Monday, August 31, 2020

Too Many Words

I am frustrated trying to make the necessary cuts to my novel. I have to cut about 30% of what I pantsered out, not just because the novel is way too long, but because the pacing's off.

I think I have pretty good tension in the first 70 pages or so (wherein I blow up the world our hero's on) but then it dissipates in pages and pages of talking. I have the Colleen Anderson quote "Characters talking about doing things is not the same as characters doing things" posted over my workstation, but the book is kind of about how the hero keeps jumping to the wrong conclusions, so he spends a lot of time explaining his wrong theories. This may not have been the best premise for an action adventure novel.

Listening to Jonas Saul's presentations on pacing at this year's When Words Collide re-motivated me to go back in to tackle those problems. I know I have to keep things moving, which means losing everything that isn't action. But every time I try to take out a chunk, it means losing one of the subthemes (which are kind of the point of the book), or I'm chopping one of the key characters (the love interest?!), or the logic of the underlying mystery gets lost. Something has to go, but every time I tug on any particular string, the whole thing unravels.

That's the problem with being a panster: every line flows logically from the one before and leads logically to the next line. The story develops though each of those moments as lived by the character. Now, as I go back to try to impose some structure, cutting out scenes doesn't just mean killing my darlings, it means interrupting that flow and therefore the logic of hero's actions/ reactions/ motivations.

I have no problem editing other people's books but it's impossible to edit my own. I'm okay chopping out scenes I loved writing (especially when one of my beta readers said this scene was NOT funny and this other one was so boring she contemplated killing herself rather than read to the end of it--more motivational feedback than the more tactful and therefore vague comment of "the elevator scene drags a bit" from other beta readers :-) ) but it's hard to see how the pieces can fit back together when you've ripped out random pieces from the puzzle.

It's like...having to rewrite the whole thing. Almost from scratch. But that would be, you know, work. Like a lot of work! Really, it's HARD....

*Sigh* As an editor, it drives me crazy when I have clients who are one draft away from being publishable but don't do what I tell them because it's too much work or wouldn't be as fun as starting a new book. I have no problem bossing other people, but apparently, I am not the boss of me.

[I have managed to stop myself from starting any of the other twelve novels in my head until I finish this one--but there's a reason I've been pumping out so many short stories and flash lately...]

It's tempting to send this off to an editor to get them to do it for me, but I know (thanks to my beta readers) it's still too rough. It has to be at least polished enough for the editor to see what I'm trying to do. And...I just have to stop being lazy if I'm serious about getting this out there. So, I just have to put my nose to the grindstone. As soon as I finish this post.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Elixir of Life

 I enjoy CBC's Grown-ups Read What They Wrote As Kids,  so in the same spirit, here is my major creative writing assignment from Grade 6*.

Clearly, a budding genius even then.

I'd kept it all these years partly because I was raised by a hoarder who taught me one must never throw anything of that sort out; and partly because I was aware that I would someday become a teacher and would need to calibrate my expectations for students by comparing their work with mine at a similar age, as opposed to against the great masters of literature, which seemed to me at the time to be the bar. I didn't become a Grade 6 teacher, but I did have daughters, both of whom were greatly relieved that no matter how bad their own Grade 6 writing, they were considerably better than their dad. My also kept all my university papers, and looking back at those periodically has kept me humble and a better marker. "These kids today don't know anything!" is a common refrain, but people forget how they didn't know much as an undergrad either--kind of the point of going to university, really.

I also clearly remember being concerned my teacher would think I had plagarized from Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Colors of Space which I had read as I start outlining for the assignment and by which I was greatly inspired. I had only discovered Science Fiction half-way through Grade 6, and Bradley's was perhaps the second or third book of that sort that I had read, so my limited familiarity with the field meant that I thought I was copying by having, you know, spaceships. In retrospect, I'm fairly certain anyone would be hard-pressed to find any parallel between the two works. href="" style="display: block; padding: 1em 0; text-align: none;">

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Bundoran Press Closes

Yet another Canadian speculative fiction press has closed. Bundoran Press has been around a long time. The current owners took over from Virginia O'Dine in 2013. Under authors Hayden Trenholm, Elizabeth Westbrook-Trenholm and Mike Rimar, the company published 4 anthologies and 20 novels, racking up awards and nominations. I am very sorry to see it go, but again, appreciate that the owners wrapped the business up in an orderly and professional fashion, rather than push on until they collapsed from exhaustion or etc. A great press that did great things for Canadian SF.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

New Short Story: Deep Dive

My short story "Deep Dive" is posted on Ariel Chart International Literary Magazine at

My thanks to Senior Editor Jana Begovic for choosing it.

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: 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

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, 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, 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


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

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 (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: