Friday, May 22, 2020

Five Rivers Publishing Closes

Lorina Stephens today announced the closing of Five Rivers Publishing.

The press, unlike so many others, did not fail. It was in fact thriving, but family issues related to Lorina taking on eldercare made it impossible for her to continue Five Rivers Publishing. I am sad to see Five Rivers go, but Lorina’s reasons are altruistic and it was the right decision.

Lorina helped many authors launch their careers, and her belief in me made my career as a professional editor possible. It was an honour and a privilege for me to have been associated with Five Rivers for nearly a decade.

I hope that Lorina is able to continue her own writing. Her own books were, in my view, undervalued. I met Lorina (online) when I was one of the few reviewers to find and rave about her first novel, and it was through that contact that I became a beta reader on her second novel, then an Editor at Five Rivers, and then Senior Editor. I watched Lorina put more time into the press than into her own writing, and I know she always paid authors, editors, and artists before she took a dime herself.

She put her time, energy, and money into the press because she believed in the community of writers, editors, and artists that she gathered around her. She made it all work in spite of the turmoil in the publishing industry: Five Rivers survived and thrived when other independent presses around her were wiped out.

My hat is off to her vision, her stubborn survival in difficult times, and her promotion of Canadian voices in literature.

I will always be grateful to Lorina and to Five Rivers.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

New Story: "Fami's Dissertation Defence"

My flash fiction, "Fami’s Dissertation Defense" was published today by RIPPLES IN SPACE and is available free at: https://ripplesinspacecom.files.wordpress.com/2020/05/famis-dissertation-defense.pdf The tagline is "Having your AI pass the Turing Test may not be the problem…"

Friday, May 08, 2020

Aurora Nomination

My memorial essay, "Dave Duncan's Legacy" in On Spec magazine #111 has been shortlisted for an Aurora Award, in the "Best Related" category. It is an honour to be nominated, but it is up against five magazines, an anthology, and a podcast, all of which are extremely worthy and all of which represent much more sustained effort than my one essay. So, happy to take being shortlisted as validation of the essay, but the others need their much more substantial contributions to be validated by the win. Good luck to them all, I know I will have difficulty choosing which of them to vote for.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Page and Spine Story

My flash "fiction" (*cough cough*) piece, "The Novice Instructor" is available at Page and Spine in their "Reading Lamp" section.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

My story "Third Shift" came out today from The First Line Magazine. Yay!

I love the concept of The First Line, where all seven stories start with the same (assigned) line. (The magazine's tag line is, "It all starts the same, but...") Writing a story to one of their prompts is great because it takes you out of your usual mindset and forces you to mix things up a bit. This issue's opening line is "Ravi had just worked a double shift and was having trouble keeping his eyes open." The story just jumped into my head, essentially fully formed.

This is my second story in published in The First Line. They rejected one (which I sold elsewhere, having made only a minor change to the first line) and I've just now sent a fourth off to them, with my fingers crossed. So much fun.

They also publish The Last Line magazine, and Workers Write, all of which are worth a look.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Paintings

Pleased to have received my copy of The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Paintings, which includes my story "Iceberg" inspired by the Lawren S. Harris painting "Icebergs, Davis Strait", 1930 (shown above). Honoured to have a story included in this magnificent collection: my first piece of flash fiction and my first appearance in an art book! Thanks to editor Karen Schauber for conceiving and sheparding this audacious project to its successful culmination, and especially for her help in shaping my own entry.

The book is available from Heritage House press https://www.heritagehouse.ca/book/the-group-of-seven-reimagined/

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Rose Guardian - A Review

The Rose Guardian
by Lorina Stephens
Five Rivers Publishing, 2019. 317 pp.

It starts with a funeral.

Una Cotter is dead, and her sixty-something daughter, Vi, is left to sort out her feelings about her mother, her family, her childhood, and her ambiguous inheritance. One cannot but grieve the passing of one’s mother, but when Una Cotter was your mom, it’s complicated.

