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Playground of Lost Toys Interviews: Simmons & Dorsey

toys, childhood, nostalgia, fantasy, SF, fiction, short stories

Playground of Lost Toys is available through Amazon published by Exile Writers

Today’s authors are Shane Simmons and Candas Jane Dorsey. Playground of Lost Toys, by its nature and the guidelines Ursula Pflug and I set up, has many stories that deal with nostalgia and loss. Not all but many look at family as well.

Shane Simmons wrote “When the Trains Run on Time.” It’s a very clever play on time travel, and I have to say that I don’t overall much like time travel stories. Shane’s tale was so poignant and sad that it grabbed me and tugged on my heart. It is one of the darker stories in the anthology and definitely worth a read.

toys, trains, Shane Simmons, tragedy, SF, time travel

Shane Simmons draws and writes. Picture borrowed from Shane’s site Eyestrain Productions.

1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys?

The only good reason for submitting a story to an anthology: I had an idea that was on-topic and a story worth telling. Playground of Lost Toys was a compelling concept for a collection, and I knew I had to come up with something that would fit.

2. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood?

It was very much inspired by a model train set I got for Christmas one year. Mine didn’t come with a tunnel that warped time, however.

3. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story?

Every kid can’t wait to grow up. Childhood seems to take so long, but before you know it you’re an adult and the years fly by.

4. Is there anything else to do with your story or the theme of the anthology that you’d like to mention?

A lot of my work has to do with twisted, distorted memories of my youth. I’ve made a living for years writing cartoons for kids, so when I’m writing material for my own amusement, it often explores the dark side of childhood.

5. What other projects do you have in the works, pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year?

I’ve had seven short stories published last year, with three more scheduled for 2016 so far, plus a novella. All the news about my career that’s fit to print can be found on my website, eyestrainproductions.com.

Candas Jane Dorsey’s tale “The Food of My People” has a very homey type of magic. It’s tied up as much in the person as it is in the rich visions of food. This story explores not so much the loss of a toy as the loss of something or someone special in a child’s life. (brackets are added by me)

fiction, fantasy, puzzles, Playground of Lost Toys

Candas Jane Dorsey brings us The Food of My People. Picture from Gigcity.ca

1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys?

I loved the idea of the anthology, and the editors are great, and I had a story in progress that I could finish in time! As people probably know, I am a slow writer, so I don’t usually write anthology stories to order for calls for submission. But I tried with this one–but it wasn’t this anthology–and of course, I missed the deadline. But the outcome was great. I was really impressed with the editors and with the publisher, so meticulous about catching the errors and typos and little bits of illogic that crept in unbeknownst. So first off, thanks to everyone involved!

2. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood?

About half of Cubbie is based on my godmother. But my godmother was also really different: she was plump, yes, but rather more elegant, wore corsets and those black lace-up oxfords with Cuban heels, and her son was a diplomat so she was always going off to live in Japan or somewhere, and sending me presents from there (her daughter-in-law was in a famous diplomatic incident in South Africa actually, where she marched in an anti-apartheid march, but that’s another story). The half that is Cubbie is the comfort and love half. I meant to put in her candy jars but the story was already too long.

What is really based on my life is the food. It’s Alberta prairie family reunion food (non-Ukrainian variety–so alas, no pyroghy!) My relatives in central Alberta all had gardens, went berry picking, cooked well, and food was central to the experience. Jellied salads at family reunions–a staple food. My mother made an awesome flapper pie–though it’s a pain to make and you have to be in the mood–and used to whip up a bread pudding every couple of weeks to use up the stale bread. Saskatoon pie. Kraft dinner spun out with some “real” macaroni and some real cheese, but still that electric yellow-orange colour. Makes me hungry–even now it says comfort-food to my backbrain.

There was a lot of food I didn’t have a chance to include. Beets and beet greens–yum. The Galloping Gourmet’s curry sauce, so mild and therefore beloved by all the prairie food conservatives even in the 1960s. I just found out that one of my best friend’s mom made the very same sauce, from the same source. My mother is in the story as “the lady in the next bed” who was 99 and still telling stories, because she was both those things. That was one of the last things I put in. My mother died this spring (2015) at the age of 99 years 5 months. Even though she worked at home for years during our childhood, she wasn’t temperamentally suited to it. She always said “cook” and “bake” were four-letter words, and was a reader and historian and toponymist–but whatever she took on she did well, and I still remember her flapper pie and bread pudding. And a candy called “seafoam” that was really little meringues, and too hard to make more than about once a year. That was the first recipe I asked for when I left home. (Bread pudding was the second one I wrote in my recipe book in my own house, but I knew it from watching–it was never written down.)

And we had a jigsaw puzzle that was a big red dot. We did it. Once. (Once.)

3. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story?

My original idea was for an anthology Nalo Hopkinson edited called Mojo Conjure. I have always been annoyed at how fantasy writers who come from what’s now being called “settler” roots have taken over the voudoun and First Nations mythologies because they are “cool.” Don’t we have enough imagination to think about where our own cultures’ magic comes from? But at the same time, I am divorced from my own heritage by immigrant circumstances, so I have no idea what the Celtic or Anglo-Saxon stories from my family’s origins were either, even though my heritage is English and Scots. I am third and fourth generation on this land–but what is the magic of my people? So I decided to think up some “mojo conjure” of my own personal heritage, and this is what came out.

A lot later, long after I’d missed Nalo’s deadline, the image of the last red piece dissolving on Cubbie’s tongue came to me, and I realized then where the story had to go. When I saw the call for this anthology, I was delighted, and I pushed myself to finish the story on time. I sent it to Ursula (and Colleen) thinking that it was too long but it was too new to be objective about it so I told her she had to help me cut it! When she accepted it, then I was motivated, and I did manage to cut it back, a bit.

4. Is there anything else to do with your story or the theme of the anthology that you’d like to mention?

Reading the anthology when my author copy arrived was really a wonderful experience. Such a variety of works! I’m always surprised at how a story looks in print, so formal, after having ideas for it in the bathtub, or while half alseep. The readers can’t see the state my hair was in when I was writing it! I was really impressed with the range of ideas. Also how spooky some people think childhood is. That comes of all those years being the weird kids in the class, I guess. Or at least, I was. (Baby writers probably mostly were That Kid at the Back–or the Picked-On Kid…)

5. What other projects do you have in the works, pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year.

My novel Black Wine was recently re-released by Five Rivers Publishing, and is available as an eBook or paper book. Originally my novels were from Tor, and I also have two short fiction collections that are out of print at the moment. Five Rivers and I are talking about bringing some of those out again too, in the fullness of time.

In progress, I have finished two mystery novels about a nameless bisexual downsized social worker and her cat Fuc…er, Bunny-wit. She lives in the inner city and knows a lot of diverse people, and has gotten into two very different adventures, one with drag queens and religious fundamentalists, and one with software millionaires. I also have a YA novel about an intersex teen. All these are off in the slowly-grinding mills of the gods, being Pronounced Upon. I’m working on a Great Looming Serious Novel which may or may not be fantasy, and which I am completing with the help of a project grant from the Edmonton Arts Council which is finished soon, so I am off in a fog at the moment, thinking about scene order…

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Filed under Culture, family, fantasy, food, memories, Publishing, science fiction, SF, Writing

Lessons Learned on Traveling in Europe

trains, transportation, travel, England, underground, overground

Horley (near Gatwick) Station

I thought I would write a lot while traveling, even took a laptop (mini) to do so but there were quite a few factors that made me post only once. I managed to get some gut bug when I flew into Amsterdam. It might have been caused by suspect Chinese food in Horley (but then I’m sensitive to the change of flavor in meat–it might have been slightly old or…bad) or it could have been the water, which is far softer than Vancouver’s water and maybe my body just couldn’t adjust. Still, tummy troubles didn’t keep me down but made my day a bit slower to start.

In Holland, thousands of people use bikes. If I had rented one it would have been a nuisance because I don’t just take pictures of tourist attractions but of things on the street; leaves, textures, patterns. A bike would have meant that I would be hopping on and off constantly.

