The World is Obviously (Probably) Not Totally Fucked

Last week, I had the pleasure of reappearing on Literary Landscapes, a local radio show on 93.1 CKCU out of Carleton University, to chat with host Kate Hunt about my forthcoming publication in Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation. I’m an improviser at heart, so I went in with no specifics about what we might talk about, besides my story and the anthology and a couple other vague things. The result was that we dove very quickly into discussing exactly what “solarpunk” is, since it’s a relatively new genre that is just starting to get attention.

Solarpunk is a fascinating concept for me because it’s essentially optimistic, examining a world where technology or human activities don’t destroy everything, but often prove to be the solution to things. If you’ve ever read the anthology Hieroglyph that Kathryn Cramer and Ed Finn edited, the tone of solarpunk today is very much the same. But it’s not always optimistic; there’s a story in Sunvault where humanity has already ruined multiple Earths, and is moving to another one filled with the realization that we can’t botch it again because we’ll only get so many chances. Or sometimes solarpunk can be vague, like my story “Pop and the CFT,” which posits a carbon footprint tax that’s calculated on someone’s estate but never explains whether that system is actually doing any good with regard to how people treat the environment. So describing solarpunk as inherently optimistic is maybe a little inaccurate, since it’s difficult to write an interesting story where everything is sunshine and rainbows. Maybe it’s just a genre that opens up the possibility of things working out large-scale, presuming that

climate change or rampant economic disparity or North Korea or Cheeto Jesus or whatever the hell us doesn’t bring it all crashing down.

The thing I’ve always found so fascinating about science fiction and fantasy in general is that “what if” mentality that seems to pervade all of it. Lately that “what if” tends to focus on how things can go wrong; the question is about what particular thing will make the world worse, and how we’ll all deal with it. So I like the fact that subgenres like solarpunk are trying to take a slightly different tack. And that it’s new enough that nobody really understands what it is, and can have great conversations about it.

One of my favorite things to do is talk shop or society with other creative types, and I really enjoyed my conversation on Literary Landscapes. If you’d like to hear Kate and I discuss solarpunk and other things in more detail, you can follow the link above or via the CKCU website. And if solarpunk is something that interests you, there’s a Goodreads giveaway for Sunvault – but holy shit, it ends today! So go check it out right now!

Open Letter to the 2016/2017 School Year

The end of a school year always brings mixed emotions for me. It didn’t really dawn on me until recently that I’m no different than other people my age who are still stuck doing contract work and experiencing periodic uncertainty about their employment. I’m an LTO, and while I have enough experience (and possibly the reputation) that I consistently get teaching positions each year, I spend the summer not knowing where I’ll be in September. I’ve been exceptionally lucky in that I’ve almost never been without work, but five years feels like a long time of hopping from school to school, especially when I’m lucky enough to find myself at a school that I genuinely love working at.

“Bittersweet” is probably the best way to describe my feelings over the past couple of weeks. I tend not to talk about my teaching in too much detail here, but I’m going to break that unspoken rule, because my experience at Merivale High School this year was possibly the best of my entire career so far. I taught some truly exceptional students, and got to watch a bunch of them collect their diplomas, proud to have gotten a chance to work with them and (apparently) actually have an impact. I coached a team for the first time, and I kid you not that team won the friggin’ city championship for girls soccer (I played a very small part in that). I worked with some incredible admin and a department and staff that were amazingly supportive and encouraging, and endearingly dysfunctional. And at the end of the semester, the outpouring of goodwill from students and colleagues as I said my goodbyes made me, I’m not ashamed to say, a little emotional. (But no tears).

So I’ve said this to a bunch of people, but I want to repeat it here before I mentally transition fully into summer vacation: it was an absolute privilege teaching at Merivale this year. I’m taking memories (and some really heartwarming gifts) that I hope I’ll hold onto until I’m senile, and connections that hopefully will not fade with time. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that I have the opportunity to return there someday.

And to my students (who will always be my students, cuz that’s just the way I am) who apparently sometimes read this rambling blog, a wise man once said, “Everything ends, and it’s always sad. But everything begins again, too, and that’s always happy. Be happy. I’ll look after everything else.”

New Publication! “Water” on Grievous Angel

Sometime in the last year I had a bizarre and vivid dream. I was standing in a grove (or I was watching someone else standing in a grove) that looked like the Amazon rainforest if it was painted by Lewis Carroll or Dr. Seuss. There were other people around, and I knew that there was something dangerous nearby, but I never found out what it was. Right before the dream ended, I heard a voice say something like, “It’s a mad world when the water drinks you back.”

