Friday, December 29, 2023

Ransom and the Open Window Reprinted

My short story, "Ransom and the Open Window" has been reprinted in Neo-Opsis Magazine #35. It is the third story in my Ransom and Friends urban fantasy series, but was the first to be published, back in 2019, in First Line Literary Journal.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

On Going Back to Rewrite a Previously Published BooK

An author I follow has recently posted they’re going back to rewrite their first novel. They explain that as they’ve become a more experienced—and therefore a more accomplished—author with many more books since, they now recognize the many mistakes they made in that first book. Those errors are haunting them and they have decided 2024 is the year to go back and rewrite that first novel, and perhaps parts of the rest of that initial series.

Hmmm. I have a few reservations about this announcement.

First, I liked that first novel. A lot. It’s possible some long-time fans might feel it being rewritten a tiny bit insulting. We bloody well discovered you with that novel, so don’t go saying we were wrong about it.

For example, the author now sees that the tone of the series was ‘inconsistent’, ending up a lot darker at the end than the tone of the original book; that it went from YA to a series for older readers. Um, yeah. That’s one of the things I identified that I liked about that series—that issues that seem straight-forward at first can get, not just worse, but more threatening existentially. A whole generation readers grew up following that series from YA to WTF and matured right along with the writing. We followed the hero(ine) ever deeper into grimdark, damn it, and now you’re telling us that was all a mistake?

Second, and more seriously—history tells us, authors going back to rewrite their earlier novels hasn’t always worked out well.

Let us take two relatively well known examples.

Case Study #1: Blake’s Progress by Ray Faraday Nelson first came out from Laser Books, edited by Roger Elwood, in 1975. It was a pretty good book. But as many critics noted, myself included, it just missed being a great book. And . . . we all blamed Roger Elwood for not pushing Nelson to that next level.

We expect editors to coach writers to produce the best book they can, otherwise, what’s the point of having editors? Any idiot can choose good books for a press, but the reason publishers get the lion’s share of royalties is supposed to be because they’re adding value—by editing good books into great ones.

No one had such expectations of Roger Elwood. Laser books was an imprint of Harlequin, which in those days was pumping out Harlequin Romances to a strict formula like so much processed cheese. Elwood convinced Harlequin that SF, then the second ranked marketing category just behind Romance, could be packaged in exactly the same way: 3 titles a month, 50-60,000 words, a brand-recognizable cover, and a reliable product that readers would loyally consume without even bothering to read the cover blurb. In effect, consumption based on genre rather than particular themes or authors or a unique cover.

Since we assumed Elwood was delivering processed cheese, many dismissed him and his imprint out of hand. SF readers, particularly faanish fans, were horrified by the Harliquin connection because fans had invested a lot of energy in those days distancing themselves from the genre’s pulp origins and particularly any association with formulaic Romance. (Romance has matured into a significant literary movement beyond the original limited formulaic Harlequins, and SF has become mainstream, so such attitudes have largely died out, but it was still definitely a thing in the mid-1970s).

More significantly for Harlequin’s marketing model, SF readers attended to authors and themes far more than Romance readers. Instead of all three releases selling a predictable, fixed number of copies, sales varied wildly between titles, leaving Harlequin with unsold inventory for some titles and unmet demand for others. Since that wasn’t how their model worked, they dropped the SF imprint within 2 years.

So . . . we all assumed that Nelson’s book must have suffered from bad editing.

Nelson, perhaps because he was reading those reviews, rewrote Blakes Progress ten years later as Timequest, published by Tor. No one could complain that Tor was some sort of second rate publisher, or their editors suspect.

Yet, speaking for myself, I found the new version unreadable. It was bloated, pretentious, overwritten and took itself far too seriously. Blake’s Progress was a good book, a nifty idea from which readers could extrapolate to what could have been a great book. But instead of fulfilling the promise of Blake’s Progress, Timequest was actively painful to read. I was unable to get through it.

Case Study #2 The Carpet People was originally published by Terry Pratchett in 1971, when he was 17. I was 19 that year and found The Carpet People on display in the “new books” section of the Strathcona Branch of the Edmonton Public Library. (Considering how few copies that initial version sold, I feel divine intervention was required to put a copy into my hands more than a decade before anyone had heard of Pratchett or the Disc World.) To this day, I have a visceral memory of lying on my stomach, tracing out the action of the book on the deep pile and intricate pattern of the Turkish carpet in my Mom’s front room.

To say that the original made a strong impression on me does not really cover the sense of wonder that it evoked, or that I never stopped thinking about it. It’s one of maybe five books that made me want to be a writer. Fifty plus years on, I still have the carpet I first read it on . . . and I can’t look at the pattern without seeing the roads and village of carpet people it traces out.

But here’s the thing. I knew that novel had issues. I remember clearly my having enthused to my family—and anyone else who would listen—how great that book was . . . but always with the cravat that it had flaws. “You just have to ignore this loophole” or “Yeah, this other scene doesn’t quite work” I would say, in case they actually were persuaded to read it and wondered how I could miss such obvious weaknesses.

They must have been obvious weaknesses to Pratchett, too, when he undertook to rewrite the book twenty years later.

You can bet I devoured that rewrite the moment it hit the market. And it was . . . not the book I had read.

I’m not saying it was bad. On the contrary, the new edition was essentially flawless, the mature Pratchett writing at his peak. All the weaknesses of the original were now erased, the dialogue was pure Disc-World gold, the structural issues and under-development of the original all addressed.

But, um.

As Pratchett himself famously put it, "This book had two authors, and they were both the same person." He was clear about wanting to retain the strengths of the original, of it being a collaboration with his younger self, but I would argue that revising out all of the original’s flaws necessarily erased the 17 year old. I maintain that the rough edges were a crucial part of the original’s charm. The lack of sophistication was part of what lent the book much of its vitality, its ability to massively evoke my sense of wonder.

It is not just that the elder Pratchett was tampering with a treasured memory. I get that must be a factor. Nevertheless, I think it’s more a question that each of those two authors had their own strengths and weaknesses. The original version’s strengths lay partly in its very flaws—as they say in computer software circles, “that’s not a bug, that’s a feature”.

The original version was more interactive. As a reader, I had to fill in the cracks and plaster over the rough bits myself. I took the 17 year old’s vision and ran with it. It triggered the writer in me by making me extrapolate from what was there to the bits that were missing. In contrast, by smoothing out all the edges, the elder Pratchett changed the book from a collaboration between writer and reader to one where the reader is passively watching the perfectly rendered movie that is any mature Pratchett novel.

I am not saying that mature Pratchett ruined the book’s experience or even that he eroded my own fond memories of it. For the 99.9% of his readership who hadn’t read the original in 1971, the 1992 version is perfectly wonderful. I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with it. 
No, what I’m arguing is that the original had its own strengths and didn’t really need to be rewritten. It was never a failure. It served a different purpose, is all.

I completely understand Pratchett’s decision to rewrite. His Disc-World and YA fans would be expecting any Pratchett title to be the work of the mature Pratchett, and might well have been disappointed if they purchased a less polished volume. And of course, it makes no sense to have a viable property and not reprint it. But I am sad that the 17 year old’s book is no longer out there to engage and encourage 19-year-old-writers.

Which brings us back to the author I mentioned at the outset rewriting their first book in their first series from ten years ago. Artistically, I don’t think that’s remotely necessary. And I’m not entirely happy that the thematic development of the series will be smoothed out so it’s now all grimdark, not the sort of escalating existentialism that I appreciated as the original series progressed.

But commercially . . . yeah, I get it. If that first book is preventing potential new adult / grimdark fans from reading and discovering (more importantly, buying) the whole series, than yeah, that needs to be fixed. But let’s think of it as “repurposing” the book rather than “fixing” it. By all means, re-edit to relaunch the successful series for a new generation of readers. Just don’t bad mouth the original.

A lot of self-published authors get better over time, and many of them have expressed regret to me over their having rushed their first novel into print before it was ready. That’s one reason I sometimes advise authors to use a pseudonym when starting out, rather than risk associating their name (i.e., their brand) with a book that won’t always remain up to their standards.

And of course, I think the services of a good editor can make a difference in ensuring that first book isn’t something that will be regretted later, but I’m pretty obviously biased on that one.

Going back and rewriting that book, though… Usually the time would be better invested in writing something new at one’s current level than revisiting and reinvesting in—“throwing good money/energy/time after bad”—at a title that has already had its turn. Let it go, unless reader feedback makes it clear that it’s sabotaging sales of more recent titles (e.g., when it’s the first in a series and one is losing all the readers who insist on starting any series with book 1).

