Category Archives: life

Poetry, My Brother and Spring

This was going to be another post about poems that I’ve sold and in a way it is. But it is bookmore than that. Last year on March 20th my brother Dennis died unexpectedly, though he had been in ill health for a few years and we had been justifiably worried. Spring when everything is bloom is now inextricably linked with death for me.

Dennis was the eldest of four and he was burdened not so much by being the big brother but by the world. He always wanted to make the world a better place, and that probably started with being the support for his siblings, in believing in us and helping hold us together. We four were weighted by the way our narcissistic parents had used us, who had planted seeds of doubt, self-loathing, fear and sadness deep within us. We battled or succumbed in different ways. Our parents’ needs drew the four of us together. We certainly weren’t always united, and we could drive each other crazy but we have always remained close.

That mentally unhealthy upbringing affected everyone. Not only did Dennis feel he had to be there for us, he had to also be there for the world. If he wasn’t giving and contributing to the betterment of society and humankind, he didn’t feel his life was worth living. I worried at different times that he would kill himself if he couldn’t find this deep purpose. He never had a hobby. Perhaps if there was any hobby, it was Dennis’s love of animals, something we all shared. But he could never just let go and ease himself into something mindless, something to let his mind rest for a bit and regenerate.

It is what killed him. He literally could never sleep. His body forgot how to turn off, even with machines and medicines. He could never shut his brain down and stop thinking of ways to make the world better. Dennis never finished high school. In some ways he was too smart for it and I’m sure desperately unhappy, searching for a sense of place. I doubt any of us were happy in high school though I think if you look back there were probably more searching lost teenagers than there were contented ones.

In seeking approval in my mother’s eyes, Dennis strove to do more. He was successful in Dennisprovincial politics. He became a Thai Consul, he worked on senate reform, and was Edmonton’s police commissioner. He worked in other parts of the world, trying to assist various cities and countries with government. And he worked at advocating for mental health, something that we had never really had in our family. He was given an honorary doctorate for his work. Dennis contributed a lot to mental health and created the Chimo Project, which brought pet assisted therapy to Alberta long before experts were recognizing the benefits of animal-human interactions and healing.

I could go on about my deep-thinking brother, who was perhaps only second to my mother in stubbornness about their own health. He didn’t believe he could be helped, he was leery of psychologists/counsellors/psychiatrists and thought they would bleed his secrets to the world. He resisted seeking treatment. Dennis always tried to see from another person’s point of view, and it was as his body was deteriorating that I saw a darker side come out. I had rarely seen him angry until those later years, where that dark mood and glumness was troublesome and he became more fatalistic. He seemed to believe less in democracy as all the ills of the world ate at him.

20190320_165506

This bee, here.

Yet, he still cared about us and we, about him. Last March 20th was the first day of spring. I found a bee on the steps staggering about, having awakened too early to a chilly day. I rescued it and brought it sugar water at about the same time as my brother was dying in another province. I like to think that as the weight of the world and his burdened brain wore down, that his spirit lifted free and ended up in that bee, small and seeking nectar and the warmth of a new day. I like to think that he was finally able to fly away from worry and sadness.

 

It does not feel like a year. I still cry every week, missing him. And this is about poetry. In trying to move through my grief, to not cry constantly, I immersed myself in poetry. I couldn’t write longer works because of my sorrow, so poetry it was. I started exploring different forms, where structure and length occupied my mind with these word puzzles. In a way, I became obsessed and have written more poems in a year than probably many years combined.

That obsession hasn’t stopped. I’m still exploring forms and writing poems. But my many many poems that have sat for years have had a scrubbing. I’ve not only written new works and explored different themes but I’ve truly looked deeply at my old poems, asking myself, what does that mean? Some of these haven’t sold in over 20 years. In some cases, I set them aside, feeling something wasn’t right—the proof was in no sales. With other poems, I would send them out, not always every year.

Now, with this deep cleansing I have rewritten quite a few poems and have submitted them resurrected and they’re selling. In this way, every time a poem is sold, it reminds me of how my brother believed in me and how, even though he is no longer physically here, he continues to inspire me. I know that if he were to read this, he would kind go “Huhmp!” raise his eyebrows and give me a look.

I think of my brother every time I sell a poem. The ones sold in the past month (the ones with links are already published) and with different release dates are:

  • “Monster” in Breath and Shadow
  • “Telltale Moon” in Dreams and Nightmares
  • “masquerade” in OnSpec
  • An untitled hay(na)ku “luring” and my first haibun “Sacrifice” in Scifaikuest
  • “Three’s a Charm” in Songs of Eretz Poetry
  • “Spinning Wheel,” “Broken Words” and “Penned By My Hand” in Cascadia Subduction Zone
  • “Hacker Halloween” in Polar Borealis #14
  • “Family Dinner, Prince George” and “Sweat Lodge” in Transition magazine
  • “Hand of Fate” in Cosmic Horror Monthly
  • Widow’s Lament” in The Weird and the Whatnot
  • To the Core” in TERSE Journal

To my brother, I thank you. I miss you and I still wish you were here.

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Women in Horror: Marcie Lynn Tentchoff

WiHM11-GrrrlWhiteDeeply hidden along the mysterious coast of Canada, there is another Woman in Horror. Today’s guest is Marcie Lynn Tentchoff.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

I honestly can’t be sure when I first discovered poetry.  It has always seemed to be an important part of my life.  My mother loved poetry, and we shared story poems from when I was very little onwards.  She also introduced me to the story poems within folk music, which probably added to the start of my addiction.  Then again, it can’t have helped that my father started reading Shakespeare to me when I was seven.  By that point my tragic love of poetry was probably fated.  One can’t hear the chants of the three witches from Macbeth as a child, in the dimly lit cabin of a slowly rocking boat, without being at least somewhat doomed to adore rhyme, darkness, and drama.

Why do you write poetry?

This question sort of boggles me.  How could I not write poetry?  Lines show up in my head.  Patterns, rhythms, and twists haunt me if I don’t write them down.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

I don’t find the writing of poetry to be difficult.  Remembering, on the other hand, that readers can’t see into the murky mess that is my mind, and that I might have to flesh things out a bit more for them, that can be tough.

Midnight

There’s no lock on the door
since the Midnight Men came,
with their pale, grinning faces
their tire-track eyes,
and the sound of the shadows
seems louder somehow,
on the street that runs empty
past Emily’s house.

She still plays there sometimes
on the grey concrete stoop,
with the screen door wide open
to welcome the rays
that spread out from the dish
on the middle school roof –
education for all’s what
the Midnight Men say.

And the grown ups all smile
as they murmur along
with the lessons they learn
in the new, better way,
while they work at new jobs
that the Midnight Men brought
till their finger bones show
white on red, like their teeth.

