Monday, December 3, 2018

"A doctoral student and their advisor walk into a bar. The advisor orders a draft and they sit in awkward silence for eight months."
—S***T Academics Say, Facebook Page, Dec 3, 2018.

These days, one of the things I specialize in is coaching graduate students through the writing process. It's astounding how many folks get caught in blank page syndrome or writer's block for months at a time without seeking help. Or who find themselves overwhelmed by their advisor or committee's feedback, when really, the feedback was (should have been) really helpful, had they been but able to interpret it. And I love helping students maintain their motivation and momentum as thesis-writing angst inevitably sets in.

By the same token, it's sometimes heart-breaking when students seek my help when they've left it too late. I've had a couple of cases where students wanted my help two weeks before the deadline for submissions or the meeting with the Dean about what to do now that they've failed. If they had only approached me five months earlier, they'd be graduating instead.

Or even the successful students who approach me for simple copy editing (APA or Chicago or MLA formatting) two weeks before their submission deadline. It never seems to occur to them that all 400 of the graduating class(es) are going to be seeking copy editing those same two weeks—because no one wants their thesis rejected by Graduate Studies becouse of some simple formatting error—and it's only those who booked their editing weeks or even months in advance who are going to actually have editors available. I'm usually able to work one or two extra theses or dissertations in by working overtime and on weekends, but that means double or triple time charges, so not everyone can afford that. If only they thought to book help earlier.

Of course, people often think of editors like the guy at the copy centre: open to walk-ins 9-9, no appointment necessary, and your work back Wed, Today for a rush job. But editing isn't like that. You need an editor who understands your discipline and maybe a bit about your topic, so that means shopping around: generic copy shop is not the model here. And you need to book ahead because the good editors are already working on large projects weeks if not months in advance, and you may not always want the editor that's free to take on your thesis/dissertation/book today. It's like, if you forgot to book the wedding photographer, you can find one the day of, but um. . .that same day booking explains why some wedding photographers are still in business.

For a free booklet on successful thesis or dissertation writing, go to Writing Strategies for Theses or Dissertations

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Short Story Submissions

The elements that we consider make up a "well written" story tend to be those we've observed in stories we like. When we consider stories for Neo-opsis, the first thing we consider is, "did we like the story?" not "would my English teachers have approved of all the elements of the story?" One story didn't have what some would consider the best writing techniques, but when I read the story, I felt like I was in the story watching it, rather than looking at words on a page. That to me is far more important than whether their grammar was perfect, if their tenses always matched, etc.

It's easier to fix the grammar in an interesting story than it is to make a well-written boring story less boring.

—Karl Johanson
Editor, Neo-opsis Magazine

Saturday, November 17, 2018

CBC item on Author Incomes

Story from the CBC on author incomes

I've been saying this for a few years now...there is no money in writing novels any more. The best you can hope for is a little extra pocket money or enough to subsidize your writing hobby. Poets have accepted this decades ago. You can count on your fingers the number of people who make a living as poets. But people still write poetry, publish poetry and value poetry. So it has become with novels. There are a few who are best sellers, but that is the same category of profession as lottery winners, and has nothing to do with you or your writing. That doesn't make the novel less valuable in the other sense. Just because we live in a capitalist society that measures value in $, you don't have to get sucked into that. Write the novel for self-fulfilment and for your readers and for your contribution to the cultural conversation that is literature. But don't ask me how to 'turn professional' how to make a living at this because that job category has been in decline since the invention of television, and was killed by the invention of the internet and social media. But you don't have to be a professional writer to be a great writer and to have appreciative readers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Dave Duncan (June 30, 1933 - Oct 29, 2018)

Dave Duncan, 2014

Dave Duncan, author of over 60 novels, passed away peacefully, surrounded by family, Monday morning, Oct 29, 2018. He had fallen the previous Thursday evening and suffered a brain haemorrhage from which he never recovered.

I was working flat out Monday, so had stayed off email for once, but my brother-in-law phoned me on the way home and told me to pull over, he had some bad news. So that's how I heard. I couldn't believe it. I kept saying, "No, he just emailed me Thursday, so that can't be right, you must have heard that wrong." I was devasted when I opened my email and saw the notice from Duncan's son.