If one is going to revisit and rewrite—the rule has to be:

  1. wait at least ten years, to ensure one has actually gotten ten-year’s-worth-of-writing better; and also so that the original audience has forgotten it such that it counts now as a new release.
  2. Changing the title is acceptable if and only if it’s noted somewhere that this is a re-release of the old title. (Tricking people into rebuying the same book, even rewritten, is likely to piss them off enough so they never buy from that author/publisher again.)
  3. really consider the strengths of the original (e.g., youthful vitality) and ensure one is not eviscerating what made the original book work and end up with something actively worse. Rewriting is always a double or nothing bet.

Was it really that bad, or merely a different genre/demographic/market/purpose? Smart authors often deliberately choose the simplest novel (of the dozens in their brain) to start with, in order to master the craft of plot, pacing, dialogue, basic character, and so on before attempting their magnum opus. Starting with a space opera before writing one’s Dostoevsky-equivalent (or whatever) doesn’t mean the first novel was crap, just that it was serving a different purpose/market than one is writing for now. The Dostoevsky writes space opera thing isn’t likely to work out.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Fami's Watch Reprinted

Australia's Antipodean SF #301 (Nov 1, 2023) has reprinted my flash story "Fami's Watch", which originally appeared in Polar Borealis #20, Dec 2021.

(Photo: actual "Never Ending Time Electronic Braclet" from Techwear -- about $42 CND. Does not come with AI personality.)

Thursday, October 26, 2023

"Misdial" Republished in Audio

My flash story, "Misdial",is up today at Manawaka Studios, Flash Fiction Podcast.

The story originally appeared in Active Voice/Voix active, the Editors Canada newsletter, Spring/Summer, 2019, and reprinted in Metastellar March 8, 2021.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Three Drabbles Published

Issue #63 of Sirens Call is out today and contains three of my drabbles (p.334): "The Family Home" (original to this issue) and two reprints: "Staked to the Stars" originally published by Microfiction Monday and "Spellcheck" originally published by ScribesMicro. Siren's Call is free to download: #63 is the Halloween issue.

Monday, October 23, 2023

2016 GoH Speech Excerpt Re-Podcast

I've just noticed that When Words Collide republished an excerpt from my 2016 Keynote on their August "Collision Reconstructed" podcast.
I'm not entirely sure how my curmudgeonly opening qualifies as a "Life-hack" but still happy to be included along with Jack Whyte and Leanne Shirtliffle. (The rest of my speech was hopefully more positive than this concluding prognosis was that things were actually pretty good for the long term. Original, complete speech here: )

Sunday, October 15, 2023

New Drabble Published

My drabble, "Cabin Fever" was published in Fairfield ScribesMicro #34. This was their contest issue, and my story received an honourable mention. You have to scroll down to find my story, but the winners are well worth reading. (I particularly related to the 1st-place winner.)

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Flash Memoir: The Bad Day Book Published

The Bad Day Book (Vol.1) is up on today. I have two (hopefully humorous) flash memoir pieces in this volume: "The Lecture" and "Of Mice and Cannibals". The ebook version is on sale this week for $6.73 CND ($4.00 US) but will be double that next week.

Writers might want to note that there are many more volumes planned for the future (assuming always this one sells, but it's the sort of book one could see being sold at Costco or Walmart, so I'm assuming they will be a go.) The contract is very similar to the rights Chicken Soup of the Soul asks for, so that may disqualify the market for some writers, but they do accept old blog posts, which gives these pieces a significantly larger audience than the 7 people subscribed to my blog. The editor, Amilee Weaver Selfridge, is a delight to work with.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

"Fami's Dissertation Defense" Reprinted

My flash fiction, "Fami's Dissertation Defense", has been reprinted in Polar Borealis #26, out this week. Polar Borealis is available free for download as a PDF, the story starts on page 42.

[The story originally appeared in Ripples in Space Magazine (which appears to have been inactive since 2020)].

Friday, September 15, 2023

Monday, July 24, 2023

When Words Collide, Calgary Delta South, August 4-6, 2023

I'm looking forward to attending When Words Collide in Calgary August 4-6. I'm currently slotted on the following events:

Friday 1 PM - Practice Pitch: People hoping to pitch to acquisiton editors/agents later in the conference get to practice and get feedback from me first.

