Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Strangers Among Us Anthology

Got my contributor's copy of Strangers Among Us in the mail yesterday. Pretty pleased with the production values, and the company I am keeping in this anthology.

The anthology will be officially launched at When Words Collide Festival in Calgary August 12-14, 2016 (at which, coincidentally, I am Editor Guest. I'm told as Editor Guest I get to do a 15 minute reading, so will have to see if I can maybe read this one..though it might be a little long.)

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Quote of the Month

"Sadly, when human beings are let loose with computers and internet access, their work product does not necessarily compare favourably to… monkeys with typewriters." Justice Fergus O'Donnell (Ontario)

Thursday, March 03, 2016

My Last Class

Today was the exam for my last official class, ever. (Well, I might teach some other courses as a sessional instructor after retirement...but this was my last class as faculty member.)

It was a great cohort, one of the most collegial and hard working, and very smart. Lots of very insightful discussion, comments that previous classes had never come up with on those topics. So a very positive note for me to end on.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Zen of Comedy

A few years ago I wrote about the Zen of Comedy for Broken Pencil magazine. They had kept the essay up on their website for a very long time, so whenever I wanted to explain the concept to someone new, I would simply point them to that article. Eventually BP took the essay down to make room for more recent articles, and about that time, author Nate Hendley asked to do an interview with me as part of the promotion for his book, Motivate to Create A Guide for Writers and Other Artistic Creators and I covered the same basic concept there. That interview included a few other topics, however, so I am reprinting just the Zen of Comedy principle here in this abridged version:

Interviewed by Nate Hendley

What motivates you to write? Is it the promise of money, fame, power, recognition, self-fulfillment or something else?

I’d have to say that in my case, it’s “something else”.

...

In terms of my own writing, my motivation can be largely summed up as the Zen of Comedy: The principle that nothing so bad can happen to one that it can’t later be turned into a funny anecdote. As a writer, everything that happens to me becomes fodder for my writing. Even the most mundane visit to the dentist or annoying encounter with a bureaucratic clerk can be magically transmuted (thanks to judicious editing) into heroic journeys, righteous battles, and gleeful victories, the better to entertain my readers. Consequently, whereas others often seem to go through life as mere sleepwalkers, the writer remains sharply attuned to his/her environment, ever alert to the detail of plot and character, the possibilities of imagery and metaphor, as we seek to turn our lives into life stories. In imposing a narrative structure on our lives, we heighten our attention to foreshadowing and significance, and in so doing, are often able to anticipate decisions and to find meaning in situations that others may experience as unexpected or soul-destroying. Just as a reader I can almost always see that next plot twist coming, as I write my life, a lot of things become clearer than might otherwise have been the case.

Second, knowing that whatever happens I’m going to get a good story out of it often helps to place my current difficulties into perspective. I learned this principle from Karl Johanson, the editor of Neo-opsis magazine. Listening to his hilarious account of traveling through the mountains to attend the convention where I first met him, I interrupted to ask him why his misadventures hadn’t led him to turn back. “Are you kidding?” he asked. “Even as I watched our van roll down the hill and over the cliff, I knew it would make a great story, and I’d be able to come here and keep you lot in stitches for an hour. And nobody was hurt, so what the hell? And when you stop to think about it, the way it happened, it really was very funny!”

That’s the point, of course. As a writer, one always does stop to think about it, to see the humour in any situation, more or less as it is happening. Karl is one of the most laid back and together people I know, and I can’t help thinking that this is due at least in part to his also being one of the best satirists publishing today. Ever since meeting Karl, I’ve realized that the bastards could never get me down again, because as a humorist, sweet revenge is always but a pen stroke away.

Third, in editing one’s autobiography one is in large measure editing one’s real life. This is hard to explain to someone who isn’t a humorist, but the thing of it is, once one has written up some troublesome incident as an amusing anecdote, there is a strong tendency to remember the anecdote rather than the actual incident. Remember that boring job that sucked the life out of you for the eighteen months you stood it? Out of that whole period there were maybe two funny things that happened—but if those were the two incidents you wrote up in your novel, ten years from now, that’s what you’d remember about that job. And since one is one’s memories, one can effectively edit one’s life to make it way better than it actually was.

Thus, as a writer I’m able to find meaning in the meaningless day-to-day trivia of modern life; can adopt the stance of ironic observer where others would cast themselves as victim; and instead of the alienation that has become the norm in our society, I am afforded a Zen-like detachment.

