Stories Come in Many Forms

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

– Michelangelo

Everyone has a passion somewhere inside them, and they should be encouraged to pursue it as much as they desire so long as it brings them joy. I love to write and tell stories, and I express this through writing fiction and through roleplaying games – both fairly safe and sane activities.

My partner, Fiona Plunkett, also known as The Witch of South Mountain, has long had a passion for stone carving. For her, it’s an organic process: She once told me she looks at a stone and sees the final sculpture inside it, as though the stone “knows” what it wants to be and it is up to her to free it. I get that. Often, a story idea pops into my head and the process of writing feels more like acting as a conduit for the story to tell itself through me.  In those moments I truly feel like I’m in the writing zone, and time flies by.

This month, some of her carvings are on display at the Brockville Arts Centre, a venue that promotes regional artists of all forms. Looking at the display she put together, with her tools and raw stone at the bottom and her finished pieces above, I can see the stones telling stories of their own. The animal carvings show movement – are they escaping a predator, or are they searching for something? Likewise, I can picture her inukshuks standing on a barren Arctic plain, or sitting atop a craggy northern shore, which I could fill with characters of my own.

Someday I will draw inspiration from one of Fiona’s works and tell a new story of my own, but in the meantime I will enjoy the expression of her art. I hope you will, too.

My CAN-CON Schedule!

Hi everyone,

It’s that time of year again, and for me that means CAN-CON, Ottawa’s annual conference on speculative arts and literature. This year is a bit of a change for me, because I’m only participating in two panel discussions this year. I will, however, be attending many more, and I look forward to connecting with friends and colleagues – old and new – as well as learning a great deal.

I will be participating in the following panels on Saturday, October 31:

The Basics of the Sword, the Katana, and Viking Axe (12:00 – 12:55 pm, in Salon E), with Ariella Elema, Kris Ramsey, and Raeanne Roy.

Weird Fiction and Lovecraftian Themes (2:00-2:55 pm, Salon D), with Leah Bobet and Sean Moreland.

I hope to see you there!

The Vagaries of Publishing

No matter how well you write, no matter how thoroughly you edit, no matter how many reviewers you enlist before submitting your story to the market, there are no guarantees.

I just got an apologetic note from a magazine concerning a recent submission of mine that they will not be able to publish – not because it’s crap or doesn’t fit their editorial vision, but because they need to refocus their business on their anthologies and website – the print magazine was simply not viable.  In the end, despite having a pile of great stories, they could not make it work.  It was nice to know, however, that my story had made it to the short list.  I appreciate the effort they made to contact me personally, and I hope their efforts to stay afloat are successful.

So, back to land of submissions for this horror story…

Come See Me at the Art and Wine Tour!

I will be at Blue Gypsy Wines on September 12-13, where I will be taking part in this year’s Art and Wine Tour! I’d love to chat with you, and I will also have signed copies of Heroes of Mars and People Eating People available for purchase.

As a bonus, you will also be able to meet my partner, the lovely and highly-talented Fiona Plunkett, a fantastic stone carver who uses her affinity with stone to bring out its natural beauty. She will have a number of pieces on-hand for sale, and if you come at the right time you might catch her in action.

Hope to see you there!

Getting Back to my Roots

Although most of my writing is in the horror genre, my first breakthrough publication as an author was in the roleplaying games industry. In fact, I owe a debt of gratitude to roleplaying games, and to the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) fan community, for helping me get where I am today.

I first picked up polyhedral dice in 1984. It was summertime, I was living in North Bay, and my friend Clinton had bought the pink box edition of D&D. I knew nothing about it beyond the cartoon that I watched on Saturday mornings, and of course the anti-D&D hysteria (which I thought was a load of crap even then) but the dice looked cool and the idea of playing make-believe with imaginary characters complete with stats, treasure, and the prospect of UNLIMITED POWER appealed to my 10-year-old self. I didn’t last long in “The Keep on the Borderlands”, but I’d been bitten by the bug and kept playing, on and off, for the next ten years. I went on to play many roleplaying systems, but D&D remained my favourite.