It’s much safer these days —
no one worries at all
about vandals or thievery —
those things are done,
and if every gaze shies from
the old Northgate Mall
no one says much about it
or questions the smell.

But young Emily wishes
her life would change back
to the way that it was
before fog drifted down
from the cracks in the sky
where tomorrow peeked through,
before Midnight came early
and never moved on.

## First Published in Star*Line

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

tentchoffI love to write about bitterness, about making difficult and possibly the wrong choices.  I also love writing about how things can be different when seen from differing viewpoints, and how the tales behind known characters and character types are often darker and more complex.

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

I think everyone has dark moments and thoughts and that reading dark poetry helps to unlock and almost soothe those thoughts, much as listening to sad songs can soothe a person who is hurting.  It is easier to deal with one’s own sorrow and despair if it is shared with others.  Of course, I also think that there is, perhaps, an extra dose of truth to be found in darkness.  These days especially, truth is valuable, and all too scarce.

Diggers

“Is that a thighbone?”
Smile and tell him
that you think it is.
He’s kind of cute,
if you discount
his hump and scarring,
and anyway,
it never hurts to
make an extra friend
in digger circles,
someone who can
swap you limb for limb,
or brain for brain.
One never knows
when one might need an
eyeball, or the toe of
a birth-strangled babe,
or even, as you do right now,
the perfect hips to match
with last year’s waist.

## First published in Dreams & Nightmares

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?tentchoff 2

I am currently trying to map out a new dark poetry collection, but somehow it keeps getting waylaid as I  realize that there are new markets that might want some of the poems that I am foolishly hoping to save for that collection.  We’ll see whether my writing can outpace my need to send work out.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about writing, horror or poetry?

In writing, as in acting, villains are always the most fun to play with.  Heck, even fairy tale based movies prove this, since the villain songs are always the best and the most memorable.  Writing the dark, the horrific, gives writers (myself included)  the chance to truly immerse ourselves in the villainous mindset.

Across the Floor

You held my eyes while dancing
Across the floor,
Your dainty feet
Twirling your gore-red lips
In smiling spirals.
And still,
While I weep blindly,
Bloodily,
In my corner…
You hold my eyes.

## First Published in Sometimes While Dreaming

Tentchoff mMarcie Lynn Tentchoff is a poet/writer/editor/acting teacher who lives on the west coast of Canada with her various family members, both humanoid and rather obviously not.  Her work has appeared in such publications as Strange Horizons, Polu Texni, Star*Line, Polar Borealis, and Dreams & Nightmares.  There have been two collections of her poetry, Sometimes While Dreaming, and Through the Window: A Journey to the Borderlands of Faerie, as well as On the Brink of Never, a collection of poems by her writing group.

Marcie won an Aurora Award for her long Arthurian poem, “Surrendering the Blade,” and other works of hers have been nominated, short, or long-listed for Rhysling, Stoker, and World Fantasy Awards.

She is an active member of the HWA and of the SFPA, and while for a long time she found it difficult to accept that what she wrote could often be called horror, after enough people asked her why there was so much blood, pain and suffering in her sweet little love poems, she started to understand that maybe horror was as good a word as anything else.

“Coins for the Ferryman” currently on Polu Texni http://www.polutexni.com/?paged=4
“Go Bag” currently up in editor’s choice at Star*Line http://sfpoetry.com/sl/issues/starline42.4.html

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Women in Horror: Michelle Scalise

WiHM11-GrrrlWhiteMy guest today is Michelle Scalise. Her poetry punches hard and all the more wrenching for its reality.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

I was taught dull, unrelatable poems in grade school but when I started high school I discovered Edgar Allan Poe on my own. “Annabel Lee,” in particular, made me obsessed with the art form. My work now is influenced by everyone from Charles Baudelaire to Sylvia Plath to Anne Sexton.

Why do you write poetry?

Besides poetry, I also write short stories but I can express myself and my life through poetry in unique ways. I love the way poetry lets a writer play with the sounds of words and the rhythm they make to create an image and feeling.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

The most difficult part of writing is getting the feeling across to the reader but leaving enough room for them to relate to a poem in their own way.

MISTY WAS AN UGLY DOLL

When she grew weary
stubbing out cigarettes
on the old lady,
who paid dearly for
adopting a sewer rat,
Mama would come for me.

She’d lift me onto the stepping stool.
It didn’t help to beg and weep,
humiliation was a sound for the weak.

With giant antique sheers,
She’d chop off my hair muttering,
“Pretty girls are blonde like me.”

Upstairs in the shadows,
a box with my favorite doll
“Beautiful Misty” it read in bold print.
But they were wrong,
her hair was red
and grew long with the turn of knob.

Misty cried when I cut her locks.
I had no mercy for a toy that lied.

Sometimes Mama slapped too hard
but I couldn’t make Misty bleed.
So I colored bruises on her cheeks.
Now she’s dead inside like me.

## from Dragonfly and Other Songs of Mourning

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

scalise bookMy latest collection, DRAGONFLY AND SONGS OF MOURNING (LVP Publications 2019) is about the death of my husband, novelist Tom Piccirilli, of cancer. Most poets who write in the horror genre use death a lot but this is personal. It was also the only work I’ve ever done that was painful to write. My last collection THE MANUFACTURER OF SORROW (Eldritch Press) doesn’t have a theme. I am always writing about scarred childhoods and turning the image of mothers into monsters. That’s my way of fighting back at my past. Both of my short story collections also contain poems.

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

Life is dark and awful for everyone at times. There is something soothing about reading a poet one can relate to.

WORDS HE REMEMBERED

He couldn’t see her anymore
Morphine shuttered his eyes
And cobwebs hung from his lashes
But he heard her whispering
And her prayers became a chapter
On the white walls of his cell.
Words dripping from the ceiling
To languish on the cracked linoleum floor.

His writing was his hunger.
Words black as the poison inside him
Spun into strings of sentences.
Both the horror and the beauty
He longed to type.

Ideas drowning in an IV bag.
Page after page
Streaming from his brain
Too quickly to catch.
He cried watching them fly away.

But he didn’t grieve his own loss,
She’d do that for him.
It was the stories
He’d forgotten to tell
That ran like deer in the mountains
Through the silence he’d leave behind.

## from Dragonfly and Other Songs of Mourning

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I have started something new but it won’t have an actual theme, at least so far. When I go back I may discover something similar running through the poems.

Is there anything else you would like to say about horror or poetry?

My love for horror began when I was a little girl. I would watch old horror movies with my father. He died young but his memory is always in my work.