Friday 3 PM Working with an Editor panel

Friday 4 PM -Writer/Editor Speed Mingle: like speed dating, editors/writers meet each other for 5 minutes each
Atrium commons

Saturday 2 PM - Why Are Zombies Essential to a Writer’s Group? panel session

Saturday 4 PM - What are SFF Editors Looking For? panel

Sunday 10 AM - Blue Pencil Cafe: quick feedback on opening pages -requires sign up

Sunday 4 PM B- - Multiculturalism in 2023

I will also be hanging out the rest of the con to meet people etc.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Developmental Editing to Address (Inadvertent) Racism

The photo instantly recognizable as Jerry Potts by any Canadian school kid—the one Indigenous character featured in every Canadian social studies textbook at every grade level

Going through some of my old writing, I came across my November 30, 2018 post from an editing forum and thought I would repost it here with an update to how things ended(?) in Alberta. (Note that "First Nations" was still the favoured term in the era of the Decore Report, but has now shifted to the more inclusive "Indigenous".)

I was one of the graduate research assistants on the Decore Report (, way back at the beginning of my career (1980). The Decore Report looked at native content in the social studies curriculum...and that was eye-opening, let me tell you.

The three most serious problems were not the blatant racism—there was some, but most of the Alberta materials were already past that stage and it was easy enough to identify it and get it off the shelves where it still showed up—but the more subtle stuff which is, I fear, still problematic all these years later:

  1. The Dancing Minorities Trick: I can't remember if that was my phrase or coined by one of the team members, but the problem is that the portrayal of any minority is a photo of them in costumes from 1850 or before, dancing. So not just First Nations Hoop Dancing, but Ukrainians portrayed as Chunka dancers and etc. Because when you're writing about First Nations or Ukrainians or whomever, you need a picture, so the publisher goes to a stock photo company and asks for a photo and the stock photo company sends you a picture of natives in native costume rather than some guy in a suit. Because that's the most imaginative a publisher can get in terms of photos, and dancing is what the author writes about when describing other's culture because talking about First Nation notions of time takes you down a rabbit hole of racism and talking about First Nation spirituality will offend the fundamentalists etc etc, so dancing in their costumes from 1700 is colorful and interesting and superficial as hell. So every kid grows up thinking First Nations means guys who are old fashion, dancing, and irrelevant.
  2. This book isn't about that: This one has pretty much corrected in Alberta since 1985 as a result of the government responding to the Decore report, but worth checking elsewhere. The idea that First Nations are historical, not current. So the chapter on First Nations came after dinosaurs and before settlers. And we would ask, where is the native content after 1901 and the answer was always, "What?" I remember one pair of authors who had done the textbook for WWI and WWII and their reaction when I asked them for the Native Content. "But that doesn't apply to us! Our book is about the World Wars." They were completely incredulous that I thought there should be native content included. But my (by then) boss in the government told them, no native content, no sale. So they went away and came back a year later with a new draft and a chagrined expression saying, "well know that you mention it, did you know there was this First Nations regiment...." No I hadn't, and no kid in Alberta would have known that either, if we hadn't forced you to go do the research. So that kind of worked...except for:
  3. Repetition is boring: So in the Decore report, our complaint wasn't just that every time a text talked about native content, there was picture of a tipi, it was that it was the same damn photo—because all the publishers were going to the same stock photo company and buying the same one stock photo. There were fewer than maybe 20 photos total, maybe five individuals, recycled endlessly. Every mention of native people would have the same sidebar insert with a photo of Jerry Potts and the spiel about what a great guide he was. Leaving aside for the moment the dubious matter of promoting a collaborator as the most notable native of his time, the question is, how many times can you read about Jerry Potts without wanting to shoot yourself? And it was all like that. The first round of insisting that native content was included in textbooks was the exact same content every time at every grade level, over and over again, until what every Alberta kid really learnt was that native content is boring. Because they're read/heard it over and over again and till sick of it; and because if every time you encounter First Nations content, it's the same content it's not unreasonable that many kids conclude that's all there is to native culture. If you only ever hear 20 things over and over you think you know it all now, and that there's not much to it. Boring, limited, and irrelevant.

Well, duh! But writers and publishers are lazy, so when told to put in native content, they all think, "well, I've heard of this Jerry Potts guy (I live two blocks from Jerry Potts Road) so here's a half page about Jerry Potts, done."

