Top and tail

Dried flowers tied with a ribbon

Here’s the first thing in my cur­rent WiP, “Dried Flowers”:

Ded­i­cat­ed to my dad, JJ, the way I want to remem­ber him.

He intro­duced me to some of my favourite authors, most­ly by for­get­ting to send back the “no I don’t want the Selec­tion of the Month” card to the Sci­ence Fic­tion Book Club[1]This is how I first encoun­tered, among oth­ers, Michael Swan­wick and William Gib­son..

And the final thing in “Dried Flow­ers” (don’t wor­ry, it’s not a spoil­er; just a post-text epi­graph[2]Post­graph?):

I have always imag­ined that Par­adise will be a kind of library.

—Jorge Luis Borges

…and now, back to writin’.


1 This is how I first encoun­tered, among oth­ers, Michael Swan­wick and William Gibson.
2 Post­graph?

A moment of clarity

Dried flowers tied with a ribbon

This after­noon, wash­ing dish­es and lis­ten­ing to music, I had a writ­ing epiphany. The song “Moment of Clar­i­ty” by 13 Engines popped up in the rotation…

…and one part of it, specif­i­cal­ly, strikes a chord on my cur­rent WiP.

A moment of clar­i­ty is all that’s required of me
And all oth­er places and oth­er times, they’re wav­ing good­bye

Yeah, that’s all the con­text you’re gonna get for now. Let me know if you’re inter­est­ed in read­ing this once it’s all done, though.

13 things about “Dried Flowers”

Dried flowers tied with a ribbon

Thurs­day Thir­teen, the late edition.

(Remem­ber Thurs­day Thir­teens? How about Ran­dom Flick­r­blog­ging? No? Sigh.)

Mov­ing on. Here are 13 things that you’ll find once my sto­ry “Dried Flow­ers” is avail­able for reading.

  1. Unre­li­able 3rd-per­son narration
  2. Palimpses­ts [1]I mean, the work­ing title was “Palimpses­ts”
  3. Flo­ri­le­gia
  5. Library apart­ment
  6. Birth­day cake [2]HAP BIRT NAO
  7. Romans à clé [3]Well, kind of
  8. Whol­ly invent­ed books
  9. An auto­graph seeker
  10. Snow falling upward
  11. Over­heard conversations
  12. Women who take male noms de plume
  13. Acros­tics

ICYW: “Dried Flow­ers” is my cur­rent work in progress. For­mer­ly titled “Palimpses­ts”, the sto­ry is about a library whose books all seem to be eras­ing themselves.

This sto­ry­telling is sup­port­ed by a grant from the Man­i­to­ba Arts Coun­cil.


1 I mean, the work­ing title was “Palimpses­ts”
3 Well, kind of

Good News, Everyone

fountain pen on notepad

Some good—no, great—news on the writ­ing front: I’ve been award­ed a writ­ing grant by the Man­i­to­ba Arts Coun­cil.

The project I’ll be work­ing on is a novel­la, titled “Palimpses­ts”[1]Work­ing title; I’m also con­sid­er­ing “Dried Flow­ers”, about a woman liv­ing in a library where all the books are slow­ly eras­ing them­selves. She has a com­pan­ion who tries their best to rewrite the erased works, with vary­ing lev­els of suc­cess. She’s also haunt­ed by strange dreams.

Eight works are fea­tured in the sto­ry, some based on real-world books[2]Not quite a roman à clef, but per­haps a roman de romans à clef, hein?, oth­ers whol­ly invented.

I’d been work­ing on the project back in the summer—it was one of the pieces I was deal­ing with dur­ing my writ­ing retreat—but when I sub­mit­ted the grant paper­work in mid-Octo­ber, I quite delib­er­ate­ly pushed it to the back of the queue.

Now it’s come back to the front, of course. I got word on Fri­day after­noon about the grant, and as I write this—Saturday evening—I’ve got the 8 palimpses­ts select­ed, with thumb­nail notes about the new text. I’ve had some inspi­ra­tions about the rest of the sto­ry too, the world June (the hero) has left, the world she’s liv­ing in now, and the world she vis­its in her dreams.

I’m excit­ed. This has the poten­tial to be a very good sto­ry. It won’t be easy to write, and I don’t intend to make it easy to read. Good luck to us all.