And all that comes out of the act of writing itself. With the subsequent publication and distribution of my essays to an audience, I collect the added bonus of being able to create a community of readers and correspondents. Who doesn’t feel better about their life when given a sympathetic ear? As a zine publisher, I had a ready-made audience, a veritable convention of barmen to listen patiently and perhaps offer the occasional “Got that right, buddy!” As five or 10 or 50 of my readers responded with relevant anecdotes of their own, and as I excerpted the best of these for publication in the next issue of my zine, we together created the community, identity, and meaning that might otherwise have been lacking in our everyday lives.

I suppose that could be mistaken for seeking fame or reputation, but I was writing for a relatively small readership, so it’s really not the same. It’s not so much seeking fame, of wanting to be a household name, as of just having an audience. I think everyone needs an audience, someone who is interested in what they have to say, even if it’s only their dog. Otherwise, what’s the point of getting up in the morning if no one notices you’re there? Having a loyal readership goes a long way to filling that need.

(Nate Hendley is the Toronto-based author of Motivate to Create: A Guide for Writers and authors. He has also written numerous other books, primarily in the true-crime genre.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pending Publication

Happy to announce my story "Age of Miracles" is included in Strangers Among Us - Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, edited by Susan Forest and Lukas Law. The anthology "xplores the delicate balance between mental health and mental illness through short speculative fiction". Other authors include such big names as Lorina Stephens (my publisher/boss at Five Rivers!) Hayden Trenholm (author, and publisher at Bundoran Books), Gemma Files, A. M Dellamonica, Edward Willett, Suzanne Church, Ursula Pflug (to whom I've sold stories for both her anthologies), Sherry Peters, Derwin Mak, Erica Holt and a bunch of others with whom I am as yet unfamiliar...but looking forward to reading in this anthology. Looks to be a pretty fascinating reading! Introduction by Julie E. Czerneda

The anthology is also a fund raiser for the Canadian Mental Health Association.

I had a lot of fun writing my story for this anthology, and I immodestly think "Age of Miracles" one of my better stories so far. The anthology will be officially launched August 8, 2016 at When Words Collide Festival in Calgary (at which, coincidentally, I am Editor Guest. I'm told as Editor Guest I get to do a 15 minute reading, so will have to see if I can maybe read this one. Either that, or something that I am writing next August.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Recent Publications

I was very pleased to have my story, "Hacker Chess" included in the original anthology, Playground of Lost Toys edited by Colleen Anderson and Ursula Plug (cover above) and then almost simultaneously, reprinted in Exile Literary Quarterly (cover below). The anthology is terrific, with stories by Candas Jane Dorsey, Linda DeMeulemeester, Claude Lalumière, Kate Story and Melissa Yuan-Innes and sixteen others. I haven't gotten my copy yet, but I heard Lalumiere, Story, and Yan-Innes read at a pre-launch party at he Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature (Ottawa, Oct 31) and their stories blew me away.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Daily Comics

I start my day with the comics, which come emailed to me via Go Comics:
  • Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson
  • Stone Soup by Jan Eliot
  • Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen
  • Betty by Gary Delainey and Gerry Rasmussen
  • Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller
  • Frazz by Jeff Mallett
  • Fox Trot Classics by Bill Amend
  • Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
  • Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis
  • The Argyle Sweater by Scott Hilburn
  • Real Life Adventures by Gary Wise and Lance Aldrich
  • Bliss by Harry Bliss
  • Rubes by Leigh Rubin
  • Moderly Confused by Jeff Stahler
  • Speed bump by Dave Coverly
  • Strange Brew by John Deering
  • or are emailed to me directly from their creators site's:

  • Savage Chickens by Doug Savage
  • Wrong Hands by John Atkinson
  • I love Savage Chickens the best--cartoons about work and life featuring chickens drawn on yellow sticky notes. I end up pinning about 50% of these for use in class, or just 'cause. So great. Highest 'hit' rate of any of them. Based in Vancouver.

    Wrong Hands is mostly word play, and frequently brilliant, he only posts when he thinks of something, so irregular. Great when he does. Based in Ottawa


    Cul de Sac was a complete surprise, recommended to me by a stranger (which inspired me to do my own reviews here). It took a little while to get into it because individual strips are not necessarily that hilarious, but once you're following it, there is a cumulative effect so that I have come to love the characters. Kind of a modern Peanuts--but with more realistic kids and occasional appearance of actual adults. Highly recommended.


    Stone Soup is pure soap, but I love it. Again, have to give it a little time to get caught up in the story and the characters, but charming and optimistic and humorous. Delightful.