I worry that this phenomenon is still at play in Alberta today [edit: 2018]. Although the provincial government has gone to great lengths to not just increase the amount of First Nations content, but the variety (working it into practically every subject at every grade level—actual policy to do that) the cumulative effect might be that what they are actually teaching a lot of Albertans is that First Nation culture is boring. Of course, that's fed by an ocean of racism ("why do we have to focus on First Nations all the time? Why not my Lithuanian background" or whatever—just like the males in my class keep telling me we're devoting too much class time to gender issues :-) but it is perhaps remotely possible that we have over-corrected the previous absence with a disproportionate concentration without sufficient depth to provide the necessary context, concentration and integration to allow it to be actually interesting. Presenting three facts in social, one story in English, and two math questions is not the same as actually teaching about First Nations.

Anyway, none of that really makes sense until you see it done correctly. And in the early 1980s, Alberta came out with the Kanata Kits which were and remain the greatest social studies resources ever made. You see them, and you suddenly realize how bloody racist everything that isn't them really is. To take just one quick example: the grade 3 curriculum was about 'family' so the Kanata Kits showed a dozen different families...and showed them by showing actual families who were neighbours or etc to the authors. So we get the Chinese family and the First Nations family and the Italian family and the Jewish family and the Jones or whatever, but then the stories of the families would follow a questionnaire that would say, "what is your special holiday" or "what is your favourite special meal" etc, and the families surveyed answered with their actual answers, not the racial stereotypes portrayed in every other textbook. So the First Nations family said when they wanted a special meal, they went out for Chinese food. The Chinese family ordered pizza. (Or whatever—I forget which family took what, but you get the idea.) The First Nations dad worked in IT. Nobody danced. Nobody portrayed the superficial stuff we usually focus on when we talk about this or that culture. What came across was the great melting pot of a common Canadian multicultural identity, every family is the same even though completely different. Real culture portrayed so Grade 3 kids could understand it. But of course, the curriculum changed and those kits have been long gone...

UpdateThe above commentary was written in 2018, just before the new Social Studies curriculum was due to be implemented. The 2018 iteration was based on the advances in inclusiveness initiated by two successive Progressive Conservative governments—that must get a great deal of the credit for forward-looking thinking backed by significant funding to make a more inclusive and thoughtful curriculum—and designed by committees of classroom teachers, subject area experts, and community representatives. The NDP government that inherited the process made a few tweaks, and then...lost the election to the UCP—Who immediately denounced that carefully and transparently developed curriculum as hateful communist propaganda, and threw it (and millions in development costs) out the window. Instead of teachers and subject experts they hired a handful of UCP hacks/Residential School denier's to plagiarize an American private Christian-school social studies curriculum and eliminate almost all of the Indigenous content, restricting it in the ways identified above on what not to do, and white-washed all of grades k-6. The UCP curriculum became an immediate embarrassment. The other Canadian jurisdictions (Yukon, NWT that had used Alberta curriculum dropped it as too awful, whatever the cost to replace it. Besides the racist element's reintrodution, the elimination of any sign of inclusiveness, the curriculum is just appalling bad in every detail—irrelevant factoids that students have to memorize, never going higher than rote memorization on Bloom's Taxonomy. Only a single American, right-wing professor could be found to say he thought that UCP social studies curriculum was okay—every other curriculum expert in Canada and abroad denounced it as going against the previous 60 years of education research.


Notwithstanding the abrupt reversal of public education in Alberta through the removal of relevance, critical thinking, and inclusion—i.e., anything one might consider 'education' as opposed to 'schooling' focused only on compliance—I believe my three points stand for any writer or editor who wishes to make their books less racist. It's not enough to avoid blatant racist stereotypes and language, one has to consider the cumulative effects of what is being put forward and whether it plays into a larger context of inadvertent racism: is the focus on some irrelevant aspects of the group identified and/or is the focus insufficient to provide meaningful context? Is the content of this book unintentionally repeating the exact same stereotypes/content of what has gone before, thus reinforcing stereotypes and irrelevance? Is the content repetition rendering the work boring.

As writers, "boring" and "repetitious" should be enough to kill any hesitation in ripping out our subtle racism. As editors, it's our duty to point out the subtle dynamics of racism to even the best intended authors. Like my WWII example, some authors will pushback saying inclusion as not relevant to their topic. (We heard that argument again from math and science teachers, for example, who presumed all Indigenous knowledge was unscientific and unrelated to math—which is, you know, pretty racist!) But making authors do the work to make the book better is our job. In my experience, once they've done the necessary research rewriting, they are grateful to see their book so improved.

