Category Archives: poetry

Women in Horror: Gemma Files

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteAward winning Canadian author Gemma Files talks about growing up, dealing with puberty and becoming a horror writer.

Women in Horror Month: Woman/Horror Writer

It took me a long time to think of myself as a woman, and getting my period at age ten and a half was part of that. As I blew straight through puberty over the next six months, it didn’t help my already awful social cred even a little: I was still angry, still “too smart” and still didn’t understand what made a person popular, except now I also had glasses, braces, pimples, cramps, my full height and breasts before anyone else, at a time when it was guaranteed to seem creepy rather than cool. Boys didn’t try to look down my shirt so much as they picked fights with me, while the girls I invited to my birthday party found a box of my maxi-pads and used them as impromptu decorations.

Files book-of-tongues-1172kbWhich perhaps goes a way towards explaining why I soon decided that my gender had nothing much to recommend it overall, and nothing to do with me. I spent the next twelve years thinking of myself as a brain on top of a spine before blundering into a group of friends just as Aspergian as myself, one of whom I eventually married. And all of them liked fantasy and science fiction and comics, movies and music and role-playing games, fandom and collecting and various branches of academic study—which was great, because so did I. But out of all these people, I was pretty much the only one whose thoughts almost always tended (as Yukio Mishima so beautifully put it) to Night, and Death, and Blood. Out of all of them, I was the person who called myself a horror writer.

I was a woman as well, though, and (since I’m cis) will always remain one. I was a woman when I fixated on vampires and studied black magic, a woman when I read my way through Tanith Lee’s back catalogue at Toronto’s Judith Merrill Collection or collected Fangoria magazine to educate myself about directors I idolized (like David Cronenberg, weird and Canadian!), a woman when I applied for my first film critic gig by writing unsolicited reviews of Silence of the Lambs and Pumpkinhead. So when I first started to send out the horror stories I wrote, part of the dreadfulness of embodiment I concentrated on very much had to do with the specific ins and outs of my own female flesh—and just describing things like menstruation, cunnilingus or childbirth in detail was enough to disgust and terrify, I soon found, especially when playing to what most people still assume is  a mainly-male audience.

Back in the early 1990s, the genre was full of extremity, Splatterpunk, “erotic horror”…people were always trying to push the envelope, to deliberately shock and offend, and where that automatically seemed to take a lot of authors’ minds was back to the female body, but always from the outside: as a prop, an artefact, a plot twist. Skimming through my local bookstore’s horror section, I mainly saw stuff that focused on the destruction and befoulment of people who looked like me, our inevitable and luxurious transmutation from sugar, spice and everything nice to a rotting corpse with a vagina full of teeth. When I sold five stories to The Hunger (an erotic horror anthology show produced by Tony and Ridley Scott for Showtime, which ran from 1997 to 2000 and shot out of Montreal), I got to visit the production office, where the writers’ room had a list of rules pinned up on the wall. I can’t remember all of them, but “If a woman gets naked, she’s evil” was definitely number one.

Though I’d cut my literary teeth on Stephen King and Peter Straub, like almost everyone Files Spectralelse in my generation, the people I increasingly drew direct inspiration from were exceptions rather than rules: non-default in terms of gender, sexuality and outlook. They were body-horror poets like Clive Barker, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Melanie Tem, Kathe Koja and Poppy Z. Brite; they were decadents from the underside of the 1980s horror boom like Michael McDowell and Douglas Clegg (both gay, I later found out), or forgotten mistresses from earlier ages like Marjorie Bowen and Vernon Lee, along with all the other ladies published in Virago Press’s two collections of ghost stories. And slowly but surely, I realized I was attracted to these people because the things which fascinated me also fascinated them. I’d never been mainstream, not in my life—but was that because I personally was singular, perverse, different from the norm? Or was it possible that all people who identified as different from the norm were just more likely to have interests which crossed over with mine, women very much included?

And at every point on this journey, I got asked the exact same series of questions: Why horror, and why horror for me, a woman? Why not write something else, something less upsetting and declassé, something less firmly located at the intersection of Gore and Porno Streets? What could I possibly get out of it, or assume anyone else would get out of it?

Here’s a sad fact: when you love a thing that supposedly only men love but you’re not “a man”…by which I mean the same limiting, parodic mainstream image of what a straight cis white male should be that makes even straight cis white males sometimes doubt their ability to live up (or down) to it…it makes it hard to love yourself. When the only image of someone like you you’re likely to trip across inside that thing you love is a joke, a sidekick, a monster or a dead body, it makes it hard for you as a person who loves horror and wants everything any other person who loves horror wants—transformation and apotheosis, power in darkness, revelry and revenge, (fictional) death to your enemies—to want to have anything to do with those characters, that gender, yourself. It makes you want to be sexless, a brain on a spine, a ghost. It makes you want to be a man.

Files Kissing-carrion-cover-w-introBut here’s how things have changed since I started writing horror, thankfully: much though I enjoy writing from their POV (particularly while watching them have sex with each other), I don’t actually want to be a man anymore. I want to be me. Because, as has always been the case, horror really is for women too, and queer people, and diverse people of all kinds—the whole intersectional non-default brigade. It doesn’t mean we hate ourselves by loving it, and it doesn’t have make us hate ourselves to love it, either. Because it shows us we can love ourselves all the better by not only embracing our own inherently monstrous-coded differences from “the norm,” but by understanding that the greatest trick mainstream culture ever played was convincing us there really was a norm to deviate from, in the first place.

Horror is for everyone, it turns out, because everyone’s equally afraid of their body, the universe, each other and themselves—because we all love things, and know we’re going to lose them; because we all know we’re going to die, and we all hate it. Because we all know this is going nowhere good, much as we may hope like hell otherwise. Horror is for everyone, male, female or otherwise, because it’s the genre that teaches us not to trust blindly, that behind every pretty lie is an uncomfortable yet freeing truth. That all of us could be monsters, and as long we let ourselves be aware of that fact, we also know we don’t have to be. That just as the grave has room enough for all of us, the grave’s rim has more than enough space for everybody who wants to take their turn donning masks and telling stories in the dark.