Duncan had been having a particularly productive period. Having announced his retirement several times after suffering strokes, he had recovered enough to start up again, and he had gone through his unfinished manuscripts and redone them and completed some new ones as well. He told me how much he loved writing again and I certainly saw that the books were coming out fast and furious.

On Thursday afternoon, Dave Duncan sent me his most recent novel to edit. I sent back the edited copy Sunday evening—noting that there was almost no editing needed on this one, just one trivial change in the world-building and some copy editing (the result of his having some trouble with typing largely one-handed). It was a standalone SF novel called The Traitor's Son and is absolutely up to his usual high standard. He told me he already had an agent interested in it.

It's the third novel I'd worked on for Dave in the past three or four weeks. The White Flame series consists of Corridor to Nightmare (which is finished and great) and the sequel, The Angry Lands, which was only a third done. The Angry Lands hadn't quite jelled for him. We talked about what had been done so far, but he told me the ending—which I haven't seen—wasn't working. He said, "I'm worried it may turn out to be my Edwin Drood" but that he'd get back to it this week or next, once The Traitor's Son edits were finished.

I hope Corridor to Nightmare is published. It would be fine as a standalone novel; or perhaps there are notes for The Angry Lands that would allow for it to be finished. I know he's sold one other novel besides The Traitor's Son, and there may be others I haven't seen. I certainly hope so, because he really was my favourite author and I'm not ready to stop reading Duncan.

With 65 books, if I ration myself to re-reading one every two months, that should see me through to the next decade; and then I could start over again, if I'm still around.
Dave Duncan at the Aurora Awards, 2005

Conversion, 1996. Al Onia (standing) Karl Johanson, Robert Runté,Jean-Louis Trudel, and Dave Duncan.

Update Nov 17: his obituary in the Globe and Mail:

Second Update: I had the opportunity to say a few words at his memorial service, which Karl Johanson (Neo-Opsis editor) was good enough to film and post (along with an excerpt of one of Karl's interviews with Dave) on YouTube

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The First Line Literary Magazine

I recently discovered The First Line Literary Magazine, which has a fascinating premise. The call for submissions for each issue gives you the first line of the story, and then you take it from there, the idea being that different authors will have very different takes on where to go with it. So fun!

I submitted a new story in my "Ransom and the ..." series in response to "The Window was open just enough to let in the cool night air" and "Ransom and the Open Window" was one of eight stories selected out of the nearly 1,000 submissions. Pretty pleased with that, given it was my first try at this game. If you're looking for a stimulus to get you past writer's block or just want a fun challenge, one could do worse than giving this contest series a try. It's a paying market, but the fun quotient far outweighs the token payment.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Editing Canadian English

Editing Canadian EnglishEditing Canadian English by Editors' Association of Canada
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I mostly use Chicago Manual of Style and/or American Psychological Association style guides in my role as book editor, but it's nice to have this resource on my desk for Canadian content that doesn't require strict adherence to either APA or CMOS. The book contains intelligent discussions of the Editors Association of Canada (Editors Canada) take on a whole range of issues--dealing with racism, sexism, ableism in writing, for example--that move the reader from a simple prescriptivist perspective found in most style guides to a much more sophisticated understanding that is closer to the way professional editors think.

Highly recommended for all Canadian editors, and for Canadian writers interested in self-editing.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

More new Essential Edits staff

Adria Laycraft (Editor and Writing Coach)

Adria Laycraft has joined the Essential Edits team. She has a journalism degree and nearly twenty years experience as an author, copywriter, and editor. She was the co-editor of the Aurora nominated Urban Green Man anthology from Edge, and has been published in such venues as IGMS, Tesseracts, Neo-opsis, On-Spec, Hypersonic Tales and various anthologies. She works primarily in the SF&F genre. She is a member of Editors Association of Canada (Editors Canada) and the Calgary Association of Freelance Editors.

Adria is based in Calgary, and her home page is http://

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

WordBridge Writers Convention Lethbridge

I should mention that Essential Edits is one of the sponsors for the WordBridge writers conference in Lethbridge, scheduled for Feb 9, 2019. Tentative plans are to have a single track of programming during the day, followed by the keynote speaker, followed by a meet and mingle.