This is a quiet, thoughtful book that will appeal to anyone working through the loss of a parent—or their own midlife crisis. Lorina Stephens paints a multi-layered canvas of loss and release, of denial and self-examination, of blame and understanding. The portraiture that emerges as each layer is laid down is a complex and nuanced examination of three generations of women, each the product of their era, but also slightly out of phase. Vi learns much that had been hidden when she inherits Una's diaries, but it's Vi's re-examination of her own childhood that provides the greatest insights into her family's dynamic, and the need to understand and come to terms with her own issues.

There is a lot of food for thought here, and what I liked most about the book was its undercurrent of resigned optimism. Life is what it is, you can't change the past, you can't change other people, but you can change your own perceptions and reactions. Looking back, and then letting go of who you were, might just be the best way forward.

Of course, any great book is about more than just the central theme. I loved the multifaceted character of Vi as a competent, compassionate, and creative woman. While those around her are starting to worry she may be losing it, we see that she is just now coming into her own as both an artist and a woman suddenly freed of a weight she has been carrying. I loved the intimate descriptions of the painter at her canvas, both for the technical descriptions and as a central metaphor. I loved the characterization of her relationship with her ex and her uncle, both worthy men. And best of all, I loved her characterization of the ghost (did I mention there's a ghost?), the mystery child who first appears at the funeral. Stephens gets inside the ghost-child's head to show us the true magic of childhood—which is to say, often very dark magic, a terrifying world of monsters with only the Rose Guardian between you and chaos. I recognized several of the nightmares from my own childhood, and glimpsed some of my daughter's still current fears, and if these scenes don't resonate with you, you must have had an exceptional childhood . . . or a selectively poor memory.

Stephens depicts people coping with their lives and each other as best they can, such that in the end, they are all sympathetically portrayed, even Una. This is the family next door, or down the block, or possibly people you recognize in your own extended family. I'm glad I've met them, glad Vi is doing okay . . . and I really like this new direction in Vi's paintings.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

My chapter published in Writing Better Fiction edited by Brent Nichols

Writing Better Fiction released at When Words Collide (Calgary writer's convention) this weekend.

Pleased that my chapter was included in Writing Better Fiction, a charity anthology of donated essays on writing tips for fiction authors. All proceeds go to support In Places Between, the Robyn Herrington Memorial Short Story Contest, https://ipbcontest.weebly.com. I was keen to contribute because Robyn was my friend: I did some beta reading for her years ago, so have read everything she wrote, and I greatly treasure a strikingly beautiful blown-glass globe she made and then gifted me. I've also been a judge for In Places Between, and believe that the contest and the accompanying anthology have done a lot to develop new writers.

The volume covers everything from beginnings to endings and every aspect of writing in between. There is also a chapter on business plans for writers. My contributions is "Description: When Less Equals More".

Besides me, contributors to the volume include Robert J. Sawyer (major award-winning author and Keynote Speaker at the upcoming Wordbridge conference), Hayden Trenholm (author and managing editor, Bundoran Press) Barb Galler-Smith (author and editor with On Spec Magazine), Adria Laycraft, (author and editor with EssentialEdits.ca), Ron S. Friedman (author), Brent Nichols (author), J.E. Bernard (author), Shawn Bird (author & poet), Sally McBride (author), Tim Reynolds, (author), Craig DiLouie (author), Ace Jordyn (author), Liz Westbrook-Trenholm (author), J. Paul Cooper (author), Renée Bennett (author), Randy Nikkel Schroeder (author), Jim Jackson (author and author of storytelling manuals), and the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association (IFWA), Josephine LoRe (author and poet), Swati Chavda (editor, author & neurosurgeon), Sandra Hurst (author), Mahrie G. Reid (author and instructor), Sandra Fitzpatrick (author Lee F. Patrick) and Lisa Brassard (author).