Since 1994, Michelle Scalise‘s work has appeared in such anthologies as Unspeakable ScaliseHorror, Darker Side, Mortis Operendi I, Dark Arts, The Big Book of Erotic Ghost Stories, Best Women’s Erotica, and such magazines as Cemetery Dance, Crimewave, Space and Time, and Dark Discoveries. She was nominated for the 2010 Spectrum Award, which honors outstanding works of fantasy and horror that include positive gay characters. Her poetry has been nominated for the Elgin Award and the Rhysling Award. Her fiction has received honorable mention in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her fiction collection, Collective Suicide, was published by Crossroad Press in 2012. In 2014, Eldritch Press published a collection of her poetry, The Manufacturer of Sorrow in paperback and ebook. It became a bestseller in the women writers category on Amazon. In May of 2019, her latest collection of poetry, Dragonfly and Other Songs of Mourning, was published by Lycan Valley Press. It has made the preliminary ballet for the Bram Stoker Award. Michelle is an active member of the HWA and the SFPA.

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Women in Horror: Marge Simon

WiHM11-Scalples-whReally, no introduction is needed for Marge Simon, Anyone who reads or writes speculative poetry knows of her and she’s pretty much won every award you can get in the genre.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

I grew up with poetry. My mother, an English teacher, also wrote poems and my father would read books of “grown up” poems with me. I loved the rhythms in such works as Sir Walter Scott’s “Hiawatha” and “Laska” by Frank Desprez, not to mention Poe. However, when I got to high school, it was the poetry of Steven Crane that hit me like a cyclone!This was long before I discovered genre/spec poetry. Flannery O’Conner and Angela Carter also were influences. Visions editor Bradley Strahan had a special sf issue of his magazine in the mid 80’s. I wrote my first speculative poem for him.

Why do you write poetry?

Why do I breathe?

A Hat of Crows

She’s posed, all feminine allure,
darkly unapproachable,
a murder of crows swirling
within, without that hat.

I fantasize touching her legs,
running the top of my hand backwards
over the soft brown skin,
stroking her torso upwards to her lips,
dreaming her into my power.

I beg her to remove her hat.
She only smiles that strange sweet smile,
as her crows circle slowly around her head,
beating their wings in terrible silence.

Space & Time Magazine 2019

##

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

I’d that is a relevant question for individuals. For example, I don’t enjoy writing rhymed verse. I have high standards for rhymed forms of dark verse. I don’t care for forced rhyme, so I leave that to those like Frank Coffman, Ashley Dioses and Ken Opperman, who write only in rhyme, or at least, for the most part. In writing free verse, I work to be sure I’m not being too heavy handed or preachy.

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

Subjects I like to explore: types of people, actions and reactions, climate change and all its many ramifications, human frailties – all with a dark or ironic twist. Unsung heroes and villains, subjects with rich comparison & contrast. My 2019 Elgin winning collaboration WAR, with Alessandro Manzetti is about all types of wars down the ages, the leaders and victims involved, the conditions. Mary Turzillo and I have another collection in progress: Victims. Currently: The Demeter Diaries, with Bryan Dietrich, an alternative love story of Vlad Dracula and Mina Harker told in poetry (Vlad) and prose poetry (Mina).

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

There’s a plethora of subjects and types of dark poetry, something for everyone from vampires and ghosts to ghouls and zombies, you name it. Besides the unsettling, the strange and creepy in verse appeal to a very large range of people from royalty to the village goof-ball.

Permuted

She once was
Winter’s bride to be,
but she gave her heart
to Autumn.

She knows
Winter’s wrath,
his bitter-cold breath,
knows she is bound.

Winter was not pleased
to hear of her betrayal.
So with one icy blast,
he tore a hole in her throat
& then blew out her eyes.

She longs for
sweet September mornings,
sleeping lazy, sleeping late,
the smell of Autumn’s skin,
his dear touch just before
he entered her
with the bounty of
all his knowing.

Polu Texni, 2018

##

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

As mentioned, a dark collection with Mary A. Turzillo, Victims, and Sifting the Ashes (victims of fires, climate change) with Michael Bailey.

Is there anything else you would like to say about horror or poetry?

I enjoy taking the writing challenges from Lee Forman’s Pen of the Damned, and Nina Archangelo’s Women of Horror FB writing to prompts project (flash prose or poems). I also have been fortunate selling dark flash fictions to Daily Science Fiction.

Marge 2016 300dpi small.jpg savedMarge Simon lives in Ocala, Florida and serves on the HWA Board of Trustees. She has three Bram Stoker Awards, Rhysling Awards for Best Long and Best Short Fiction, the Elgin, Dwarf Stars and Strange Horizons Readers’ Award. Marge’s poems and stories have appeared in Clannad, Pedestal Magazine, Asimov’s, Silver Blade, Matter Press, New Myths, and Daily Science Fiction. Her stories also appear in anthologies such as Tales of the Lake 5, Chiral Mad 4, You, Human and The Beauty of Death, to name a few. She attends the ICFA annually as a guest poet/writer and is on the board of the Speculative Literary Foundation. www.margesimon.com Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B006G29PL6

Awards

  • Winner, Bram Stoker for excellence in a Poetry Collection: Vectors (with Charlie Jacob), The Four Elements with Linda Addison, Charlee Jacob and Rain Graves, and my own Vampires, Zombies & Wanton Souls, inspired by Sandy DeLuca’s art.
  • Twice winner, SFPA’s Elgin Award: Sweet Poison with Mary Turzillo and WAR with Alessandro Manzetti.
  • Winner, Best Long and Best Short Rhysling Awards
  • Winner, Dwarf Star Award
  • Grand Master Poet, SFPA

 

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Where I’ve Been & the End of a Decade

writing2Sometimes life is hills or valleys, and sometimes it dives so deep into the underlayer that you end up in orbit without a safety suit. To say I will be happy to see the end of the second decade of the third millennium is an understatement. Fair warning: this will be a long post.

2018 started with a bang…literally. I was driving to work on a slow, quiet, dry day. Thankfully, the traffic was light. My car had always had a sporadic and unpredictable issue of brakes locking at low speed. I always left lots of room in between cars before this. This time I was driving at 100km/hour when my brakes chose to lock, spinning me about and slamming me into a cement barrier. Totaled the car, smashed my leg but otherwise, with a couple of months of physio I was mostly right as rain (yet another permanent bump to my leg though).

In March, I visited my family. My mother, in her 90s, had nearly died in January, so I was seeing her while she had her health. I was also working on writing through my Canada Council grant and Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland, the anthology of Lewis Carroll based stories, came out. That was the slow, almost normal time.

DSC03616

I shot this in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic ©2017

In June, I fell and broke my hand, but the doctors misdiagnosed it for three months which then required some other treatments to fix it. Just after that, I finally landed a new job and was getting ready to leave my previous toxic workspace. Then my cat died on the July long weekend. My job ended on Friday, July 13 and I would be starting the new job the following Monday. Instead, at midnight the same night I was booking a flight as my mother was failing fast. I was in Calgary for five days, and when I booked the return my mother was recovering. But before I had left she was failing again. I returned to start my new job two days late. I worked one day when my new boss gave me a flight back to Calgary the next day. I arrived on the Friday, the last day my mother was really conscious. She died that Sunday morning.

