My short story, "Crossing Avenue" has been reprinted in Polar Borealis #23, available free to download at https://polarborealis.ca/?smd_process_download=1&download_id=954 (The story originally appeared in the print-only literary journal, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review Vol. 14 #1, 2020.)
Friday, December 30, 2022
Monday, December 19, 2022
Sunday, December 18, 2022
Friday, November 18, 2022
Saturday, October 15, 2022
Friday, September 16, 2022
A detailed, well-researched article by Cait Gordon (speculative fiction author and editor of the Nothing Without Us and Nothing Without Us Too anthologies) on why the "You must write everyday" gang are ignorant, privileged, ablist, demotivational speakers.
As I have repeatedly said here and elsewhere, every successfull writer thinks there is only one way to succeed but every author has a different answer to the that question--what worked for them and therefore what they assume will work for everyone else, but that's egocentric nonsenese.
Similarly, K-12 curriculum often lays out the 'writing method' (some version of pre-writing, brainstorming, outlining, first draft, second draft, final draft) but there's no one method of writing anymore than their version of 'the scientific method' bares any relationship to what actual scientists actually do. *Sigh*
But the "write everyday" meme seems one of the most widely repeated bits of nonsense, especially by wannabe authors and unqualified motivational speakers. It works for some on Gadwell's "it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of complex skills and materials" principle (which, as it turns out, research shows isn't actually true) but talent and inspiration and studying the craft and having something important to say are just as important, if not more so, than mindlessly grinding out random wordage. Trying to write everyday, even for those priviledged and able enough to find the time and energy to do it, can be more frustrating, demoralizing and counter-productive than doing nothing for months on end if that doesn't happen to be the magic bullet for you.
I speak from experience. When doing my dissertation, I sat bum on seat 14 hours a day and accomplished nothing for nearly two years. Finally, in frustration, I asked author and editor Candas Jane Dorsey for help. First thing she did was turn off my computer's monitor so I couldn't obsessively edit every word I wrote. Second, she had me shadow her for a workday. There was no set time or quota for her writing. She spent a relaxed day doing other stuff. But then, at a party she was hosting that evening, she responded to something another writer at her salon said, and she said, "That's it" and disappeared upstairs to write because she had an idea, not because it was "time". And she accomplished more in 90 minutes than I had done on any 14 hour day. I stopped doing bum on seat and adopted a more 'relaxed' approach and that worked for me.
May not work for you.
But shaming people for not writing a certain number of hours or words each day is in fact the shameful behaviour. It's destructive and ignorant and speaks to the speaker's privilege and their ablist and egocentric assumptions, so they need to be called out.
Thank you Cait for your excellent article for doing just that.
Thursday, September 15, 2022
Saturday, August 6, 2022
Friday, July 29, 2022
My speculative flash fiction, "Day Three", has been selected for inclusion in The Best of Metastellar Year 1, released today (July 29, 2022). The story originally appeared in Pulp Fiction #21, 2019, and was reprinted online Sept 3, 2021 by Metastellar. A bit of a departure from my normal style, very pleased by the validation of it's being reprinted and anthologized.
Monday, July 18, 2022
My essay, "Leslie Gadallah and Canadian Space Opera" has been reprinted on the Shadowpaw Press website to correspond with the re-release of Gadallah's The Legend of Sara.
I am incredibly happy to see the Legend of Sara back in print for the third time (after Five Rivers closed shop) as it is one of my all-time favourite Canadian SF novels. My essay was originally the Afterword in the Five Rivers edition, so contains spoilers--no reading it before the book! If you haven't read the book yet, go buy it! You won't be disappointed.
Thursday, July 7, 2022
My short story "Grandfather's Birthday Barbeque" has been published in Siren's Call #58 Summer 2022.
The story is based on a real incident in my life, though of course taken one step further into horror. I think it came out okay... Siren's Call is available for free download.
The story previously appeared in Potatoe Soup Journal and The Best of Potato Soup Journal 2020.