The hope is to (1) act as a catalyst to help create a cohesive writing/literary community in Lethbridge and area; (2) provide a conference experience for writers who cannot afford the expense of travelling and staying overnight in Calgary for When Words Collide or the WGA conference, etc, or who cannot get away because of elder care or child care or employment issues; and (3) to connect Lethbridge to writers in other communities.

The WordBridge web page is

The WordBridge Facebook page is

We talked about WordBridge at When Words Collide conference in Calgary last weekend and I was surprised at the immense support from Calgary area authors. It was very energizing to have not only the writers from Lethbridge come and take a button from us, but writers from everywhere express interest in attending or supporting the conference. I'm very excited about the possibilities!

As an aside, my report on my experience at this year's When Words Collide conference, is at WWC has always been and remains my favorite writers' convention, but when it started eight years ago, it wasn't much bigger than we're planning for WordBridge.

WordBridge will be the third literary convention for which I was a founding board member. Back in 1979, I was one of those involved in launching Edmonton's NonCon SF convention, which ran for twenty years; and I was secretary for ConText'89 and '91, which saw the founding and consolidation of SF Canada (Canada's national association of professional SF writers) which is still alive and well today). The Lethbridge Library's Word on the Street successes shows that there is a lively community of readers and book lovers in the city; now to focus more specifically on building an event for writers.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

New Essential Edits Staff

Halli Lilburn (Editor and Writing Coach)

Halli is an editor, workshop leader, writing coach, and author. She has published in Tesseracts, Carte Blanche,Spirited, We Shall Be Monsters, and other venues; was co-editor of The Dame Was Trouble anthology [Coffin Hop Press, 2018]; and is the author of the YA novel, Shifters. She is a member of The Editors Association of Canada and the Writers Guild of Alberta,and is part of Essential Edits' Lethbridge team. She has extensive teaching/workshop experience working with both teens and adults. Halli is Essential Edits’ lead for teen writers, YA authors, and horror, but also edits poetry and genre fiction.

Halli Lilburn's SF YA novel, Shifters.

Halli will be participating in panels at When Words Collide in Calgary this coming weekend, the Essential Edits table at Word on the Street Lethbridge (Sept 22, 2018) and is offering a creative writing workshop through CASA October 20.

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Good Month for My Fiction

After coming in second in the Hummingbird Prize, I got more good news today: my time travel story, "Sermon on the Mount" was selected by On Spec Magazine to showcase the magazine in Alberta Unbound, the Alberta Magazine Publications Association online exhibit. The exhibit only lasts a couple of months, but you're welcome to read my story for free while it lasts.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Runner-Up in Pulp Literature's Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize

The Current Issue of Pulp Literature

Very pleased that "Day Three", my second-ever piece of flash fiction, came in second in Pulp Fiction's Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize. I believe the story will appear in the Winter 2019 issue.

I am particularly pleased because getting published in Pulp Literature was one of the five writing goals I set myself for this year. Getting X number of stories written for the year was goal one, of course, and two was to see if I could get something published/sold each month (so far, four out of six, but still time to catch up), and the third was to finish polishing the novel and approaching agents—I'm lined up for a session with an agent in three weeks—fourth was selling to Pulp Literature; and fifth was writing an article for University Affairs, which is on my agenda as soon as I finish teaching for the year.

So, what are your writing goals for 2018?

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Interview with Terry Fallis

Fabulous interview by Mark Leslie Lefebvre with Terry Fallis about going from self-published writer, to Stephen Leacock Medal winner, to bestselling author with one of the world's largest publishers. Terry talks about writing a novel no one was interested in publishing (a satirical novel about Canadian politics--well, duh!) but nevertheless reached the audience he needed to reach.

If you don't have time to watch, do what I did and listen to the audio podcast at the link included. It has the advantage that you can listen on your headphones as you do the dishes or vacuum or walk the dog, so you get two things accomplished in the time for one. Also, the audio version includes 15 extra minutes of Mark's commentary on HIS writing life, in this case, excellent advice on how to keep from being overwhelmed by too many writing projects or being discouraged when you (inevitably, in my view) fall behind self-imposed deadlines.