In oth­er good writin’ news: The good stuff is now avail­able in my province. In my city, in fact.

Writers' Tears Irish Whiskey
At last!


1 Work­ing title; I’m also con­sid­er­ing “Dried Flowers”
2 Not quite a roman à clef, but per­haps a roman de romans à clef, hein?

WiP updates

A torch against a dark background

I spent the last week or so updat­ing the out­line to “Praise the Torch When ´Tis Burned” (work­ing title, but I’m pret­ty attached to it). I got to the end—a final con­fronta­tion between The Drag­on and the ship’s-queen—and real­ized I did­n’t know exact­ly how I want­ed it to end.

Today, wash­ing dish­es, I had an inter­est­ing insight that might solve my prob­lem. In the first draft, the sto­ry was told as a con­fes­sion to an unnamed 3rd par­ty. As I start­ed the 2nd draft, I dis­card­ed that idea; it did­n’t work, mechan­i­cal­ly. But I still liked the idea of the sto­ry-as-con­fes­sion, and now, I think I might have a way to bring it back in.

Also, as the idea unfold­ed in my head (while my hands were warm and soapy), it expand­ed my under­stand­ing of the ship’s-queen and The Dragon.

This could work. (I mean, it could back­fire, too; but it could work.)

The title, for those that a) don’t know and b) would like to, is tak­en from a stan­za in Hávamál, or The Say­ings of Odin:

At evening praise the day, the torch when ´tis burned,
the blade when ´tis tested, the maid when she is married,
the ice when ´tis crossed, the ale when ´tis drunk. 

…rough­ly. (Depend­ing on the translation.)

This is also the source of one of my favourite say­ings: “Praise ice when over it.” It’s a very win­try ver­sion, in my mind, of “don’t count your chick­ens till they hatch”.

Pho­to by Igor Lep­ilin on Unsplash.

Awards Eligibility 2021

Milky Way closeup

I had two sto­ries appear in mar­kets in 2021.

First up, in the spring, my super-short sto­ry “The Atlas” appeared in Cloud Lake, Vol­ume Two. “The Atlas” is 325 words long, and fea­tures an erased nation, a hunt­ing knife, and a bot­tle of absinthe, among oth­er delights.

Jen­nifer said her great-to-the-nth-grand­moth­er came from Untille. The coun­try, erased in some primeval war, exist­ed now only in folk­lore. On the atlas page it bor­dered Iraq, Uqbar, Syria.

—“The Atlas”

And then, in the fall, my sto­ry “Sum­mer­time in the Void” appeared in Alter­nate Plains (ie, the sequel to Par­al­lel Prairies). It’s got vari­coloured pills, theft, con­fes­sions, road trips, ghosts, and an answer to “What hap­pens if the Rap­ture (or the Sin­gu­lar­i­ty) does­n’t want you?” (And yes, if you’re won­der­ing, I absolute­ly stole the title from the I Moth­er Earth song.)

The upside-down sun glared down on him from a cloud­less blue sky. He’d tried explain­ing once to a friend what the sun looked like when it was upside-down. It had­n’t gone well. The best he’d man­aged to come up with was “You’ll know it when you see it.”

—“Sum­mer­time in the Void”

See you in 2022!

Inspiration is where you find it

fountain pen on notepad

We’ve been enjoy­ing the episodes of Richard Ayoad­e’s show Trav­el Man that CBC has been play­ing. If you haven’t seen it, the premise is this: Richard and anoth­er British celebri­ty trav­el to a touristy des­ti­na­tion for a hol­i­day week­end, take in the sights, do the tours, and make mer­ry. The humour is high-brow, rapid-fire, and often more than a lit­tle meta. (eg: in this past week’s episode, Ayoade points out that “this show’s lack of suc­cess is pred­i­cat­ed on edit­ing based on slights” (trust me, in con­text, that’s hilarious)).

This week’s episode saw R. A. joined in Dubrovnik by one Stephen Mer­chant. They enjoyed oys­ters on the seashore, went on a tour that crossed mud-bog­ging in a dune bug­gy with pos­si­ble death by land­mine (“We’re not sure,” the tour guide explained, as they explored a WWII-era for­ti­fi­ca­tion, “that all the mines have been removed”), and took anoth­er tour of the loca­tions where Game of Thrones filmed.