Tuesday, July 5, 2022
I am listening to The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One 1929-1964: The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time Chosen by the Members of the Science Fiction Writers of America (which was on sale on Chirp). I like listening to audiobooks while I do household chores, both because chores are less boring when listening to something and because keeping focused on the audio stops me thinking "Who made this mess!" or "Why am I the only one who ever changes the toilet roll?" or other negative thoughts, unsuitable to productive parenting or viable marriages. Anyway, I'm still working my way from the earliest stories through WWII and have several observations about this early era of SF:
- Having read all these stories as I was growing up in 1950s and 60s, I was surprised to find that my memory of them is mostly wrong. I usually get the underlying concept correct, but a lot of the details are not at all as I thought I recalled them. I appear to have edited them in my memory to make them better than they were.
- SF really did just focus on ideas back in the day, with almost no thought to character development. All the stories so far have been about exploring some technology or concept, as in Pagett's (Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore) exploration of alternative paradigms.
- The focus on ideas often means the writing is truly unwieldy: long expository lumps that interrupt the narrative to provides a voice-over narration of the technology or future history or whatever. These really appalling examples of 'info dump' would absolutely not pass any editor today.
- The (now) completely wrong science is far less annoying than the gross sexism/racism/classism (of which I was apparently entirely unaware in my youth). All of the stories are nearly unreadable today in their naivety and stereotyping. The sexism / acceptable roles for women, for example, is actively painful when the story is supposedly set in our future. In Lester del Rey's "Helen O'Loy", for example, the depiction of Helen's role as a dependent and subservient housewife would be cringe-worthy even to the most conservative Evangelicals today. The racism is less obvious, being mostly a case of omission: the universe projected by these writers consists entirely of middle-class white males. How could authors imagine mars colonies and casual spaceflight, but have no sense that social relations might change?
- The vocabulary, even in the lowest pulp magazine examples (like Heinlein's "The Roads Must Roll"), is significantly higher than most modern SF. Henry Kuttner & C. L Moore expected readers to have vocabularies that would be unfamiliar to many of my undergradate students. It's astonishing!
[I see this as a result of many larger publishers enforcing ‘controlled vocabulary’ on YA writers, so that they can reach the lowest common denominator of the market place. But if YA readers don’t get to stretch their vocabulary, then adult books soon follow to avoid being labelled a ‘difficult read’ in a sad downward spiral]
- I should add that I've also been listening to Lost Sci-Fi a collection of non-famous early SF by various authors (again from Chirp), and these 'forgotten' pulp era stories are perhaps more typical of the genre of the time. In addition to the above characteristics, they all share a "goshwow!" style, delivered by the narrators as if every line ended in an exclamation point. The closest thing I can compare the audio versions to is a K-Tel commercial. “But Wait! There's More!”
Speculative Fiction has come a long way from its pulp roots nearly a hundred years ago. None of these "greatest SF stories" could likely compete today. Listening to hem is nostalgic and fascinating but...not that great. (Which makes me wonder if those authors nominating stories for this Hall of Fame collection had re-read them, or if their recollections were as inaccurate as mine had been.)
Part of me regrets that I wasn’t an adult in the pulp era, as I think I could have competed in that market. There are so many more voices and so many better ones working in the genre today, it’s hard to believe I have anything to contribute.
Which calls to mind when I was a slush reader for Tesseract Books when it was part of the Books Collective (i.e., before Edge). An elderly author who clearly grew up in the pulp era submitted a perfect 1930’s SF novel which we had to reject. Had he submitted it to a pulp magazine in 1936, I’m sure it would have been a hit. But by the 1990s, it was unpublishable. The twelve-page exposition of how a warp drives works told by the male scientist hero to the blonde I’m-only-in-the-story-so-he-has-someone-to-explain-to female was simply a non-starter. So… I greatly fear my style is correspondingly stuck in 1960s-style SF. Had I finished my novel in 1971 (when I started it), I am confident I could have managed an Ace Double level of writing. In 2022…I don’t know if I’m even in the ballpark. Modern speculative fiction is more meaning- and character-driven, more diverse, more everything—except for vocabulary.
Sunday, June 5, 2022
Wednesday, June 1, 2022
My short story, "Split Decision" is included in Dustin Bilyk's Summer of Sci-Fi and Fantasy collection, released June 1, 2022. This is still one of my favorite stories, published originally in Tesseracts #15: A Case of Quite Curious Tales. Pretty happy to see "Split Decision reach a new audience.
