Thursday, February 13, 2020

A Meditation in Moonlight

I stood in the backyard, with snow covering my boots up to the tops of my toes and I stared at the full moon, thinking. The moon, of course, held no answers, but has always been a good listener with pale features. It holds its secrets too, which I sometimes imagine I glean.

Twice I stood out there that late Saturday evening. And while I won't say exactly what I was doing out there (one deserves discretion), I will admit to pondering whether to reply to a missive from someone I hadn't expected to hear from but also, at the same time, thought I might.

It had been a while, so I gave the missive some thought, as well as the sender. My due thought was awash in lunar glow, plain as daylight and allowing flights of fancy and imagination, as usual (for me, anyway).

By the time of my second outing under the whitewashed moonglow, the backyard a brilliant shimmering sea around me, I made up my mind what to do. I would reply, which held certain risks, certain rewards (often confused). Now if only the bright disc, which had seen me through so much, could help me pick the right words. But it gave me the intent, and you cannot ask for more than that from the moon.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Hope, anew

I found hope again, for the third draft of my new horror novel. Clear and bright and as true as the longer February days.

Recently, I had my birthday and one of the few advantages of a February birthday is that I am reminded I am well-loved (and well-lusted after, arguably), nothing else is really happening this time of year and the days are getting longer by about 30 seconds each day.

I found hope, hope to get through the winter, and a good, solid plan to finish the third draft of Monstrous and, crucially, the support needed to do so. 

I'm looking at about five days' full work, between adding a couple of new scene, rewriting and sanding down other scenes, and mixing in the right elements throughout, along with a few significant changes in the earlier scenes.

And then everyone dies! Wait - that's Shakespearian tragedy, not my novel. (Or arguably Stephen King's The Stand). 

What is going to happen for Sergeant Ritchie O'Donnell, my gay cop from Town & Train?
What is the fate of Dave and Josh, my two university students, who are fleeing monsters?
Why is my drifter protagonist back from a cross-country trip, travelling off-the grid?
What makes some a sociopath? How does a protagonist become an antagonist? 

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Ed Piskor's X-Men: Grand Design Reviewed

Ed Piskor's X-Men: Grand Design #1 (collects volumes one and two of the single-issue series) is clearly a masterpiece with minor flaws. Piskor said in an April 3, 2018 interview with John Soltes of, that he pitched Grand Design to Marvel Comics as his take on the first 280 issues of X-Men, the run that he adored while growing up. As a result, the promo touts it as interweaving hundreds of The Uncanny X-Men series and other spin-offs, from issue #1 in 1963 through to the late 1960's (my educated guess, here). And Piskor delivers his love letter with sweeping writing, gorgeous art in an large, imminently enjoyable format.  

Writer-artist Piskor often uses single panels or multiple panels to depict major story arcs, subplots and character intros both small and large. Piskor is pithy, too, the art is fascinating and detailed and his summaries are minimal but successfully cover tentpole events for such as the childhoods of Erik Lehnsherr (aka Magneto), Charles Xavier (Professor X), Cain Marko (aka the Juggernaut) and smaller players such as Unus the Untouchable or Lawrence Trask and his father's creation of the Sentinels. Piskor affectionately details the minutiae of their character development and the burgeoning X-Men adventures.

Grand Design holds minor flaws, however. They are not in the execution or art or charming giant-sized presentation and the reprinting of Uncanny X-Men issue # 1 from 1963 (which is re-coloured by Piskor himself). The fault lies in the writing. Piskor shifts arbitrarily from an established past-tense narrative voice to a present-tense voice. An editor should have flagged these switchbacks, and kept the story in a past-tense or present-tense voice for consistency. The switching is jarring to the reader. Piskor also wants to bring all the threads together (perhaps as a reaction to the numerous subplots that famed X-Men-writer Chris Claremont later established on and never returned to). As a result, the creator retcons storylines such as the Phoenix Force, inserting it earlier in the X-Men chronology that it actually appeared in the canon. Fascinating bit of backwriting, that.

Still, Grand Design is charming and endearing, which one cannot say very often about modern comic books, with some exceptions. Piskor immerses the reader in the art and the sweep of the X-Men chronology. What Piskor can convey in a single word balloon is admirable such as Kazar, in the Savage Land, simply yelling the teen team, "Leave!" Another example includes the team gathering around the bed-ridden Professor X. The quintessential stuffed shirt, Scott Summers (aka Cyclops), says, "We've been keeping up with our Danger Room regime, sir." William replies, "Oh, Scott." There's much to love in Piskor's labour of love. (Full disclaimer: Any book that includes, in the cover flaps,  Uncanny X-Men covers spanning the past four decades has already earned my vote). I am very grateful to finally see what all the fuss is about, having read most of Piskor's Eisner-award-winning Hip Hop Family  Tree. 

A perfect example of Ed Piskor's fine artwork, pithiness and love for the characters.
And what's not to love? Piskor's affection is infectious.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Review: Lily Morton’s The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings

The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings is a charming, spooky and often funny horror/humor/romance hybrid. It's got two fellas, Levi Black, recovering from a bad break-up, and Blue Billings, the other, who runs a Ghost Walk in York.  Morton succeeds at establishing a haunting vibe, a gothic supernatural feel, plentiful humour, character rapport and sexy steaminess. Oh - and the novel includes Ghost Walks and Jack the Ripper Walks, of course.