I found my suitcase was in fact too heavy and I would take even less next time, maybe buying more there. However I was packing for rain and cold and got a very warm, extended summer of 25-30 degrees Celsius. I didn’t wear some of the items I brought because it was too hot. Still, backpacking might have worked but I have a few back issues that might have made it worse, but lugging anything up narrow, multiple Dutch and Belgian stairs will indeed give you a workout, and thankfully, my knees are good.

Most B&Bs have towels, though if you’re couchsurfing, check beforehand. I did a bit of both with even a hotel or two in there. I hate water splashing in my face and have always preferred using a face cloth. While these are pretty standard in any hotel in North America, you won’t find one anywhere in Europe (Holland, Belgian and England were the countries I visited this time). I brought one but might have brought two next time so one could air and dry when using the other. I had to deal with a bit of mildew even in half a day of being packed wet.

Many European buildings are centuries old and, besides having many stairs, have very high ceilings. This means the light might be faint. If your eyes don’t do well in low light, bring another light. I also brought a container for water, which was a good thing when walking around all day. In Belgium a waiter told me it was against the law to serve tap water so you’ll pay as much for a small bottle as almost for a glass of wine. And on drinking, while cider is in the veins of the British, Irish and Scottish it’s harder to find in other areas. I usually found only one bottled type in various places in Holland but it was nonexistent in Belgium.

I took cash but also brought my bank card and credit card. While cash always works, a couple of times I had to use the

stairs, travel, Holland, buildings

An example of old, steep, narrow stairs in Amsterdam

credit card, for reserving a room, or for storing my luggage at a train station because the machines didn’t take coins. I never could find out if traveler’s checks would work or not, or if there was a fee.

Trains are plentiful and sometimes hook up to trams. Many of the information areas are helpful. However, I found the rudest service in London at the booths marked for information. While different people working about the station were helpful in telling me what line to catch, no one bothered to clarify that there are trains and then there are trains in England. There is the underground or the tube, which has trains, and then there are the overground trains. They come into the same stations and sometimes your ticket transfers between the two (and buses) and sometimes it doesn’t. The underground information people were not helpful with the trains and vice versa. No one bothered to tell me the difference. At Victoria Station there was in fact a Tourist Travel Information center, which no one told me about, but they helped me figure out the overground and underground trains to the airport (after three other ties). It was also cheaper to fly from London to Amsterdam than to take a train through the Chunnel. On the way back I took a ferry from Calais to Dover, so check all forms of transportation,  and several months in advance of your trip for the best deals.

This is an overview and I did so much walking and visiting of galleries and buildings that I was just too exhausted to write in the evenings. Over the next few weeks I will do reviews of accommodation, food and the places I traveled.

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Filed under Culture, flying, memories, travel, weather

Travel Tips For Planes and Trains

Horley, London, trains, express trains, tracks, trams

Horely Station near Gatwick

I’m traveling in Europe and in the process of  finding transportation hither and yon I’ve discovered a few things. If you want cheap, book your flight about two months before your trip and shop around. Airlines will often hide costs so  check to see if they charge for baggage or seat selection and what weight you’re allowed to carry.

I went with Thomas Cook to save on the flight, thinking it might be better than the Air Transat but it turns out they’re just a horse of a different color. So, while the flight over was in a plane more modern than the one I took fours ago (if you have an iPod there is a plug-in for that and the light dimmer is digital now. However they’ve tried to make the most of a flying sardine can it is still a flying sardine can. A man and his 10-11 yea old son sat next to me and not even the boy could curl up or pull a leg  up on seats that are narrow and short in depth. I do not look forward to the return flight.

Headsets haven’t been free for years but now they chinch you on a pillow. You have to buy it and while the price is reasonable, it’s something you have to pack out of there. One deal was  a pillow that came with an eensy spot of wine, to make it more palatable . With a nine-hour flight it was a very uncomfortable sleep. I won’t go into the highly mediocre, greasy plane food served in too much disposable but not necessarily recyclable packing.