As an editor, I often encourage writers to eye an eye out for reprint opportunities. If one's novel with a small press goes out of print because the press has closed take the minimum effort to self-publish it yourself. If a publisher has allowed your novel to go out of print, self-publish it yourself. If a story is in one issue of a print magazine, see if it can get into (1) the year's best anthology for the year it came out (2) another journal with no overlap with the first--such as going from a University-sponsored literary magazine to a genre market, or vice versa. Many magazines do not take reprints, but others do. Worth checking their guidelines to fiind out. And of course, --you need to make sure the rights have expired and reverted from the first publication before sending it out again. After one has exhausted the print markets, maybe look for an online or audio venue, again assuming previous magazine rights have reverted to you. Online publication is usually a one time situation, because Google can't catalog the same story twice, so the other online venue gets no indexing, which is probably a deal breaker. Online reprints usually don't pay, but I like having a list of stories people can read by clicking on the list. The other option is to collect a bunch out your stories as an ebook/POD and reprint them that way. "Split Decision" isn't on line anywhere yet because it keeps getting picked up by a new collection as the rights revert.
Sunday, May 29, 2022
The Commodification of Authenticity: Writing and Reading Trauma in Speculative Fiction
Content Warning: As evident from the title, this is an essay about trauma - and a lot of different types.
Perhaps the most widely known tidbit of writing advice is, "write what you know." On the surface, it is decent enough advice. Digging through one's knowledge and experiences is fertile ground to plant and grow stories. It breeds authenticity, depth, and scope. Even when writing in an imaginary world, of dragons and space ships, of sea monster and wizards, people are people, and we know people.
However, writing what you know can also cut deep into old wounds, when what you know trauma, abuse, and torture. What you know of humor is little more than generational scars that, when seen through the lens of your family's trauma, always warms your soul, but you cannot tell others for they'll react in abject horror. For what you know deep in your soul is only pain and hurt, the slow bleeding scars of lost, past harms.
Writing what you know can tear across the scar lines. Fixing those mangled scars requires surgical precision, more scars, and the hope that they do not thicken so much that they do not fade with time. Some choose never to use their trauma, to purposely never write what they know. Some choose to write different traumas, allowing a distance, but knowing how the scars form all the same.
Reading what you know is a complex, personal decision of choice, action, and reaction. There is validity in the choice not to re-live traumatic events in their hobby, to seek the balm of the happy ending, to know there are those who can imagine a world free of one's own pain. Likewise, there is value in the choice to seek out those books, whose trauma resembles their own, to dive into it, to see how another expresses it, to console oneself that they are not alone. Some readers have no trauma, and yet do not wish to expose themselves to that in their entertainment. Still others wish to explore all of humanity's darkness and love to be horrified and disgusted when reading.
Inevitably, experience will clash, when the writing intersects the reader, where the dismissal of one over the other can reopen hurts that are not only seen on the page, but in the quiet moments when future pages are created, read, or chosen.
For, to write what one knows, to write from the scars on one's soul, is to accept one's pain will eventually be mocked, boycotted, and dissected to such a degree to make one wish they could write what they do not know. And, to read what one knows, is to eventually have it misrepresented, belittled, or reduced, over and over. For both, the only way to stop is to prove one's suffering, to show's badges scarred in their minds.
The Accreditation of Suffering
Authenticity rules the day. There is a depth to it, to knowing the author experienced this moment, this trauma. The labels we use - be it own voices, realism, authenticity, lived experience - change with time, but they have the same meaning: this author wrote what they know.
However, as with all good intentions, a cultural shift happened. Authors writing on topics of trauma, writing what they knew, were asked - nay, demanded at times - to expose their scars to the world for their two seventy in royalties. To pull off their mental shirts and describe in twenty-three tweets where the world beat them with sticks and stones. Then, but only then, could they earn their pittance.
This intrusion into private suffering, this forced accreditation process, is not limited to writers. Reviewers and the general public are pressured to show their work. To head off harassment and bullying, private suffering is put on public display, where their abuses, beatings, medical events, and rapes are described for the world, reliving each painful memory, with only the hope that they would be believed.
It becomes impossible to gain accreditation for one's own suffering when declarative statements, lacking all nuance, begin. The writer who choses silence, for any reason, then leaves it to the reader who felt a kinship to a story (even clumsily written ones) to break the illusion of the one true expression of authenticity.