It tran­spired that nei­ther come­di­an has actu­al­ly seen an episode of Game of Thrones, but that did­n’t seem to slow the guide down at all. Stephen Mer­chant point­ed out that he enjoys see­ing film loca­tions, even if he has­n’t seen the film.

I laughed. Then I thought, That’d be an inter­est­ing char­ac­ter quirk for one of my char­ac­ters; specif­i­cal­ly, one of the wiz­ards in “The Slow Apoc­a­lypse”. Ha ha, I thought, that could be a cute throw­away line. You’d rather see the loca­tions where they filmed Lau­rence of Ara­bia that actu­al­ly watch Lau­rence of Arabia.

But then I thought about it a bit more, and… I think it might actu­al­ly be a per­fect insight into his char­ac­ter. He’s got a tal­ent for cut­ting straight to the hid­den truth of things. A pref­er­ence for real­i­ty over arti­fice would slot very nice­ly into that personality.

In fact, on my way to the gro­cery store, I envi­sioned a new scene, a flash­back: he’s dat­ing the woman who will lat­er be his wife. They go to a movie about King Arthur. He’s so very irri­tat­ed by the false­hoods, the bla­tant mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions, that he has to leave the the­atre for a while. (He’s immor­tal, or near­ly so; he was there, in Eng­land, at the time, and most of what he’s see­ing is bull­shit. Some oth­er city—Prague, Dubrovnik—standing in for the Lon­don of the day. And it’s so ear­ly in the rela­tion­ship that he can’t tell her the truth, the why, of his reac­tion. Maybe it’s their first actu­al fight—I’m still mulling the scene. Work­shop­ping it here, in fact, so if you’ve got com­ments on it, let me know.)

Alternate Plains reviewed

Cover of Alternate Plains

Alter­nate Plains has been reviewed by Joanne Kel­ly in the Win­nipeg Free Press. She gave the anthol­o­gy a thumbs-up:

The 12 sto­ries will give you, in most cas­es, the creeps and a few good jump frights, while also offer­ing some chal­leng­ing and thought-pro­vok­ing visions of life on the Prairies — now and in the future.

My sto­ry, “Sum­mer­time in the Void”, got a spe­cif­ic men­tion, which makes me happy.

Sto­ries such as Sum­mer­time in the Void are great book-club fodder¹.

In it, Patrick Johan­neson cre­ates a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic vision where almost all of human­i­ty tran­scends to the after­life, but God has left a few peo­ple behind: 4,229,000 peo­ple, to be exact. When the main char­ac­ter demands to know why, God tells him: “Your mind, John. It’s mis­shapen. Its scent is wrong. It’s coloured out­side the lines… your thoughts, your emo­tions, are too far diver­gent from the rest of the peo­ple. You live too far out­side the norm.”

You can get Alter­nate Plains at fin­er book­stores every­where, includ­ing McNal­ly Robin­son, and appar­ent­ly there’s a copy in Coles in the Bran­don Shop­per’s Mall (at least there was last time I checked online).

¹ In that vein, for any­one who’s already read the sto­ry, I have a cou­ple book-club ques­tions to ponder:

  1. Is “Saul” spelled cor­rect­ly? Why or why not?
  2. How long does the action in the sto­ry actu­al­ly last?

Writing Retreat 2021, day 6

Blue sky with a few clouds above the road and the railroad

On Fri­day, I:

  • Con­tin­ued out­lin­ing “Praise The Torch”
  • Did some update work on my grant application
  • Read more Zero His­to­ry—I think I’m just about halfway through now
  • Went for a bike ride—not a long one, but I climbed a lot of hills and got a few photos
  • Watched a few more Fire­fly episodes

I decid­ed that, even though the sky was clear, I’d stay in and not keep myself awake past 2 am again. I was in bed read­ing by 11 and asleep before mid­night, and I think that was the right decision.

And now I’m going to start pack­ing up the cab­in. My time here draws short. As always, I’m feel­ing con­flict­ing emo­tions: I’ll be hap­py to be home, but I’d love anoth­er week doing this kind of thing too.

Vaca­tions: They’re Nev­er Long Enough.

Series: Writing Retreat 2021

The entire series: Writ­ing Retreat 2021, Day Zero; Writ­ing Retreat, Day One; Writ­ing Retreat, day 2; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 3; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 4; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 5; Writ­ing Retreat 2021, day 6.