While on the topic of racism, I should note another issue that comes up (came up in Alberta under the Lougheed government when Lougheed poured millions of dollars from the Heritage Trust Fund into creating Alberta-based textbooks) which is 'authentic historical accounts". Alberta Education in the 1970s wanted to switch from Ontario-centric history texts to Alberta relevant materials, including primary recourses like diraries, memoir and so on. Unfortunately, as historians turned up with this or that archival material, it turned out to be really, really racist. The problem is, if you cut the racist bits out, then it looks like Albertans in 1906 weren't racist, which is obviously white washing history. But leaving the racism intact risks perpetuating racism by suggesting that yes, Indengous in 1890 were dirty, untrustworty criminals, or whatever. So some folks said, "We can't use this" while other folks argued, "We can't bury it either!"

The solution (obvious,once one hears it) is to print the unabridged authentic work, but then provide an preface that says, "Hey, as you're reading this, watch out for the blantant racism. See if you can identify ten of the 57 examples of where the diarist makes racist assumptions. Which of his racist comments is the most damaging. Why was it in the interests of this settler to believe those things." And so on. You get the idea, though of course the prefaces were actually a lot better written and more genuinely thought-provoking. And then the book also had an afterword where the same author of the preface answers the questions raised in the preface. "What did you think of his saying Indigenous were untrustworthy on page 43?" etc.

Facing our historical racism, helping kids identify racism when they hear and see it, making them think about why these particular stereotypes and not some other...those are all important parts of social studies.

That's the solution Peter Lougheed's cabinet came to in the late 1970s&emdash;I'm pretty sure Lougheed would be spinning in his grave if he were able to see what the UCP have done to his attempt to move the province out of the 1950s....

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Friday, May 19, 2023

Round Table Discussion on Canadian SF&F at On Spec Magazine

Of possible interest: "Canada in Conversation – SFF from the Global South to the Meeting Point of all Worlds" By Emad El-Din Aysha, PhD up at On Spec Magazine

A long exchange with Emad with myself and other Canadian SF authors. Someone needs to write a book, though.

My own comments are thin on Quebec SF and newer writers--I even missed many of the old established authors--but still of possible interest.

New Drabble, "Disposable" up at Fairfield Scribes Micro Issue #29.

Review of The Crystal Key by Douglas Smith

[Originally published in Ottawa Review of Books.]

If you've already read The Hollow Boys (Book 1 in the Dream Rider saga), you don't need me to tell you to buy the sequel (except to say that it was published in March and is now available). If you are new to the trilogy, Smith insists that you read Book 1 first: this is a single mystery written across three books, with Book 2, The Crystal Key, picking up directly a few weeks after the climactic events of The Hollow Boys. Although Smith provides some backstory, the reader must keep the momentum going from Book 1 to land in The Crystal Key.

With The Hollow Boys, I was slow to realize I was reading a text-based superhero story; knowing that, Smith surprised me again with The Crystal Key, tapping into my deep nostalgia for Saturday matinee serials. The opening scene in particular put me right in the middle of episode 12 of, say, Radar Men from the Moon. Or, if you grew up a few generations later, the banquet scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Smith manages to perfectly capture the summer I was 13, hunkered down on the basement couch reading The Black Dwarf of Outer Mongolia - only without the overt racism and stilted dialogue of that era . . . or the banquet scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Smith manages to update the genre with an ethnically diverse cast and strong female characters. Smith's take on superheroes and serials is both modern and original, but it recreates the same energy, the same yearning for superpowers, the same subconscious fear of dark places and boogeymen as the best stories of our own remembered youth. High adventure leavened with romance and mystery. Perfect for any 13-year-old looking for a summer read, or any 70-year-old looking to be 13 again for a while.

As the title suggests, the McGuffin here is an ancient crystal, the key to the mysterious disappearance of our hero's parents, his own superpowers, and the various factions vying to kill him. Finding it, figuring out what it does, how it works, who else wants it, what they want it for, and what they are willing to do to get it, keeps things moving at a fast clip. No spoilers, so all I can say about the plot is that it involves the multiverse, astral travel, ancient cults, hypnotic powers, criminal gangs, private mercenaries, romance, and betrayal. In other words, the whole 1950-60s Saturday matinee movie package.

