My third and final (?) story touching on Brittany came out this week in Fusion Fragment, an SFF mag edited by Cavan Terrill. “Sainte-Noyale” is set in a West Quebec town very much like Wakefield, so it has something in common with “Flesh Colour”. I don’t know why I keep aligning the Outaouais with a French province, apart from the majority dual-language/culture thing, and the fact that I feel equally at home in both places. At any rate, this project feels complete and—in this latest story—I’ve said what I want to say about cultural chauvinism. And my love for jam, forests, and gourmet food shops.
A few weeks back, Ottawa poet and publisher rob mclennan reached out to see if I was up for word-dumping about what it’s like being a writer in Ottawa, for his Chaudiere Books blog. Ever happy to stump for the local speculative fiction scene, I answered a series of questions that many far more notable local writers have answered before me. I was also happy to be a part of the Chaudiere Books project—rob has done a lot for poets and small presses in this town, and seems to know everyone on the local CanLit scene (and beyond). You can read the interview here.
Today I have the honour of being an actual-real Strange Horizons author! My weird tale, “The Stitch Beneath the Ice,” went live this afternoon, accompanied by vivid art by Mateus Manhanini and a great podcast narration by Anaea Lay. This particular tale was born of family history and/or lore–it’s not always easy to separate fact from fancy nearly 100 years on, and when an author intrudes with her own sizeable artistic licence, well… This is what happens when a weird tale/fantasy writer ponders the fact that her maternal great-grandfather was a casket-liner by trade and a rumrunner during Prohibition. While she’s living in much more temperate Euro-climes and dreading her eventual return to Canadian winters. Who adores The Terror series, Freidrich’s “The Sea of Ice,” and gripping Gothic Arctic landscapes in general. And who, like many Canadians, has been dealing with mounting anxiety about that border to the south since 2016.
One way museums are staying linked with the public during the Great Lockdown is by participating in themed contests on Twitter. This week’s “curator battle”: find the creepiest exhibit in your institution. The #creepiestobject Twitter thread is glorious. And of course my writer friends were inspired to create weird micro-fiction around the pieces. An open Facebook group was formed and a call went out to join CreepyCuratedCreations. We had 48 hours to come up with 250 words based on one of the exhibits. I went with “Wheelie” from the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation. Creepy old toys found immured in old mansions, you don’t say? My interpretation (with some help from a famous Kubrick shot) is below the fold.
My friend Alexandra Seidel has an alter-ego named Alexa Piper. The former publishes stunning fantasy and weird fiction in major SFF venues; the latter crafts erotica with an SFF slant. The two of them together have just launched a new miscellany blog called The Wicked Writing Corner, aimed at SFF readers and writers. Alexa asked me to guest-blog about running an SFF fiction magazine and I was only too happy to oblige. I thunk some things, then wrote them down, then sent them to Alexa, then saw them come out in the world today. I’m looking forward to seeing what else pops up on Alexa’s latest project. You can track down the Seidel work here and the Piper work here. You can read my thunk thoughts here. Full disclosure: I’ve published Seidel work three or four times, and when we get together we don’t stop talking for years and imbibe fancy cocktails no matter the weather.
It’s funny that a tale I wrote as a character study for an epic fantasy novel has become my most-reprinted story. “Charlemagne and Florent”, which first appeared in Myths Inscribed (2014) and was reprinted in Imaginarium 4: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing (2016), has found yet another home: the venerated pro audio market for fantasy short fiction, PodCastle. I honestly didn’t expect to be accepted there, and it was the best Christmas gift of 2019. This is the first time one of my pieces has been performed and—better still and to my surprise—it was performed by a friend from the Ottawa area, Dominik Parisien. Dom’s a talented poet and editor, and (it turns out) a fine narrator, too. I couldn’t be happier with PodCastle’s choice of narrator or Dom’s work—I wanted a native French speaker for this narration and got one. Now I imagine the person telling the tale is a French-Canadian fighter who met the titular characters on the international martial arts circuit. It works for me.