Thanks to Brent Nichols for taking on this project, and for accepting my chapter.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Drabble

Four rejections this week, and then a fifth as I was posting this, but one acceptance/publication this week:

My first published drabble (a drabble is a story exactly 100 words long) is up at https://thedrabble.wordpress.com/2019/06/30/pillow-talk/

Writing Drabbles and other types of flash and micro fiction is a good way to 'tighten' one's writing. Editors and agents often say things like, "this is good, it just needs to be tightened up a bit" but it's not always obvious to the author what that means exactly. As I try to edit down my novel by 25% without actually cutting any scenes, paring down my verbose style to something a little 'tighter' is what's required. The discipline of writing a story in a hundred words, or even 1000 words for flash, helps develop the skills necessary to be more concise...

Try it! Harder than it looks!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Cover Reveal: The Group of Seven Reimagined

Yesterday, I got to see the cover of The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings.

It's available now for pre-order on Amazon.ca (and not, apparently, available outside of Canada except by special arrangement)—I'm guessing a question of obtaining copyright permission for the paintings.

My story, "Iceberg", was my first piece of flash fiction. When I was first approached by editor Karen Schauber to participate in this project, I objected that I didn't write flash fiction. She insisted, however, so I agreed to at least try, and to my surprise, ended up drafting five stories for her to choose from. After choosing "Iceberg" she really helped me shape its final form. I learned so much from working with Karen, that I wrote a second flash piece using what she taught me, and came in second in Pulp Literature's Hummingbird (flash fiction under 1000 words) contest. After that, I was sort of hooked.

I also quickly realized that the discipline I learned writing within very strict word limits of 1000, or 500, or 100 words could be transferred to my novel revisions. I was able to really tighten up the writing in my somewhat bloated novel, by applying what Karen had shown me.

But all that aside, I'm really honoured to have been able to participate in this fabulous project. Being included in the ranks of these other writers, and associated with these classic paintings—yeah, it doesn't get better than this!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Knife Fights

I going to try to post more, and relate random stories from my life as they come up as my kids ask me stuff or questions come up on social media. A writers' list today had a discussion of knife fights, so here are my three knife-fight stories, while I think of them:

1) A classmate in grade 11 was offended by my subjected-headed, color-coded, neatly hand-printed chemistry class notes (of which I was, admittedly, inordinately proud) so he came to my desk and slashed through them with his six-inch knife. Having put a ridiculous amount of effort into those notes (being dysgraphic, "neatly printed" implies insane levels of commitment, but I had been told that was the only way to learn Chemistry) I had placed my hand down over my notes to protect them. I hadn't believed he would actually cut through my hand, he hadn't believed I'd be stupid enough to put my hand down in front of a moving knife blade.

So that happened. When the principal drove me to the UofA hospital with my finger hanging by a thread, the resident in the hospital took one look at it and said, "oh wow, you're in luck" and disappeared. A short time later a group of about 11 doctors showed up and sewed it back up. Turns out, the worlds leading expert on reattachment was there from England giving a seminar to the doctors at the hospital, and they all poured into my cubicle while he sewed me up. "Now here's where a lot of guys make a mistake. You have to reattach the tendon with this technique, not that one" or some such. (This was 50 years ago or so, so can't get the wording exact.) Slightly surprised that wasnt considered an operating-room operation, but I was awake and they just did it right there on the gurney in the ER.

Still have a pretty cool scar on that finger, but otherwise, types fine.

Classmate was incredibly apologetic and I never identified him because I had recognized it had been an accident (adolescent males, eh?) but pretty sure that would be his only knife fight story too.

2) My third or fourth day as a substitute teacher, I arrived in that day's assigned junior high to find two males facing off against each other holding knives. Being inexperienced and not knowing that one should not insert oneself into a knife fight I said, "Right! What's all this then?" in my best Monty Python voice. I put my hand out for the knives. Which they both fell over themselves to give me, having realized before I had arrived that they did not want to have a knife fight, but had no idea how to back down with everyone else watching this standoff. "Oh damn! If this guy had made me give him my knife, you'd be dead, man!" "Oh yeah? You would have been dead if this guy had made me give him my knife!" Had either of them been vaguely serious, I would have had a very short teaching career. The punchline though is that when I phoned down to the principal's office to report having taken knives off two students and asking for a little backup here, the VP replied, "Is that 8F?" I allowed how it had in fact been 8F. "Well,can it wait until after lunch?" "Knives," I repeated. "I had to confiscate knives from two students in a knife fight." "Yeah, that's 8F. I'll see you after lunch." I chose not to return to that school.