I stayed in Calgary for two weeks to deal with her effects and for her celebration of life. I was only back a week, grieving these deaths, when my landlady of more than 20 years chose to evict me. I live in Vancouver, the land of exorbitant rents. My landlady had once been a friend but she turned into an even more passive aggressive and petty person, had stopped talking to me at all and claimed that she and her new husband (she became very bitter when she divorced her narcissistic ex four years before) needed more space when they lived in the biggest house on the block, with 2 floors, and 3 bedrooms and were semi retired. Needless to say, she had become more bitter and paranoid and odd, and I now had to grieve losing my home and moving. On top of that she had known since the spring that I was in Europe in October and guess which month I was going to have to move?

December came and I was still setting up my new place. My brother and sister-in-law came out for a short visit. I didn’t make it out for Christmas, being stressed and exhausted. My brother’s health wasn’t good and he was suffering the extreme effects of sleep apnea, including brain fatigue and memory loss. We were very worried about him.

2018 came to a close and I was thankful, thinking this was the end of a terrible year. That was not the end of terrible or trauma though. In March, my brother died unexpectedly, which sent the whole family into a tailspin. Dennis was much loved and as siblings we were all very close. Again I was in Edmonton, helping my sister-in-law and grieving terribly.

Burning-book-mrtwismI had barely written in 2018 and the weight of grief made it extremely difficult to think of writing. I applied to the Horror Writers Association for the Scholarship from Hell, a scholarship to attend the Stokercon convention and masterclass workshops, as well as free flight and accommodation. I didn’t win the scholarship but was awarded a runner-up scholarship that included free attendance and master classes. I desperately needed the energy of writers to inspire me.

During the con I took a master class in poetry with Linda Addison. I came back, somewhat inspired but still fatigued by grief. I began exploring a few short forms of poetry, which was one way I dealt with my brother’s death.

Then in July, just past a year from having broken my hand, I fractured my ankle. I’m lucky my job allowed me to work from home as I was stuck in a walk-up. I also damaged the tendons in my thumbs and my shoulders from crutches and started physio before I was even out of a cast.

You would think that was plenty but it still didn’t end. My boss reluctantly informed me that there wasn’t the budget to continue my job in the new year. So now I was back looking for work. Then in September I was stung on my hand by a wasp. My hand and arm swelled up with extreme itchiness. Several weeks later I had hives on my head, side and leg. My doctor was pretty useless and for over two months I dealt with hives.

Then I caught a sinus cold. Just a cold, no big deal. Except it brought tinnitus with it and I’m still suffering ringing in my ears. Three months later, the sinus drainage continues. I have been doing all sorts of self care–physio, chiropractic, massage, counseling–all to get me through these challenging years. On top of that, I ended up with a stye so bad that my nose and cheek swelled. My doctor sent me to ER but thankfully, it just turned out to be some very extreme version of a stye.

Stress can be brought on by various things and the grief and trauma of my last two years has left me with stress and a dread of what could possibly be next. One extreme health issue after another has had me worried. Stress can cause a candida infection and I believe that might be the cause of the lingering tinnitus, the stye, the sinus issues and the extreme reaction to the wasp sting. I’m working on getting this sorted out.

received_312365166192812

Art by Jenn Brisson, published by Black Shuck Books

With everything that happen and still missing so very much my dear brother (I still can’t believe he is gone.), I do have to remember that there were some good things in my life. The compassion of my current employer was amazing and I will always cherish that I had the time to grieve with my family. My solo anthology Alice Unbound, as well as my collection, A Body of Work, were both published in 2018. I had received a Canada Council grant for writing, and a runner-up scholarship from HWA. I was also asked and will be a guest of honor at the Creative Ink Festival in 2020.

On top of that, I had record years in publishing my fiction and poetry. I wrote more new poetry this year than I had in years. In 2018, 12 poems were published and 3 stories. For 2019, 23 poems have been published and 10 stories. I’ll be listing links after this piece for 2019 and where most pieces can be read or bought. I don’t know if what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but I have weathered the worst two years of my entire life. I’ve had enough.

What do I hope for 2020 and the new decade to begin?

I want calm and peace, no endings, no trauma, no grief. I want health and the only excitement to be in what I get published. I want the continued support, love and compassion of friends and family, and hope that I can give it as well. I want to write more, maybe get that novel done and publish one of the two others that are languishing. For the world, I’d love to see an increase in understanding, empathy and compassion and a decrease in mistrust, fear mongering and hate. To all of you, may you have a wonderful, harm free 2020.

Noor5Poetry

Fiction

 

 

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Women in Horror: Sèphera Girón

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteStraight-shooter Sèphera Girón talks about earning a living and is my last blogger for Women in Horror Month, though you will have to come back for part II as she will post over two days. I lost a few writers to health and work commitments. It seems only fitting that since I started with a Canadian, and am a Canadian, that I also end with one.

Trying to Earn a Living as a Writer in 2019!

Well here we are in another Women in Horror Month. I’ve been working in the horror field since before Women in Horror Month was invented and at the time, I didn’t really feel like it was something that was truly necessary for I didn’t see the world quite as I see it now.

Giron DarkRainbow_I think because I came from a mid-sized University town and from very educated parents who already worked in the arts that it never occurred to me that I couldn’t grow up to be a horror writer as I had dreamed of since I was around 14 years old. And it never occurred to me that I was a woman or that being a woman meant anything at all. In my naivety, I thought that the best story would be picked, and it was up to me to work as hard as I could and learn as much as I could about the horror genre and how to be a writer in order to become successful in the horror field.

I was off to a flying start; I read voraciously, I took writing courses, I even graduated from York University with a BA in Fine Art Studies. By majoring in Fine Arts, I was able to embrace my love of all the arts because even to this day I still have my finger in several artistic pies. I am a writer, I’m a working actress, I’m a podcaster or YouTuber, I dabble in drawing badly, I still pick up my violin once in a while, and I love to sing. I’ve not done musical theater in many years, but I do earn a bit of a side income as a background performer in various movies and TV shows that come through Toronto.

In my quest to become a writer, I started to attend conventions in the late eighties, and I was one of those people who would sit in the audience and actually take notes and try to learn secret tidbits from the professionals who would give us wonderful advice. Back in those days, you really couldn’t get that advice unless you actually went to a convention and listened to these people speak. There was no Internet and so you had to wait a long time to get information month to month from the Horror Writers Association newsletters or from market reports like the Gila Queen and so on.

It was a much different time.