So many people just like me, all getting the same thing out of what I love that I do. It took me a long time to think of myself as a woman, far longer than it did for me to think of myself as a horror writer. Yet here I am.

In fact…I’m here all year. 😉

Files Interview SelfieFormerly a film critic, journalist, screenwriter and teacher, Gemma Files has been an award-winning horror author since 1999. She has published two collections of short work (Kissing Carrion and The Worm in Every Heart), two chapbooks of speculative poetry (Bent Under Night and Dust Radio), a Weird Western trilogy (the Hexslinger series—A Book of Tongues, A Rope of Thorns and A Tree of Bones), a story-cycle (We Will All Go Down Together: Stories of the Five-Family Coven) and a stand-alone novel (Experimental Film, which won the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel and the 2016 Sunburst award for Best Adult Novel). Most are available from ChiZine Publications. She has two new story collections from Trepidatio (Spectral Evidence and Drawn Up From Deep Places), one upcoming from Cemetery Dance (Dark Is Better), and a new poetry collection from Aqueduct Press (Invocabulary). She can be found on Twitter as @gemmafiles and Facebook as Gemma Files.

 

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Women in Horror: Danica Lorer

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteStoryteller, poet, TV show host Danica Horror talks today about researching scary tales to tell and captivating your audience. From Canada, here’s Danica for Women in Horror Month.

Staged Fright

The first time I told a story in front of a burlesque audience I was terrified. New audiences always make me nervous, but this was different; this time I didn’t have the option of picturing them naked. In moments, they would be seeing the performers stripping off almost everything! It was a Menagerie Burlesque Company show called “Dirty Birds, Dirty Words” and they booked dancers and spoken word poets and storytellers. I was scared; this audience was there for the skin, I was offering raw words instead of bare flesh and keeping my clothes on. I soon learned that burlesque audiences are some of the best for story. They are vibrating with anticipation, they are fully engaged in what is going on in front of them, and they are ready to follow you wherever you take them.

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Danica performing “The Bride Wore Black.”

The Rosebud Burlesque Club also invites variety acts to perform with them. They put out calls for their theme shows throughout the year. When they advertised for their Peek-A-Boo Halloween show in 2016 I pitched a ghost story. The venue is a desanctified church now serving as a dance studio. It was perfect—what’s better than a creepy little white church with a bright red door to serve as a home for a lost soul? Out of respect I asked the owner if the church was haunted and when she said it wasn’t my imagination took over. “The Bride Wore Black” is a story with creepy sensory revelations rooted in the teenage date night memories of boys taking girls out into the country and stopping at little churches and graveyards to frighten them into their arms. As I told it to the crowd I could see the audience members’ eyes shine, the shivers, and the wariness. I played with words, appealed to the sense of nostalgia, and offered a facepaint reveal at the end.

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Danica Lorer’s bride reveals the truth of her tale.

Once you’ve scared or even unsettled an audience, they begin to expect something more. The next year I began researching local ghost stories. The Saskatoon (Canada) Storytelling Guild was moving its monthly circles from a Unitarian Centre to a downtown pub. Our first night in the new place was near the end of October and the host had chosen the theme “Spirits.” It made perfect sense. We had been meeting in a spiritual centre, we were moving into a place known for its liquid spirits, and I was pretty sure the place could be haunted. I thought about the tales friends had told about their experiences at the city’s oldest hotels and did a little research about the historic Senator Hotel. I knew that the basement, where we would be meeting, had recently been opened after years of being sealed closed. Again, the setting for the gathering made its way into the story. The basement is dank and dark, the walls are crumbling brick, there are rooms and tunnels, and strange hisses and clanks. I found out a little about Jimmy Flanagan, the hotel’s first owner and how he died young and had been very popular. I was delighted to find out he was reputed to be a storyteller himself. My google search revealed that a paranormal investigation team had spent an uncomfortable and eventful night filming in one of the rooms for their TV program. I also had a foggy memory of friends stopping over for breakfast after staying in the hotel and telling me how disturbing their night had been. I texted both of them independently to find out more. She replied that they had felt “bad vibes” in room 22, that her normally calm and loving partner woke up angry and yelling with no recollection of it the next day. “That room does not make me feel comfortable or safe,” she said. When I asked him if he had ever experienced anything spooky there, he replied, “Nope. Some evil hangovers.” I had a story for the guild and the location couldn’t be more perfect for the telling.

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Sometimes creepy dolls follow where you go.

When the Rosebud’s put out a call for their next Peek-A-Boo burlesque show subtitled “Scared Shirtless” I knew what I wanted to do. I’ve always been fascinated by creepy dolls. I’ve always been fascinated by creepy dolls. My daughter had a toy doll that talked, sometimes in the middle of the night when no one was around. It had to be moved from the toy box to the backyard.  I had seen many staring at me while visiting historical museums, and I could barely touch them in thrift stores. I decided to write a story bringing together the misplaced doll with the hotel themes. There was enough truth about our downtown core in the story that it connected immediately to the audience. I know dozens of people who are terrified of dolls and to make things even creepier I found a previously loved vintage curly-haired baby to set at the back of the performance space. I was told later that she kept several people from sitting in her section and that her eyes seemed to follow them throughout the space. I chose to dress as a creepy doll and finished the story staring ahead with a soft and high “Mama.”

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Danica Lorer becomes a doll.

It is incredibly satisfying to share something scary with a live audience, with low lights, and the naturally creepy sounds that seem to amplify when you let the silences creep in and you listen a little closer. I bring my own fears intensified by the audience, the space we’re in, and the shared contagious energy that flows through a group focused on one voice. I love to imagine how readers will react to what I put down on the page, but I adore the rush of seeing their instant reaction from the stage as we experience the story together. Storytelling isn’t just for kids and horror is an incredible genre for the art form.

