifully and really brought the magic of the text alive. It was great to see what the other teams had come up with as well. There was so much variety, both in the texts chosen and the execution of setting the texts. It was amazing to see.

Overall, it was a really positive experience. Our team ended up tying for third place! I’m really glad Carolyn reached out to me about this event and we had to a chance to collaborate again.

Listen to the performance now!

The Waiting Game

As I have posted on my social media already, I am having a book published. It came as quite a shock to a lot of people, who know me largely as a musician and composer. Now I feel may be a good time to recount how this all came to pass and what’s up next for me.

I’ve always loved writing. In elementary school, we had to write daily journals in order to improve our French writing skills. I often wrote multiple-part epic stories about my stuffed animals or princesses. When I was ten, I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time, and it inspired me so much to write my own epic fantasy stories. I wanted to someday become a published author.

Needless to say, those early works aren’t great. I’m not sure many are salvageable. But I have to hand it to Tolkien for inspiring me to write endlessly throughout my time in middle school.

When I was fourteen, I read Twilight for the first time. It was the first book I’d read set in modern times in a high school setting. While I enjoyed the book back then, I didn’t feel that the way high school was portrayed was accurate. As I read more high school books (fantasy or not), I found this observation to be true for many.

My gears slowly shifted from writing messy fantasy to writing urban fantasy. And then finally, I wrote the first draft of what became I Knew Him, my debut novel. It was the first contemporary novel I’d written and it was messy and overdramatic, as anything written by a fifteen-year-old is bound to be. But I truly loved the characters and their relationships. I just didn’t know what story belonged to them yet.

Throughout my time in undergrad at Mount Allison, I often returned to this story and these characters as a way to relax after spending a whole day thinking critically about music. I wrote countless false starts late in my dorm room, trying to figure out how these characters could have the story they needed. I never got it just right.

Then I read Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan and something clicked in my brain. It was the first LGBTQIA book I’d read where the characters had a happy ending. Back then, most non-straight characters in media had relatively hard lives. It was rare to see someone happy for more than a few moments (or episodes, if we’re thinking in TV terms). A lot of LGBTQIA side characters in books also had little time to shine, or were miserable for most of the story. I realized I wanted to write a story like Boy Meets Boy, and the characters from I Knew Him seemed like the perfect people to experience this joyful story.

Countless rewrites and two music degrees later, I had my final version of I Knew Him. At one point, in between degrees I’d queried the novel and was rejected each time. Since I was still in school, I put the draft aside and decided to query with more intensity when I was all graduated.

After I’d graduated and was out in the “real world,” I started to think about the draft again. I found several places where more description could be added, or more character development could happen. I set off to revise it one final time. This time I’d taken it as far as I could go alone. It was time to start sending it out to agents and publishers that accepted non-agented submissions again.

I submitted my book to NineStar Press, received the automated message it would take about 12 weeks to hear back from them. As the weeks passed, I slowly forgot about it… and forgot about where the 12 week mark would be. I even decided I should rework a few points in the story one last time.

Then one day after I came home from work, I saw I had an email in my inbox. The email was from an editor at NineStar, and they were offering me a contract! I couldn’t believe it. I almost threw up out of the sheer shock from it. But as I calmed down to the idea, the excitement began to settle in. I told the editor I’d been revising it again, and she was fine with letting me do what I wanted before taking the reins.

So now, I’m here. I’ve sent out my final revision and it’s in the hands of the editor. For now, there’s not much for me to do but wait for the revisions to roll in. I’ve been writing other stories and writing more music. Mostly, I’ve been letting the idea of being a published author sink in. I’m so excited to see where this journey takes me. I hope you’ll all follow it with me.

Currently writing: UFO Sightings

Back in April, I was invited to participate in Opera from Scratch, hosted by Vocalypse Productions in Halifax. The workshop will be taking place in August, but currently I am in the midst of writing the piece for the workshop. Each selected composer must write a work centred on a piece of Nova Scotian history or folklore. For my piece, I decided to write about the Shag Harbour UFO sighting from 1967.

UFOs and aliens have been on my brain as of late. My mom recalled a story of her seeing a UFO with my grandfather back in the 1970s when I was visiting at Christmas. Her parents lived on a farm just outside of Sackville, New Brunswick. The story intrigued me because I hadn’t really heard her talk about it before. What intrigued me more was the dream that she had the night she saw the strange flying object.

When selecting a subject for this opera, I thought back to the UFO sighting my mom had described. I began to search for a similar sighting in Nova Scotia, and discovered the Shag Harbour incident. It was so fascinating to me. But I knew I didn’t just want to recount the events of that night. I wanted to include something creative as well. I decided to add in my mom’s dream, but with some modifications for dramatic effect.

It was also interesting to write my own libretto. I fear I may have overcompensated, having thought I wouldn’t have enough material for a ten-minute piece. But looking at it now, I realize I wrote too much. It’s been interesting knowing where to cut things, and I’m glad that I’m the sole creator of the text and can cut away as I please. I’m keeping my favourite parts, though.

The piece should be finished soon. After that, it may be time to start working on a secret project again…

Recent Performance: Abandoned

At the beginning of this past month, I had the great opportunity of seeing my work Abandoned performed by the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra Winds. It was part of a workshop and reading program that they had begun 2016. The participants would write a piece for the SPO Winds and work with composer mentors to help shape the work. Finally, the piece was read by the SPO Winds and the performers delivered feedback on playability and general musical structure.

The experience as a whole was invaluable for me. I had a lesson with Elizabeth Raum and Alex Eddington, who both provided fantastic advice that helped me see my composing and this work in a completely different way. I also found the feedback from the players helped me create a better piece that was both more playable and more concise musically.

Leading up to the performance, I revisited this work and edited it heavily. I took the quite a bit of the advice from the performers and went very in-depth in the analysis of my score. I am much happier with the end result than I was at the initial reading in the winter of 2017, and I am very grateful SPO Winds gave me and the other participants from the reading the chance to have their works performed by a skilled ensemble.

At the performance, the participants in the 2017-2018 workshop as well as the 2016-2017 workshop stood together for a photo. I am hoping that the SPO Winds will perform some of the works from this year’s workshop in the future.