By the mid-90s I was in university. The original D&D game had been discontinued by TSR, and I no longer bought gaming products because nothing really appealed to me. So I ran a campaign using what I had, and figured I would just keep on playing until my books fell apart. Then I discovered the Internet, and the online fan communities – and that’s when I started writing. I hadn’t met anyone in Ottawa who was interested in my version of D&D, but there were tons of people in Italy, Brazil, Australia, the US, and other parts of Canada who were devoted fans. I got to know them, and before long we were collaborating on online writing projects to expand the campaign settings we loved so much, but which were no longer receiving official support. Years passed, our writing improved and we published our work online in fanzines, and I daresay we eventually were writing adventures and gaming sourcebooks that were of the same calibre as what we once bought in gaming shops. Such is the power of devoted, mature fans.

Somewhere along the line I looked at the sheer mass of what I had written, and thought, “Why couldn’t I make a serious go at this?” So I studied the small presses in the roleplaying markets, realised that adventure modules were sought after, and began hunting for opportunities. I made my first sale – The Secret of the Callair Hills – to Expeditious Retreat Press in 2010. That first professional sale gave me the confidence to keep going. Solstice Publishing bought my novella “The Tunnelers” in 2011, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Although I became less active in the gaming community as I devoted more time and energy into writing short fiction, I never forgot my roots. I still wrote occasionally for fanzines, ran my own D&D campaign (still going strong), and ran D&D games at local conventions. A second gaming module – To End the Rising – was published in 2013.

And now Expeditious Retreat Press has bought the rights to a third module – “The Crocodile’s Tear” – which I ran as a playtest at a local gaming con this Spring. I was thrilled to receive the news, and I can’t wait to see the cover art. It’s an adventure solidly in the style of Indiana Jones – recovering a treasure from an exotic locale, complete with traps, ancient menaces, and a curse. There is an immense satisfaction with writing and running an adventure module and seeing how engrossed the players get into the storyline – it’s a kind of connection that fiction can’t achieve, in my view.

And it’s why I doubt I’ll ever abandon my gaming roots, regardless of how far I go as a writer.

Objects In Mirror Are Larger Than They Appear – A Mid-Year Check-In

June has passed, the days are getting shorter again, and 2016 is no longer a theoretical possibility but something that is definitely taking form. This has led me to think about how things have been going – both in terms of my writing and otherwise.

2015 started off with a bang, writing-wise. Two stories of mine – “The Old Boys Club” and “White Noise” – that had already been published were picked up by McGraw-Hill-Ryerson for inclusion in their electronic collection of contemporary Canadian short fiction, which is aimed at secondary school educators.

I followed that with my first trip to Ad-Astra, Toronto’s main science fiction and fantasy convention, in April. There, I participated in several interesting panels, play-tested The Oatmeal’s Exploding Kittens card game, and delivered a few readings with my friend and fellow author, Marie Bilodeau. it was a great time, and my first exposure to one of Canada’s bigger cons. I finally got the chance to meet several people with whom I had been corresponding for quite a while. I’ll definitely be going back.

In May, Black Treacle Magazine has picked up another of my stories – Re-Possession – which takes the zombie trope and adds corporate intrigue, with a twist. Even more recently, another of my stories – The Statuette – will be appearing in in the first issue of a new magazine. More details to come!

2015 has been a wondrous year on a more personal note, too. I started off the year at a New Year’s party, knowing only two people in the house where it was taking place and hoping for a nice diversion and an opportunity to get to know a few people. Little did I suspect that I would meet someone who, in six months, would turn out to be the best partner I could ever hope for. Both of us have been around the block and we went into our relationship with honesty and reasonable expectations. My girlfriend is a loving companion, a confidante, a kindred soul, and my best friend. She not only accepted me into her life; she welcomed me into it. And I her. I couldn’t imagine life without her, now, and the future is looking even better than ever. If nothing else, meeting her has defined 2015 as my best year. Let there be many more! 🙂

Persistence Pays

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
– Confucius

“Slow and steady wins the race.”
– Unknown

“Are we there yet?!?”
– Any child

I am delighted to announce that another of my horror stories, Re-Possession, is appearing in Issue 9 of Black Treacle, a Canadian magazine of horror, dark fantasy, and speculative fiction.

Re-Possession is zombie-themed social commentary set in the near future, with a dash of corporate intrigue and wistful romance. It’s also a story that has been on quite a journey, from inspiration to publication, and now that it has reached its final destination it really stands out in my mind as a good example of what can happen if you stick with something long enough.