When I learned back in 2017 that Dublin would be hosting the World Science Fiction Convention in August 2019, I had no more excuses for putting off visiting a city (and country) I’d been dying to see since my tweens. I had utter heart-eyes at the idea and quickly registered, even though at the time I wasn’t sure whether I’d be in Canada or Europe on that date. Very glad I did, because it resulted in my having almost three incredible weeks in Ireland, spending half of my time inspecting Limerick, Galway, Connemara, Moher, and other wonders of the west (Murphy’s > Guinness), and half of my time in Dublin–and seeing Canada friends who were also taking part in Worldcon, which was a huge personal bonus. So was the local content/context lavished across the program, per Worldcon mandate. Big kudos to the organizers for including all that Irish content in an already fantastic program.
There are several people on my mother’s side of the family who possess a natural aptitude for language(s) and a love of words (and crossword puzzles), but despite this ours is not a “family of letters.” There is, however, a maternal great-great-grandfather who published poems in a newspaper in the 19th century. I’ve known about this ancestor for a few years—one George Samuel Betts (1841-1888) who was born in the shadow of Westminster Abbey and established himself as a bricklayer in Ottawa, before falling from scaffolding and succumbing to his injuries in his late 40s. He was at work on a new YMCA building (likely the one pictured) that no longer exists, which sat at the northeast corner of O’Connor and Queen. I spent some time a few years back trying to find a trace of his poetry in local newspaper archives, but alas no joy.
I may be biased, because it takes place in my hometown and it’s organized by friends of mine, but Can-Con for my money is the best annual speculative fiction gathering in Canada, hands down. I HATE missing it, because the panels are great and the people even greater. I only miss it if I’m literally across an ocean (which is happening more and more), and October has a big hole in it if I can’t enjoy the festivities. Below are the panels I was on this year, and here in this string is a very heartfelt thank-you to the people who make this event possible — the organizers and a horde of volunteers deserve every props, as 2017 was yet another success. Many people attended for the first time and are now utterly devoted, for good reason. I will be living abroad this time next year and must miss Can-Con 2018, and I’m already grieving. If you love fantasy, science fiction or horror, and if you can get to Ottawa, make this con your fall priority. I mean, where else can you get to randomly have supper with natty gent Steven Erikson (!) or pitch a novel at DAW’s Sheila Gilbert (!)? This con is all love, skill, and wonder, and it’s getting bigger every year.
The Illusion of History (with Charlotte Ashley, Cathy Hird, Fiona Patton, Gregory A. Wilson)
King of the Dead: A Retrospective Discussion of George Romero (with Jay Odjick, Sean Moreland, Matt Moore)
The Books We Don’t Admit to Reading (with Violet Malan, Peter Halasz)
I’m happy to be able to attend and panel at Can-Con again this year, after missing out in 2015 because of travels. It’s my favourite SFF con; many of my friends are there, it’s a ten-minute walk from my home, and it’s growing by leaps and bounds every year so it’s fun to watch the evolution. I always meet interesting people there, as well, and I’m happy my city gets to host SFF fans, writers and publishers. Much praise for the organizers, who are so good about putting out feelers and staying on top of what needs to be done to make Can-Con welcoming and energetic. Looking forward to this weekend —here’s a list of panels I’ll be on, and my fellow panellists:
Friday 8pm – STORY STRUCTURE
With: Leah Bobet, Sam Morgan, Nina Munteanu, Sheila Williams
Saturday 11am – WHY DOESN’T EPIC FANTASY GET ANY CRITICAL RESPECT, OR DOES IT?
With: S.M. Carrière, Peter Halasz, Evan May, Ed Willett
Saturday 5pm – CAN THE EXORCIST WORK IN THE MODERN WORLD?
With: Madeline Ashby, Timothy Carter, Matt Moore, Mike Remar
You can find the full schedule here.
*Poster art by Jay Odjick