My favourite Fallis advice to writers from the interview—something I've also been telling students and clients for years—is not to chase trends:

For crying out loud, write something that you care about. If vampires are all the rage right now, don't write a vampire novel because of that. If you love vampires, by all means. But I remember meeting a writer, an aspiring writer, and she said, "Yes, I'm writing a novel about vampires because they're so hot now". (In the rise of Twilight.) And I said, "Oh, do you, are you interested in vampires?"
"No, not really."
"Do you know much about them?"
"No, not yet. But I'm just researching them now."
"Do you know any vampires?"
"Are you a vampire?"
"Are you touched in any way by vampires?"
So I could only imagine the challenge it would be to write a book that feels real, and powerful, compelling, authentic, when there is no connection at all between the subject matter and the writer, beyond the marketing imperative of the high profile of vampires at that moment in time.
So when people would say,"Why would you write a politcal satire of Canadian politics, that sounds like a terrible idea," and maybe it was, but at least it was something I cared about, and knew about, I'd lived in that world, I had some views on it and I had a story I wanted to tell to illuminate a different path we might take in how we practice politics in this country. And I think it's hard to write your best work when you're not writing about something that you care about.

I've seen this again and again: writers chasing a trend. Even those talented enough to write something half-way decent are wasting their time because by the time their book is ready, the market has been flooded by copycats, and the trend is over. Any book you can write fast enough to cash in won't be good enough, and any book that's good enough will take too long to write, have edited, go through the submission/or self-published process to appear while the trend is still there. The only authors who were able to cash in on Twilight's success, were those who already had a really fine vampire book in their bottom drawer before vampires were hot.

Similarly, there is no hope of predicting what the next big thing will be to get ahead of the curve—would you have expected Canadian political satire, for example? And even if you could predict, it still has to be something to which you actually have a connection. Certainly, every genre editor can spot when a mainstream writer has decided to "knock out a genre novel" on the grounds of "how hard can it be" and reinvents every cliché that died out 50 years ago—or worse, believes an SF or Romance novel has lower standards. No thanks!

The whole interview is awesome because Mark is a great interviewer and has known Fallis forever, certainly before Fallis was known outside of Hamilton, and because Fallis is a fascinating guy with an unusual career path. (And for older writers like myself, it's encouraging to know you can still make it as a writer after age 35.)

I'd also recommend Mark Leslie Lefebvre's Stark Reflections on Writing and Publishing for not just this episode, but as an ongoing series. Mark was the founder and former director of Kobo's Writing Life program for independent authors, was a long-time bookseller and one of the first to install an Expresso Book Machine in Canada (i.e., print-on-demand before anyone else had heard of POD), and is an established author himself. He has an insider's knowledge of both traditional and self-publishing, and extensive experience as a bookstore manager. So...yeah, you need to be listening to this if you want to understand what's happening in the industry.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

VidCon Report

This year, I attended my first VidCon, since that seems to be where the new center of cultural creation is these days. If you're interested at all, here is my VidCon Review.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Editing Standards

Here is an anecdote from Greg Ioannou a professional and influential Canadian editor:

In its early days, the Editors' Association of Canada (then the "Freelance Editors' Association of Canada") sent its members a series of sentences to edit, to see which were the most common approaches to fixing some kinds of problems. We were in the very very early days of thinking about standards. One sentence, memorably, was edited by 101 editors. Only one pair of editors made the same corrections to it. So there were literally 100 different edits trying to fix a two-line sentence. And almost all of those edits worked perfectly well.

In response, Sharon Stewart mentioned that

a linguistics prof wrote an algorithm to create a sentence describing a cartoon of a phone booth out in the middle of nowhere in which a bear was making a phone call. The algorithm came up with 22 million grammatically correct ways to describe the cartoon. I used to mention that story to editors-in-training to show them that there's more than one way to say something.

The general public believes that editors are rule-bound prescriptivists dictating 'correct' English, but the truth is editing is more an art than a science, and professional editors (as opposed to your annoying cousin and some improperly trained Language Arts teachers) understand there are many ways of saying the same thing well, and that there is no one correct way that all must adopt. Indeed, the joy of English is the many different nuances of meaning and emphasis available by subtle changes in word choice, word order, punctuation, and so on. A professional editor strives for clarity while working to maintain the authors' intent and voice. Professional editors know that one frequently breaks 'the rules' to convey meaning, purpose, tone, voice, and so on--what the public has learned to call poetic license. Well, everybody has license to write as they wish, not just poets, and the purpose of editing is to up one's language game, not restrict it with arbitrary rules. Of course, there are many common errors where an author may word something that could be more precise, concise, or clearer if slightly altered, and an editor might make that suggestion. But it's always up to the client to say yea or nay.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


Just received my copy of Alison Lohans' Timefall in the mail from the publisher. I was the structural editor for this revised and updated ominbus edition, and am pretty happy with the results . . . and am loving the Ann Crowe cover!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Editor, Kathryn Shalley

Kathryn Shalley, one of the editors at, has been accepted into the Masters of Fine Art program at the University of Saskatchewan for fall, 2018, on an SSHRC scholarship. Kathryn will continue to work part time at, but we wanted to congratulate her on both taking this next step in her professional development, and on her winning a prestigious SSHRC scholarship.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Candas Jane Dorsey Tribute

Candas Jane Dorsey has been a driving force behind the literary scene in Alberta (particularly Edmonton) for over 40 years. As an award-winning author, editor, publisher, organizer, and activist, she has pushed to create a literary arts community as vital as any in the country. In tribute, a group of authors led by Rhonda Parrish have produced a tribute anthology: Praire Starport: Stories in Celebration of Candas Jane Dorsey. The volume is free from and includes one of my early short stories along with my brief tribute to Candas related to the story.

Here are the links for all the places people can get copies of Prairie Starport:

Official website:
Book Funnel:
Barnes & Noble:
Amazon ($0.99):
Paperback ($9.99):

Monday, May 7, 2018

Supporting Graduate Student Writing

My recent presentation to Spark, University of Lethbridge Teaching Symposium, entitled "Supporting Graduate Student Writing in a Thesis and Dissertation" is now available on SlideShare.

The talk covers roughly the same material as my 32-page guide, "Writing Strategies for Theses and Dissertations", except this time from the point of view of thesis/dissertation supervisors. I am trying to make supervisors understand that it is not enough to support graduate students through the literature review, proposal, research methods selection, data collection, and data analysis, but that they must also explicitly provide instruction in thesis-writing. All too often, a student successfully completes all their graduate coursework, their thesis proposal, data collection and analysis, and then suddenly the support from the advisor dries up as they say, "great, now run along and write that all up" as if writing a thesis were not as problematic as every other step. My basic argument is that graduate students have to unlearn the writing strategies that made them successful term paper writers and undergraduate graduates, and must now learn an entirely new and different set of writing skills to master the writing strategies required for any sustained piece of writing.

My presentation to the Sparks Symposium seemed to go over very well, and my online version of the presentation received fifty-hits the first week, so pleased with the initial reception. Hopefully, the presentation will continue to gain some momentum, because unless the problem is recognized and addressed by supervisors, we will continue to see a 50% attrition rate among graduate students in thesis and dissertation route programs.

If you do download or review the presentation, make sure to read the "notes" section as well, as the notes include some of my verbal commentary not on the slides.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Tweet from the Faculty of Education, at the University of Lethbridge.

I like the quote obviously, but the thrust of the paper is that students need to understand why, after years of academic success, they suddenly discover they can't write when they sit down to write their thesis. Understanding that a thesis is different than anything they've done so far, that they essentially have to unlearn all the strategies that have helped them so much up to now, is a prerequisite of success.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Struggling with a Thesis or Dissertation?

Cover of Anxiety Magazine an art project by @crayonelyse to encourage discussion of mental health issues. Used with permission. ©2017 @crayonelyse

Doing graduate work? Need outside moral support? A writing coach can help.

Stuck while writing a thesis or dissertation? You are not alone: over 50% of those who start a thesis or dissertation never finish. That's an appalling statistic because it either means graduate program selection committees are universally terrible at choosing candidates for thesis-route programs, or that there is some structural problem with supervision.