3) A young protege of mine found himself holding a knife facing another guy holding a knife on a dark street with no one else around and the other guy was apparently quite serious about this being an ACTUAL knife fight. My protege, realizing he was about to die, made the unexpected move of stabbing himself in the stomach. His opponent went, "The F***?!" and took off. My protege dragged himself to the bus stop where the driver called an ambulance. When the police asked him, who did this to you, he said, "I stabbed myself" and the police said, "look, we know you don't want to testify against the other guy, but the bus driver saw the fight." "No, I actually stabbed myself" "Don't worry, we won't ask you to testify, but he's going down for this." etc. Not a strategy I'd recommend, but he did survive.

Image Credit: http://www.clipartpanda.com/clipart_images/hand-with-knife-clipart-3568526

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Setting Goals

One of my goals for 2018 was getting published in Pulp Literature, and here is Issue 21 (fifth anniversary issue!) of Pulp Literature with my story in it.

My second goal was to place a story each month, but that appears to have been over-reaching. I only placed six stories in 2018, though I sold a seventh first week of 2019, so maybe that one almost counts.

My third goal (in support of the first two) was to have as many stories out in circulation as possible. In addition to the six I placed in 2018, I had another thirteen stories sitting on various editor's desks awaiting a decision. At the peak, I had 20 stories in circulation at one time and gathered a total of 35 rejections. Selling short stories is largely a numbers game. Writing is only the first step; keeping them out there until they sell is equally important.

My goal for 2019 is to finish the damn novel.

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.

Edit Nov 17: the link to the Globe and Mail obituary for Daveh https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books/article-dave-duncan-85-was-a-popular-novelist-who-dreamed-up-fantastical/?fbclid=IwAR0-0RJGCiGXCgq4SiMWPTrC-EvMUNomcxlt5N7mkXc9Kk7q3rwXX-_jgcM

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The First Line

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.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Fire: Demons, Dragons, and Djinns

Rhonda Parrish has pulled together another worthwhile anthology, this one published by Tyche Books, featuring a stunning cover by Ashley Walters.

The standout story was Laura VanArendonk Baugh’s “The Second Great Fire”, which gives us a wonderful evocation of movie theatre projection rooms, WWII London, and the Blitz. It alone is worth the price of admission.

Entirely different in tone and approach is Chadwick Ginther’s “Midnight Man vs. Frankie Flame”, a sort of superhero story; and Dusty Thorne’s “Permanence”, an unassuming but entirely satisfying piece. And I confess to a soft spot for Krista Ball’s “Bait”, though I’m not sure how well it will work for someone not already familiar with her fabulous Dark Abyss series. (If you don’t already know the Dark Abyss series, stop reading this and go download The Demons We See immediately.)

I was mildly disappointed by Hal J Friesen’s “The Djinni and the Accountant”, as the premise led me to anticipate a laugh riot, when in fact the story has a quite serious point. It’s an excellent piece, just not the story I had expected, and therefore my judgment is entirely unfair. Similarly, “Light My Fire” by Susan MacGregor is an intelligently written and engaging story, but I tend to dislike fantasies that feature actual historical figures, a personal idiosyncrasy that readers of this review may safely disregard. The only story I actively disliked was “Cilantro” by Annie Neugebauer, which repulsed me partly because it is the category of horror that is supposed to be repulsive, and partly because it reminded me of a Dean R. Koontz Ace Double from my youth, of which no more need be said. In other words, none of my negative comments have any relevance to other readers, who will likely enjoy each of these stories

In between were fifteen other strong stories, covering a wide range of styles and themes. Parrish provides a nicely balanced package with something for everyone, a fascinating cross-section that provides a glimpse of where the genre stands in 2018.

Recommended.