Happy Creepy Women in Horror Month to you all!

Danica Lorer has spent the past twenty years as a professional storyteller. She has been struck by lightning, a moose, a rogue semi-tire, vehicles, and the odd strange idea. She is a freelance writer, workshop facilitator, face and body painter, poet, and the host of Shaw’s literary arts program “Lit Happens.” She has been published in untethered, Poetry All Over the Floor, Grain, release any words stuck inside of you, and Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland.

 You can hear Danica storytelling at the beginning of this piece. Her literary arts TV show Lit Happens has 9-minute interviews with local authors.  

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Eye to the Telescope Submission Call

anthology, writing, submissions

Creative commons: photosteve101, flickr

Lisa Trimpf, editor of the Eye to the Telescope submission call on sports and games gives some insight into what she’s looking fr.

Wanted: “Sports and Games”-Themed Speculative Poetry

Star Trek’s three-dimensional chess. Quidditch, in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. The race to solve a gaming challenge in Ready Player One. Those are only a few examples of sports and games popping up in speculative literature, movies, and television—sometimes in a feature role, and sometimes as a side interest.

When the call went out for volunteer editor for Eye to the Telescope, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association’s quarterly online magazine, I put up my hand. Tasked with suggesting a topic, I thought, why not sports and games? Having played a variety of sports throughout my lifetime, it’s an area of long-standing interest for me. Plus, the field is wide open for more speculation, more thought, more invention.

From where we’re standing in early 2019, it’s hard to predict with any certainty what the

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Lisa Trimpf writes and plays sports.

future of sports and games might look like. We might guess wrong, and we might guess right. The reality might surprise us, because it’s something we didn’t foresee at all. I can attest to that from my experiences as a female athlete.

When I was growing up, there were no girls’ hockey teams in my home town, and as for playing on a boys’ team—at the time, it just wasn’t done. So my friends and I played pick-up ball hockey instead, or rented the local arena occasionally for a game of shinny. We wore the jerseys of our favorite NHL hockey stars, because those were our only role models.

balero(1)In the space of just under 40 years, so much has changed. Girls’ house league and rep teams abound in many areas of Canada. Women’s hockey is now in the Olympic Games—something that I would have found difficult to imagine in the late 1970s.

There have been, and continue to be, female role models young players can aspire to emulate, people like Hayley Wickenheiser, Marie-Philip Poulin, Cassie Campbell—and the list goes on. Women are now sports announcers and commentators. A handful of female hockey players have even been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, something I can assure you my friends and I never saw coming back when we were shooting a tennis ball at a goal my friend’s father cobbled together from two-by-fours and plastic netting.

There are other trends, too, that many of us wouldn’t have imagined a few decades ago. marblesFan participation in certain aspects of sport has broadened—all-star voting, for example, or fantasy leagues, in which fans get to pick their “dream team” and see how they perform. The Olympic Games now include events like aerial skiing or half-pipe snowboarding, sports that weren’t even a thing back when the modern Olympics were re-vitalized in 1896. And, of course, there are increasingly sophisticated sports-themed video games, a notion that seemed light years distant back in the 1970s when we thought Atari’s Pong was a big deal.

So, here we sit in 2019, almost 2020. What will sports and games look like four decades from now (or later) here on Earth? What new twists might we see on existing traditions? Will we eventually see gender parity in sports? Will parents of the future opt for genetic tweaking to produce the ultimate athlete? What sports and games will colonists bring with them to Mars, or the moon, or asteroid mining operations, or even further afield? What pastimes might aliens enjoy? Those are examples of ideas that might be explored or entertained in a speculative sports poem.

But the great thing about speculative poetry is that thinking about the future is only one avenue you might pursue. Speculative poetry opens so many other doors: magic and magical creatures, alternate histories, parallel universes, and so on.

Just one caveat: every editor has their own biases, and while I’m looking for good poems, I’m also looking for poems in which the link to the theme of sports and games is direct rather than oblique.

Some people like to participate in “theme-related” submission calls, while some do not. While everyone is entitled to their preference, I can say from my personal experience that themed submission calls such as the ones provided in Eye to the Telescope have spurred me to create works I might not have created otherwise.

In some cases, I’ve had success with submissions. In other cases, I’ve had submissions declined by the publication they were initially inspired by, but have later placed them elsewhere, making it worth the effort. Over the course of time I’ve learned not to look an inspirational gift horse in the mouth.

I’d encourage anyone with the inclination to do so to send in a poem or three Eye to the Telescope: Issue 32, Sports and Games. The complete guidelines can be found at the Eye to the Telescope web site.

So, why not give it a shot? Deadline is March 15, 2019, and all submitters should expect to receive an acceptance or decline by April 1, 2019.

Simcoe, Ontario resident Lisa Timpf first started writing speculative fiction and poetry in 2014 after retiring from a 26-year career in human resources and communications. She has had more than 30 speculative short stories and 70-plus speculative poems published. Timpf’s work has appeared in several magazines and anthologies, including Star*Line, New Myths, Neo-Opsis, Enter the Rebirth, and Tesseracts Twenty-One (Nevertheless). You can find out more about Timpf’s writing projects at http://lisatimpf.blogspot.com/.

 

 

 

 

 

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When Life Sucks You into a Vortex

I have written very little on this blog this year and I was trying to do at least a few posts every month. But I really do have a good excuse or few. Sometimes life gets in the way of doing all those things you plan in life.

Here’s how my year started: I was driving to work on a dry January day when my brakes locked at 100 km/hr and I spun out into a cement barricade, smashing the car and myself. The thing was, my mechanic had never found the issue and it had only happened (sporadically) at low speeds. That was the one and only time at high speed, and if it wasn’t that traffic was light, I left lots of space in front of me (because I was always cautious of the car’s issues), and that there was a barricade, someone would have died. My leg was smashed badly but unbroken and I needed about four months of physio and chiropractic to get everything fixed. But because I’ve done pilates for several years, I’m better now.

