Weekly Churn 006: Blank Pages

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. I’ve spent a lot of time staring at blank pages this week. Or not blank so much as unyielding. For a while now, and by “a while” I mean a few years, I’ve been working on a story called “A Fire in the Snow,” or maybe just “Fire in the Snow.” It’s the first project I’ve worked on that integrates some of the experiences I had working in northern Saskatchewan. At it’s core it’s just a scary-monster-in-the-woods story with Lovecraftian overtones, but it’s also about how men bond at work when that work is dangerous and isolated, and in a very small way it touches on the damage that settlers have done to First Nations communities—something that I think is important to address in stories about… Continue Reading

From A Work In Progress (II)

From the same work in progress as this, although that has changed in the meantime. I write very slowly, as you can probably tell (and yeah, I fudged the geography a little). Comments are still down because I haven’t had time to fix them, but feel free to send me a message on twitter. She hadn’t anticipated the boat. She’d gotten her fake Canadian ID, some bright plastic money in a bunch of different colours, smartphone registered with a Canadian carrier and a Canadian SIM card, even paid extra to have a chequing account set up in her new name at the Bank of Montréal. She had pictured a night crossing in the back of an ancient Toyota, glare from halogen lamps whipping across her face as they drove through the checkpoint. Lying to the border guards or even trying to stay quiet in the trunk if it came to… Continue Reading

I Write Terrible Poems

Don’t you just hate really earnest poetry? I don’t mean the seriousness and melodrama of the Victorians, or the obliqueness of the Modernists, or even the loony bullshit of sound poets (well, okay, maybe I mean the loony bullshit of sound poets): I’m talking about the work of late-comers, the kind of folks whose work doesn’t show any sense of self-awareness, of irony, of humour, or wit. I hate that kind of poetry. So of course when I sit down to write a poem, that’s pretty much all that comes out. Even worse: most of the time my poetry winds up being about women I’ve loved, or almost loved, or who loved me, or might have loved me, whether I want it to be or not. I make a conscious choice to write about, say, a tree, and by the end I’m writing about how ACYL broke my heart. Some… Continue Reading

Some Short Fiction

Back in the fall of 2002, when I was an undergraduate going into my final year at the University of Waterloo, I realized that, while I was doing okay for money that term, things were going to be tight once Christmas was over. I’d worked two jobs in high school (at one point working sixty hours a week on top of being a full time student, and maintaining a solid B+ average) and had been so burnt out by the experience that there was no way I would be able to get a job and deal with the workload of being a fourth year university student. I saw an ad for a short story contest, and decided that I would get a little bit of cash by winning that. There’s no way I could manage that level of hubris today, but back then I was kind of like that sometimes.… Continue Reading

From A Work in Progress

Nick had never had an apartment with a view before. Granted, it wasn’t much of a view, just a graffiti-bombed bus shelter kitty-corner on Bathurst Street, and the furtive older women and frothy clusters of teens who kept the corner store below his window in business. Still, it was better than the cinderblock wall of the building next door and the rust-scarred paint can the neighbour’s kid used to hide his cigarette butts that he saw from the window of his place in Kitchener. He could hear the streetcars trundle by at all hours of the night, wheels scraping up dirt and trash from between the rails, the bow collector clicking and rattling as it passed through the intersection. The noise woke him up sometimes, but he didn’t mind; he’d been in Toronto less than two weeks, and he was still having nightmares. Waking up was often better. He hadn’t… Continue Reading

What’s Wrong With Iron Council

This is not a post about the Bechdel test, nor The Frank Miller test (dramatised here), aka the How To Tell If A Male Science Fiction Writer Is Obsessed With Whores Test. This post is not actually about gender representations at all. It does, weirdly, come from my having just read a post that is kind of, sort of, about those things. You see, a while back I wrote about China Miéville’s novel, Iron Council, and I had some trouble explaining exactly what was wrong with it, stylistically speaking. What I wrote was: Events that would later be referenced with specificity were described with a dream-like vagueness that often made it difficult to figure out just what the hell was going on. It felt like he was in such a hurry to move the plot forward that he ignored the mechanics of his prose. In addition, he once again made… Continue Reading

“Mark Jarvis, Prophet”, An Excerpt

The following is an excerpt from the Encyclopaedia of Crypto-Anthropology, 2nd Canadian Edition, published in 2005 by The Society of Canadian Crypto-Anthropologists, Ottawa Chapter, compiled and edited by S.F. Jameson and E. Forrester-Pratt. Reprinted with permission. Jarvis, Mark Samuel. born March 12th, 1963 — missing December 2nd, 2003 Mark Jarvis was a Canadian businessman, venture capitalist, and prophet. He was born in the small Northwestern Ontario village of Sioux Lookout to parents Samuel David Jarvis, electrician, and Ethel Marie Jarvis (née Hermann), nurse. Jarvis was born with a teratoma, a kind of tumor, usually benign, characterized by the growth of tissue associated with parts of the body other than where it is found. In males teratomata most often present at birth and tend to manifest as fleshy lumps on or about the coccyx or the neck. The tissues most commonly found in such tumors are from the lungs, brain, and… Continue Reading

Country Mouse, City Mouse: On Reading My Work Aloud

The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol, as translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, changed the way I look at fiction. I read the book first as an undergraduate, and then later as a graduate student. Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translation is astonishing, and I don’t think I’d have connected to the work so strongly if I’d read a lesser version. There’s any number of ways that you can divide up Gogol’s stories, but the obvious way is to place them in the same two categories Pevear and Volokhonsky do; rural Ukranian tales, and urban St. Petersburg tales. Seeing them side by side in that way, the careful reader will notice that the rural/urban division mirrors another division in the tales. The rural tales are very clearly oral in nature. They are loose, fluid, comfortable, adaptable. The urban tales, on the other hand are tight, structured, detailed. They are the very… Continue Reading


The Biblioasis folks, who have published many fine books, including Rebecca Rosenblum‘s fine short story collection, Once, are running a Revenge Lit contest to celebrate the launch of Terry Grigg’s new novel, Thought You Were Dead (looks quite interesting, actually). Many of the entries are being posted on the contest blog. “Speak Softly”, my own entry, went up today. Check it out! And remember, there’s still time to enter.

In the Hope of Saving Me

They had never been lovers, were barely friends, and he could count on one hand the number of times they had touched. He still felt deep in his bones, and lightly across his skin and hair, every one of those moments. If he closed his eyes, he could relive them all. The first time, when he had said or done something, he couldn’t exactly remember what, her eyes had lit up the way he imagined newborn stars would, the change from dark indifference to the powerful, blazing expression of life and attentiveness so abrupt and affecting that it was, paradoxically, almost imperceptible. She had reached out to him, impulsively, and given him one of the light embraces with which young girls so often express unexpected pleasure, careless of their potential force and investing in them, or so they think, only transient meaning. That first time was for him still the… Continue Reading