So, as far as I was concerned, my hope to become a woman horror writer just meant I Giron Gilda_and_the_Prince_Cover_for_Kindlehad to work really hard and it never occurred to me I would have to work harder than a man or anything like that. I just knew I had to be the best writer I could be. I spent a lot of time (YEARS!) writing and re-writing my books and eventually became a Leisure (Publishing) author until Leisure died and then a Samhain (Publishing) author until Samhain died and I published at several other houses as well alongside those. (Never put all your books in one market!) However, over the years it did come to my attention that perhaps women weren’t getting the recognition that they needed to get. For me, I believe that I got all the recognition I needed for the work that I did because it just never occurred to me that I didn’t. I still stand by that.

As time has gone on and society keeps changing, it almost seems like things are going a bit backwards. Now there is more call for women writers, diversity, and so on. Now the world seems to be splintering into factions of labeling and stereotypes, everyone is sorted into a little compartment and quotas are created to be filled. And yet, now, it does seem that women do have to work harder to get ahead in some instances because now there’s a big ol’ spotlight on us. And I still say, despite all that, editors just want to buy a good story, they don’t care who writes it, just make the publisher lots of money!

Giron6I have said this many times and I will continue to say it, that a large part of the problem with an imbalance of women in horror (and I can’t speak to any other genre because I haven’t asked people in other genres) is simple to see. Over the years I’ve spoken to many women authors while gauging whether there is a problem with women being published and recognized or not. It did come to my attention several years ago that often women aren’t getting published in horror because they aren’t writing it and they aren’t submitting it. PERIOD.

Sometimes women have to be encouraged a little more than men to actually show their work or to get it out there. It is not enough to say you’re a woman horror writer and that you are writing when in fact you’re not submitting and getting published. You are responsible for your own career and you need to make it happen. No one is going to come to you and ask to see your novel. You have to put it in front of people’s faces. And using initials as your name doesn’t fool anyone, so cut it out.

I guess in my naivete in not believing that I would ever be told “no” simply because I was a woman has definitely helped me in my career because I’ve always felt that if I want to do something, I can do it and I’ve always been that way about most parts of my life. So even though I’ve not been terribly prolific the last few years, it is because my energies are a bit scattered, because I am enjoying other aspects of my life as I have mentioned and also I had some emotional issues that have taken me about ten years to deal with and writing horror didn’t really go along with some of the stuff I’ve been trying to work through. In my case, the only person to blame for not having books out right now is myself because I have been taking an emotional break. However, this is all changing, and I do have many stories out or about to be out and I do plan to finish and have my publishers put out a couple of books this year.

One of the tools that has helped me heal and get refocussed is that I created an account on Patreon. Now before I get into my Patreon spiel, I also would like to recognize that in my twenty or maybe now it’s thirty years in the business that I’ve had observations about ways that women aren’t as supported as men when it comes to relationships; a kind of behind the scenes sort of thing.

I have met many male writers over the years who have the luxury of being full time writers because their wives work full time, or their wives at least make enough money to support them both until the husband earns a better income. These husbands are often very productive, they eventually earn a lot of money as writers because they can focus on their work and ultimately have a double income with their wives. Sometimes the wives not only provide an alternative income, but they also are the ones that do all that boring business stuff that writers have to do. It is fine to write a book or a story but then there is so much other work that goes into it, especially these days. Back before self-publishing and before publishing houses got all splintered and weird, you basically wrote a book, sent it out and then you would have to market it, send out press releases, maybe do a party, a reading, a launch, and more. A lot of these male writers let the wives do all the business aspects, like administrative assistants, secretaries, personal assistants, shoppers, and groomers. The wives would send out press releases, they would send out to markets, they would search market reports, they would deal with the agents, editors, publishers. They deal with publicists as they could hire publicists because they had double incomes, they arrange the parties, they do all the taxes, they do all the income, outcome, receipts, letter writing, letter campaigns, the fan clubs, the blogs, deal with the children, aging parents, and so on. This continues to this day.

Giron3I just began online teaching almost a year ago and I attended a workshop here in town put on by the company as a “road show” not long ago and I saw this exact same thing going on with online teachers as well. A lot of male teachers prepare their courses, write them, and film them while the wives do all the film editing, the marketing deal with the phone calls, and students and getting press releases out, preparing downloadable handouts, uploading endless hours of videos, promoting, creating coupons, and blasting it all out on social media. It was actually discussed at the workshop that the spouse should do these exact things to help the teacher spouse. It’s part of the strategy of success.

 The male writer or teacher gets to just focus on being a creative entity and put out the best work they possibly can with lots of time for writing and re-writing and dealing with the editorial notes because the wife is taking care of all the business side and so they don’t have to worry their pretty little heads about all that. I have never seen it in reverse. I’ve never seen quite the same dynamic where the woman is the sole writer breadwinner and the husband does everything else. I do know there are lots of supportive husbands who will help a little bit. There are husbands who will do some of the stuff but not like women do for men. I know this sounds sexist but hey we’re talking about Women in Horror Month and the Reality of Life. I figured as my own life went on, I would see more of the dynamic going the other way, but I don’t. I never saw it in my personal life at all and never expect to. There are a lot of men recognizing the hard work their wives do but I don’t see a lot of men actually giving up their lives to become personal assistants or secretaries for the women writers to make the women’s careers super dee duper although there are always exceptions and feel free to pile on me in the comments of how wrong I am. This rambling leads me to explore the reality aspect of things, which is earning a living as a writer in these totally difficult times of 2019.

In the nineties and early two thousands, I actually was earning a living as a writer and an editor. I made decent money, I had a beautiful home, I could put my children into various classes and activities. I wasn’t wealthy but I could do my thing and get by, go to conventions and things like that. However, over the last ten years my personal life took a huge blow, I was thrust into instant poverty for the very first time in my life, and at the same time, there was a massive recession with NO JOBS AT ALL, traditional publishing crashed and burned, and self-publishing became a thing. I don’t have the beautiful income I used to have, my editing job that I had for about ten years went good-bye that same year (thanks to off-shoring to cheaper countries) and major horror publishing houses went good-bye and so it’s been a matter of creating a new life in a new world order. After many years of struggling just to survive in this expensive city and being on a waiting list for five years, I ended up in an artist co-op which is where I am now, and I’ve been here for about a year and a half. This helps a lot with the rent and things like that because the rent is a bit lower than regular Toronto rents so that buys me a tiny bit of wiggle room as I re-calibrate my life and career and move forward.

(Tomorrow, I’ll continue with the second half of Sèphera’s, where she continues talking about earning a living as a writer.)

GironSèphera Girón is an author, actor, tarot card reader, and mom. She has over twenty published books. Watch for Taurus in the Witch Upon a Star series to be released this year from Riverdale Avenue Books. She has stories in Dark Rainbow, Dawn of the Monsters, Abandon, Group Hex 1 and Group Hex 2, Intersections: Six Tales of Ouija Horror and more. Sèphera is the astrologer for Romance Daily News. Be sure to watch for her monthly horoscopes at https://www.romancedailynews.com/ Sèphera lives in Toronto.

