Monday, November 13, 2023

Cornwall book launch a smash success: Fear Itself and Queers Like Me with Michael V. Smith

Photo: Francis Langevin
Had a brilliant October 29 Cornwall launch for my Lethe Press collection Fear Itself with Michael V. Smith launching his new Book*hug Press poetry book Queers Like Me. It was a double-threat book launch, two local queer boys who made good. 

This one was a milestone
Photo: Francis Langevin
my first reading from one of my books in in my home-town. While I have promoted my books at CAPE (Cornwall & Area Pop Event) on and off for years, I have never done an event for my writing there. It was a doubly pleasant reading as Michael and me have never done an event together before. While we have supported each other throughout the years as our writing vocations have taken on unexpected trajectories (he is 
an Associate Professor of Creative Writing, Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies at UBC, for example), this was our first opportunity to perform together. 

But the timing was right. Fear Itself my first horror, sci-fi and fantasy collection, came out last year. In Queers Like Mepublished October 24 this year, Smith examines growing up queer in Cornwall. Luckily, with the tight publication, Book*hug provided him with advance copies for the intercity tour he is doing while on sabbatical.  Michael was also in town October 28 to attend a gala to be inducted into the Cornwall and Area Hall of Fame for the Arts. In short, Michael was in town and I was not far away. Years back, we also attended Saint Lawrence High School and the original Central Public School together. While Michael is a few years ahead of me, our history and friendship run deep. Small-town roots deep.

Photo: AJ Dolman
I liked Smith's 2002 novel Cumberland from Cormorant Books so much that I asked him permission to use two of his characters in walk-on cameos in my first novel Town & Train. Cumberland features Earnest, a closeted mill worker navigating the small-town milieu as much as his own sexual identity and awakening. Like myself, Michael also used a fictionalized Cornwall in his novel (Cumberland), whereas I called it Brandon in my horror novel Town & Train. He touched on some of the same local landmarks as settings, the gay cruising area down by the waterfront, the international bridge and even an RCAF jet in Lamoureux Park. Michael graciously granted me permission to use two of his characters (one of whom I name), and continually encouraged me to get the book published instead of leaving it in a drawer, as he said (back when we kept manuscripts in drawers and not on hard drives or ethereal clouds).

On top of the significance of getting together to read from our books with our shared history, we had a strong crowd of about 25 attendees at the fine venue of Carrots N' Dates and sold a stack of books each. You can't really ask for more at any reading, much less one at 2pm on a Sunday in grey, leafy late October in the Seaway Valley. One of my friends, who I was in Beavers with as a kid, was there on a first date with a young woman who made the hour drive from Montreal. In signing a book for her, I thanked her for making my launch her hot date.

Often, at a well-attended reading, you  might only sell a few books. Alternatively, sometimes with only a few in the audience, you might just sell quite a lot. Here, we were lucky enough with seats filled and phenomenal sales. I'm grateful, but even more thankful with all the hometown connections such as Councillor Elaine MacDonald, who saw the baby second draft of my novel-to-be Town & Train in grade 13, and even my high-school drama teacher (now retired) Barb Mallette and several friendly faces I knew from grade school, and high school.

Thank you, everyone who showed up, friends of many years; high-school peers and best pals. Thank you, Carrots N' Dates, for the Hallloween-errific space.

Thanks, all!

To find more about Queers Like Me, or buy a copy, here's a link to publisher Book*hug press. 

For more about my new book Fear Itself, purchase it, go here, the Lethe Press site.  

Both books are available through the amazons and independent bookstores.

Photo: Francis Langevin

Late Notes from a chilly, leafy All Hallows' Eve 2023

We received about 57 trick-or-treaters, all told, less than pre-pandemic, but about the same as last year. Many younglings among them, including Spidey-Kids, Mandalorians, and sparkle bunnies, the latter  which made our Pomeranian/Chihuahua crossbreed lose her furry mind. Some blood-spattered high-school kids made an effort, and  others, in hoodies, not so much, and parents, as clowns or robed figures with glowing axes. The young man and  a friend had his last trick-or-treating outing, hitting residents, about to close shop, who praised the details of his apparel, and doled out generous handfuls of candy. 

Hope everyone had a good Hallowe'en.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Fear Itself collection is spooky reading

Just another spooky-season PSA as we enter Ray Bradbury's October Country. Fear Itself, my new Lethe Press short story collection, is a blend of horror and SFF, which Publishers Weekly called "unsettling". 

Audible version narrated by the inimitable and talented Gavin J. Annette. 

Don't be afraid to snap it up.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Review of Daniel Allen Cox's I Felt the End Before It Came: Memoirs of a Queer Ex-Jehovah’s Witnes

My latest book review is up at Plenitude Magazine of Daniel Allen Cox's I Felt the End Before It Came: Memoirs of a Queer Ex-Jehovah’s Witness. Link's here.

Particularly proud of the blood, sweat, tears-and life research-that went into this one.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Primal from Genndy Tartakovsky woos me

This show has wooed me. From Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of the cult-favourite Samurai Jack, comes Primal, in which there is no dialogue. Spear, a Neanderthal, and Claw, a female, adult, teal-colored Tyrannosaurus, navigate a savage Prehistoric landscape, banding together after predators kill their respective families. It is brutally Darwinian, not for the faint of heart, and deeply visceral. Primal plays for keeps. Good and bad characters can die at any time. The recurring theme, unsurprisingly, is the fragility of a species, and musings about mortality. Battles are often gory, wnd even gorier, be forewarned. The score soars. The animation is immersing. The colour palette is sweeping and transporting. Did I mention there's not a single word of dialogue? Primal remains a master example of visual storytelling. Very satisfied to finally watch the 2019 first season. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Taking Stock and Summer Snapshots: Loss, Writing Projects & Covid

September always makes me take stock, turn inward, and try to move with that big ol' wheel turning from late summer to fall.

Summer was rough at the start, had a smooth middle, and then a rough finish. In late May, I got a phone call saying a dear friend took their own life. This crushed my spirits. Well, more than my spirits. I was bereft. Levelled. I knew he had been dealing with mental health issues (agoraphobia, PTSD, psychotic breaks) for a few years. The following weeks were a blur of cleaning out his apartment. Their immediate family, his sister, lives in Connecticut and had to come up here and sort out details while the lawyer handled the estate. 

On June 15, I spoke on a very smart panel, Celebrating Artists' Pride as part of Lanark Pride. The other queer artists included, from left to right: Lorrie Potvin, Arria Deepwater, a photographer I know from a ways back named Lori Taylor, Susan Wagner-White (absent) and moderated by Kathryn Baker-Reed (not in the shot). The event was a great opportunity to talk about my creative process and writing in general, and talk to readers, which I love doing. I am grateful that it helped me feel like a writer again, as I had not worked on anything since learning of my friend's passing.

My June 28 launch of my short-story collection Fear Itself raised my spirits, with a great crowd and great questions from my host, Dr. Sean Moreland. 
Performing my story "Carl and Monty's Prairie Wager" with my pal and co-conspirator Sean McKibbon was definitely a Rocky-Mountain-high sort of highlight, as we have known each other nearly as long as the grizzled cowboys in the story. Blogged about it previously here.
 Full moona Strawberry Moon, in factover
the St. Lawrence River. June 3, 2023. 9:26 pm.

July was an adjustment. I continued to parry the blow of my grief with both healthy coping mechanisms (staying busy, exercising, talking about it) and unhealthy ones and taking pictures of the good ol' moon, a coping mechanism I developed during the slow loss of my sister to lung cancer in fall 2021. 

Our teenaged son traveled out west to work at his aunt's store for six weeks while we learned to do things on our own here. Still, this mid-stretch was fairly good, between ending June with my launch of my short-story collection Fear Itself, reconnecting with founding members of my Little Workshop of Horrors group and trading stories again, reconnecting with an old friend (more below) and getting much done in the day-to-day details of our lives. My co-pilot and me managed to go to attend great friends' gatherings and got out for some a few fine-and-fun dinner dates and we also found adventures wherever we could, big or small.

In early August, we visited our son in BC. It was either that or driving about six hours to the National Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine (the other Portland), but seeing our kid again clinched the  decision. We went west instead of east. 

A positive rapid test for Covid can look like
this, with a single red line on top. 

A few days after returning, and having a two-hour delay of layover time at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, we tested positive with Covid. Yes; it's still out there. On the plane and the airport, only a handful of other people masked. We masked whenever we were in the air, in fact. There then followed the inevitable self-isolation period. Our neighbours had dropped off the rapid tests. For groceries, my best friend offered and he got us emergency staple items (ready-made chicken, hummus, milk, produce). In other words enough to get through a week. But still, we missed work time (I luckily had enough sick days, although there is no longer a Covid-sick-day category, but only regular sick days). This was frustrating and we just felt awful.

At least the symptoms were lighter than last time (a year ago, around the same time, after traveling to Toronto and Niagara On The Lake). I could focus long enough to read, too, which is fortunate. No fever or chills, agonizing aching hips, head cold, headache, and various flu symptoms. So, we lost a few weeks due to Covid. Time permitting, I will share pictures of my coping mechanisms. 

Grady Hendrix's heartful and entertaining My Best Friend's Exorcism I blogged about recently here last time. But, as well, I read Suzette Mayr's rather stunning The Sleeping Car Porter, Kate Beaton's literary and epic Ducks, J. W. Ocker's highly amusing The United States of Cryptids and writer-artist Steve Skroce and colourist Bryan Valenza's Clobberin' Time, a rollicking five-issue series with the ever-loving blue-eyed Thing getting into tight situations with characters including the Hulk, Doctor Doom and Dr. Strange in wildly imaginative and cosmic, senses shattering fights. 

It's wild and just my weird-speed.
Still trying to catch back up, from doing stuff around the house, the yard, and just getting it together for autumn. My writers' group need to meet to critique our stories in person (we have already done so in Track Changes for each piece, but meeting in person truly brings out the flashes of insight, in my experience). 

I am still finishing drafting a horror short story about Jehovah's Witnesses confronting their greatest fears (hint: it's based on an urban myth from the 1980's about the perils of JW's who either read the comic or watched the syndicated Saturday-morning cartoons about little blue guys and gals). The needle on the story is veering toward the novella territory of 7,500 to 17,500 words. 
As well, after weeks of delays, compounded because of my grief, I finally turned in my review of Daniel Allen Cox's I Felt the End Before It Came: Memoirs of a Queer Ex-Jehovah's Witness) with my editor at prestigious queer online literary magazine. Stay tuned for a publication date and further details.

Now with September here, I am turning to introspection and hopefully inspiration. I will need to be patient with myself as I make up for lost time, but I am also kind of excited about the prospects of my writing projects. Autumn, particularly October, was always Ray Bradbury's favourite time of year, as well as Jack Kerouac's whatever his flaws. It's also mine. I'm trying to see the things that matter more, and treasure them, while also understanding that I'm as flawed and imperfect as anyone else and being better aware of my effect on others.

So in addition to back-to-school miscellany, I need to get gunning on a secret project for a local and wonderful press; assembling my second short-story collection and lastly, second-novel revisions.

Welcome, September. Let's try to get along, shall we?

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Story in Fear Itself collection dedicated to mentor

The big wheel turns this past weekend. September third marks the anniversary of the passing of Hugh DeCourcy, my beloved friend, mentor and kindred spirit back in '96.

Sometimes, if you're lucky, restless and growing up in a small city, you can meet someone who changes the course of your life and leaves a mark on you in a positive way. Hugh was that someone for me. He introduced me to the works of H.P. Lovecraft and showed me that I could pursue my passion no matter what anyone else thought. Hugh taught me that you can be a hobby guitarist, a keen chess player, an amateur painter, a cross-country runner, a close observer, and a writer of infinite passion and curiosity. God damn, but he was great.

I have mentioned him previously around this time of year. This September, though, I can proudly say how I have done right by him as a he features as a character in my short-story collection Fear Itself in the story “A Canadian Ghost In London” on page 169. The story concerns Sara Jasmine, a Canadian ex-pat spending evenings at the Astoria Nightclub in London, England in 1998, who becomes convinced that the ghost of her friend Hugh is pursuing her. The piece is rich with British references and reminiscences and moments, these flies in amber. I hope readers enjoy it. 

I know Hugh would be happy with it. This one's for you, Hugh.