    Ballard Street, again, a very high hit rate in spite of being just totally eccentric: everyday starting points of neighbours who are not quite right, psychologically speaking.


    Betty was a spinoff/revampng of a strip that started in the Edmonton Journal decades ago. Funny family strip with many daily insights.


    Frazz is about a school janitor and his relationship to the kids and teachers in the school. Always pleasant, but I often find school-related content I can use in class.


    Zack Hill is about a kid and his dog and the boarding house his mother runs. The cast of characters in the boarding house are often interesting, the commentary by the dog is often funny, and Zack's adventures at school are often something I can use in class.

    Fox Trot, Pearls Before Swine, Calvin and Hobbs will already be familiar to everyone. The others are all singe-frame cartoons with various levels of nonsense.
    A typical Bliss cartoon.

    Reading the comics gives me a minute to compose myself before standing up, since I usually read them on my phone email, directly after turning of the phone wake up alarm. Better thing to start with, much less depressing, than the "to do" list.

    Wednesday, May 06, 2015

    Orange Crush

    Alberta has had a long history of essentially one party rule, with sudden over night switch to new party:
    1905–1921 Alberta Liberal Party
    1921–1935 United Farmers of Alberta
    1935–1971 Social Credit Party of Alberta
    1971–2015 Alberta Progressive Conservatives
    2015-present Alberta NDP

    So, following the trend, NDP in power to about what, 2065?

    Fascinating to see Prentice abandon his seat immediately upon realizing he couldn't be premier anymore. Shows he was never interested in representing that riding, never interested in advocating for deeply held beliefs, just interested in the top job. Completely irresponsible flight from his responsibilities. Foisting the cost of yet another byelection on his followers. Slap in face of PC volunteers in that district--would not want to be the PC guy who has to run there next.

    Fascinating to that his exit speech was all about how none of it was his fault. "No one expected a drop in oil prices, no one expected 50,000 job lost as a result, no one expected..." Yeah, he expected to be parachuted into top job and to run a province effortlessly. It was mean of us to expect some actual leadership, for him to actually have to do something more helpful and constructive than to save a few million by cutting the charity tax deduction. Mindboggling hubris. Alberta may be way right wing, but the thing about right-wingers is, hubris does not sit well with them. Under another leader, the PCs might well have slipped a bit in the election, but it takes a real effort for a party so entrenched to collapse this far in one go.

    Lethbridge Food Show (Review)

    The 1st Annual Lethbridge Food Show: the food wars arena

    Well, that was good.

    The first Lethbridge Food Show was not the first of its kind in Lethbridge--in fact, the field is getting a little crowded. 5th on 5th has been running a Taste of Lethbridge as a fund-raiser for several years, and it has been a huge success--it runs in April. More recently, the Galt Museum has been running A Taste of Downtown, which also runs in May. It was sufficiently successful that it sold out before I could get tickets. So hoping that this new commercial version doesn't compete to the point where it hurts either of those charities, but there's probably room for this one too. But maybe a little coordination to spread themselves out across the calendar wouldn't hurt.

    This one was reasonably well organized, and had a number of added features that appeal.

    First, the venue allowed for actual food trucks to participate, in addition to the usual spread of tables. Nice to know Lethbridge has some food trucks these days!

    Second, the food was really good. That's kind of important. We spent $60 for the two of us which is roughly what a good meal costs, and we feel we got our money's worth sampling this and that till stuffed. What I like about sampling is the opportunity to discover new places in town. Who knew that there was an excellent chef (Chef Express) renting the kitchen at the Legion? I loved his butter chicken fusion dish--butter chicken adapted, he said, for white guys. (*Laughs*) But I have to confess I am less interested in authentic than in yummy, and his butter chicken was creamy goodness! The chocolate coated bacon also dangerously good, though obviously a gimmick. Other food highlight: deep fried pumpkin pie. Seriously amazing. But a number of really good resturants were featured, though I didn't bother sampling those from places we eat regularly. I could see the food show growing much larger, given the success of this initial outing, and can think of several places that weren't represented that might well do well (like our Korean place) were they to participate. So lots of room for growth there, but already worth the price of admission.

    Third, having a big name guest Chef -- in this instance, David Adjey-- was kind of cool idea. Comes across a little different in person, so that was interesting.