Once in England I stayed at a local guest house in Horley, about a 10-mminute drive from Gatwick Airport (more on guest houses later). When I googled how long it would take to get into London, Victoria Station, I got 2-3 hours, no matter how I entered it. Google can lead you astray. Even the people at the guest house thought it would take longer but not that long. Well, it turns out a 10-15 minute walk (instead of a bus here and a bus there and a train) got me to the Horley train station, which took 45 minutes to get to Victoria Station, for 14 pounds.

Victoria Station, trains, trams, London, transit, transport, travel

Victoria Station, London

Vancouver, take note. In recent years there has been much discussion on putting in turnstiles at the SkyTrain stations because too many people get on board free. They now have the police pop on to check tickets. In England, you buy your ticket and you can put it through a ticket checker or walk right through. However, there are people on board who check the ticket, or when you leave they have the turnstiles closed at the smaller stations (or later at night) and you have to enter your ticket.  It’s still people checking half the time.

Back to planes for a moment. When I was looking at taking a train from London to Amsterdam through the Chunnel prices were about $170. On a whim I checked flights, which were half that price. Because I waited until about two weeks before my flight, I ended up paying more but still $105 is better and flying faster. Check all options.

Once I landed in Schipol Airport, the fastest way to Amsterdam Centraal Station was by train in 20 minutes, for about 4 Euros. A tram then took me the rest of the way for about 2.60 Euros. It’s a bit confusing and even the police were wrong on where I was to catch it but the driver of the tram was helpful.

In both Amsterdam’s and London’s stations, shops and even pubs abounded. These weren’t sketchy little kiosks but full-on establishments, making the station part of everyday culture, not some place to hurry into and out of. People had lunch there and shopped. Vancouver’s price may not be as high in comparison to Europe’s but if they want to make the trains viable and affordable then they should look at bringing people in with carrots instead of sticks. Don’t make the drivers of cars suffer, encourage them that the trains are better.

I’m sure to have more adventures on my travels and I’ll talk about other aspects in the days to come. But the biggest thing about travel is to check in advance, check all types of transportation, leave early if you have deadline, and ask the locals. They’ll almost always know the best route and usually won’t mind telling.

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Japanese Gropers: Molestation Hits a New Low

Molesters have never had a good name. They sneakily prey on others, mostly women, to get their clandestine pleasures. Some molesters go for underage children, even more despicable. So one must truly wonder what is happening to Japanese culture where gangs of gropers (known as chikan, the term meaning groping, touching, rubbing and illicit photo taking) stalk trains to inappropriately touch women.

Estimates are that two-thirds of women commuters have been touched on the trains. Japan has long had overpacked commuter trains where employees cram people into each door until they’re packed tighter than sardines, unable to move at all. A claustrophobic or asthmatic person would not survive long on these trains and I wonder how well short people endure, squeezed amongst the muffling coats.

So one must presume that these gropers pick lines with a bit less restriction as no one would be able to even move their hands on the crushing commuter lines. In fact, there are websites dedicated to this pervasive perverseness. They indicate the best lines to hit for a grope and where the best escape routes are. Most of the women attacked have been in their teens and twenties, the majority underage schoolgirls in uniform. What it is with the pedophilic fancy for women in schoolgirl outfits runs the edge of creepy and I suspect most women who even dress up in these outfits veer away from thinking about what it means when a grown man is attracted to a schoolgirl.

Some of the chikanhave organized into gangs that separate out a woman, surround her and block other people from seeing what is being done to her. Not much different from gang rape. Yet it is such a problem in Japan that they have women-only trains (as they have had in India for years, because of cultural moires more than groping issues), but the problem is still prevalent. Japan also has a secluded nightclub set up to look like a commuter train, where women stand like commuters and men wander through, groping at will. They can touch any way they desire as long as they don’t ejaculate on the trains. At least that is done by consensual people on both sides.

This behavior is disgusting and offensive on a lot of levels and yet another example of where women are sexualized and treated as nothing more than toys for the perversions and pleasures of men. It would be interesting if roving gangs of women started applying pliers and vice grips to mens’ genitals, or goosing them with giant silicone phalluses. However, the only problem with a reciprocating gang is that two wrongs don’t make a right and innocent men would be targeted. Still, you don’t hear of women running around and groping.