It is my understanding that this is Lily Morton's first kick at horror (my partner highly recommended this book to me, being familiar with Morton's other romance titles) and I consider it a fine start. Morton avails well of herself in her heartbreak-and-horror debut, drawing on York's local history and architecture and colour, but it is her comic-strip-drawing Levi and the homeless rogue Blue who woo the reader and win over our sympathy. Morton's sensitivity in her portrayal-from describing Levi scratching the top of his head when he is thinking to Blue playing with his lip ring to depicting the pain and loss they have each experienced separately-imbues the protagonists with life.

As a horror author myself, I found many passages inspirational to my own work involving the spectral and the rapport between two characters (LGBTQ+ or otherwise) who just might become more than acquaintances. Horror is all about pitting loveable or sympathetic protagonists against the unknown and ensuring that they endure the human condition so that they are not mere ciphers for the author. This Morton seems to know instinctively, and demonstrate throughout The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings.

Morton has plenty of breathing room to turn this into the Black and Blue series, which I would eagerly follow. 

Highly recommended.

Monday, November 11, 2019

ChiZine Publications founders Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory step down

In a stunning move for an independent Canadian publisher, but not an unexpected one, ChiZine Publications founders Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory have stepped down.

Their statement on the the ChiZine site is here.

High Fever Books is doing an admirable job of keeping up with the stories that continue to come out from complainants. Kelsi Morris is the latest person to come forward with a story about bullying, uncomfortable rape jokes, and being on the inside of the machinations at ChiZine.

The link to High Fever Books' regularly updated blog is here.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

ChiZine Publications Authors and Others Come Forward with Complaints

Well, wow. Just... wow. For those not in the know, ChiZine Publications is a fairly well known independent Canadian publisher that has published weird, subtle, surreal, disturbing dark SF, fantasy since 2008.
Last week, ChiZine author author Ed Kurtz came forward with a grievance, claiming he has not been paid in full his due royalties from the independent publisher. Kurtz's complaint, as though finding a flaw in a dam, encouraged a floodgate of not only other writers, but employes, editors, and acquaintances to also come forward with their stories of mistreatment at the hands of the publisher.
The most striking commonality for me is that the grievances and stories are across the board - from not paying royalties, not paying staff, mistreating people, alienating people, and bullying people. One of these stories would be damning enough. Together, they're a maelstrom.
If you're interested, here's context - a reasonably cogent summary of the number of the people airing their stories from High Fever Books.
This week, U.S. horror author Brian Keene will be discussing the entire ChiZine debacle on his popular The Horror Show With Brian Keene, of which I am a follower. Needless to say, I'll be listening to this, however surreal it will be to hear an American podcast analyze a Canadian small speculative fic press' controversy.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

All Hallow’s Eve Checklist

I had a rough start this Hallowe'en - just a lousy morning. Derek Newman-Stille inspired me with his tweet:
"Remember that today is also Samhain, a holiday dedicated to the blessed dead and the memory of those who have gone on from this life. Remember those who you have loved and who have died and set aside a place for them in your thoughts."

And I made this All Hallow's Eve Checklist to try and turn my day around.

·         Read issue of The Samdman Universe Presents: Hellblazer (by Simon Spurrier). Came out Oct. 30. Those clever monkeys at DC Comics know the way to my heart, dammit. Consider why all the rogue comic-book protagonists that I follow tend to suffer.
·         Begin prep of mummy meatloaf.
·         Look at many decorations (in-door and out).
·         Carve second jack-o’-lantern.
·         Listen to Mike Oldfield, starting with Tubular Bells (then Hergest Ridge, OmnadawnReturn to Omnadawn).
·         Be ready to welcome the lost ones. Remember them.
·         Start with Hugh DeCourcy. He introduced me to Oldfield tunes, Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October and H.P. Lovecraft. Hugh believed in my writing and my book Town & Train when it was a mere 100 pages, typewritten, foolscap and dot Smith-Corona-printed pages and all.
·         Let them know they are missed. Perhaps they already know. Iet Dolman (also believed in me, my writing).
·         Meditate on this as I finish the long journey of rewriting my second novel, Monstrous. Cry when needed. Alternatively, rage and curse. Be friends with the book; it’s tell you what it wants to be. Let it.
·         Remember them - Robert Delorme, Ian Dennison, Keith Morgan, Guy Tremblay, Phil Robertson, Paul Robineau, J.P. Craig, Lori Jean Hodge, Helen Mullen, Anis Dahbar, Angus Archer, Leah Weber (sibling of best friend of my youth),. All departed too soon (an opinion that is a luxury for the living only).
·         Light jack-o’-lanterns to guide them.
·         Be there for my son and my loved ones here now.
·         Greet disguised spirits of a younger and different variety.
·         Keep your heart open and your mind receptive
·         Have fun; these spirits want acknowledgement, but they also want to party.