At the end of June, I broke my hand, but they only figured it out two weeks ago. In July, I was ending one job and starting another so it was a hectic few weeks of finishing up the old job. In that time, my kitty, Venus, who was about 16 years old and had a slow going tumour, hit the hard part and I had to put her down. I finished the last ten days of my job and on July 13 (yes, Friday the 13th) I finished and within 12 hours was booking a flight back to Calgary as my mother was not doing well. I was supposed to start my new job the next Tuesday.

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My mother Amy Anderson was almost 95 when she passed.

By that Sunday, it looked like my mother had made a turn for the better so I booked my flight back on the Wednesday. Then before I left, she started to go downhill again. I flew back and started my new job late on the Thursday, and my mother was doing very badly. I worked one day at my new job when my new boss gave me a ticket back to Calgary. I arrived Friday and it was the last day my mother was aware and able to respond even a little. She had a bad heart and it finally gave up on Sunday morning. She was an amazingly tough woman and was not always easy to get along with. I’ll do another post about my mother but I wrote this about Amy Anderson for the obituary.

I then spent two weeks in Calgary with my siblings, going through my mother’s effects, writing her celebration of life and generally dealing with stuff. I then went back to my new job. I was only back a little over a week when my landlady, out of the blue, evicted me (because they didn’t want to be landlords anymore). It became very messy and nasty but needless to say after a couple decades and the cost of rentals in Vancouver, I was dealing with a move. The reality in Vancouver is very bad and that will be all for another post.

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A Body of Work, available through Black Shuck Books & Amazon

In amongst all of that I had a trip to the UK planned and paid for so I went to England and Wales and my book A Body of Work was launched by Steve Shaw and Black Shuck Books at Fantasycon. This collection features my dark fiction and I hope to do a N. American launch soon. I came back to more moving and packing and I haven’t stopped yet.

Needless to say, I’ve done little writing in six months. Yet, I have to remember the good things: I edited Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland, and that came out in the spring from Exile, and a review in Publishers Weekly. I also was working

SF, fantasy, horror, jabberwock, mad hatter, bandersnatch, Alice, March hare, dormouse, mock turtle

Alice Unbound contains stories and poems inspired by the world and character of Lewis Carroll.

on fiction through my Canada Council grant back in the spring. “Sir Tor and the River Maiden” came out in By the Light of Camelot by Edge Publishing. I managed to sell another story but cannot as yet mention it.

And I would be remiss to not mention the poems that came out. It’s amazing I sold anything considering I’ve submitted very few things this year. “Mermaid’s Comb” came out in The Future Fire  #45, “Cinderella’s Pumpkin” in Polu Texni, “Savor” in the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. V, “Learning to Run” in Polar Borealis #7, “Washday Blues” in Polar Borealis #6, and “The Sand Witch” won second place in the Balticon poetry contest. There could possibly be a few other things but I’ve really lost track, including contracts that I’ve signed/been signing.

I hope to be here more often in the near future and might pull in a few guests to write some posts. But this is the reason I’ve been quiet of late.

 

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Writing Update & Call for Submissions

It’s been a busy month or two. In March I drove down to the Olympic Peninsula for the Rainforest Writers Retreat, where I accomplished a lot, writing several stories, and ended the event with catching the flu, alas. I then rode the wave of the flu (haven’t had one in over 8 years) in time to go to Ottawa and work on more writing as part of my Canada Council grant. Thank you, Canada Council.

Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland is out on the shelves, as we speak (figuratively) and if you’re in Ottawa, check out the launch and readings at The 3 Brewers/Les 3 Brasseurs.Alice Ottawa

There is a great lineup of writers and it’s also available through Exile Editions and Amazon. I hope to have a reading in Vancouver in June. More details as they come.

I’m also editing Eye to the Telescope #29. The theme is the Dark. I want to see how one fights the dark or succumbs to it. How the dark enhances light, or obscures truth. What blooms in the darkest shadows and what is better left there. Click to go to the guidelines. I look at all forms of poems. Reprints will be a harder sell but if you think it’s stellar I might consider it. Eye to the Telescope is part of the Speculative Fiction Poetry Association (though they don’t seem to have changed the name yet on the site), which also publishes Starline. You do not have to be a member to submit, and anyone anywhere can submit as long as it’s in English, so if you think you have a poem that embraces the dark, send it in before June 15.

Arhtur, Camelot, knights, the Round Table, chivalry, battle, valorIn publishing news, my story “Sir Tor and the River Maiden” will be out in By the Light of Camelot, published by Edge Publishing, edited by J.R. Campbell and Shannon Allen. It’s available as an ebook in July. There are 13 tales in this anthology.

And a fun little sea shanty “Washday Blues” has been published in Polar Borealis #6, a collection of Canadian poetry and fiction that’s free to read.

There are other things in the works, including a trip to the UK this fall for the launch of my dark fiction collection from Black Shuck books, A Body of Work.

Now, I have to get back to writing and editing, and getting some more poet interviews up.

 

 

 

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Poet Interview: Sarah Tolmie

Today, I’m interviewing Canadian poet, Sarah Tolmie, who hales from Kitchener, Ontario.

Tolmie

Author Sarah Tolmie writes books that tell a story through poetry

So let’s start with when were you first attracted to the written word, and especially poetry? What then inspired you to try your hand at it?

I have always loved words and started writing poetry as a child. I continued through my teens and early 20s and then went dumb as a doornail during and right after grad school, for about a decade. The academy just kills you stone dead. Eventually I recovered, by my early 30s, after my kids were born. One of my earliest memories is reading bits of {John} Skelton’s “Philip Sparrow” in an old university textbook of my mother’s (those old Penguin paperbacks, orange and white) when I was about nine — it’s in late Middle English so it made very little sense to me, but I thought it was utterly magical. So I thought poetry was a secret language, a code. I was very disappointed to realize soon after that many poems were written in ordinary language … I got over this in time, though I still retain a love for Middle English (which became my professional field) and its kookiness and playfulness and weird spellings. A lot of inspiration for my work comes from very early poetry.