The biggest concern that I see in all this is what is there in this specific culture that encourages and entices people to fall into public groping, where other cities and countries don’t suffer the same problem? Is it the Japanese work ethic, which keeps people working too much (and where some will kill themselves to save face) that has them implode into irrational, law-breaking behavior? Is there a restrictive sexual attitude in this society that causes men to push outside the restrictive boundaries? What factors play in making many men sway to the pedophile and sexual aggressor mode?

It’s well known that in Thailand’s sexual economy, the biggest purveyors of pedophile trysts are Germans and Japanese. Why? Japan even has an underground trade where men will pay for a pair of underwear that has been worn by women. And yes there are women in other countries who mail their underwear to such purchases. But what is it about these cultures that raises the number?

The Victorian era was known of a time of prim properness, where ladies were ladies and men acted like gentlemen. Yet it also had the Hellfire Club, a place frequented by nobles and politicians to carry out rakish and immoral acts. Again, is it the very repression of a society that pops perversion to the surface? It makes one wonder at what must be going on in Afghanistan. And yet, in all these sexually unacceptable acts, it seems to be men perpetrating their base desires on unwilling women. It really makes me wonder when we took the civilized out of civilization, if it was ever there.

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Filed under crime, Culture, news, people, security, sex, travel

On the High Horse: Greater Vancouver’s Attitude Toward Transportation

Transportation has always been an issue, but as gas prices bloat and government brings in carbon taxes, toll bridges (the Port Mann bridge is scheduled to have a toll booth, which will slow down the traffic even more) and other measures, all under the guise of being green, it means that people will want to seek alternative means.

Over the years, yes, people have relied more and more on their cars. When I was a child I would walk the ten-twenty blocks to school. These days everyone drives their kids. That’s partly because of the greater fear of predators, not to mention traffic has become exceedingly congested and inconsiderate, making it unsafe for younger children.

Housing prices have become exorbitant so people have to buy farther and farther out and then commute to work. If you live east of Vancouver you have the choice of taking buses; not a time efficient mode. There is the West Coast Express or a combination of SkyTrain and buses. The first is prohibitively expensive for many. But let’s look at using buses and SkyTrain. The farther out you live, the more you pay for a bus ride as the GVRD (now changing their name to Metro Vancouver)/Coast Mountain Bus  have conjointly allowed for the area to be split into zones. Which means you are punished for living farther from the downtown core.

Many people, including me, have opted to continue driving as it was cheaper for gas than a bus pass and more time efficient. Mexico City, with a population of plus 25 million keeps their trains cheap or the city would freeze from gridlock and completely decay from the pollution, which is already extremely bad. Cities like New York have an efficient subway system that runs frequently to all the boroughs and is comparably priced.

Efficiency means reliable. The bus/train system here has suffered from numerous breakdowns, especially in the winter. The stations are filthy and have a high criminal element lurking about. There has been a recent change to the stations with brighter lighting being put in and more security around the platforms. However, the level of filth (dirt, spit, gum, spills) on some of the platforms is still fairly high.

As well, people have been stranded when an overfull bus passes them by and there is no later one running. “Reliable transportation” would include buses running frequently and on time. Somehow the city decided it was a good idea to let downtown clubs and bars be open till 4:00 am if they wanted, but Coast Mountain closes down the SkyTrain just after midnight and the buses become infrequent or stop running to some areas far before most bars close. Incidences of weekend car thefts go up because somebody has come to town to party and find they can’t get home. I’d love to know who was the brainiac that thought that part out.

Taxis are likewise impossible to find on a weekend and would be too expensive to most other cities. Sure you can ride a bike, if you trust the drivers. I don’t, and that’s a story for another day. The public is held by the short and curlies. The GVRD, Coast Mountain and the BC government continue to tax everyone, raise prices of local transportation and add more tolls. They want to encourage us to use less fuel, mostly to garner votes in the “green” category. But where are the viable alternatives? Not enough public transportation that is affordable, reliable, safe and timely leaves people with spending more for not better.

Stress levels will increase, pollution won’t lessen because the green alternatives are missing. In the long run, this is the GVRD’s and the government’s ways of having more money coming in without putting effort in to true alternatives.

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