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Scarborough, Slugs and Suicide

Scarborough, Fantasycon, writng, speculative writers, seaside resort

The short side of the Grand Hotel. To the right is the front facing the sea and going down several more stories.

I’ve been meaning to post pictures and tales from my trip to the UK last September. I traveled to the midlands, starting in Scarborough, a seaside town on the east coast. English seaside resorts were all the rage in the early 1900s. The Brits tell me that they’re falling into decline because everyone can now catch a cheap flight to a warm Mediterranean coastline. These places are happy to have some cheaper rates and conventions still help fill the towns. So it was that I went to Scarborough for the Fantasycon by the Sea, put on by the British Fantasy Society. I’ve been to the UK a few times but never to the midlands so I combined it with a vacation.

I went a day early with a Brit I met at the last con, Paul Woodward, one of many writers I’ve met on my writer journeys. We went to Whitby Abbey the day before the con, and a beautiful day it was too. I’ll post about that soon but the night before the convention there was a walk through the amusement called the Terror Towers, where supposedly part of Michael Jackson’s Killer was filmed. It’s one of those cheesy scare factories with creepy clowns and vampire girls and spooky animatronics. These things never even get me with a jump-scare and I think I creeped out the creepy clown at one point when I sneaked up behind him.

slugs, Scarborough, creepy things, slimy

Just a small sampling of the slimy congregation.

After we went through the amusement (these seaside towns are famous for arcades, candy cane, tacky souvenirs and other amusements, we wandered back to the Not So Grand Hotel. It’s a behemoth that was once a a grand dam in its heyday, stories tall and overlooks the ocean. Now it’s a bit shabby, with plastic plants, weird baby blue and pink painted walls and some weird rooms like jail cells (not all though). The side facing the water is about eight stories tall with probably 100 stairs up one side. We chose to take the ramp up around the other side to the top. There, we came across a very strange site, something like 50 slugs congregating on the sidewalk like the best lettuce was to be found. It was dark and we couldn’t see any reason for the massive oozerama, almost like a visitation from the dark side.

overpass, suicide, jumping, Scarborough

To the very left of the picture is where the girl was first standing. To the right, you can see the road far below.

Then, as we moved up toward the hotel there is a pedestrian walkway that goes about a hundred feet over the road by the sea. We passed a teenage girl on the other side of the mint colored, cast-iron railing. It was waist-high and I said, wow she’s going to have trouble getting over to the other side. I thought she was trying to climb over and that she’d come up from the incline below. But something just didn’t feel right. I looked back, then stopped and looked back again. I realized this girl was not trying to get over to the right side, but was gradually working her way out over the bridge. I walked over to her and asked what she was doing, not quite believing what I suspected.

She pulled up her hood kept working her way out over the bridge. At this point I started to realize she was serious and tried grabbing her hand. She kept pushing me off and I turned to Paul and said call the police. Things like this tend to slow down time. It felt like long minutes, a half hour but it may have been no more than ten. Two older men walked over the ramp and I called out, asking can you help or call the police. She’s trying to jump. They pretty much said, let her jump and kept walking. I was so stunned at this and told them that I hoped nobody stops for them some day when they need help.

writing convention, British Fantasycon, teenage suicide

Yes, the drop off of this picturesque bridge would have killed the girl. Taken from the ramp, where the slugs were.

I finally clamped my hands around the girl’s wrist and put my back to the railing trying to hold her on. A young guy and his littledaughter came by and I got him to call the police and then another guy who had just finished working also came by and he came over to help me hold her on. Eventually a couple came by and they helped, with the woman spelling me off. The whole time this girl never said a word.

Scarborough, bridge, overpass, design

The ornate bridge from below.

Four police officers arrived and handcuffed her to the railing. Since several were women, none had the height to lift her over the railing. Four more arrived right away and they pulled her over. At that point, our job was done. We saw a couple of women walk over and I presume they were social workers. I hope that girl got the help she needed and that her life will get better.

grand-hotel

Inside the Grand Hotel, not looking as shabby as it does in real life.

All I can say is that I’ve never stood by when I saw something bad going down. I would not have been able to live with myself had I walked away and then heard the girl had killed herself. As the saying goes, the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, or in this case, for bad to happen is to stand by and not be involved. I got involved and at least saved someone’s life.

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Sailing a Viking Longship

longship, Vikings, Scandinavian, Norse

The Munin is a half-size replica of the boat Leif Erickson sailed to North America. copyright 2015

Last summer a friend and I were walking along the beach, off to see an art barge behind the Vancouver Maritime Museum. The barge had wooden staircases and rooms built on it and a little shuttle ferry took you out to it. It was interesting if not fascinating and we noticed that the dock we left from was called the Heritage Harbour. There were about a dozen wooden boats, all with signs indicating their history and construction. Some were sailboats, some fishing trawlers, all relatively small (but what do I know about boats).

It was a beautiful summer day so we read the information on each boat, figuring this was where owners of vintage boats could show off and attract additional attention for the Maritime Museum,which houses the Saint Roch, the first boat to sail the NW Passage, complete the sailing in one season and circumnavigate North America. We noticed two women stowing gear for a dark brown Viking longboat. The sails were down but it’s distinctive carved animal heads gave it away. I mentioned that I’d seen it out in the bay a few times.

Scandinavian Center, sailing, Viking longboat

The boat is out for repairs, and the heads are stowed for now but you can see some of the details.

It turns out that the ship is named the Munin (after one of Odin’s ravens) and for a donation you can reserve space on the boat for an approximate two-hour sail. That sounded fun, so we signed up. There is an upper and lower limit for sailing the boat as you need enough people to row the boat out of the harbor and not to many that there are no seats. Imagine a giant wooden rowboat and then imagine Leif Erickson sailing one to North America. The Gokstadt was the name of that historical boat and the Munin is a half-size replica at 40 feet long and 20 feet wide.

After I went out the first time, I had another group of friends who wanted to go so we went a second time. By the end of that trip, I was hooked and signed up to volunteer. I know nothing about sailing, or rowing for that matter, but I liked that sailing is outdoors, social and true exercise. Munin will sail in winter if weather permits and except for the bilge pump it’s all the way it was centuries ago. There are 10-foot wooden oars (approximately) and you must row in and out of harbor, then you can put up the sail.

hull, keel, longship, longboat

Some of the maintenance is check the boards for cracks and scraping the hull.

I’m learning the ropes, literally, and very green. I managed to go sailing twice more in the fall, with the last day being quite a challenge. The winds picked up and where the Munin usually goes no faster than 20 knots, I was told we hit 35. We had to row with the sail up just to try to get back to the harbor. As many hands as possible had to row that day. I’m still very new to rowing so my grasp of the oar isn’t very strong. Even my pinkies hurt the next day. The current and wind can grab the oar and slam you out of your seat. I wasn’t the only that got knocked over and we almost lost an oar once or twice. But it was exhilarating.