You mentioned that Middle English became your profession? It sounds like your love of Middle English is important. What styles of poetry do you write or have you explored? Would you say it informs the structure of your poems or the content, or both?

Tolmie cover

Published through McGill-Queen’s University Press.

I have an MA in medieval studies from Toronto and PhD from Cambridge, yes. In my other life I teach at UW {U of Waterloo}. When I was young I wrote free verse, but since I started writing again as an adult I have been much more interested in formal verse. My first book, Trio, in 2015, with MQUP {McGill-Queen’s University Press}, was a sequence of 120 sonnets that told a story about a love triangle of sorts, with a female narrator. Syntax and vocabulary were modern and they were pretty colloquial (to avoid what I call the “prithee varlet” problem) but I found the constraints of the form very empowering. They fractured and sped up the narrative. It took a while to shed the form, though—I wrote hundreds of sonnets—which can be a downside. Everything I wrote turned into one for months afterward.

Tomie My new book, The Art of Dying, which MQUP just published in 2018, is an ars moriendi, a how-to-die manual (a medieval form) updated for today. It’s a satire about our contemporary death rituals and euphemisms and general evasive strategies. It’s mostly in triplets, though not exclusively, and was written consecutively, as a whole book that looks at one topic from many different perspectives. That’s one thing I’ve learned: I write books. I am rarely a one-off person. I do actually want my poems to tell a story; this is likely the influence of the medieval poets I spend my time teaching; they wrote long poems. It’s also true that I didn’t come back to poetry until after I had written my first novel (in which there was a poet character who mostly worked in received forms, I now realize).

Is there any current writer whose poetry inspires you and why?

The poets who have exerted most influence on me are Langland, Chaucer and Donne. The stuff I am writing now is more satirical and aphoristic and kind of recalls AE Housman, Auden or even Pope. In terms of people who are actually alive, I am a huge fan of Carol Ann Duffy. She has done great things for poetry today. I also like Ann Carson, who just goes her own way, period. I admire Carolyn Smart, who also writes whole books, with characters, thematically connected: at least she did in Hooked and Careen.

Wow! I just learned a few things about medieval poetry. 🙂 Would you consider that your poetry falls into the genre of speculative (SF, F, H) or would you say it spans any specific category? I’ve noticed poetry in general does not get as pegged in a genre hole as spec fiction does. Do you see any significant difference between poetry that might be in a genre magazine (StarLine, OnSpec, Grievous Angel, etc.) and that published in a literary journal?

I have trouble getting spec poetry in focus per se. I think it is a lot to do with how the poets themselves identify professionally; I have seen poems in non-genre venues that would fit in the genre magazines you name, and vice versa. Spec poetry is more committed to the fantastic, perhaps. But look at Sandra Kasturi, say—she could publish anywhere.

What would be your one piece of advice for poets?

My one piece of advice for poets is: don’t quit your day job. Not only because you would starve, but because other expertise is really valuable, if not absolutely necessary. Look how many poets are (or have been) doctors or bureaucrats or scientists or athletes or whatever. This is true even of academics, because while it is true that people like me teach and research on literature, what we do at work has nothing to do with writing poetry at all. It is actually antithetical to it.

Do you have any other projects in the works that you’d like to mention?

My current project is a bitchy satirical book called Confirmation Bias. In tone and technique it is rather continuous with The Art of Dying, but on a different topic—this endless human problem of finding what we expect to find in all walks of life, and endlessly choosing people and groups who will support our view. I am promoting and doing readings from The Art of Dying now, and have a few dates indicated on my website (sarahtolmie.ca)—plus am entirely open to doing more, if other poets or communities are interested!

From The Art of Dying: 

Why can’t I hire a death coach?
Surely death is still in growth.

Murderers practice what they preach,
Though their instructions may be brief.

Men in armies must discuss how fatal wounds
Are not just given but received.

Torturers may use the word and do the deed
Though it is not death, but pain, that is their speciality.

Hospice workers, nurses in palliative care,
Practically help us to prepare.

Churches insist it’s not death, anyway.
Perhaps this is my opportunity.

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Release of Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland

SF, fantasy, horror, jabberwock, mad hatter, bandersnatch, Alice, March hare, dormouse, mock turtle

Alice Unbound contains 22 speculative stories and poems inspired by the world and character of Lewis Carroll.

I can finally announce the table of contents for Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland. The anthology will be published by Exile Editions and is due out May 1 though the publisher is trying to move up the date so that we can launch in Toronto, and in Ottawa when I’m there in March.

The table of contents:
• The Slithy Toves by Bruce Meyer
• We Are All Mad Here by Lisa Smedman
• Operation: Looking Glass by Patrick Bollivar
• Mathilda by Nicole Iversen
• A Night at the Rabbit Hole by Cait Gordon
• Reflections of Alice by Christine Daigle
• Twin by Danica Lorer
• True Nature by Sara C. Walker
• Full House by Geoff Gander and Fiona Plunkett
• The Smoke by Costi Gurgu
• The River Street Witch by Dominik Parisien
• The Rise of the Crimson Queen by Linda Demeulemeester
• Her Royal Counsel by Andrew Robertson
• Dressed in White Paper by Kate Heartfield
• The King in Red by J.T. Kennedy
• No Reality But What We Make by Elizabeth Hosang
• Firewabby by Mark Charke
• Soup of the Evening by Robert Dawson
• Cyphoid Mary by Pat Flewwelling
• Yellow Boy by James Wood
• Jaune by Catherine MacLeod
• Wonderband by Alexandra Renwick

The authors came from five provinces (AB, BC, SK, ON and NS) with nine authors being male and fourteen female (one story is co-written). I went for the best story first. While the writers may or may not list this I know that there are several LGQBLT and those with disabilities.