The Choice and Consequence of Privacy
As a general rule, silence is expected from the author, and society places significantly more pressure upon marginalized authors to abide by this rule. Readers, wishing to be supportive or open minded to trauma responses, unleashed well-meaning, but hurtful attacks. Was a scene written poorly? Perhaps. Perhaps there was room for interpretation, development, nuance, growth of the author's base skills, even.
However, when personal, lived experience is the only argument prioritized and valued, a bickerfest concerning the truth of trauma overtakes all discussions, which harms writers and readers alike.
Often, this is well meaning. Individuals who have not experienced a specific trauma repeat what's been told to them, what they've read, and what they've learned on the internet, even though a ninety second sound bite cannot articulate the length and breath of existence. And, of course, sometimes people are plain wrong, and yet it is difficult to explain without outing oneself.
The decision to interact with trauma in speculative worlds is a private decision. It is perfectly acceptable to refuse to read books containing scenes of trauma, and not wish for a wide ban of those scenarios. It is possible to refuse to read child abuse scenes in a book, and yet not be campaigning for all removal of abuse from books. It is possible to be against how books often portray rape, and still not be against them as a general rule.
And it's even possible to personally write abuse and still not wish to ever read it.
I have come to despise the writing advice, "let the worst things happen to your characters," followed by, "make your characters suffer." For many, that means write endless scenes of trauma and abuse, to force a writer to recount the horrors of their past. Of abandonment. Of the words that cut so deeply they change one's personality to its core forever.
For those who will not, or cannot, do so, they may attempt to skirt their own traumas, to write other forms. Then, either from an inability to research properly due to their own reactions, the closeness to their own hurt, or perhaps another dozen reasons, they end up writing the trauma in a way that offends others. Or hurts others. Or just...isn't quite right, not even to their own mind's eye.
I support authors who do not include trauma in their words, and their decisions for doing so. I also support those who include it (I would be rather hypocritical if I did not, having written most forms of trauma). What's more, I support those who will never read a series containing specific forms of trauma. It is not censorship, not in the legal sense, but also not in the common sense. We all make choices, from editorial choices to forms of enjoyable entertainment. One's own trauma, one's own feelings, should not be debated before they are giving the permission of the mob.
To Thine Own Self Be True
In what might seem contradictory, I believe it is also necessary for readers to challenge how trauma is written, for so much abuse is tangle up in power and control and it is easily forgotten. Words can be harmful to some, and it is important to explore that. A single book does not exist within a vacuum, and should be, and usually will be, explored within the context of an entire genre's length and breath, and the entirety of its history. That is not just what will happen, but is frequently what is necessary.
And yet, sometimes the very critique causes harm, especially when it is based on one true experience. Acts done in kindness, in protection of others, can end up doing as much harm as the book did to the original readers. However, it cannot be forgotten that, at times, a necessary and vital critique brings harm upon the reviewer, who in bravery and grit, opens themselves up to attacks and violations of privacy.
So what solution is there? Again, I feel this is a personal choice, a decision of one, and one alone. No one is required to know another's pain, and not all stories are for everyone. I believe support, compassion, and a sober second thought can go a long way. Also, knowing in one's heart that another is wrong, and that you are allowed to release their tether to your pain, to your private scars, and to forget their existence if that is what you truly wish.
In the end, one must be true to themselves, even when they write, and fight, dragons and demons alike.
You may also want to read the comments on Reddit, which are generally thoughtful:
Direct link: https://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/uk2boe/the_commodification_of_authenticity_writing_and/
Essential Edits has added a new Senior Editor: Lorina Stephens. She will be Essential Edits' lead editor for mainstream Canadian fiction. She was my former boss at Five Rivers Publishing and comes with 40 years of experience in the publishing industry, having worked all sides of the publishing desk. Starting as a freelance journalist for regional and national periodicals, she became editor of a lifestyle magazine and then in 2008, opened Five Rivers Publishing. Five Rivers gave voice to 32 Canadian authors, including such luminaries as Dave Duncan, Nate Hendley, H.A. Hargreaves, Ann Marston, C.P. Hoff and Paula Johanson. Her novel, The Rose Guardian is one of my favourite examples of CanLit.
Friday, May 6, 2022
My Review of Five Hard and Crunchy SF Tales by Michele Laframboise in today's Ottawa Review of books:
Monday, April 4, 2022
Tuesday, March 29, 2022
I am also the featured author interview on this episode; the interview starts at 33:42. The Interview is with host Daniel Hubbard.