The other thing Smith nails perfectly is the outside observer. Effective mysteries have to lead the hero(s) through a series of incremental steps to a point where they (and now the audience) know what's going on, but no one else could possibly believe it. The really great versions, as here, introduce the "Wait, what?" character, the outsider who arrives late in the story and, lacking those earlier experiences, is suitably discombobulated often to comic effect. Smith's subplot of the intrepid reporter confronted with an inexplicable-and ultimately unreportable-story is a textbook example of this outsider-observer technique.

My only complaint is that, for the sake of brevity, Smith occasionally lapses into explaining what various characters are feeling rather than showing us. This is especially noticeable with the two leads, who are constantly worrying about their relationship with the other -- but to be fair, I was probably that obsessed with relationships at that age, so okay, I'm willing to give Smith a pass on that one.

Overall, great fun. While it is common for the middle of a novel, or the middle book of a trilogy, to drag a bit, that is definitely not the case here. The Crystal Key has everything that made The Hollow Boys work and turns it up a few notches. I can't wait for the conclusion in The Lost Expedition, which is coming soon.

[Boo1 in the Dream Rider Series was shortlisted for an Aurora Award in the YA category.]

Saturday, April 15, 2023

New Drabble Published

I find I'm only getting time to write the occasional drabble (stories exactly 100 words) these days, but it's fun and keeps my hand in, as it were. "Spellcheck" is a silly fantasy piece; the title tells it all.

Spellcheck" in Scribesmicro #28

(you have to scroll a few pages to get to mine)

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Posthumous Two-Book Deal for Dave Duncan with Shadowpaw Press

Dave Duncan
The Late Dave Duncan
Canadian Author
Edward Willett
Edward Willett
Shadowpaw Press
Robert Runté
Robert Runté

From Shadowpaw Press (Edwart Wilett):

I'm thrilled to announce that Shadowpaw Press has obtained the rights to publish two previously unpublished novels by the late, great Canadian author Dave Duncan, one of the first authors I met in the field, long before I was a published novelist--he gave a reading at the Saskatchewan Science Centre while I was communications officer there. Edited by Robert Runte, THE TRAITOR'S SON and CORRIDOR TO NIGHTMARE will be released late this year or early in 2024.


"They know the world is dying, but they hope not in their lifetimes. Meanwhile, they’re top dogs and will do anything to stay that way."

Doig Gray is fifteen when his father is killed in a mining accident, which Doig comes to realizes was no accident. Torn from his mother and sister, Doig is sent off to college, his every movement monitored in case he has inherited his dissident father’s unacceptable attitudes . . . or passwords. Doig has nothing but his own sense that there’s something desperately wrong with the world—and a last name that evokes the assumption that he’s destined to be the next traitor-hero.

THE TRAITOR'S SON is a science fiction novel about a colony world where everything that could go wrong already has. Stuck on the wrong world at the wrong site, with the wrong leaders, the colony is doomed to extinction unless immediate steps are taken to correct—everything. But 500 years of hiding from the reality of their situation has created an unchallengeable status quo—and the Accident Squad determined to ensure it remains that way.


When one life ends, another begins.

After forty years as the village school teacher in the idyllic valley of Greenbottom, Agatha is looking forward to a quiet retirement. Instead, an enigmatic stranger arrives to drag her through a long-closed portal to another world.

Confronted with a completely foreign culture steeped in magic and violence, Agatha finds herself a crucial pawn being played between rival factions. The only way forward through the rigid traditions and convoluted politics of the Archons of Otopia is to remain true to herself and her Greenbottom ideals.

The agent for the deal was Wayne Arthurson of The Rights Factory.

Perfect Audio Production of "Day Three"

Ridiculously pleased with CB Droege's perfectly nuanced narration of my flash fiction, "Day Three", on his Manawalker Studio's Flash Fiction Podcast, #807, March 16, 2023.

Originally published in Pulp Literature #21 and repinted in Metastellar, Sept 3, 2021 and The Best of Metastellar's First year., July 2022.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Review of The New Empire by Alison McBain

My review of the parallel world/alternate history novel, The New Empire by Alberta author Alison McBain is up at Ottawa Review of Books, March 2023.

The same issue of ORB also includes a review of Leslie Gadallah's The Legend of Sarah from Shadowpaw Reprise, which I also highly recommend.