Now, we’ve had to pull the boat for the winter because the moorage is changing but more importantly the boat needs some repairs as it was taking on water. Part of volunteering is committing to the nitty gritty of boat maintenance. We are housing the longship at the Scandinavian Centre, (in Burnaby) where Norway House (one of the five Scandinavian houses) was the original sponsor for the construction of Munin 14 years ago.

Munin, Leif Erickson, Scandinavian, Norway

Even the captains scrape and clean.

Everyone who works on the boat or who is crew is a volunteer, giving time for free. Moorage is covered somewhat by people reserving for a ride and donations. But there are many costs. I worked at scraping the old paint off of the boat. The next stage is replacing the cracked or damaged boards, repairing other pieces, making sure the bilge pump is working, repainting the hull and then re-launching the ship. I learned a valuable lesson; when you’re scraping the hull of a boat, even if it’s been out of water for two months, the wood is still wet and there is wood, paint, dirt and who knows what else flying off. I didn’t have goggles (didn’t even know I should use them) and got debris in my eye. Now I’m dealing with a blocked duct.

I’ll be having more adventures once the boat is back in the water. I never knew that I would connect with my Danish & Norwegian heritage this way. In fact, I only knew the family name and the area in Norway where my ancestors came from.

Scandinavian Centre dinner, Munin ship. Viking longboat

Come out and support the Munin and meet the community on March 20.

To help support the continuance of this bit of history, the Scandinavian Centre will be hosting the Munin Ship Annual Pork Dinner. It takes place on March 20 and cost $30 for adults (cheaper for kids–clinic on the line above). You can support the Viking Longship, take a look at it, view the center, have a nice meal, and hear some seagoing songs by the band Corryvreken. I’ll be the MC and in traditional Norse dress to boot. Tickets should be bought by March 13, and it always sells out, so book early. Details:

Cash Bar 6 pm       Dinner 7 pm
Traditional Pork dinner with all the trimmings  
(gluten-free; dairy free choices)
Tickets from: Anne Haug     annehaug@eastlink.ca     604 943 0340

On another note, I saw this ad. You could go to Norway and get a summer job as captain of a Viking sailing ship. Too bad none of our crew is able. Imagine sailing the fjords as the Vikings once did. Here’s to more sailing and who knows what might be next, raiding and pillaging? Fair winds!

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My Mother the Squirrel

Happy New Year, World! I hope we can see more peace and calm and less fanaticism this year, but it’s not looking likely. However, I’ll do my bit for compassion and understanding and remember, it’s the microcosm, your neighbors, your friends and your family that can make for a more loving place.

winter, pack rat, cold, hoarder, food

Creative Commons: Zeeksie @ Deviant Art

On that note, I traveled to the frozen wastelands (as I see it) of Alberta to visit friends and family over the holidays. While I’ve been back in recent years I’ve tried to avoid winter  because it is evil and bone-chilling. I decided to brave it for the winter festivity and because my mother is 91. Two weeks I spent, and overall the weather was only -28 for about three days. The rest was in the -5 range, balmy for Alberta.

It gave me a chance to visit friends, find some long lost cousins, and do the family thing. Staying at my mother’s, and with my organizer personality, it meant cleaning out drawers, cupboards or closets. Even my sister, who might be considered closer to the hoarder personality (she moved in the this summer, purportedly with boxes to the ceiling) felt my organizer bee abilities. We were driving all over the city to do some pre-Christmas shopping and as I sat in the passenger seat of the moderately messy car, she asked me to look for her Superstore card.

purses, overstuffed purse, hoarding, pack rat

Not my sister’s actual purse but a close representation. Creative Commons: http://jewelrypurse.blogspot.ca/

Grabbing that rather pregnant purse, I pulled out the overstuffed wallet. No card. Turns out there were two other holders with plastic cards. Still no card but I started to go through her bulging wallet, putting Tim Hortons (the Canadian doughnut gods) and Shoppers Drug Mart gift cards together. There was more than one and I have never seen so many store cards before. My sister could be the goodwill ambassador for commercialism and store marketing.

In the process of cleaning her wallet I found coupons that had expired and others that soon would. There was a forest of business cards, many for businesses she no longer frequented. In fact, this mothership of store cards had very little actual cash and took up most of the room in a moderate sized purse. When I was done, there was a small plastic shopping bag full of paper. Her wallet lost several inches in girth and actually closed by the clasp.

At my mother’s it was much as it had been two year’s previously. I exclaimed, “Mom, you’re a squirrel! There’s candies and nuts everywhere.” This time, as I started to clean up for Christmas dinner, I decided to inventory my mother’s squirrel hoard. To put some of this into perspective, my mother grew up during the Depression, in a small coal mining town. A treat at Hallowe’en was an actual fresh apple, something we would sneer at today. She traveled to a large city with her friend to find work. They slept in ditches with their one small suitcase and hitchhiked to get there, when it was much safer to do so.

squirrels, hoarding, food, pack ratss

This is not my actual mother but she stores food like the queen of squirrels. Creative Commons: http://theairspace.net/commentary/squirrels/

Going through the Depression and then WWII where rationing was practiced everywhere, my mother learned to appreciate being prepared. Long before the days of Costco she hunted out food wholesalers and would buy toilet paper and other items in bulk. After her divorce, she continued her frugality, and would buy day-old bread from a bakery, up to 24 loaves, which were then frozen. She also sold Tupperware, when we were very young and I remember my brother and I playing in the large container suitcase. So yes, my mother still has nearly three shelves of Tupperware, which, by the time I organized it, was only two.

She had five knife sharpeners (and nothing but dull knives), six cheese/food graters and more pots than a restaurant kitchen. In fact, she’s never thrown out a pot or handle-less cup since I was a child. A Taurus mug that I used when about 12 was there, the handle gone. I convinced her to throw out a few pots where the Teflon was worn but then she balked at getting rid of the two aluminum, electric frying pans that she no longer uses.

In cleaning out a spare closet I found crafts going back to the 70’s; unfinished potholders and head-sized balls of wool. One partially finished needlepoint of a forest, with the bag of woo, she told me she had bought it in England during the war, before any of us were born! She’d never worked on it since. There was a pillow cover, to be embroidered that had Canada’s flag, the Union Jack. That’s how old it was. There was a three-foot plastic bin of gifts for unexpected g, which she had forgotten about. Then there were the cosmetic bags, for traveling. Two were stuffed full, then a triple decker bag, extra deep, chock full of lotions, shampoo, conditioners and other small toiletries. Some were very ancient and dead. Others half used, and many unopened. She must have gone on a burglary spree of hotels.