There are jabberwocks, toves, March hares, white rabbits, mock turtles, red queens, cards, chess pieces, potions, walrus and carpenter, lobsters and snails, wasps, cats of various types, Alice, eaglets and gryphons, caterpillars, mad hatters, and looking glasses and far far more. The thread of madness works its way through all of these tales. Some of the tales are lighter and humorous, while others open a vein of darkness.

I had around 145 submissions last year, and in the end had to reject many good stories. It was tough and if I had my druthers, I would have done a second anthology. The world in this anthology, from steampunk adventures to spacefaring renegades, is diverse and quite mad. Look for it in the next couple of months. It will be available through Amazon and certain stores.

I’m also looking for review sites and should you know of one, please contact me. Now doff your hat, pour some tea and get ready to dive down the rabbit hole.

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Poet Interview: John Reinhart

SFPA, poetry, SF, fantasy, humor, writers

Poet John Reinhart lives in Denver, Colorado and has several collections out.

In an attempt to write more frequently in my blog, I’ve decided to do some interviews with poets who write speculative verse. That’s fantasy, SF, horror and the subgenres. My first interviewee is with John Reinhart, who recently edited an issue of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association’s (SFPA) Eye to the Telescope #25, the “garbage” issue. Following, italics are me, with John’s responses.

Let’s start with you telling me when you first found a love for poetry and what were you reading?

My first pen was dipped in the pain of puberty, followed closely by a 50-pound IBM Selectric that wrote in smoke. Writing in flailing and fits, I continued to drivel through high school, even submitting for publication. Then, mercifully, I put my words to other use. My next foray into verse came 15 years later, coinciding with the birth of my daughter. I quickly realized that the development of the internet and online submissions had changed the face of publishing since my typewriter days. My earliest favorite poet was Robert Service, which says little about my subsequent writing except my love of quirky humor. 

poetry, humor, writing

John Reinhart’s collection screaming, available at Amazon.

So you’re saying you dipped your pen into the pain of puberty? That does sound painful. Did Robert Service inspire you to write or were you already writing and he inspired you to greater heights? On that point, which authors in your formative years caused you stretch your poetic wings? And what was your first published poem?

Actually, I was inspired to do my earliest writing (short stories) after reading Jay Williams’s “Danny Dunn” books. My sci-fi interest continued to develop with Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton, Ursula K. LeGuin, Arthur C. Clarke. Mostly I wrote rhymed garbage those early years, including a poem about pipe smokers that was published in the Pipe Smokers Ephemeris. Twenty years later, I learned of the SFPA (then, the Science Fiction Poetry Association).

reinhart 2As I re-entered the poetry writing and submitting scene, I read Campbell McGrath, Paul Goodman, D.H. Lawrence, Kenneth Rexroth, Russell Edson, and eventually anything else I could get my hands on at the library in an attempt to expand my poetic experience and teach myself about modern poetry. After I was awarded the 2016 Dark Poetry Scholarship from the Horror Writers Association, I actually took a poetry course, but the last poetry course I had previous to that was in high school. To date, I have published a collection about people around me, an experimental collection, a prose poetry collection, and two speculative collections. I like to think that I absorb everything I read and earthworm it into new substance to fuel new views of our technicolor world.

We grew up on the same authors. Congratulations on receiving the scholarship. You’ve reinhart 3named a lot of published collections. Have you published individual poems in magazines or anthologies where people can search them out? Oh, and where do you hail from?

I have spent most of my life in Denver, Colorado. I did achieve escape velocity once, but drifted back into orbit and found the Rocky Mountain gravitational pull too strong. I’m rebooting the engines as we speak.

My work has been featured in recent issues of Crannog, Pedestal Magazine, Liquid Imagination, Holy Shit, Grievous Angel, Quatrain.Fish, and many issues of Star*Line and Scifaikuest. I was particularly touched to land a couple poems in A Poet’s Siddur, alongside a poem by Leonard Cohen.

What would you say is the most important thing about poetry as compared to fiction?

The most important thing about poetry, as compared to fiction, is that I can compose a poem in less time and space than I can compose a short story. Black holes condense matter into meaninglessness, sucking in enough light to exhale in humorous high tones like people do at birthday parties with helium balloons. What we wheeze out of the ordinary vegetable universe ought to be blood out of turnips: poetry.

Would you say you have a particular style of poetry that you write, or topics that you explore?

I hope for my poetry to open new perceptions into our technicolor vegetable universe. Frequently, I utilize sci-fi/fantasy/horror as a means to highlight social issues, of which I think that observing and knowing our world is primary.

In terms of style, I often lean on humor in my observations and reflections on the daily mundane elevated to poetry. Though I have a fine selection of scifaiku in print, I tend to write free verse, with a special love for villanelles.

reinhart 4

Reinhart has written SF, fantasy and horror poetry.

What would be the one piece of wisdom you would pass on to any aspiring poet? And last, is there anything else about poetry that you’d like to say that I haven’t asked, or upcoming works you’d like to chirp about?

For aspiring poets – write, read, write more, read more. Submitting—and submitting frequently—is a good way to engage in the contemporary poetry scene, which should encourage you to read what appears in journals and online as well as the books you find at the local library. Find authors you love and read everything they have. Find authors you dislike or don’t understand, and read everything they have. Honestly, I love to write poetry. I like what it does to me, how it shapes my perceptions and changes my interactions with the world. That part is awesome. But it’s balanced with my thorough appreciation of walking this weird path with so many other talented and gracious artists. I leap at chances to meet up with other poets, regularly exchange emails with poets across the world, and revel in the beautiful work that shows up everywhere, if you dig below the surface.

reinhart 5
John likes to use humor as a lens through which he writes some of his poems.

I have two collections coming out shortly: dig it (Lion Tamer Press), and arson (NightBallet Press). dig it fulfills a goal at Patreon, where my patrons helped me reach a funding goal at which point I promised to self-publish a full-length collection. To date, this is my longest collection. As with my previous collection, screaming, this one veers away from much of my earlier form, though eccentricities and humor still make regular appearances. arson is a chapbook-length take on my multifaceted understanding of arson. It starts with a poem/syllabus on Arson 101.