Now, having studied psychology I fully understand the basic concept of what a dream really is, but damn if I don’t have some vivid and occasionally screwed up dreams. I’m talking visions of other worlds, with faces that I don’t recognize – clearly my subconscious likes to work overtime while I’m trying to rest. These dreams sometimes mean I wake up feeling tired, but occasionally they can be useful since, you know, I’m a writer and all.

Today Grievous Angel published my flash story “Water,” which I concocted from the line above and the remnants of the dream that led me to it. My writing tends to be pretty straightforward, so “Water” is my first jump into the surreal (and if my friend Lana Kamarić has any say, not my last). It’s a weird story, and I’m glad it’s found a home. If you want a brief glimpse into the dark recesses of my brain, you can read it for free right here. And if you like it, please do spread it around on social media, and we’ll see what people think of me after…

Sunvault is available for preorder!

Okay, maybe I didn’t follow through on my commitment to get back to posting regularly. You know how it is. Final assignments need to get marked, jobs for September need to get applied to, conference preparations need to get done, end-of-year preparations need to be handled, poems need to be written in student yearbooks, and actual words need to get written somewhere in there, too …

Having said that, I’m going to totally cop out this week, too, since this post is solely to announce a forthcoming publication. Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation is coming soon from Upper Rubber Boot, and is now available for preorder! The anthology includes a ton of excellent authors, some of whom I’ve actually met and/or worked with before, along with my short story “Pop and the CFT,” where a retired rocker has to deal with the carbon footprint tax on his late father’s estate. You can check out the TOC and the phenomenal cover (seriously, it’s beautiful) on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

While we’re on the topic of self-promotion, I wanted to shine a spotlight on the review work I’m still doing for BlackGate.com. Since I have someone to report to there, I’m actually consistent with posting a biweekly review of something I’ve read, under the banner “In 500 Words or Less,” since there are too many long-winded reviews out there. I also post the occasional interview with a fellow author discussing their work, which so far has included Desirina Boskovich, Leah Bobet, Ryan McFadden and others. My latest review is Dogs of War by Jonathan Maberry, and you can go back through to see my thoughts on work by Mary Robinette Kowal, Joe Abercrombie, Desirina Boskovich and others. Over the summer I’ll be adding a page here cataloguing some of my Black Gate posts, but for now you can follow the link above to see what I’m up to.

More announcements coming soon, as well as regular posting of my madcap accounts of the writing life. Probably.

Mr. Crilly the Writer

There’s something very special about that first sip of tea in the morning, before you’re about to start writing.

Most people can relate to that, I think, especially coffee drinkers savoring that first cup on a morning when they don’t have to go to work. The only difference between me and them is that spending a Sunday morning writing is often as relaxing as sitting down with a good book or diving into something like Pillars of Eternity on my computer, with the added bonus of actually being productive. There’s an almost Zen-like quality to it, in the sense that if I don’t get to do my Sunday morning writing these days, it throws off my whole week.

This is one of many things I’ll be trying to explain to my Grade 10s tomorrow. A bunch of my History students have asked me to be a guest speaker in their Careers class, to discuss being a writer. I talk about writing on occasion in class, and some of my students were amazed or terrified at my ability to juggle four jobs at once, between teaching and writing. So not only do I have to decide what would be interesting or relevant to include in my presentation tomorrow, but I have to be careful not to repeat myself too much. Which would be a lot easier if I kept track of my tangents and mad ramblings on a day-to-day basis (note: start doing that).

Explaining writing to non-writers can be tough; we talk about it a lot in the community, and I’ve mentioned it here a few times. I even blogged about it last summer, discussing every little thing that I do in a week that’s part of being a writer (note: dredge up blog post for tomorrow). What I want to make sure to do is paint an accurate picture of what it means to be a writer, from the glossy amazingness to the mind-numbing slog and everything in between. Because until you’re actually pursuing some sort of creative career, it’s difficult to really conceptualize what that means. I’ve even spoken with visual artists or musicians that don’t really understand writing, and I’m sure there are things about both of those crafts that I don’t get.