What is most revealing is that 85% of those who fail to complete their thesis or dissertation drop out after successfully completing all their coursework and research. It is understandable if after a year in the program some students decide it's not for them and drop out. But that represents only about 15% of those who don't make it. The rest are people who stall out writing while writing their thesis— often after seven or eight years in the program. The financial, career, and emotional costs of such a high investment of time and energy for no return is clearly unacceptable, yet these statistics have not changed in over 50 years.

It doesn't have to be this way. Since the dropout rate is highest while students are registered in the thesis or dissertation, I would argue that the real reason people fail is that no one has taught them that undertaking a sustained piece of writing, such as a thesis or dissertation, requires different skills and strategies then other forms of writing; that they must unlearn the strategies that got them through their undergraduate papers and learn a whole new approach.

A key aspect of that new approach is understanding that angst is an inevitable part of writing. Almost everyone is anxious about their research-writing, as aptly illustrated by the cover of Anxiety Magazine. Since the problems that afflict 50% of thesis-route graduate students is the actual process of writing the thesis, a writing coach may be the best way to address these issues.

If one is struggling with writing basics—sentence or paragraph structure, transition sentences, citation format, and so on—then most campuses have a writing center that can help even graduate students improve their writing skills. The service is free. If one has generalized anxiety or test anxiety or thesis anxiety, most campuses similarly have professional counselors to help talk one through emotional issues.

If, however, your problems relate specifically to your thesis with things like writers' block, your ideas not 'jelling', lack of motivation, angst over your research writing not being good enough, and so on, then a writing coach might be what you need. Some campuses offer thesis-writing seminars, workshops, and so on ... but many do not. A private writing coach charges fees, but the fees are likely less than the cost of a typical graduate course or even just the fees charged to continue your registration for yet another extension as you struggle alone to finish your thesis. A writing coach can get you through the writing portion of the thesis faster, with less pain [there is no such thing as 'painlessly' when it comes to thesis-writing] and with a greater likelihood of success.

Start with the FREE 32-page guide from to understanding the thesis-writing process and strategies to address the logistical and psychological barriers to completing a thesis. (See also the "thesis" button on the homepage for other useful resources for Graduate Students, such as the pamphlet on how to choose your thesis supervisor or the pamphlet on keeping key files safely backedup.)

For personal coaching on your thesis or dissertation, Dr. Runté and his staff are ready to help. $400-$500 buys ten hours of coaching. All coaching, tutoring, and editing is done within the ethical guidelines of the Editors Association of Canada.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

On Common Errors in Fiction

Andromeda Spaceways, the Australian SF magazine, has a helpful and amusing article by Douglas A. Van Belleon on the most common reasons they reject a story. Pretty accurate and comprehensive list of reasons your story might not be working (though I've added one additional suggestion in the comments section). Worth a look!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Writing the Literary Novel

Excellent advice in Suzanne Reisman's Ten Tips to Write a Novel That's Literary as F—", amusingly expressed. The article does include a certain, um, Joycian quality—which is to say,
But I've had to correct one or more of these issues in every manuscript across my desk. Including my own.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Robert, Editing

My wife (seen here reflected in the mirror in the background) caught this candid shot of me editing. Clearly, I love my job.


Also, I tend to lose track of time, and apparently hadn't noticed that the sun had gone down and I was now working in the dark.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Excellence for What?

Very pleased to have a chapter in the just released Routledge collection, Global Perspectives on Teaching Excellence entitled "Excellence for what? Policy Development and the Discourse of the Purpose of Higher Education." The collection is basically a reaction to recent legislation in the UK that attempted to measure and mandate teaching excellence in higher education. My wife and I wrote a critique using my discourse analysis model of the purpose of higher education applied to the new legislation to suggest that the government's definition of 'excellence' might be somewhat problematic from the perspective of students and learning.

Of course, discourse analysis is a large part of academic editing, so it's nice to be able to keep my hand in original research/publication to be part of this excellent collection.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Some Thoughts on Writing a Novel (Video by Joe Mahoney)

Here's Joe Mahoney talking about writing his novel, A Time and A Place.