Thanks, John. Check out John’s works through the links above and through Amazon. If you are a published speculative poet, feel free to contact me for an interview.

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My Year in Recap: Writing and More

2017 was an amazingly busy year. I flew three times and read for three different things, so in fact there was less writing on my part, though a number of sales.

DSC01982

Dennis Anderson, honorary doctor of law from the University of Edmonton

I first flew to Edmonton where my brother, Dennis Anderson, was honored with an honorary doctorate for his work and advocacy in mental health. This was a big deal as much of the work he does, he does for free, serving on boards, chairing committees, and being the person who created the Chimo Project (named after a dog he once had), which advocates  for pet-assisted therapy for people with mental health issues. My brother actually never finished high school, and while he did attend Rochdale College, I have a feeling that was more an adventure through the 60s & 70s than a book-based education. His stories rival those of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and one day I hope he writes these memoirs. Still, he has done a lot of work for mental health and I was proud to see him recognized for his work.

Lynmouth, UK, seaside towns, Devonshire, high tide

Lynmouth, UK, one of the highest tides in England.

I then did a trip to Lynton, UK in July for my friend’s daughter’s wedding. The weather was a bit rainy while we were in Brighton and Lynton but did get nicer. You can see the south coast of Wales from Lynmouth, a steep, hilly seaside town, deep in bucolic Devonshire where clotted cream and numerous ciders are the specialty. I may devote one blog to this trip alone. I t was a lovely, but fast-moving week. I think I’ll have to go back one day to explore more of Devonshire and the ciders, where one pub alone had more than 80 types.

funicular, Lynton, Devonshire coast

Lynmouth’s water-powered funicular. You can also walk on a long switchback path

In between all of this, I was reading for Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland, an anthology based on the characters and magic of Lewis Carroll. The anthology is due to be released in April and I hope to have a cover and list to show soon. I was also on the collections jury for the British Fantasy Awards, where Adam Neville won with Some Will Not Sleep. I was also on a jury for the Stoker Awards.

Klatovy, apothecary, Czech Republic, historic, medicine

The Baroque apothecary of Klatovy, in use from the 1600s up until about 1950.

My last big trip was to the Czech Republic in late September, where I stayed in Prague for a week. Fellow writer and friend Nancy Kilpatrick joined me for the second week, where we rented a car and drove around to various towns viewing ossuaries, bone chapels, mummies and some cathedrals. There was also one very amazing Baroque apothecary, complete with a unicorn’s horn (Narwhal tusk), and was called the White Unicorn. This trip will definitely be a separate blog post or two but I’m so very behind on blogging about my trips.

ossuary, bone chapel, Brno, Czech Republic, bones
Brno’s crypt of skulls. Many of the cemeteries were filled to overflowing by the Hussite wars as well as other wars and illnesses.

While on my trip I found out I had received a Canada Council Grant. These grants are given out for all of the arts but you must apply for them. It takes a fair amount of work and I’ve never been successful until now. I was ecstatic. I’m not a writer who’s satisfied where I’m at but always trying to improve my writing. Until I can sell every story and poem I write it means there is room for improvement. I request to receive a grant for being mentored in writing. I would love to do a masters program in writing but I cannot afford the outlay in costs. Maybe some day. In the meantime, the Canada Council has given me the opportunity to move my writing to the next stage.

I first had a short SF story “Changes” come out in Deep Waters #2, from Golden Fleece Press. Then “Love in the Vapors” came out in Futuristica Vol. 2 through Metasagas Press, and it’s one of my few happy ending stories. “Sins of the Father,” a tale of fungal horror, came out in OnSpec #105. You can order the magazine, if there are any left, through their website, but here is a review of my story on Speculating Canada.

I also had numerous poems published, and links are provided as most are  online and free to read. “This Song” came out in DeadLights Magazine, “Voodoo Doll” in Grievous Angel, and “Bone People” and “Evidence” in Transition Magazine, put out by the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association. “Spirit Bottle” and “Geomystica” came out in Eternal Haunted Summer, and “Blood Thirst” and “Last Evening” came out in Polar Borealis #4.

SF, science fiction, writing, short fiction, speculative fiction

OnSpec is a multiple award-winning Canadian magazine

poetry, SF, fantasy, horror,dark

HWA Poetry Showcase available at Amazon

I was pleased to finally end up in Eye to the Telescope #25, to which I had rarely submitted. “Tooth Fairy’s Pouch” was included in the “garbage” issue.  “Wings” ended up in the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. IV (Horror Writers Association), and “Rapunzel and Medusa” was published in Polu Texni where quite a few of my poems have shown up. The Future Fire #42 published “Witch Moon” and The Quilliad in Ontario published “you cannot close as cat’s eyes,” though I’ve yet to see a copy and I hope they come out of hiding to send me mine. My poem “Ode to Andrew Brechin” placed third in the Angela poetry contest put on by Wax Poetry and it should be published this year. This poem had a special place in my heart as it was indeed an ode to a friend who died suddenly several years ago.

There were other sales but as those pieces haven’t come out yet, I’m saving them for another post. As an attempt to be more active with my blog, I’ll be doing poetry interviews over the next few months. I hope to post the first next week. And if you happen to be a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association, these poems are eligible for the Rhyslings and for the Aurora Awards as well.

 

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Alice Unbound Guidelines Update

Alice in Wonderlnand, Through the Looking Glass, fantasy, speculative

Sir John Tenniel’s famous Alice illustrations. The Griffin, the Mock Turtle and Alice.

For those writers thinking it’s too late to get something in for May 31, know that the deadline has been extended to July 15. I’m just not getting enough stories of the caliber needed for an anthology.

If you are submitting, read all of this post–to the end. People are ignoring the proper submission format and I won’t read a story until it is sent double spaced, with word count, and full contact info on it. That should be easy enough to do, you would think. And page numbers, please.