    Fourth, Lethbridge Chef Wars was good idea, though implementation needs to be refined a bit. The idea of doing a live, local version of Chopped TV show has definite potential, and the set up was excellent - photo shows the large arena space dedicated to it, with three quite generous cooking stations laid out, judges table, and etc., and a camera guy running from table to table, projecting cooks and their dishes up on two giant screens. That was handled quite well. The tiny problems were the sound system was echo-y so that it was often difficult to make out what the judges were saying, and there were very long periods were contestants were cooking without any commentary...TV generates excitement by having a host narrating the battle, constantly commenting on chef's choices, progress and techniques, etc., so long silent stretches sapped a lot of the energy out of the thing. Not sure if that was inexperience on part of MC/host, or whether they'd given up on the sound system. Minor fixes, though, so we'll see what happens next time.

    Fifth, looked like a good size beer garden, but being a non-drinker I didn't check out the displays there.

    Sixth, child-friendly! Kids under 12 free admission, so that allows for some families to get out, parents to participate, that might not otherwise be able to get to the 'Taste of' events. Ice sculpting events and food likely to appeal to kids too.

    Overall, I'm a satisfied customer, saying congratulations to the chef from the Italian Canadian Club who organized it all, and hope it really does become an annual event.

    Wednesday, November 05, 2014

    NaNoWriMo 2014

    I've registered for NaNoWriMo again this year, but again this year do not hold much hope for getting very far. Too many other significant things going on in my life. But here is my word count so far:

    (Graph should update itself until end of November.)

    Wednesday, October 22, 2014

    Game Changer? Only if we let it be.

    Listening to coverage of attack on Parliament Hill, must have heard the phrases "Canada's loss of innocence" and "game changer" about a dozen times. *Sigh* Recognize that it makes for more exciting news coverage to announce that this is the event of the century, but really, are we expected to change fundamental features of Canadian culture (such as a relatively open Parliament Hill) in response to a single incident involving one (or maybe two or three--it's too early in the coverage yet know how many are involved in this, though not apparently early enough to make pronouncements on how we will have to change all our policies) gunman? And such a poorly planned attack that the shooter apparently didn't know parliament doesn't convene on Wednesdays until 2PM? Again, too early to know if this is a copy cat from the shooting in Quebec, or something he/they had been planning for awhile (possibly to coincide with introduction of anti-terrorism bill?) but either way, it is ridiculous to allow -- nay, to assist!--a couple of fanatics to hijack Canadian culture. Just because they want to abandon the ballot for bullets doesn't mean the rest of us should stampeded towards draconian counter-measures.

    One of the first topics that caught my attention back when I started out choosing between sociology and political science was terrorism. I read a lot of the writings of the early anarchists and was fascinated by the conscious, explicit manipulation of mainstream culture through the application of tiny acts of terror. For the anarchists, the purpose of terror is to trigger an over reaction that makes the oppressive apparatus of the state visible to the majority. Thus, one idiot with explosives in his shoes leads to everyone having to take their shoes off in American airports for the next five decades. Does this measure really make us safer? It certainly doesn't make us feel safer. On the contrary, it makes everyone feel more nervous. So, score huge one for the terrorists. What the coverage of terrorists seems to miss, is the changes the media is advocating for are the changes the terrorist set out to trigger. Politicians like to say they don't negotiate with terrorists; but what they don't say is they cave completely and do exactly what the terrorist scripted for the politicians.

    Or, if one tends towards the cynical, one could argue that (small c) conservative policy-makers have wanted to beef up security and cut down on democratic traditions for a long time, and simply use these incidents to forward their own agendas. Naomi Klien's "The Shock Doctrine: Disaster Capitalism" outlines a number of case studies. Attempts to use this incident to forward a conservative agenda must be vigorously resisted. Up until this week, there have been two political assassinations in all of Canadian history. If we count the two Canadian soldiers killed this week in that category, that brings the total to 4 in 200 years. I don't think that requires us to change to an American-style defensive posture just yet. And, I would like to note that the police / security response on Parliament Hill today was exemplary. If that is the best the terrorists can do, we have nothing to worry about. Our guys won handily.

    Another thing that bugs me about the coverage of the Parliament Hill /Quebec shootings is the recriminations over why our security establishment hadn't discovered and stopped the plot ahead of time. Really? Short of hiring only telepaths for the job, how the hell were they supposed to have stopped it ahead of time? Short of arresting everyone who ever read an IS Facebook post or attended a Mosque? (Assuming these were IS supporters...early days yet on the full story). Two soldiers are killed, and I hear reporters calling for the allocation of massive resources to security establishment to allow them 24/7 monitoring of minorities so that they can, in the words of one reporter, "preemptively arrest" individuals the police think might someday do something. Head::Desk. Yeah, let's constantly monitor everyone everywhere to prevent the future deaths of another couple of soldiers in uniform...but no one seems very interested in dealing with domestic violence that kills at least one Canadian woman every week. Or the even less well recognized problem of domestic violence against men. You want to monitor assholes, then start with the statistically significant problem of domestic violence, or missing aboriginal women, or elder abuse, or whatever, not the vanishingly small problem of domestic terrorism. A Canadian soldier is twice as likely to be hit by lightening then killed by a terrorist attack in Canada.

    Wednesday, October 08, 2014

    Aurora Award 2014

    Surprised and delighted to have won an Aurora Award this year [for “Why I Read Canadian Speculative Fiction: The Social Dimension of Reading”, Scholar Keynote Address at ACCSFF ’13, Toronto and subsequently published in Recent Perspectives on the Canadian Fantastic: Selected Papers from ACCSFF. Allan Weiss, ed. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland, 2014 (in press).]


    All this year's winners (front) and presenters (backrow).
    My turn to present: Rich Leblanc accepting on behalf of On Spec Magazine


    Legendary author William Gibson, who was inducted into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association Hall of Fame (along with Spider and Jeanne Robinson; Spider is second from right in first photo) and me, showing off my Aurora Award.

    Another highlight of the Aurora Awards ceremony (presented this year at V-Con 39 in Vancouver) was when Al Harlow (Lead singer for Prism) presented the Aurora Award for Music, which went to Chris Hadfield for his performance of Space Oddity — in, you know, space. Thought getting Al Harlow as presenter was pretty cool.

    Also glad to see Frank Johnson (in tux in middle of first photo) receive recognition for his trophy design and 23 years of making them for the Association. I often felt that the trophy's unique design significantly added to how seriously people take these awards —makes it really worth getting one.

    Friday, September 19, 2014

    Writing After Retirement

    Got my copy of Writing After Retirement: Tips by Successful Retired Writers [edited by Christine Redman-Waldeyer and Carole Smallwood. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press (Imprint of Rowman & Littlefield)] with my chapter, "Estate Planning for Authors" in the mail yesterday. My suggestions are pretty basic, and come with the disclaimer that I am no lawyer, but hopefully get people thinking about how they want their literary legacy handled after they're gone....

    The other 26 chapters in the collection are filled with tips on how to write by successful authors from across a variety of genres and communities. Together, they provide a pretty realistic portrayal of the challenges / obstacles aspiring writers face. This collection is aimed at writers starting after retirement, but most of the advice would be applicable to everyone.

    Friday, August 22, 2014

    The Missing Elephant

    Sept 11 is the launch of the anthology, They Have To Take You In, in which my story, "The Missing Elephant" appears. The anthology is edited by Ursula Pflug and is a fund raiser for the Dana Fund:

      The Dana Fund was created in July of 2010 at the Canadian Mental Health Agency (CMHA HKPR) in Peterborough Ontario, at the suggestion of friends and family who wished to make donations in her memory. Dana Tkachenko inspired many people through her own experiences of struggling against tremendous obstacles and succeeding in creating a stable and fulfilling life for herself and her family. Dana’s memory is honoured through the Dana Fund, by dedicating donations to the cause of supporting young women and families in transition, experiencing similar challenges, who could benefit from some help along the way." - Gordon Langill

    Basically, the anthology is about the importance of family and/or its various dysfunctions. I wrote the "Missing Elephant" specifically for the anthology, so it's my first attempt at CanLit rather than SF.

    I'm quite pleased with it, but it's hard to be objective and I was outside my usual genre. I had my usual editor go through it before submitting to the anthology and made the requisite changes, but my editor wondered how credible it was...but of course, it is pure autobiography. Life really is stranger than fiction. The number of times in a month I'll say, "I'd put that in my novel, but who would believe it?" in reference to this or that incident with colleagues or family...or in this case, my own stupidity. Hardly credit the incident in question myself...but absolutely accurate, save for the changed names. But presumably Ursula liked it, since she took it for the anthology, and she is a pretty fabulous writer/editor, so I'll take that as sufficient validation.

    Being somewhat satisfied with "The Missing Elephant" I tried a second CanLit story, though with a slight SF edge to it. I am really happy with that one, but it is still doing the rounds of Canlit mags.... Hard to tell if the rejections are because it's not up to standard, or if even a trace of SF is a hard sell to CanLit markets. I'll try it with SF markets next time it comes back, when the question will be whether SF markets will accept anything that Canlit.... Eventually, I'll put everything into a collection of my short fiction, but I would prefer to have the validation of previous publication before I include anything in it.