It's a pretty good summary of the process and principles I think most successful writers come to live by. (He ended up with a pretty great book.)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

"The Luck of Charles Harcourt" and "Sermon on the Mount"

My 1989 short story, "The Luck of Charles Harcourt", has been reprinted in the current issue (#5) of Polar Borealis (above left). The timing pleases me greatly because the story originally appeared in the very first issue of On Spec magazine (pictured above right), and my second story in On Spec, "Sermon on the Mount" came out just last month (January, 2018) in #106 Vol. 28 (3), pp. 88-105 (pictured below). So there is an opportunity to compare first and last, as it were.

Note that although Polar Borealis is a paying market showcasing new and established Canadian authors, it is available free to subscribers: Download Now

I must confess that reading my story from nearly thirty years ago makes me wince a little bit at the now obvious sexism, and it seems strange to read about people lining up at the bank tellers instead of using the ATM, and that there were no cell phones yet. I was tempted to update the story, but editor Graeme Cameron argued that "every story is a time capsule, capturing the context of the time it was written. Which is why I don't believe fiction should ever be reprinted with alterations designed to appease changing tastes and views. Let the past speak with the authentic voice of the past, I say."

It's an intriguing issue. Lorina and I left Hargreaves' stories as they were when Five Rivers reprinted North by 2000+ because they were authentically awesome, though the future he predicted for 2000 was not quite the one we got. In my preface, I told readers to just read the stories as if they took place in a parallel universe where American and Canada had merged (to take just one example of what hadn't gone the ways Hargreaves had predicted in the 1960s) but some readers did indeed complain about the anachronisms. Though it should be noted how many things Hargreaves got right, and therefore went unnoticed.... On the other hand, we updated Leslie Gadallah's books to take out the long explanations of the Internet, because we actually had the Internet by the time we reprinted her books. Perhaps the most interesting issue I've had as an editor with anachronisms is an author who wanted to disguise that the story was based on their own life by setting it in modern day, but then the action didn't make any sense, because much of the storyline depended on the confusion arising from characters not being able to reach each other, which just can't happen that way in an era of smartphones.

The story in the current issue of On Spec is "Sermon on the Mount", a time travel story. I always thought the time travel genre was kind of mined out, but then the idea for this one popped into my head, so there you go. Though now Krista Ball mentions it, I should probably have had a few more female characters in there....But, you know, reflects the times...

Anyway, pleased with to have the two stories out at once. Waiting to see if any of the five currently under consideration get picked up.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Impostor syndrome

Many of our clients are students writing theses or dissertations, and many struggle with impostor syndrome, the sense that they have finally reached the limits of their knowledge/skills and are about to be exposed as the impostor they are, because they are struggling writing their thesis or dissertation. What they don't realize, of course, is that everyone struggles with any sustained piece of writing—if one isn't struggling, it's probably not going to be their best work.

High achievers are susceptible to Impostor Syndrome, says psychotherapist and author Dr. Aaron Balick, because they push the bounds of their professional areas, often working at the edge of their area of expertise. "It can be said that the more successful you are, the more likely you are to experience this, since your experience at the top of your field is, by its very nature, unusual."

—from an article by Bonnie Burton.

Grad students writing a thesis or dissertation are by definition out at the edges of their disciplines, creating new knowledge. A thesis or dissertation is usually the largest, highest-stakes project they've undertaken yet, so struggle and angst are pretty much inevitable. That one bumps up against staring at the blank page or having to rethink one's approach multiple times or not having the pieces all fall into place instantly is all perfectly normal because the processes of creation and writing are both complex and difficult—for everyone.

Which is where, of course, writing coaches come in. A little moral support can go a long way, starting by reassuring the writer that the angst they are feeling is normal and healthy. If writing were easy, everyone would do it. To do it well, is to put in effort, and effort requires struggle.

To help grad students with their struggles, Essential Edits has commissioned a 32 page guide by Dr. Runté on Thesis Writing Strategies which addresses the issues of dealing with the angst of writing (and more specifically, of rewriting) a thesis or dissertation, available FREE from the website.