I cannot name all of the things I cleaned and boggled at, such as health supplements in at least four places, or the spices in pretty much every cupboard. If you’re thinking my mother is going senile, you’re wrong. She’s pretty sharp still and has always liked to keep things, lots and lots of things. Like every scrap of wrapping paper ever used (I threw out a three–foot pile some years back), or enough bulbs to light half of the city, or coats.

Purdys, candy, chocolate, food, hoarding, sweet tooth

My mother’s not so secret love affair is with Purdy‘s made in Vancouver, Canada.

All of this pales  in comparison to the food items and not just any food, but chocolates and candies. My mother shrunk this last year to 4’9″ and she lost weight. She was never overly large but stores like a squirrel. In doing the inventory, I counted every bag or container that was open on the kitchen table (her place has two kitchens,up and down but she used the bottom one for eating) or on the table by the chair where she watches TV, or on the counter upstairs. There were the nutrolls in the fridge upstairs, and then in the deep freeze there were 17 boxes of After Eight mints. She claims she can only find them at certain times of the year and when her stomach is upset the mint helps (with chocolate of course). There were also another five boxes of Purdy’s chocolates.

Purdy’s should have a plaque to my mother: I’m sure she keeps them in business. The upstairs cupboard had the main squirrel hoard. There were hard candies, contained in bags or bought bulk. I pooled many into one container. There were Scotch mints and licorice all sorts, mint chocolate bars from Purdy’s, Jordan almonds, nougat (hard as a rock), and some Italian coconut confection, a few Smarties or M&Ms. I didn’t count raisins because they’re a natural food. When I thought I was done, I discovered a container of icy squares and of Ferrero Rocher in the closet. Then, as  we pulled dishes out of the china cabinet for Christmas dinner, lo and behold there were two large bulk bags of chocolate squares and a mega box of liqueur chocolates where the liqueur had dried up.

I thought I was done but I was looking in a cupboard for a pot and lo, there was a box of chocolate covered cookies. And then I looked in another cupboard and found another five boxes, plus some other cookies. My mother was given another two boxes of chocolates for Christmas and chocolate covered cookies, plus some Italian candies. And then three days after she bought a tin on sale. She said to me that she had all this stuff because if she got sick there was enough to carry her through. I told her, “Well, Mom, if the apocalypse comes, you’ll survive it on chocolate alone.”

Readers may recall that I did the apocalypse diet a year ago, and with the food in my place (no hoards of candy) I survivef for three months without buying anything. My mother would run out of real food in probably less time than I did but then I didn’t count her dry goods staples. However, the final count of cookies, candies and chocolates in my mother’s place was…ready for this? ONE HUNDRED AND SIX! Yes, indeed. The Guinness Book of Records needs to talk to my mom.

All in all this was a lesson to me. I determined there are three levels of “collector.” I’m the curator because I have many ornaments and tchatkas (like my mother…sigh) but I dust and you can walk through my place. My mother is the pack rat, because she stores things for unforeseeable disasters, and my sister is the hoarder, who keeps more than my mother but can’t find things. It’s a fine line between them and it’s a lesson to me not to hang onto things I no longer use or need. I barely escaped without a suitcase of chocolates.

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Tesseracts 17 Interview: Catherine Austen

Tesseracts 17, SF, futur worlds, marginalization, zombies

Catherine Austen writes of a future with people as commodity in “Team Leader 2040”

I was hoping to get all the interviews done for Tesseracts 17 before the ned of the year but I’m also trying to finish the first draft of my novel and do some jury reading. So, my apologies for all the lags. I’m also going out of order a bit from the table of contents because some people are on holidays. Today, I talk with Catherine Austen who lives in Gatineau, Quebec.

CA: “Team Leader 2040” riffs off of the popularity of zombie movies, TV and fiction that is pervasive right now. Yet you made your story a much more realistic and possible future. Do you foresee the zombie craze getting to this level?

I don’t foresee it, but if someone were to offer such a park, I think it would have customers. As virtual reality gaming becomes more sophisticated, some players might want a different experience, something retro and grounded, and entrepreneurs might provide a zombie hunting amusement park if it could make money and were legal. Its success–in terms of it being awesome fun–would hinge on the idea that it is harmless and victimless. But people have no problem buying and selling that idea about all sorts of destructive and dehumanizing things.

CA: This tale has a streak of the darkest aspects of our society. Do you believe we could get to such a world as you show, or do you think we are already there?

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is now out with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

I think we could get there. I’m not able to judge how close we are because I have led a privileged life in an insular world characterized by its utter lack of desperation. Everyone I encounter day to day is basically kind and generous, so it feels like we’re ages away from such a world as the one in my story. But someone from a slum or a macho backwater or a collapsed country where people are bought and sold right now and entire ethnicities or genders are considered worthless might think we’re pretty close.

CA: In some ways, “Team Leader 2040” is apocryphal. And while every writer is always showing a scenario, do you consider it a warning at all?

I suppose it’s a warning about how normalized the idea of people as commodities can become if market values are our highest values. But I didn’t write it as a warning. I just wanted to explore the character, the Team Leader, who is in this vulnerable position of having to do a job that’s morally reprehensible. And though it’s a speculative story, I think that basic conflict is timeless.

CA: Would you say human rights are better these days than a century ago, or just that the values have shifted?

I have such mixed feelings about this question. “Human rights” didn’t extend to all that many humans in times past and I think things are better these days, if only in that the circle of concern covers more people–including me, as a woman. There’s no other time or place I would rather be than Canada right now (or maybe back in the ‘80s).

It feels as if some people are more precious than ever while others are more disposable than ever, and maybe that’s just the growing gap between rich and poor. There was a sense in the 20th century that, in between the wars and genocides, we were moving toward more democracy and freedom and shared wealth, which are all good for human rights. But it’s less common to encounter that optimism now. Around the globe there is so much destitution and dislocation combined with the possibility of huge profits for selling your neighbor–and that’s a bad mix for human rights. So, while I don’t think there was an Eden of respect that we’ve fallen from, the future does not look rosy.

CA: What other fiction pieces are you working on right now?

I am working on more short stories about the buying and selling of humans and their parts, all set in the same future world as “Team Leader” (which is also the setting of a sequel to my award-winning teen novel, All Good Children). But I usually write for young people. I have a middle-grade comedy coming out this spring with Lorimer (28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6) and a picture book scheduled for 2015 release with Fitzhenry and Whiteside (When Squirrels Stole My Sister). Right now I am revising a teen novel (Can I Keep Him?) that will hopefully be done and out over the next couple of years.

Catherine Austen writes fiction for all ages. Her most recent novel, All Good Children (Orca), won the Canadian Library Association’s 2012 Young Adult Book Award and the 2012 Sunburst Award (YA category). Catherine was born in Newcastle, New Brunswick, raised in Kingston, Ontario, and now lives in Gatineau, Quebec. She is proud to be a Canadian and she hopes our future will not be as grim as the one she imagines.

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