I developed my initial outline for the story in October 2012, and went through seven drafts between then until January 2015. Throughout that time, Re-Possession’s length always hovered in the 2900-3100-word range. Every time the story was rejected, I reviewed any feedback I received from the editor, weighed it against the story and what I wanted to achieve with it, and refined it. I also put the story on the back-burner a couple of times and focused on other writing projects. Each time I returned to Re-Possession, I found I was able to look at it with fresher eyes, and more often than not I found improvements I could make. During that two-and-a-half-year long journey to publication, there were times when I considered abandoning the story. But then I would re-read it, as well as the encouraging comments I received from some of the editors, and I would send Re-Possession back into the market to find a good home.

I’m glad I did. I hope you enjoy the story.

My Ad Astra Schedule!

As promised, I am posting my scheduled panels at Ad Astra, Toronto’s premier speculative fiction convention, which runs from April 10-12!  Hope to see you there.


Saturday, April 11

Spicing up your Game Setting

Time: 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM

Room: Oakridge

Panelling with: Chris A. Jackson, James Alan Gardner

Jungles, deserts and tundras, oh my! from tribal wanderers to megacities and more! Panelists discuss how you can step away from the monoenvironmental, the monocultural, the monoboring and make your setting varied, alive and deeply interesting.

From The Tabletop To The Side Table

Time: 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Room: Whitchurch

Panelling with: Chris A. Jackson

From Books to TV Shows and Movies, tabletop roleplaying has been a subtile guiding hand for many story, setting and character inspirations. And in some cases, not so subtle. Panelists discuss the process of taking a tabletop game or characters and set pieces and translating it to a different medium for an audience rather than active participants.

The Shadow Over Lovecraft

Time: 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Room: Markham B

Panelling with: JD DeLuzio, Nancy Kilpatrick, Simon McNeil

Modern horror fiction inspired or derived from H.P. Lovecraft. What influence has his fiction had? What makes Lovecraftian fiction work? The best and worst texts, both in literature and films. Why all the odd pop culture appearances? Is he really that great? And how do we handle his xenophobia and racism, and the modern-day controversy it has generated?

Saturday, April 12

Reading with fellow Ottawa-area author Marie Bilodeau!

Time: 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

Room: Whitchurch

Watch This Space!

Hi everyone!

On April 10-12, 2015 I will be attending Ad Astra, Toronto’s main fantasy and science fiction convention. In addition to participating on panels, I will also be giving readings. Stay tuned for my schedule! 🙂

Maintaining Momentum

If you’re like me, you pursue your creative passion while relying on another line of work to pay the bills. Because said line of work makes such mundane things like a roof over one’s head and regular, generally healthy and digestible meals possible, it really can’t be ignored. Not for long, anyway.

My day job has intense peaks and troughs and when I’m busy, I’m insanely so. In such busy periods (one of which – a week of pure hell – ended very recently) I find I have little energy for writing when I get home at the end of the day. However, as I’ve discussed previously it’s essential to maintain some kind of momentum – otherwise it’s possible to get in the habit of putting aside creative endeavours for any old thing, and the next thing you know you’re running in the soul-sucking hamster wheel of life. So what is a writer (or any creative type – what I’m about to share could be applied to almost any medium, I’m sure) to do?

First, it helps to have several projects on the go – just enough to allow you to switch to something else if you find you’re growing frustrated or bored with your current project, without having so many you feel overwhelmed. It’s even better if your projects are at different stages, so if you switch projects you’re actually doing something different. I usually have 2-4 stories on the go at any given time, in various states of completion. If I get tired working on the first draft of one piece, I can switch to editing a second draft of another, or tweaking another (a third or fourth draft) that was rejected by an editor. I’ve also branched out a bit from my initial genre (horror) into science fiction, so when I switch gears I may also be switching genres. Regardless, even if I am not drafting, I am still making progress.

Second, sometimes it’s good just to unplug entirely and read. I try to read novels recommended to me by friends (writerly or otherwise), but there are others that have been on my hit list for a while, and when I can I take advantage of the down time. Sometimes, I’ll get ideas, too.

Finally, it helps to have other creative outlets – and if they’re related to your artistic passion all the better. In my case, I am involved in two monthly roleplaying groups, one of which I run as Game Master. Both groups consist of interesting people playing interesting characters who are involved in intricate storylines – it’s like an interactive novel. I always come away from a gaming session with anecdotes and inspirations that could very well lead to story ideas, but even if they don’t the intensely fun and creative environment really energizes me. I recommend writers, in particular, give gaming a try to stoke their creative fires.

There you go…some lemonade recipes for when life tosses you a lemon or two…