What I might do is start by running through that list of everything a writer does in a week, and then distill writing down into some core concepts. But what would those be? There are the skills that have been hammered into their brains all semester, like time management. But I’d rather talk about the elements that are particular to being a successful writer. Energy is one, especially if you have a  day job. Monitoring health is close to that, given how sedentary writing is. Community, to avoid feeling isolated. Research. Trial and error. Getting over rejection. Writing what you know, and not being afraid if what you know is pretty dark. And maybe perspective. Whatever I discuss, I just hope my students enjoy it and maybe learn a little bit more about why their teacher is so weird (they always say “awesome,” but I know they mean weird). And if there’s time and they want me to, I might even read a little of what I write. I’m sure that’ll add to my cool factor.

Okay, I think that’ll do, until I get up there tomorrow and go off-the-cuff, as I sometimes do in the classroom. Thanks for helping me figure this out 🙂 Now it’s time for cup #2 from my pot of tea and some story editing…

My First Nebulas Conference

My regular posting has been a bit skewed the past few weeks, due to multiple conferences and the general busyness that comes from doing a lot of things. But I’m back – not just in the figurative sense, but literally back from a four-day trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for my first Nebulas Conference, as a bonafide associate member of SFWA.

See, I have a card and everything.

I love writing conferences because I get a nice energy boost from hanging out with my fellow creatives and talking shop, and each one has something a little different to offer. As you can imagine, SFWA’s annual get-together had a lot to offer, from brilliant programming to great networking and hanging out with awesome people who, like myself and pretty much every other writer out there, are trying to do their best in the crazy world that is the publishing industry. I got the chance to meet writers who I’ve been corresponding with online for a while, and begin forging new friendships and professional contacts that I will hope will last well into the future (do I sound really hokey yet? I’m a little tired, not at all from multiple nights in the hotel bar – I swear I was in bed relatively early each night). I’m not a fan of posts that provide a play-by-play of everything someone got up to at a con, but here are some of my favorite moments from the weekend, in no particular order:

  1. Debating objectively (for me, anyway) who’s more attractive: Neil Gaiman or China Mievelle. Apparently the correct answer is “neither,” in place of a third party (or so I was told).
  2. Fellow author Mike Evans using my own peer-pressuring methods to keep me in the hotel bar for an extra three hours (I think) on Friday night (I still swear my statement above is true).

    Sorry this is a little blurry, Cat!

  3. Cat Rambo delighting in her newly-purchased centrepiece robot from the Nebulas banquet.
  4. Dodging as Tee Morris literally leaped over me in the hotel bar to meet the makers of Habitica (which is an awesome app, by the way).
  5. My friend’s agent asking him, “Wait, are you pulling a Comey memo on me?” as we discussed his detailed agenda for their business meeting.

But all of this pales in comparison to the Nebula Awards ceremony on Saturday night, for the simple reason that I got to cheer in person for the fabulous Amal el-Mohtar, who won the award for Best Short Story for “Seasons of Glass of Iron,” which was published in The Starlit Wood last year. There’s something special about seeing someone truly deserving win that kind of accolade, and if nothing else reinforces that good people who do good work still get acknowledged for it in this world.

Now that I’m returned to the real world here in Ottawa, with a ton of new ideas and resources for my writing and a contented fatigue that I only partly hope will fade so I can actually teach tomorrow, I wanted to say one more thank you to the SFWA board and the organizers of the Nebulas conference. I’m already looking forward to next year, and will be registering as soon as the option is available. And of course, a shout-out and thank you to my friend and mentor, Derek Kunsken, for convincing me to make the 10-hour drive to Pittsburgh to see everything that SFWA has to offer.

Ad Astra Next Weekend

This is one of those weeks that kicked the hell out of me in many ways – if you read last week’s post where I outlined my schedule, you’ll understand why. But I was also propelled by various bits of good news. Most notably, my short story “Synchronicity and Sonata” has earned my 4th Honorable Mention from Writers of the Future, so I get to eagerly await the published list of winners on their blog. I also sold another short story, which I’ll announce once the contract is signed. And now that the semester is finished at Algonquin College and I have one job off my plate … I have multiple conferences to prepare for, so I’m sort of out of the frying pan and into the fire. But in a fun way.

Next weekend, I’ll be at Ad Astra in Toronto with a bunch of other authors from the Ottawa community and beyond. I’ve confirmed that I’ll be on a TEGG panel with Ed Greenwood and others, discussing what’s going on in the company and our recent and upcoming projects, including my latest short story “Wizard-sitting.” I don’t know my schedule other than that yet, but I’ll try to post that here if I can – regardless, I’ll be tweeting like mad all weekend. If you’ll also be at Ad Astra, give me a shout!