Now, I’m seeing a lot of the main Alice characters so remember, if I have five Mad Hatter stories I might have to select the best. Alice, White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat are all becoming very popular. And tea parties and rabbit holes. I’ll post the expanded guidelines at the end of this but here are a few important things to keep in mind, Stories:

  • should not be rehashings of the same old tales.
  • need to take place in the modern world or the future
  • can take place on another planet
  • can be steampunk but if you stick it in Victorial England you need to bring it forward
  • can be time travel but know I don’t like these tales much as they can get too convoluted (but I do like most Dr. Who)
  • can be combined with characters from other times/place
  • should be as original and unique as possible–the farther you veer away from rabbit holes and tea parties, the more original it will be

Remember these rules of writing:

  • do not tell me someone was upset or mad; show me
  • watch for passive action–seek out words like was, could, would and try to replace them
  • plot–you must have one, even in a poem, and conflict–either resolve it or show the fail
  • use all five senses–this helps give setting and atmosphere
  • do not put a veneer of SF or fantasy on a story that isn’t–ask yourself if the story would work without the SF/fantasy element–if yes, then it’s not spec
Lion and unicorn, Alice, Through the Looking Glass

Sir John Tenniel illustration.

What is Alice Unbound about?

Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) explored childlike wonder and the bewildering realm of adult rules and status, which clashed in bizarre ways. Many characters in his tales are anthropomorphic, whether talking cards, crying mock turtles or saucy Tiger Lilies. Over 150 years later, people still recognize characters from Carroll’s works. Who doesn’t know of vorpal blades and tardy white rabbits, protagonists and antagonists that resonate in a primal part of the human psyche? They hearken to the mysticism and mystery of the ancient world, when one wondered how the rain fell, or which gods empowered madness through drink, or whether a person was separate from an animal or could become one.

Centuries passed and myth became fairy tale, evolving to resonate with each era, showing the triumphs of the common man, the humble and generous woman who outsmarts tempters, jailers, and evil stepmothers, or the trials and tribulations of seeking the unknown. Carroll’s characters jumped forward, not just following the regular metamorphosis of an age-old tale, but leaping off the cliff of the familiar into something altogether new, different and endearing. We might not truly want to live in the world of Alice or have to deal with mad queens and bandersnatches, but what if that Wonderland ceased to exist on a separate plain, and melded with our modern world? How would these characters fit in, and what would they bring or change? Are we ready to accept Alice Unbound into our hearts and let the Jabberwock in the back door?

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was Carroll’s most famous work but there are other stories and poems (some within the greater works) where madcap creatures abound. Alice Unbound should contain an element of the speculative and may embrace fabulist, weird, myth, SF, fantasy, steampunk, horror, etc. Other speculative elements or characters may be combined in any way. I don’t want to see rehashings of Carroll’s tales but new stories taking place in a modern or slightly futuristic world. Your tale may take place in Wonderland but only if it has connections with this world. That’s not someone thinking about having a drink at the café they miss but actually integrating modern elements. If you have a talking cat, it must be recognizable as the Cheshire Cat. You should not be copying Carroll’s style but telling a new tale in your voice. Too many stories submitted with the same character will limit chances of the story being accepted. NOTE: I am getting many Alice, falling through rabbit hole and Cheshire Cat related stories. Which means competition will be harder in these areas. You might want to look beyond these elements.

Whether the Mad Hatter, the mock turtle, or Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, write a new tale. QUILTBAG or people of colour as characters are encouraged. Alice doesn’t have to be white and blonde. I will accept any characters from the following works . I have not read everything so if you want to write about another character that fits into Carroll’s fantastical tales, please write first and ask.

  •  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  •  Through the Looking Glass
  •  The Hunting of the Snark
  •  Phantasmagoria

These are story examples only but not requirements:

  • The caterpillar is the owner of a medical marijuana store but turns out to be part of a moonlighting superhero team by night.
  • The Walrus and the Carpenter’s strange relationship is strained farther when they both fall for a mermaid, who crusades for the murdered oysters.
  • The Snark is as elusive as the Sasquatch, but when they vie for the same space in an endangered environment, what happens?
  • The last Jabberwock is captured and used to battle an overpopulation of vampires.
  • From space comes a delegation that looks a lot like the card soldiers. They have a concern with Earth for harbouring fugitives from their world.
  • A company has perfected an AI that emulates the Mad Hatter, something to help run parties and liven them up. What could possibly go wrong?

Writers must be Canadian citizens (living in Canada and/or paying taxes in Canada) or permanent residents of Canada. LGBQLT, POC are encouraged to submit. I will read cover letters last and will choose stories on merit first. This resource may be of use in your research: www.alice-in-wonderland.net

Payment: .05/word CDN (that’s 5 cents a word, not a half cent)

Length: 2,000-5,000 words. Poetry: minimum 1,000 words (and 2 may be submitted at the same time: submit each in a separate document and submission).

Simultaneous submissions: No; if you submit to me, please do not send it anywhere else until you receive a rejection.

Multiple submissions: You may send one story, or two poems. Please wait until I’ve sent a rejection before you send anything else. I may hold some pieces until the submission window is closed.

Acceptances: Final acceptances will go out a month after the submission window closes.

Manuscript format: Please use standard manuscript format (Google William Shunn): double-space (except for poems), no extra spaces between paragraphs, indented paragraphs, title, etc.) This also means full contact information on the first page, unless you want me to attribute your piece to someone else. Failure to follow formatting may see your piece rejected without being read. Canadian spelling would be awesome but I won’t turn down a story that comes in UK or US spelling. Submit .docx, .doc, or .rtf only.

Deadline: Extended to July 15, 2017

Publication Date: April 2018 (tentative)

Rights: First English-language rights & non-exclusive Anthology rights for one year from publication (print and eBook).
Submit here: https://exilepublishing.submittable.com/submit/77982/alice-unbound

 

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